Friday, 28 March 2014

Best-Ever Banana Bread

This best-ever banana bread is one of my favourite recipes for a sweet treat to bake with my boys. We make it at least once a month and usually finish it before it even cools.

Banana Bread, baking
The recipe is actually my best friend Melissa's - when I moved out of the London apartment we shared and back home to Toronto she gave me a cute little wooden box filled with a collection of hand-written recipe cards and some easy-to-follow recipes (I wasn't the greatest cook at twenty-one - cocktailing was more my thing). 

Although my culinary skills have progressed a lot over the last fourteen years (mostly after having kids - turns out children need to be fed) this banana bread recipe is still one of my faves - the card is faded and torn and has egg and butter stains all over it and I've added and altered and taken away from the recipe as baking has become sort of a specialty of mine, but it's delicious and simple and the whole family loves it.

Mixing banana bread batter, kids, baking

Banana Bread

4 mashed bananas
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
4 tbsp. melted butter
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon

Banana Bread, baking

Mash bananas in large bowl (overripe bananas are best). Add sugar and eggs; beat. Add melted butter. Mix soda and cinnamon with flour and add to mixture. Pour into baking pan and sprinkle a pinch of cinnamon over top. Bake at 350F for 1 1/4 hours.




Nothing smells more homey and heavenly than the sweet cinnamon smell of baking banana bread.

Allow to cool for a few minutes, then slice and serve warm with a sprinkle of cinnamon and icing sugar. Delish!



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Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Oatmeal Raisin Cranberry Cookies

Everybody rosy-cheeked and chilled from an icy walk home from school, all cozied up with fleecy blankets and mugs of hot chocolate, lazing about with an extraordinarily rare swimming-and-soccer-free evening ahead of us my boys and I turned to one of our favourite lazy-day comfort activities: baking!

On this cold afternoon I pulled out one of my favourite comfort-food cookie recipes - these delicious Oatmeal Raisin Cranberry Cookies.

Oatmeal Raisin Cranberry Cookies

oatmeal raisin cranberry cookies, baking
3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup raisins
1 cup dried cranberries




1. Preheat over to 375F. 
2. Mix butter, sugar and eggs in large bowl.
3. Mix oats, flour, soda and salt in separate bowl.
4. Gradually add dry mixture to wet, mixing well after each addition. 
5. Stir in raisins and cranberries.
6. Drop rounded tablespoons of dough into cookie sheets and press with fork.
7. Bake for 10 minutes.

oatmeal raisin cranberry cookies, bakingDelicious - and a wonderful way to spend time with the kids!


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Monday, 24 March 2014

Play Clay Art Project

Play Clay Art, crafts, kids crafts, aliens


This play clay craft is a several-day project, but it's a fantastic way for kids to use their creativity and imaginations and create a piece of art completely unique from the usual drawings or paintings.

Play Clay Art, crafts, kids crafts, aliens
1. Have your child sketch out the picture they want to create from play clay. They will have to draw it out twice - one to use as a background for the clay art and one to use as a reference once the clay covers the outlined shapes on the background.

2. Knead out the play clay in small chunks. Work with one colour at a time.

3. Press the play clay flat onto the background filling in the outlined shapes.

Play Clay Art, crafts, kids crafts, aliens4. Roll, shape and layer the play clay onto the covered background for the subject of the artwork- this is where you'll need the second drawing as a reference.

5. Use a toothpick to carefully carve out any fine details.

My eldest son made this picture of aliens in outer space and their spaceship on the moon.
This one's going up on the gallery wall!



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Friday, 21 March 2014

Toddler Handprint Craft: Making Memories From Art

Toddler handprint craft, kids crafts, art

Handprint crafts are a super fun activity for kids and a wonderful way of making memories from when our little ones are little.



Seasonal handprint crafts are one of my favourite crafting projects to do with the boys - we've made handprint Easter bunnies, Thanksgiving turkeys, Halloween bats and Christmas reindeer. We've made handprint flower bouquets and snowflakes and wreaths and trees. We have made literally millions of handprint crafts over the years and never seem to run out of ideas to incorporate those little construction paper hand shapes into crafting projects.

Hearts and Handprints Valentine Bouquet craft, kids crafts, Valentine's Daykids' crafts

When they're just toddlers, though, the reality is that crafts like these are well beyond our little angels' abilities. Any mom that tells you differently is lying. Any of those parenting blogs and crafting sites that show neatly constructed and beautifully photographed "kids crafts" claiming to be for the preschool set are full of shit. They are crafts created and constructed by mom. Smearing paint and scribbling with crayons and gleefully dribbling glitter and shredding paper to bits with safety scissors is the extent of a toddler's crafting ability - and these precious little messes are absolutely priceless. But a neatly traced and cut out construction paper handprint turned into a recognizable animal is well outside the realm of reasonable expectation at that age.

One of the earliest handprint crafts I made with my boys was when they were just two and three years old, and it still hangs on the wall over our arts and crafts table today. This easy handprint craft is a fun way to combine the kids' creativity and artwork and a cut-out of their little hands to capture how small they once were - and unlike most handprint crafts, even the littlest toddlers can manage this craft with only a little help from Mom.

Toddler handprint craft, kids crafts, art
First, have the kids colour or paint a large piece of poster paper and a dozen or so popsicle sticks. Trace and cut out their handprints on their favourite colour of construction paper and have them glue the handprints onto the poster paper painting. Use coloured craft pipe cleaners to attach the markered popsicle sticks together as a frame, then glue the popsicle stick frame onto the poster paper background. Cut down to size and hang on the wall!



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Monday, 17 March 2014

Anti-Vaccination Idiots: Putting Our Kids at Risk

childhood vaccinations, health
Childhood vaccinations for healthy childhoods

I try not to judge other parents for the parenting decisions they make.

Except for you, if you choose not to vaccinate your children. I'm judging you. Most of us are.


I have written a number of articles about childhood vaccination. Clear, balanced articles explaining the benefits of vaccination and discounting the rumors against it with clear, simple explanations and links to relevant scientific evidence, facts and proofs.

This is not one of those articles.

This is a rant, because nothing infuriates me more than stupidity.

Kristin Cavallari, following in the footsteps of former Playboy model Jenny McCarthy, came out this past weekend against childhood vaccination. Because of - wait for it - its links to autism - the fictional links claimed in a single falsified study over a decade ago by a doctor who had his medical license revoked as a result.

In the wake of this embarrassingly ridiculous announcement, social media was flooded with parents' responses and the inevitable ensuing arguments between human beings who can read and illiterates who refuse to accept reality.

Children should be vaccinated. Period.

Any public figure coming out against vaccination should be absolutely ashamed of themselves. There are idiots everywhere, and there are people who make poor decisions in every walk of life. But a public figure - even if they are only an ignorant reality star or Playboy model - should know that there are people out there who might actually listen to what they say. Ignorance is one thing. Making a decision for your child's care based on that ignorance is worse. But trying to sell that decision as advice to other parents should be criminal.

Children should be vaccinated.

It's not a matter of opinion and it's not a parenting choice.
It's not based on your values or beliefs.
It's a scientific fact.

Children should be vaccinated.

It's not a debate. There's a right answer and a wrong answer.

Choosing not to vaccinate your children is the same as choosing not to provide them with anything else they require for survival - food, water, shelter. It's not something subjective to be left up to the parents' best judgement, like cloth vs. disposable diapers, public school vs. home-schooling, or eating organic.

Not vaccinating your children is tantamount to child abuse and it's absolutely disgusting that schlock science, shock stories and fraudulent research are persuading uneducated and misinformed parents that it's a decision they should make for themselves.

It's not.

It's science, and it's fact.

Children should be vaccinated.

When your kids are kids, you are the one who has to make the decisions for them - they can't. It's your job as their parent to protect them, to keep them safe, to keep them healthy, to give them the best start you can in life. You worry over whether to breast or bottle feed, whether to buy organic produce, you fill your house with safety equipment and research everything related to your little one's health or safety online. There are lots of decisions to make as a parent, most with a variety of options - but vaccination is not one of them. If you choose not to vaccinate, you're making the wrong choice. You are putting your child's health at risk, and you are doing it for no good reason.

This is not a debate.

Science is science, and fact is fact.

Arguing that it's your opinion that the earth is flat and water is dry doesn't make it a valid argument.
The earth is still round and water is still wet whether you choose to "believe" it or not.

And the World Health Organization, Health Canada, the American Medical Association, and every legitimate medical journal and health professional in the world - and all medical research and scientific evidence - tell us that children should be vaccinated. Whether some actress believes it or not.

Diseases like measles - a disease which was eliminated in North America by the early 2000's thanks to four decades of routine childhood immunization - has returned in recent years thanks to anti-vaccination propaganda with a large outbreak just this month in communities with low immunization rates. The measles - a disease for which there is a very simple vaccine. There is no excuse for the kind of backward ignorance that would prevent a parent not only from protecting their child against diseases humans once died from, but risking the rest of the population's health.

Children should be vaccinated.

Choosing not to vaccinate your children is not only negligent parenting of your own child but irresponsible ignorance as a member of society, where your stupid choices are putting all of our children at risk.


Important links: 
World Health Organization
Canadian Paediatric Society
Health Canada (Public Health Agency of Canada)
Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care
American Center for Disease Control and Prevention
British Medical Journal
The Lancet


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Friday, 14 March 2014

Budget-Friendly Spring Break

This year, for the first time since our older boys started school, we stayed in town for spring break.

winter in the park, snow, kids activitiesOur annual Walt Disney World vacation has become a family tradition, but just wasn't practical this year. I was determined to make my boys' spring break memorable and fun despite staying local, and with an eye to hopefully hitting Disney later this year, needed to make it as budget-friendly as possible in order to stash away some sunny-day savings.

Field tripping is always a big part of how our family makes memories together so we had to include a couple of big day trips in our spring break plans.


Toronto Zoo polar bear, winter  Toronto Zoo penguin

Legoland Lego giraffe, kids activities, Toronto

We spent one crisp sunny day at the zoo (of course!), a fun-filled day exploring Legoland and a crazy afternoon at Chuck-E-Cheese.

Chuck E Cheese bowling, kids activities

alligator
We went to a reptile show and visited the aquarium. We saw a puppet show at the library and the Lego movie at the theatre. We went skating at the neighbourhood rink and swimming at the local pool.









We had sleepovers with one of the boys' cousins and each of their best friends, we went sledding and played in the snow and had one day when we sat around in jammies all day watching movies and playing board games and doing absolutely nothing at all. It was a blast.

And with the exception of Legoland and the movies it was all free, thanks to our family memberships at the zoo and community centre, saved-up tokens and coupons from birthdays and holidays past, and a few days of diligent online searching for free family spring break fun.


What a wonderful week of at-home fun with my special little boys. It was no spring break at Disney World, but we had a lot of fun and, as always, made some fantastic family memories.


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Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Neighbourhood Scavenger Hunt

neighbourhood exploring, scavenger hunt, kids, outdoor activitiesOne of my favourite ways to spend an afternoon with my kids is playing and exploring outside - sidewalk chalk on the driveway, climbing trees in the garden; playing backyard soccer in the summer and building snow forts in the winter; playing on the tire swing in summer and sledding in winter; playing at the park and biking through the neighbourhood and hiking the ravine and trails that wind their way in and around our beautiful little town.


One beautiful sunshiny day over spring break we were blessed with actual spring-like temperatures for the very first time this excruciatingly long, cold, icy winter. Like, light-hoodies-and-sunglasses weather rather than seventeen-layers-of-down-filled-insulated-thermal-outerwear-with-hats-and-scarves-and-mitts weather. I was this close to busting out my flip-flops, although the six feet of snow still piled high at the curb was a bit off-putting.

I had to be outside. I had to be in that sunshine. But we were having a lazy at-home day, the kids still in jammies and lolling about the living room like slugs. How to entice them into clothes and out of the house?

A scavenger hunt!

I put a list together of things I knew we'd see around the neighbourhood and along the paths in the ravine:

jungle gym
mail box
fire hydrant
stop sign
black car
red garage door
yellow flower
grey rock
pine cone
bird
rabbit
waterfall
bridge
tire swing
Christmas decorations*

*(We have one house in our neighbourhood which, at all times of the year, has a scarecrow in the garden, a basket of fake flowers on the porch and glittery red and green ornaments dangling from the tree in their front yard. I know. Festive. So festive.)

This list can be adapted for any time of year - different types of trees and flowers in the spring and colours of flowers in the summer and leaves in the fall.

Fresh air and exercise, hours of quality time together and lots of fun for kids of all ages.

What a great way to get outdoors and enjoy an afternoon of neighbourhood exploring together!


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Monday, 10 March 2014

Legoland


We visited LEGOLAND for the first time this spring break. It was a lot of fun, a unique experience for the whole family and equally fun for all of my kids from the two year old to the nine year old.

Legoland Lego giraffe, kids activities, TorontoLEGOLAND starts with a "Factory Tour" - a series of stations showing how raw plastic is turned into LEGO bricks with fun interactive activities for the kids.

There are two rides at LEGOLAND - the Kingdom Quest Laser Ride and Merlin' Apprentice. Merlin's Apprentice is just a typical carnival ride but the Kingdom Quest Laser Ride is awesome, an immersive ride through a fantasy world with a mounted laser gun for each rider and enemy targets that pop up along the way. It's a lot like our favourite Disney World ride, Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. Good fun!

The LEGO 4D Cinema shows a short LEGO movie in 3D with extra sensory effects - gusts of "wind" and splashes of "rain" and "snow" which the kids in the audience get very excited about.

Legoland Miniland Toronto skyline, kids activitiesMiniland is, as far as I'm concerned, by far the coolest part of LEGOLAND. Built from 1.5 million LEGO bricks, Miniland is a miniature replica of Toronto - the CN Tower, the skyline, the waterfront, the airport - all the major landmarks right down to minifigures skating at City Hall, tall ships moored on the water at Harbourfront, an interactive baseball game at the Rogers Centre and a hockey game at the Air Canada Centre, a concert at the Hard Rock at Yonge-Dundas Square, emergency vehicles with lights flashing and sirens blaring blocking a major intersection and a couple of jets preparing for takeoff at Pearson International.

Legoland Miniland Lego Rogers Centre, Toronto, kids activities

It. Is. Amazing.




Legoland, kids activities, Toronto







The rest of LEGOLAND is more of an open play area, made up of the LEGO Fire Academy, an indoor playground-style jungle gym and play area for older kids; the LEGO Construction Site, a soft play structure for little ones; the DUPLO Village for toddlers to build and play and dozens of play spaces filled with thousands of LEGO pieces for kids to sprawl out and build to their hearts' content.




There are also a couple of designated building areas: the LEGO Racers Build & Test station where kids can build their own vehicles and race them on a timed track, and the LEGO Earthquake station where they can build their own structures on the elevated platforms then test their structural integrity with simulated earthquakes.

LEGOLAND - a fun afternoon out for the whole family!


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Friday, 7 March 2014

March Break in Toronto

We're staying home this March Break for the first time in years. I'm not going to lie, I feel a little weepy about it. Our annual spring break family vacay to Walt Disney World has become one of our most cherished family traditions and it's half killing me that we aren't going this year - well, this winter. Hopefully we can sneak away for a week in the summer.

It's still March Break, though, and the kids will still be home from school for a week, so we'll do our best to make it memorable. And there is definitely no shortage of fun things to do this March Break in and around Toronto!


Toronto Zoo
The Zoo is open for extended hours all March Break for families to enjoy a full day of animal fun. Meet the new baby polar bear cub and the giant pandas and enjoy special March Break Activity Centre programming, prizes and activities from Parks Canada.

The Zoo is always our family's favourite field trip! March 8-16, 2014.



CN Tower
The CN Tower is open all week with special March Break crafts, games and activities each day included with the regular experiences - the world's #1 elevator ride, the indoor and outdoor observation levels, the Glass Floor, the Sky Terrace, the Sky Pod, the ride and the 3D movie. March 8-16, 2014.



Art Gallery of Ontario
The AGO welcomes March Break with family-friendly tours, kid-friendly movies, fun family yoga, the Imagination Playground building area, the Hot Wheels Track Builder Challenge, a Kids Gallery exhibition and drop-in hands-on creative playtime for little ones. March 8-16, 2014.


Ontario Science CentreOntario Science Centre
The Science Centre has extra programming for March Break including special exhibitions and demos, hands-on activities, IMAX movies and performances by the Famous PEOPLE Players.
March 8-16, 2014.


Black Creek Pioneer Village
Black Creek Pioneer Village is opening specially for March Break with a Sherlock Holmes mystery activity for kids - attending Detective School, building disguises, solving secret codes, searching for clues, solving puzzles around the Village and a horse-drawn wagon ride! March 8-16, 2014.


Aquarium of Canada

Ripley's Aquarium of Canada
visit the ripleys aquarium of canadaRipley's Aquarium offer amazing galleries featuring millions of aquatic creatures, interactive shows and exhibits, underwater tunnels, "touch tanks" and "touch pools" for immersive, hands-on fishy fun.







Toronto Comicon
Show off your best costumes and cosplay, meet your favourite celebrities, artists and writers, and enjoy photo ops, panels and workshops. March 7-9, 2014 at Metro Toronto Convention Centre.




Wizard World
The Better Living Centre turns into an indoor fun park with mechanical and inflatable rides, a tots area for younger ones, arts and crafts, elephant rides, animal shows and magic shows. Fun for the whole family! March 9-16, 2014.




Disney on Ice Presents Let's Party
Favourite characters from sixteen different Disney stories take to the ice at Rogers Centre to celebrate a medley of holidays, celebrations and festivities from around the world. March 12-16, 2014.



Living Arts Centre
The Living Arts Centre will host kid-friendly theatre performances throughout the week, including The Backyardigans: Sea Deep in Advventure. Children's performances March 11, 12 & 16, 2014.



Rio

Bell Free Weekend: Family Screenings & Activities
Family-friendly film screenings and kids' crafts and activities free all weekend at TIFF Bell Lightbox courtesy of Bell. March 15-16, 2014.






Legoland® Discovery CentreLegoland Discovery Centre
A fun family destination with over 3 million Lego bricks and Toronto's iconic attractions created out of Lego in MiniLand, rides, a 4D cinema, Master Model Builder workshops and minifigure trading. Open for extended hours for March Break.



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Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Little Fails Can Feel Huge

I am so disappointed.
And frustrated.
And feeling useless and ineffective and unimportant.

I've been very busy these last few weeks - in the spare moments between raising three kids, paperwork for job #1 and writing freelance pieces for job #2, school commitments, parent council commitments, managing both boys' rep soccer teams and six practices a week, playdates and babysitting, teaching fitness classes for staff on vacation and squeezing in the occasional blog post - getting ready to enter a national parent and child crafting contest.

The task was to create a short video demonstrating the craft. The judging criteria was based on originality and creativity and the child-friendliness of the craft as well as clarity of instruction and appeal.

The contest was made for me, a mom blogger whose entire brand and identity has come to revolve around creativity and crafting and activities at home with her kids.

I picked out two favourite crafts that I've done with the kids and dug them out of storage. I gathered supplies from the playroom and craft drawers and ran to the dollar store and craft store and hardware store to pick up the odds and ends we needed to recreate the craft. I planned out where and how we'd do our demonstration, I wrote out a script, I staged the video "set" (kitchen table) and rigged up the camera (smart phone) on a stand and spent ages fiddling with the distance, height and levels. I practiced with Middle Child - my creative little crafter who's always coming up with clever new ideas and loves to create them with me and despite his overwhelming shyness wanted to help with the videos.

We shot our videos over and over - dozens of takes over two days in between school and soccer - while Eldest Child kept Baby occupied and out of the camera's earshot. Neither Middle Child nor I are the most comfortable on camera (super awkward, actually) but we finally came up with a video for each craft that we were more or less happy with on the afternoon of the contest deadline.

And then I went to submit the videos and discovered the files were too large for submission. Four hours later, my much-more-tech-savvy-than-I husband had exhausted every conceivable option for compressing, reconfiguring, and changing the format of the files. It couldn't be done. And then midnight hit and the deadline passed.

We didn't make it.
All that work, all those hours.
All the talking, all that planning.
All that excitement and nervousness and hopeful anticipation.
All for nothing.

I can't even begin to describe how disappointed I was. And still am.
I know it sounds silly - it's just a contest.

But it's not - not for me.

For me, this contest came at just the right time as my blog is beginning to take off and my contract is ending at work and I'm struggling a little bit for income and identity and figuring out what I want to do and be and how to make that all happen.

For me, this contest was a justification of what I do, what I'm working toward as an at-home mom and a mommy blogger as I flounder around trying to forge an identity and brand myself and my blog.

For me, this contest was showing that all these crafts and activities I do with my kids serve another purpose in the world, that my little mommy blog isn't a silly waste of time, that maybe what I'm putting out into the universe matters a little bit and my choice to make my life all and entirely about my kids and our family is valid.

And that's what I realize is at the crux of the whole stay-at-home-mom issue and why I and other at-home moms are so defensive; it's the feeling that those of us who choose to make our children the centre and focus and priority of our lives - sacrificing our own careers and often much of our own identities in the process - aren't making the wrong choice, or an unimportant choice, or a silly choice.

When our conversations become almost exclusively about diapers and eating habits and sleeping schedules; when our heads are filled with theme songs from children's shows and we could assemble the animal puzzle blindfolded; when our social calendars become our kids' soccer and swim practices and our adult time is talking with other parents while watching our kids play; when showering is a luxury and a cup of coffee alone is a fantasy and we've moved so far past missing adult time that the actual idea of finding a babysitter and getting all dressed up and heading out to hang out with friends is unthinkably exhausting; when our lives have become so wholly consumed by the minutiae of our kids' lives and activities and our life as a family that our own identities are buried completely - we wonder every now and again if we're in fact doing the right thing.

Am I boring? Am I dull? Have I lost myself completely? Am I still fun to hang out with when I do see my friends? Am I still the interesting, intelligent, sexy woman my husband fell in love with? Am I losing the person I once was as I turn myself into a satellite around my kids?

It's hard not to look at those career moms with their freshly blown-out hair and lovely new clothes and hours of child-free time and adult-only conversation at the office and the gym and feel a little...insignificant. Shlumpy, in our yoga pants and running shoes. Silly, with our worries about parent council politics and soccer team schedules. Unimportant, maybe. We're not moms and teachers, moms and accountants, moms and lawyers. We're just moms.

I do think the choices I've made with how I prioritize my life, my identity and my short-lived time with my children as children is the right one for me. I am proud of how I'm raising my kids and what I put out into the world as a mom blogger and parenting author. But I can't help but feel that some sort of validation would be nice. If all I'm doing is being a mom and doing mom things - is that enough? Am I good enough?

That's what this contest represented for me - a tiny little pat on the back, regardless of how my entry might have fared. A whispered little "Yes, this is important. Yes, you're doing ok at it."

Instead, I failed. I didn't even get a chance to try. I had to tell my seven-year-old, who worked so hard on this project with me, that we weren't going to have a chance because Mommy couldn't manage to submit our entry on time.

Mom fail. Project fail. Ambition fail.

It's a little thing. It's a silly thing. And in the grand scheme of things, it's an unimportant thing.

But it sure feels like a big thing to me.


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Monday, 3 March 2014

Why I'll Never Look Like That

Shape Magazine March 2014 - Sharon Stone cover
www.shape.com

Sharon Stone, at fifty-six years old, is Shape Magazine's cover girl this month.

That's right. Fifty-six. Fifty-six.

Feel bad about yourself yet? 

Yeah, me too. 

It gets worse.

The smoking hot sexpot we all remember from Basic Instinct is a mom of three and, unlike most celebrities over the age of thirty, has actually managed to stay this gorgeous without surgical enhancement. 

Barf.

Instead of faking it with nips and tucks and injections and surgical enhancements and otherwise turning herself into a smoothly plastic unreachable ideal of womanhood that we mere mortals can never hope to achieve like we expect, Sharon Stone believes in aging gracefully, staying in shape with exercise and stretching and keeping to a disciplined diet. 

Again, barf.

It's a hell of a lot easier to say, "Of course she's perfect; I'd have that body if I didn't have kids," or "I could look like that if I had millions to spend on plastic surgery." It's incredibly annoying to find out looking like that actually requires work and discipline. Ugh.

But wait - part of her diet involves cutting out alcohol? Like, completely? No wine with dinner? No cocktails with the hubby on the weekend? Not even one little bevvy after the kids go to bed? 

Yeah, ok, nevermind. Not worth it.


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