Author Archives: Richard Carmichael

About Richard Carmichael

Father of three beautiful kids, entrepreneur, social innovator and founder of HeadsUp Dad. Established this community to band together with like minded citizens to address the myriad of challenges facing parents today, specifically the Highly Engaged and Active Dads and those that aim to become one. HeadsUp Dad was created to tap into the power of community and help fathers work together to become the best of everything we can be, so that our kids in turn will have the best chance of succeeding in life and in their roles within the new global community.

Affordable Winter Birthday Party ideas for Kids

Snowman-fun-for-kids-in-winter

Brrr.

Yes, it is cold out there.

Winter has finally arrived—but don’t let that get you down. Go ahead, celebrate winter. Revel in it. Throw a party and make the most of it while it lasts. Spring will be here before you know it.

Kids love it. If your child’s birthday is coming up soon, and you live in a place where the snow piles up, you’re in luck. You can have a great party outside in the snow, the kids will have a blast and unlike a trip to Disney world, you won’t have to spend much money.

Even though the snow can be the bane of an adult’s existence, kids consider the snow to be fun, exciting, and full of opportunities. When dressed warmly, they don’t even seem to notice how cold it is outside if they’re in the middle of building a snowman or making snow angels.

If you want to throw a birthday party, and winter wonderland is in your backyard, why not bundle up, have a lot of fun with your kids and save some money at the same time? If you love winter, then you will love this:

4 great ideas for winter birthday party activities for kids:

1. Snowman Building Competition:

Have the kids form teams of two or three, and each team can try to build the best snowman. (You and the other parents at the party can be the judge of who wins). You may want to give the kids some buttons, carrots, and scarves to decorate their snowmen with. Kids could also bring some supplies from home like hats and brooms, if you let their parents know about the competition in advance.

2. Snow Football

This is a particularly good idea if you’re throwing a party for young boys. Playing football in the snow is actually a lot safer than playing football any other time of the year. Piles of snow are generally a lot softer than the pavement. So, if kids happen to accidentally fall during the game, they can get right back up again and keep playing. It’s probably a good idea for you to have the kids play touch football instead of tackling football, especially if they’re on the younger side.

3. Snow Angel Competition

The kids make snow angels, and the parents decide which one is the best. This is pretty similar to the snowman competition. When you hold any type of competition for kids, it’s actually a better idea to not offer some kind of prize or reward to the winner. Kids tend to get a little more upset about not winning if there’s a prize involved. Plus, forgoing the prizes saves you some money.

Winter games for kids

4. Paper Snowflake Construction

Once the kids get tired from playing outside, you can take them all inside and have them make paper snowflakes using colorful paper. Kids love making their own snowflakes and taking them home as party favors. You could also have the kids draw snowmen and other winter characters. Having the kids make their own party favors is a great way to cut corners.

Sound like fun? Consider your own version of the activities above, put on your best winter gear and get outside. This year, celebrate the best that winter has to offer and throw a snow party to remember for your birthday boy or girl this year!

About the Author:

Lisa is a guest blogger and mom with many years of experience throwing everything from Super Mario birthday partys to a celebrity dress-up party on a budget. Throwing a birthday party? Need some help with ideas and solutions? You can get everything you need for a fun and memorable event from thePartyworks.

FLOWING WITH THE GOOD GUYS

It was with great sadness that I read about the recent Norwegian terrorist attacks. A tragic ordeal for any country to have to experience, yet there was a point in the story where I found one Norwegian’s comment to be equally absurd as the attacks were cruel. A woman’s response to the killings was, “Why are they killing us? We’re the good guys!” Most of us think the same way; we are the good guys, the ones who know what’s best or what is right. Adolf Hitler was convinced that his Nazi movement was the best solution for the world’s problems. And through his eyes, it was. The same can be said for Osama Bin Laden or George W. Bush and it is with this lack of awareness upon which most of mankind operates.

Albeit slowly, an increasing number of the world’s population is adopting a different viewpoint (or philosophy, or truth) that there is no right and no wrong, there simply is. This is not to say that whatever happens in the world is acceptable. It is to understand that only the flow of nature exists and that everything happening is a part of that flow. It is the understanding that there are no shoulds or shouldn’ts, only choices. The difference is that should’s and shouldn’t’s are constructs of our mind, while clear choices (I will or I won’t) come from the heart.

I recently witnessed a parent become very frustrated, claiming that her toddler was supposed to listen to her, as if it were her child’s job. In reality, her child’s only job is to act naturally, which is to be aware in some moments and unaware in other moments. If the mother chooses to parent consciously, then it is in fact her job to find a way to be in relationship with her child, discovering ways to flow with both her child’s awareness and lack thereof.

Essentially, life is about relationships, or how we relate to each of our experiences. Have you ever experienced physical pain and thought “This shouldn’t be happening!”? When we don’t flow with nature, believing that something should or shouldn’t be happening, we create suffering for ourselves. A common reaction I’ve seen after reading of earthquakes is “Why would God make such a thing happen!?” Conversely I recall many comments made of the Japanese response to their recent earthquake/tsunami experience, as they largely exemplified acceptance around what happened, while then responding to what needed attention. When we flow with nature, working with what is, we create more ease for ourselves.

Consider that all the ‘unnatural’ deaths that have ever occurred are serving to build our global collective pain that is now bringing about our planet’s current shift in consciousness. Consider that every cubic ton of pollution we’ve created thus far is serving to awaken us to the point where we once again realize the true value of our planet. Many sacrifices have been made in order to create the opportunity that lies before us all. Consider that there is no right and no wrong—only countless opportunities to, through awareness, healthfully flow with what is. After all, we’re all the good guys, each of us sharing a common desire: to be happy, as each of us does our best to find our way.

Toxic Chemicals in personal skin care products?

Dirty_hands

I have been doing a lot of gardening over the past couple of months and it has been great. Lots of fresh air, hard work and I am learning a lot.

It’s killing my hands though. Shovelling, digging, gettting dirty, washing, getting dirty. Washing again has taken its toll. I use a lot of moisturizers but it does not seem to make much of a difference. It feels good once I put products on, but as soon as my hands are back in the dirt and back into the tap water, dry as a bone and chafing. It occurred to me that maybe these moisturizers aren’t really doing such a great job after all.

After looking into some other more effective options for skincare products that might heal my busy, abused hands, I learned a lot that really surprised and alarmed me. Did you know, that most of the products you buy at the drugstore, or at the grocery store, contain a bunch of nasty stuff that is toxic and harmful to humans? The more I dug, the more I discovered how everyday personal care products are laced with stuff you would never want in your bloodstream if you knew it was there.

If only we knew about the hidden toxic chemicals that can be found in everyday personal care products… Chemicals that are cancer-causing, hormone-disrupting and allergy-inducing.

The presence of these toxins isn’t new:

They have been there all along.

We think it’s time to shed the light on the hidden, dangerous toxins that exist in body care products for men. But we need your help. We need you to roll up your sleeves and help us flag the products that you would like to know more about.

Cologne, bar soap, deodorant, shaving cream. These are all common products that we use everyday. Used by us, by our sons, brothers, fathers or husbands. On a daily basis, these products are rubbed and absorbed into our skin, with very lax regulations on the ingredients used to make them.

Environmental Defense

Environmental Defense is an organization that looks after us, fights for us and helps make the government take action on our behalf. Their new Just Beautiful campaign is all about testing products we use everyday to see just how safe they are to put on our skin. How safe are the personal products we use on our bodies? The answer: nobody knows. The cosmetic business is a deregulated wild west.

They would like to test ten common products that are part of the basic morning routine many men go through on a daily basis. And, reveal their findings to you.

As a parent myself with a young daughter and two small boys, I want to know whether the products I use daily are safe for me and for my kids. We thought you might too. With our children’s health in our hands, we need to ensure that we are taking each step we can to protect them – today, tomorrow and as they grow older. When we can’t do it for ourselves, its great to know that people like Rick Smith from Environmental Defence has got our backs. He did it already with Bisphenol A in Baby Bottles and now he is on the case searching for hidden toxins that we know are lurking in our everyday personal care products.

By identifying the ingredients hidden in these products, we can continue to push for stronger federal regulations and accountability. But, this research will not be cheap.

As each product is put through a series of laboratory tests to detect different chemicals, testing will cost $710 per product.

Can we count on you to help Environmental Defense make men’s personal care products safe from harmful chemicals? Will you make a donation today?

Each gift will help cover the cost of a product to be tested. And, what better time than to do it today!

How to heal your dry, chapped skin without slathering on harmful toxins?

If you are looking for some great options for effective skin care products that are all natural, non toxic and free from dark, hidden secrets there are options out there. They are just not as easy to find. One place you can look is Made From Earth Organics.


I have been using some of their products recently and I really love them. I have a couple of bars of lovely soap that gets me and my kids dirty hands clean without drying them to a chafe. I also use an amazing face wash that cools, cleans and refreshes after a long day without stripping your skin of its natural moisture. I am a chapstick guy who always travels with one in my pocket and another in my car. You will love theirs. Blows the drugstore variety off the shelf. The only problem is, now that I am addicted to these, I will never be able to buy a cheap and cheerful drugstore product again.

Do you have any questions, products you would like Environmental Defense to test or men’s grooming products you would like us to review and share with our audience?

Please feel free to comment below, email me directly or send us a tweet @HeadsUp_Dad

How to: Urban Back Yard Farming for Rookies…

Organic_Garden

Sprouting an organic garden is fun and easy

What’s this world coming to?

I have been thinking for the past few years that the amount of pesticides, herbicides and other toxic chemicals in food is getting out of control. Genetically modified foods, mass enterprise farming and the demise of the small family farm all over the world makes me sad. I read an article last year that mentioned how vegetables grown in 2010 had half the nutrients that they did 50 or 100 years ago.

No one seems to have time for dinner at home anymore and increasing numbers of families worldwide are eating in fast food restaurants. Obesity is on the rise, cancer is on the rise, mental illness and hormonal imbalances are screwing up families all over the world. What is going on? Have we lost touch with what is important in the pursuit of progress, bigger TV’s and fatter wallets?

Eating healthy and wholesome food that is nutritious and tastes great is important to me. As a parent of three very young kids, it is extremely important that I give my kids the types of fuel their brains and little bodies need to keep them healthy and give them the best shot for success in life.

So, with the options in grocery stores getting more and more toxic, generic in flavour and lower and lower in nutritional value, it seems obvious to me that something had to change. I have always been curious about organic food. More and more over time I started to do some research on this and felt it pretty important to adopt more of this into our family lifestyle.

Going Organic

Going organic is more of a lifestyle change than just a decision we make. Buying everything organic sounds great in principle, but once you get over the sticker shock, you realize that it is kind of impractical given the fact that not everything is available as Organic, and the corresponding enormous jump in your grocery bill when you factor in all the elements in your shopping cart. So, then it makes sense to balance out with some good choices to get what you need while minimizing your exposure to toxic intake.

  1. Buy organic the ten top things that are most obvious to avoid otherwise—the stuff that has the most toxic footprint (there is a top ten list or two out there) on the human body.
  2. Buy from local farmers (that do not put nasty chemicals and fertizers in their soil) where possible. Go to your local farmer’s market or take a drive in the country if that is easy for you.
  3. Grow some of your own vegetables (for those of us with a back yard or a sun drenched balcony). It s not that hard, and you would be amazed what you can learn in a pinch.

Urban Organic Farming

So it was that this year I decided to take the plunge into Urban Farming and attempt to grow some of my own organic vegetables in my back yard. It has been about two months since I started, and I put in a lot of hours into research, spent many a back breaking hour converting some of my yard into a vegetable patch, and have learned a lot.

Success is still a ways away, some time towards the end of summer when I can really begin to harvest many of the crops that I have planted, but there have been some small wins and a few setbacks. All in all, I have been having a great time with it, but the story is just beginning to unfold. I will my Urban Farming experience with you here, beginning today.

Growing your own vegetables is great

I took this challenge on this year, with no expctations other than I was going to give Organic Farming a try and see what happens. I have never been a green thumb. If anything, I was more of a plant killer than a grower. I have never intentionally killed a live plant, but most plants entrusted in my care do not seem to survive the long haul. This, I hope to change.

Start with Organic Seeds

I started with one of those seeding kits you get from the garden centre (plastic tray and a bunch of expanding growers medium (Peat Pucks)) and a bunch of Organic seeds that I purchased online from the Salt Spring Seed Company on Vancouver Island. I had a lot of questions and Dan Jason was really very helpful and super nice to do business with. I felt like my rookie season was in good hands and there was nothing he could not help me with.

Start with good quality organic seeds and a cheap and cheerful seed starting kit

I wanted this to be an experience I shared with my kids—a great way to teach them about where food comes from (other than the grocery store). From seed, to the garden, to their plate is a much healthier and more sustainable path than the one we normally take. It is easy for them to dis Daddy’s dinner when they have no idea where it comes from.

Starting out is not that complicated or difficult, just takes a good variety of seeds, some potting soil or cheap and cheerful a seed starter kit and some pots. You’ll need some time on your hands for a little bit (or a lot) of online research if you are like me and have never grown anything intentionally before. The rest is up to mother nature and it really is a miracle.

Plant seed, water and wait…

So one day in late April, one by one, each of my kids and I spent an evening planting 1, 2 or 3 seeds into each of the little pucks in a little plastic greenhouse tray that held 72 in all, watering them, covering them and stuffing them under the bed. Each had their own technique, and I tried not to get too worked up when they spilled seeds all over the floor or planted them too deep. All in all, the seeding was pretty painless. We planted Spinach, Kale, Arugula, Cucumber, Squash, Broccoli, Summer Peas, beans, two kinds of heirloom cherry tomatoes, Sweet Yellow Peppers, Carrots, Basil, Summer Savoury, Cilantro and a bunch of fancy lettuces. We watered, we covered and we waited.

Every morning we would get down on our knees, slide out the tray and see if anything had happened the night before. It took a few days, and a lot of anxious anticipation, but on the fourth day, surprise! Out poked a few little sprouts. Life!! We had given birth to a bunch of beautiful little seedlings. It was so exciting that we could not contain ourselves.

Sprouts everywhere!

By the end of the second week, we were very pleased to be staring down every day at about 100 little sprouts working their way up through the soil. We carefully set them out in the light, not far from the window, watered them every day or two, and constantly checked in on their progress. As the spring was moving along, we were anxious to get going on the planting part. There was no rush though, every day it was raining buckets outside and there was no break in sight.

We learned the hard way not to rush things. Earlier, we planted three kinds of potatoes right into the yard that all failed miserably. I was so sad about this, because all of the research I did said that Organic potatoes were so incredibly delicious and super easy to grow. Promptly after I planted four or five rows of these fantastic heirloom seed potatoes, it rained cats and dogs for days and days. By time the sun came out, and the soil had a chance to dry, the potato seedlings had rotted right in the ground. I guess maybe it just was not meant to be this year. I will definitely try again next year.

Organic_Tomato_Plant

Once the sprouts became more like plants, I transplanted them to 4" pots and put them out on the roof to get some sun and harden them off (acclimatize) and get ready for transplanting into the ground ...

Phase two: Transplanting to pots…

Once the sprouts start to grow with their first set of real leaves, it is time to weed out the strong from the weak, separate the men from the boys so to speak, and plant the strongest plants into pots of their own, into organic potting soil. This is where you see the fruits of your labour begin to take shape. While not every seed turned into a plant, and some of the plants were kind of lame relative to some of the others, on the upside, I ended up watching about 100 seeds transform into well over 6o beautiful potted plants which I am proud to say, have all been planted in the ground by now and are doing just great. I have had a few setbacks, but all in all, things are growing just fine. I will talk more about the successes and failures in successive posts throughout the summer.

Phase three: Getting your beds ready
In my next post, I want to go over getting your planting beds ready. If you are like me, your back yard was not ready to just plant vegetables into. There is a lot of research to do and a lot of preparation to get everything ready if you want to do it right. It is a lot of work, but in the long run, success will be a lot sweeter at harvest time. What you do this year, will continue to give back year after year if you decide to carry on with your Urban Organic Farm. I am definitely looking forward to reaping the harvest.

Thinking about giving organic gardening a try?

It is not too late to get started. If this sounds like something you would like to give a go, then order some seeds today—you could be growing a green thumb by next week.

If you have started your own back yard Organic Garden, and have some success stories and or disastrous tales of failure to share, please post them here. We all can learn from what you have learned and then it will not have been for naught. For better or for worse, we are definitely looking forward to hearing from you.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to post them here as a comment or @HeadsUp_Dad on Twitter.

Until next time, be well!

8 Super Cool Summer Camp Ideas for Creative kids:

design camp for Kids at the DX in Toronto

Design Camp at the Design Exchange (Dx) in Toronto

Every year as parents we scramble to find interesting stuff to engage our kids with over the summer holidays. For the lucky ones, its the trek to the cottage, for others it is a week or two away from the heat of the city up North attending a luxe summer camp at Camp Ooochi Goochi in Cottage country. For the rest of us, who may be lucky to get a week or two away from the office, we have to find some good stuff for our kids to do so they can have some fun and unique experiences to help them learn, grow as individuals and maybe even make some new friends.

Here in Toronto, everywhere in Ontario, right across Canada, all over the United States, and in practically every major urban centre all over the developed world, there are a ton of great options out there. Everything from sailing, swimming, music camps, art camps, drama camps, dance camps, science camps, math camps (seriously—isn’t summer holidays supposed to be fun?) and even the YMCA offers summer day camps for that perfect mix of everything a kid could ever want to do in a week or two. It is important to get your kids engaged in a summer camp if you can swing it. It is an excellent opportunity to get off the couch, away from the computers and video games, out of the house, out of your hair and into something new. A wonderful time to learn a new skill, meet new friends, gain some independance and try something completely different than the every day routine throughout the school year.

I hope to showcase over the next few weeks a random sampling of some of the excellent options available to parents with kids of all ages. If you have not made plans yet, you might be running out of time, so you may want to get right on it before it is too late. Many camps sell out fast and you don’t want to be the Dumb Ass Dad that has to break it to your kids that they won’t be going to camp this year because you left it to the last possible minute and everything is sold out.

While summer camp conjures up traditional images of campfires, tents, arts and crafts, canoe trips and the like, today we are going to focus on some of the more unique urban adventures that many kids would really enjoy, if only their parents knew they were out there. With so many options here in this great city, it is difficult to choose just one, so I am going to focus on one super cool summer camp that my 6 year old daughter attended in Toronto last year. She and her girlfriends absolutely loved it. So much so that we are doing it again this year and want to share it with you. We think your kids would love it and so if you live and work in Toronto, and are looking for a great summer camp idea for your kids, be sure to check this one out.

Design Camp is a real gem that is conveniently located right downtown. Hosted by the Design Exchange, the facility is situated at the base of the TD Financial towers on the ground floor of the old Toronto Stock Exchange. If you work in the downtown core, and even if you don’t, they make it really easy for you to pick up and drop off the kids right out front without even having to get out of the car which is a big plus in the morning when you are battling traffic to get to work on time.

design camp for Kids at the DX in Toronto

Projects at Design Camp are very hands-on and creative

Design Camp at the DX in Toronto is an amazing summer camp experience available to kids between the ages of 6 and 14. If you are lucky enough to live in Toronto and commute  to work every day downtown, this might be just right for you. There are at least 8 or 10 different camps held here every summer and each camp is offered at one or two separate time slots—you should be able to find at least one designed to fit your kid’s interest and your summer holiday schedule.

All projects are very hands-on and creative, using top quality materials. Each camp session generally goes on one field trip to a local design studio or other related site and will also be visited here at the DX by a guest speaker (dependent on scheduling).  These are both great opportunities for campers to meet real working designers and ask them questions. This list is by no means complete. There are more offered than I have listed here including Jewellery Design, Creatures and Comics and a bunch of other unique and original summer camp ideas all based around kids and design. If you are interested in seeing the complete list, as well as time and dates each of these are available, check out the DX Summer Camp website for further details.

Rock Star – ages 7 to 9 SOLD OUT!
Young designers will learn how to create band t-shirts, album covers and rock star accessories for their ultra-hip, fictitious music group, as well as film rock star interviews for DX TV.  We will also have a chance to meet a cool local designer and talk about design careers in the music industry. It sounds like a lot of fun, and I am really sorry that I missed this one for my kids this year. They would have loved it. It is now sold out.I am telling you this now so you can bookmark to remind yourself to get in early and pay for next year so you don’t miss it.

Fashion Basics – ages 10 to 12
The basics of illustration, patterns, and stitching will be covered in this camp, through hands-on projects that will include an a-line skirt, fashion tote, and a host of accessories.  An opportunity to meet a local designer and visit a working studio will also be included in this exciting week.

Retro Cool – ages 10 to 12
This blast-from-the-past design camp will look at some iconic pieces from yesterday as inspiration for super cool designs today!  Projects include terrariums, groovy lamps, old-school radios and much more!

Fashion TV – ages 10 to 12
This exciting week will focus on fashion for TV and film, including costumes and red-carpet glamour.  Participants will design and construct a garment inspired by their favorite TV personality and create a short segment for DX Fashion TV.

Superstructures – ages 8 to 10
From buildings to bridges and boats, participants will learn what it takes to design these amazing structures while building and testing their own models.  Campers will meet a Superstructure designer and visit some local marvels for inspiration.

Dine Design – ages 7 to 9
In today’s world of celebrity chefs, restaurant design is big business.  Young designers will create their own mock-bistro, from the graphics on the menu to the décor and layout of the space.  A visit to a local restaurant and a chat with the designer will round out the week.

Costume Design – ages 12 to 14
Working with the Drama + Design camp, participants will be the official wardrobe designers and work directly with the Canadian Stage crew and the cast to develop costume designs and then see them through construction and onto the stage.  We will meet with a visiting costume designer to hear about careers in this exciting field.

Drama + Design – ages 7 to 14
In partnership with The Canadian Stage Company, participants in this one-week camp will develop a performance, from staging to costumes, props, sets and makeup.  All enrolled campers will be treated to a performance on the Wednesday evening of the camp, for themselves and their parents to attend the Canadian Stage TD Dream in High Park, including a backstage tour.  Participants will perform their masterpiece for family and friends on Friday July 8th.

Design Camp at the DX in toronto

Learn something new, meet new friends and have a great time!

Where is the Design Exchange located?
The DX is located in the historic former Toronto Stock Exchange building at 234 Bay Street.  The building is situated on the west side of Bay Street, between King and Wellington.

When does Camp start?
Summer camps run for one week commencing July 4, 2011 and running right through until August 26, 2011. Please check the calendar for specific dates for each program.

What are the hours for Design Camp?
Camp activities run from 9.00 am to 4.00 pm each day. They offer complimentary before-care beginning at 8.30 am and After-care from 4.00 pm to 5.30 pm each day.  After-care is an additional $10.00 per day.

Who are the Design Camp instructors?
The Design Exchange hires post-secondary students studying design, who have at least 2 years experience teaching and working with children, who are CPR and First Aid certified and who have passed a criminal record check.  In addition, they also recruit student volunteers that have a passion for design, have experience working with children and have First Aid training to support the day to day delivery of the programs throughout the summer.

Questions??
Please refer to the Design Exchange DX FAQ website for more information or contact the camp director, Katie Weber at 416.216.2138 or katie[at]dx.org. She’s lovely and amazing and she is only too happy to help.

Do you have any amazing Summer Camp experiences or recommendations you would like to share with us?

Post a comment or get in touch!