Guest Blogs

Guest Blog: The Abi Chronicles



Here are some more “life lessons” that are resonating with me while visiting the magical domain of the Berlin playground. For the start of this little series, please go to the previous entry.


Object Lesson #5: Revel in Natural-World Imagery.

Froggies, camels, mythical dragons, snakes, huge bugs…these are the stuff of a kid’s universe. The playgrounds here are like stage sets: zany, grotesque, colourful characters pop up their friendly faces and evoke nature – but with a storybook twist. So much richer with possibility, than Disney or Dora!


Lesson #5 - natural world imagery


Object Lesson #6: Be One-Off.

Why should kids’ environments be cookie-cutter? We adults demand variety and uniqueness in our playspaces (think of restaurants and bars!) – and it’s even more important in playgrounds. I have never seen a piece of play equipment in Berlin replicated in any other playground: each swingset, slide or monkey bars, is a one-off piece. Because they’re mostly hewn from tree trunks (without each gnarl or edge sanded off to total uniformity) there are cool challenges to balancing and holding on: kids get to know their way round their local pieces!


Lesson#6- be one-off


Object Lesson #7: Kids Need Respite from Adults!

A recent book by a Canadian mother about French parenting caused a bit of a storm back home. One caller to a radio show fulminated that “in France, children at the beach are ignored by their parents – and so they’re forced to play by themselves!” Truth is, most children aren’t just OK with the feeling they aren’t being watched…they actually require it.

(Please know it’s the feeling of not being watched I’m recommending: not NOT being watched. Thank you.)

Lesson #7 - kids-need-respite


Playgrounds in Berlin offer lots of inviting nooks for kids to take shelter from the adult world. This is especially crucial for kids who don’t have backyards of their own to play in.


Object Lesson #8: Provide Loopholes

A hole in a fence…a patch of grass behind the shed…a swing that’s supposed to go up and down but is much more fun when it goes round and round…these are the tiny customizations that imaginative, physically curious kids make for themselves. In Berlin playgrounds, the signs this is taking place, are everywhere.


Object Lesson #9: Distinguish Safety Culture from Liability Culture

In Berlin playgrounds, there are way more ouch-attunities than I’m used to at home in Toronto. (I saw a toddler mistake a sand-chute for a slide the other day, with painful consequences – but he’ll return with extra caution: no serious harm done.) These playgrounds aren’t dangerous places – far from it. But they do offer room for real challenge…mistakes…getting back on the horse and trying again. You can bet that the benefits (lower obesity rates, agile, physically intelligent kids) outweigh the cost of the odd boo-boo.


Guest Blog: The Abi Chronicles

I’m in Berlin with Sheba and John. I loved this city before I had Sheba, but things have deepened since she came along.

Where do I start?

Berlin’s playgrounds! There’s so much to share about these health-enhancing, magical spaces that I could easily write a whole book on them. These sandy sanctuaries are founded on such sheer intelligence; such wise understanding of what young humans really need to be happy and healthy, that they take my breath away. (They also take Sheba’s breath away…through simple, wide-spectrum joy.)

There are some important truths spoken by these beautiful playgrounds. Most of these miniature-lessons apply equally to urban design, parenting or just…living well in the truest sense.


Object Lesson #1: Show, Don’t Tell!

No need for huge warning signs everywhere. Let parents, caregivers and the kids themselves decide if a piece of equipment is safe and skills-appropriate. Some kids can master ropes and slides at 18 months, and some aren’t happy on a basic swing till 4 or 5. With responsibility comes power!


Object Lesson #2: Put Valuable Things in Reach of Kids

Hand carved and painted sculpture, heavy, custom-forged steel, deep golden sand, mechanisms and materials meant to feel good in the hand…playgrounds are places where public investment pays back a millionfold; valuable objects truly share their value here.


Object Lesson #3: Craft Is Good

Craft is how human societies made life beautiful and livable before mechanization and mass production came along. Hand craft is good for the environment, good for mental health, and creates skills and objects for the next generation. Playgrounds can be showcases for craft, and spark creative thoughts and artistic vision that little ones take away for life.


Object Lesson #4: Do Not Segregate

Playgrounds are lovely places for inter-age interaction. 2-person slides, multi-use swings, table tennis and soccer right there too, and tonnes of benches, logs or sheltered nooks for adults to sit…these elements all invite generations and kids of differing agest (and abilities) to mingle. I saw a grandmother sunbathing in a Speedo, in the middle of a water fountain last week: the kids just played all around her! Did she bring a kid? Who cares?

These playgrounds are clearly getting to me. More in the next column!

30th April, 2012

The Abi Chronicles: Guest Blog



In the past month or so, Sheba has started to love clothes. I don’t mean the ‘let’s brush each other’s hair and try on outfits’ sort of infant clothes-loveage that mothers of daughters dream about.

I mean, first thing in the morning she leaps up and down in her cot, yelling to be released upon her shelves so that she can lovingly don (and it’s all I can do not to echo the cadences of A Very Hungry Caterpillar here): one ‘T’-shirt, a better ‘T’-shirt, a long-sleeved sweat, a cotton smock or four, and finally a nice, green swimsuit. Just to pull it all together.

Then – ‘Quick Mum: I need them now’ – it’s several necklaces: the noisy kind. With knots in them, flapper-style. And ‘Age of Aquarius’ leather pendants, complete with padded hearts, courtesy of her good buddy Sumi from down the street.

That’s the top half. Next come the bottoms. Red-Superman-Charlie-Knickers please (knickers is underwear for North Americans – and she’s still not settled into one culture because, at three, she and her kind haven’t settled onto Planet Earth: can we just face it?).

Then it’s PJ bottoms, a pair (or two) of leggings. (‘Mummy you’re grabbing. Don’t grab Mummy, these are MY clothes’.) Some jeans. Some legwarmers. More jeans.

We let her just go for it, completely unfettered, until about a week ago. Debates started forming in my mind, and they covered a wide range of complex topics.

Here are three:

1)    Does it exploit underpaid daycare workers to force them to plough through seven layers of textiles so my daughter can pee? (Yes.)

2)    Is it unfair of us to cultivate in Sheba a sense of blue-sky sartorial freedom when, truth is, she lives in a cruelly norm-enforcing world wherein more than two pairs of pants categorizes you as socially marginal? (Yes.)

3)    Is it, on the other hand, unfair to deprive her of her last couple of years of not having to choose between the pink corduroy and the stripey Velour but having it all, dammit! For maybe the last time in her life, unless she ends up a teenage fashion blogger. (Yes).

See the dilemma?


About The Abi Chronicles:

As our in-house blogger, Abi reports on the full spectrum of parenting – from the searching, essential questions to the quirkier territory all families sometimes inhabit.

10th April, 2012

Guest Blog: The Abi Chronicles


It’s big, my colour issue.

Let me illustrate with a short anecdote.

Sheba and I were waiting for the bus the other day, on busy Dufferin St. Distraction was required from the icy wind whipping dust in our faces (condo developers: your slick creations might render Parkdale less gritty in the long term but meanwhile it’s grit-city round here).

I suggested the ‘Call Out The Colour Of The Car’ game. As each vehicle raced towards us Sheba’d yell its colour and I’d go ‘Yay Shebes!’.

The only trouble was, that they were all grey.

‘Grey!’, she’d yell. (‘Yay!’).

‘Um…GREY!’ (‘Yay’).


The exciting deviations were: ‘Black!!’, and many were ‘Errrrrr…whitey-yellow-grey!’ (she doesn’t know about ‘beige’ yet).

I disagree with this norm. Cars, phones, laptops, fridges, DVD players…all grey or black. It’s as though industrial designers are stuck in some 80’s and 90’s cinematic art-directed construct called ‘The Future’ and everything in that so-sleek, so-fast future is goddamn silver grey.

As a treat therefore, I bring you:


Ahhh. Doesn’t that luscious, life-affirming Liberty print refresh the eyeballs and open up the mind’s eye in a whole wonderful way?

Sheba and I are a mother-daughter team on a hue-mad mission to singlehandedly undo the hegemony of silver grey. If we had our way, the whole of western society would be speaking on jade-green Bakelite phones just like the one beside Don and Betty Draper’s bed; pouring our kids milk from stately royal blue refrigerators; yanking out lemon-yellow iPhones to text on rainbow-glorious keypads. Powerful men would give press conferences wearing entire suits of mouthwatering lavender or emerald green.


In Sheba’s aesthetic world order, the wearing of at least seven different prints in one outfit would be mandatory, both on days we’re ‘dressing up as a big girl’ and those where we’re ‘dressing up as a big boy’.

Femmy, mascy…what’s the difference? Colour is gorgeous, colour is powerful and colour gives us something simple to exclaim and delight over.

Bring it!


About The Abi Chronicles:

As our in-house blogger, Abi reports weekly on the full spectrum of parenting – from the searching, essential questions to the quirkier territory all families sometimes inhabit.

3rd April, 2012

Guest Blog: The Abi Chronicles


Since my mid-20’s I’ve rarely been without my own car. I first tried it several years ago and it lasted two months. I had highway-envy. (And its green-eyed sisters: IKEA envy, Beaches Boardwalk envy, and Hiking-in-the-Greenbelt envy).

When Sheba was born, our Suzuki Aerio got to join in the excitement. In labour, I yanked mightily on the hanging straps with each contraction; we drove it home again with our new beloved in the carseat, stopping on the way home at Shoppers Drug Mart for hillbilly heroin.

But the heat was off the love affair. Collapsing the stroller was more work than just walking, or taking the streetcar. We spent a blissful car-free month in London enjoying the stroller-parking spots on the highly-accessible buses, taking the world’s coolest Catamaran down the Thames…and walking our faces off.

The coup de grace for our car ownership came when Sheba was 7 months old.  Ms. Aerio was totalled by some ‘U’ turning tosser…and we decided to pay off some debt with the insurance payout. In the car’s place, went a complex hierarchical structure involving:

a)    Can this be done on foot?

b)   If ‘no’, will bike and trailer work?

c)    How low is that windchill?

d)   Let’s cab-it, baby!!!

The patchwork arrangement saves us a few hundred bucks a month – and that’s with AutoShare thrown in!

On good days it’s easier than owning a car. Believe it. On a frigid, dark Tuesday night when we’re late for dinner across town and the cab hasn’t arrived, it blows. But parking, gas, maintenance and keeping a car clean blow rather badly, too.

Perfection would be to co-own a car: but that’s un-Canadian, reprehensible and ideologically-suspect, according to the – uh – strong feelings bestirred when I dared to suggest it on Craigslist.


About The Abi Chronicles:

As our in-house blogger, Abi reports weekly on the full spectrum of parenting – from the searching, essential questions to the quirkier territory all families sometimes inhabit.

22nd March, 2012

Guest Blog: The Abi Chronicles

I didn’t expect to be One Of Those Mothers. The mother who blocks the aisle at the healthfood store, examining shampoo labels and vexedly shoving back any bottle that says ‘paraben’ in the ingredients list.

When you see That Mother though, please be nice to her. She’s me, OK?

It started as soon as Sheba was born. The wonderful nurses at Women’s College Hospital decided she needed supplemental feeding, so prepackaged, warmed mini-bottles of formula (complete with tiny disposable nipple) magically appeared at my bed. What about heating the plastic? That formula’s not organic. Hold on a minute: I haven’t been eating organic much either – so how squeaky clean is my actual breast milk?


Sheba was barely 24 hours old, and already hungrily sucking non-food substances down with her victuals. Thoughts more intrusive than the chemicals themselves, wormed a-slither through my postpartum brain.

Now she’s 3, the ante is way, way up in the contaminants department. She wants to paint her nails with my solvent-laden American Apparel polish – so I compromise by letting her paint just one.


Her Valentine’s loot bag is stuffed with red dyed candy and she makes her special, primal ‘mmmmmmmmm’ sound as she eats until her mouth and lips turn garish scarlet.

She bathes gleefully in coloured, crackling water courtesy of these cute little tablets John bought her in Germany.

Is it neurotic to wonder? ‘Too much thinking’, as recently charged?

In the 50’s, cigarette smoke was thought to be invigorating. Painting the crib with lead paint and letting Junior gnaw on the flakes, wasn’t much before that. And a few decades earlier? Sending him up chimney shafts to earn his keep.

It’s easy to mock the ‘nanny state’ but that ignores a question that’s far from trivial: where should responsible parents draw the line? Is aspartame in gum OK? Bisphenol A in ATM receipts of all things? Antibacterials in soap? What about WiFi?

Advice from baby media warns us to switch off modems where there are children sleeping in the house – and that’s mainstream media, not flaky conspiracy theorists. Finding that line between over-vigilant and naïve – your own personal, pet line – is quite the trick, I’m finding.

(Of course, my line is perfectly sensible. Yours? Probably off-the-charts OCD.)


About The Abi Chronicles:

As our in-house blogger, Abi reports on the full spectrum of parenting – from the searching, essential questions to the quirkier territory all families sometimes inhabit.


29th February, 2012

Guest Blog: The Abi Chronicles

Back in the early 70’s, a drive across England from London to west Cornwall, was best spread over two days, with a night in the middle to break the journey. (Especially with 3 kids, in the tiny red Austin my parents drove.)

During one of our regular layovers, my young parents decided to spend some quality time doing what every reasonable, engaged parent does on a regular basis: eavesdropping on their angels. The convo, legend has it, goes this-a-way:

William Pugh, 4: ‘Abigail, what do the grownups actually do when we are asleep?’

Abigail Pugh, Keeper of Knowledge, at 5: ‘Duh, don’t you know anything? They play leapfrog, natch

Leapfrog, to my upwardly-mobile mind, was the absolute apogee; the sine qua non; the apex of adult dexterity. I logically surmised: If you could actually leapfrog, why on earth would you do anything else once the kids are down?

Once my parents had dabbed away their tears of laughter, I’m sure they walked off for some quality ‘leapfrog time’ in the hotel bar. I think the expression is the perfect shorthand for hallowed domestic downtime. Leapfrog time is when I can creep past Sheba’s door in sweats and slippers, on my way to grownup music, wine and unbroken conversation – pausing on the way to hear her guttural mini-snores or dim her lights.

It’s when I get to make phonecalls of a length and intensity that recall a younger self, or compulsively watch yet another violent episode of ‘Breaking Bad’ with John. Or put in an important hour’s online research into celebrity plastic surgery.

Then there are the nights when leapfrog time comes to a shrieking halt: ‘Waaaaater!’/‘Go peeeeee!’/ ‘Wannanother hug!’/ ‘Wanna go mummysanddaddysbed!’.

It’s counterintuitive to feel so eager to put the laptop down and dispense one last hug. I’m like a budgie allowed free-flight around the living room only to circle straight back inside where it’s familiar. My guess is, I’m soothed by the immediacy and the fixability of these humble requests: Fetch water. Give kisses. Facilitate urination. This is the rhythmic, one-foot-in-front-of-another quality of parenthood.


About The Abi Chronicles:

As our in-house blogger, Abi reports on the full spectrum of parenting – from the searching, essential questions to the quirkier territory all families sometimes inhabit.

7th February, 2012

Guest Blog: The Abi Chronicles

Let me begin by saying, if grades were given out, I’d get a ‘C’ at best. I’ve been collecting baby clothes since I was 13. A friend’s mother sold exquisite vintage lace and linen at Camden Passage: an antiques market close to our house in London.

(True fact: the friend was Freud’s great-granddaughter.)

Every time I saw a pretty christening gown for 3 quid, or a hand crocheted, 100% goofy woolen – with only a tiny wee moth hole – I’d snap it up.

I found my stash recently: it included a hand-hooked bright green baby duck-emblazoned rug and was as tremendous as when I’d girlishly parted with my pocket money in the 80’s. However, the Mommy part of me laughed scornfully at my pre-kid naiveté. The rips, stains, infestations and dangling mother of pearl buttons – choke hazard, duh – are as patently unsuitable for a real baby, as they are dreamy-fabulous for an imagined future one.

Which brings me to my dressing policies for almost-3-year-old, Sheba.

Dear Babyscooper: I am a rube. Till recently I lived in a fool’s paradise where piles of preordained Sheba-clothes fell literally into my lap every time I opened her closet. I never had to do anything as humdrum as buy her anything because lovely women came forward with bags of pre-edited gear. Even now that’s ended, the need is low because her Grandpa goes twice a year to John Lewis in London and mails her divine little pieces for her birthday and Christmas.


But with the overall supply dwindling, I am stumbling.

My therapist, for goodness sake, broke down and bought Shebes a suitable ensemble: organic cotton hoodie-tunic and matching leggings from Mini Mioche. They suit Sheba’s current cultivation of her masculine side (‘I not a good girl. I big boy!) (Freudianize that) because I was able to swiftly rebrand the tunic from ‘dress’ to ‘fleecy hoodie’. She’s comfy, she’s warm, she looks like a girl, and she thinks she looks like a boy: boxes ticked.

So why couldn’t I have figured that out? I walked past the very same outfit a month ago and deemed it ‘too expensive’. What the hell? The delicious mail-order woolens that come from Cambridge Baby in England, attract shocking duty charges and shrink because I wash them too hot, aren’t expensive? The little brown roman sandals we go out of our way to purchase every time we’re in Berlin aren’t expensive? (And deliciously bizarre, but that’s for another time.)

All in all, if I had to choose one word to define my policy, it would be: unfocussed. Gendering my daughter, sweatshop and fair trade issues, washability, affordability, warmth, sun protection, Dufferin Mall-avoidance and my own secret desire for Shebes to look like a drawing from a vintage children’s book, tend to overwhelm.

Feel free to share your tips, successes or parallel unfocussiosity in the ‘comments’ section below.


About The Abi Chronicles:

As our in-house blogger, Abi reports on the full spectrum of parenting – from the searching, essential questions to the quirkier territory all families sometimes inhabit.

Guest Blogger Michelle Savin is clearly a woman of many talents: she’s an eco stylist, mom, blogger, and runs Until Kara, a company she founded in 2006, that creates eco-friendly products for the nursery. She has generously agreed to share her Top Picks for baby’s first year with the babyScoop. Of her list, Michelle says, “These products have changed my family’s way of thinking Eco, and will hopefully be helpful to yours. Here I bring you my Top Ten Eco-Friendly favorites!.”


1. Until Kara Organic Mattress

Of course my number one pick is untilKara, which is my line. We push the envelope on being one of the best organic mattresses in the U.S. We use only organic cotton and natural wool from organically raised sheep.


2. Naturepedic Organic Cotton Contoured Changing Pad

This changing pad contains a waterproof organic cotton cover that is 100% polyethylene food grade. They use organic cotton filling that is pure, natural & chemical free. This year I did a comparison versus a typical vinyl version, and this pad is so fab in comparison!

3. Little Fluffy Onesies and T-Shirts

The epitome of cuteness, each garment is 100% organic cotton and hand-printed in San Francisco using water- based inks.


4. Sophie The Giraffe

This 0+ month teether is phenomenal. It is made of all-natural rubber and is 100% phthalate free. Made in the French Alps, Sophie has been a design classic for fifty years.


5. Oeuf Cribs

Awarded best crib of 2011, Oeuf is well-known for great crib design. Made of solid birch and Eco- MDF, all their finishes are non-toxic and free of VOC’s.


6. Bla Bla Dolls

Designed by Florence Wetterwald and knitted by Peruvian artisans using only 100% hand picked cotton. Each doll has its own personality and is well worth getting to know!


7. Plan Toys

All-round great toys made from non-toxic natural materials such as organic rubber wood. Such a huge selection of must-have toys: stoves, food, stackers, car repair stations, activity sets, and dollhouses!


8. Little Twig Natural Products

These safe and mild formulas are really great for babies with sensitive skin. They are made with organic and natural ingredients. Even better: they are phthalate, paraben and SLS free!

9. California Baby Skincare

A real leader in organic skincare and bath products. Their products are beautifully scented with aromatherapy, and they only use natural, raw materials.


10. Tushies Disposable Diapers and Wipes

A great alternative to cloth diapers & regular disposable diapers. This is the only natural cotton disposable diaper that is gel free!

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