Thursday, November 11, 2010

'Tis the Season!

Not enough people send Christmas cards anymore, plain and simple.

Everyone loves getting mail (that isn't bills). Going to the mailbox and seeing a nice red envelope with a gold seal; opening the card to read the greeting and note; propping it up on the mantle for company to look at. It's such a simple but special lead-up to the holidays.

Because it's so easy to get caught up in life during the year, I make Christmas cards my annual "We're alive! We're thinking of you! We're reaching out via something other than Facebook!"

I have always been diligent about sending out my cards. I make sure to send them out by the last week of November or so, to allow time for people to receive them, and then procrastinate, then fill out their cards and leave them on the dining room table, then forget to pick up stamps, then finally buy stamps and mail the cards a week later.

I know, it's a process.

A few years ago, I would include one of those indulgent "this is what we've been up to for the past 12 months" family newsletters, but since the creation of the aforementioned Facebook, I assume people get as much regular information as they want. Now, I include just pictures.

Every year, I get the boys' Christmas pictures done at the local photo studio, and I put a small one in everyone's card. Family members and friends from away, many of whom don't have a computer, like to watch my kids grow from year to year, and, ashamedly, my annual card is often the best way to see that.

A few months ago I received a birth announcement card in the mail, and it was beyond beautiful. It said "Shutterfly" on the back, but it wasn't until I read this blog post (um, do you not read that blog already? Is there something wrong with you?) that I got to see the amazing - AMAZING - selection of cards that Shutterfly has available this holiday season.

I mean, look!

And look!

Right? It's so hard to choose the nicest one that you're almost mad at Shutterfly after you see them all.

So this year, instead of cutting out wallet size pictures and cringing at my worsening cursive, I'm going to design one of these amazing cards and really blow everyone away.

Oh, and if the stationary wasn't incentive enough (which it totally was), I can actually get 50 of these cards FOR FREE!


Bloggers can get 50 free holiday cards from Shutterfly. Find out how here.

Now get off the computer and go to the post office for stamps. Slacker.

Most Wonderful Story Christmas 5x7 folded card
Shop Shutterfly for elegant custom Christmas photo cards.
View the entire collection of cards.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Awesome Threesome

(This originally appeared as a two-part article in my column in the Port Hawkesbury Reporter...I'm posting it here so that Amy and Roxanne can read it, should they so choose.)
(Which they will, I wager.)

It’s funny how one song can bring back so many memories. It happened to me yesterday. Though the memory was from long ago, I encounter this particular brand of nostalgia quite often, truth be told. After all, it’s not every girl who can claim to have been a hip-hop dancer in a touring dance group.

Yes – you read that right.

I’m not entirely sure what led to the formation of our group, as it were. I won’t claim to have started it, nor, I don’t believe, would either of the other two founding members (Amy Doary and Roxanne Beaulieu). All I know is that one minute we were just your average, everyday 11- and 12-year-olds, making our way through grade six at the River Bourgeois School, and the next minute we were smack dab in the middle of a reign as the foremost pre-teen dance trio in Richmond County. It was quite a meteoric rise to fame, I must say.

We three had been friends since grade primary, and we spent all our free time together. We liked to think we had our fingers firmly on the pulse of popular music, and I suppose we did to a great extent, inasmuch as knowing who Mariah Carey was could be considered knowledge. Like any other girls our age, we would dance around, usually in Amy’s basement, to whichever fare Samantha Taylor was peddling on Video Hits. I can’t recall when things went from recreational to professional, but it was at some point in 1990.

What you have to understand about the now-extinct River Bourgeois School, especially if you never had the occasion to attend, is that there were two separate and very distinct cultures – upstairs and downstairs. While I plan to devote an entire column to this topic in the near future, suffice it for now to say that the upstairs people spent the entirety of their upstairs lives (which, incidentally, lasted from grade primary to grade six) in a seemingly never-ending quest to graduate to grade seven and become a downstairs student.

As you might imagine, never was this quest as arduous as for people in grade six. We could see those grade seven and eight girls parading around in their acid washed jean jackets and Vaurnet shirts and hair scrunchies, and we were no different than they were, save for which area of the school we were allowed to parade them in. And if we were going to be stuck playing our Bananarama tapes upstairs, well then, we were going to do it on our own terms, dammit.

So we set up shop in the bathroom.

In hindsight, that upstairs bathroom probably wasn’t even as big as my current living room (and actually, if anyone reading this has a picture or knows the dimensions, I’d be very interested to find out). Regardless, it was the hub of the upstairs; apart from the toilets and sinks, there was an open area off to the side which served as a kind of meeting place for little girls to congregate between classes. As luck would have it, it was equipped with an electrical outlet.

Do you remember those heavy, silver ghetto-blasters with the red “record” button? I know you do, everybody had one. Every recess and lunch we would borrow the one from the teacher’s lounge and Super Ladies of the 80s would echo through the halls. In that bathroom, and with that ghetto blaster, we honed our craft.

If I had to describe it, I’d say our early work was a combination of Janet Jackson mimicry (we were obsessed with copying the choreography from the “If” video right down to the last Running Man) and outtakes from The Mickey Mouse Club television performances. We fed off each other and, in an effort to best each other’s dance moves and perfect the copied ones, we created a style all our own. In future interviews it would be referred to as “hip-hop jazz style dancing”, but I hate to use labels; we’ll just say it was very of-the-moment and leave it at that.

We had no idea those early bathroom practice sessions would spawn a year-long reign at the top of the River Bourgeois School social pyramid and the beginning of a cultural juggernaut which would later be known as The Awesome Threesome.

I was going to save all this flowery information for the vH1 Behind the Music special, but since I know you’re all waiting with bated breath, I’ll finish spinning this tale next week.

If I can stop laughing.


Now, where did I leave off? Oh yes, the bathroom.

It was 1990 and me and my two best friends, also 11 years old, unknowingly thrust ourselves headlong into the world of professional dance by way of copying music videos in our elementary school bathroom. You are now officially up to speed (and only slightly less fortunate if you missed part one).

Every morning recess and lunch hour we would practice, until we found the square footage of our bathroom practice space to be limiting our endeavors. Our French teacher, Madame Boudreau, had taken a keen interest in our ambitions, and was kind enough to offer up her classroom for us to use during breaks.

As it turns out, this venue change was exactly the motivation we needed to get organized. We were a close-knit group of girls (especially considering there were only seven of us in our grade) and no way were we going to share any aspect of our idea with outsiders. Aside from us three dancers, we enlisted the help of Leah-Anne to be our manager – largely a ceremonial role with non-specific duties, though no less prestigious than the title suggests. Joanie was our wardrobe consultant, Kelly was our communications liaison and the rest of the girls (or maybe all of us) share responsibility for naming the group.

Honestly, what can I even say about that situation. We were only eleven. Let’s just let it go.

The condition attached to Mme. Boudreau’s offer was this: if we were going to use her classroom to practice, she would give us something to practice for. We were given a spot in a school variety concert – the pressure was on. What song would we choose? Which moves would we showcase? What on earth would we wear?!

I suppose the song choice would be easy enough: “The World Just Keeps on Turning” by Candy and the Backbeat was the only completed routine we had choreographed and memorized. The routine itself would be a compilation of our best dance moves, perfected and practiced ad nauseum.

The wardrobe decisions were a bit more complex. Fashion in the 90’s was a crapshoot, especially for a junior high school student from a small town. We had terrible ideas and followed even worse examples from television, and the results were cataclysmic. Never was there a better example of bad taste than our very first performance outfit.

The black stirrup pants were a no-brainer; back in those days, they were as an essential a wardrobe staple as a pair of blue jeans. It’s the shirt that remains a cringe-worthy image even to this day. See, our song choice somehow segued into a before-awareness-was-cool message of environmental consciousness, and with the help of Amy’s dad, who owned a screenprinting business, we became the proud new owners of florescent yellow t-shirts emblazoned with a giant globe and “Save the World” in bold font.

That was us – spiral perms, stirrup pants, and obscure pop music. The perfect storm.

While our dance career was nothing short of a community phenomenon, we remained pretty grounded throughout. Imagine our surprise when the media came to call for an interview – and promised a full page spread, with pictures, no less.

We primped (hair, clothing, dance moves, even photo backdrops) and prepped (practice questions, inspired monologues, even body language). It would be our introduction to the world beyond River Bourgeois, we thought; the first recorded account of our rise to fame.

The interview lasted somewhere in the neighborhood of ten minutes and fell far short of the Rolling Stone-esque interview we had expected. Worse yet, she dismissed our hand-painted tarpaulin backdrop in favor of taking one picture in front of Amy’s garage door.

Luckily, we had youthful optimism on our side and didn’t let the disappointing interview get us down. The exposure blossomed into a string of bookings, from variety shows to the Schools Today concert at the mall in Port Hawkesbury, our most notable showcase. We had the world at our feet, truly we did.

The sad truth is that I could go on like this for at least the duration of another article. I won’t, but I could.

I will say this: the highlight of our dance career was the day the grade seven and eight girls asked us to show them some moves. And to this day, one of my prized possessions is the laminated copy of that newspaper article, with accompanying picture.

Yellow shirts and all.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

3am Propaganda

We’ve all been there before. Sleepless, 3:00 am, flicking hopelessly through the channels. Your options are quite limited: old reruns of “Land & Sea”, mindless sitcoms you can’t concentrate on, or a worse alternative yet – infomercials.

Your better sense is always intact at the beginning. “Pfft. Yeah, right. Who would ever pay $100 for that piece of garbage? It couldn’t possibly work, could it? No, if it DID work, everyone would have one already. Of course they’re going to guarantee it, they know nobody is going to go through the trouble and expense of sending it back. What kind of a sucker is going to buy this thing in the middle of the night?”

A mere half hour later, your mind begins to betray you. “I think they just did that in real time, right in front of the camera. They juiced the life right out of that beet, without a single bit of pulp. It’s impossible to fake that, I just saw it with my own eyes. Maybe it actually DOES work. I mean, I can certainly see the appeal of such an item and how it might very well improve my dining experience and perhaps even my overall quality of life.”

“Yes, by all means, demonstrate again, trainee of Ron Popeil, so that I might be further brainwashed by the repetitiveness of your late-night propaganda. I am slowly beginning to see the value of having that fine piece of machinery joining my fleet of dust-collecting small appliances.”

Or maybe exercise equipment is your vice; “Do you want abs like Jessica Alba? A stomach like Jennifer Aniston? Buy the super-duper, state-of-the-art, aerodynamic FLOOGELBEESTER! It may look like a cheap plastic rod held together by rubber bands, but not so – the secret lies in our patented Carbon Memory Magic Foam Filtration System. We’re not sure how it works, either, but hey – Jessica Alba, remember? Phone lines are open now, don’t delay!”

It might also be a pill that sucks you in. “As seen on MSNBC and the Oprah show, introducing Suckertrophin, a revolutionary weight loss supplement designed by MIT engineers , tested by scientists at NASA, and officially endorsed by Ukrainian gymnasts and Romanian supermodels!”

“Meet Sarah (well, a mostly-true account of a person named Beulah who we'll call Sarah, as portrayed by an actress named Misty who happens to be willing to sacrifice her dignity as a thespian for the sake of the $300 she’s being paid to pretend to have ever weighed more than ninety pounds for even a single day of her life). She lost over 100lbs on the Suckertrophin system, without ever setting foot in a gym! Every morning for breakfast she eats a dozen bagels smothered in pure lard! She has chocolate sauce IV drip at her office desk! She has slow metabolism and thyroid problems and diabetes and carries the gene for morbid obesity but no worries! All she has to do is pop two Suckertrophin tablets after each meal and voila! Size 4 it is!”

Forty-five minutes and three easy payments of $29.99 later, you’re the proud owner of a fruit dehydrator or juice defragmenter or bust enhancer or other such useless contraption which will take up valuable space in your kitchen or bathroom cabinet (saying nothing of the constant cries of “I told you you’d never use that stupid thing, I can’t believe we paid $100 for it” that must be endured for months post-purchase).

(Yeah, smart ass. Because you use ALL of those 19 hammers you have out in the shed.)

(Effing husbands.)

Infomercials, I believe, were created to prey on the impressionable minds of exhausted insomniacs. At noon on a Tuesday, I could never be convinced that any one small appliance could change my life, but many times in the wee hours of the morning I have been led down that very path of ridiculous logic by Ron Popeil and his evil minions.

I’m not saying I’ve ever been sucked in by Vince the Sham-Wow guy, nor will I admit to falling victim to the Magic Bullet food mega-blender, or the Slap Chop/Graty combo. I will neither confirm nor deny the presence of hair Bump-Its, Ginsu knives, Strap Perfect bra clips, and a full set of Tae-Bo VHS tapes in my home. And I most definitely have never spent hours on eBay looking for any of these items at a lower-than-advertised cost, nor have I searched for items from decades past, like the Flowbee. No sir, not me.

I will, however, tell you one thing with certainty - I need more sleep.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Ultimate Getaway

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My friend Brandy left with her husband this morning on her dream vacation: she flew to South Carolina to see George Strait in concert. Me? I wouldn't see George Strait if he was playing in my bathroom. But this concert has been her dream for more than 15 years, and this week she gets to live it, five rows from the stage.

The thing of it is, the destination was inconsequential to Brandy. George could have been playing in Tibet or five minutes from her house, and she would have had just as much fun. This got me to thinking - what's more important in a dream vacation, where you go or what you do while you're there?

We're in the beginning stages of looking into a trip to Disneyworld in Florida. It's something we've talked about for a few years and now that our kids are a bit older, we're considering taking them on a vacation they'll always remember. It's a big investment, and it requires a lot of preparation.

Planning this Disney adventure got me to thinking about past vacations and what made them fun. In 1999, Brandy and I travelled to Cuba together. At the time, people didn't fly down to the tropics willy-nilly like they do these days, so two twenty-somethings flying down South was kind of a big deal to us. We paid a little over $700 each, which included every single thing from beginning to end, and in this particular case also speaks to the quality of the amenities we had access to.

We stayed in a room with a door that didn't close properly, and which let in bugs that were so humongous it would give you nightmares. The food was made edible only thanks to the free liquor, and the nightly entertainment was a guy with a ghetto blaster in an open-air gazebo. But did we spend a week in misery? Not a chance. We had the time of our lives and would go again in a heartbeat.

Then I thought of all the trips I've taken to Toronto with various girlfriends over the years. We stayed in nice hotels and student boarding houses and with friends. We sat around apartments watching movies, we went to concerts, and we spent entire days at Canada's Wonderland. Really, we didn't do much of anything, and still we had a fantastic time.

Since having a family, I haven't been on many vacations (I suppose by most people's standards, we haven't been on any). We've over-nighted many times but never far enough from home that we couldn't drive. Not only is it extremely expensive to travel with children, it's also intensely complicated from a packing standpoint, and oftentimes it involves more stress than relaxation.

The one time we did go on vacation, we went all out. We took the kids to every venue available, ate out every meal, and spoiled them as much as we could. We spent thousands of dollars (literally) and had nothing to show for it Monday morning except a few pictures and some serious fatigue.

The most fun we've had as a family has been on day trips, most of them a short distance from home. We drive around, usually at the spur of the moment, and find adventures along the way. We've visited waterfalls and water parks, trails and arcades, beaches and go-cart tracks, and one place has been fun in different ways than the other, yet in equal measure.

So, taking all this into account, how do you plan the ultimate family vacation? Do you concentrate on the destination or on the itinerary?

If you ask me, the answer is neither. Regardless of where you go or what you have planned, the most important part of a great vacation is who you go with. Ice cream cones and cotton candy taste pretty much the same whether you buy them at Disneyworld or at a corner store in the country. Beach water is just as wet and sand is just as sandy in Ingonish as it is in Fort Lauderdale.

We get so caught up in what we think we should be doing and where our neighbors have gone and what our friends have pictures of, that we forget to do what we’ll actually enjoy and what truly makes us happy. What makes me happy is to see my kids having fun, and I can do that without spending thousands of dollars or travelling thousands of miles from home.

It doesn't matter if you go around the world or around the county; if you're with the right people, the smiles can be just as big and the memories will be just as fond.


Don't forget to enter the “Do What You Love” Sweepstakes, for a chance to win your own ultimate family vacation. I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective, which endorses Blog With Integrity, as I do.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Thirteen Sleeps

It's so difficult to explain the concept of time to a five year old. We’ve used “two more shows” to explain an hour, and our old reliable is “sleeps” to explain days, but explaining weeks and months is damn near impossible.

Since the end of the 2009/2010 school year, Rory has been asking when he starts “big school”. First we flipped through the pages of the calendar and told him it was too far away to start counting yet. Not satisfied, we tried to explain to him that he’d be starting in seven weeks, which backfired on us after seven days lapsed and he was convinced school was the next morning. Finally we gave in and started counting the sleeps. Our count began at 58 sleeps, like a theoretical Advent calendar with no daily chocolates.

I have dueling perspectives about the whole “big school” situation; on the one hand, I feel a sense of freedom I haven’t felt in five years. I’ll be able to go about my business every day – every single weekday – without the usual distractions. No loud sound effects, no tantrums, no more of the ever-ready, “PLEASE can I get it?” that I’ve become so used to. I won’t have to wait for that episode of Spongebob to end before I leave the house, and I won’t have to cut a trip short because my shopping partner has to pee.

I can start a job. I don’t have to interview a string of babysitters, and it won’t cost me as much money to pay one as I’d make in an 8-hour shift. I’ll likely have the occasion to converse with adults about topics other than Transformers. I’ll put on work clothes and maybe even not have them covered in chocolate fingerprints by lunch time. When someone asks my kids, “what does your mom do,” they’ll finally say something a bit more flattering than, “nothing.”

I’ll see my youngest off into the world. It’s a largely un-discussed milestone, but the first day of school means they officially cross the threshold from babies to kids. He’ll be starting his first of at least thirteen years of school, making friends that could potentially be life-long, learning things I never knew he could, and becoming accustomed to independence.

On the other hand...

I’ll be going about my business every day, alone. I’ll have no shopping partner, no one to keep me company or make me laugh, or to screen my purchases (“no, Mom, we don’t like that cereal”). The teachers get to enjoy him now.

I’m probably going to start a job, which means the end of a lot of the stability he’s enjoyed his whole life. I haven’t found anything yet, so he’ll be getting off the bus and coming home to Mom and snacks every day for at least the first week or two. But, once I find a suitable job, he’ll be going to an afterschool babysitter. Supper won’t be ready at five o’clock on the nose. Chaos will replace repetition. That will be a big change for us.

I’ll see my baby off into a world that terrifies me. Even as I type it, I have tears in my eyes and I could choke on my own fear and heartbreak. It’s a completely selfish set of feelings, I realize, but that doesn’t make them any less valid. I’m scared he won’t make friends easily. I’m scared no one will make sure he eats his lunch and has his hat on. I’m scared he’ll miss me. One of the best things about staying home with him over the past five years was that I never had to wonder if he was being taken care of properly - he was, because I was doing it myself. That changes now.

But he’s ready, as ready as any other kid starting school. The groundwork was laid with the Kindergarten program and a summer of reading and alphabet practicing and number reciting will surely do him good when September finally rolls around. We’ve gone out to get the school supplies, we’ve bought “cool” sneakers like his brother’s, he’s got a new jacket and backpack, and he’s set to go.

Thirteen sleeps, that’s all that’s left. It’s an eternity for him and a blink of an eye for me. Playing with his dinosaurs on the living room floor, he doesn’t see me staring at him and wondering where five whole years went. Surely I’ll take it as well as I did the beginning of pre-school, but this leading-up period is a killer.

Thirteen sleeps.

Wish us luck.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A New Beginning

A New Beginning *cue flutes and such*

*and maybe trumpets*

*think Star Wars music, but more Days of Our Lives-y*


Hello, friends! Don't leave just because this is a new blog and you've never heard of me; I assure you, I'm gonna make this worth your visit.

(And if you should decide to leave, know that I track IP addresses and don't take kindly to people who abandon me without giving me a chance, so DON'T YOU DARE LEAVE YET, I MEAN IT.)

Okay, so the whole, "I'm gonna make this worth your visit" thing might have been a little optimistic this time around, but if you keep coming back, one of these days - I mean years in the future - you'll be all like, "wow, Shirley, do you remember the first day I found Gina's blog and left when it didn't have much on it? And then those ninja-type guys with no faces came to my house and implanted the dog with a chip and he laid by the door and gave me the stink eye until his heart just stopped one day? And then the whole Homeland Security investigation thing when the doggy cremation people found the chip? And then remember how the whole thing just completely went away after I went back to the blog? That was awesome."

So the question is, do you really want to tie up the resources of Homeland Security for the sake of checking your Twitter again? For, like, the twentieth time today? That would be irresponsible, because the fate of the United States is more important than what Jessica Simpson misspelled for breakfast. Not to mention, what did your dog ever do to deserve this?
Don't be so selfish.

See you tomorrow, kids.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sometimes, It Just Works

I just read a Center for Disease Control and Prevention report about marriage. Now, I’m not sure why the CDCP is concerning itself with marriage instead of, you know, disease prevention, but regardless – there’s a report, and I read it because the findings were interesting. It shows that couples who live together before marriage are more likely to break-up than those who don't.

I was very surprised to hear this, as the practical part of me wholeheartedly disagreed with the conclusion of the report. Gone are the days of couples living apart until they’re married; in fact, off the top of my head, I can’t even think of any one couple, in my circle of friends or otherwise, who does not live together.

And, in my opinion, right or wrong, living together before marriage just plain makes sense from a logistical standpoint. (Please don’t send me hate mail about how living in sin is un-Catholic. I’ve read the Bible, I know the rules, and it’s not for me to advise couples on their course of action. It’s only a point of view, folks. )

I have been married for almost four years, but I have lived with my husband for far longer than that, and I can’t imagine it having been any other way. There are habitual things, behaviors and methods, which are good to find out about before you have pledged to spend the rest of your days putting up with them, don’t you think?

If you’re a clean freak, you will find it difficult to live with someone who has cleaned up for your visits for the past three years but secretly lives in filth when you’re not there. Once the two lives meld, conflict is sure to arise if a compromise isn’t reached before moving day.

Maybe tidiness isn’t a make-or-break caliber conflict, but when a marriage begins, I would be inclined to think the fewer problems a couple is faced with, the better.

Not to mention, it can go deeper than tidy vs. not. There are a thousand “little” issues that might turn out to be big issues once two lives are riding on it, especially in the midst of a completely unfamiliar and often very trying chapter in someone’s life.

Some might say that as long as a couple loves each other and is on the same page as far as their morals and values are concerned, the rest is inconsequential and can be worked out with some time and patience. In an ideal world, sure, all you need is love. In reality, learning to successfully live together is a massive, humongous, gigantic part of married life. After all, the ultimate goal is not just to make a marriage work; lots of people can do that whether or not they’re meant to. The real mission, as far as I’m concerned, is to spend the rest of my life in a happy marriage. And - like it or not, experts – that required me knowing about his morning routine and thrice-daily showers and aversion to heat BEFORE I had vowed to embrace and put up with all of it.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m too liberal-minded and the whole “living in sin” thing wasn’t as relevant to me as it should have been. I didn’t consciously decide that I was going to defy what is proper in society’s eyes; all I knew was that I wanted to spend every moment with my partner and truly get to know him and his life before I made a lifetime commitment, and I can tell you with certainty that I was in a much more confident position to make that commitment because we lived together. But, I suppose that may not be the case, or the best idea, for everyone. I’m no one’s moral compass, that’s for sure, so to each his own.

The more I read, the more the rest of me disagreed with the report, too. While it was at times thought-provoking, I tend to think that if two people are compatible and truly love each other, with some hard work and mutual respect, you can have a happy and long-lasting marriage. There may be some truth to the numbers involved in all these studies and statistics, but they’re broad statements to be sure. I like to think I fly in the face of the theories the CDCP have presented, and those of you who have managed to make it work should feel good about doing the same.

This probably explains why I always preferred sociology to math.