Getting Cultured

We took the kids to see RENT last weekend at the National Arts Centre. It’s part of our subscription package to Broadway musicals that we bought this year.

Here I must admit that I was very vain about the fact that we were taking the kids to see a Broad-WAY Musi-CALE (said in your most hoity-toity accent, if you please). I considered this to be an Above Average parenting moment, in which we were going to expose our children to Important Pop Culture, and The Glory of Live Theatre.

We would not be raising any HEATHENS who like SPORTS, for heaven’s sake.

We had tickets to the Friday night show, which was the third last of eight shows, and on the walk home from school that Friday, Little Miss Sunshine found out that EVERY ONE of the girls she walks home with had already seen it. ALL of them – this is three other thirteen-year-old girls.

So I was a little deflated, to say the least. I even did the math. Eight shows at the NAC means approximately 31 thousand people in the Ottawa area could see it, which represents just 3% of the Ottawa population, not even counting Gatineau. Three percent get to be super cool, and yet every single one of my kids’ friends are cooler than us. They even warned her about the most scandalous part – a mooning near the end of the first act – so she would be prepared to see BUTTS. BUTTS ON STAGE.


But just a few days later, the Little Miss was at school and one of her friends had earrings that were little chameleons, and her friend started singing “Karma Chameleon.” Little Miss Sunshine joined in, because Culture Club is timeless, hello, but then it turned out that NOT ONE OTHER KID in their class knew of the song.

Let us recap: RENT – been there, done that, everyone knows all about it. Karma Chameleon – some sort of obscure counter-culture jewel that only the coolest of the cool are aware of.

What kind of upside down world are we living in here, people?

The Best Candy

I declare this to be the best candy on earth.

It was Diwali yesterday, which is the Indian new year. Or possibly it was on Saturday — there appears to be a LOT of debate about this online. I believe it to be a New Years’ Eve versus New Years’ Day type of thing where for some people, the big event is the night of and for other people the big event is the day after. We are Day After celebrators.

Anyway, traditional Diwali gifts include new clothes, money, and candy to ensure you have a lucky and sweet year. I bought everyone their favourite candy and I bought myself some of those chocolate caramel Mentos and they are DANGEROUS.

I’ve been doing a low or no sugar thing lately because I find, as I age, I get so very, very tired when I eat any kind of sugar. There have been times when I have fallen off the wagon and eaten three or four Girl Guide cookies in a sitting and then I need to walk to the couch like a zombie Frankenstein, where I face plant and am asleep in seconds. It’s kind of scary, actually. Sometimes I think I should have it checked out but most of the time I figure it is another feature in the Wonderful World of Aging and if I’m lucky, I have another 40 years of Extreme Sugar Crashing to look forward to.


Anyway, I am usually pretty good at avoiding easy sugar stuff like pop and candy, although I have two weaknesses: cotton candy, any flavour, and Mentos Chocolate Caramel. I cannot even open the Mentos package without being fully prepared with a couple hours of available naptime, because once it is open I am going to eat them all, very very fast. I can’t even savour them because they are so good that the very SECOND I finish one, I must have another one.

So, you have been warned.

I also bought myself one of these:

It is just a regular Kit Kat only made with some sort of fancy chocolate. You would not think that would make a difference in a $1.50 candy bar but OH IT DOES. I love these so much more than regular Kit Kats, and they are rare and hard to come by, so luckily I am much better at savouring them and parceling them out than the Mentos. But I still eat them when I should not.

My older sister knows this about me and recently she sent me an article about how Kit Kat is going to be setting up a store in Yorkdale Mall, in Toronto, where you can come in and build your own custom Kit Kat, including using Ruby Cocoa. To which I say, Thank Heavens this store is in Toronto, because I can’t nap all the freakin’ time, I need to get SOME stuff done on occasion, sheesh.

My Heart Will Go On

Celine Dion played in town last night, so there has been a flurry of her big hits playing on local stations. My kids already knew the My Heart Will Go On song from Titanic because we watched that movie last year, and with it in heavy rotation around here, everyone has been humming it all week.

I remember the summer of 1997 when that song was at #1 for like, 18 weeks or something ridiculous. I was a newly married lady and we had our morning alarm set to a local pop music station and I swear, that was the song that was playing every morning for at least a three-month stretch. Same time, every morning, Celine Dion welcomes you to the day. It was very Groundhog-Day-ish.

But even then, I didn’t really get tired of it. It’s not really my kind of song – I prefer jangly folk-rock with lots of acoustic guitars and a whiny lead singer – but it was a strong enough song to not actively annoy me through months of airplay.

Now my daughters, in particular, have both become a little obsessed and are playing that song over and over around the house, over dinner, before bed, and yes, first thing in the morning. It’s 1997 all over again.

I’m impressed though, that the song has such lasting power and impact. I guess there is something timeless and universal about it that it appeals to all ages and all types of music lovers.

I feel the same about The Lion King. I was at absolutely the wrong age for Lion King, being a young adult with no kids when it was released in 1994. But Sir Monkeypants and I had a few older friends at work and their toddlers and preschoolers were OBSESSED. They watched it over and over and knew all the songs.

When Little Miss Sunshine was a preschooler, I bought her a copy and the same thing happened. OBSESSION. She likes other Disney movies too, especially The Little Mermaid, but I have never seen love and adoration like a four-year-old has for The Lion King. And apparently, despite the years and advances in animation and whatever, it’s still got it.

This is in comparison to many other beloved films of my youth, not to mention classic, iconic movies from before my birth, that I’ve tried to show my children only to have them flop, or seem dated, or just move too slowly to grab them.

What do you think makes a pop culture gem so timeless that it will stand for the ages? I’ve been thinking it over and there’s no easy answers. I suppose if there were some kind of magic formula, every song would be an endless hit, and every movie would be in permanent Netflix rotation. I guess there’s just no explaining art.

The Lost Art of Signatures

I have to renew my daughters’ passports.

Now that they are both over the age of 11, it is strongly suggested that they sign their applications. They’ll be legally required to do it once they turn 16.

This is causing some problems.

This morning I had them both practice writing their name and – this probably comes as a surprise to no one but me – they don’t actually know how to write their own names in cursive.

My two oldest got a year of cursive practice each, before it was officially phased out of the Ontario education system. My youngest never had any instruction at all, but she does know it exists and some girls in her class practice it and showed her how to make a few letters.

But it’s safe to say that none of my kids EVER does cursive writing. Frankly, I can barely read any of their PRINTING because it’s so awful. They spend more time typing than writing by hand and they should all definitely become doctors because that’s where their handwriting seems to be taking them.

(Although come to think of it, our doctor now prescribes things by printing out a form and just signing it, so guess the last hope for Those With Terrible Writing is now gone.)

Our oldest has had to sign a few things lately – he’s now 16 – and his signature is – sorry buddy – HILARIOUS. He doesn’t know how to write capitals in cursive so he signs with all lowercase, and writes so carefully and with so much intense pressure I think he is going to rip through the page every time.

The girls were just as awful. They’ve somehow managed to scrawl something on their passport applications but they have a long way to go to create something fluid that is also unique to them.

I wonder if this means that the whole notion of a “signature” is going to go away sometime soon. Perhaps we will just digitally sign things with a finger scan, or if paper is required, put down a thumbprint. Maybe we’ll go back to the days of signing with an “X” and then I’ll just have to notarize everything they sign.

These past couple of weeks, Gal Smiley has been working on a cool history project where they pick a Canadian soldier from WWI, get all their records from Archives Canada, then sift through and put together a picture of one soldier’s life. It required a LOT of reading of cursive – every medical report, enlistment document, and transfer document was written in cursive – and I had to translate for her like it was a foreign language.

It’s interesting how quickly cursive – the ability to read and write it – is vanishing. In just one generation it could be a lost skill.

So how will we sign things in the future? I wonder.

Gifts for Teenaged Boys

Teen boys can be hard to shop for, am I right?

The other day I was at the orthodontist with Gal Smiley. I had brought a book to read, the latest one by Randall Munroe, called How To.

Randall Munroe is the geeky engineer behind the comic strip XKCD, which I love. But even better than his comic strip are his books, which are very funny explorations of really cool scientific things that often involve explosions.

Before Gal Smiley went in for her appointment, I was explaining what this new book is about. It’s about how to use science to do everyday things, like digging a hole or skiing, in the craziest, most don’t-try-this-at-home way possible, using science.

(Or rockets. There’s a lot of rockets.)

Anyway, Gal Smiley went in for her appointment and another lady in the waiting room came over to ask me about the book for her teenaged son, who is geeky and likes science and funny stuff and doesn’t read much. If this describes your son, then Randall’s books are PERFECTION.

I personally would start by giving them What If, his first book, which hilariously answers such questions as what if we tried to build a model of the period table using every element as its own block, and what if we wanted to build a ladder to the moon (insider tip: to manage to have enough energy for the climb you are going to need to pack a LOT of butter).

The chapters are not too long and very readable and contain lots of funny cartoons, so perfect for picking up and putting down. But if your son is REALLY not a reader, consider his other book, Thing Explainer, in which he draws blueprints for many common (and not so common) machines and explains how they work, using labels that use only the 1000 most common words in the English language.

It’s actually a really beautiful coffee-table sized book but also deeply hilarious AND informative.

Anyway, I don’t often do gift guides around here but I wanted to endorse Randall and his books, really for all the geekly people in your life. Especially if this means he’ll mention me in his next book, Secrets of License Plates, because he clearly is My People.

Braces Off!

Our middle daughter, Gal Smiley, got her braces off earlier this week. Like many things regarding children, it felt like both forever and just yesterday since she’d had them put on. Needless to say, she’s overjoyed to have them removed and celebrated by eating all the chewy, sticky candy she could, all week long.

Now that we are through the process, I’m still not sure we should have done it and likely I will have ongoing guilt about it for an unreasonable amount of time. She does look amazing, and our orthodontist is both cool and capable, and the whole process was very smooth and easy. If you’re going to do braces, you really can’t ask for better.

But I have to say, her “before” and “after” photos aren’t really that different. In theory she had a bit of a side-bite that was fixed, and one oddly twisted front incisor is now perfectly straight. She still looks pretty much the same though, unlike in this YouTube video, recently shared by Chris Hadfield (so you know it is awesome):

Now she’s up for a literal lifetime of a) wearing her retainer in the evenings and overnight, and b) having a permanent retainer wire on the back of her bottom teeth.

Was it worth it?

Let us review. The Pros:

  • really nice teeth
  • managed to keep her away from candy for almost two years

The Cons:

  • two years of feeling self-conscious when smiling
  • occasional pain
  • permanent retaining wire (preventing FLOSSING, which I am obessive about, so this is upsetting) and retainer
  • in theory, additional brushing and managing of elastics and other braces care things, which Gal Smiley literally NEVER did, so this one is kind of a wash.

I don’t know where that ends up. I asked her about it, and she says she thinks it was worth it, but that it’s maybe too soon to tell.

We have one more kid coming up so I’ve been thinking about this a lot. We’ve already been getting noise from our dentist about an ortho referral, but she is just-turned-12 and still has only lost 8 baby teeth, so I’m thinking it’s way too early. And like her sister, she has some crooked teeth but no serious problems and maybe they will sort themselves out if we just let her grow up a bit, and get a bit bigger, and get some more adult teeth.

Giving it time seems like a good idea.

And then, we’ll only do braces if it is something SHE wants – and is willing to OCCASIONALLY wear her elastics in pursuit of her own goal of straight teeth, SO HELP ME.

Getting Existential

Lately I have been having some existential thoughts on personal blogging.

It’s been a few years since I ran Blog Out Loud, which was an event where personal bloggers got to read their favourite post of the year at a kind of open-mike-type environment. Sometimes people ask me why I don’t run it anymore, and you might be surprised to hear that it isn’t because it was a lot of work – it was because we were having trouble finding people to read. Blogging had moved away from the funny personal essay style of writing, and more towards commercial blogging on a theme.

These days, I think a lot of blogs, especially new blogs, are magazine-type lifestyle blogs, rather than places to dump hilarious stories of family life behind the scenes. At least, every new blog I’ve followed in the last five years has been something like that – recipe blogs, or How To Dress Now That You’re 50 And Can’t Wear Jean Shorts Anymore kind of blogs, or Get Awesome At Clash Of Clans So You Can Crush Your Kids Just In Time For Them To Become Disinterested In That Game kind of blogs.

But not so much diary kind of blogs.

Maybe it’s just that I’m getting older, and my kids are getting older. Maybe there’s a whole new generation of young, tired moms telling hilarious stories of diaper blowouts and rumbles in the daycare yard that I am just not connecting to. But I fear not.

(If I’m wrong, please do send me their blog links.)

Lately, Sir Monkeypants and I have been watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon Prime. It’s set in the 1950s and it’s about a young housewife who tries to start a new career as a stand up comic. Many, many people told us we would love this show, so naturally we strongly resisted watching it. But one day in desperation we decided to try it, and one episode in, I was HOOKED.

It’s seriously SO funny and delightful, although if by saying that I have absolutely turned you off of watching it, I GET IT.

Also, word of warning, watching it will make you feel like a) you do not own nearly enough coats, b) you do not own nearly enough hats, and c) you should probably invest in a few sets of curlers before you and your husband end up in single beds.

Anyway, if you have never seen the show, one key thing about it is that Mrs. Maisel’s style of stand up comedy is new and radical for the 1950s – it’s personal. Instead of just doing impressions or telling a rapid series of jokes like Bob Hope, she gets onstage and tells long, funny stories about her crazy home life.

That is, she is a verbal personal blogger. Her monologues are EXACTLY like the funny, funny posts I used to read in the glory days of blogging by my favourite bloggers.

I read an interesting article recently that talked about how Mrs. Maisel has inspired a whole new generation of young moms to try to get into stand up. Apparently there is now a flood of sassy young women getting up on stage to tell personal anecdotes about their kids and husbands and mothers. And I was all like, SO THIS IS WHERE THE BLOGGERS HAVE GONE.

I’m nowhere near extroverted enough to appear on stages, so I’m happy I was around for the ancient days when we got to write this stuff from the safety and quiet of our own dark bedrooms, while the kids were napping. How these young moms are finding the energy to get dressed, let alone put on a minimum of makeup and go out in the EVENING, for heaven’s sake, is beyond me.

But now that I have a kid who is old enough to babysit, giving me the freedom to go out in the evening myself – perhaps I should get out to a comedy club near me. Because perhaps that’s where my people have gone, and can be found once again.

Another School Year

I’m one of those people who thinks of September as being the start of the year, rather than January, because I still have kids in school and that means in September our house transforms from glorious, glowing days where we all sleep late and eat whenever and have seemingly endless hours of energy and sunlight for outdoor sports and board games, to a house where everyone just feels tired all the time.

This year, Sir Monkeypants and I keep saying over and over how much this feels like back when the kids were in primary grades, and for the first three weeks they’d be so exhausted they’d be begging to go to bed an hour before their actual bedtime, and we all developed month-long bags under our eyes. Is it always this way every year, and I forget? Or are we having even more trouble transitioning to early mornings and making lunches as we all get older and more interested in staying up until midnight to watch The Predator on a school night? WHO CAN SAY.

It’s always a bit frantic getting back on the school schedule but this year I am also especially put out by the laundry schedule. I have never managed to figure out the one-load-a-day process or even the teens-do-their-own-laundry process so I still have a Laundry Day where I do six loads in one day and fold it all.

(So it can then lie around clean, in bins on bedroom floors, rifled through for extra underwear and socks, for the remainder of the week. Sigh.)

Laundry Day is Thursday and it has been Thursday for ages and I remember to do the laundry on Thursdays because it is THURSDAY. But this summer, we had some weird off-kilter family visiting time in the end of August, plus an overnight wedding to go to, which meant I was doing laundry on unusual days so we’d have enough clothes to pack and enough to wear when we got back. This threw off the schedule. Thursday would come around, and I’d be all, “But I just did laundry two days ago, so no need to do it today.” Then five days later everyone would be all, “I don’t understand why I don’t have a bin of clean clothes on my bedroom floor, how am I supposed to wear underwear under these circumstances?”

And then I’d do emergency laundry on an off day and it seemed like the schedule would be wrong for always. I even considered moving laundry day to Tuesday – TUESDAYS, for heaven’s sake – to establish a new routine, but NO. Instead I am doing laundry today, Thursday, even though it’s just three days’ worth, so I can get back into the groove and things will go back to normal and I can finally get some goddamn work done around here because I am not spending three-quarters of my brain power worrying about Laundry Day Jet Lag.

Welcome to September, everyone.

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

And the winner of the guessing game is…Lisa!

I guess we were a little off in that I was picturing (and had led you all to picture) something for each of us. But it was indeed a crokinole board – just one – with a set of coloured buttons for us each to play together.

Did you know that crokinole is a Canadian invention? It’s now played in international competitions but I would guess that it’s really just in Ontario where you will find a majority of people who have even heard of it. (If you’ve never heard of it – it’s kind of like shuffleboard and curling and darts rolled into one, where you slide the little wood pieces across the board with a flicking motion and try to score in the rings.) You can read more about its cool history (invented in Perth County!) on the Crokinole Wikipedia Page.

We had a board as a kid and played some, but this new board is a step above. It was handmade by Jeremy Tracy of Crokinole Game Boards in Elmira and it is just gorgeous. And oh, that sliding action! PERFECTION.

We’ve played hours already. Definitely a fantastic gift.

For the record: Little Miss won our personal family guessing game by guessing Croquet Set, which we felt was the closest. Other guesses included customized colour-coded Jenga set (Sir Monkeypants), tennis raquets (me), canoes (WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO WITH FIVE CANOES, GAL SMILEY), and child-sized rocking chairs (again, WHAT THE HECK, Captain Jelly Belly).

A Guessing Game

My mother is an early Christmas shopper. This is because we only see her a couple of times a year, and she likes for us to have our Christmas gifts on Christmas morning. So she tries to have them ready for us to take back with us when we do our annual summer visit.

This year is no different. We are seeing her next week and she has our presents ready.

But what’s different this year is this: we know all five of us are getting the same thing, as is my sister FameThrowa and her husband Mr. Chatty.

Also: apparently this item is too big and awkward to be wrapped, so we will be receiving them right away when we go next week, instead of the usual tucking away of wrapped parcels to wait out the next four months.

This has started a guessing frenzy in our household. What could this mysterious item be?

Here are the clues we have so far:

A – About six weeks ago, my mother asked us all to “pick a colour” from a list of about 12 colours for our item. Each of us had to pick a colour that was “distinct” from the others. Also, curiously, one of the colour options was “natural.” (We selected: Captain JB – purple, Gal Smiley – red, Little Miss – turquoise, Sir Monkeypants – orange, if it isn’t too similar to red, otherwise grey, Me – natural).

B – FameThrowa and Mr. Chatty had to pick a colour too, but they were invited to pick two additional colours, in case they “had guests over who also wanted to play.”

C – From hints my mother has dropped, we know that this item is handmade. And from the wrapping information, we know it is large and awkwardly shaped, but not so large that she couldn’t fit nine of said item in her car when she went to pick them all up.

D – This is my own inference, but I would guess that from having “natural” on the colour list, and the fact that these items are made in Elmira, home of lots of handmade furniture, that this item is made of wood.

So far we have no slam-dunk guesses. Is it a game? If so, why would we need five copies of it? Is it something we can play where we can all have one – like a ping pong paddle? But surely those would be wrappable? Is it something decorative, like a stool or a little shelf or a pretty box? If so, why would FameThrowa need one for “guests”?

We are constantly speculating, and our plan is to have everyone write a secret guess on paper on the drive down. But at this point, I’m not sure anyone is going to get it right.

Your guesses are invited. I’ll let you know next week the answer to the mystery!