July 17, 2014
by Mommy Gearest
0 comments

Pedalheads bike camp

I don’t really remember anyone teaching me how to ride my bike. I have only vague recollections of being on training wheels, but a very clear memory of the day they came off. I woke my Dad up at the crack of dawn and told him I wanted him to remove them. I think I was five or six years old.

After taking them off, he did what every other parent in the late-’70s and early-’80s would have done: left his kid outside to play on the street while he went back to bed.

It was a triumphant morning. Despite skidding down a (paved) ditch – sans bike helmet because this was simply not done back then – and scraping the entire left side of my body, I managed to figure out how to balance on my two-wheeler and ride off into the sunrise.

Fast-forward 30-something years and do you think my six year old wanted to get rid of his training wheels? Nope. Not even a little.

“They make me feel safe, Mommy.”

“I’m still learning.”

“I don’t want to feel fast because fast is scary.”

And this is the tip of the iceberg. There were tears, shrieks and full-blown tantrums. As I relayed these stories to a girlfriend one day, she mentioned that she hired a private bike instructor from Pedalheads to teach her six-year-old son to ride his bike without training wheels; he was off of them in an hour, she said. But we live in the boonies and Pedalheads said there was no way they were going to be able to send someone all the way out to us. Fortunately, though, we could go to them.

Pedalheads let The K Man try out its half-day bike camp for Level One riders, and I decided to make the most of our hour-long trek into the city where the camp took place, so I registered Miss Q for the three-year-old class that week, too. And I’m so glad I did.

Pedalheads bike campTHE GOOD

On day one, The K Man was on training wheels for all of 20 minutes. After a few trips up and down a strip of pavement at Blantyre Park in Toronto to test out his braking and steering skills, the instructor (Jessica) took off the training wheels. From then on, we’ve been training wheel-free, even though he still couldn’t ride it on his own. Miss Q arrived having been on a tricycle a few times but having NO CLUE how to pedal; by the end of her hour-long program, she could easily pedal about 10 feet if the instructor (Sydney) gave her a little push to get started.

The K Man’s class had only four kids, while Miss Q’s had but two. Amazing student-to-teacher ratios.

Kids can move up a level mid-week if they need to. That’s great flexibility when you’re paying a couple hundred dollars for your kid to progress, and we all know they progress at different rates.

The three-year-old program at Pedalheads was only $99 for an hour a day for five days, or about $20 an hour. To have someone else bend down for an hour, five days in a row, to get my kid pedalling. Over and over and over? Worth every penny. I’d pay them all over again in a heartbeat.

The half-day camp, which is 2.5 hours a day for five consecutive days, is $179. Just a little more than $14 an hour. Terrific value for money. Especially if, like me, you’re an older mom who isn’t in the top shape of her life and who might very well pass out if she had to run up and down grassy hills for two hours.

There were a lot of balance and steering drills, which I think made a huge difference in terms of skills and confidence. Even in Miss Q’s group they had to steer through pylons or stop in the middle of a bull’s-eye.

At the end of the week, Miss Q was pedalling effortlessly up and downhill, steering like a champ and doing it all with a smile. The K Man could keep himself upright for a good 25 feet or so thanks to the momentum of the park’s massive hill, but he still couldn’t bike ride independently. However, with daily practice at home, he’s now biking at least 200 feet on his own with a tiny push from a grownup. We’re so, so close now. Without Pedalheads, I can say with total certainty that we’d still be using training wheels. In fact, I was so impressed with both of their progress and the quality of the programming that I’ll be taking them back next year.

THE GAFFE

OK, I’ll admit it: Pedalheads feels like a bit of a cop-out. I mean, isn’t teaching your kid how to ride a bike, like, a parenting rite of passage? This thought nagged at me until day two when I left while both kids were in camp and I went to grab a Starbucks and have a pedi. Then I got over it.

There may be annoying kids in your child’s class. Miss Q had an awesome little girl to hang out with, but The K Man had two disruptive boys who weren’t very nice. In fact, one of the boys wasn’t even nice to his own mother! Thankfully, I have a kid who would rather go hang out by himself and look at ants than be bothered trying to fit in. The instructor never seemed to notice or was too busy to care, so the behaviour didn’t get any better as the week went on.

The only time I ever felt like the kids weren’t getting as much time and attention as they should have was during ramp drills, where The K Man’s class would merge with another four-kid group and the instructors would work together to get kids up and over a ramp. While the drill itself was great, it really didn’t require the help of two instructors and it ultimately meant that each kid got a turn every eight times – or about every 10 minutes. After two to three rounds of this, half an hour was gone and your kid would get about three minutes’ worth of instruction during that time.

THE GEARS

4.5/5

THE SLIDESHOW

  • Pedalheads drills

    One of the many drills the kids practised every day; learning to steer and brake within the confines of pylons proved a fun challenge.

  • Goin' down a hill, part one

    Going down hills is pretty much the Pedalheads signature move. And it makes sense. Because there are kids - like mine - who are cautious and don't love to pedal enough to pick up the kind of speed you need to figure out how to balance on two wheels. The hill obviously builds in that kind of momentum and it was exactly what my little man needed to make it click.

  • Goin' down a hill, part two

    Still holding on...

  • Goin' down a hill, part three

    And, letting go! The instructor let go of him for the first time and he smiled through it. And then swerved and almost wiped out, but he got up and did a fist pump and went back to watching ants until his turn rolled around again.

  • Fun on two legs, too

    I loved that biking was broken up with other games and activities; it kept them more engaged and gave them a chance to do something else, like blow bubbles or read a book.

  • Think of it THIS way...

    There were many moments that I, as someone who doesn't have the most patience in the world, would have found frustrating, but the Pedalheads instructors turned them into teaching moments. I don't know what kind of analogy Jessica was using during this demonstration, but I saw a lot of nodding from The K Man's direction. He got her. 

  • Not just chalk fun!

    Even when the littlest ones were doing something fun like drawing on the pathway with sidewalk chalk, they were doing it for a reason. In this case, they were making (and decorating) a bull's-eye that would later be used to help them learn how to steer around in a circle and brake on command.

  • Around the bull's-eye

    Yeah, see all that uncomfortable bending that Sydney's doing as she turns Miss Q around in a circle? Worth $20 any day of the week. Or, in this case, EVERY day of the week.

  • Tattoo Day

    On the day I happened to be taking photos, it was Tattoo Day. Other activities throughout the week even included making streamers for Miss Q's handlebars! Clearly, she had a great time.

July 11, 2014
by Mommy Gearest
1 Comment

#NikonMOMents, part II: Canada Day (sponsored post)

I was never more patriotic than when I left Canada to work and travel abroad for three years in my mid-20s. Being away from home soil, connected to strangers in another country by flags and shirts of red and white, is a powerful experience. I’ve celebrated Canada Day with ex-pats both in Covent Garden (a section of central London, UK) outside the famous Maple Leaf pub and at the Canadian consulate in Seoul, South Korea. And I was reminded each time how lucky I am to be Canadian.

I don’t remember much about Canada Day as a kid other than fireworks. Admittedly, I’m a bit more over-the-top than my parents; I always buy everyone in the family matching shirts to show off our Canadian pride, and we normally head to a local park or arrange neighbourhood fireworks. This year, we did both, though we did cut the park short because it was so hot that all the kids wanted to do was go home and jump in the swimming pool!

It’s my pleasure to share with you some of the #NikonMOMents I captured using my Nikon D3300 DSLR (and if you missed Part I in this series, you can check that out here):

 

  • Walking to the park

    This is the first year we've celebrated Canada Day in Ajax. Rotary Park was set up with oodles of bouncy castles and food vendors, but sadly there were a lot of commercial vendors there, too, which felt kind of yucky. I really don't want to hear an Arbonne or real estate pitch while I'm trying to show my patriotism and teach my kids why we're wearing our red and white.

  • This guy...

    I could look at this face all day long.

  • What's on yer butt?

    I fell in love with this Joe Fresh skirt for Miss Q. With cotton shorts built into it, she could play without fear of showing her skivvies. 

  • Details

    I love photos of details and that's one of my favourite things about the Nikon D3300 digital DSLR camera; you can get such clear close-up photos of the most nitty-gritty details, like the white thread in this red grosgrain ribbon.

  • Grillin' Like A Villain, part one

    We thought the menu on this food truck looked spectacular. We ordered a couple of pulled pork sandwiches and a couple of the back bacon grilled cheese sandwiches. The pulled pork was pretty good, but...

  • Grillin' Like a Villain, part two

    The fancy grilled cheese description was a total food fail. It consisted of two slices of processed cheese and a slice of deli ham with a tiny drizzle of what was probably Aunt Jemima instead of pure Canadian maple syrup (which, for $7 it should have been REAL cheese, back bacon as advertised and REAL maple syrup). Never again.

  • The family that wears their Canada shirts together...

    Although most park attendees wear wearing something red or white (or both), this was the only family I saw all afternoon wearing the exact same thing. And it was AWESOME!

  • Dancing girls

    We arrived partway through this routine, so I have no information about this dance troupe. But they were a lot of fun to watch, even if I started sweating extra thinking about how warm they must have been in those costumes.

  • Henna tattoos!

    This was such a neat touch. Miss Q wanted her face painted but it was a line that looked at least two hours long. (There are few things for which I'll stand in line for two hours; face painting is definitely not one of them.) So we spotted this little henna hut and there were only a few people in line. Miss Q chose a flower, and managed to keep her little arm elevated as we walked around for the next 30 minutes while it dried. And it turned out beautifully, lasting for the next four days.

  • The costumes!

    We caught a bit of these girls' routine, and we couldn't get over their spectacular dresses. Miss Q asked if she could have one, but settled instead for a photo beside them.

  • Price gouging

    I was really disappointed to see vendors, like this ice cream truck, inflate their prices to take advantage of the situation. But it was especially unimpressive to see it done so blatantly, like taping new (temporary) prices on the side of a truck. Ew.

  • Stilts. They scream summer.

    You know...

  • I Scream, You Scream!

    Miss Q (and her cousin in the back) enjoyed soft-serve ice cream. Even if it was ridiculously expensive.

  • The Practically Hip

    These guys were the real deal. They totally sounded like The Tragically Hip!

  • Caprese salad

    After the park, we had Big B's brother, my sister-in-law and my nieces back to our place for dinner and a swim. We had yummy caprese salad, followed by steak and chicken fajitas. #YUMazing.

  • Fireworks

    So this was the real test with my new Nikon. Fireworks. Although the Nikon Moms had a full day of training, we only touched on fireworks briefly. It took about 10 minutes of trail and error (make that error, after error, after painful error) to get the settings just right for fireworks. Part of the trick is to switch off the automatic focus and focus it manually.

    PHOTO INFO:

    • ISO 4000
    • 18mm
    • 1.7 EV
    • f/3.5
  • More fireworks

    PHOTO INFO:

    • ISO 640
    • 18mm
    • 1.7 EV
    • f/3.5
  • And more...

    PHOTO INFO:

    • ISO 3200
    • 18mm
    • 1.7 EV
    • f/3.5
  • Love this one!

    This is my favourite fireworks shot of the night.

     

    PHOTO INFO:

    • ISO 1800
    • 18mm
    • 1.7 EV
    • f/3.5
  • Last one, I swear

    I played a bit more with the settings and managed to get this ultra-black backdrop with one of our last fireworks explosions.

    PHOTO INFO:

    • ISO 100
    • 18mm
    • 1.7 EV
    • f/4

     

    DISCLAIMER: I’m part of the #NikonMOMents program with MomCentral Canada; I was compensated for this post and I receive special perks as part of my affiliation with this group. The opinions on this blog are always my own.

July 9, 2014
by Mommy Gearest
0 comments

Wordless Wednesday: A Pegasus Swimming update

blah blah

Last year, I wrote a review of Pegasus Swimming, which – at the time – had masterfully taken my cautious little boy and turned him into a very competent, confident swimmer. Miss Q was 2.5 years old when we decided to put in a swimming pool last summer and I asked Lucas, the owner of Pegasus, if he thought she could also benefit from lessons. Within six weeks, she could keep her head above water and travel about a metre. But then winter fell and we went back to group swimming lessons through the city, and she didn’t progress. After a scary moment when we re-opened our pool this year and discovered that she could no longer do that metre-long swim, it was (thankfully) time to head back to Pegasus. Within 20 minutes, her instructor had her jumping off the side of the pool and swimming back to the ledge to safety. Two lessons later, she was swimming a few metres. And one lesson after that, she was instinctively putting her face into the water and could swim the entire width of the pool – often on just one breath. At home, she can now swim the length of our pool and is progressing at a shocking rate. The credit goes entirely to the amazing staff at Pegasus Swimming in Courtice. Thank you!

July 3, 2014
by Mommy Gearest
0 comments

“Good Egg” CD by Joanie Leeds & The Nightlights

The CD: Good Egg by Joanie Leeds & The Nightlights

When it’s available: June 24, 2014

What it’s like: This is one of those situations where I have to admit that I judge a book by its cover. Or, um, a CD by its sleeve. I won’t lie: when Good Egg arrived at our door several weeks ago, I wasn’t too jacked to open it. I took one look at the weird animation that has a girl’s legs turn into chicken feet and tossed it on the Lazy Susan on my dining room table (that’s where your unwanted mail goes, too, right?).

But my daughter noticed it one day, and asked if it was “new music.” I said yes, and figured I’d need to listen to it sooner or later, so we hopped in the car that day and pressed play. And OMG, I’m so glad we did! This is definitely one of our favourite kids’ music CDs in our (rather vast) library.

When your three and six year olds both ask for the same music, every parent knows what kind of magical moment that creates. We are one with the music, and Mommy doesn’t have to listen to one of them whine about the other’s choice. Dreamy.

“Food Fight” is hands-down one of the best songs for a family road trip. Ever. In fact, it’s so catchy that I’ll (often) find myself singing it when there’s not a kid in sight. Part of that might be that I feel Joanie and I are long-lost songstress sisters and really need to do a duet. I love her kind-of-Maureen-from-RENTish voice; she’s easy to listen to and easy to sing along with while you chauffeur kids from here to there and everywhere. But that’s not the only great song…it’s one after another on this little gem of a CD. We also love “Hipster in the Making,” and the first verse and chorus of “I Love You” is that perfect bedtime song to memorize if you want something original in your arsenal. (However, to be perfectly honest, we usually listen to “Food Fight” at least seven times in a row and rarely make it all the way to the end!)

The verdict? Get it. Seriously. Even if it’s just for “Food Fight.”

June 29, 2014
by Mommy Gearest
4 Comments

#NikonMOMents part I: The K Man’s 6th birthday party (sponsored post)

We are blessed. All but one child at The K Man's birthday party lives in our neighbourhood (the other is a friend's son whom The K Man's known since birth). We decided that this would be the last year we wouldn't invite school friends to his birthday party. I wish they could all stay this little forever.

We are blessed. All but one child at The K Man’s birthday party lives in our neighbourhood (the other is a friend’s son whom The K Man’s known since birth). We decided that this would be the last year we wouldn’t invite school friends to his birthday party. I wish they could all stay this little forever.

When I was invited to be a Nikon Mom, I came in ready to learn. After owning a Canon T3i DSLR for the past two years, I still knew how to do exactly two things: take photographs using the “auto” option and take a video with a resolution so high that it took an hour to upload a two-minute clip to my YouTube channel.

I was really more enamoured with the idea of a full day of training than with a new camera, to be honest. I figured I would simply learn what aperture is, how to shoot into the sun and how to make fast-paced action shots freeze in time and then give the Nikon D3300 digital DSLR away.

So, that’s not happening. I love this camera. It feels better in my small hands than my Canon ever did, and the 24 megapixel photos are beyond spectacular. When I get it just right, that is, which now that I’m not shooting on auto every day of the week is taking a bit of practice. I’m getting there. And the payoff is definitely worth the experimentation. Additionally, thanks to a good understanding of exposure compensation, I barely need to do any post-production editing to brighten or sharpen photos.

During the next year, I’ll be photographing some of our family’s most memorable moments. To start, take a wander through this slideshow to see just a few of the 400 or so shots I took during The K Man’s sixth birthday. (And, by the way, if you’re an amateur photographer like me and you want to know any of the camera settings, just leave a comment and I’ll gladly look it up for you.)

  • Mixing themes

    Angry Birds has run rampant in our house for years, and even though Skylanders is the fan favourite these days, we decided that a couple of Angry Birds here and there would be welcome. 

    Well, that, and Party City didn't have any Skylanders décor. 

  • Homemade hummus

    I can't tell you how much it irks me to go to kids' birthday parties where there's nary a fruit nor vegetable in sight. Before guests arrived, we laid out some healthy (and, yes, some not-so-healthy) snacks, including this vibrant veggie platter with my homemade Vitamix hummus:

    • One large can of organic chick peas, drained
    • One tbsp. tahini
    • One tbsp. organic all-natural peanut butter
    • Four garlic cloves, peeled
    • One-third cup extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
    • Several dashes of both cumin and paprika
    • Pinch (or two) of salt
    • DIRECTIONS: Place all ingredients in a Vitamix blender (do not attempt this in your $30 blender!), blend on low speed while tamping down ingredients. Add more EVOO as needed and switch to high speed only for 15 to 30 seconds once everything is blended and moving around smoothly. Voila!
  • Skylanders Portal of Power birthday cake

    I love food, but I am not a baker. I bake precisely two cakes every year: one for each child I have borne unto this world. After I'd done it for The K Man's first two birthdays, I felt sort of obligated to continue it with Miss Q, lest she be the cliché poster child of second children everywhere. And now it has spun slightly out of control and I'm creating cakes from scratch instead of following a pre-formed cake pan with instruction booklets.

    But my kids love their special cakes, and toiling over them for hours (many, many hours…) is all worth it to see the looks on their faces. Or, you know, when they get so excited that they climb onto the dining room table to get a closer look.

  • Loot bags

    I'm not a big fan of the cheap and cheerful style of loot bag assembly. Instead, I prefer to get my kids' guests something of substance. This has included books and puzzles (or Melissa & Doug goodies if you have Kidville Canada plan your birthday party), but rarely just candy or dollar-store trinkets that'll be long forgotten in a week's time.

    I also have a lot of fun dressing up the loot bags. Obviously.

  • Hostess gifts, too?!

    Gotta love it when your kid's friend is your friend, too, and knows you well enough to bring wine. 'Nuf said.

  • CANNONBALL! (Before)

    One, two, three…JUMP!

    I wanted to give shutter speed a run for its money on my Nikon D3300, but as a newbie to advanced camera skills, I opted for a great little feature on the dial called "GUIDE," which makes finding just the right settings for your particular situation ridiculously easy. I scrolled over to "freeze action" and managed to catch this glorious moment with my son and some of his besties totally going for a massive group cannonball. 

    I'm getting there but I haven't quite nailed it, so I'm making this a goal over the course of the next year: snap frozen action photos that will make Elsa and Anna do a double-take. 

  • CANNONBALL! (After)

    And this is what I love about DSLRs. Whenever I've had a point-and-shoot camera (like my old Panasonic Lumix or my very first digital camera back in 1998, the Canon S4), I've missed moments. Really good, heart-wrenching, smile-inducing, never-to-be-captured-on-film-again moments. Because the darn things just don't click fast enough.

    There's nothing like the quick shutter sound that emanates from a digital DSLR; trust me, it's addictive. And so are the results, because I shot four frames in between the last photo and this one. FOUR.

  • Noodle fun

    If you were ever in a pool before you turned 12 and within arm's reach of a noodle, you probably remember doing this. I loved capturing these kids-will-be-kids moments with such clarity.

  • Jump like a pencil!

    More freeze-frame-action-goodness.

  • And then the uncle joined in...

    One of the biggest hits of the party (and not just because he gave The K Man a copy of The LEGO Movie for his birthday) was my brother. He wasn't afraid to let the boys play fight with vigour that would send me screaming, and the kids loved him for it.

    I don't have too many pictures of my little brother as a grownup, so it's nice to be able to file shots like these away.

  • Details

    Look at all those water droplets! Being able to capture facial expressions that are truly in-the-moment and some of the finer details is one of my favourite things about shooting with the Nikon D3300.

  • Calling the Tooth Fairy!

    Thanks to a strawberry, we also celebrated the loss of a big tooth at the party! (Yes, we found it.)

  • Cut the cake

    I'm not sharing this photo because I think it's particularly special. I'm sharing it to showcase how knowing your camera's bells and whistles can make a huge difference in your photography. This table is in a really shady spot in our yard. Normally, the people in the photo would be quite dark, but thanks to our Nikon training team, I know how to tweak a little of this and a little of that to brighten it up immediately.

  • Spoon-feeding

    Yep, we even spoon-feed our adult guests. We're excellent hosts that way.

  • Worms 'n dirt

    (Actually, centipedes in dirt because the grocery store didn't have gummy worms.)

    This was a huge hit, probably in large part because we let the kids make their own. We simply put out the cups and spoons, a bowl of chocolate pudding, and bowls of centipedes, bits of chocolate cake (that were lopped off the Skylander's Portal of Power cake during prep) and OREO cookie crumbs and let them have at 'er.

    This was in addition to cake. I'm sure all of the parents were really pleased with me when their children were bouncing off the walls at 9 p.m.

  • Ah…quiet

    And then the party ended, and all was still. We sat in our yard, drinking lovely wine and eating leftovers and reminiscing about what a perfect day it had been.

  • Nikon D3300 HDSLR

    This is the camera I used to shoot every photo in this slideshow, using both the 18-55mm lens that came with it, as well as the NIKKOR 55-300mm lens that I purchased myself to get some of those really candid closeups.

     

    DISCLOSURE: I’m part of the #NikonMOMents program with MomCentral Canada; I was compensated for this post and I receive special perks as part of my affiliation with this group. The opinions on this blog are always my own.