Watch Where You Step

This morning I went into Gal Smiley’s room to change her sheets.

An hour later I managed to hack my way out, having done the bare minimum of tidying required to beat my way through the jungle of her room to get to her bed, then down to the sheets underneath all the junk, then back out again. Ugh.

When I was an idealistic, pre-kids adult, I had a teenaged cousin whose room was like this. There was a foot-deep pile of dirty clothes all over her floor at all times and you could barely open the door to get in there – and it was a large room. It fascinated me, because my mother never would have let me get away with that, and also I shared a very small room with my older sister. After two beds and two dressers and a laundry hamper, there was barely three square feet of floor space – if I dropped one sweatshirt that would have covered the whole area.

So of course, like all idealistic, pre-kids adults, I was all, “Oh, I’d never let my kid do that.”

And now I am eating my words, OF COURSE, and they are salty and bitter. Ugh.

The Captain isn’t so bad. He has the biggest room and he’s a tidy guy in general with a healthy respect for all household processes. Plus, he doesn’t really spend any time in his room except to sleep.

The girls are both terrible, though. At least our youngest is a relatively clean person – she does tidy up things like used tissues and dirty clothes – but she always has at least three major craft projects on the go at any time, splayed all over her floor, plus a hundred stuffed animals who are, no doubt, joining in like the shoemaker’s elves.

My middle daughter is the slob, and I really hate to use that word, because it seems like such a label and the kind of thing that will we will have shrieking matches over in about six months’ time. But really, her room is just gross. I was just in there for an hour and there were dirty socks and tissues all over, discarded dirty clothes freely mixing with the not-put-away clean clothes from last week all over the floor, dust balls in the corner where piles of half-broken toys and odd little scraps of paper have piled up. UGH.

It’s going to have to come to a head, I’m afraid.

One thing I wish I’d done differently as a parent is make my kids make their beds in the morning. This was something my mother was militant about. I absolutely hated making my bed as a kid, because it was wedged up against a wall and very difficult to pull out, and so tucking in the blankets and bedspread was a nightmare, especially for a young weakling like myself. So when I grew up and got a place of my own, I just went with a comforter that I’d sometimes, occasionally, lazily pull up in the direction of the pillows. That degraded until I wasn’t making the bed at all, ever, and as a result it’s been almost impossible to get the kids to make theirs.

I just read an article about how the most successful people in the world have one thing in common that they do every day – they make the bed. Not only does it set the tone for their whole room – their spaces are tidier and more open – but it seems to give them an organized, ready-for-the-day kind of mindset. Looking at my daughter’s rooms – and heck, my own unmade bed – it’s kind of no wonder that the house feels pretty chaotic most of the time.

The teen years are probably not the best time to try to retrain them into awesome bed-makers. But I think maybe I should try.

The Joy of Lists

The other day my youngest wanted to see my Highland Dancing medals…

(probably something you didn’t know about me, I’m guessing? I did competitive Highland Dancing for several of my pre-teen and early teen years.)

…so I pulled down my scrapbooks. These are a series of like, 8 enormous, fat books that my mother lovingly curated, detailing my entire life. I cannot imagine the hours of work that went into these books, and I have to admit they make me rather ashamed of the fact that my kids’ report cards and awards and playbills all get thrown in a giant tupperware bin willy nilly. But we all do what we can, right?

Anyway, while flipping through these books, where all of my medals are properly mounted and preserved (thanks, Mom!), we found solid gold treasure in among the kindergarten art and the book from when we went to see Sha Na Na – my daily diary that I had to keep when I was in Grade 4.

The kids were super interested (and also impressed that I could write in cursive – oh, the sad lost days of proper education). So I read it out loud to them and it was HI-LAR-I-OUS.

First of all, at least 50% of all entries feature my best friend Barbie, and my kids could not get over her name, picturing her as an eight inch tall plastic girl with a fake tan and big boobs in every entry.

Like this series, randomly chosen from a 10 page span:

Friday, Feb 1, 1980 – Today Barbie and I were helping Mrs. Havey. They are having a test and we had to set up for it.

Friday, Feb 8, 1980 – Today Barbie is sick. She has been sick for two days now.

Monday, Feb 11, 1080 – Barbie has a rabbit fur coat. She got it from her Aunt Marg. (jealousy implied)

Tuesday, Mar 25, 1980 – Barbie is in Florida. I can’t wait until she gets back. She promised me that she’d bring me something.

…and sure enough…

Thursday, Mar 28, 1980 – Today Barbie got back from Florida. She brought me a purse. It’s from Nassau. I like it.

Good old Barbie. Although I will point out that a) Nassau is NOT in Florida, so that’s a little fishy, and b) a purse is no rabbit fur coat.

The receiving of gifts was a huge, huge deal in my Grade 4 life, apparently. Pretty much any entry that doesn’t deal with Barbie and her comings and goings concerns the listing of gifts I received.

For example:

Mon Nov 19, 1979 – Yesterday was my birthday. I got a Shanana record, purse, charm, earrings, two sets of books, a pack of cards, a radio, and fifteen dollars. On Saturday, I went to my church bazaar. I got two Christmas presents there. One is for [my older sister]. It’s a doll. The other one is for my mom. It’s a pincushion. [Once an early Christmas shopper, always an early Christmas shopper!]

Mon Jan 7, 1980 – For Christmas I got a book full of Life Savers [had to pause here to explain this concept to my children, DAYS GONE BY, am I right?], a camera bag, bubble bath, a weaving loom, Monopoly, a Loveable Snuggles, some clothes, shampoo, a thermos, stamps, candy, and Spirograph. I had fun. [well, I should hope so.]

Wed Mar 26, 1980 – My nana and papa [newly returned from a trip] brought me a shirt that says Puerto Rico, a ruler with all the best sights of Puerto Rico on it [I still have it!], a palm tree charm, a Puerto Rico tree frog called the Cuqui, and a big mexico hat. [My older sister] got the same.

I have now earned a reputation in my house as The Ultimate List Maker, well deserved of course. I mean, who doesn’t love a good list?

The diary also reveals me to be the worst brown noser ever, as entries reveal that I often brought in extra books, collections, flyers, and other info to supplement the learning we were doing in class, as well as performing a few Highland Dances for the class’ benefit. KEENER.

My teacher was a delight that year. She often comments in the margins, encouraging things like, “You’re a lucky girl!” and “You must have missed her” (regarding Barbie, of course). But this one is my favourite:

Mon Feb 4, 1980 – My aunt is in the hospital. I went to see her yesterday. She’s doing fine.

My teacher’s comment on this was, “You have a very busy and interesting life.” For some reason this still fills my heart with delight. Yes, I DID have a busy and interesting life! And I still do! You know what – how about we write about it in some sort of online forum where others can see my diary entries and comment on them and…oh.

And thus the girl becomes the woman.

I love these diaries so much – I’m so pleased my mom kept them. And of course, now I want to force my kids to do the same. Imagine having a year of your childhood captured in entries like this. To know what you were thinking about and what mattered to you and yes, what you got for Christmas that year. It’s delightful. The kids are getting notebooks and pens for Easter, I think!

Back to Business

We had the laziest March Break ever. I worked part time, and the rest of the time we had the biggest movie festival ever. I can’t even remember everything we watched but I think we paid for our Netflix account about 60 times over. I took the girls to the pool one day and we went skiing one day but other than that, I don’t think the kids got out of their pajamas much. I used to find this kind of March Break a waste of time – oh, the lost museum hours! – but this week felt pretty good, although it was tough to get up for school/work this morning, gah.

When we weren’t lying around in pajamas watching movies, I was cooking, cooking, cooking. We had a sad accident a couple of weeks ago in which our big freezer conked out, and we lost a lifetime’s worth of frozen leftovers. It was all the good stuff – a stockpile of our favourite soups, homemade breads and buns, and pies and pie fillings.

Most of it was the kind of stuff that takes a whole day to make, the kind of stuff where you make a triple batch because you know you’re going to be sweating over a stove all day and you may as well make it worthwhile. So this week I set about recreating the stockpile, as much as I could. It was several days of some of the most complex dishes I make, and yet still our freezer is only a quarter full. Sigh.

At least we ate very, very well while enjoying an endless stream of cheesy, family-friendly action flicks and Disney musicals. So all in all, a pretty fine staycation.

How was your March Break?


My favourite band is the Trashcan Sinatras. They are a fairly obscure Scottish band, featuring lush, layered guitar work (which I love) and pun-filled, riddle-filled lyrics (which I love).

If you know of them at all, you probably only know the song Obscurity Knocks, which was a minor hit on alternative radio in the early 90s.

(There isn’t even a video on YouTube. When you don’t have a lyrics video for your top song on YouTube, you know you’re off the grid.)

My sister FameThrowa and I fell in love with this song, and their entire first album, Cake – holy crap, is that 25 years ago? Man, I’m old. Their second album is called I’ve Seen Everything, and it didn’t do as well, even though it is so, so beautiful and perfect and clever. Their third album is A Happy Pocket and it was never even released in North America, even though it is delightful and catchy and brilliant. After that they were dropped by their record label, but still release indie records from time to time.

They came to Ottawa once, back in 2004. It was on September 24, and my due date with Gal Smiley was September 21. I bought a ticket anyway and I would have gone if she had been able to hang in there for a few more days. As it is she was born on her due date (my children are extremely punctual) and I had to admit it was not a good idea to go to a concert with a three-day-old baby. Sigh.

FameThrowa went though, and she is such a badass that she actually went to the sound guy and hooked up some equipment to record the whole concert for me, then delivered it to me on CD a week later.

No, you cannot have her, she is MINE.

Anyway! They just announced they are going to do a little tour, and on this tour, they are going to play the entirety of their first two albums, which are masterpieces.

AND, they are coming to Ottawa! This little dinky city with no music scene to speak of! I am ASTONISHED.

But I will take it. I have a ticket. I spent all morning listening to their music and feeling overjoyed. It is amazing, isn’t it, how music can just lift your spirits? All is well with the world when your favourite song is playing.

Now, what does one wear to an indie band concert, happening in a pub downtown (lord, where will I park?), on a Sunday evening, when one is pushing 50?

Are pajamas okay?

Making Me Happy

I’ve been absent online, some due to work and life, but mostly due to the Olympics.

The Olympics are like a national holiday around here – all rules about screens and TV watching go out the window as we have our television on basically all the time any one of us is conscious. We even record the overnight coverage, so we have something to watch during the four hours a day that the CBC isn’t actually showing Olympics or talking about Olympics or comparing this Olympics to years past with moving vignettes. It gets to the point where our kids are bored – they wander off to do crazy stuff like read a book – while Sir Monkeypants and I remain glued. I admit it, I’m a junkie, and I do not care to reform myself.

Of course, Olympic season means flag time. We are reaching an apex with the winter Olympics, where we have already made almost all of the flags of winter participating countries, but there were still a few obscure ones left to make, and one of the new ones even made the leader board (Lichtenstein, who sent like, four athletes to this games and has two medals, good on ya, Lichtenstein!).

I love, love, love the flag making. Here’s a photo montage. It makes me happy.


Last night while watching Olympic coverage (of course), I got into a conversation with Sir Monkeypants about Women Athletes Who Wear Makeup. I put it out there that perhaps curling isn’t a sport so much as a game, because the girls are always done up with full makeup and hair. Rachel Homan, the Canadian skip of the women’s team, even curls with her hair loose and out, not in a ponytail or anything, which I can’t even do while wiping the kitchen table, let alone a “sport.”

But then Sir Monkeypants pointed out that almost ALL the female athletes, regardless of sport, were wearing makeup while competing. We looked at close up shots of the Canadian women’s hockey team, for example – they are wearing helmets with face guards, but when you look closely yup, almost all of them have on eyeliner and a little foundation under there. Later we watched some bobsleigh and the women had on makeup when they took off their helmets, and then we watched some downhill skiing and again, most of the women were fully made up when they took their goggles off at the finish line.

Now, I get that you are about to be on international television. And perhaps you are such a devoted wearer of makeup that you would not think of appearing in public without a little eyeliner and mascara, at least.

But as a total non-wearer of makeup, I was surprised. Isn’t it uncomfortable? Doesn’t it make you sweatier, or smear all over? Doesn’t it drip into your eyes and cause them to water, possibly causing you to make a medal-losing error?

I guess I just don’t associate makeup with sports. What do you think?


Lastly, aside from watching and discussing and leaderboarding the Olympics, here’s something else making me happy right now:

These two Royal Daulton teacups, scored at the Value Village for $2 each. I am not a regular at the Value Village, as I am not the kind of person who enjoys the Thrill Of the Shopping Hunt, and the big score that can sometimes come from there. I’m more of a “Dammnit, I need a shirt, I will go to the mall, grit my teeth, and buy the first thing I touch that is possibly my size” kind of person.

However, I popped in last week looking for some Girl Guide supplies, and there these beauties were. Little Miss Sunshine loves them too. We like to drink whatever we are having with dinner – usually water – out of them. We’re fancy pants Olympics watchers, we are.


We have officially moved past the age of little baby hangers. All of Little Miss Sunshine’s clothes were falling off the smaller size, and I had to go out and buy a couple dozen regular sized hangers to put in her closet.

I’ve been ferreting out the little hangers ever since, bundling them up into sets of 10 to sell at the local baby-stuff consignment shop. They keep turning up, just when I think I’ve got them all, and I’m sure one day I’ll come across one in the back of some closet when they’ve all moved out and I’ll burst into tears. But for now I’m pretty happy to say good riddance to something else that’s cluttering up my over-burdened household.

In other news, our oldest two children have landed their first jobs! They are working as Teaching Assistants at the ski hill we go to. It’s a paid position – they are making something like $30 per Saturday, plus they ski for free. It’s a long, hard day – they are on the hill from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., sometimes getting an hour for lunch but sometimes only getting a few 15 minute breaks. And it’s only for eight Saturdays during the season. But it’s a job, and I’m so pleased with them for actually getting out there and doing it (with some prodding, of course).

The jobs meant we had to open bank accounts for them. We’d opened one for our oldest when he was born, and then found out years later that most of the “welcome baby!” money we’d deposited there was gone, because the account had gone dormant and the bank had been taking out $30 a month for dormancy fees, and I’m sure it is no surprise to you that we are NO LONGER WITH THAT BANK. So up until now the kids had just been keeping their birthday/Christmas money in a drawer at home, but now they are all legit with the bank cards and all.

The best part was the signatures. All three of them (we got an account for the Little Miss, too) can barely write in cursive and laboured over writing their name like they were in kindergarten. Now that cursive is no longer taught in school, are we looking at a bad signature epidemic? I suppose it’s only a year or two before we’re all identifying ourselves with microchips embedded in our fingers anyway, so whatever.

Anyway, so far the jobs are going well – they are exhausted at the end of the day, but I am surprised at how much they both seem to actually enjoy working with and chatting with the little kids, especially compared to how short-tempered and mocking they are with their own younger sister. And we are worried that this will kill their love of skiing, because they are basically spending this whole season skiing backwards down the bunny hill, instead of fun stuff.

But they both do seem to appreciate money flowing in to their bank accounts, so that’s good.

Lastly, we have entered the realm of braces. Our middle child, Gal Smiley, got braces back in December and it’s been a very new thing for us.

I hope the braces result in a happy ending, but right now I am constantly questioning whether or not we have done the right thing. I know she thinks I kind of forced her into it. The thing is, I have some serious hang-ups about teeth and I know my own issues pushed her to get the braces.

My own teeth are crooked and large, and I always wanted braces as a kid. I even begged my mom to take me for a consultation. But she just did not have the money to pay for it – she was a single mom with four kids, and there were higher priorities. My bite is passable, and there weren’t any health reasons to require braces, it would have been a cosmetic thing. So the answer was no.

I think everyone has one thing about their physical appearance that they just don’t like. Maybe it’s knock knees or the way your hair frizzes out and cannot be tamed or the way your nose is a little bit off centre. It’s the kind of thing that your friends rush to tell you “oh, it’s nothing! I don’t even notice it!” but YOU do, and it bothers YOU, so it’s a thing. For me, it’s always been my teeth.

So I marched my two oldest kids in to the orthodontist as soon as they (finally) lost all their baby teeth, and while the Captain was given a pass (his teeth are not bad, and he REALLY did not want braces), the orthodontist and I agreed that Gal Smiley would benefit from having some crooked teeth fixed, and her bite adjusted.

She wasn’t sure, but I pushed, and now here we are. She is having some pain, and is sometimes unable to eat, and doesn’t like to smile with them, and I really, really hope I have done the right thing. I’m super nervous about the permanent retainer that this will result in – how will she floss? – and if we have damaged her, socially, in some way.

She’ll have to have them on for another two years. I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, braces advice welcome!

My Thoughts on the Honda Odyssey, 2018 LX Model

So we bought a new van back in the summer. It’s a Honda Odyssey 2018 LX, which we selected because it was the only minivan on the market that had a viable eighth seat.

People ask me all the time how I like it, so I thought I’d write it down so I don’t forget.

Some good stuff about it:

  • It has a workable eighth seat.
  • The seats are also super flexible – the rear seats fold down flat with ease and simplicity, and the middle row of seats slides forward, back, and side to side as needed, which is cool.
  • The LX model, which is the most base model, comes with tons of bells and whistles and fancy safety features that you might think would only come with a high-end model. Stuff like adaptive cruise control (SO AWESOME, I will never go back), lane control stuff, adaptive headlights, and traction control.
  • It has the world’s best heater – despite the size of the interior, you will not be cold. And, even in the base model, it comes with a remote starter. And, the remote starter automatically turns on the heated seats. So you will NOT be cold. It’s also equally as good at cooling off in the summer.
  • It drives really nice, smooth, like a fancy car. It’s really pleasant to ride in.
  • My husband wanted to add that the touch screen controls are very big and bright, and that the system manages different kinds of inputs really well, and it’s better than a lot of other cars.

But of course, there’s some bad stuff too:

  • The engine does this weird powerless/transmission-shifting-fail thing every so often. I notice it when I am slowing down, but not stopping, like for a yield, or approaching a red light that suddenly turns green. When I change my mind from braking and hit the gas, the van kind of says, “Hmmmmmm. Let me think about that and get back to you.” And you have to wait a few moments for it to grudgingly kick in. I used to think that this was due to running the engine on ECO mode, but even with it turned off, this happens.
  • It has a huuuuuuge turning circle, and parking it is tough. I find that unlike with our old Toyota Sienna, I am now seeking out those far-away, drive-through style parking spots so I don’t have to try to ease it in between two other cars. I can’t even imagine trying to parallel park it.
  • The radio does not tell you the names of the songs it plays. This sounds minor, but it was LITERALLY the one thing I wanted in a new car. Almost every other car on the market does this now. Almost every other car on the market does this in its lowest model. But despite giving you all the cool safety stuff, with the Odyssey, you have to buy the very top model – the EX-L – with its leather seats and sunroof and nonsense – just to get a radio that tells you the names of the songs it plays. THAT SUCKS.
  • There’s not enough cup holders for my liking.

And there you have it.

Family Values

I have a friend, Megan, and what she does for a living is consulting in the area of Core Beliefs. What she does is help people really understand the core values that were instilled in them via their upbringing, and then recognize how that might affect their current life. At the moment, she does a lot of work with entrepreneurs and money – identifying deep held beliefs (like: you should never buy things on credit! Or, asking for money is rude! Or, asking for more money is vain! or whatever your parents have ingrained in you), and then working to consciously change those beliefs, assuming they are working against you in some way.

(Here’s her website, if you want to know more. This is not a sponsored post, I just thought people might be curious.)

Anyway, hanging out with Megan does make you look at your own family and your own kids and make you wonder what kind of deep values you are instilling in them that are going to totally screw them up someday.

I had a moment like that yesterday when I was sending my oldest, Captain Jelly Belly, off to school for an exam. I had an appointment that morning, so I couldn’t pick him up. He was going to walk home, but he hurt his leg skiing on the weekend, and the buses aren’t running because of exams.

So I suggested he ask one of his friends for a ride home, but he couldn’t do it.

And bam! there’s a family value right there. We do not ask for help. It is something I feel very strongly about. I was raised by a mother who did everything alone, single-mom-ing it to four daughters and figuring it all out on her own. I learned early that there was no one that could be truly relied on, that if you want something done, you do it yourself. That asking others for helps only leads to that look in their eye – you know the one, the shifty one that says, “mmm, I’d rather not, but now that you’ve asked, I feel obligated, so I guess, yes, if I have to” – and you never want to actually put people in that position.

So just take care of it yourself. Learn how, or struggle through, or forget about it. But it’s on you, and no one else.

So although it would make me feel better if I knew he was getting a ride home, I couldn’t argue with his insistence on walking. It’s something I have taught him; he has learned it from me. He hobbled his way home on his own, and I get that buddy, I really do.

But maybe it’s time to revisit this one family value.


I have realized something strange about myself this January: I like winter.

I never thought this would happen. I’ve always been a summer girl. And even now, my favourite kind of day are those summer days that are blazing hot, hot as an oven, so hot that when you go outside you feel it assault you like a wave, burning your lungs, blinded by the sun. Heat is good, is what I’m saying.

So I was never that into winter, the putting on of coats and boots and trying to avoid ice and scraping your car, ugh. It was something to be endured.

Slowly, though, over the past few years, I have changed. Starting to ski has helped – I am still just THE WORST skier, in fact this week I got depressed when I found out the best guy in our class has been skiing for exactly as long as I have, and then while I was already sad about that our instructor took us on a difficult new hill, and I am ashamed to say I screamed at her in frustration and then rage-quit my lesson like a cranky five year old. But still, I am going to the hill every week and trying, and although improvement has come slowly there are passing, brief moments when I actually enjoy it. And most importantly, it has reframed my attitude towards winter weather completely; now I want snow, and I want cold, and when we have unseasonably warm days in January, I worry about the state of the ski hill.

But it’s more than just that. Lately I have found myself honestly enjoying just being outside in winter. Sir Monkeypants and I have started going for walks on Sunday evening and I love the brisk air, so fresh and clean. I love that there’s no bugs and few people in the streets and it’s just very calm and relaxing. I love the soft, silent days when fat snowflakes fall and everything seems so peaceful.

In short, I really, really like winter now.

My daughter, Gal Smiley, had a good friend who moved away last summer to Niagara Falls (side note: this is like, the FOURTH time this has happened to her, and we have recently found out her best friend from this year is ALSO moving away this summer, what UP, universe??). Anyway, she still keeps in touch with her Niagara Falls friend and Niagara girl was saying how weird it is that there is no snow there. She can’t ski or snowboard or even outdoor skate on a natural rink. It’s cold, but there’s none of the awesomeness of winter – nothing that encourages her to go outside and be outside and love it.

I hope she finds something positive about Niagara Falls winter, but it has also made me realize all the more how lucky we are in Ottawa to get a true winter, a winter with its own culture, almost, distinct from the other seasons. Sir Monkeypants said to me the other day that he never would have chosen to live somewhere so cold, but now he loves it – and so do I.

Winter, you’re pretty dang wonderful.

Taking the Bus

Captain Jelly Belly is in Grade 9 this year, and with that came the School Bus. This is the first time we’ve had a kid be a Bus Kid.

It’s been kind of a weird thing for us, because 99% of the kids from his old school – the one the girls still go to – don’t qualify for busing. They all walk. We somehow, magically, managed to qualify by the skin of our teeth – our street is the very first one on the outer boundary, and we think actually it’s probably meant to be INSIDE the boundary, but we will not be asking any questions, no siree.

This week was our first experience with bus cancellation – they were cancelled yesterday due to freezing rain and ice on the ground. This happens a handful of times each winter here in Ottawa but we weren’t sure what we were supposed to do with the Captain in these circumstances.

He said – no surprise here – that the teachers warned the kids that when buses were cancelled, they should stay away. Like, ALL kids should stay away – they should consider this a snow day, even though the school was still open, and just forget about attending classes.

But considering almost all his friends and the kids of practically everyone we know are walkers, and would be unaffected by bus cancellation, that did not seem right.

So we had him text literally every kid he knows that has a phone, and eventually two other kids texted back and said that indeed, they were not going to bother going to school. A couple more texted at like, noon, to confirm that a) they were just getting up and b) they didn’t go to school, like TEENAGERS, am I right?

Anyway, we did decide to let him stay home and he had the Best! Day! Ever! playing Mario Kart all day long. I think he’s totally on board with the concept of bus cancellations.

But I still wonder – was everyone else at school? Did we keep him home for no good reason? I mean, he COULD walk, kids literally one street over are walkers. Or I could even have dropped him off and picked him up.

But maybe school was like a wild west ghost town, with tumbleweeds rolling through the halls, and the handful of kids who showed up just watched movies all day.

If only I could be a fly on the high school wall. Bus rider advice welcome!