Saturday, December 18, 2010

Stuck for a Christmas gift? Send them an iTunes Christmas app

I love apps. I have apps on my iPad and apps on my iPhone. I spend hours searching through the app store, just for the fun of it. Normal apps are fun, Christmas apps are even better!
In no random order, here are a few of my best pics for Christmas apps this Holiday season. The best part? They are all .99 cents. Send a few gifts through the iTunes app store this year, just because you are awesome. Or just give them to yourself, because these are great ways to while away time while hiding in your closet just to get away from your relatives.

Video Calls with Santa - You know that point kids hit before Christmas, where they are done being good and the horns come out? Fighting, not cleaning up after themselves, just generally being naughty? There's an app for that! Video Calls with Santa lets you call Santa on your iPhone. There is a number to call for when they are naughty, nice, and even voice mail. It had the potential to be cheesy, but this app really works. You let them talk to Santa, and when they are done you tap the screen. Santa then keeps talking. It was .99 cents, and so far I have broke up 4 fights and received the festive gift of a clean playroom out of it. Rating: 3 Dings and an extra Ding just because its Santa

Cut the Rope - This is a very fun game, even for the kids. My kids basically took away the iPad and came back when they beat it. So maybe not such a good thing if you like your iPad. Rating: Two Dings, and a thumbs up for Omnomnom because he's cute

Hamster Holidays for iPhone and iPad - This is so cute. Much in the same way that Jingle Cats meow their way through Christmas carols, these little festive hamsters use bells. You can either play along or listen as they chime their bells. Not a lot of substance here, but its only a buck, so why not? Rating: Two Dings, because it must have been difficult to get those hamsters to wear those hats and pose for that picture.

EA is having a sale right now. Many of their board games are 90% off. I just grabbed Boggle, Tetris, Pictureka, and Monopoly. All for .99 cents. I love playing board games on the iPad. Scrabble is a huge hit in my house, and you can't argue with a board game for a dollar. Really, just think of the hours of entertainment it will give Grandpa this Christmas. Give him your phone to play with instead of your TV remote control. Rating: EA Rocks. 3 Dings for posting a Christmas sale

As I still have a lot of work to do before Christmas and I normally only blog when inspiration strikes, I will wish you a Merry Christmas and see you in the New Year!

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Saving money on Christmas gifts this holiday season

Is it truly possible to save money at Christmas time? Its so easy to get into the mood to spend money, what with children begging for toys and festively decorated windows just begging you to drop your credit card off and the door and go crazy. I'm not going to tell you not to spend your money, because at Christmas that would be pretty silly advice. What I will share with you is a few tips I've picked up along the way to save you some money when Christmas shopping. These are specific to Canadians, simply because our economy is different than that of the USA, and also specific to buying toys, because that is what is on my mind today:

  • Shop online: Yes, I know that most of you shop online, but I've seen quite a few people  who get consistently shop online and do not know how to save money. Sign up for newsletters and coupon blasts from and Granted it is super annoying to get a new email advertising their sales every single day, but occasionally there is a real gem in there. Frequent these sites every single day, and you will be rewarded with better savings. 
  • Ship USA: Most people simply click the button that says "Ship to my Home" without thinking. Don't do that. If you live near a border city, you can take advantage of domestic USA shipping. For example, Vancouver is located near the Washington border, so many of us have mailboxes in the USA. Big websites often give out free shipping when you purchase over a certain limit. Simply cross the border and pick up your packages. It generally costs about $5 to pick up a box from a company that provides shipping. It is a bit more hassle than having it arrive at your door, but the money you save makes it worth it. 
  • Visit resale shops: If you have little people, say under the age of 5 for example, you can score great stuff that has been gently used in a resale shop. A specific example of a great place to shop for cool toys is Toy Traders in Langley, BC. You can also look through Craigslist for great deals. Big ticket items, such as Train Tables or Play Kitchens are often barely used, so grab one of these and stuff it under your tree this year. 
I only blog when inspiration strikes, and today I was inspired to help you save money. Have a happy holiday! 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The 3 important things I've learned from freelancing on

Although I spend most of my day chasing after small children, I have also been a freelance writer for the past two years. I discovered a love of writing when I was very young, but never thought of it as an actual talent until I was in my 30's.

I'd like to think that I can write fiction, but I tend to be a very non-fiction oriented writer. I'm slightly jealous of those who can just whip off a story that keeps me up until 2 am, but I know my own strengths. I write articles, press releases, blurbs, app reviews: You name it, I've done it. I haven't even updated my portfolio with as much as I could, but it is safe to say that I write something new every single day.

I started freelancing on Odesk, and because people ask me about it so often, I'd like to share a few things about working on there.

First of all, for those who aren't familiar with, it is a website that allows freelancers (like myself) to search for jobs (that people post). I had some history with freelancing websites (I was the employer, and it was NOT a good experience), so I was a touch leery of Odesk in the beginning. Fortunately, I was just being paranoid, and I have enjoyed over 2 successful years freelance writing on there. I have a spotless, 5 star profile, and I really work to keep it that way.

I've learned a lot along the way, but here are 3 of the most important lessons I've learned on Odesk:
  • Start Small: I cannot emphasize this enough. I don't know how many profiles that I've seen with people who say they are freelance writers, yet have no feedback, have not taken an Odesk test, and have nothing in their portfolio. Oh yes, and these are the people who are asking for $25 -$30 per hour. Unfortunately, you just can't do that. I started freelancing at $9.00 per hour, and I did this because I knew that I had to work at it, get experience, and slowly up my rate as my portfolio grew. Yes, you may be the best writer out there, but why should an employer simply trust that. You need to prove yourself, just like in any other job. 
  • Act like a professional: I have a background in customer service. I know how to treat people, and it never mattered to me that they were 'virtual' people that I had never met. If someone contracts me for a job, I bend over backward to ensure that they have the best writing and that I meet the deadline. If they aren't happy, I will rewrite over and over again until its right. I never take on a job that I can't complete, and I will often offer up ideas or thoughts on their posting. Sometimes an extra pair of eyes really helps complete a project, so I never feel like I'm overstepping when I go the extra mile. 
  • Know that you can say No: When I first started freelancing, I never said no to a single project. I took on everything and anything, including editing a video that honestly made me want to tear my hair out. I spent Christmas one year editing a website for a client and I ended up making about $5 per hour when all was said and done. Once I had built a portfolio, I decided not to take on any projects that I didn't want to do, no matter what they offered. Instead, I focus on my strengths. I write excellent press releases, can whip off a non-fiction ebook with ease, and enjoy researching and writing articles. I also focus on those areas that I am trying to grow, like query letters and honing a pitch.
In my own experience, Odesk has been an excellent platform from which to grow a freelancing business. I have clients from all over the globe, and I wouldn't have even had confidence in my writing if it wasn't for Odesk.

If you have any questions, comments, feel free to ask! For an idea of what its like to write on Odesk, take a peek at my profile:

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Your gonna need a shoe horn - 3 things that are great for post-Halloween, pre-Christmas muffin top

The room is dark, with just a bit of light peeking through the plaid squares on the curtains. I am staring at the pillow case that is dropped half haphazardly in the corner of the room. It is staring back at me.

Normally, pillow cases don't have personalities in this house. They remain on the pillows in some cases, and in others they end up crumpled in the corner of the room. Possibly, they were a backdrop for some epic Star Wars action figures battles. This pillow case, the one that is staring at me, is full of candy. Therefore it has a personality.

I know the reason I had children was for Halloween candy. Around 12 or 13 you outgrow trick or treating, and then you have to spend the next 10 or 15 years pretending that the tiny bags of chocolate bars and fuzzy peach slices are actually for handing out on Halloween. No matter that you may have been living in your parents house, and the only person knocking on the door to your bedroom for treats is your cat. If you spent some time actually eating your way through a bag of candy, you'd feel horribly guilty because you know you shouldn't do that.

Halloween candy comes without guilt. That pillow case in the corner is a big old bag of chocolaty guilt free goodness. And I'm going to eat it up while they are at school, but not before I talk about muffin top.

Muffin top. Such a lovely concept. For those who may not know what a muffin top is, its the wonderful addition to your stomach that comes with having multiple children. Yes, some women who have only had one child have muffin top, but this was not the case with me. No, I had to have four kids, just to try it all out and see if it would happen. And it did. Such fun.

Muffin top is most noticeable when you shoe horn your body into jeans that might have fit when you were say, 21? Your top overflows like the top of a big ol' muffin. This problem is only amplified by your choice in Tshirts. Maybe that sparkly slim fit tshirt made out of glorious organic cotton caught your eye. Yes, its a bit tight around the middle, but it looks great right? Sure, pair it with of your skinny jeans and viola, muffin top! Don't be in denial like the contestants on American Idol: Instead of just accepting the muffin top, fight against it by choosing your clothing wisely.

To disguise your muffin top, you could avoid slim tops, grab a pair of Spanx, and get a damn good pair of jeans:

  • Spanx -  The woman that invented Spanx knew what she was doing. Great product, and it really works. In the summer it feels as though you are encased in heavy tar paper or plastic, but wow, you look good.
  • Old Navy jeans - Yes, the mecca of denim and children's clothing with numbers on it came to Canada a few years back, and they brought some jeans that actually fit properly. Look for the lower cut versions and avoid the skinny and ultra skinny jeans. You will look like Gingy from Shrek when he exploded out of the oven. Boot cut is best, with a bit of stretch.
  • The Gap jeans - Old Navy is owned by Gap, and although Gap is possibly the more expensive of the two, they have great jeans for muffin top. Try the 1969 line if you can find them, and remember, if you wear low cut jeans, you can hide a big belly better by avoiding tight tshirts. (Can you say that three times?? Big Belly Better, Big Belly Better, ah, nuts, no I can't).
The common theme here? Avoid jeans that are too small and don't wear tshirts that are too tight.  Did you ever wonder why our moms or your friends moms would wear those horrific house dresses? (And on a side note, can you believe they still sell those? Perhaps there are still some housewives out there who do nothing but run a feather duster along the coffee table and watch soap operas while eating bon bons?).

Back to that bag of candy. Its still staring at me, but now that I've written about muffin top for 20 minutes I think I'll just whack it over the head with a hammer and quietly put it away in the closet. I may have had children just for the chocolate, but I don't have to eat it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

You've got questions about web sites or computers, I've got answers

I can't even begin to describe how many times a week I am getting asked computer questions these days. Although I have never thought of myself as an expert in anything, I seem to have some knowledge about computers (I prefer Mac), web sites (Oy, don't get me started), and even other things that have a 'Six Degrees of Separation" type of association to web sites and computers. These types of things are:
  • Trademarks, patents, and copyrights - I own one of the former, the middle doesn't apply to me, and the latter is a joke. Yet, I do know how to do the paperwork, what to avoid, and how much its going to cost you.
  • Email - Why did your email program crash and say you are out of memory? Yes, I know this. 
  • Search engine optimization - I know a thing or two about SEO. Most of it I've learned on the job. 
  • Web hosting - Ah yes, I know all about web hosting. 
  • Suing people - I've tried my hand at suing, and I've won.
So,  this leads me to this weeks blog post. If you have questions about any of these things, however inane you might think that question is, ask me here or email me. I'm happy to answer. By asking you'll give me some help as well, as I am researching a series of articles on these very topics and trying to gauge exactly what people are interested in finding out.

Consider this free tech help, and if you can't think of a question now, ask me later. I'm always here or on Twitter.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

3 types of coffee that will wake you up after a sleepless night with your kid(s)

Children are beautiful little creatures. They can also be nasty little people who keep you awake all night. The reasons are plentiful:
  • Teething - I'm sure this is God's joke on moms, just to be sure they don't populate too quickly.
  • Colds - I find if they wake up 6 times, sniffling and sneezing before midnight, its going to be a rough ride for the rest of the evening.
  • Flus - I truly hate the flu, and it never ceases to amaze me how children can stretch from the toilet to the bathtub when necessary. Like that elastic superhero guy whose name I can't recall because he is far inferior to Iron Man. When the kids are, ahem, seated, I direct their heads into the tub. Two portals for catching the goods. To avoid an all-nighter, I recommend rectal Gravol.  Despite how unpleasant it is to administer to a child who is screaming, "NOT MY BUM!!", it really works.
  • General Sleeplessness - This is a good one, because there is nothing specifically wrong with the child. I've been going through this for the past year, and its a struggle. This kid likes to wake up a 2 am just for fun, and he will hang out until 4 am if you let him. 
I love my children, and it is because of my babies that I also have developed a love for coffee. I managed to obtain a degree from University without drinking a drop of coffee. Of course, I was able to have 3 hour naps when I wanted them. Pardon me for a moment while my eyes mist over as I remember those lovely, lovely naps. SIGH.

As my two older kids can testify, they have come to know the rules about talking to mommy before the coffee maker has created its secret brew. I've been doing this sleepless night thing for almost 9 years, so I know a thing or two about coffee. In no particular order, let me share with you my top three for reviving my sagging spirit after a sleepless night with my kids.

Starbucks - I'm not talking about the froo froo beverages like double vanilla lattes with soy milk whatevers. I do like those, but they don't jolt me awake the way a tall Venti drip does. There is something wonderful in Starbucks drip coffee. You are also a very lucky person if you get to drink it IN the Starbucks, which I never do. I take it from the drive through whilst listening to screaming from the back seat and being pelted with shoes.

Tim Hortons - What sort of addictive drug do the makers of this coffee put in their drip blend? Even after the most sleepless night, and I mean 5 minute snatches of sleep between 1/2 hour wakeups, Tim Hortons will zap me to attention. I've attempted a Tim Horton's marathon during which I drink as many large coffees as I could handle in one day.  At some point during that day I developed a nasty ear ache in both ears and crashed, open mouthed on the couch during an episode of The Wiggles. When I woke up my 7 year old said he had thought I was in a coma.  So much for caffeine overload.

Dunkin Donuts Turbo Blend - You can't buy this in Canada.  We do not have the privilege of having a Dunkin Donuts. I only have access to this secret blend because I am able to cross the border and shop in Washington.
I think it must be contraband or possibly not approved by the FDA. I have snuck into Fred Meyer in Bellingham and purchased a bag here and here, just for those special mornings when my Tinkerbell mug needs refilling about, um, 20 times.  The bag provides you with detailed instructions on how to create the super-duber powered drip in your very own coffee maker. It is tasty if made incorrectly. If made the way they instruct, it has rocket fuel capabilities. And therefore so do I.
I believe that it also gives my tongue the ability to grow hair, but I may be mistaken.

I know people who drink tea. Green tea, black tea, herbal concoctions.  I also know people who down Monster energy drinks like they are water. I'm happy to simply drink coffee, and as long as my kids are kids, I'll keep drinking it. I imagine when they are teenagers they will drive me to drink other things, so I better enjoy this stage while I can.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How to share technology with your Grandparents OR Beam me up, iPad

I have two Grandmas. They both live in Saskatchewan, and have lived there all of their lives. My 102 yr old Grandmother recently passed away, so this leaves me with one Grandparent. My Grandma P is what is known as 'Quite the Piece of Work."

My fondest memories are of when we would talk about superstitions. She firmly believed that if you dropped a fork, company would be coming from that direction. If a cat howled under your window at night, it meant there would be a death in the family. If you put your shoes on the table, there might be a death in the family. Yes, it seems silly, but it really affected me. Watch out in my house if you put your shoes on the table. Not only is this unsanitary but I'm immediately concerned for your well being. And don't even come near me if the cat is prowling around outside looking for birds and meows from the back yard at the EXACT moment you put your shoes on the table. This would probably be followed by a few Hail Mary's and a frantic dash for the rosary. No, I'm not religious. This superstition stuff runs deep.

When my brothers would bring those dollar store plastic snakes and spiders to her farm, they'd leave them in strategic places for her to find. When she did find them, much apron flapping and screaming would occur, upon which she'd pronounce the toys "The Devils Work", and we'd laugh hysterically.

This brings me to the iPad. This cute piece of futuristic technology was the topic of a long distance conversation recently. I don't know about you, but I spent many a evening with my parents and/or my Grandma watching Star Trek reruns (or first runs, depending on what year this could possibly have been and the fact that I had no idea what I was watching).  At least once per episode, someone would randomly tap at the communicator/hand held computer and either beam someone up or analyze the surface of the planet that they accidentally landed on but was currently populated with hotties (insert scene with Captain Kirk, that sexy beast, and you have my Grandma trying not to swoon over her knitting). Occasionally these shows would prompt a discussion about aliens, and once in awhile we'd focus on that communicator and how people would 'beam up' in the future.

I've had my iPad for awhile, and it occurred to me that Grandma might like to know about it. I don't think she gets the technology gossip in Saskatchewan, because unless Tommy Hunter is still on TV, I don't know what she watches.  And so, the conversation went something like this:

Me: Grandma, I have to tell you about this new portable computer I have. You operate it by touching the screen.  It plays music and games, and its just like those computers on Star Trek.
Grandma: Eh? I can't hear you
Grandma: Oh. (Silence)
Me: Its really cool. I'll bring it with me when I come and visit. Its just like Star Trek.
Grandma: Star Trek? You mean you can beam here? Are you here now? Where are you?
Me: Umm, no. I can't beam there. No, its not like that. You can just touch the screen.You know, how we used to talk about what the future would be like? This is just like that computer on Star Trek.
Grandma: God didn't intend for people to beam anywhere. You shouldn't be beaming. That's the devils work.
Me: No one is beaming anywhere. I just think its cool that you don't need a keyboard? *struggling for an explanation here* You can just touch the screen. Tap it and it works.
Grandma: So you aren't here?
Me: No, I'm at home. I'm not there.
Grandma: Sounds like the devils work.

End conversation.

As you can see, there is clearly a generational gap in understand new technology. I could have gotten really technical with it, but I lost her at beaming, so there was no point.

Moral of the story: When explaining new technology such as the iPhone, iPad, and iTouch, please refrain from using references to Star Trek, especially if your Grandparents are of the Religious variety.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The difference between Macs and PCs, as explained to my mom

My mom is not the most techo savy person you will ever meet. She's 59 now, and the first time she picked up a mouse she literally picked it up and smacked it back down on the mouse pad. I had to restrain her from constantly picking it up to get it to move. When my son was 2, he had better computer skills than my mom has now (he really was amazing, and still is. He was downloading apps before his older brother, and I've trained him to look for the word 'free').

When it came time for my mom and dad to buy a computer, I was the one who did the research for her. She bought a PC from Best Buy. Well, essentially I bought the PC online and had it shipped to her. She managed to put it together.

Since that time, I have done many hours of tech support for my parents. I've done it with no prior knowledge of Windows Vista (which I can't stand, just by proxy), and I'm now more convinced than ever that older people should own a Mac.

My mom asked me why I thought Mac was better, and I began to rattle off about operating systems, system files, and those pesky cab files where viruses can hide on a Windows computer. Her reply?


So I guess I went over her head a bit there. Then it hit me, the easiest way to explain Mac's vs. PC's is to say this:

Imagine a pond. It's a clear pond, and you can see right to the bottom.

Imagine the pond is a Mac computer. All of the programs you install are shaped like leaves. Throw the leaves on the pond. See how they float? They never sink, and they just float along the surface of the pond.

Do you want to remove one of the programs? Ok, just pick up the leaf. Pick it up and toss it away. See, no more leaf, no more program. Nothing left over, its all just gone. Isn't your pond beautiful? And so easy to keep looking beautiful too! Such a lovely, high definition pond.

Now, imagine that the pond is a PC. Instead of leaves, the programs are tiny handfuls of rocks.

Throw the rocks in the pond. Watch them sink to the bottom. You can still see the rocks, right? And if you threw them in the same spot, most of them will be relatively close to each other.

Now try to remove a program. Get down into the bottom of that pond and dig for those rocks. You might think you had all of the rocks, but wait, there is another one over there. Stupid rocks flew all over the place when you threw them in. Dig under that pile of sand for the missing rock. Got it!

Oh oh, you took out an extra few rocks when you were digging. No, that wasn't just excess fish crap, that was an important rock. Now the pond is acting all wonky. Bubbles are coming up from under the sand, and those are some stinky, stinky bubbles.

Get the picture?

My mom sure did. I'm shopping online for her first Mac now.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Disney's Grand Californian Hotel - My personal review

The year was 1978 and I was 7 years old. I had just flown (back when you could smoke on airplanes, I remember there was a haze the entire time!) from Saskatchewan in the dead of winter with my parents and brothers for a family trip to Disneyland.

I remember walking into the lobby of the Disneyland Hotel and just being awe struck. It seemed so huge, with its palm trees and pillars. We stayed in a bungalow off the pool area, and although my mom says that the pool was empty, I remember lying out on the chairs and suntanning. The trams would pull up right to the hotel, and you could see Disneyland from way across the parking lot. We took the monorail once, but my mom preferred the tram for some reason.

The pool area from one of the upper decks
I've been to Disneyland many, many times since then, but we never stayed in a hotel on site. It was always prohibitively expensive, and although I knew it would be amazing, I just couldn't reason out the expenditure. This time though, was different. To celebrate ten years of marriage, my wonderful husband gifted me with a 5 night stay at the Grand Californian Resort at Disneyland. (BTW, I was not given compensation for this review, although if there are any Disney execs out there that need a writer, I'm here!)

We had what was possibly our best trip there ever, despite the fact that I have four kids in tow, and the reason was entirely the hotel. Yes, there were nit picky little things that I could harp on, but the fact is you pay for the experience of being there, and that alone was worth it.

First off, the location is ridiculous. You walk out the private entrance straight into California Adventure. The Grizzy River Ride was right in front of my room, and I could see Soaring over California and the fireworks every night from my deck. Sitting on that deck, I felt like I was IN the park, even when I wasn't. Because you have a private entrance, you can get Fast Passes for the World Of Color before the general gates of the park open. Downtown Disney is just off the side entrance. We spent many nights just walking around there.

We took a day off and spent a lot of time in the hotel. One afternoon the kids went on a Scavenger hunt. At the end of it, the prize was a Mickey Cookie from the White Water Cafe. Every afternoon there is a story teller that reads bedtime stories to the kids in front of the fire, and there is a little waiting area for the kids to watch cartoons while you check in or out. If you were tucking your kids into bed each night, you can watch Disney TV and have a princess read a story to the kids. We saw an episode where Cinderella read, as well as one with Belle. They also have channels that go through each attraction one by one, as well as broadcast the fireworks music. 

Although the room itself was on the small side, there was a queen bed with super comfy linens and a bunk bed with a trundle bed at the bottom. The bunk will sleep three. The bathroom area was nice, with 2 sinks, but the tub was really tiny. Each room has a Pack n Play in the closet, in case you want to put baby in there (not in the closet, in the pack in play).

One of my favorite room touches was the lanterns flanking the bed. They had a dimmer switch, so each night we'd dim them enough to provide a night light. It was very cozy. I think I need a dimmer switch and wall sconces now. It felt like being in a log cabin. Every night before bed the housekeeping staff would come in and turn down the blankets, adding a pile of chocolate coins to our bed. The kids LOVED that.

When you stay in a Disney resort, you get a 'key' to Disneyland. Meaning, CHARGE IT!!! Everywhere they'd take a credit card, they'd take my card. Now if I could only do that without having to pay the bill at the end. Hmmmm....

Whenever they would address you on the phone or in person, they'd say "Welcome Home, Wutke family." Although it felt like being on an episode of Extreme Home Makeover, I just really liked that touch.

Wireless internet and self parking are included in your room fee. That's always nice, no matter where you stay. So many hotels on that strip charge parking AND internet.

Something that perhaps people don't know when staying in the Disney hotels. You can pool hop! We spent the afternoon at the Neverland Pool at the Disneyland hotel. I hadn't been back since I was a kid, and although it was completley different, it was very cool just to be there.

It was an amazing experience, and I only had a few, very minor issues. One, the pool was so crowded that it was unpleasant to be there. Its not like the hotel can control that, or the children who thought that diving and kicking me in the head was funny. They have comfy reclining chairs and a full valet/bar service.

I loved hearing the crowds at night and seeing the happy people while I was sitting on the deck. If you don't like noise, you might not like the park view rooms. I loved opening the doors in the middle of the night and just hearing nothing but the crickets (or the recording of crickets. They actually play recorded owls and insects when you walk their lit paths at night).

The baskets of linen outside our door
The blankets on the bunk beds were a bit worn. I expected a bit more plush bedding. As I said before, the rooms were a bit on the small side, but the closet was huge. I turned that into a small theater for the kids one night when I was trying to get the baby to sleep.

Staying on site let me find out if one of the 'urban myths' of Disney is true. I've heard that there are a ton of feral cats living at the resort, and that they are fed by the night staff. One night I opened the deck doors after the park had closed and I saw a bunch, probably about 5 or 6, of cats just sauntering down the road in front of the Grizzly River Ride. It was hilarious! I wish I had taken a picture.  

I truly feel as though this hotel was worth the money, because you pay for the location and the EXPERIENCE of it all. I don't think I can go back to staying in a strip hotel (sorry, honey!)

Next up on the blog, my list of the best places to feed baby in the park.

Friday, August 27, 2010

More vids

This one is with Woody and Jesse playing with the boys baby Buzz and Baby Woody. So funny.

Nico busts a move to California girls. Sorry for the sideways view, I had no idea what I was doing while taping. He was really getting into it.

A few videos

I took these with my iPhone, so they are narrow. This is, of course, before I figured out how to turn the camera SIDEWAYS to get the widest screen. Duh.

A clip of the beach on our way to San Francsico. This is why I say that everyone should take a road trip like this with their kids. We just pulled over and had an amazing time.

Some pics!

I haven't had time to even answer the email I have received over the past week, so no time for a real blog post, but here are a few pics of the trip!

Meeting Pluto on Main Street. Nico just loved him. He actually wrapped one of his ears around himself, but of course I didn't get a pic of that.

Character breakfast at the Plaza Inn on Main Street. Completely expensive but totally worth it.

Jedi training academy. Nate was picked out of the crowd due to the Clone Wars costume again, but this time he battled Darth Maul. He loved it.

Musical Chairs with Alice, Alice, and the boys. The Mad Hatter called them "The Siblings" and shunned everyone else who wanted autographs. He held Cam's hand all the way to the gate and posed for some great pics.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Family road trips: Now I understand

I declare this entire month to be #Disney month on my blog. Yes, I'm a huge Disney buff, but I just came back from a road trip with my family (all 6 of us, stuffed into my Pontiac Montana, for 45 hours total driving time), and I had a really great time. I can't believe I am saying that, but its true.

I'll be posting videos and pics as soon as I can get them off the phone and camera, as well as my reviews of the Grand Californian Resort where we stayed for 5 days.

We worked our way up the coast of Californian and even popped into San Francisco for an afternoon.

Yes, it was a long and crazy drive, and yes, it took on a Griswald quality occasionally. I think that when we stopped people thought we were living in our car, but I am so enthusiastic about the time I spent with my kids that I just feel good about it all.

I'll be back with pics.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Looking for moms for article I'm writing

I haven't had time to update the old blog lately. I've had a lot of copywriting assignments, and have been working on a few press kits. All with 4 kids under my feet as well.

I'm writing an article on spec and I'm looking for a few interesting moms who are working from home or just working in general. Specifically, I'm looking for women who have tried a bunch of different jobs/businesses, etc. on their way to finding something they enjoy and are passionate about.

The article is going to focus on the journey, not exactly the destination, and the pitfalls along the way.

If you are interested in being interviewed for this article (most likely via email so you can live anywhere) let me know.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The ultimate in baby pictures

The days are long, the years are short

Just had to give a bloggy blast to SilverLamb Studios for the most amazing Cake Smash pictures I've ever seen. That's my little pooper up there, and although I know him to be a toilet brush wielding little devil, I'm so grateful that Sarah was able to capture the angel in him.

I've never done a cake smash for my kids, and with #4 nearing his first birthday, I knew his babyhood was slipping away. I'm one of those moms who is responsible for keeping Walmart photo in business, and looking back, I really wish I wouldn't have. The photos I have of my little one are so completely beautiful that I am really upset I didn't do it for the other three.

Here is a link to the the blog post where Sarah shows off the pics.

Here is the video that accompanied the smash. I just love it. It was shot by Matt from Silver Screen Tots.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

She farmed, I Farm Story

In 1950’s Saskatchewan, my Grandmother was one of the many who woke up at the crack of dawn to begin baking the daily bread and buns for the family. She probably had 7 kids at that point, a number I cannot fathom when dealing with my own four on a daily basis, and she went on to have a staggering 13 children before she closed up shop at almost 50 years old.

Life in Saskatchewan was clearly not for the weak or weak of heart. The winters were of the -50 variety, with snow drifts as high as the sheds that held the grain. In the winter, we huddled around the metal bellied stove for warmth before the house heated up, and our uncles  attached the hoods of old cars to the back of the snowmobiles and whipped us around frozen ponds for fun.

I have memories of waking up to the smell of baking every morning, of swimming in rain barrels or the dug out beside the crops when we were hot and dusty from running around. I took in a mouthful of lard once, because my cousin told me it was mashed potatoes. I remember swinging on a rope in the hayloft, from one side of the hay bale lined walls to the other, and the feeling of complete freedom I had when I was flying through the air. Sure, a few of us fell out of the loft onto the hard ground below, but I don’t really dwell on the bumps and bruises. I remember how my Grandma chased us down the dirt driveway with a tea towel when my cousin Bonnie decided she could drive at age 9. (Sidenote: we went to the town 10 minutes up the road for ice cream, and she did just fine. Seriously.)

Because of the way I was brought up, often out at the farm under my Grandma’s feet and surrounded by cousins, aunts, and uncles, I never thought it odd that there were always people around. My cousins’ were, and still are, my best friends, the people I counted on for everything. This was a family that was close, if only due to proximity. Emotionally, it was a different story. I can’t speak for the 13 children, but I don’t think hugs, kisses, and stuff we consider normal now were part of their upbringing. It was most likely a testament to the times.

I no longer live in Saskatchewan, and I haven’t been back there in almost 9 years. I am no longer surrounded by family. Living out on the coast has put us at least 4 hours from my brother and over 24 from my parents. Sometimes I still miss the proximity, sometimes I don’t.

I bake from scratch because using a cake mix just ain’t how I was raised, although I would give the credit for that more to my Grandma than my own mother who thought baking was boring.I do not own a bucket of lard, preferring to use products of the non-animal variety for my baking.

No one would argue that life is different for moms these days, but what I didn’t realize until just recently was how much worse it is.

Back when my Grandmother was producing a new child every year, she didn’t have the lure of ‘life beyond the farm’ to pull her away and make her dissatisfied. If she was dissatisfied, it was due to other things that I was not privy too. Now, I have my iPad in my lap 24/7, and Twitter is a testimony to women juggling children, house, and marriage with apparent ease.  My little window to the world makes me restless in a way that I am sure she wasn’t.
Summer vacations were for running around the farm. I can’t get my kids to run around the yard, despite the 15 foot above ground pool, tube-slided play center with swings, and the trampoline. I don’t remember ever going up to her and saying, “I’m bored.” I grabbed her apron when I was hungry, and I was always hungry, but other than that we were scarce.
99% of the time, rather than go out into my yard and pull weeds from my little garden patch, I plow the fields on Farm Story or We Rule, contenting myself with magic cauliflower and 16 hour crops in exchange for XP. Her garden would take up the entire plot my house sits on, plus my back yard.
I don’t think she ever had time to be bored, and if she was, she didn’t say. It was just the way that life was inside her bubble. I know she wasn’t entirely happy, far from it, but at the very least she didn’t have the distractions we have on a daily basis and the overwhelming discontent that can come from trying to raise children in this day and age.
Technology, in it’s ability to entertain and suck up our entire lives,  has bred boredom. At least at my house.
It’s summer vacation, and my kids are running all over the house, alternating between Lego Batman on the Wii and the sort of sunny backyard. I’m sitting on the deck, watching them, and I’m thinking how much fun that rope in the loft of the barn was.

Monday, June 21, 2010

3 reasons why you need to give your wife an iPad

When I first put my hands on my iPad, I was sitting in a walk in clinic with my sick kids. My husband had waited in line for it at the local Apple store the day they came out, and although I knew it was on its way, I was still practically sick with excitement.

I guess this tells you how much I love technology.

The first app I downloaded was a Toy Story interactive book that resulted in my four year old promptly taking the iPad away and going into his room with it, only to return half hour later and request "MORE" of the same.

It took about two weeks, but now I use it for everything. There are days that I do not crack my computer at all, and I kid you not, that's a big thing for me.

If you are considering buying one for yourself or your spouse and are on the fence (or the wait list) for the iPad, here are a few reason that might push you over to the other side: 

Pies - You like pie right? Apple, blueberry, the elusive stalk that is rhubarb? Well yesterday as I was baking, I dropped a big old pile of flour right in the middle of my iPad. As I began to clean it up, I thought of the many, many people who would gasp at my flagrant misuse of the coveted iPad and recoil in horror at my fumbled attempts to clean it with my already dough encrusted hands.

The point? This thing wipes off with Windex people! Windex! If you slop you coffee or flour on it, it just wipes right off. It's brilliant. Just pull up, find something to bake, leave the recipe in front of your like a book when you are working, then slop all over it.

Feeding your baby - If you breastfeed, you know that you will spend endless hours in a dark/semi-darkened room feeding your baby. It's a blissful thing, but it's also deadly boring when you do it 10 times a day, 7 days a week, and in the middle of the night. With my other kids, I just watched TV or stared off into space. Sometimes I'd slump over and catch myself before I fell out of the chair, taking baby along with me. This time, *insert evil laugh*, this time is different.

My husband's friend presented me with an iTouch a few months ago, and it was amazing. I could read blogs, look at pictures, play games, and best of all for everyone, stay awake while feeding the baby. At 4 am, when my heart was racing and I wanted to cry, I could google, "Why is my chest hurting?" and it would come up with wonderful options like, "How to tell if you are having a heart attack or if you are having anxiety related issues." Very soothing, I must say.

Now I can analyze myself and my anxiety symptoms on the big screen, and if I am bored at night I have a plethoria of free HD time management games to entertain me. Also, watching Glee on the iPad will keep you awake when nothing else will work.

If you are your child's food source, you DESERVE an iPad.

The reduction of clutter - Recently, my husband stacked a pile of my books that I had stashed in the closet along the wall of the bedroom and said, "Do something with these."  I was perplexed. I had not read half of them, including "The Road Less Traveled" and "How to bring up boys" (clearly, I have not read that one.) How simple it would be to have the iBooks version of these selections, so I don't have a pile of paper sitting on my floor and still have the option to read them whenever I get free time.

Reading a book on the iPad is an amazing experience. The backlight is so soft on your eyes that you don't even realize it's getting dark in the room.

If you read books, you need an iPad.

I do believe I have barely scratched the surface of what my iPad can do, and I'll be enjoying trying to figure it all out for months to come. My iPad won't do my dishes, but at least it keeps me company when I do.

Monday, June 7, 2010

A crisis of the 39ish persuasion

How many times have you heard people say, "In my head, I"m much younger?"

My dad used to say this to me all the time. I'd look at him, wrinkly as a Shar Pei and with hair as grey as the old cat that used to hang out on my grandma's farm and I'd think, "Sure." I mean look at you, you must be like, 43 or something!

And now here I sit, at 39, and I'm the one that my kids say, "Wow, Mom are you ever old."

It doesn't help that I'm older than my husband, and you know they take great delight in saying that to anyone who might ask how old I am.

My kids are growing up. I have an 8 year old, a 7 year old, a 4 year old, and an almost 1 year old. My baby days are ending, and the times of my life where I have three boys ripping up my house are just beginning. I haven't colored my hair in what seems like a lifetime, and since having the fourth kid, I'm more top heavy than bottom.

I avoid the camera like the plague, analyze every tiny mark on my face, and wonder if I can survive the aging process.

I'm having a 39ish crisis.

All of this makes me remember what my dad used to tell me about being a kid. He'd say, "You better enjoy it. Being a kid is much better than being an adult."

At the time, full of hormones and boredom, I didn't believe him. I wanted to grow up, wanted to go where I wanted to and come home when I wanted to. I wanted to have my own money and not argue with someone over a winter jacket or a pair of ugly boots. I wanted to be finished with high school forever, and move onto bigger and better things. Brighter things. I had marriage to look forward to, babies, and jobs. The world is wide open when you are a kid. I had dreams.

I still have dreams, but it's amazing how time can change them. I'm married, I've had my babies, and I have spent my life looking for something I was good at, something I could grab onto and be passionate about. I've found the things I've wanted to find and I've lived through some stuff that, looking back, I wished I hadn't. It's part of being a grown up.

And now, I want to be a kid again.

I want to ask my mom for help when the world gets too overwhelming. I want to read a book by a lake and listen to nothing but the flies buzzing over head and the water hitting the shore. I want to be restless, impatient, anticipating of what my life is going to bring. I want to run, wild and free, through Disneyland again and feel like I did when I was 7 and it was the most amazing place on earth. I don't want to deal with cutting the grass, cooking dinner, or taking out the trash. I want to move to a new place, just because the other place isn't doing it for me anymore.

Today, I'm having a crisis of the 39ish persuasion, and today, 39 sucks.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Winnipeg mother stabs her children and post partum depression is in the news again

Every single time I get off track writing my book, I see an article like this on my iGoogle page.

Once again, what appears to be a mother struggling with postpartum depression is in the news again. Is it just more publicized now, or are women going to extreme lengths to scream for help?

As someone who has struggled with brutal postpartum depression, I can't help but wonder whether this woman asked for help, or whether she was willing to take it if it was offered. So many times there is help available, but it is shunned due to breastfeeding, lack of support, or outright denial.

I sincerely hope the children make it through this ok, and that they have a supportive family to care for them as they work through this.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

New member of PWAC (Professional Writers Association of Canada)

I'm excited that I was recently allowed to join the ranks of professional writers in Canada. PWAC is a great organization from what I can tell, and I have already found a ton of 'inside' resources that I am sure will come in handy.

I'm having a hard time finding anyone who is willing to read my current WIP (also my only WIP unless you count the articles I am writing for a client).  I am not sure what other people do to share and get feedback, or if I should just avoid sharing altogether a la Stephen King?

Any advice?

Monday, May 24, 2010

A quick blast about

Just a quick update because I wanted to toot the horn of a local mom business. I've been getting Perfection Cleaning BC to come into my house for a few months now, and I have to say, they are really helping me keep this place clean. Fantastic cleaning service.

If I could just get my laundry issues under control, I'd be thrilled. Have a happy day off!

Friday, May 21, 2010

The difference between one kid and four

You know how you see these families in the grocery store or at the park? Kids dart back and forth to the parents, and you lose count of how many appear to belong to that tribe. It appears that you've stumbled across what can only be deemed as a 'large family', and your curiosity grows in relation to the number of children that poor woman seems to have hanging off of her leg.

Have you ever wondered what it's like to have four kids? Well, you've come to the right place. Although I am by no means an expert on large families (and my family is definitely not the largest I've come across), I can put my own experience into plain English for you.

You have a child, or two. You get the hankering for a third or a fourth, and you ask yourself 'What's one more?' I am here to tell you, one more is one more. One more little person to feed, one more bout of teething, one more series of record breaking lack of sleep. But, on the same token, one more is one more sweet, pudgy little person who you love just as much as you love the others. You sacrifice more, you have less free time, and you might even crack up along the way.

Too vague? Let me break down my experience for you.

Grocery Shopping
  • One child: One cart, once a week, and if you avoid crabby times and give in to buy a toy, you'll have a pleasant experience. You might even be able to drink coffee as you peruse the aisles. Get everything you need, forget nothing from you list, and go home to make an epic dinner because you have everything you needed.
  • Four children: Two carts, two parents, 4 grouchy kids who HATE grocery shopping even if you bribe them with a treat & a viewing of the toy aisle. Four toys later and your bill is over $400 for 8 jugs of milk, eggs, and nutrigrain bars. You go home, unload it all, and realize you have nothing to make for dinner. Open up box of cereal that was purchased for the toy inside and pray that there are enough nutrients in the box to feed the horde.
  • One child: You are exhausted and you end up sleeping on the floor as the small person plays around you. The house is quiet for nap times, so you get a lot done and they have a decent rest. You do not need to wake them for car pool or preschool pickup, so a great routine is established. Need to go out at night? Put them in the stroller and they sleep until you carry them in and put them in their beds. 
  • Four children: You have a king size bed and there is someone between you and your husband and someone beside your husband on the other side. A foot makes its way over your husband near your face, and you need to protect your nose against possible nightly headbutts. You turn your body around and sleep at the end of the bed but wait, its damp down here. Oh no, the bed wetter took off his pull up again. Get up, change shirts, kick the cat because he's under your bed, sleep for what seems like five minutes then get up and get them ready for school. The phrase, "Shhh, the baby is sleeping" is said so often you'd like to get a tshirt and just point at the phrase while you drain your second bucket of coffee for the day.
The Park
  •  One Child: Look, she's so cute as she toddles across and plays in the rocks. You have a book, a blanket, some snacks, wipes, and even a juice box. You spend two hours watching your child play happily on the swings, strike up a conversation with another mom who is having a similar, relaxing moment, then toddle home and put your child down for a nap. You are relaxed, revived, and feel like a good parent. 
  • Four children: Head count! Who's missing? One, two, three, where's four? Do you see four? Oh wait, he's with three. It's just a scrape, really, wipe it off on your shirt. Yes, they are all mine? Yes, I definitely have my hands full, but thanks for saying that. I've never heard that one before. Someone is climbing to the top of the slide and going down backwards, that never ends well. Four has a rock in his mouth? Sorry, mommy just has this half bottle of water. You guys need to share! Share! No floaties! Sip, don't spit!  We'll get a band aid when we get home, just put moms sweater on it. 
  • One Child: Give them a duster or a wash cloth and have them follow along. Your house is easy to keep clean, and their one tiny toy box just gets pushed away when they go to bed. Beds are made, blinds are dust free, and if you get behind you should feel no guilt in calling in a cleaning service. 
  • Four children: Four dusters in hands, a light saber dual breaks out over the coffee table. Your rock fountain is knocked over because the cat wanted a drink and they thought it would be funny to let him drink from there. Your vacuum cleaner bags fill up almost overnight and you have super clean floors because you turn it on as entertainment for the baby. Because you are constantly vacuuming, you have no time to pick up the toys, socks, and other crap that litters your floor, so you go around them. Occasionally you lose a sock to the vacuum, which causes 2 boys to open it up and dissect the contents of the bag until they find it.  Dishes are washed by the kids, oops, the floor is soaked and so are you. Don't lick the sugar from that plate, that's disgusting!
 Sound like fun? As you can see, there is a significant difference between one child and four. I remember what it was like to be a new mom to one; the sleepless nights, the worry, the 24/7 guard duty. It doesn't change, it just becomes amplified like a stereo set to HIGH 7 days a week.

The next time you are watching your beloved child at the park and you eyeball a stressed, tired mom across the way who seems to be counting heads, send some sympathetic vibes her way. But, also know that she feels just as lucky as you do, if not more so. After all, I have 8 little arms to hug me good night and four sets of kisses when I wake up in the morning.

Now, if I could just stop the head butting.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Mother's Day 2010

I think the hardest part of being a mom is living in the moment. Somedays it's difficult, because you really just want to be anywhere but here. I find my brain works like this:

La la la la, oh, there is a baby on my leg. Ok, put the baby to bed. La la la la I wonder what's going on on Twitter today? La la la. Look, something to clean! (not in the moment)

Or this:

Aren't my babies cute? Look at them playing so nicely together. No, no, don't beat your brother over the head with his splint. That won't be good for his ankle or his head. Wait, wait, don't crack that egg over the floor. Ok, now we have to start all over again. One second, don't get up before you wipe! OMG, there is poop everywhere!!! (Living in the moment)

I went to a mother's day tea yesterday, hosted by my 4 year old's preschool. One of the teachers read this, and I'm sure she did because it definitely gives a room full of mother's some prospective. Especially me I think, after a week of fevers, sprained ankles, and no sleep. So do yourself a favor this weekend and heed the advice of the ultimate housewife, Erma Bombeck. Kick a few toys and cookies under the couch rather than sweeping (but don't leave them there, I know a mom that does that and OMG, when they moved she had a colony under her couch) and get out and play with your kids.

Happy Mother's Day!

If I Had My Life To Live Over

by Erma Bombeck

If I had my life to live over, I would have talked less and listened more.

I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded.

I would have eaten the popcorn in the 'good' living room and worried much less about the dirt when someone wanted to light a fire in the fireplace.

I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth.

I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed.

I would have burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose before it melted in storage.

I would have sat on the lawn with my children and not worried about grass stains.

I would have cried and laughed less while watching television - and more while watching life.

I would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my husband.

I would have gone to bed when I was sick instead of pretending the earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren't there for the day.

I would never have bought anything just because it was practical, wouldn't show soil or was guaranteed to last a lifetime.

Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy, I'd have cherished every moment and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was the only chance in life to assist God in a miracle.

When my kids kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, "Later. Now go get washed up for dinner."

There would have been more "I love you's".. More "I'm sorrys" ...

But mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute... look at it and really see it ... live it...and never give it back.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Life is like a....ladder

I was painting the trim of the house the other day, and I was in a bad mood. I've been feeling a lot of guilt for things lately, and if there is one thing that will lock me in a corner and make me feel claustrophobic, it's guilt.

I won't go into details about why I feel guilty. It's mostly family obligations, etc., but it did make me think that I'd like to please be able to go about my life without feeling this crappy all the time.

'Letting it go' only works until those who make you feel bad get up in your face and make you feel guilty again. It's frustrating really, and it always seems to lead me to the question, "Is this all there is?" Translation: What is life about anyway?

Because I was standing on a ladder at the time, I decided that life must be just like a ladder. Once I started to think about it, it all made sense.

Good things happen, and you go up a few rungs. Good things like marriage, babies, accomplishments. Exciting things happen, like moving or new jobs. You go up a few rungs again. You feel as though you are on top of the ladder. Unfortunately, as with ladders and life in general, you can either stay at the top or you can move back down a few rungs. I have no problem with the up and down, but what if you were solidly stuck in the middle of that damn ladder? You never really went up, you try to never go down. It's debilitating. Although I believe that personal life circumstances can restrict you somewhat from forging ahead, it shouldn't stop your progress completely if you really want to climb a rung.

You could also see your daily life as a ladder. For example, if you are having a very stressful day and you wake up to rain, gloom, and laundry, the thought of something exciting or adventurous right around the corner is enough to get you through a very long day.  I like to travel, so sometimes I feel as though I have to look forward to something like that, no matter how far away it is. It's ok to take four kids on a trip in my head, not so much when I actually have to pack a bag.

My point? Life is pretty boring when you are solidly in the middle of a ladder, when every single day you can expect the same. Also, how do you teach your children to keep trying to get up there if you aren't a good example yourself? I think the biggest difference between the me I was when I was in my 20's and the me I am now? I think I'm too tired or too scared to climb!

But I admire and am happy for everyone who does. Happy rainy Monday Vancouver.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Trips for writers: Finding inspiration at The Edision & Ford Winter Estates

 I've struggled to find an identity for my blog, and now I think I've found it. Trips for writers, whether virtually or in the flesh, is a great way to find inspiration. I've read agents blogs and many, many times they state very simply, "Stop writing and get out there and live." I mean really, how creative can you be when you are sitting at your lap top in your PJ's, listening the the garbage guys compact your recycling and hoping like hell that they don't wake up your baby? 3,2,1...Creativity officially sucked out of me.

 This week, I'm talking about Florida. I may talk about Florida for a long time, because I love it there. Sunshine, beaches, cheap gallons of milk. Really, they have it all. I experienced my first Krispy Kreme donut there, and was thrilled at the way that tiny fishies nipped at my toes on the beach in Destin.

Unfortunately for me, every single time we go there we have some sort of calamity occur (scorpions stinging in um, tender places, impacted hernias, protein spills at the Animal Safari, haunted beach houses that have beds that don't fit the frame, thus ensuring you slip lopsided all night long). It is enough to make a person want to stay home, and yet I still wish I could go back.

Florida is much more than the house of the Mouse (aka Disney World) or the epic thrill that is Islands of Adventures (that Spiderman ride is so much fun). If you take a trip down the hwy's to Fort Meyers, Sarasota, Long Boat Key, and Sannibel Island, you'll see a side of Florida that you (as a non-Florida native) never knew existed. This is great for people who don't live there and have no idea what Florida is all about.

By far my favorite part of Florida so far, and the place that I go in my mind for inspiration,  is The Edison and Ford Winter Estates.  To get there, you have to take a drive down a palm tree lined street and enter across the road where his labs are currently housed. When Edison lived there, there was no road, and those palm trees were planted by himself and his neighbors. It's truly amazing to see the gardens he planted. It was a windy day when we were there, and the bamboo trees were knocking together. I was standing outside by the swimming pool, and I literally never wanted to leave. The sky was obscured by the waving of the trees, and you felt like you were about to walk into a secret forest. They should make an audio recording of the sounds of those trees, they take me to my happy place. If you get there, sit down and listen for awhile.

I think if I lived there, I'd spend most of my time on this porch. The house is based right on an inlet, and they could walk out to their dock and watch the water swirl by them. It felt serene. You can imagine Thomas Edison and Henry Ford sitting and discussing ideas, mulling over research. They truly were an example of starting with a small thought and working it into a huge idea, much in the same way that writers do with novels.

Visiting his lab and discovering the many, many inventions he patented is really surprising. His lab is full of tools he used to fuel his research for a natural source of rubber. Light bulbs, record players, telephones, you can find them all in the museum and labratory.

As a writer, I find that I struggle to find the words to really describe this place. It is truly one of my favorite spots in Florida, and an excellent source of inspiration for anyone with a dream and an idea.

Friday, April 9, 2010

My house is a very, very, very fine house

And I'm feeling nosy today. What does your house look like?

I'm one of those people that, when in the passenger seat, strain out my window to look into other people's windows as we're driving by. I'm no peeping tom, I'm mostly looking for walls, furnishings, etc. I just like to see how other people live. I've yet to see a naked person (thankfully!) and I've picked up a design tip or two for the home decor advice column I write for a client in Australia (seriously, I do write one).

Here is my house:

Isn't it pretty? My mom drew my attention to the fact that it looks great in pictures. I have to agree, it does look like a nice house. From the outside, you can't tell that the layout is a bit on the unbalanced side.

Perceptions are wonderful things. My mom informing me of what a nice house I had actually made me remember what it was like to appreciate it. Way back before I had four kids and three bedrooms upstairs, I loved my house. I'd walk up the driveway when it was night, listening to the frogs croaking in the creek up the street and I would just be blissed out. Before I was worried that my baby would fall down the back stairs (and before he did fall down the front stairs), I enjoyed the green grass in my yard.

I'm lucky, because I have a house to love/hate. I feel fortunate for that all the time. Do I wish I had a bedroom for each kid? You bet. Do I wish even more that I could knock a hole in the floor of my kitchen and create a staircase to the lower level? Oh yeah. That would be amazing. *Hides my jackhammer from husband*

Oh well, we can't have everything!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The portal to sanity

I wrote a blog post way back when about how the grass is always greener on the Twitter side of the fence. I'm no stranger to web sites. was my baby, in addition to my real babies, for many, many years. I tried Twitter out in the summer of 2009, lost interest, then came back and signed up under the name "Kidswap". At the time, it was because I was trying to figure out a way to revive the site. After I realized that it wasn't to be, I kept the name and got sucked into the Twitterverse.

As I was saying, I am no stranger to web sites. Because of this, I am always happy to hear when one starts from scratch and goes bonzo, the way that Twitter did. Twitter has become more than just a bunch of status updates; those who are really involved can see that it's more of a lifeline. I will use motherhood as an example, because although I am a freelance writer, I am a mom first.

Imagine if you will, life before the Internet. You have your books on babies, your doctor, and your parents and friends. Your personality is slightly less than the average extrovert, as in the thought of going to mommy and me groups puts you off like rancid hotdogs from the gas station. You are comfortably social within your own bubble, and confident that the people who will support you when you bring your little bundle home are adequately prepared to give you advice.

Week three of new parenthood. You aren't eating or sleeping, and you have a case of irritable bowel that won't go away. It still hurts to pee and bend (stupid epidural) and your baby eats every 20 minutes. You read frantically through the parenting magazines, books, and pamphlets from the hospital. Why is she eating so much, then vomiting after? When I hold her, she sleeps. When I put her down, its party time. How much advil can I give her if she's 3 months but the weight of a 4 month old? Seriously, WTH? Is she actually teething at 12 weeks?

You ask your mom, who promptly tells you that you should be giving her mashed potatoes. Make them real runny, then slip them into her mouth before she eats. Not thinking that is such good advice, you ask your doctor, who advises you against the potatoes but tells you that you should let her cry because she is using you as a soother. You don't mention to your doctor that you co-sleep, because she only sleeps when she can smell you and you don't sleep unless you see her breathing. Is that Post partum? Are you cracking up? Friends tell you that you aren't cracking up, but you should join a gym or take some antidepressants. Leave her and have a wild night out at the bar.

Post Internet mommyhood wasn't fun and was ridiculously full of crappy advice.

Flash to now. You have your blogs, the doctors blogs, the mommy blogs, mommy forums, Facebook (although I am not a fan),  and now Twitter. Why is Twitter such a mecca for motherhood? It combines everything. If you have a mommy blog, post it. If you have a mommy forum, highlight what they are talking about. Promote, publicize, and share away.

My 4th baby was born in June of 2009. As he's grown, I've become more involved on Twitter. If I am awake at 2 am with a teething, crabby baby I can check and see who else is online doing the same. Often, someone has posted a good night to me, or best wishes for a decent rest. As a mom, that little wave makes me feel less alone when I'm at my wits end.

And speaking of wits ends? There are things I've read about on Twitter that are immediate reality checks. My 4th baby is a really crappy sleeper, so crappy that I've basically gone through the past few months looking at life in a really bleak light. Postpartum? Probably. Knowing hasn't changed it though, and as I solider on each day I find myself having severe ups and downs that are indicative of life with four young kids. On the days when it gets really bad, and I sit bleakly wondering how to get through the rest of the day, I will open my computer and click around on Twitter. It becomes a window to the rest of the world in a way that talking to family and friends can't be. I can find people in the exact same situation and see how they are doing. Or, I can find things that snap me out of my bad mood and make me just eternally grateful for those 4 little creatures that mess up my house and make my ears ring with their screaming. I've grieved for babies whose mothers I'll never know, and I've taken that grief as a wake up call to love and appreciate my own children.

Yes, Twitter can also make one really, really insecure. I'm a freelance writer within a large group of writers. While you feel happy for their success, you also feel that it takes you one notch down the ladder. I follow agents, publishers, and literary journals. I watch magazines I'd like to write for, and I come up with ideas for articles. I started my own work in progress, when I realized that so many people out there were doing it, why couldn't I? Of course I think mine sucks more than theirs, but still, I'm trying and that is due to Twitter.

Yes, someday I will spend more time with my friends who are living close to me, but at the point I am in my life, where its overwhelming to just get them all to school and back and I can't talk on the phone because my 9 month old has woke up for the 9th time that evening? I have no brain space for chat or playdates and I live for weekends when I'm not on my own with four demanding little people.  At the very least, I have Twitter. And for an overwhelmed mom, it's more than enough.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Vacation, thy name is insanity

The first few days back at school after a week off is brutal. The kids are tired, I'm tired, and I wake with some very difficult to lose thoughts of just calling in and taking another day off with them. It's not like they aren't whiny, arguing, or bored. Mostly it's that I'm lazy, and the driving back and forth to get them all where they need to go is actually worse sometimes than having them all home. Luckily for me, 2 out of 4 have Croup, so I have an extra solider at home today. Again.

Sending them back to school got me thinking about vacations in general, and then led me to reflect on a few vacations that we've had in the past that were less vacation, more mini-massacre. Thousands of people travel across the USA and Canada every year with their children, some take their kids to Europe, Australia, or Africa. I've never been THAT ambitious, but I still like to take the kids out and show them the world if I can. Generally this ends us up at Disney, but as they grow older I want to show them other parts of the USA as well. I really believe that everything you need to teach a kid about the world exists right in the USA. At any rate, most of our vacations have been in the California and Florida regions.

We haven't been back to Florida in 4 years. Partially this is due to economics and it being less expensive to go straight down the coast to Cali than it is to fly across to Florida. Also, I am a horrible flyer, as I've discussed on the old blog here, and the flight to Florida is 4 hours to Dallas plus almost an other 2 to Orlando. Scary stuff.

As I am a varied freelance writer, I've been asked to write about everything from plumbing to recreational skiing. As such, I have copied below my travel article about Orlando and our trip there in 2006.

Walking off the plane in Orlando holding two small hands and a 5 month old on my hip, I am struck by the instant theme park feeling that you get from just being in the airport (maybe that is because I was covered in vomit from the flight, from the baby, not me). Within the first five minutes of landing, you are taken with the crowd to the monorail that leads to the baggage area, and my children are thrilled at their first 'ride' of the trip. It was 9 pm Orlando time, which was only 6 pm in Vancouver, but time changes mean nothing to people who fly with children. 4 hours on a plane can equal 10 hours of actual time at home, so if they weren't exhausted I certainly was.

After getting our 10 bags and car seats (back in the time before extra baggage fees), we discovered that our double stroller had been broken by the baggage handlers. The American Airlines department of broken strollers was staffed by a semi-crazy lady with a bad attitude, so we quickly grabbed a damage claim form, our now wonky stroller, and get out of there.

Pulling up to the hotel after the chaos of the flight and airport, I look for the tropical oasis surrounded by palm trees that was advertised online. At the very least, I had the palm trees to look forward to. Unfortunately, I got to look at them from the back of a parking lot and through some very dirty windows. This hotel did not live up to the photos online at all. Not only was it in what I would call a 'sketchy' part of town that was sort of close to Disneyworld, the room itself was the size of my closet and had a rugged double bed that had seen better days and a kid's 'cabin' that was at the most a hole with bunk beds and at the least a place my kids didn't want to sleep.

I felt guilt, I really did, and I would have left instantly if my brother hadn't already prepaid and was on his way to Florida the next day. Word of advice: Disney value priced resorts are actually the same price as many of the places just outside the gates. Don't waste your money on a hotel 'deal'. You'll get what you pay for and then some.

Waking the next morning to pounding rain, I thought I was back in Vancouver.  It took going out into it to realize that the rain in Orlando had bigger drops. I swear one drop completely covered my 3 year old son when he put a toe on the pavement. All worries were erased once we drove through the gates of Disneyworld, and because I've been to Florida before, I fully expected the rain to stop.

Walking from the parking lot to the shuttle, we got completely soaked. The month was May, so the expectation of summer heat was there. This was Florida after all, but expectations do not a warm day make. On the shuttle, the breeze was blowing, we were all soaked, and were were blessed with teh miserable misfortune of being dressed as though it was August. By the time we departed that shuttle, my kids were blue and I was ready to call it a day.

We hopped on the monorail that took us to the Magic Kingdom and the first thing we did was buy $8 'rain jackets'. These were essentially ponchos with Mickey's face on them. I could fashion the same from garbage bags, but it wouldn't have that Mickey face so there really is no point in competing. I also have to buy a $20 towel at the Buzz Lightyear ride, because my baby was freezing to death and soaked. Great pictures of him wrapped in that towel, because Mom was too silly to pack an extra blanket. You can't tell here, but 3 year old's lips are as blue as that shirt.

We went in and out for the rest of the day, and even left for a bit so we could nap at the craphole, er, hotel. We stopped at Albertsons for some groceries to save a bit of money, but most of what we buy in stores when on vacations seems to go to waste. Disney tip: Not sure if they provided this service back then but Albertsons will now deliver groceries to your hotel. This is great, especially if you don't have a rental car and are staying just on Disney property. We spent the evening at the Magic Kingdom, and it quiet, dry, and a lot of fun.

Our 2nd day was back at the Magic Kingdom with my brother and his family. Every trip with my brother involves him not wearing sun screen and getting a whopper of a sun burn. This time was no exception. It was hotter than hades, and due to our rain day the day before, we were unprepared. I don't remember much of this day, sunstroke had me by 4 pm. Disney tip: Buy your own sunscreen. If you buy it at the park, it's double the price and by the time you put it on it's too late.

If it were up to me, I'd be in the parks from opening to closing every single day. Unfortunately I was with a bunch of party poopers, and they dragged me back to swim in the hotel pools. I thought that perhaps this was the only redeeming quality of the hotel. The pools were huge and fairly empty. We thought it was odd to discover that they had salt water in them, but the kids enjoyed themselves and that was all that mattered. HOWEVER, I recall that each child took a hit of the salt water in the mouth. I am convinced that this is what caused what I like to call "The night of a thousand pukes," which followed shortly after the ingestion of the water. Disney tip: Don't drink salt water. 

All went well until our last day at the Magic Kingdom. Daughter woke up with an upset stomach, and didn't want to go to the park. I thought that was really strange, because she's normally as gung ho as I am and it was our last day. We put her in the stroller and did a bit of touring the Animal Kingdom. Once again, blistering hot and packed full of people. The strong stench of animals filled the air as well, so it was no surprise when she threw up right by the train. Within 2 seconds a cast member was on their radio saying, "We've got a protein spill by the Animal Safari." Good job Disney! It was cleaned up within 10 minutes. I guess a little vomit kind of ruins the illusion of the happiest place on earth. Disney tip: Throw up at the parks. They will clean it up for you. If you want a nice little spot to be sick, I recommend the shady areas at the haunted mansion.

We packed the kiddies up and headed back to the hotel. By this time she was getting sicker, and I knew she had to get out of the sun. I felt guilt bringing her back to that hotel, as it was a disgusting place to be when you are ill. By 5 she seemed to be feeling slightly better, so my SIL and I took the babies and headed back to Hollywood studios for a look around.

It was truly bizarre that we walked straight into Star Wars Weekends. I had no idea. Husband says after that he knew it was there, but when I talk about how I sat on a fighter bike and saw the Stormtroopers dancing, a strange look passes over his face and I know that it's time to shut up.

I did see StormTroopers dancing, and I also saw that bounty hunter guy, but the rest of the park was not crowded so I wanted to get away from all of the insanity and go see other stuff. We took turns watching the babies so we could go on the Tower of Terror (much better in Florida) and bought a few souvenirs.

Heading back to the hotel, I found that daughter was still throwing up and son was getting sick. Not good. By 11 pm, I had two pukers and one who was doing a shuffle dance between toliet and bathtub. There was vomit everywhere. EVERY.WHERE.

By 3 am, my 5 month old started to develop a fever and throw up. Here we are, in some crappy hotel in the middle of Florida, with no Advil or Gravol and three seriously sick kids. My husband made a video at this point of us laughing hysterically. It was too bizarre. This is where the vacation took a downturn and never rebounded. Fevers, chills, throwing up, and other bodily functions were abounding. I used every single towel in that room and then asked for more. We were checking out, so I had to bundle them up into the rental car and clean the room, but I gave up after 10 minutes and settled for just getting out the door.

Our next stop was my aunt's house in Tampa for a graduation party. I'm not sure she'll ever want us to visit again. 3 year old threw up orange gatorade on her new rug. 5 year old spent half the day in the bathroom, and I never even got to socialize as I was rocking, wiping, and taking care of the kids the entire time.  We spent some time in a walkin clinic with 3 year old, where I analyzed his symptoms and asked the doctor what we should do. He asked if I was in the medical field myself, as I seem to know a lot. I swear, that was my first smile in 3 days.

We spent a few hours at the beach in Clearwater. I'd been before, but my daughter loved it. 3 year old and 5 month old spent the entire time sleeping on a blanket under an umbrella. Our flight home was the next day. To say I was grateful that the vacation was over was an understatement.

On our flight home, 3 year old finally came back to life. Unfortunately my daughter left her stuffed kitty on the airplane, and we didn't discover that until we were through customs. I immediately called them and they directed me to lost and found. A word of advice: If you leave it on the plane, it's gone. American Airlines couldn't possibly have a lost and found. Their cleaners pick it up, throw it in the garbage, and that's it. You'll never see it again. Serafina kitty was long gone. It was a crappy end to a 'interesting' vacation.

The moral of this vacation story? Hmmm, I don't have a moral. Wait, wait, I do have one: It is POSSIBLE, if not PROBABLE for you to be miserable at the happiest place on earth. Lower your expectations people, don't drink salt water from the pool, and bring your hand sanitizer.