Butterflies Are Free

Little Miss Sunshine turned 7 years old last week, and I admit it was a bit of a jolt. Two years ago, I’d see pregnant or new mothers at the mall and laugh, a deep rolling evil laugh, then dance up the stairs kid-free to shop at Lady Clothing Stores while they struggled to make it to the Baby Gap on the single creaky old elevator. HA! HA! HA!

But just in the past few months I find myself gawking at the adorable six-month-olds cooing in the shopping cart seats at the Superstore, and getting misty eyed, and OH MY HEAVENS, I’m turning into a Grandmother Wannabe. How did this happen? I’m looking for a cure, especially since my youngest is just SEVEN, it’s not like she’s thirty and I’m nagging her about her hair and her job and why she hasn’t produced any grandchildren for me yet, GEEZ.

So! To help me focus on the now, here’s a refresher of what a kids’ birthday party looks like.

She wanted it to be butterfly themed.

Here’s the centrepiece I made. I made the terrible mistake of surfing around on Pinterest for “butterfly birthday party ideas.” Fifty dollars’ worth of supplies later, I’m up to my elbows in ribbon and glue and swearing I’ll never go on Pinterest again. But it did turn out pretty well in the end.

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We also had many, many, butterfly cookies. Memo to self: do not leave making of cookies (and all other food) to morning of the party. You WILL find yourself still in your jammies, frantically applying sprinkles, 15 minutes before guests arrive.

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Of course there were also butterfly cupcakes. Memo to self: see above.

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We did four different butterfly crafts. In retrospect this was a little ambitious. Thank heavens Fame Throwa and Mr. Chatty came over to basically run the craft station. I didn’t take any photos because I was too busy trying to remember how to fold the damn origami butterflies, but if you’re planning a party of your own, you should definitely consider these colouring pages (we coloured the large size butterflies, taped them to a stick with a handful of ribbons, and made butterfly magic wands); these origami butterflies (the girls LOVED them), and these butterfly necklace craft kits (super easy, with lovely results, a nice addition to their loot bag – not an affiliate link, by the way, you can get these at Chapters or Amazon or local seller Tagalong Toys, among others).

Then we went outside and had a huge water fight with water pistols and water balloons (Sir Monkeypants took the brunt of it, and the Captain and Gal Smiley were also surprising good sports), and frolicked on our slip and slide, and played in our tiny ankle-deep wading pool, and ate treats.

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Oh, and then there was a pinata! Butterfly, of course.

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Then everyone went home and we cleaned up and tried not to finish off ALL THE COOKIES (total fail) and flopped into bed early so we could get up at 5:30 a.m. the next morning to go see a building implode. What, don’t you do that every morning after a party?

QUITE a weekend.

Puppets Up! Giveaway!

Puppets Up!

As part of my job as a mom, and part of my job as a parenting writer, I’m always looking for stuff to do around the city – special events, cool places to visit, new shops and services. I try not to play favourites but I can’t help but notice when there’s something so cool, so unique, and so fun that it’s worth talking about.

So with apologies to my out of city readers, I’ll just take a moment to rave about the Puppets Up! festival running August 8 to 10 in Almonte, because it’s awesome, and you should go.

And now there’s totally no excuse NOT to go, because I have passes to give away. PASSES. FOR FREE. BOO YEAH.

Disclosure: Puppets Up! is providing the passes for the winner of this contest, but I wrote about them for free, with no compensation to my family. That’s because it’s awesome! And you should go! Trust me. :)

So what’s so great about Puppets Up? First of all, PUPPETS. When my kids were little, puppets were a touch-and-go thing – sometimes fun, sometimes scary. But at the festival it’s very, very kid-friendly. Most of the puppeteers are quite willing to show their faces – some are even an integral part of the shows – and everyone is very open and friendly about showing how the puppets work. Everything I’ve seen has been very fun and funny, nothing intense or scary – definitely aimed at families.

There’s a parade every day at 1:45 down Mill Street, Almonte’s main strip – very cool and interactive, and it’s totally free. Most of the adorable shops and cafes in town have at least something puppet-related in the window, so if you’re looking to check it out but don’t want to commit to buying tickets, you can still get a flavour of the event just by heading out for the parade and having a wander.

But! If you do invest in passes ($20 adults, $10 kids), you can pop in and out of tents to see any number of performers and shows. Check their website for details of who will be performing (full schedule coming soon, but stuff is going on all the time there, so you can really just head out when it works for you and then catch whatever you can catch). And the shows are charming! And cute! And funny! And entertaining!

ALL GOOD.

So! Want to win passes? All you have to do is leave a comment on this post telling me your favourite summertime activity in Ottawa. The giveaway is for four passes – you can use them for two adults, two kids, or one adult, three kids, or four adults, or whatever works for you. You can pick them up at the Puppets Up VIP box office when you arrive in Almonte.

Contest ends Thursday, July 24, at midnight EST. I’ll draw a winner at random on Friday, July 25. Good luck – and if you don’t win, you can always pick up passes yourself through their website.

Flyers

When Sir Monkeypants and I were young marrieds, I used to really hate the weekly arrival of The Flyers. It’s a thick packet of flyers from various stores featuring their weekly specials, and I used to never, ever look at it for even a second. For a while I even had a recycling bin on our front porch so that the flyer delivery guy could just drop the packet directly in there and eliminate the middleman, but then he started bringing it with an elastic wrapped around it, so I was forced to pick it up, remove the elastic, and then drop it in the bin myself, which I complained about LOUDLY and AT LENGTH to my poor husband.

(Aside: Do you spell it “flier” or “flyer”? I always have gone with “flyer” but Google seems to think I am in the minority. Is this a Canadian thing?)

Now that I have young children and am, basically, a hermit, I rely heavily on the flyer packet to do all my major shopping. I now LOVE the arrival of the packet, I actually call to complain if it arrives late (or, heaven forbid, not at all). I lovingly go through most of them looking for deals or things we need or, I have to admit, just generally browsing in the same sort of way that my younger self used to go the mall, just for something to do, just to have a look around.

(Younger self to my current self: “You are a sad, old lady.” Current self: “You don’t know the half of it.”)

Anyway, this past week’s packet included a flyer from Toys R Us, which used to be the holy grail of flyers. They’d have great baby stuff on sale, and once my kids grew a bit, they’d have all the great toys there in glorious technicolor. Toys that might become birthday party gifts, or part of the birthday party emergency dammit-I-forgot backup bin. Toys that might become loot bag items, or gifts for my nieces and nephews. Toys that might become dreams in the sparkle of my kids’ eyes, to be filed away on wish lists for Christmas. Things that were fun and multi-coloured and plastic.

And this week, after pouncing on the Toys R Us flyer, I noticed something…we don’t actually need to shop there very often anymore. My two oldest are now at the age when they are not really wanting so many toys. The Captain still loves LEGO, but he doesn’t really play with it, he just collects it, making us highly unmotivated to buy him more. Gal Smiley loves sports equipment and board games but is long past the age of playing with dolls or action figures or dinky cars. If either is invited to a birthday party, we give books or a food gift card or maybe art supplies; things like water tables and sandboxes have been here, and have long since moved on to new homes.

Even Little Miss Sunshine, who will be seven years old next week, has entered the craft kit/Rainbow Loom phase of life, and although she still loves her Barbies and Strawberry Shortcake dolls and Pretty Ponies, it’s clear we don’t need to significantly grow our collections.

We’re also done with the Baby Gap, the Gymboree, and the “toddler” sections at places like The Children’s Place. Heck, I actually looked at grown-man socks for the Captain the other day, because “boy” socks seem to max out at size 4, which he is pushing, but then the man socks jumped to “one size – 9 to 11″ which seemed huge (note to self: fill sock gap, make millions). So we didn’t quite make the leap, but we’re on the verge.

All this is to say that it’s funny the things that make you notice how much time is passing, and has passed already. How our whole family has moved out of a phase that used to be all-consuming, and now is becoming something more scattered, something more grown-up without quite being something mature. The time has come to just drop the toy flyer straight into the bin, and I’m both ready for that and not ready for that.

Blink, and you’ll miss it.

Awesome and Not Quite as Awesome

And we’re off! Summer vacation has begun, and that’s good, and bad, but mostly good. For example, yesterday we went to Upper Canada Village, a place I swear I will take the kids every year, but we never get around to it, and so this year I knocked it off early. And despite a drizzly day and my fears of three kids imploding given a whole hour’s worth of driving with no video games (OMG CERTAIN DEATH), we made it.

And know what? We had The. Best. Time. The kids loved it! They actually wanted to learn about history. They actually begged to stay longer. They were hypnotized by the mills. They loved the animals. They enjoyed the shows. They had a million questions about the War of 1812.

And then! They were all so exhausted at the end of the day there was total silence on the drive home.

AWESOME. Especially considering I am wondering a) how to get one of those glass dividers limousines have for the van, or alternately, b) how to get all three kids to move the way back row of the van so I don’t have to hear the bickering, GAH.

So speaking of the down side of summer, I am already quite frustrated at how much I have been expected to act as Program Director for this summer. In the past I think I have been spoiled, because if we weren’t doing a day trip, I was able to just strategically leave out a bin of LEGO or Playmobil, and the kids came across it and were all, “Hey, what’s this?” as if they had never seen it before, and I didn’t hear from them for three hours. But now they are all boooooored, so booooored, want to DO SOMETHING, Mom? Mom? Mom?

(Or rather: want to suggest a hundred things, all of which I will say “no” to? DO YOU?)

For example, today I took them to the park, and since we were already out and about in the van I thought I’d stop by the Far Park because it has swings, whereas the Close Park does not have swings. I had this fantasy that I’d sit in a nice shady spot with my coffee and enjoy the weather while basking in the glow of happy, active children.

And then one kid was all, “Mooooom, come play tag with me,” and if you know me at all, you will know that although I can be a bit of a Busy Beaver when it comes to Planning Stuff, I am not at all interested in activities that involve sweating. So I was artfully dodging that one when another come came up all, “Moooom, there’s nothing to doooo, will you play frisbee with me?” and I was all, “What is wrong with your sibling RIGHT HERE who is looking for something to do with someone else?”

And while they were both, “Mom, are you done your coffee yet? Now? Now? How about now?, the third one, who loves swinging, was all, “Moooom, there are no monkey bars here, no mooooooonkey baaaaars, and also, I need to pee RIGHT NOW,” and so I gave up and we came home.

I’m thinking perhaps the first week of summer vacation is always this way, just trying to find our way to a rhythm, trying to negotiate the video game rules, learning anew that their brothers and sisters can actually be entertaining from time to time. Remind me next year to come back and read this post when I’m on my sixth cup of tea trying to soothe my throat from repeated declarations of, “NO, you have played ENOUGH Clash of Clans for one day!”

Really, summer IS awesome, and will BE awesome, I am just in a mildly ranty post-park mood.

So! In more personal awesome news, two things: first, Dance! Show! has returned, and is now at the top 20 stage, which means plenty of posts on that topic coming your way soon.

Second, I am going to be on Our Ottawa on behalf of SavvyMom.ca again this weekend talking about stuff to do with your kids around town in the summer. This time, Lucy Van Oldenbarneveld was away, so I got to hang with Adrian Harewood instead:

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SO COOL. It’s on the local CBC TV channel at 6 a.m. tomorrow morning, repeating Sunday at 11 a.m. and Monday at 11 a.m.

Awesome!

YABU (Yet Another Basement Update)

One thing I did not count on when we decided to finish our basement was how it was going to affect every single room in the rest of the house. Now that some of the furniture is going downstairs, and all the toys, we find every other room is now looking empty, or shabby, or both.

And we’re also having to reorganize spaces we didn’t think much about during the finishing part. For the past few weeks we have stopped work on the “finished” area of the basement to look at the “unfinished” sections, parts I kind of thought, due to their “unfinished” name, would not require any work at all.

WRONG!

First, we pulled everything out of our storage room. Remember what it looked like before?

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Here’s what it looks like now:

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I am SO SO SO HAPPY about this. Yesterday I went down there just to do a little happy dance in the middle of the room. Sir Monkeypants worked really hard – and, I have to add, with help from all three kids with minimal complaining – to build these shelves. Then I worked really hard to organize stuff and put it all in bins and put it gleefully on shelves.

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And what’s that hiding in the corner?

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Why, it’s a beer fridge! Also home to vast amounts of watermelon when we are on soccer snack duty, and an ice cream cake in the freezer. I brought home the ice cream cake yesterday as a sample from Icy Cool Creations, which I will be writing about next month for SavvyMom, and while the kids were playing outside Sir Monkeypants and I tried a piece, and then we very quickly decided that the children DIDN’T NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THIS.

Hidden ice cream cake makes beer fridges the BEST THING EVER, don’t you think?

(Warning about beer fridges: measure before buying. We assumed it would go down our stairs because if it can fit through the front door, it can fit through any door, right? Turns out it BARELY squeaked through the door to the basement – and then we had to take off the handrail to get it down. Guess I no longer have the right to mock my littlest sister for buying a couch that she couldn’t get down her basement stairs. DOH.)

Once the storage room was done, I turned my attention to the work room across the hall. I wish I had a before picture to show you here, but try to imagine 10 years worth of tools and supplies and furniture and random boxes of junk being thrown in here. Every time we had to look for a tool or a container of screws or picture hanging wire or painters’ tape, we’d have to dig through piles of bins and tool boxes and the foot-high thick layer of stuff on the work bench, and half the time we couldn’t find what we needed and had to buy more anyway.

Plus, we did not think ahead very well and while building the shelves for the storage room, every single thing in the work room got covered in an inch-thick layer of sawdust. OOPS.

So I spent the past week vacuuming, wiping, and rinsing off every single thing in the work room, and then I sorted everything, and then I put everything in little containers, and then I LABELLED THEM:

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I have to say, sorting stuff and then labelling it is my nirvana. It’s like, better than chocolate. POSSIBLY even better than secret ice cream cake.

And definitely, definitely, happy dance worthy. Did you know I can actually go into the work room and the storage room now in BARE FEET? And then FIND STUFF? It’s like it’s not even my house.

Next up: we return our focus to the finished space and hope to actually start moving in some furniture soon, then it’s time to get all the toys, books, and video games in the house down there. Hopefully before September, but you know – that ice cream cake isn’t going to eat itself.

Pitch Perfect

Woody Allen was once asked what era he’d wish he’d been born in, and he famously answered, “No time before the invention of antibiotics.” While I would add indoor plumbing, modern refrigeration, and President’s Choice products to the must-have list, I think my official short answer to this question is now, “No time before the invention of YouTube.”

Seriously, search for any question, issue, or problem you are having, and ba-bam!, there’s a video to help you out. Today we had a two hour power outage in our neighbourhood, and I had to get the van out of the garage to go to the library, and YouTube talked me through how to manually override the garage door opener. Then, a few hours later, it showed me the secret flick-trick to getting it to re-set and re-engage when the power came on.

In the past month I’ve used YouTube to learn how to clean a virus off my PC, how to diagnose problems with the furnace, and how to make a fleece poncho for Girl Guide camp. I’ve also watched the video for “Let It Go” from Frozen about a hundred times, used it to teach myself the entire “You Can’t Handle The Truth” speech from A Few Good Men, and showed the kids all the family-friendly parts of Pitch Perfect.

Speaking of which, I LOVED IT – Pitch Perfect, that is. I watched it this week and it was like a bullet to the mushy-gushy part of my heart. As usual I am, what, two years behind the pop culture scene? But I don’t care. I put it on my Pinterest wish list, so I can watch it over and over, along with my other Girl Power guilty pleasure movies, Coyote Ugly and Step Up 2: The Streets.

Taking names and kicking ass, I say.

Just about the only thing YouTube cannot solve for me is our ongoing problem with sugar ants. They are EVERYWHERE, every year. The buggers cannot be killed, cannot be stopped, cannot be discouraged. I’ve taken to leaving the dead bodies of their brethren around as a threat but as the Captain noted today, they do not seem to be very smart as they just shrug their shoulders at the dead bodies and go merrily on their way anyway, only to be squished, or given poison to cheerfully take home and feed their babies. Candidates for extras in the next Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie, for sure – and yet, the hordes are still flowing so I guess they are doing something right.

Maybe they’ve been watching apocalypse survival videos on YouTube.

Dragon’s Den Idea

I was shopping for greeting cards this week and every time I do, I am reminded of my sister Fame Throwa’s brilliant idea for a line of greeting cards that are polite and respectful but not emotional. There is a real need for this product, I think, as there are occasions when you are required to send a card but you don’t actually know the person very well and so most of the Hallmark-style stuff out there just isn’t appropriate.

Like, say you have a distant grandparent that you have only met a few times, and your mother expects you to send them a birthday card, and it’s no trouble really to get such a card and sign it. But every card is either TOTES HILARIOUS – age jokes! Pictures of men in butt-less chaps! Chimpanzees wearing sunglasses! – and that’s not appropriate given that you hardly know the woman, or they are super gushing (“Grandmother – So often we don’t take the time to share how we really feel…thank you for all the sacrifices you have made…you influence my life on a daily basis.”). NO. When you open a card and there’s a “poem” on the left hand side as well as a “heartfelt message” in scripty pink writing on the right, you know you’re in trouble.

What I want is a nice line of cards that say, “Have a great birthday” or a generic “Hope you have a very nice father’s day” or “Sending you fond Christmas wishes” that aren’t addressed to any specific person (like “Mother” or “Pop-pop” or “To my only brother, from his little sister”). A pretty picture, maybe some sparkle, a clean, unsentimental, non-jokey message inside.

Is that too much to ask? SHEESH.

In other awkward social interaction news, I was out shopping for an item this week at the Bulk Barn, and a very nice lady warned me that I could get said item at the Giant Tiger for less. This item was only $12 at the Bulk Barn, so we’re not taking hundreds of dollars of savings here, and the Giant Tiger is clear across town, and I wasn’t going anywhere near that in the near future. So I definitely wanted to just get the thing at the Bulk Barn, but she was really warming to her topic, about how things are so much cheaper elsewhere and she doesn’t understand how they can charge so much and she has it all figured out, and I should take my business elsewhere. So then I felt really weird about just going and buying the thing anyway, like I was going to look like a total idiot for deliberately paying a higher price.

So I ended up not buying it, and doing some other errands, and then going back and getting it later on.

I think this is a clear example of how my desire to please and/or fear of confrontation and/or over concern about being polite has gotten out of control. I just can never find the quick-wit to breezily say, “Oh, I’m in a rush today, but I’ll keep it in mind for next time!” and then be on my merry way. WOULD THAT BE SO HARD, brain?

SHEESH.

The Smell of Despair

You can tell it’s getting around to the end of the school year when the kids’ packed lunches start to smell of despair. At the beginning of the year I’m all cheerful about chopping fruit into fun shapes, and putting together creative sandwiches, and baking unique (and allergy safe!) treats.

But after months of the same food leaving in the morning, then coming back home again, and then me eating all of it, I start to wonder why I bother. I remember when the Captain was in JK and I was on the school council, and he never ate any part of his snack, and the Council president remarked that her grade-three boys were always starving and begging for her to pack more food for them, and I thought, “Oh, someday!”

And I’m still waiting.

I can’t even complain too much, because both Sir Monkeypants and I were legendary lunch-non-eaters in our day. I came home for lunch until grade 5, but in grade 6 I had to start taking my lunch. I’m sure for the next four years at least, a fruit or vegetable never crossed my lips, and since my lunch was all packed in disposable stuff – fold-top sandwich bags and brown paper lunch bags – I was able to easily hide the evidence in the school’s garbage bins. I’m sure the amount of celery sticks and carefully pre-peeled oranges I threw away could have solved the world’s hunger problem. Basically, I’d drink the drink, eat the cookies, perhaps take a few bites of sandwich if I was really starving, and that was it.

And now, payback, as I’m sure my mother laughs at me with a happy sense of justice. Since I use flip-top plastic boxes for the kids lunches, it all comes back to me, and I get to see their own drink-and-cookies-only lunches in full technicolor. By June I’m ready to give up, and usually throw in a Kool Aid Jammer, some chips, a fruit roll up, a granola bar for the “healthy” part, and call it done.

Summer really can’t get here fast enough.