Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Garden Train

I'm sure I've mentioned before that Mark is a little obsessed with trains. He's passed this gene onto Mady.

In my inbox last week I got an invite to one of my best friend's parent's house for an afternoon of the "Running of the Trains." Her dad is one of the engineers (or would they be called conductors?) that appeared at the SuperTrain show we went to in the spring.

In their backyard they have a full garden train set up. HOW COOL IS THAT??

They even have a footbridge that the train goes under. Katie thought that was the best thing ever and with her new ability to walk spent much of the time figuring out how to walk up it, but was confused by the incline.

I would like to draw everyone's attention to Kate's ponytail. The first time I have ever gotten one in that she didn't rip out 2 minutes later. Yeah!!
Mady preferred to follow the trains around and around in circles.

My favourite part (and some how I didn't even think to take a picture of it) is that the train goes right across their deck. They removed some of the floor boards and laid down track. How fun is that??

Each child who came received a scavenger hunt list of items to find that were hidden around the garden and train tracks, in the little mini villages and such. As a prize they got a train whistle. Mady thinks it's the coolest thing ever. Now that she's finally figured out how it works. Mommy may make is disappear...

We came home and I could see the wheels turning in Mark's head as he tried to figure out how much grass (that he hates mowing) could be removed to make such a train set up in our back yard. Hehe!

Thanks Stan and Charlotte for the fun afternoon!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

And H for my Mantle

Remember way back after Christmas when I wanted help with my mantle? Ya, so I liked the ideas that I got, but I still haven't really done anything with the mantle. Mostly because I can't find anything that I like specifically FOR my mantle. It drives me crazy. Maybe I'm too picky. Maybe it's time to just do it myself.

While going through pins on Pinterest (seriously if you haven't discovered the awesome that is Pinterest you need to go there and if you need an invite, let me know) I saw something that caught my eye. Letters covered in rolled book pages. I have a book that I took apart for another project (that got stalled, but some day I hope I can show you).

(Oh, and of course I just saw the picture, I didn't follow the link, so now I have no idea whose idea it originally was. So if it was yours, by all means, let me know and I'll give you credit.)

I went and picked up an H from Michaels (for our last name) and set to work one afternoon this week covering it. It took some time, but in the end I'm quite pleased with it. I haven't decided if I should cover the sides with strips of book paper or leave them white. Thoughts?

So, this now sits on my mantle. Which is still pretty bare, but slowly getting there. Anyone got any other good DIY projects of things to put up there?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Retesting For Drivers

When I posted the questions last week (well, now basically 10 days ago...) asking for your opinion I promised my own response. So here's the next one.

Retesting for Drivers past a certain age.

Here's my take on this. Basically I think that anyone unsafe (of any age) needs to be removed from the road. When it comes to age, I do think that it plays a factor in ones ability to drive a car safely. We put graduated licenses and other safeguards in place to help inexperienced (younger) drivers, so I think it would be to our best benefit to put safeguards in place to help more mature drivers. If they really are as safe as they all think, then it's not a big deal, right? I tend to take residence in the camp that thinks that if you're super opposed to the idea of retesting, you're probably someone who would fail it and that's why you don't like it...

I think driving is a huge responsibility. I don't think we should have a system where you pass a test once and then you're good for all time. I like the graduated license system that we have in place (I know everywhere doesn't have it, but locally we do and more places are getting it).  But I think beyond that, this is how it should go:

Retesting for all drivers every 10 years.
Retesting every 5 years after age 60
Retesting every 2 years after age 70
Retesting every year after age 80
Then I think it wouldn't be so bad if they randomly sent out notices to be retested (no charge). Kind of like jury duty. But in this case, you must retest within 30 days or lose your license.



Over kill?

Hmm, maybe.

Sure it's an inconvenience. But here's the thing. Look at the stats. How many crashes are there every year? They don't call them accidents, they call them collisions or crashes. Why? Because most of them are due to driver error meaning that if the driver hadn't made a mistake they wouldn't have happened. Which means they can be avoided. Now I know everyone makes mistakes, but there is a lot of "dumb" on the road masquerading as innocent mistakes. If you can't continually meet the standards set out by the powers that be, then you should have to be reeducated until you can or be removed from the roads.

There would be WAY less collisions and unnecessary deaths. And I think we can all agree on that being a good thing.

Now, don't even get me started on distracted drivers. That's a whole other rant, but if you're local, remember that as of September 1st there is a distracted driving law in place. SO TURN OFF YOUR PHONE! (and do your make up at home.)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Saskatoon Pie

Baby don't you cry
Gonna make a pie
Gonna make a pie with a heart in the middle

Darlin' don't be blue
I'll make it just for you
Gonna make a pie filled with Saskatoon love

That's the song I sang to the girls while we were driving to go pick berries the other day.
"We're going to make a pie with a heart on it!" Was Mady's response. So now there were expectations.

This wouldn't be a problem, though, because you just roll out the pastry and take a heart-shaped cookie cutter to it, right?

Well, yes. If you have a heart-shaped cookie cutter. How do I NOT have a heart-shaped cookie cutter? Isn't that a basic shape that is included in every set? Shouldn't I have it in 5 different sizes?? So, that was the first problem with this pie.

Good thing hearts are not exactly difficult.

The second problem was the fact that I've never made pastry. And besides my mom showing me when I was probably 5, I haven't really seen enough of it to know the secrets to making it well.

I decided to use my mother-in-law's recipe because 1. I knew where it was and 2. I like it when Mark makes apple pie (his only kitchen cooking duty besides BBQ).

Simple enough. 4 ingredients. Um... but I don't think my water was cold enough. Nor do I think I chilled the dough long enough. I think pastry is something you're supposed to learn from doing with someone and not just from a recipe. I had no idea what I was doing. And basically the bottom fell apart the minute I tried to pick it up, so I just pressed it into the pie plate like you would a crust for a square. The fruit will cover my sin.

That method would be a problem for my "heart in the middle" top, though.

I chilled the dough a bit longer. Prayed a whole bunch. Threw out some curses as it started to rip. Pinched a few places. Apologized out loud to my mom for the terrible fluted edge I did based on what I obviously remembered incorrectly from her showing me when I was a kid. And thanked my lucky stars that it only had to impress a 3 year old.

Don't laugh too hard at my attempt.

Ignore the "bleeding" heart.

Not the most flaky crust in the world. Not utterly terrible. I think I'll leave future pastry making to Mark and I'll stick to Tenderflake.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Happy Birthday Banner

A friend of mine from college contacted me on Facebook to ask for some birthday party ideas for her daughter's second birthday, a cupcake theme. (She's obviously picked up that I like these sort of things! Ha!)

We threw around some ideas and during the conversation she asked me to make the Cupcake Happy Birthday Banner.

(sorry you don't get to see the whole thing. I had "helpers" awake and it would not have been safe to spread it out over the whole table! Melinda, send me some pictures of it hanging up from the party, okay?)

Isn't it cute?

Pretty much, I need to do a cupcake party just so I can make one for me!

If you want help with a banner, let me know! One of these days I'll get my official party business going and you can be my first (uh, second) customer. :)

Happy Birthday Alexis! Hope you enjoy your cupcakes.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Dance Party In My Living Room

I'm sure I've mentioned a few times how much Mady love music. We listen to music all the time and her music has overtaken my iTunes library. I made her her own play list and she knows how to get the music playing.

A couple of weeks ago they started a new song at church. She was THRILLED when she discovered that we had the song at home. Now she listens to it on repeat! I tried to get her doing all the actions in the video, but this was the third time in a row she had heard the song so she was more into spinning in circles than doing the actions. Hope it doesn't make you dizzy. The song is called Wherever Whatever.

Miss Katie Mae is in the back ground walking around in all her topsy-turvy toddling glory. If you can't take the spinning, focus on Kate.

Oh, and I'm well aware of Mady's tone-deafness. I'm hoping it improves quickly or I might die.


If the sound isn't working on this one (does it work for anyone??) then try the one below. Same song. Same day. (EDIT: And apparently the same sound issue. So annoying. I don't know how to fix it)

Not to be outdone, Kate also has a favourite song. One to which she can do the actions. But with her sister spinning in circles, she was more happy to walk back and forth across the room. You can see her do "mighty" (her clenched fist, muscle pose) when Mady is says "How mighty? So mighty!" and later she's shaking her head doing the "nothing my God can't do."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"Brat Ban" Thoughts

You knew I couldn't ask for your opinion without giving you my own, right?? Well, last friday's questions would be a novel if I answered them all together, so I'm going to split them up and give you my thoughts over the next little while. With less controversial posts in between. Ha!

Okay, so like I said, I first heard about the idea of Brat Bans on the radio. I was driving in my car and almost had to pull over because it made my blood boil so hard.

Here's why.

I love to go out without my kids. I mean, anyone who has or works with kids wants a break from the louder volumes and slower moving that come from most children. I get that. That being said, I think it's a TERRIBLE idea to promote times of the day (or certain days) when kids can or cannot come in a certain establishment.

If you don't want to be around children, then YOU change how you shop or go out to eat. When Mark and I go on a date and we don't want to be disturbed by other people's kids, we don't choose a restaurant like Applebees. And on the same token, we don't take our kids to places that are not kid friendly in their meal options or ambiance. These places know how to get the kids to not come without actually putting a sign on the door (hint: charge a fortune, have a super quiet atmosphere and don't have anything even slightly resembling chicken nuggets on the menu).

Same with shopping. Mom's shop during the day or early evening. If you don't want to go when they have their kids in tow shop at 10:30 at night. Or at 7:30 in the morning. It's pure bliss to be the first person in the store. (But I'll admit, that it's also fun to take a stroll through walmart on a saturday when I don't have kids with me, just so I can revel in it while I watch other people try to deal with their own kids. Unfortunately, when you do this, you still have to deal with walmart.)

Here's why my blood boiled at this story. To establish rules about when kids can or cannot go into public places makes them lesser citizens; it dehumanizes them. No one would be okay if an establishment discriminated against anyone else for their age, gender, race, religion or sexual orientation. The only difference here is that the kids don't understand enough about how things work to speak out against it.

I'm SO tired of people seeing kids as a nuisance. "Things" that get in the way or have no place. They are part of what makes our society a society. Imagine a world without kids. We would feel hopeless!

Instead of trying to shoo them away we should instead teach them how to act. And as much as I think this is the parent's responsibility (and maybe it's poor parenting that drives us more crazy than the actual kids!), I think it's also everyone's responsibility. There are ways to help a child learn to behave in public without stepping in on the parent's turf. Even to praise a child who is doing well will help them continue this pattern the next time. We have been out to eat and stopped by an older couple who wanted to tell us how well behaved our kids were. Not only did that make MY day, but Mady beamed all the way home.

I think if businesses want to have positive experiences for their entire clientele they need to come up with positive ways to build into the character of the kids who pass through their doors. I would (and do!) remember a place of business who made me feel better or lesser about myself as a child and do or do not shop their as an adult because of that experience.

Those are my two cents on the subject. And I hope if you're childless (or have grown kids) you'll help end the discriminatory behavior against our kids by refusing to patronize places who have brat bans.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Berry Picking


I have no memory of doing this as a kid (though, it's very possible it happened), but I've always wanted to go berry picking at a U-pick. We had raspberry bushes in our yard growing up and I always enjoyed picking them (and eating them!). My current raspberries are just a couple of years old and have not yet produced. And I LOVE all kinds of berries.

I was determined that at some point this summer we would go berry picking as a family. I searched out a farm close by and waited for their fruit to get ripe. This farm was a saskatoon berry farm. I LOVE saskatoons. Which is funny, because my mom used to make saskatoon berry pies when I was a kid. I didn't like them; I just wanted pumpkin (I think I thought they should taste like blueberries). Now all I want to do is make a pie! (and don't worry, I still like pumpkin!).

After church yesterday morning we loaded up the kids and drove the 45 minutes out of town to the farm. It was HUGE! I asked how long they had been around. They've only been a U-pick for 3 years and their oldest trees are only 8 years. I would have thought (judging by my pathetic raspberries) that it would take much longer to build up a U-pick farm.

We spent about an hour picking berries. Mark and Mady shared a pail and I had my own. Kate sat in the stroller for most of the time and ate berries that Mady brought to her.

In the end I picked about 3.72 pounds and Mark and Mady picked 2.24 pounds. I bugged them about their slowness, but on the way home Mark happened to remark that he ate a lot of berries. Hopefully not a full pound! Ha!

We've decided this is something we need to do every August. It was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Next year we'll have two mini-pickers.

We enjoyed some with ice cream last night. Both girls chose to forgo the ice cream to just have berries! That's sayin' something!

The rest I'm freezing and making into pies. Yum!

And here's Mady watching her berries getting weighed. She wanted to carry them, but without the handle of the pail they were too heavy. Every time I pull some out she reminds me that those ones are hers. :)

Did you do anything fun this weekend to use up the last of summer?

Friday, August 19, 2011

What's YOUR Opinion

Everyone likes to have an opinion (you all know I do!). So I want to hear yours. I have some questions below. Answer them all or answer just the ones your feel passionate about. Doesn't matter to me. Answer in the comments (not on FB or in an email) so everyone can see and weigh in.

1. I recently heard on the radio that some establishments in the States have a "brat ban" meaning that children can no longer come to their establishment except on certain days or times (we're talking the movies and grocery stores not bars and gambling establishments). The thinking is that over 50% of the population is childless. So, if companies remove the "unpleasantness" that is children, they will gain more business. I have thoughts on this. What are yours?

2. Do you think there should be mandatory retesting for driver's licenses past a certain age? If so what age and how often? Why or why not?

3. What would you think of a law that made it illegal (basically under the premise of false advertising) for advertisers and companies to use digitally enhanced photographs to market and sell their products?

4. What do you think of the Kate Moss quote, "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels."?

That's probably enough controversy for one day. Sound off below. And keep it cordial and clean, please.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I Need A New Board Game!

image source

Mark and I LOVE to play games. We have quite the stash of our own and we were part of a game club for a year and got exposed to a bunch of games that way. Tons of our friends are into playing games. And the best wedding gift we got (thanks Shawn and Sara) was a game. I've stolen the idea and will often give a game to newlyweds.

But, we haven't bought a game in a long time. We need a new one. I'm itching for something fun, competitive with some good strategy (and a bit of luck). I asked on my facebook page the other day and didn't get much for ideas so I thought I'd better give some better parameters of what I'm looking for.

Here's what we don't like:
*Cranium style games where a person has to act, yell, draw or generally make a fool out of themselves (basically any party-style game Mark hates)
*Pop culture games (because they get dated very quickly) though I think I would KILL at 90's trivial pursuit.
*Two person games because we can't share the fun with friends
*Games that once you figure out a solution, you can always win (like mastermind)

Things we love in a game:
*quick play, or a style that allows everyone to participate even when it's not their turn
*easy to learn (better for teaching friends) but takes a while to master (so we don't get bored)
*We like some strategy
*We need it to have some luck (or someone might get sulky when they don't have a good strategy. I'll let you guess who.)

And basically if the game came out in 2008 or before, assume we've played it.

So, do you have suggestions for some NEW games?? If not, what is your favourite game to play and why?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Little Sister Birthday Cards

My baby sister turns 17 today (Happy Birthday Val!) and my baby brother's girlfriend (so she's practically a sister) had her birthday a couple of weeks ago.

Here are the cards I made for the girls. Inspired by some Flickr designs, though still a lot of my own interpretation.

Only 3 more cards and I'll have made my goal. Go me!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Mom Friends

I remember prior to having kids hearing moms state that being a mom is one of the most lonely occupations. I kind of scoffed at that and always said that "when I had kids..." (isn't that a phrase that comes back to bite you!) I would make sure that I still went out with my friends. I figured if these women just got OUT it would solve all their problems.

Oh how naive I was! I didn't realize the complexity of Mom friends and why it's so hard to find good ones.
Remember when all it took to bond you as friends was having the same toothbrush?

I discovered soon after having Madelyn that all your friendships change when you have kids. It was bad enough when we got married and it become difficult and sometimes awkward (though not totally impossible) to maneuver get-togethers with our single friends. Adding kids is a whole new dimension.

See, if you have friends who are still single, many of them feel so far removed from your world as a married parent. If you're a stay at home mom (and in Canada with our 1 year mat-leave most moms are for at least the first year) then you have even less in common with their single, spur of the moment, travel the world, stay up late kind of life-style. Most of my single friends, if they didn't at least get married within a few months of me having kids, kind of disappeared from my life (save for a few, God bless you!).

Then you have your married with no kids couples. They either want kids or don't. If they don't want kids, they often don't want to hang out with yours. You notice that the invites to come to their house or hang out pretty much stop the moment you push out your kid. If the couple does want kids but has yet to have any, then you deal with the complexities of trying to mesh their still pretty spur of the moment life with your book-the-baby-sitter-two-weeks-in-advance or plan-to-be-home-by-7:30-so-the-kids-can-get-to-bed life. They stay up until 11:00 pm every night whereas you go to bed at 9:00pm on a late night. There's also that whole, you're a stay-at-home mom and they work all day thing, so they're kind of hard to get together with except in the evenings and on the weekends when your schedule is already packed.

But surely those friends that you were best friends with in college, who got married the same summer as you, and who had kids at the same time will be a perfect fit for being mom friends, right? Well, maybe. If you're lucky.

I noticed a new layer of complexity for friendships when I had kids. There are a few more boxes to tick off when choosing friends. Besides finding someone you're comfortable with, have similar interests and sense of humor and whose life-style rhythm runs similar to your own and whom you actually like, you also have to find the same for your kids (and your spouse if you're trying to find someone with whom the whole family can hang out with!).

My girls will still play with little boys no problem, but in a few years when boys have cooties, they're not going to be so interested in those play dates. Which means I will see those moms less. Why do so many of my good mom friends have boys??

You also have to consider the parenting values of certain families. I have gotten together with some friends (even ones that I was so tight with in the past) and was squeamish the whole time because of the things they let their kids do or say. We're pretty strict with what is acceptable for our girls. We have high expectations for their behaviour and I don't like when someone's (dare I say) bratty kid teaches my girls a word, an attitude or behaviour I'd rather they not pick up (I realize they're going to be exposed to these things, but if I don't want them emulating these attributes, I'm going to have to limit their exposure). It's also no fun to play with a kid whose parents spend the whole time correcting their behaviour out in public because they haven't learned the rules at home (that's a whole rant for another day). Who wants to play with a kid who spends the whole time in time-out? I've found the friendships with these families quickly disintegrate.

So what are you left with? You have to find a family with kids in similar ages, stages and genders as your own, who have a similar parenting style and values, with whom you have at least SOMETHING in common with, and whose life schedule is similar to your own so you can actually find time to get together. Oh, and it helps if they live in the same city. Preferably on the same side of the city.

I'm also not clueless to the fact that these other moms have to like me back. I'm quirky and opinionated. Not everyone can handle a regular dose of that.

Sadly for me, the moms that fit these categories for me live in other provinces, cities or a 30-40 minute drive away. Not a single one lives down the street (I don't live in a "young" neighborhood so that doesn't help.) Sigh. That's why I have very few mom friends. And now I totally get what those moms were talking about when they said being a mom is one of the loneliest professions.

I don't mean to leave this as a downer of a post. But I have a feeling a few can relate. Did you have this struggle? Any good solutions?
(Remember, I was home schooled. I'm totally awkward in social situations. *wink*)

ps- I think I just admitted to the entire internet world that I have no friends. I'm so lame.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Muffin Tin Lunch (AKA Fun Lunch)

Early on in our marriage (who are we kidding, it's purely related to the pre-children phase of my life), I would get up on Saturday morning and make "fun breakfast." Which often included bacon or sausages, pancakes, waffles and all those other things you don't have time to make during the week.

Now, I blamed stopping on the fact that Mark started working a Saturday morning shift for the TV station, but he's home by 10:30am so, really, we could have morphed it into fun brunch. With 2 kids, I'm just too lazy. Mark misses those days.

Mady is much easier to please in the fun food category. Last year I stumbled across a blog called Muffin Tin Mom. Basically what she does is create her kid's lunches inside a muffin tin. One food per compartment. She expands this to allow muffin liners (paper or silicone). It's basically like a Bento lunch without the box. She has a linky party every week for others who make this style of lunch and some peoples' creations are pretty amazing! Sometimes they'll do a theme (or people will create their own theme to go along with life or what their kid is "into.").

I've always wanted to do something like this for Mady, but who are we kidding? I'm lazy. I was not going to cut cheese into little shapes every day or fashion a sandwich to look like a giraffe.

I found my solution thanks to Wilton. They sell silicone muffin liners that have feet on them (See where I'm going with this? Feet are fun!). I have both the clown and animal feet ones in my stash. So one day I decided to make Mady's lunch inside these cups like a muffin tin meal.

She thinks this is the greatest thing ever! She calls it fun lunch. And we do it now about once a week. She would be WAY less interested in any of this food had I just thrown it on a plate.

The picture is of my first fun lunch (uh, basically, they've all looked the same ever since, just with different fruit). Oooh and ahh over my attempt and then go and look at some of the ones on Michelle's site. You'll be totally unimpressed with mine after, but it's worth a look.

And if you have a picky eater (I prefer the term, unrefined palette), this is a fun way to get them to try things. It's good portions for a preschooler too!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Anniversary Card

Today is my parents 38th anniversary. Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad! They're getting back from a mission trip to Mexico this evening (don't bother robbing their house, my brother is home) and I was actually on top of things so that this card will great them in their pile of mail.

I lost the middle of the A. This is the downside to die-cutting. You have to be really careful with the tiny pieces!

We won't talk about the fact that I missed my in-laws anniversary... (Sorry! Mom and Dad H!)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


I don't know when it started for me, but somewhere in life I discovered the pleasure of lists.

I know some people find them overwhelming or guilt inducing but for me they keep me organized and there is such satisfaction when I get to cross items off (in fact, I'll write things onto the list that I've completed that weren't on it at the beginning of the day just so I can cross them off!).

I have lists for everything. Some I update daily, others weekly, monthly or seasonally. Some are just lists so that I don't forget things for the future when I'm looking for ideas.

Here's a list (ha!) of some of the lists that you can find buried in my computer if you went searching. This of course, doesn't include my pinterest collection which is lists in a whole new form!

*To Do List (but not just any to do list. I have it categorized by day, week and month)
*Craft/sewing project list
*Christmas Wish list (for the entire family. It's hard to shop for a few members of my household, so I keep a list all year for when I hear them randomly say "you know what I need?..."
*Christmas gift giving list (so I don't forget the stuff that I've done in advance)
*Christmas baking list
*Christmas activities to remember to do
*Summer activities to do
*Yummy food that I want to remember to serve company
*Meal plan menu list (meals that I use in my meal plan rotation)
*Clothes to buy for the girls, me and Mark
*30 before 30 list
*House project lists (I have a few categories: areas to organize, gadgets/gizmos/hardware to improve a room, decor items I'm on the look-out for, renos/updates to do)
*Party ideas (general themes)
*Party plans (typically for the girls' birthdays or whatever the next party is that I'm working on)
*Important documents (I've been asking Mark for this list for forever. We're finally working on it. It's all those things that he's nicely taken care of, but I'll forget where he said he keeps them. That way if he gets hit by a bus I won't be searching for items in the wrong places)
*Grocery List (which always has at least 1 item on it, even if I JUST went to the store)
*Recipes to try
*People we want to have over

I'm sure there are more. But those would be the less important lists of info that I want to have on file for future reference (Don't worry, I only keep things that I will actually USE in the future!).

How about you? Are you a list maker? Am I totally crazy? Any lists that you think I'm missing?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Korker Bow

I'm very new at doing my girls' hair. Mady was bald for the first two years of her life and so it's only been in the last year that I've been able to venture into the world of doing hair.

 She's kind of picky with how she likes it. Prior to her last haircut (which was purely just evening out the terrible NICU haircut that she's STILL growing out), she would let me do little braids and such, but then once I cut off the bottom longer stuff, we didn't have many options. I started doing the "top ponytail" with it slightly off to one side since her hair kinks naturally went that way. And there she's stuck.

I think this is a boring hair style and needs bows to make it fun. But since I have bald babies, my entire hair clip collection was just those little mini bows that you clip in their hair to tell people that these are girl babies, not boy babies. But now that Mady actually has hair, those bows just get lost in the mass of hair on the top of her head and look funny instead of cute.

It was time in invest in some hair bows! Except I'm cheap and there was no way I was paying the price for some of the bows out there.

Especially when I could make them myself!

I hunted around the internet and got ideas and some basic instructions and went to town.

The first thing I made were Korker bows. I love, Love, LOVE korker bows on little girls. They're just so friendly! I made the yellow one for my neice Adalya and the rest were for my girls.

Here are some things I learned:
-There are varying lengths of time that are suggested for baking these around internet-land. Go for longer. I was afraid of burning them, but really, they were fine. They probably could have used some extra time in the oven.

-See those ribbons with the stitching down the side? Ya, those one curled really nicely (as you can see in the pink one above) and then about 30 minutes into wearing the bow those ribbons went back to being straight (as you can see on the red one). I blame the stitching. Lame.

-I wrapped mine around pencils. This worked perfectly fine, except for the smaller bows. I should have used smaller ribbon and smaller dowels for a better curl. I know for next time.

-Don't make these when it's hot out (a much better winter activity for sure!) because you oven is on for a while if you're doing various colours and you don't have a lot of dowels (or in my case pencils).

I'm now totally addicted to making hair crap. I find it's hard to find hair bows that match their wardrobe, so every time I realize I'm missing a certain colour I go hunting for  a way to make it. By the time Kate actually let's me do her hair we should have a good stash. Hehe!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Dear Businesses...

I'm a product researcher. I think it became a necessity when I had kids. Basically I don't want to waste money on crap products (or things that we will "out grow" before our time). I also don't want to drag my two kids around the city to 8 stores looking for a particular item and navigate all this around eating and nap times. So I use the internet a lot. In doing this, I get THOROUGHLY annoyed at bad company websites. I don't think they realize how much business they gain (or in most cases lose) because of their poorly constructed and maintained websites. I want to tell them all, but haven't come up with a way that isn't rude.

Here is the email (and variations) I write over and over in my head:

Dear Business,

Today I was looking at your website and found some ways that you might improve it to better help your customers get the product/services/information they're looking for and thus make you more money.

I was going to include them in this email, but I'm not sure that you'll actually get it since the contact information on your site is out of date. The address you list for your company is not where you are currently physically located, so I can't be sure that your electronic address is correct either, but hey, I'll give it a try.

I was looking for a particular product. But your company doesn't actually list the products you sell. Categories of items doesn't count. I want to know exactly what you carry in your store.

You list some of the products you sell, but not all of them. So even though I know I saw the item in your store last week, I can't find it (or even something similar) on your site in order to look closer at the product to know if it is what I'm looking for.

You list your products, but I have no way of seeing the price.

Or if it's in stock at a particular location.

You have spelling and grammar errors. Worse, you're an educational institute.

You don't tell me anything about your business. Like the helpful information that if I were to hire you, I'd like to know about you. If you're going to teach my kid something, I want to know what you stand for. I wouldn't mind seeing your face. There's nothing wrong with making it personal.

You don't tell me the price of your services/classes. "Call for prices" is annoying. I don't have time to sit on hold and you're never around. It also makes me wonder how competitive your prices actually are. If you're not willing to advertise them, I assume I'm getting ripped off. It's one thing if it's a request outside of the norm of what you do, but if you sell packages or classes that are all the same, there is no reason why you can't just list the prices.

You don't tell me the schedule of the classes that you offer. How do I know if my availability and your teaching times are in sync? Instead, I have to waste both of our time in order to find out that we're incompatible.

You use lingo from within your niche, but I have no idea what that means. So how do I know if that's the product/service I want? Please speak in plain English and when you need to, explain yourself.

Your page loads very slowly. If at all.

Your site is ugly. There's even free stuff available that can make it look much better than the plain brown background you picked.

Your font is so small I can't read it.

You have weird text/background colour combos.

Your pages are so cluttered with content that I can't actually find anything helpful. Worse, everything is listed on the front page when you could clean it up with some nice links to grouped information.

Your site is very hard to navigate and the information most people would need is buried too deep. Ever heard of quick links? If I'm looking at a class schedule, I want pricing information and the link to register right beside it. Even in the sidebar would be helpful.

If you offer a service, a portfolio of your actual work would be great. Don't tell me you do something well and then just show close-ups of smiling kid's faces (unless you're a dentist...). Show me what you look like in action with those kids.  Or the finished product you created.

Testimonies/reviews from other customers is also good.

Tell me what you do well, not what other companies/businesses do poorly. Otherwise I just assume you're jealous of their success.

I wonder how frequently people actually ask the questions you list in your FAQ because none of those came to mind for me, but 10 others that you didn't answer sure did.

Hey, you know that product description that the manufacture includes with the product? Put that on your site. Dimensions are helpful too.

You'll get extra points if I can place an item on hold or purchase it and then pick it up in store.

Please put your flyer on your site. If my 1 year old eats the flyer, I want to be able to find it quickly. And electronic versions save trees. Advertising sales is also good for business. I thought that was common sense.

You may think all this is too much work or too expensive, but here's the thing. The business that tells me the information I need to find quickly and easily will get my money time and time again. You may sell something cheaper, or do something better, I have no way of knowing that, so I will assume you don't.

Please include ways to contact you. Please don't just have a phone number or just an email address. Include both. And a mailing address. Sometimes I have different needs in terms of how I need to contact you than what you might assume. Please make it easy.

Please also list your hours of operation.



Do you get annoyed at Websites? Did I miss any big no-no's that drive you nuts on company websites??

Friday, August 5, 2011

Party Planning Tips Part 2

In case you missed yesterday's post, part 1 of my party planning tips can be found here.

So now that you've got your theme, timeline, venue and food figured out it's time to plan what's going to make this party fun! These are the things that really make a party pop!

This is generally what I try to plan:

*A simple activity (often a craft or simple game) that kids can do as soon as they arrive while they're waiting for other kids to come.

I try to always have it be tied into the theme. This needs to be an activity that is a lower amount of work, easy to add kids and takes either a lot or a little time so that everyone can participate (so a craft that is pretty basic, therefore can be done quickly, but can be embellished and take longer if needed).

BUT, if someone comes after this activity is done, it can't make or break the party (such as a costume that all the other kids are going to have or something you need later for a game). For younger kids colouring pages work well or simple games (we did Don't Eat Pete at Mady's party, which I've learned is over 3 year old's heads, but you get the idea).

*Next I pick one large activity that takes a bit more time. This is the main part of the party. You can do this as a bunch of stations (perhaps for a mad scientist party and you have them doing a bunch of experiments) or for a dinosaur party have the kids doing a big "archeological dig." This HAS to be theme-related or there's no point to a theme. Put lots of thought into this one for how you can tie in all the details.

*Other games, activities or crafts. You can add as much or as little for other activities (pinatas, scavenger hunts, pin the tail on the donkey) as long as you have time. I try to fit them to a theme, and depending on how you structure your big activity you may or may not want other games. But no matter what, make sure you have:

*Throw away activities. There is nothing worse than having a party end before it's supposed to end. What if the game you thought would take 20 minutes only takes 5? If you planned a 2.5 hour party and all the kids are looking at you bored only 1 hour in you're going to have to do something!

If you need to fill time, you want to have some extra "fun" in your back pocket. But here's the thing. You don't want these things to be anything you have invested a lot of time, money or resources into because if you've planned the rest of the party right, you will never get to these activities. So aim for these to be things that include items you already have on hand or are super cheap: bubbles, colouring pages, simple crafts and traditional games - re-named to fit the theme of course!- such as duck, duck, goose or party games (think of all those ones you played as a kid), play doh, hula-hoops. You get the idea..

Decorations/Party Printables
I love the impact of decorations fit to a theme. I always pick party colours (usually 2) that compliment the theme so that it all looks cohesive. I don't decorate everywhere, generally the food table and the main party area are good enough. If you want to have something on the door or front lawn greeting guests that works too.

Less done well always has more impact than lots done poorly, so choose wisely. Decorations are something that is easy to make yourself. Think double duty. If it can be used as a decoration and an activity (or be used for parties year after year no matter the theme) all the better!

Printed material (either designed yourself or bought from party suppliers) is a super simple and cheap way to bring the party together. And it's fun to put all those cute food names on matching labels! *wink*

I've done favours a couple of different ways. The traditional goodie bags filled with trinkets or one larger item. I must say, I prefer the one larger item. I'll usually add something edible fit to the theme in there too.

I think most parents prefer receiving one item as opposed to many and you can easily spend a small fortune on junky $1 store trinkets that will be thrown away in a week or put all of that toward a nicer item (and sometimes you come away spending less!). I'm a fan of books or a larger, themed toy (For Mady's sock hop we gave out hula-hoops).

Remember the invitations. I try to send them out 2-4 weeks in advance. If your child's birthday is during a busy time of year aim for more notice. I like the impact of a themed, hand-delivered or mailed invite. They set the tone for the party.

Remember to ask guests to RSVP (even if it's just regrets-only) and give them a deadline date so that if they forget to contact you, there is a date after which you can call.

There are lots of thoughts on presents, but I'll throw mine into the mix. It's becoming quite trendy to ask for no gifts, which I think is fabulous (except that kids don't get to GIVE gifts all that often and I think it's important to teach them how to give a gift).

I also think parties shouldn't be all about the presents. I don't want my kids to ever feel that birthdays are just about getting things. We do big parties because it's for us it's all about the celebration and sharing that with friends. As soon as their focus shifts to the it being all about presents, we will be forgoing them.

For Kate's party we didn't open gifts at the party. It was a joint party with her cousin and we thought that would get overwhelming and boring for the guests and since we didn't have even amounts of guests who could make it, we didn't want it to be awkward.

For any party I've done where we do open gifts, it's always done at the end because I don't want my kids to think that that's what parties are all about. When the guests arrive, we put the presents away in a corner where they are not the focus. When they open the gift at the end they can give the favours to their friends (or as they're leaving. I kind of play it by ear if the attendees are feeling left out about the presents).

Gift Giving
I'm also going to use this as my plug for suggestions on what gifts to give. The actual gift totally depends on the age, but here are some things to keep in mind.

Most kids have a lot of toys. Personally I limit the amount of toys I give. I try to only give types of gifts that I would want my kids to receive (hence we don't give Barbies or Hannah Montana crap) and I use the gifts received by their friends as gauges as to what those families deem appropriate. I'll usually ask the parent leading up to the party if there is anything their child wants or needs and if there is anything they don't need or the parent would prefer them not to have. (**Disclaimer to Katie: Last year's gift of the noisy instruments for Makenna was purely because you mentioned that she wanted something like that and you said you were fine with them! You KNOW how I feel about these sort of toys...) :)

I try to pick toys that are educationally based (books, puzzles, games, or those requiring lots of imagination). I don't give toys that need batteries (well, Mady's play kitchen does, but we've never put them in and she doesn't know the difference. Ha!). I like "experience" gifts; either passes to somewhere (like the zoo) or crafts or things that get "used up" and therefore don't take up more space in the house long-term.

Clothing is usually appreciated by the parents (girls are typically excited about this longer than boys). For younger kids buy a few sizes larger so they can be put away for a few years for when the kids aren't so excited about getting clothes, but Mom and Dad love the help with purchasing them.

Okay, I'll end the gift rant now...

So that's basically how I PLAN the party (and remember most of this can be done MONTHS in advance). Did I miss anything important? Any questions about sourcing things or aspects you'd like more specific tips on?

Coming soon, I'll have a Party Planner's Toolbox for you which is a great checklist of things to have if this is something you'll be doing often (you know, a few times a year for your kids parties!). If there's anything you'd like to make sure I cover for that, let me know in the comments.

Happy planning!