Cat Deely: For Your Consideration

So Ricky ended up winning So You Think You Can Dance Season 11, and that is as it should be. I was a little disappointed, not in the final result but in the finale itself, as I felt it failed to show many of my favourite numbers, and in fact, did not show a wide variety of dances at all. There were THREE selections each by Sonia and Travis, while NO selections at all from Mandy Moore, Sean Cheeseman, Jean-Marc, or Spencer Liff, four of my favourites. There was no ballroom at all. GAH. I would definitely have preferred fewer guest stars, fewer “stars” from the audition rounds, and fewer “hilarious” clips of stuff happening on the show, in order to include more actual dancing.

On the plus side, Cat Deely was luminous. I feel strongly that she deserves an Emmy. I used to be pretty angry that she’d never been nominated, but at least that barrier is broken – she’s been nominated at least the last two years, I think. But seriously, have a look at this clip:

The way she holds everything together in the Big Moment, the way she is happy and excited herself – helping add to our own feelings of love and celebration – and yet is still clear headed and calm. And the way she guides Ricky and Valerie around effortlessly, and the way she dazzles even in the face of a million pieces of confetti hitting her (Gal Smiley’s Comment: “They must have spent like, TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS on confetti, geez”). She’s a super pro.

And while I’m going on about reality TV, let me just say that I am RATHER disappointed with The Amazing Race Canada and its seeming determination to save my most disliked team, Ryan and Rob, a.k.a. The Two Most Boring Humans On Earth. Their total lack of personality was making me pretty angry (these are the most interesting people in Canada, casting staff? REALLY?), so now I have to watch the show pretending the entire time that their interviews are so heavily laden with graphic profanity that they just can’t show any of it on TV, and instead must filter out their most banal of comments to present to the world. It’s the ONLY POSSIBLE EXPLANATION.

So yes, very disappointed that my hopes of their elimination were dashed YET AGAIN by ANOTHER non-elimination leg…fingers crossed for this week. GAH.

Back to School Blues

Tuesday was good. The kids got dropped off in the usual first-day madness (our school does not post class lists in advance, so all the kids and parents are mobbing the teachers trying to figure out where everyone should be – does your school do this?). Each of them got some – not all, but enough – of their friends in their classes; each one got a really great combination of teachers. So all in all it is looking to be a good year.

I spent Tuesday in a flurry of activity, getting tons of work done I’d been putting off for all of August, thinking, “Just a few more weeks and I’ll have time to do that in a quieter setting.” Wednesday, too, I was working on a dozen different for-work projects while simultaneously making bagels and doing laundry and feeling like a rock star boss.

And yet…now I find I am having some sort of school-related let down. It’s not loneliness, or concern about the kids. And after a whole summer of managing bickering and constantly renegotiating rules and packing picnics for various day trips, you would think that the relative sanity of a daily schedule, combined with time to sit with a cup of tea for 15 minutes all by myself whenever I feel like it, would be refreshingly comforting. But I’m still super cranky about…well, everything, really, getting frustrated at the lack of help around here, and then it not being exactly the RIGHT kind of help, and then no one caring about me, me, me.

I don’t know, maybe this is my midlife crisis. More likely it’s just getting back into the routine and feeling the flow again.

It does not help that my son’s new grade 6 teacher sent home an essay-style form for me to fill out yesterday, asking all about his personal interests, hobbies, and the amount of reading he does. I was forced to admit that he has exactly one interest (videogames) and exactly one hobby (videogames) and the amount of reading he does for fun is zero. Sigh. I felt like she’d be reading it thinking he was a huge, uninteresting blob, the product of huge, uninteresting parents who can’t even be bothered to get off the couch for a second to take their child for a walk around the block or a trip to the library. GAH.

So now on top of being cranky and oddly sad and generally out of sorts with everyone, I’m particularly harping on him to get a freakin’ hobby already, which I’m sure is confusing to the poor boy after a summer of basically unlimited access to his iPod, and I have new resolve to force him to read something or other every day, which I’m sure is going to be big fun for us both, but will happen, I swear.

Gritting my teeth over here, and determined to white knuckle it through the September Blues.

Basement Storage Opinions Needed

So we’re still working on finishing the basement, and progress has been slow but steady. I’ll post pictures when we’re ready for a more dramatic big reveal, but in the meantime, I’m soliciting advice on what to store where.

Our whole point in finishing the basement was to create some kid space downstairs – to stop using our dining room as a walk-in toy closet, and give the kids a more private (and contained) place to play with their friends. So for sure we’ll be putting all the LEGO, Playmobil, Hot Wheels, and Barbies downstairs.

(Even though I shudder at the thought of an ankle-deep layer of small sharp plastic objects coating the entire floor. Breathe, Lynn, breathe.)

Now we’re getting close to making the big move and there’s several other things that could or could maybe not go down there and I’m not sure what to do about them. Where do you keep the following items:

  1. Board Games. Our kids rarely bust out a board game on their own but we are avid gamers as a family. So should we store them all downstairs, and become downstairs game players? Or should we keep them upstairs so we can grab one and play on the (planned) dining room table after dinner? Should we put kiddie games like Snap and Snakes and Ladders downstairs, but keep the more grown up ones upstairs? Is there any chance of them all getting dumped out at once and adding every game piece ever to the ankle deep layer? SHUDDER.

    Related: puzzles. I like a good puzzle and I have a couple of bigger ones that are actually mine. Keep upstairs? Or all downstairs?

  2. Craft Supplies. My original plan was to put all the girls’ craft stuff downstairs – things like coloring books, beads for stringing, stamps, scrap paper. But now I’m afraid of what kind of damage they might do downstairs with no supervision. On the other hand, the craft stuff takes up a HUGE amount of space in our office, and we have lots of fresh new shelf space downstairs, so…trust them? Maybe? And what about stuff they use all the time for school, like basic pencil crayons, rulers, and erasers? Maybe keep some upstairs and some downstairs?

     

  3. Craft and Science Kits. Unlike general art supplies, craft and science kits usually create serious mess. I don’t want them exploding a volcano or creating glitter glue mosaics or sculpting bake-your-own charms or doing airbrush tattoos in the basement. But we have a shelf full of these kits and I really don’t want to give them primo real estate in my office. I thought of putting them downstairs on the highest possible shelf – but that probably means they will languish there unused for several years until I finally throw them out when the kids go to university. Hm, come to think of it…I could live with that. Sold!

     

  4. Costumes. In the toy closet/dining room, we have hooks on the wall for the most frequently used costumes; the others used to hang on hangers on a rack in the basement. Not sure I want to devote so much space to costumes downstairs though – the kids don’t use them as much as they used to, and the thought of putting hooks on our brand new walls hurts. How do you store your costume stuff so that kids can access it easily? Do you have a tickle trunk? Hooks? Shelves?

     

  5. Photo Albums. This isn’t really a kid thing, but I have decades worth of carefully curated photo albums and they also take up a ton of space in my office where they are in a closed cabinet, and no one ever looks at them. We have some nice new open shelving built into the under-stairs area and I was thinking of putting all the photo albums down there, where they might get pulled out and looked at (and at least, would be easier to access). But I’m nervous about putting photos in the basement – is it an okay environment for storage? Is it too humid? What if we ever got a flood? What if the kids treat them like colouring books? Is it too dangerous to keep adult stuff in the kid space?

     

Where do you keep your stuff?

Dance Show Top 4

So I think tonight is the Dance Show Finale, but I’m not sure, it’s all so confusing. I thought Cat said last week that last week’s votes would be added to this week’s votes to choose the winner, but then she described this week’s show as being the Finale, and the Facebook page seems to imply that this is the Finale, so I guess they are letting people vote during the show for the winner, then will announce it in the end, through the wonders of lightning fast computer tabulation?

I am a blogger of too little brain for this sort of thing.

In any case, setting aside discussion of tonight’s show, I have HUGE NEWS to share (many, many thanks to Sarah for letting me know about this).

Brace yourselves: DANCE SHOW IS COMING TO OTTAWA.

The Top 10/All-Stars tour will be in Ottawa, at the Canadian Tire Centre, on Friday, October 24, at 8 p.m. SQUEE. I’m totally going! You should come too! But join me in the cheap seats – even I don’t love Dance Show enough to pay $365 for a VIP front row seat.

(Maybe. If anyone reading this is with the press and wants to give me front row seats in exchange for a lavishly glowing review, I can easily be bought, is what I’m saying.)

So! Last week we lost Casey and Jacque, showing once more I am dreadful at predicting this show. I really thought I was not attached to anyone on this show, even Ricky, who I think is the best dancer but don’t really feel bonded with. But man, I was super sad when Casey got eliminated. I didn’t realize how much I had come to root for the little guy. Sniff. At least he went out on a high note and I’ll see him on the TOUR WHICH IS COMING TO MY CITY OMG.

Also, while I’m being ridiculously over-the-top excited about things: CHBEEB. I thought I might pass out from glee. Man, I love that guy, and the number he choreographed for Fikshun and Zack rocked. AND there was Sean Cheeseman rocking it with that amazing red balloon/ball number, AND there was Spencer Liff, who is my second favourite choreographer, rocking it with a giant swing, AND there was Jean-Marc being his adorably wacky Jean-Marc self, AND Jessica and Casey did the best disco I have seen on this show in YEARS. (And there was a Ray Leeper nightclub number which we will just say nothing about.)

So all in all – FABULOUS Top 6 show.

This week – Valerie and Zack have made it to the top 4 which means some awesome tapping awaits me, and that is a super bonus. Predictions: not sure I should even bother, but I will call Ricky for the win, although it does seem to me that Valerie has that Melanie-type smile about her that may carry her through. I have to say, any of the top 4 could win and I’d be fine with it, which is usually how a Dance Show season ends up for me, but I’m still super pumped and excited.

Which is all good. Dance Show forever!

A list of some favourite numbers from this season I’d like to see in the Finale (and in the LIVE SHOW OMG):

Valerie and Zack’s tap number to Sing, from the first week showcase show
Jessica and Stanley’s jazz number by Tyce D’Orio (the “flying carpet” number)
Tanisha and Rudy’s broadway number (Sing Sing Sing)
Both of the top 8 numbers – one to So Broken by Sonya Tayeh, one to Love Runs Out by Travis Wall
Zack and Jacque’s paso doble to Dragula
Jessica and Casey’s contemporary routine by Travis Wall (the one with The Kiss in the middle)
Emilio and Bridget’s jive to Happy
Both of the top 7 numbers – the girls to My Immortal by Mandy Moore, the guys to Wave by Travis Wall
Jacque and Chehon’s ballet
Ricky and Lauren’s rockabilly jazz by Mandy Moore
Jessica and Will’s Earth Song (where he’s the Earth, and she’s in the red dress)
Casey and Comfort’s hip hop (where she is the spider woman)
Valerie and Ricky’s broadway number from this week, with the swing
Jacque and Will’s number from this week, with the red ball/balloons
Zack and Fikshun’s ink blot number from this week, because CHBEEB

Ah Dance Show. I’ll never quit you.

Great Wolf Lodge

Last week we took a little trip to Great Wolf Lodge in Niagara Falls. For me, it was a test run for a potential bigger trip next year – this was the first time ever we have stayed somewhere where we didn’t have a kitchen. Due to the food allergy thing, a holiday for us never means a vacation-from-cooking for me, but Great Wolf came really highly recommended to us for food stuff, so we crossed our fingers and booked it back in the winter.

A quick overview: Great Wolf Lodge is a hotel in Niagara Falls that has an indoor water park. There are at least a half-dozen pools of various types, a dozen or so huge water slides, and tons of other water fun, all right inside the hotel. There’s also an arcade, mini golf, bowling, and other entertainments – and oh yeah, there’s this thing nearby called The Falls, if you can pull yourself away for an afternoon.

So! How was it?

Let me first say this: I never knew so many people had tattoos.

Second, there’s this: Great Wolf Lodge is a totally awesome time.

[Disclosure! Totally not a sponsored post, nor did we get any freebies or anything, because I'm too lazy to seek out such things.]

Thinking about going there? Here’s some tips I’ve got for you.

The Rooms: We had a Kids’ Cabin, which is a big room featuring a smaller “cabin” inside it, to give the kids and parents a little separation. Our cabin area had bunk beds and a day bed, to accommodate our three kids. We really liked the room and it was nice to stay somewhere that didn’t have a four-person limit, but know that the “cabin” beds were pretty small. They are smaller than a full twin for sure, just about five feet long and thinner too. So I’d say, if you have kids that are 12 or older, you’d be pushing the limit of the kid camp/cabin suites – time to look at a Family Suite or Loft Suite. (You can see pictures and details of all the suites here.)

The Water Park: The water park is SO MUCH FUN. We go to Mont Cascades every year and this was even more, packed into a smaller area. For babies and toddlers, there’s a gradual entry pool with a couple very small simple slides; plus there’s a lovely Crystal River where you can load yourself and your kid into a tube and just float around in a loop. For older kids (5 to 8 range), there’s a whole treehouse play structure where you can attack each other with water in a hundred different ways, and then slide down two rocket-fast slides to get to the bottom; you can also go on a few of the bigger slides in a tube with an adult. Older kids than that can ride the really big slides and they are zippy and fun and fast; my older two loved the slides but actually had just as much fun in the wave pool, on the Crystal River, and doing the “ninja warrior” course where you try to walk across floating lily pads.

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How were the wait times? The park is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and waits were definitely the smallest in the first two hours and last two hours, so we tried our best to be there for those times, and spend the afternoons doing something else. But even if afternoons work best for you, you can always get into the pool for some splashing fun, and the lines for the rides do move fairly quickly. We found the longest lines – for the Vortex, Niagara Rapids Run, and Wooly Mammoth – featured about five minutes of waiting in off-peak times, and no more than 15 minutes of waiting in peak times. So that’s not too bad, and probably what you’d see in any other water park. Note that we were there on a Monday through Thursday, so it may be busier on weekends and almost certainly is busier at Christmas and March Break.

Worried about safety? Don’t be. This is one thing I can say I was super impressed about – the lifeguarding staff was plentiful and always, always on high alert. They were constantly walking up and down the edges of pools, blowing the whistle at anyone doing anything remotely dangerous; at the top of each slide, even the little baby/kiddy slides, lines are tightly monitored and it’s strictly one person at a time. Once I got caught up talking to Gal Smiley at the edge of the wave pool, and the Little Miss got more than a 20 feet from me, and the lifeguard was on her in about two seconds asking where her parents were (kids smaller than 48 inches tall must be supervised in the wave pool). I saw them testing the water for quality often, and once I saw them run a lifeguard test where they secretly dropped a dummy into the deep end of the wave pool and timed how long it took the lifeguards to notice and rescue (um, about five seconds). It was all extremely reassuring.

The Food: I have to say a lot about the food, because it was hugely important to us, and a major feature of our visit. They have a meal plan at Great Wolf – $22 for kids per day, and $44 for parents per day. That covers your three main meals but no off-hours snacks. We bought the meal plan because we did not intend to leave the water park like, EVER, and also because our major food issues mean that we can’t just go off and eat wherever, so we knew we wanted to stay where we could work with the kitchen staff.

The hotel serves a massive breakfast buffet in the morning and a massive dinner buffet in the evening (both part of your meal plan, or you can just go there for individual meals as desired). For lunches, there’s a bunch of “fast food” type places in and around the water park, serving things like sandwiches, salad, chicken fingers and fries, pizza, and ice cream. If you’re on the meal plan you can get one “meal” (like a sandwich and drink, or a pizza slice, chips and drink) from these places; if not, you can pick and choose what you want from wherever.

Our overall impression of the food was that the two buffets were great, but the lunch time options were sort of typical theme-park stuff, which is not bad for a single outing but after three days it’s a little too much. But the advantage is that all that food is right there – if you are in the water park, you don’t need to get dressed and go out somewhere, you just hand your dripping-wet kid a five dollar bill and send them over to grab some nachos. So although it’s maybe not gourmet fare, it’s super convenient and good enough. The breakfast buffet is absolutely worth it, I don’t know why anyone would eat anywhere else, and the dinners were good too with plenty of options for everyone.

So in the end I definitely felt like the meal plan was worth it, especially if you have no intention of leaving the hotel (which we did not, as we have been with the kids to Niagara three times before so the Falls and Marineland and the Butterfly Conservatory and the main strip had all been done before).

A note on allergies: how it worked was that every time we went to eat something anywhere (either in the buffet restaurant or at the “fast food” type places), we just told them we had allergies and had to see a chef. Then a chef would come out and either walk us through our available options, or just make us something to-order based on what we can and can’t eat. Everyone was SUPER nice and helpful and our kids ate hearty. Still, it’s a lot of work at every mealtime to manage so I’m not sure I’m sold on the “stay someplace without a kitchen” idea – really a lot of the time it just would have been easier for me to make something. But that’s just me, I hate the feeling of bothering people or putting people out – rest assured that if you do have allergies, you WILL find food, help, and total understanding at Great Wolf Lodge.

What to Bring: Here’s a list of things we wished we had brought:

  • Band Aids – We had a few, but the bottoms of the pools are rough (so no one slips) and scrapes can and will happen. I happened to have some Elastoplast Fabric bandages with us and they did remarkably well at staying on even through multiple days at the water park.
  • Waterproof Watch – I had one, but Sir Monkeypants didn’t, making it hard to say “meet us at this slide at this time” when we split up.
  • Moisturizer – Bring a lot. Bring all the good stuff. Between being wet all day and showering afterwards, skin gets very, very dry.
  • Hair Dryer – There’s one in the room, but it’s tiny and the overheating shut-off mark is almost comically low (count on a minute or so of drying time, tops). A good dryer is handy for drying suits and kids’ hair before bed (but forget about maintaining your own ‘do in the humidity of the park – just bring a lot of hairbands and clips and elastics).
  • Warm Clothes – The park is kept very warm and you’ll never feel chilly. But once you leave the park area – it’s cold, especially if you’re wet, and and especially if you’re tired and hungry and wet. I only brought one pair of pants and one sweatshirt per kid, and they basically lived in that one outfit for the three days we were there. Definitely pack warmer PJs than you think you will need – long sleeves and pants recommended – and some cozy track pants.
  • Refillable Water Bottles – hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! It is really easy, once you are in the water park, not to notice how much work it is. We forced the kids to break for mealtimes, even though most of us weren’t really that hungry. But what we often didn’t realize until we were out of the park was how incredibly THIRSTY we were, and it was hard to rehydrate once we were at that point. So on the second day we started bringing two refillable water bottles into the park with us and making the kids have a few gulps every time we went past our table, and it was much better.
  • More Bathing Suits – We brought two each and that was not bad, but if you have little kids who may be in and out of the pool area several times a day, working around meals and nap times, three or four suits wouldn’t be a bad idea.
  • Towels – This one is controversial. They provide towels in the park area and they’re good towels, all you will need there. In your room, there’s plenty of towels and fresh ones every day. But the problem is that you can’t take the park towels back to your room, or the room towels to the park. This means you will likely end up walking wet from the park back to your room, and it’s chilly in the hallways. So, should you bring your own towels, just for the hallway walk? We just sucked it up and braved it, but for little kids I would recommend bringing something thick and cozy (maybe a bathrobe?) to wrap them up in for the walk back to the room. You can also bring your clothes with you to the water park and dry off and change there before walking back to your room, but we decided to go for more privacy and walked back wet.
  • Floaties – Life jackets are provided (on a first-come, first-served basis, but there were always dozens available when we went), but if you have special floaties your kid likes (like water wings) they are absolutely allowed. The only place you can’t wear a life jacket or floatie is on the non-tube slides (Beaver and Squirrel Falls, which are at the top of the big treehouse thing). Your kid might want goggles, too, although my kids rarely wore them and were just fine.

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Money stuff: Use of the water park is totally included in your stay. If you get the meal plan, note that tips for the waitstaff at the buffets is INCLUDED (we did not know this the first two days, and were leaving cash tips for the waitstaff that brought our drinks and cleared away our buffet plates). Extra cash is required for add-on activities like bowling, the arcade, the spa, and mini golf, as well as kids’ craft activities (which are supervised, so parents can have a little adult time if you want to go on the big rides without your wee ones). You’ll also need a little extra for snacking or treats (although, we didn’t buy any additional food, just used some granola bar/cookie/bagel type snacks I had brought with us in our room – note that no outside food is allowed inside the water park). Just about everything there can be charged to your room, though, so no need to actually walk around with cash or a wallet – in fact, we went to the water park with nothing except our suits on and flip flops, because even your room key is just a plastic bracelet you all wear.

How Long Should You Go For? You can start using the water park as early as 1 p.m. on the day you arrive (official check-in is at 4 p.m.) and you can stay until closing on the day you leave (but you have to be out of your room by 11 a.m., or 1 p.m. if you pay a little extra for a late checkout). Driving from Ottawa, we left around 9 in the morning and, thanks to construction on the 401, didn’t arrive at Great Wolf until 4, but we still managed get in a couple of hours in the water park after an early dinner. We then had two full days of water park fun, and by the fourth day, our kids were pooped. Everything was still great, but when we hit our check-out time of 1 p.m., we were ready to get going – and looking forward to a few days of lazing about to recover. So I’d say the three-night stay was perfect for us, but a two-night stay would be great, too, if you are able to just do water park and ignore the rest of Niagara. If you’re going for longer than that, plan for some other activities – like visiting the Falls or going to Marineland – to break things up.

Overall I’d say we had a really, really great time. The kids said many, many, many times that this was the best trip ever. We had to drag them away and I actually thought Gal Smiley was going to make a break for it and hide in the change room so she could live there. The food was good and everyone ate and they did a great job of managing our zillion allergies. The staff was SO friendly and helpful.

Worth it? 100%.

In Which, I Know Nothing About The Voting Habits Of America

Well, well, well. Last week’s So You Think You Can Dance was pretty darn shocking – at least for poor little me, who apparently knows nothing about the voting habits of America. Rudy is out, people, RUDY IS OUT. Seriously thought he was on track to win this thing.

Does this mean that having ballroom on any given week is a kiss of death, no matter who you are? I have to admit, I always thought that the American dance-loving public voted based purely on popularity, like some sort of high school presidential election, rather than on the individual merits of each dance week-to-week. But perhaps they are more fickle than I thought, and the dances each week actually do make a difference. In that case, Valerie better watch her back this week.

Last week I suggested that Dance Show was possibly played out, in that I don’t obsess over it like I used to, and it has been a good long time since my mind was literally blown away (last time I can recall – Melanie’s huge leap into Neil’s arms in the Mandy Moore number – what was that, four seasons ago?). But then something like Rudy getting voted out happens, and suddenly I’m sucked back in. Not sure I’ll feel compelled to blog about it next year but I know I’ll be watching.

Before we talk dancers, just wanted to say: Jenna Dewan Tatum!! SQUEE. I’m sure this comes as no surprise but I am a fanatical fan of all the Step Up movies, including the first one (“FOR SKINNY!”). Thought she was pretty good – usually I don’t like it when a judge is gushingly positive about every number, but every number last night really WAS good, so I give her a pass.

Dancers!

Ricky. Probably jinxing him by putting him at the top (the last two weeks, my top pick has gone out), but he is really the best overall, and also was so good last week with Jaimie. They were so well matched and their dance was just lovely and although not exactly ground breaking, did include some movements I’d never seen before. Would love to see that one again in the finale. Poor Ricky is with Anya next week – ballroom AND the tiger lady – so fingers crossed he’ll survive.

Jessica. Also shining last week with Will (who, I must admit, I have no memory of whatsoever – anyone else?). Once again Mandy Moore confirms her spot as my favourite choreographer. I thought Jessica and Will had fantastic chemistry and they balanced each other just perfectly – a great performance. Still don’t believe she can win the whole thing, though, unless she has a really amazing dance with Ade next week (could actually happen, though).

Casey. I think the voting public has clued in on Casey, and he was pretty good with Comfort this week – Comfort ROCKED IT, but Casey at least kept up, and their number was unique and memorable. He’s with Mackenzie next week which should mean yet another lovely but forgettable contemporary number but I think it will get him into the top 4.

Jacque. Man, if you told me two weeks ago I’d be calling Jacque for the top 4, I’d have said you were nuts. But the weird voting style of this season – where you are ranked based on your last performance – means she’s bought herself extra time somehow. I thought she was actually good with Twitch – which totally surprised me, I never thought she had it in her – so I think she is the one who will make top 4. She’s with Will this week for what I’m sure will be a very nice contemporary number. Also, getting gossipy: she didn’t seem particularly broken up when Rudy went home, did she? Didn’t even give him a hug. Guess that affair is over!

Zack. I loved his Broadway number with Mackenzie, but in general, I love all the Broadway stuff, while America is lukewarm on it. Zack, I thought, was absolutely bang on perfect, plus his solo last week was KICK ASS. He’s with Fikshun next week which is very, very interesting – hopefully it’s not his swan song.

Valerie. Once again, putting Valerie at the bottom although her personal popularity (she’s never been in danger before) seems to make her bulletproof. The judges praised the hell out of her Samba with Ryan, but I actually thought she was okay at best – Ryan totally outshone her and she looked quite stiff and uncomfortable, I thought. Guess we’ll see if ballroom really is the kiss of death. She’s with Twitch this week which should be fine and cute and charming, if not exactly badass.

I just realized something – nothing that happens in top 6 week actually matters. Does it? Tonight we find out who the top 4 are – based on their performances from last week. But then, the top 4 get to perform again next week in the top 4 show, and the votes from THAT week pick the winner. So is there even voting after tonight’s show? Or do they actually pick the winner based on tonight’s performances, and next week is just the greatest hits/announce the winner show? I am confused. Either way, it’s created an awkward voting pattern.

In any case, see you next week!

Summer of Awesome Mini Updates, Take Two

We’ve been busier in August with a lot of errands and obligations, as well as back to school shopping – already! I have mixed feelings about the end of summer – on one hand it will be good to have bickering-free time to myself again, on the other hand I dread lunches and homework and also I actually will miss the little people. At least Sir Monkeypants has the last two weeks of August off, so it will likely be quiet around the ol’ blog as we send summer out with a bang.

In the meantime, here’s a few more mini updates in case you’re still looking for something to do.

Rideau Hall. I love it at Rideau Hall, and the kids had a fairly good time. It certainly helped that I had to stop on Elgin Street on the way there for an errand, and the kids got to pick up a big bag of candy at rarely-visited Sugar Mountain. Once there we settled in for a picnic lunch (with candy dessert) and spent a LOT of time on their play structure (which is nice, but nothing super special, telling me the kids have not been to the park often enough this summer, doh).

I wouldn’t say the kids were crazy about Rideau Hall, but it was a lovely, quiet, calm day, with lots of room to run around if you want to burn off some steam. Highlights included crafts in the visitor centre (they designed their own coat of arms); watching the mini Changing of the Guard (much quicker than on Parliament Hill, and you can walk along the road with the soldiers which is fun); wishing in the two fountains; and running all over the grounds to find trees planted by famous people (leading to a discussion of both tree species and historical world leaders – the Captain was especially interested in both). Not as good: the tour of the building, which actually was fascinating and our guide was totally awesome at getting the kids involved, but at an hour long, it was just a smidgeon past their patience point and the last 10 minutes or so involved a lot of lecturing and eye rolling. Still worth it, though, in my opinion.

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Tips: It’s all street parking around Rideau Hall, so be prepared for a bit of a walk – strollers on the grounds are just fine. Definitely bring a picnic or snacks as there’s nowhere to buy food on site and you’re far from everything and anything else. If you head out on a Friday or Saturday, there’s storytime in the afternoons near the visitor centre. Big Tip: There’s a fall festival happening on September 8th that will allow you access to the lovely back gardens and greenhouses, which are not part of the regular tour.

Company of Fools. The Fools are a Shakespearean acting company that tour Ottawa area parks all summer long with outdoor performances. I’ve been wanting to go for years because I love me some Shakespeare but always backed out at the last minute because the kids seemed too small to handle the late night and weird language. We finally went this year and I was delighted that the kids actually really liked it. Our youngest, at age 7, was probably the littlest kid there that was actually able to sit through it and pay attention (there were a few younger kids who all toddled off mid-performance to use the play structure, also a totally valid option). It absolutely helped that we talked about the play a LOT before hand – As You Like It. I told them about the language, and most importantly, actually performed a simplified version of the whole play using Lego characters (I gave them a “cast list” and they had to go off and build all the characters and sets for me, and then I played all the parts in a Totes Hilarious manner, if I do say so myself).

I thought the play might be simplified for the masses – either the language changed or made shorter – but no, it was the full play with the full text, so if you’re thinking of going, definitely prepare your kids for that. Having them know the basics of the plot and characters in advance is essential, I’d say. That said, there were plenty of surprises and the kids laughed – THEY LAUGHED AT SHAKESPEARE – and we all had a good time. AT A PLAY. It was a minor miracle.

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Tips: Tickets are not required; you pay after the play in a pass-the-hat fashion. They recommend $15 per person but we decided to give $40 for our entire family of five. It’s up to you, but bring cash – although they do have a credit card machine with them, it’s just easier and faster when you’re trying to get the kids home to bed (the show ran until 8:45 so it’s a late night for a preschooler). Try to arrive early – if you’re with kids, an hour in advance is a good idea to get seats near the front – and respect the Outdoor Venue code of blankets up front, chairs in the back. A few early-arriving families had started the first row of chairs back far enough to allow for two or three blankets in front of them, then put down a blanket for their kids, too, so the little ones could see while parents sat in comfort. They also had brought coolers full of snacks which is pretty genius.

Note that the shows run rain or shine (only cancelled in the case of severe thunderstorms) so if it’s a drizzly night, throw on a raincoat and bring an umbrella and head out anyway. You can see their full (remaining) schedule on their website to find a park near you.

Funhaven. It was so cold and rainy last week that I had to abandon my plans for various outdoor activities and cave in to Funhaven. I usually avoid it because it’s pretty expensive, but as our only outing for the week I figured it was worth the splurge. The kids, predictably, had a fantastic time.

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The Little Miss is finally tall enough to ride the bumper cars (the height minimum is 44 inches) and they had a great time on those, as well as in the jungle gym area (socks required!!), in the arcade, and playing laser tag. We were there for five hours and probably could have stayed longer.

I was afraid it would be packed due to the cold, rainy weather, but despite the presence of two day camps it was pretty quiet – we never had to wait for anything. It helped that it was a Thursday, and we got there shortly after the 10 a.m. opening. Things picked up a bit by 2 p.m. or so but we never felt over crowded.

Tips: Funhaven has a special promotion on where if you go Monday through Thursday, you can add unlimited laser tag to your entrance package for the same price as a single game – woot! But, even though it’s unlimited, you still need a ticket for each game you want to play – so plan ahead and pick up a ticket from the front desk well in advance of when you want to play (you might even want to pick up tickets for a few games in a row while you’re there). Also, there’s no outside food allowed at Funhaven (although I did see some mothers with toddlers handing out bottles/sippy cups) – I would recommend bringing a water bottle or two (there’s a handy refill station near the bathrooms).

Wear comfy shoes, as you’ll be on your feet the whole time, and if you don’t have a stroller with you, be sure to bring a backpack to hold prizes from the arcade, cast-off sweatshirts, water bottles, and souvenir cups from the snack stand. Don’t forget to wear or bring socks if you want to play in the jungle gym area – parents too, as you might find yourself crawling in to rescue a stuck kid. In fact, one great thing about Funhaven is that parents don’t have to pay an entry fee, but are given a lot of liberty to supervise their kids – you can go inside the laser tag arena, for example, if you have a small child and think they might need help or reassurance, even if you aren’t playing yourself (but, uh, consider playing yourself because TOTES FUN).

Another Funhaven plus is that they do try to accommodate a range of ages; I saw lots of babies and toddlers in their little people play area, preschoolers running around the jungle gym and bowling, while bigger kids played laser tag and rode the bumper cars. So if you have a wide age range of kids, it’s a great place for everyone to play.

Dance It Up, Fuzzball

So! As usual my predictions are way off, as my top pick – Bridget – went home last week. I have to say, it’s highly unlikely that her “Bollywood Disco” number would have saved her this week, anyway (HORRIFYING, do you not think? It is time to put both Bollywood and Disco to PASTURE). Emilio went home too, which makes me sad but I understand, leaving an odd situation where all the boys are contemporary (except Zack, although I’m unclear on his actual skills as he seems to be experienced at everything), and all of the girls are not-contemporary. Interesting…we’ll see how it all plays out.

Before we rank, just wanted to comment that I LOVED Jasmine in the hip hop number with Emilio last week. I wasn’t always her biggest fan, but she was so hypnotically good. I wonder if the experience and the confidence and lack of pressure of being an all star has made a difference – or maybe I’ve just loosened up.

Anyway, predictions for tonight!

Rudy. It is time for me to admit that Rudy is probably going to win this thing, and he’s good, so I should be happy, but ugh, he’s obnoxious. Still, he came through ballroom okay last week – not great, but not nearly as bad as I thought it would be – and so he should sail through to next week and into the top 4. He’s with the flawless Allison this week and this is his chance to really impress me – don’t blow it, pretty boy.

Ricky. Oh my LANDS, how I loved his number with Lauren. Two fantastic dancers paired with my favourite choreographer (Mandy Moore!), doing my favourite style. LOVED LOVED LOVED. In fact, I’m going to go watch it again RIGHT NOW. Ricky’s with Jaimie this week (remember her from the Hummingbird number back in season 3) and she dazzles me with her physical skills, so they should dazzle. Fingers crossed for a Ricky win!

Jessica. The judges have skillfully planted a bug in the ear of America (Jessica for the win!) and I think it is paying off. She’s actually really good, and I like that she is finally getting her chance to shine. She rocked with Twitch last week – although I have to say, Twitch is the BEST all star to get, because he is always 100% focused on making his partner look good, and he’s genius at it. But still, I think she’ll easily get through this week, especially because she’ll be dancing in her style (modern jazz) with Will.

Tanisha. I’m finding the girls hard to call but I think Tanisha has the edge, at least for this week, because her tango with Ryan was as good as everything Miriam and Leonardo ever do (they manage to blow my mind every single time, despite doing the same style every time, and some other choreographers could learn something from this, SONIA). Tanisha has contemporary with Nick this week (NICK!! Season 1, REPRESENT) so I’m not sure that will be enough to propel her into the top 4…we’ll see.

Casey. I am really loving Casey these days. He’s a good dancer, and also has the humility that some other dancers (RUDY) lack. He actually managed to hold his own with Kathryn last week – no easy task – but this week has hip hop with Comfort which will likely be a disaster. EEP.

Zack. Sadly, I must put Zack as the lowest ranked boy because, for the past few seasons at least, America has stood by their voting history and the second-last person from the week before is the one to go this week. Thought he was great with Amy last week, and he’ll probably be good with Mackenzie this week (more contemporary though – can’t we show some versatility, dance show?), but likely he is out.

Jacque. Putting her as the second-to-bottom girl despite what I just said about previous voting patterns, because her ballet with Chehon was SO LOVELY. Seriously, one of my favourite things I’ve ever seen on this show, delicate and light and a beautiful melding of styles. (Can Travis Wall do no wrong? Discuss.) This week, she’s with Twitch and although Twitch makes the ladies shine, I doubt even he will be able to elevate Jacque into the top 4 with something so far outside her style.

Valerie. The judges made it clear last week that they think Valerie is the weakest girl left, and all but held up signs telling America not to vote for her. Did it work? We’ll find out tonight – but I predict yes. She’s pulled Latin Ballroom with Ryan tonight, which also will do nothing to showcase her charm or talents, so even if it’s not her this week – it probably will be next week.

Let’s close with an open topic of discussion: do you think Dance Show is played out? I notice that every year, the dancers get younger and younger, and some of the choreographers are cycling through the same ideas, and the association with iTunes means it’s all current hit music and the choreographers can’t pick things they really want to…and most of all, I don’t seem to feel the same passion about who will win, and who won’t, anymore. Do you?

Whitening Toothpaste

In a comment on my last post, Alison asked if the whitening toothpaste I mentioned actually worked.

Here is my story.

It all started when I decided to break up with my dentist. It’s sad, actually, because I really like the dentist (actually a married wife/husband dentist team, both of whom are absolutely delightful and skilled). The problem is my hygienist. We go to a large office where there are several hygienists and the first time we went, everyone was assigned one randomly, and I have a different one than the rest of the family. She’s a very nice lady and we always find plenty to chat about but after every single cleaning, my mouth is a total mess. Bleeding, soreness, awkward feelings when I chew. I have two crowns right next to each other in the back of my mouth and after every cleaning they kind of felt “shifted” – not sure that is even possible, but they always felt really oddly out of place, and I would keep getting all kinds of stuff caught in them, and they’d bleed all over, and it would take weeks before I felt like everything had settled down.

(Caveat: I have been through SEVERAL dentists and hygienists in the past 15 years, to the point where it MIGHT be me, and not her – either my over sensitive gums or my over sensitive heart. But WHATEVER.)

So all five of us had a cleaning coming up in August – today, actually – and as the day got closer and closer I found myself dreading it. And then I had a thought: what if I just cancelled it? But then: what if they want to know why? But then: I could say I just need a break! Or that the insurance is maxed out due to the root canal I had back in February! Or whatever!

So I called and cancelled, and they didn’t even blink an eye or ask me why, even though I am obviously not busy as I am bringing in all three children at the exact same time. Success!

But it was a bit of a scary thing for me, because I actually have not gone longer than six months between cleanings since I was a baby. My mom was passionate about our dental health, and I had an awesome dentist growing up who I loved (also: a pretty good hygienist), so regular cleanings were just part of the lifestyle, and I always totally bought into the idea that my teeth would turn black and fall out without the regular attention of a dentist.

So to counteract my daring act of rebellion, I bought myself some antiseptic mouthwash to use after brushing and flossing, and made it a pact to take better care of my teeth myself, in order to avoid the hygienist. I started nightly rinses with the stuff (Crest ProHealth if you want to know).

And then, after about three weeks of having a super clean mouth, I noticed that my bottom teeth had these weird brown marks on them, like really bad stains from a life time of smoking and drinking coffee, neither of which I do. I thought maybe they’d always been like that, and I just never noticed, but then I had a sudden flash of inspiration and I read the label of the mouth rinse, and it said this:

“Staining of teeth may occur with this product, but it can easily be removed with a professional cleaning.”

WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT I WAS TRYING TO AVOID WITH THIS PRODUCT. GAH.

I immediately stopped use of the rinse and, in desperation, went out and bought some whitening toothpaste. (Sensodyne Whitening, if you want to know).

So I’ve been using the whitening toothpaste for about two weeks and LO, the stains are almost completely gone. And I even feel like my teeth in general are more glowy and shiny, without looking really fake-white. I’m not sure I will continue to use it once the stains are gone completely, but it has more than solved the problem.

So to sum up: yes, whitening toothpaste works.