Advent Calendar 2015

December starts next week, and that means the start of our annual Daily Family Activity advent calendar. Once again I was really conflicted – should I bother? would the kids enjoy it? would the extra work be fun and festive, or make me feel like ramming an icicle through my head?

(Jury still out on that last one.)

I saw the Lego and Playmobil advent calendars in the stores this fall and the kids were interested in them, and so I did consider buying my way out of the activities calendar. But to my surprise, when I made the offer of daily toys versus daily activities, the kids, for the most part, chose the traditional activity calendar. Know who was most in favour of the old way of doing things? Captain Jelly Belly, who a) wants to own ALL THE LEGO, and b) just two short years ago was declaring that the activity calendar was LAME and he was going to boycott it, and c) is now, at age almost-13, aged out of most of the stuff on it anyway. AND YET. There is a huge, terrible power when it comes to Sacred Christmas Traditions. If only we could harness it.

adventcalendar (Medium)

So! The calendar is up on the wall and the little slips of paper are inside and it’s ready to go. I pulled out my list of advent activity ideas, and I’ve kept everything on there over the years, and I got a little sentimental about it. It used to involve things like singing a Christmas song for a treat, or going to visit Santa (SNIFF) or everyone taking a big bubble bath in the tub together (SNIFF SNIFF).

Now that they’re older I’m both looking for shorter events, as we often have sports and clubs and stuff on in the evenings, and more grown-up stuff, although some perennial favourites persist. Here’s this year’s list:

1 – Decorate a gingerbread house (still might flake on this one, as it involves me actually BAKING the house, then comically trying to get it to stick together with egg-free icing, WHEE)
2 – Play Singalong Live to win a prize (game stolen from the TV show Best Time Ever, where I play a song and they have to complete the lyric; prizes are funny picture books, which were a big hit as prizes last year)
3 – Read all the Christmas books in the house with Mom (tradition!)
4 – Get out the Thomas trains and build a track (still popular with the Captain)
5 – Games night: Roll For It!
6 – Go see The Good Dinosaur
7 – Make chocolate dipped marshmallows
8 – Jammies dance party
9 – Paper ornament craft (this one here)
10 – Hide and seek with Santa and Rudolph (in which we take turns hiding two stuffies around the house, and the others have to find them – all the fun of hiding AND seeking, at once!)
11 – Games night: Telestrations!
12 – The Nutcracker at Centrepointe
13 – Skiing, if there’s snow, or Museum of Nature if not
14 – Ice cream sundae night
15 – Make peppermint bark
16 – Teddy Bear picnic (in which we eat dinner on the floor on a blanket with stuffies invited)
17 – Games night: Forbidden Island!
18 – Games night: Parade!
19 – Go see Star Wars (I. AM. PUMPED.)
20 – Alight at Night at Upper Canada Village
21 – xTreme trampoline park
22 – Drive out to Taffy Lane to see the lights (may flake on this and just watch White Christmas at home, we’ll see)
23 – Games night: Rummoli!
24 – Fancy candlelight dinner
25 – Tell us one thing you like about the holidays over brunch

I am tired just typing that stuff out. What was I thinking, again? SHEESH.


After an unusually warm fall, it’s finally turned cold here. The wind smells like winter. When you go outside, the air bites at your face and your toes involuntarily curl up, seeking shelter in a crowd.

There’s still no snow on the ground – a light dusting on Tuesday is melted away now, despite the temperature hovering around zero. I wish it would snow, actually, a big dumping so I’d have a clear cut excuse to get out the big Frankenboots and my sleeping-bag-coat and the giant ski mitts, and be done with it. As it is, with green on the ground I feel obligated to stick with my shorter padded jacket and my cute little ankle boots and sleek grey gloves, all of which makes me feel like I’m in a video shoot for some pop princess’ Christmas song, but leave me shivering.

It’s supposed to get up to nine degrees today, and 12 tomorrow, which is crazy for this time of year, and I really do appreciate it, this last chance to feel warmth and wear the cute boots. But I know the real cold is coming, the kind that seeps into my bones and leaves me huddled under a blanket with a hot water bottle every night, which I suppose is its own kind of pleasure.

I always think something is wrong with me at this time of year, as the cold isn’t really all that cold, and yet I feel it so acutely. Am I dying of some dreaded disease? Have I completely lost the ability to handle a Canadian winter, and must become a snowbird, leaving my children to fend for themselves until I return from Florida, gloriously tanned, in April? Will I actually, literally freeze to death in January when days of -20 are common, when I can’t even handle going outside on these measly -1 degree days?

Then I meet someone in the grocery store, or the mall, and we make chit chat, saying how it’s cold out there, and ugh, winter is coming, and how these grey November days of cold rain and icy skies somehow get right to your heart and make you feel like you’ll never be warm again.

And just the act of sharing the misery with someone else is a bit of a comfort, and there’s always a peppermint mocha at Starbucks if you really, desperately need something to warm you up, and memories of sunny February days on the ski hill come back, and it seems maybe survivable. It’s always the transition that’s the really hard part, not the living with it. I’ve been here before, and come out the other side, and that’s what I’ll cling to for now.

The Rescuers

A week or so ago, Little Miss Sunshine was having a sick day at home and so we turned to Netflix to look for animated entertainment. We were flipping through the new family movies section when she saw the poster for The Rescuers, which came out when I was six years old, and asked if she could watch it. If you haven’t seen it, it’s the story of two mice who are part of the Rescue Aid Society – Miss Bianca and Bernard – who find a help-needed message in a bottle from a girl called Penny and who set out to find her and save her.

The Rescuers is actually my own personal horror story, the movie that caused me so much trauma as a child that I can still shudder just to think of it. I’ve heard people say that they never slept soundly again after watching The Wizard of Oz or Star Wars as a kid, but for me, The Rescuers is the source of all my deepest, oldest nightmares.

There’s the villian – a red haired, evil woman named Madame Medusa who seriously freaked me out, with her cackle and her wild rolling eyes and her long nails that I was sure would rake across my skin in my sleep.


There’s her two pet alligators which snap viciously at poor Penny, and can even be ridden like water skis to chase after poor little girls.

There’s the “comedic relief” of the wacky albatross Orville, who almost drops Miss Bianca and Bernard from his back like, 10 times, DO NOT DROP THE MICE YOU STUPID BIRD.

rescuers2 (Small)

But worst of all, SO terrible, is the fact that Penny has a teddy bear. I was very, very attached to my teddy bear as a child, and I STRONGLY identified with Penny. And do you know what happens to said bear in this story? He’s taken from Penny; used as ransom to force her to crawl down a dark hole and dig for jewels; and eventually he has his head ripped off when the bad guys find out Penny has hidden the big jewel inside the bear.

rescuers3 (Small)


I can still see almost every scene of this movie in my mind’s eye, feel the cold pit of terror growing in my stomach, remember squirming in my seat at the movies and covering my eyes, hoping it would all be over soon. Of course, the bear is fixed in the end and orphan Penny finds a loving family, but it is TOO LITTLE TOO LATE, DISNEY.

And then, you know what? My poor parents, having just seen a movie featuring a little girl with a bear, assumed I must LOVE this movie, the little girl was just like you! And so they went on to buy me a few Rescuers-related items, including The Rescuers Board Game, so I could relive the horror over and over again. GOOD TIMES.

So needless to say, Little Miss Sunshine and I did not watch The Rescuers.

What was your first childhood movie-related trauma?

Alone in a Crowd

Lest you feel sorry for me and my sad ordinary-day birthday post from last week, I did want to mention that the day before that, as part of an extended birthday celebration, I went to the Nordik Spa in Gatineau Park for the first time.

I was TERRIFIED of going there, because I had literally NO idea what one does at a spa, and new places that involve driving for a long time and then doing weird body things in an open air environment is pretty much my worst nightmare ever. But I had been given a gift certificate by the lovely, lovely readers at this past year’s Blog Out Loud and I didn’t want to let them down. Plus, I am kind of, in a half-assed lukewarm kind of way, trying to force myself to have new experiences in an, “Hey, you’re a writer, you need to LIVE LIFE” kind of thing.

So I picked a Tuesday because they have a nice package that includes lunch, and off I went.

I was going to write an all-about-the-spa post here (truth: I spent most of my time there mentally composing blog posts about the experience, it’s how I process). Now that I have been once I clearly know EVERYTHING there is to know about spas and can share my deep knowledge with the world. But really I just want to talk about one thing that surprised me, and it’s this: I actually didn’t like the quiet.

The Nordik Spa has three zones, one where you must be absolutely silent, one where you can whisper, and one that’s meant for open socializing. Pretty much the only thing that made me actually go there was the dream of a silent area, a place where I could sit for hours in a nice hot tub and listen to a tinkly waterfall and just have QUIET. It seemed like the ideal situation for an introvert like me.

But it turned out I felt really uncomfortable there. My mind couldn’t settle down – it was just bouncing around thinking about all the things I should be doing instead, and how weird my butt looked in this bathing suit, and am I doing the whole spa-hot-cool-cycle thing right, and whether everyone else was staring at me. I just felt awkward and self-conscious and out of place.

So I started touring around and trying all the other hot tubs, and I was shocked to find that the one I liked best was the one in the social area. Even though I was there alone, I needed the chattering sound of people around me. And I have to say, if this isn’t too weird, I just LOVED listening in on the little conversations around me – just little stuff like the details of an upcoming move, or a comparison of night clubs visited this week, or how a good deal on a new car was scored. I found I could easily block out that noise if I wanted to and just drift, thinking about nothing, or I could listen in with my eyes closed and it was a welcome, soothing distraction.

There’s a saying, isn’t there, about there’s nothing more lonely than being alone in a crowd. But I think there’s surprising comfort to be had among a group of strangers, a human connection that made me feel safe, and like I belonged, and able to finally relax.

Unfortunately I only had about a half hour in that last hot tub before I had to get out, in order to eat in time to be back to pick up the kids from school. Lunch, by the way, was divine – delicious, and someone else made it, and I didn’t have to fret about allergic reactions. I read my book and ate my very own little apple pie for dessert and thought to myself, I should go out for lunch on my own more often.

At a nice crowded cafe, of course, with lots of buzzy conversations to listen in on.

This, That, and the Other Thing

Majic 100 here in town has gone to an all-Christmas music, all the time format, as of this past weekend. Needless to say it’s now the exclusive radio station of choice in my minivan. Go ahead, bring on five different versions of Sleigh Ride per day – I LOVE IT.

On the weekend I was driving around with the Little Miss in the backseat, and we were having a Christmas music sing-a-long, and she said the most brilliant thing ever: “Taylor Swift should make a Christmas song.” YES SHE SHOULD. Alert the squad! And give that girl a Nobel Prize!

Last night I heard the Barenaked Ladies’ cover of Do They Know It’s Christmas, and that made me think about Midge Ure. But before we get into that, let me sidetrack to say I actually, quite last minute and by surprise, got to see the Barenaked Ladies themselves in concert at the NAC on Saturday night. My friend Lucky Sevens ended up with an extra ticket and she asked me if I’d like to go, and I said, “SWEET.”

And yes, it was super sweet – SUCH a good show. They played just the right mix of old hits and new stuff and if you know them at all, you know they are truly hilarious live. At the end they did a megamix of current pop hits that included Shake It Off, Uptown Funk, and Let It Go from Frozen, so it was basically the Best. Concert. Ever.

#barenakedladies #nac

A photo posted by Lynn (@lynnturtlehead) on

PLUS, the opening act was Alan Doyle, ex-lead singer of Great Big Sea, who was performing with his new band The Beautiful Gypsies, and their music was super fun and catchy. Alan and his band were invited on stage for a few collaborations with the Barenaked Ladies as well and it was musical magic. Both my most favourite moment and my least favourite moment came during their combined cover of “Lovers in a Dangerous Time,” originally by Bruce Cockburn. I hate that song for repeating, over and over, my least favourite word in the English language (lover), and YET it has the two most beautiful lines in song ever written, these:

Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight
You gotta kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight

See? SUCH good and bad together in one song, I hardly know what to do with myself.

Anyway, back to Do They Know It’s Christmas. Most people associate that song with Bob Geldof (actually: SIR Bob Geldolf), and there’s no doubt that his powers of persuasion and enthusiasm for the project made it happen. It was his idea and he got everyone together and greased the wheels and was the public face of the project.

But it wouldn’t have happened without Midge Ure. He was the lead singer of Ultravox, and basically the silent partner for the whole deal. He co-wrote the song (some say – wrote most of it), stepped in to actually produce it when the original producer fell through, and spent the whole day (and most of the night) wrangling talent in the studio, coming up with a bridge, and cutting the track together. This is him:

Midge Ure 2004-10-26

I like to think of Bob as the ideas man, and Midge as the make-it-happen man. All big projects, I think, take both types. Someone to think big, to have a vision of the finished product, to believe it can be done. Someone else to make lists and check off lists and handle the details and actually see it through.

I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I’m a details man. The one who plans it all out and who methodically takes the group from A to B. The one who, when someone else says, “Hey, you know what would be nice? If we all got together at the cottage this summer,” goes about putting together an email list and a meals schedule and finds a weekend when it all work. I never seem to think of these things but when they come up, I make it happen.

The other day was World Trivia Night (not one of our best showings, but not our worst, either) and I was leaving for it ridiculously early, and the kids wanted to know why I was leaving so early and I told them I like to get there first because I’m the team captain. And then Gal Smiley said, “Why do you ALWAYS have to be the team captain?” and I was like, “EXACTLY.”

But I don’t mind, really. I’m happy to be a Midge Ure, even if it’s the less flashy role, even if I don’t get to be knighted. I will check off my lists and know that it was a job well done. I will have a good time and feel the thrill of a plan well executed and be grateful not to be the centre of attention. I will stand behind the big ideas people who will continue to think that their big ideas happened by magic and handshakes and intense conversations at 3 a.m., and not by someone dropping by the Superstore at 10 a.m. to make sure that there are enough paper cups and napkins to go around.

Me and Midge, we got it figured out.

Gluten Free Oatmeal Pancakes

I sometimes make pancakes for dinner on the weekends and that’s a lot of wheat for a gluten-free girl like me to handle. For a while now I have been trying to perfect an oatmeal-based, gluten free pancake, and last weekend I think I nailed it – at least, these hung together, and were good enough that I had to force myself to stop shoving them in my face as fast as possible. Hope you find them just as tasty!

Gluten Free Oatmeal Pancakes

1 to 1 1/4 cups quick-cook oats
1 1/2 cups water
1 tsp apple cider vinegar (optional)
2 Tablespoons canola oil
1 Tablespoon maple syrup

1/4 cup tapioca
1/2 cup brown rice flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt

Put 1 cup oatmeal and the 1 1/2 cups water in a large, microwave safe bowl. Microwave on high for 45 seconds, stir, then 45 seconds more. Let sit for a few minutes, then add the vinegar (I’ve forgotten in the past, and it works fine, just less fluffy, so whatever), oil, and maple syrup; mixture should be fairly watery.

Add all the dry ingredients and stir to make a thick batter. It may seem runny, and if so, you can stir in another 1/4 cup of oats. But beware, the batter gets thicker and thicker the longer it sits, so you don’t want it to be too thick at the start.

Pour into a hot frying pan to make pancakes about 3 inches in diameter, and cook and flip as normal pancakes. Makes about 20 pancakes.

glutenfreeoatmealpancakes (Small)

The Preteen Years

The other day Gal Smiley brought home her Grade 6 class picture. I sat down with her to write out who was in the picture, a tradition started by my mother every time I brought home one of my own class pictures. I just love seeing the faces of all the kids that my kid hangs out with every day, and also seeing how some of them have changed, as I barely see them otherwise from one year to the next.

Now that Gal Smiley is in Grade 6 and the Captain is in Grade 7, I’m noticing that the changes are coming fast and furious – and it’s just crazy how all over the map it is. I had always heard that girls grow first, but I was a very late bloomer and always the smallest in the class, so I didn’t really have a clear picture of what was happening at the other end of the spectrum. But in the Grade 6 and Grade 7 classes, you have a mix of kids who still look like little kids, through kids that have changed so much I barely recognize them anymore, to kids who are towering over the teacher. Some that used to be the tallest, back in grade 3, are now middle of the pack, and others who used to be so small and cuddly now look like they could buy beer without ID. I am amazed at the diversity. I suppose they will all catch up with each other by the time they’re done high school, but in the meantime, they barely look like they belong in the same class.

I’m not going to discuss oncoming puberty in too much detail, because the preteen years are delicate enough as it is, and heaven knows none of us would like those difficult times splashed all over the internet – although I will say this: my children OWN the bottom left corner of every class picture (REPRESENT). In fact, to remind myself to have a light touch here, I believe I should be forced to post this picture of me rocking my giant 80s glasses and brown hoodie at age almost-11:


Still a total baby. And here I am at, believe it or not, 16, still looking like I could pass for the kid rate at the movies, despite my awesome rainbow dangly earrings and MOI shirt (man, I loved that shirt, and no, I didn’t have a boyfriend, why do you ask?).


And lastly, here’s my own puberty-mash-up of a seventh grade photo. I’m in the bottom left hand corner, of course. REPRESENT.


Notes and Notices

I changed my theme! I don’t think I’ve done that in like, three years. Maybe more. Not sure I actually LIKE the new theme, but sadly I started having some problems with the old one so a change was thrust upon me. I’ll have to let it settle in for a bit – let me know what you think.

In other news, tonight is a night I wait for all year long – World Trivia Night. I think this is our seventh year fielding a team and man, do I ever love it. If you’ll be there tonight, come on by and say hi – we are at table 215.

45 in Pictures

Because it’s NaBloPoMo I’ve been trying to come up with blog post ideas, and earlier this week I had the thought to do a day-after birthday post featuring photos of everything I did that day.

So yesterday I faithfully took snaps of all the places I went and the things that I did and you know what? Most. Boring. Photo. Set. Ever. It’s the very affirmation of every person who ever thought that digital imagery + blogging = epitome of hyper-dull navel-gazing. There aren’t even any cute pictures of cake, or pie, because I couldn’t muster up the energy to make something. It turned out to be just the most ordinary of ordinary days (except for the awesome flood of Facebook wishes, thanks to you all!).

But then I thought, well, these ordinary days are what my life is made up of, and it’s a pretty good life. One thing I like about this blog is that I can look back and see little snapshots of our world from certain times and it always amazes me how quickly I forget how things were, and how small changes have added up to big ones that can only be seen when you have a yardstick to hold them against.

So here’s what life looked like on November 18, 2015.

Present unwrapping aftermath - I got new skates! I'm very excited about these.
Present unwrapping aftermath – I got new skates! I’m very excited about these.
Handmade card from my youngest.
Handmade card from my youngest.
Morning tea in a brand new mega-mug, plus my newest iPad obsession - Monkey Wrench.
Morning tea in a brand new mega-mug, plus my newest iPad obsession – Monkey Wrench.
My youngest is SUPER into gift giving - if you come to my house for longer than 10 minutes she will be in her room making you something on the Rainbow Loom or drawing you a picture. She made me these "friendship bracelets" as a gift.
My youngest is SUPER into gift giving – if you come to my house for longer than 10 minutes she will be in her room making you something on the Rainbow Loom or drawing you a picture. She made me these “friendship bracelets” as a gift.
Dropped by the school to see a display of projects by Little Miss Sunshine's class.
Dropped by the school to see a display of projects by Little Miss Sunshine’s class.
Laundry waits for no birthday.
Laundry waits for no birthday.
Worked for most the time the kids were at school.
Worked for most the time the kids were at school.
Grey but warm at school pickup.
Grey but warm at school pickup.
Scootering over to pick up the mail.
Scootering over to pick up the mail.
I love puzzles, and so does my youngest, so we did a few before dinner.
I love puzzles, and so does my youngest, so we did a few before dinner.
Taco salad for dinner. We have a tradition that the birthday person can have whatever they want for dinner and what I wanted was a) something that was super easy to make and b) did not use a lot of dishes. ACCOMPLISHED.
Taco salad for dinner. We have a tradition that the birthday person can have whatever they want for dinner and what I wanted was a) something that was super easy to make and b) did not use a lot of dishes. ACCOMPLISHED.
Folding laundry and watching Jeopardy. It's the Tournament of Champions this week and I am UNREASONABLY EXCITED. If you'd like to talk about Matt's chances versus Alex, I'm your woman.
Folding laundry and watching Jeopardy. It’s the Tournament of Champions this week and I am UNREASONABLY EXCITED. If you’d like to talk about Matt’s chances versus Alex, I’m your woman.
Cozy blanket, evening cup of tea, and yes, TWO ice cream sandwiches, because it's my birthday, dammit. A sweet end to a lovely, ordinary day.
Cozy blanket, evening cup of tea, and yes, TWO ice cream sandwiches, because it’s my birthday, dammit. A sweet end to a lovely, ordinary day.