September 2013

You know how there are some articles that pop up in social media and for a while it seems like everyone is sharing them and talking about them, but you’re either looking for something else or just not hooked by the share and you skim past them? But then you keep seeing them floating up from several sources who you trust, and finally you click on it and read it? And you understand why everyone is sharing, and why you have to share too?

Yeah, this is one of those articles. Michael Curran, editor of the Ottawa Business Journal, got the call a month ago that no parent should ever get – his son had been badly beaten in a bar fight in Yellowknife, and was not expected to live. A horrible, gut-wrenching story in itself, but a tragedy wrapped in a love story. Because Michael’s son Emerson, a beautiful 20-year old boy, had told his mother one day that he believed in organ donation. Please read this sad, lovely story of loss and redemption and courage: My sonโ€™s tragedy turns to hope for others

Through the courage of Michael and his wife, Emerson donated his heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, pancreas and tissues. Michael wrote, “Emersonโ€™s story is only half the story. There is another part of it that I do not know. Itโ€™s the story of 4,000 patients in Canada desperately waiting for donations that could miraculously save, or radically improve, their lives.”

Here’s my half of that story. As many of you know my father received a liver transplant in October 2001, when I was pregnant with Tristan. Without that transplant, I’m not sure my boys would have ever known their Papa Lou. One brave organ donor gave my boys a grandfather whom they love deeply, and they gave me the joy of finding a whole new way to love my dad. I’m so deeply touched by this gift that I simply don’t have the words to express it.

157:365 Happy Birthday Papa Lou!

Please read Michael’s article, and please share Emerson’s story. And please, do more than just think about organ donation – talk about it with your family, make your wishes known, and be a donor.


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So this story has been a while in the telling. Oy September, you vex me so!

You might remember I mentioned that earlier this month, I had the opportunity to run off for a quick trip to Toronto to visit with the lovely peeps from Mom Central Canada and Fisher-Price. If you remember, the first week of September was abruptly and unseasonably cold, but the day I zipped off to Toronto was like a little reminder of summer – warm and near 30C but with enough of a breeze off the lake that it seemed just about perfect.

Any day that begins with a view like this has to be good.

Toronto the good

From here I went down the lakeshore to the headquarters for Corus Entertainment, where we were having our meeting. Even if you’ve never heard of Corus, you’re probably familiar with some of their media properties: Nelvana, Treehouse, YTV, Teletoon, Q107, the Edge, Kids Can Press and many many others. As part of our day, we were taken on a fascinating backstage tour through the Nelvana offices of the 3D animation team behind Mike the Knight.

Do your kiddies watch Mike the Knight? Lucas really likes it, and I find that it’s one of the rare kid shows that’s not painful to watch as a grownup (as compared to such other Nelvana fare as Max and Ruby, which Lucas also inexplicably loves.) The Fisher-Price team shared some viewership stats that showed clearly Lucas and I are not alone in our appreciation of the goodhearted little knight: it’s the top-rated show for boys and girls ages 2-5, boys ages 2-11 and kids 2-11. (Don’t ask me about the demographic breakdown – different assessment tools, maybe? Anyway, it’s clear that Mike’s popular across the kiddie landscape.) It’s popular with parents, too (apparently the #3 show with the mom audience), probably largely due to the positive themes around encouraging kids to champion their responsibilities and inspiring kids to do the best of their abilities. And hey, what kid doesn’t like kings and queens, castles and dragons?

Did you know Mike the Knight is a Canadian creation? I had no idea! The concept came from the same fellow who created Bob the Builder (my boys’ first favourite show) and Lunar Jim, and the show – a co-production between Corus, Nelvana and HIT Entertainment – is created entirely in Toronto. Mike the Knight was launched 24 months ago, but was recently picked up by US network Nickleodeon, which led to the merchandizing launch supported by the folks at Fisher-Price.

The studio tour was wicked cool. We got to visit see several stages in the 3D animation process, from storyboarding to animating to the addition of textures, lighting and special effects. I don’t know if I ever mentioned that Beloved worked for a few years in the animation industry, so I have more than a passing knowledge about animation, but I’d never seen the 3D animation process up close. Once I got past coveting the hardware (giant monitors that act like tablets – you can draw right on them!), I was entranced by watching how 2D drawings are rendered into 3D figures. I think because of Beloved’s old-school animation training (flipping back and forth between key drawings and in-betweens, etc) I have never really appreciated what goes in to 3D animation – it’s a completely different process.

Anyway, all that to say, between the gracious animation team at Nelvana, the fun tech toys, and the spectacular Corus building on the lakefront (they have, among other things, a lakeside patio, several foozball tables in the lounge and a two-story indoor slide) by the end of the afternoon I was wondering if it was too late to consider a career change. I could learn to be an animator, if perhaps maybe I could dredge up some artistic talent from somewhere, yes? No, eh? Okay, then, I suppose uprooting the family and moving to Toronto is not the best plan ever after all.

The rest of the day passed in a blur. We had some great conversations with the Fisher-Price marketing team and with the terrific team from Mom Central Canada. We had an a-maz-ing dinner on a lakeside patio. And it was just when we arrived at our hotel for the evening and I went to check in that I realized that somewhere between the Porter gate at the Ottawa airport 12 hours before and the hotel lobby in Toronto — my driver’s license had disappeared. With a familiar sinking sensation in my stomach, I checked and rechecked every pocket and pouch, but it was gone. I clearly remember having it as I settled into my seat on the plane, and I clearly did not put it back into my wallet where it belonged.

This would be troublesome enough, but it also happened to be my only piece of photo ID. And they’re not really flexible on that whole “you need a piece of photo ID to get on our airplane” thing. I called Porter in a panic, and after a bit of hemming and hawing they confirmed that I needed to visit a local police detachment to file a report, and the occurrence number on that report would get me on the plane.

So that’s how I found myself on an unexpected quest that involved not knights and dragons but traversing Dundas Street in downtown Toronto from Jarvis across Yonge Street to the community police station near Dundas and University. My fellow Fisher-Price Ambassadors Caroline and Jody were kind enough to escort me on my quest through an unexpectedly busy downtown. Caroline was nice enough to document this, my first-ever visit inside a police station.

It’s not an adventure until the cops are involved, right? Suburban moms gone wild, I tell ya! And seriously, if you ever need an entry for your gratitude journal, I recommend the six block walk back and forth through downtown Toronto on a humid September evening. Yikes!

So it’s a good thing I had such a great time hanging out with Mike the Knight and my fellow Fisher Price ambassadors and the Mom Central Canada team, because after the travel snafus from Mexico (disappearing bank card) to Jamaica (hurricane) to Orlando (hurricane AND missing tickets), I’m pretty sure I’ll never again be invited to another Fisher-Price trip!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that you and your little ones can catch Mike the Knight on Treehouse up to 27 times per week, or on his very own website on Treehouse.com and you will find the full line of cute Mike the Knight toys at a store near you starting this fall.

Disclosure: I receive special perks as a part of my affiliation with the Fisher-Price Play Ambassador program with Mom Central Canada. The opinions in this blog are my own and I take full responsibility for my ongoing travel misadventures as well. ๐Ÿ˜‰


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I‘m in one of those transitional stages in parenting right now. For the first time ever, I have all three boys in school full time, and this is also the last year I’ll have them all in the same school. Next year Tristan is off to middle school, and by the time Simon hits middle school Tristan will be in high school. Then Lucas hits high school and – yikes! – Tristan will be off to university or college. How the hell did THAT happen?

walking to school

Framing it in those terms makes me realize how close we really are to having to consider funding three post-secondary educations. Yikes all over again! But thinking about this always makes me wonder – *should* we be paying for our kids’ education? Way back in the day, my parents covered my first half-year of university tuition, an amount I promptly squandered by flunking out and quitting during the Christmas exams. When I went back to school a few years later, I was already working full time for the government, and they paid for my tuition, so in essence I earned my own tuition through work. Beloved got a few parental loans early on but graduated with debt and piled on more when he went back for a college diploma after graduating university. We didn’t finish paying off his student loans until after Simon was born.

So there’s a part of me that thinks since we mostly made our own way and survived, we should expect the same from the kids. If I had an infinite budget, of course I’d pay rather than watch them struggle, but unless I start getting a LOT more blog sponsors in the next few years, it seems unlikely that we’ll have enough put away to get all three of them through an undergraduate degree each. And impossible though it is to imagine, I’ll actually be eligible for (gulp!) retirement the same year Lucas graduates high school.

So even though I do think there’s a point to be made for letting the boys earn their own way, I’ve been doing what I can to minimize the burden. Although I am ridiculously impractical when it comes to financial matters, one fiscally responsible thing we have done as a family was to establish small but regular contributions to a Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) for each boy. So when Mom Central Canada offered a sponsored opportunity to blog about RBC’s RESP program, I knew it would make great bloggy fodder and wondered why I hadn’t talked about it before.

Do you know about RESPs? They’re pretty awesome, actually. To steal a few words from RBC’s site, an RESP is “a tax-sheltered plan that can help you save for a child’s post-secondary education. An RESP combines flexibility, tax-deferred investment growth and direct government assistance to help you reach your education savings goals for your children.”

So what does that mean? First, it’s tax sheltered – this means that you don’t have to pay tax on the growth of the income within the RESP. So whatever you earn in interest and capital growth is tax-free while it’s in the plan.

The sweet part is the direct government assistance. Through the Canada Education Savings Grant, you get an additional 20% on up to $2,500 of contributions each year, up to a lifetime maximum of $7,200. Hello, free money from the government! And if you don’t take advantage of the full $500 (20% of the $2500 max) each year, the amount can be carried over to the next year’s contributions.

So what that means for us is that twice a month (on each payday for me) the bank automatically transfers $25 into an RESP for each boy. It’s not a huge amount, but it slowly adds up. And the bonus is that for each $25 deposit, we get an additional additional $5 contribution into the RESP from the Canada Education Savings Grant. If I were a more fiscally prudent person, I’d probably be micromanaging the funds within the RESP to ensure maximum performance and returns, but, well, I’m not. Still, over the five or so years we’ve had the RESP, we’ve accumulated more than $1000 of sheltered growth between the three plans above and beyond what we received from the Canada Education Savings Grant.

Aside from regular payday withdrawls, we have also put a few financial gifts into the boys’ RESPs, and I know in some families it’s a rule that part of each allowance goes in to an RESP. We’ve even collected and rolled pocket change and slipped it into the RESPs. There are a lot of little ways you can easily ferret away a few pennies nickels here and there, and dump them into the plan when you have a few piled up. RBC has a plan called the RESP-Matic – click through and it will show you how your contributions can grow over 10, 15 and 21 years.

So what happens when your child is ready to take advantage of the RESP? Per the RBC RESP FAQs (ha, I feel like I’m typing in code with all those acronyms!):

Once the student is enrolled in a qualifying post-secondary education or training program, the accumulated income, grants and bonds within the RESP can be paid out to the student at the discretion of the subscriber. These payments are called Educational Assistance Payments (EAPs). The beneficiary must claim all EAPs as income on his or her tax return in the year that they are received. Usually, this results in little or no tax since students tend to be in the lowest tax bracket and can claim tax credits for the personal amount and education-related expenses.

So, even if you are laughably inexperienced or merely wildly inattentive in the realm of financial matters *coughlikemecough*, it couldn’t be easier to set up an RESP and start saving for your kids’ educations.

What do you think? Do you feel parents have an obligation to fund at least an undergraduate degree or diploma or do you think it builds character to pass that responsibility on to your kids? Do you have any thoughts or advice to share about setting up an RESP?

Disclosure: I am part of the RBC RESP blogger program with Mom Central Canada and I receive special perks as part of my affiliation with this group. The opinions I express are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer or anyone else with whom I may be affiliated.


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Six months with Bella

by DaniGirl on September 23, 2013 · 2 comments

in Life, the Universe and Everything

My pretty baby girl Bella turns nine months old this week! When Bella bounced into our lives and hearts back in March, I envisioned writing a series of posts about life with a puppy. (There is almost nothing I do in life that I don’t consider blog fodder, is there?) I imagined posts full of savvy tips about integrating puppy into your household, puppy training basics, and clever, witty posts recounting our misadventures.

So much for that plan, eh? Turns out having a puppy is so life-altering that it takes up pretty much all your time just to keep your sanity. Had I managed to write them out, the first month of posts would have been a long and painful series of “holy crap, what have we done?” lamentations. Oy, those early weeks were tough. But she was cute, and clearly there was a good dog buried somewhere underneath the ceaseless energy and mischief (but buried deep, oh so deep, so regretfully deep in that thick outer shell of mischief) so we stuck it out.

See? So cute.

IMG_3107

We took her to puppy class at the Bytown Obedience Club, and I have nothing but good things to say about them. We enjoyed their puppy socialization class so much that we went back for the novice obedience class as well. Bella is a clever but exhuberent girl and clearly loves to please us, so she is pretty easy to train. I’m sure if I didn’t also have three kids and four jobs and the attention span of a nanny goat we could train her as a rally dog — or at least train her to more reliably come when she’s called. For now, though, we’re happy enough that she listens to our commands more often than not. The obedience bar is not high.

untitled.jpg

I love how much she loves people. She adores the members of her pack, and it’s cute how she clearly sees the boys as fellow pups in the litter. The first few months were tough, though, as she tried to play with them exactly as she would have played with the other pups in her litter – by leaping, nipping and pulling at them. Several bits of clothing were torn, and a few long scratches were endured, but she was (thankfully) never so rough that she did any significant damage. I think we’re mostly past that now – at nine months, she’s learned to control her enthusiasm, but still has a bad habit of gently tugging at hands and feet with her mouth when she wants to play. She’s also a ridiculous jumper – during puppy class, the trainers would laugh as she sproinged straight up and down when she was restless. She doesn’t lunge in a vicious way but does love to jump up, the last bad habit we must yet conquer. Good thing she’s only 50 lbs and probably never will be much bigger.

Did I mention she’s a people dog? She adores Papa Lou, probably in equal measures because the feeling is mutual and because he so blatantly ignores all the house rules about no feeding of table scraps and no dogs on the furniture while he is visiting. Oy, grandparents! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Bella meets Granny and Papa Lou

True to her shepherd lineage, she is loyal to a fault. Probably because I am her main trainer, and she sleeps in my room, and because I am so deeply a dog person while so many others in my house are cat people, I am her alpha dog, and she will follow me from room to room as I move through the house. If she’s awake, she likes to have me in her line of vision, which was really sweet at first but can occasionally become tiresome as I trip over her or she runs into me if I stop too abruptly moving from room to room.

#fromwhereistand - with a dog on my feet!

She is also an excellent guard dog, in that she barks at strangers as they approach the house, walk past the house, walk anywhere near the house, walk in an area that might be near the house, or walk anywhere that could conceivably some day bring them near to the house. She also barks at other dogs, and squirrels, and leaves, and trees, and butterflies flapping their wings in China. Oy, the barking. And not just one or two alert barks (I always think of the Gary Larson’s dog translator comic – turns out all the dogs are saying when they bark is “hey! hey! hey!”) but a full series of barks, hackles raised, and occasionally quite shrill. It’s lovely when she feels a disturbance in the Force worth barking at when it’s 4:03 am, I can testify. We are seriously considering a bark collar. Or a sedative. (For me, I mean. I’m developing a twitch from the constant startles.)

Incoming porch dog!!

When the barking gets under my skin, I find it helpful to think of all the ways in which she has been a remarkably good puppy. We have not, to my surprise, lost a single shoe to chewing – although we have lost a plastic Super Mario and the arm off one poor Skylander. (By comparison, my darling Katie in her puppyhood chewed up among other things several shoes, my eyeglasses, a TV remote, several cords and wires, and an entire tin of coffee, can and all.) She has also shown a remarkable resistance to the kitchen garbage, showing a level of restraint Katie was never able to master. We finally have the house training largely under control, although that was also touch and go (as in, go in the house) for a while. She sits contentedly with me on the porch for hours at a stretch, and learned quickly that while digging is great fun, digging is only permitted in the sand under the playstructure and not the rest of the lawn.

Bella and the shoe

So you might be wondering how Willie the cat has taken to our lively Miss Bella. Not well, I’m afraid. It pains me that Willie loved to play with ancient, slow-moving and tolerant Katie, and would even try to sneak a cuddle every now and then, while Willie will have absolutely nothing to do with Bella. Oh the irony!

Willie and Bella

This is an older picture now, but easily sums up pretty much every one of their interactions – either Willie is rearing up to bat her on the nose (thankfully with claws mostly retracted) growling deep in his throat, or he is scrambling to make it to safe ground while she tears after him, claws scabbering on hardwood. I had hoped that by the time we were six months in, we’d have less baby gates around the house, but they are an ongoing vexation in my life as we keep Bella away from Willie, Willie’s litter box (aka the snack tray) and the kids’ rooms full of the one thing Bella seems unable to resist – stuffed animals.

Bella and Willie, not quite a love story

Last week we brought her in to the Ottawa spay/neuter clinic to make sure it is a very long time indeed before we have any more puppies in the house. I was super-impressed with the care she received, and if you ever think your job is a nuthouse, just drop by the spay/neuter clinic some morning during the morning drop-off. What a madhouse!

Do you have any thoughts about those bark collars? Have you used them? I know they have citronella ones and ones with a little jolt. I’m not super-keen on the idea, but we either get the barking under control or I have to cut my caffiene consumption so I’m a little less jumpy, and that’s certainly not going to happen!


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I had only been to Target once. We’d heard so much about the store that we took a special detour to visit one on a trip through Maine back in 2007. I have friends who raved about their love of Target, though, and was as excited as anyone to see what they might bring to Ottawa’s retail landscape.

This week, the lovely peeps at Billings Bridge offered an exclusive sneak peek for bloggers, and I was hugely disappointed to realize that their special “blogger breakfast” would happen at the exact time I was scheduled to be dropping Bella off at the spay/neuter clinic (a post for another day). And I was delighted when they said, “No problem, drop by any time on opening day and we’ll leave a gift card out for you to enjoy your day shopping with us.” Lovely, eh?

So that’s how I found myself battling the crowds just a few hours after the new Target store in Billings Bridge threw open its doors to the public. The very first thing that impressed me was how orderly everything was. Though it was clearly full (the jammed parking lot was a testament to that) the store did not have that chaotically crowded feel, and smiling staff members were everywhere offering cheerful assistance. Maybe I’m just sentimental for the old Zellers, but I really do think they retained just the right amount of Zellers’ feel, but just a little bit more organized and upscale. It’s pretty much what I always wanted Zellers to be!

I had two goals in mind. Simon needed new indoor shoes and Lucas needed a new spring jacket. I found both within a few minutes of looking. Props to Target for having a decent selection of boy fashion, by the way! Goal achieved, I took a more leisurely browse, and look what I found!

Starbucks + Target = Love ๐Ÿ™‚

It’s been fun watching friends post their about their first visit to Target this week, although I’m clearly out of the fashion loop as most of the lines and brands people are raving about are pretty much Greek to me. I can tell you that I was delighted to see a whole section of my old 80s favourite, Beaver Canoe, and I may need a Beaver Canoe wool toggle coat for the fall. I think Target will become a new go-to place for home decoration, too. There was a multi-coloured loop chenille rug in the kids’ section that I was just barely able to leave behind.

Speaking of great shopping, have you been to Billings Bridge lately? I worked at the tax centre nearby for years a lifetime ago, but haven’t been lately. They’ve got some great shops in there, including my new favourite shoe store, The Shoe Company. I really enjoyed Target, but I have to tell you I was way more excited about the deals I found there on my trip to Billings Bridge! Shoes for Tristan and me and winter boots for Lucas all for just over $100. Score!

Were you anxiously awaiting the arrival of Target? Have you had a chance to check them out yet? What did you think and more important, what did you get??

Disclosure: Billings Bridge gave me a Target gift card to enjoy during my visit to the store. However, you know that opinions on this blog are always my own.


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Too close to home

by DaniGirl on September 19, 2013 · 5 comments

in Life in Ottawa

For nearly seven years, I rode the bus from Barrhaven downtown and back again. Perhaps one thousand times, I sailed through the spot where the transitway crosses the tracks. Yesterday, most of you know, six people were killed and dozens more injured when an OC Transpo bus crashed into a Via train rolling into Fallowfield station.

I wasn’t sure I should write about this. I am wary of co-opting this tragedy. Because I lost nobody close to me, perhaps one could argue that there’s no value in me posting this.

I can’t stop thinking about it, though. I can’t stop thinking of six families reeling, six people who went off to work or school or their daily errands, six people who will never come home again. Those people were my neighbours when I lived in Barrhaven. Maybe I stood behind them in the line at Loblaws, or perhaps our kids went to school together. It’s hard to wrap your head around something like this in any event, but harder still when it hits the heart of your community.

I was excited when they introduced the double-decker buses. There was often one on my route, the 77 express. I always hoped to get that seat at the front in the upper row, because I loved the view. That’s where I was sitting when I took this picture in September 2009.

226:365 Sunrise at the crossing

We were sailing through that very spot where the transitway crosses the tracks just outside the Fallowfield station. The sun was just coming up. It was just an ordinary, beautiful day.


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Thomas & Friends King of the Railway on the “blue” carpet

17 September 2013 Reviews, promotions and giveaways

My only regret about becoming a Fisher-Price play ambassador is that we couldn’t milk their relationship with Thomas & Friends when my Thomas-obsessed boy was a toddler. Thomas the Tank Engine was Tristan’s first obsession. Oh the hours we spent building Thomas tracks, pushing Thomas trains, watching Thomas DVDs and reading Thomas books. Simon was […]

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This week in pictures: In which summer abruptly gives way to autumn

16 September 2013 Mothership Photography

Hey, hi! Remember how I used to write posts for this blog? Ya, those were good days, eh? Two blog posts in two weeks – oy, the transition from summer to fall has been brutal, both from a weather perspective and from an activities one. I feel like I’ve run headlong through the last two […]

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The Art of the Sunflower Fundraising Auction

9 September 2013 Life in Ottawa

I have been telling this story in bits and pieces on the blog, on Flickr, on Facebook and even on the radio for weeks now, but I’m finally ready to share the whole thing with you! The story begins way back in the cold heart of winter. I was listening to CBC radio, and they […]

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This week in pictures: Celebrating the end of of a wonderful summer

2 September 2013 Photo of the Day

It has evolved into a tradition that since Beloved has to go back to work near the end of August, I take the final week of summer off to play with the boys. We try to cram as much summer as possible into this last week, and this year I think we outdid ourselves. Before […]

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