Friday, 27 June 2014

Year-End Organization (Or, "How to Balance Between Hoarding and Holding Onto Memories") (Or, "How to Organize Your Kids' School Crap Without Being a Bad Mom Who Obviously Has No Sentiment and Throws Everything Away)

It's the beginning of summer vacation. For the last couple of weeks my kids have been lugging home backpack full after backpack full of artwork, worksheets, workbooks, writing books, scrapbooks, activity sheets, poster board projects, paintings, drawings, cut-and-paste crafts, tests and quizzes and God knows what else they've done at school over the last ten months.

As much as my OCD fingers have itched to tackle those piles and pick through and purge, I've been very disciplined and avoided temptation thus far - but now that school is officially over and everything is home I can start organizing and tossing to my heart's content.

The business of sorting through the kids' work is tricky for someone like me. Most people are either of the "school year's over, toss it out" school of thought or "my sweet angel made this/drew this/wrote this/worked on this; of course I'll keep it forever and ever and never throw it out ever as long as I live." I fall somewhere in the middle.

I am a leeeeetle on the obsessive side when it comes to organization. Oh, how I love a good, organized space - everything packed away all neat and tidy, everything exactly where it should be and easy to find, like items with like items, sorted by colour or size or alphabetically.

And what's the opposite of a hoarder? I'm that. Like, if there's something I haven't used in fifteen minutes I will actually think seriously about whether we actually need it or not. We don't have shelves and tabletops full of suffocating knick-knacks or trinkets or tchotchkes We do not have clutter in our house. Clutter makes me twitchy.

But at the same time, I am a mom - mushy and sentimental, obsessed with making memories. I want to keep everything.

So I have a system. Everything they bring home from school gets thrown into a great big bin - one for each boy. All of their artwork - except for those masterpieces that get put up on the fridge or hung on our gallery art wall - and spelling tests and math quizzes and social studies research projects and short stories and poems and even the crafts they make at home are packed up into a plastic bin. At the end of the school year I pull everything out and sort through it ruthlessly. Or as ruthlessly as I can, being a mom.

It's a lot easier to be objective about how many of your babies' little art pieces need to be kept when you're looking at a stack of hundreds of them than when each one comes home. I can usually get rid of about half of it in one go with no guilt whatsoever. After a second pass to edit out a few more items the entire year's worth of kids' work is culled down to a single drawer's worth of items which I store in a Rubbermaid drawer tower in the basement storage area.

My need to sort and organize and purge and keep my house free and clear of clutter is satisfied. I have the most special of my little boys' precious creations to hold onto and look back on when they're all grown up. And the recycling man will find a couple of full bins at the end of the driveway this week.

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Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Things Kids Say

"Cock! Big cock! Mommy, Daddy, look, BIG COCK!"
(Driving past Town CLOCK tower...)

"My bum has raisins!" (Pointing at his testicles.)

"How does the poo get in my penis?"
"Poo comes out of your bum, honey. Pee comes out of your penis." 

"Mommy, what's this?"
"It's your nipple, sweetie. It's part of your body." 
"Don't like nipples. Take them off."

(Covered in mosquito bites from sitting by the water to watch fireworks at night...)
"Mommy, I have nipples ALL OVER my face!"

"No Mommy I can't go to sleep. My eyes are not working."

"Mommy, you look tired. Why don't we play a game of Monopoly?"
(Sure, sweetie, let me just grab a fork to stick in my eye...)

And my favourite...
"Mommy, are Dad and [stepmom] a lot older than you and [stepdad]?"
"No, love; why" 
"Because they're so much bigger than you."

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Monday, 23 June 2014

School Fun Fair

We live in the best neighbourhood, the best community for children and families in the world. It is the warmest, friendliest, safest place you can imagine to raise a family - if you close your eyes and imagine the most idyllic picture-perfect family neighbourhood, that's what it's like here in Pleasantville.

And the same is true of our neighbourhood school. Our community is made up mostly of families with an at-home mom, so our parent council is very active. The community is very involved in the school and the school is very much a part of the community.

The highlight of the year for our school community is the year-end Family Fun Fair. Extravagant and over-the-top compared to most school fun fairs our council goes crazy with an unbeatable end-of-year celebration for the students and their families. Bouncy castles, obstacles courses, an inflatable gladiator ring; motorized racecars and motorcycles, a spinning carnival ride; a dance competition, a watermelon eating contest, games and prizes, face painting; burgers and sausages on the barbeque and ice cream trucks and and a field full of vendor tents with food.

It's an amazing way to celebrate the end of the school year and get together as a community and something our family looks forward to all year.

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Friday, 20 June 2014

Kind of a Big Deal...

So I have this new gig.

I'm writing a new weekly article for Gail Vaz-Oxlade's "Making Money Make Sense" website.

Kind of a big deal.

Like, a really big deal.

I looove her, love her shows, used to watch them religiously (before the children got old enough to take over control of the remotes) - she's awesome. And she put out a call for writers to audition. So I did. And she liked my stuff.

Like I said, kind of a big deal.

Actually, a really big deal.

What she actually said was, (yes, her - I was emailing back and forth with Gail herself during the submission and acceptance process!)

"This is lovely, heartfelt and real. When would you like to start?"

I can't even begin to describe how happy that made me.

I will be writing weekly articles about family budgeting, practical parenting, and all money issues related to families and children. Check it out every Saturday!

My first article -
Gail Vaz-Oxlade / Other Voices: Pick Your Priorities

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Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Dad Rocks

Happy Father's Day!

Father's Day craft, thumbprint craft, kids craft, you rock, rocks, gift, dad, kids

Because our family's life revolves around soccer, family celebrations often have to be squeezed in between matches and practices. Last year, my husband spent all of Father's Day on the sidelines of a soaking wet soccer pitch at our oldest son's first all-weekend out-of-town tournament - not exactly a day of being spoiled and pampered in appreciation, but probably the truest picture of life as a father.

This year, Father's Day weekend meant a Friday night game for Oldest Child's team, a Saturday out-of-town tournament for Middle Child's team and then a practice for Oldest Child on Sunday evening, leaving us with a few unprecedented unplanned hours on Sunday to just hang out together as a family and show Daddy how much we love him.

We spent the morning relaxing in the sunshine in the backyard. We took my husband out for a platter of nachos and a pint on our favourite local patio. We barbequed steaks for dinner and the boys gave my husband the cards they'd spent weeks working on at school and the gifts we'd made for him - "Dad Rocks" rocks for the garden, hand-painted by each boy with a thumbprint signature in outdoor paint to withstand the weather.

What a wonderful, relaxing day to celebrate the man we all love most in the world.

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Monday, 16 June 2014

Favourite Gifts From Our Favourite Guys

There is no gift in the world more special than one your child makes for you. Because my boys and I do so many crafts together our house is filled with handmade creations, but the most special ones are the ones the boys made themselves or at school as a surprise. We have our favourites, and those are proudly displayed in places of honour in our home.

Rock pet craft, kids crafts, rock, handmade giftsMy oldest son made this rock pet - "Rocky" - for me when he was two. His father and I were getting divorced at the time, though he neither knew nor understood anything about that. I was living alone with he and his baby brother, working a couple of online jobs late at night after they went to sleep, trying to sell the house, trying to figure out a new place to live, and desperately trying to hold everything together until I could start my new life, while his father was living with his girlfriend in her parents' basement and popping in for visits every now and again. I was fairly stressed out, and any time my sensitive little boy asked me what was wrong I just said I was worried about moving - so one day, when my neighbour friend was watching the boys for an hour so I could make some sales calls, he made Rocky for me with a rock from our garden to take with me once we moved. It broke my heart - and has lived on my bedside table ever since.

crafts, kids crafts, flowerpot, gift

My middle son painted this flower pot for me for Mother's Day when he was three. He planted a teeny-tiny flower in it which died almost immediately, so since then we've used it as a vase for the "flowers" (dandelions, clover, wildflowers, weeds...) the kids collect on our hikes and explorations through the neighbourhood.

crafts, kids crafts, picture frame, gift

This macaroni picture frame craft is the favourite gift I've every received from any of my kids. My oldest son made it for me for Mother's Day in kindergarten. He was such a baby still then. Born later in the year, my sweet, shy boy wasn't even four years old when he started school. It hangs proudly on my bedroom wall and the "eye" "love" "you" poses in the pictures make me smile every time I look at them and remind me of the baby my big boy once was.

crafts, kids crafts, treasure chest, giftMy middle son made this treasure chest for my husband for Father's Day when he was in kindergarten. This was so special to me because it was his first Father's Day craft made at school, the first time a teacher said "we're making something for your dad" and he chose to make it for his step-dad, the man who's fathered him in every real way since he was a baby. It brought tears to my eyes.

My oldest son made these amazing construction paper likenesses of my husband and I for Father's Day and Mother's Day one year which open up into a flip book with all the reasons he loves each of us. They have lived proudly on our fridge for years.

crafts, kids crafts, Fathers Day crafts
 crafts, kids crafts, Mothers Day crafts

When my older son was seven and his younger brother six their Mother's Day projects at school were to make flowers for Mom from pastels instead of a potted plant or bouquet. These are among my favourite art pieces the boys have ever created!

crafts, kids crafts, bracelet, giftMy boys made these colourful, sparkly plastic bead bracelets for me their first summer at day camp. Despite jewelery box full of string, bead, plastic lace and Rainbow Loom elastic band bracelets and necklaces and rings I wear these bracelets (yes, out in public as actual jewelery) a lot more often than you'd think!

Everything our kids make for us is special - every card, every craft, every handmade gift. Some, though, tug at the heartstrings more than others for one reason or another.

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Friday, 13 June 2014

Days We Won't Ever Forget

As a stay-at-home mom the entire focus of my life is family - spending time together as a family, making memories as a family, being an active, involved, hands-on mom for my kids while they are still kids. I'm lucky enough that I get to spend a lot of time with my kids and enjoy a lot of special moments.

However, like most families these days, we simply can't afford to live on one income and have the kind of lifestyle we'd like so I am also a work-at-home mom. I make an effort to do my work at night, after the kids are in bed and my husband and I spend a couple of hours' quality time together so I don't lose any precious time with the people I love -  but this means very little sleep for me and very few hours to squeeze in a day's work.

As a result, I find myself constantly trying to just squeeze in five minutes here and five minutes there, returning a couple of quick emails on my phone when we're at the park, opening the laptop to whip up a quick spreadsheet while Bubble Guppies is on, jotting down a couple of notes on a scrap of paper in the kitchen while making dinner. Between my job, writing gigs, and volunteering with the soccer teams and school I end up feeling like I'm literally working all the time, and I sometimes wonder how much value my time with the kids actually has when I'm only giving them part of my attention. It's a tricky balance. There are times when I almost wish I did work eight hours a day outside the house - and then not at all for sixteen hours of free time for myself and my family.

But then I'd miss all those precious moment with my boys that I live for, that we've planned our lives around, those moments that will slip away before we know it when our little boys are suddenly grown men with their own lives filling up their days.

I'd miss the mornings hanging out at home with my youngest and our afternoons at the park. I'd miss the heart-to-hearts with my boys while we walk to and from school every day. I'd miss those after-school hours of homework and snack and telling each other about our days; playdates with friends and playing in the backyard; bike rides and board games and cozy hours curled up watching a favourite movie. I'd miss those long, lazy summer days, months and months of making memories together every day. I'd miss out on those bonus days, school holidays and snow days and days home sick-but-not-really-sick. I'd miss out on volunteering in the kids' classrooms and helping out on field trips and getting to know their teachers and friends. I can't even imagine how much of my children's lives I'd miss out on if I didn't see them until six o'clock every evening.

These last few months have been even more hectic than usual and I've found myself working literally around the clock. With the outdoor soccer season finally well underway my volunteer commitment to the club dropped almost in half last week (down to only two or three hours a practices and games...[sigh]...) and I was looking forward to finally getting all up-to-date with work and begin sleeping again instead of working until the wee hours every night.

Then Middle Child's class asked for parent volunteers for a read-a-thon. I couldn't miss that - my sweet little boy was so excited when he asked if I could come and help and he was so happy when his younger brother and I showed up with a bundle of blankets and a stack of books to read and share. It was only a few hours out of my morning and there were lots of days and nights left in the week to get my work done. Those special moments together are moments we'll never forget.

Then my older son's class asked for parent volunteers for a field trip. I couldn't miss that - my oldest angel's getting older every day and one of these days he won't want Mom on a field trip, he won't want to hang out with me when he's with his friends. Work could wait until that night; sleep could wait until - sometime. It was just one day. I went on the field trip and had an amazing day out at the aquarium with my oldest boy and his best friends and made a whole day's worth of memories.

Then there was the track and field meet. Oldest Son was old enough to compete for the first time and had been looking forward to it all year. Youngest Son and I walked over to the school that morning to bring him an extra bottle of water and watch an event or two and found him feeling all dejected because he'd place seventh in both of the events he'd already competed in - one place outside of the ribbon standings. He slipped his hand in mine and asked if I'd stay. So I did. The whole day. I followed him around from event to event. I cheered him on as he ran and jumped his way around the school yard and track. I took him out for lunch for a little treat and spent the entire day at school with my boy, just because he wanted me to.

The week drew to a close. I was hours behind on work. I had hundreds of things to do for the soccer club before our games and tournament on the weekend. I had two urgent deadlines looming and no drafts, no notes, no ideas. There was no way I was going to get any sleep if I was going to get any of it finished.

There was also no way missing out my little boys' lives, sharing moments and making memories would have been worth a catching up on work or a few extra hours' sleep. I know these special days together are the days they'll remember when they grow up. These are the moments. These are the memories they'll look back on when they're grown adults starting their own families. These are the memories I'll cherish when I'm old and no longer the centre of their lives.

I can work anytime - even in the middle of the night. These are the days my kids and I won't ever forget and the moments I wouldn't give up for anything.

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Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Ripley's Aquarium

Dangerous Lagoon, Ripleys Aquarium, aquarium, sharks, fish, field trip

Last week I volunteered as a classroom helper on my eldest son's field trip to Ripley's Aquarium. What an awesome place!

The Aquarium is organized into galleries of amazing aquatic creatures and exhibits.

The hands-down highlight of the aquarium is Dangerous Lagoon, a moving walkway that makes its way through a glass tube under the incredible 2.5 million litre exhibit full of sharks, stingrays, fish and sea turtles. Beautiful and breathtaking and beyond words amazing.

Dangerous Lagoon, Ripleys Aquarium, aquarium, sharks, fish, field trip

Dangerous Lagoon, Ripleys Aquarium, aquarium, sharks, fish, field trip

The Canadian Waters gallery habitats show life in the Great Lakes and the oceans surrounding our country. Our favourite part was the Pacific Kelp Exhibit, a 360,000 litre exhibit of the Pacific shoreline with a wave maker that simulates the surf, where our class was given a special interactive presentation about habitats.

Ripley's Aquarium

Rainbow Reef is a vibrant, colourful exhibit of the tropical Indo-Pacific waters and fish with a very cool interactive dive show.

The Sharks gallery is filled with different shark species and displays and a pop-up bubble that brings you right into the shark tank.

Ray Bay exhibits dozens of different rays from different species and a dive show where you can watch the rays feed right out of the divers' hands.

Ripley's Aquarium jellyfish

The surreal Planet Jellies gallery features five species of jellies in backlit and colour-changing displays, including the world's largest jellyfish tank and a ceiling exhibit overhead filled with translucent Moon jellies.

Ripley's Aquarium seahorse

The Gallery contains a collection of some of the more unique and delicate aquatic species found throughout the world - the Lionfish, the Seahorse, the Sea Dragon, the Electric Eel - and a gorgeous Live Coral exhibit.

Ripley's Aquarium stingraysThe Discovery Centre is filled with interactive exhibits - pop-up underwater viewing bubbles that bring you right into the middle of the exhibit with the fish, a pop-up "research submarine" that takes you inside Dangerous Lagoon, a tunnel to crawl right through the underwater exibits and open touch pools with stingrays and horseshoe crabs and sharks to touch.

The Shoreline Gallery is also filled with open touch tanks, where you can feel different kids of sharks and stingrays guided by aquarium educators.

What an amazing place. What a fantastic field trip destination for kids and adults alike. And what a wonderful way to spend a day with my oldest boy and his best friends.

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Monday, 9 June 2014


The first weekend of June marks Festival ("Festivus" to locals) in the town where my husband and I grew up, the official beginning of the summer season for our family. Every year we head back down to Main Street and spend the day baking in the sun and basking in nostalgia and small-town family fun.

Bouncy Castle, kids, small-town festival
Youngest Son and Niece
Cousins, kids, family, walking, Main Street, small-town festival
The weather was absolutely perfect this year - hot and sunny, not a cloud in the sky. We skipped the morning parade this year - lolling about at home enjoying the gorgeous morning in the little slice of heaven that is our backyard was far more appealing - but headed down after for a full day of fun.

Bouncy castles and slides by the pond at one end of the closed main street, little carnival games by the church at the other, a long leisurely walk in between through the crowds of people past shops and street vendors and musicians and dancers and jugglers and stilt-walkers and clowns. Face painting and balloons and crafts and a petting zoo for the kids.

Bratwurst and sauerkraut fresh off the grill at the beer garden by the Austrian restaurant, ice cream cones at our favourite little soft serve shop on the corner. And after too much sun and too much junk food and miles of strolling back and forth and up and down the same stretch of street for hours, the rest of the afternoon on the patio of our favourite pub watching the world go by.

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Friday, 6 June 2014

Soccer Party

After the success of last year's pirate party my eight-year-old wanted to have his birthday party at home again this year, so once again we sent out invitations to his entire second-grade class and started planning.

Soccer ball cake, cupcakes, soccer party, kids party, birthday partyThe theme was a no-brainer this year - both the birthday boy and his older brother play rep soccer year-round with practices, games or tournaments every day of the week now that it's summer; I volunteer twenty hours a week for the boys' soccer club; and with the World Cup fast approaching soccer is life for this family these days.

Soccer ball pinata, soccer party, kids party, birthday party, paper mache pinata

We made a soccer ball pinata from paper mache, filled it with candy and chocolate and hung it from the tree in the front yard.

We set the kids up with a "Make-your-own soccer jersey" craft using plain white t-shirts and fabric markers to wear during our soccer game. 

Make your own shirt station, kids activities, kids party

Since there was such a large group of kids we rotated them between the t-shirt colouring station and an epic foosball tournament. (We have three foosball tables in this house. I'd rather not discuss it.)

Soccer ball cake, cupcakes, soccer party, kids party, birthday party

Once everyone had their jerseys designed and numbered we headed out back for a massive game of soccer.

Soccer cake, soccer pitch, soccer field, pretzel soccer nets, ice cream cake, birthday cake, kids cake, kids partyAfter the soccer game we did birthday presents and desserts (a soccer ball cake made from chocolate and vanilla cupcakes and an ice cream cake with whipped cream soccer pitch and pretzel goals) and a make-your-own ice cream sundae station.

Make-your-own sundae station, ice cream sundae, birthday party, kids party

Ice cream sundae, kids party, birthday party, dessert

We finished off the afternoon with a few swings at the soccer ball pinata and everyone went home with a loot bag full of candy and a soccer ball. 

An awesome afternoon of soccer-themed fun!

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Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Paper Mache Pinata

My son wanted a soccer ball pinata for his soccer-themed birthday party, so I thought we'd combine a craft activity with a party prop and make our own.

The boys and I made the pinata from layers of paper mache over a couple of days and my husband painted the final soccer ball details the morning of the party.

To make the paper mache paste, mix one part flour and two parts water in a large bowl.

Tear strips of newspaper - rough tears in varying widths and lengths is best as clean cut edges will not blend as easily on the finished shape.

Blow up a balloon for the ball shape. Dip the paper strips in the paste and smooth onto the balloon.

When the balloon is covered completely in a layer or two of paper and paste (except for a small opening at the top) dry completely in the sun.

Soccer ball pinata, soccer party, kids party, birthday party, paper mache pinata
Repeat layering and drying until the shape is hard and solid.

Pop the balloon and remove the rubber. Decorate the ball, fill with candy and close the hole in the top with cardboard.


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Monday, 2 June 2014

Kind Gestures

My son's birthday party was this weekend. Once again this year he elected to have a party at home rather than a party at a playplace, so I told him he could invite as many friends as he liked. He invited his whole class - all seventeen eight-year-olds.

We sent the invitations out a couple of weeks ago. The RSVP's trickled in, but as of only an hour before the party I still hadn't heard from five of the twenty invited guests. Inconsiderate, but not unexpected - I've done this kids' birthday party thing a few times before. As usual, I planned and bought for all the invited guests, knowing that at least half of those who hadn't replied would just show up without a word of explanation from the parents and the other half would never be seen or heard from again.

Ten minutes after the party started all of the expected guests but one were there and running around our house and yard screaming at the top of their lungs like animals - people are incredibly prompt when someone offers to take their kids off their hands for a couple of hours - when the doorbell rang.

It was the one last expected guest, his arms full of gifts and homemade birthday cards, his left eye puffy and red, his father behind him full of apologies. He had pinkeye (super infectious) and couldn't join us, but wanted to come by to wish my son a happy birthday and bring him a gift and a card he'd spent the morning making for him.

I was touched.

That kind of courtesy is rare. Basic manners, politeness, kind gestures, courtesy to our neighbours and fellow human beings seems to be lacking these days.

What a wonderful lesson for that father to teach his son. What a wonderful lesson for my kids to learn.

Never underestimate the value of a kind gesture.

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