Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Start Them Young

One year we were getting ready to hand out birthday invitations and someone asked what my son would like for his birthday. I had to stop and really think about it. Christmas had just been over a month away and I had already purchased him the 2 or 3 things he had wanted for his birthday. In all honesty, he didn't really NEED anything. It was a stretch coming up with ideas for his aunts, uncles, grandparents and other extended family members.

We're lucky. Not everyone has such a large family who want to help celebrate these special occasions. It also means they get royally spoiled!

It got me thinking about the 10 kids we were about to invite over for his party and I realized he just didn't need another 10 gifts on top of all the gifts he would get from his family. So we sat down and talked to both kids about how fortunate they were to have such a large loving family and to already have a pretty full toybox. We decided to pick 2 charities and see which one spoke to the kids more. That year they both picked the Humane Society and the Food Bank as the charities they would like to support.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't an easy conversation. There were a few tears at first because they didn't understand why they give gifts at parties and didn't get any back. Understandable, they were very young. It took many assurances that they would still have new toys and clothes, just not as much.

Since then we have asked parents to make a donation, or bring a donation in lieu of birthday presents. In the 3 years we've been doing this we have supported the Humane Society, Santas Anonymous, The Food Bank and Ronald McDonald House.  Each place we have supported has made my children feel incredibly special for their donations.

This year when we dropped off the donations to the Ronald McDonald House Northern Alberta we were given a tour of the facilities. My son was quite shy and I wasn't sure how much of it he was taking all in. But later when we picked up his sister from school I had tears in my eyes when I heard him recount his experience to her. He told her all about how the kids get to pick a blankie (actually a handmade quilt) when they arrive at the house. He told her about how if the kids are really sick and having a bad day, or if they are leaving the house after treatment they get to take a special gift out of the magic room. He was also quite excited to tell her about the playroom that you can be really loud in and how many kitchens they have in the house.

It stuck! He actually got at least a part of what we were doing and why.

Someone once told me that the earlier you can start a child in volunteering and charitable acts the more it will become a second nature for them.

There are many ways you can teach your child to give back. You can get them to help you shovel the walk of an elderly neighbour, you can collect spare change for a local charity, or they can pack up old games and books to donate.  Most important is to just start them young so they can carry on making a difference as they grow and hopefully they will do the same with their own children one day.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Just a Few Hours

Just a few hours. Really, it's a drop in the bucket of time. Just 2 hours of your life and yet they are 2 hours you will not forget anytime soon.

I regularly try to encourage people to give up just 2 hours of their life to come and volunteer with me. In the span of a year, which holds approximately 8,760 hours, does 2 seem like that much? Nope. It's almost nothing.

Yet each and every time people give up 2 hours to join me I am elated. It's hard to describe what it means to me but I sincerely appreciate your 2 hours (or 4, or 6, or however many you end up giving). Time is precious. We all know that but sometimes I just want to remind people that I acknowledge you gave up this precious commodity to make a difference in someone's life.

In December I took a group of folks to the Ronald McDonald House Northern Alberta and I was so happy to see both returning faces as well as several new volunteers. In just 2 short hours we were able to make hundreds and hundreds of Christmas cookies for the guests at the House. And for those that had not been there before they were able to take a tour of the House and see all the amazing work they do there.

Yep. In 2 hours our volunteers made a different to dozens of people staying at the House. You helped make their temporary home a little more comforting. Even better you came and learned. What better way to see what is being done to help others, that to be there and do it yourself.

To everyone who has joined me at the Food Bank, Mustard Seed, Basically Babies, Ronald McDonald House, Kids Kottage, etc, etc, etc, I want to thank you for your time. In just those few hours you made a difference in my life, to those we helped, and hopefully to your own life as well.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Best of the Best 2013

It's my favourite post of the year...my Best of the Best list! This is where I get to reflect back to what has made the past year special to me.

Best Volunteer Moment:

Always a tough one to pick because I get the opportunity to volunteer at so many wonderful organizations. I actually have to go back through my calendar to remember where I'd all been! This year I think I'd have to say my Best Volunteer Moment was taking all these diapers, wipes, formula, etc., to the Edmonton Food Bank. For about 3 weeks I drove around the city collecting these items from fantastic folks so had asked for diapers instead of birthday gifts, or formula instead of hostess gifts. What amazing people! I'll likely host this again in 2014, so watch for updates if you'd like to help out!

Best Mr. Cole (AKA HAM) Moment:

My favourite moment with Mr. Cole was his first day of Kindergarten. He was excited and confident to finally be going to the same school as his big sister. He quickly became a favourite amongst the girls as he's willing to play house, puppy, and do crafts with them as well as play blocks with the boys. It makes this mama pretty proud to see him carve his own path.

Best Miss Jocelyn (AKA Turkey) Moment:

I think one of the happiest moments I experienced with Miss. Jocelyn was when she joined the race club at school. We've watched her do many sports and activities but for some reason this one really struck home, maybe because it was her first club to belong to at school. Oh she's growing up so fast!! I love watching her run and cheering her, and her teammates, on!

 Best Moment Spent With Hubs:

This one was easy to pick, it was renewing our wedding vows on a beach in Hawaii to celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary. I think each and every year of marriage should be celebrated but we wanted to do something special to mark the big TEN. It was a romantic ceremony (and I'm not a terribly romantic person) but watching the sun come up while standing on the beach was beautiful. Most beautiful were the words we exchanged in Hawaiian, so moving! Loved every minute of it and it was sweet to share the experience with several other couples; some had only been married a few weeks and others had been married for over 30 years.

Top 10 Books I Read in 2013 (In No Particular Order):

Ru1.Ru - Kim Thuy
2. In The Shaddow of the Banyon - Vaddey Ratner
3.The Golem and the Jinni - Helene Wecker
4.Power and Terror - Noam Chomsky
5. The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman
6. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
7. A Nation Worth Ranting About - Rick Mercer
8. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared -Jonas Jonasson
9.I am So the Boss of You - Kathy Buckworth
10.Gregor the Overlander: Book 1 - Suzanne Collins

Best Trip I Took:

I have to pick two! The best family trip was going to Disney World with the kids and their aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins. The kids adored every minute of it and it was priceless to see their faces light up when the met new characters, or got to go on some pretty fun rides with their cousins.

For our 10 year wedding anniversary we left the kids with the grandparents (THANKS MOM AND DAD!) and journeyed to China, Hong Kong, and Hawaii. It was a life-long dream of ours to see the Great Wall and for me especially to see the terracotta warriors. We had a fantastic trip where we met many wonderful people and saw some pretty breathtaking sights. I LOVE having a husband who enjoys learning about the world and different cultures as much as I do.

Best Nerdy Moment:

Once again the best nerdy moment was brought to you by the Calgary Expo! This year we attended it VIP style with our my SIL Katie, my (at the time) almost 3 month old niece, Katie's mom and our friend Maria. We had a BLAST! One of the best moments though was when we all got to meet the cast of Walking Dead and finally meeting Nathan Fillion (input squealing little girl noises here)

Best Concert I Saw:

Muse. No two ways about it this was THE BEST concert  I saw all year. We went to a handful, not as many as in past years, but this one left me speechless. I still get a little misty thinking about how awesome it was!

Best New Restaurant We Went To:

My favourite this year is Phoenicia. It's a Lebanese restaurant that makes my mouth water just thinking of their food. The best deal is to go with the 8 or 10 course meal. We went 3 times in 5 months we enjoyed it that much and it simply isn't often enough for my tastes. I'd say my 2nd favourite was Corso 32. We had to book 2 months in advance just to get in there but the food was delicious!

Best Time Spent With Friends:

We had a fantastic time getting to know some of our neighbours better. They, like us, really enjoy trying new restaurants, doing wine tastings, and just hanging out in the backyard. Other memorable moments were having a huge BBQ for our friends and neighbours, hosting a Christmas party for the parents and kids from school, and celebrating my birthday at Guru. 

Best Personal Moment:

So many to choose from! I'd say my top 3 were: being nominated for a YMCA Peace Award, standing on the Great Wall of China, and my top moment would be completing the Walk to Fight Arthritis with my family. All meant a great deal to me and I will carry these moments with me into the new year.

It is always difficult to pick out my favourite moments from the year and I'm sure I'll think of even more after I post this. Hope you all had a wonderful year with special moments you can look back on fondly.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Make Kindness a Lifestyle

It's that time of year where you see many people going out of their way to spread a little kindness or Christmas cheer. It's a wonderful thing to see and definitely spreads the warm and fuzzies.

But after Christmas is done will people go back to their normal lives? Heads down and focusing on their immediate surroundings? Sadly the majority of people do but this shouldn't be the norm. Kindness should be a part of your lifestyle no matter what the season.

Some of my favourite people and charities are spreading much kindness which I hope to see carry on into the new year. For example The Deliberate Mom is raising money for the homeless by donating $1 every time she talks about the cold weather. You can follow and support this endeavour through the twitter hashtag  #cashforthecold .

And today the Ronald McDonald House Northern Alberta is encouraging people to spread good will through random acts of kindness using the hashtag #RMNARAK . It's wonderful to see people do things like shovelling snow for neighbours, making goodies for the local fire station, and plugging meters for others on the street.

So let's try to keep all this goodness up throughout the entire year. MAKE kindness a lifestyle, not just a seasonal whimsy.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

October and November Book Reviews

I've been plugging away trying hard to meet my goal of reading 75 books this year. I'm so close I can taste it! I'm going to have to be picky about my last few books to make sure I don't select a long, boring book that takes me extra time to read. Here's a short summary of what I read in October and November:

1. The Cuckoo's Calling - J.K. Rowling: I have a hard time describing this one to people. I enjoyed the story about a hard-luck detective asked to look into the death of a famous model. The writing was well done, and the characters were interesting but I felt the book was too long. I think if she could have taken a few scenes out she could have taken out 100 pages which would have made the story move a little more quickly.

2. The Raven Boys - Maggie Stiefvater: This was a YA book selected as one of our book club selections for the year. I found aspects to this book to be refreshing and different that many, many other YA books. I like that the author steered away from the traps I feel many YA authors fall into. Unfortunately I can't get into great detail as I will spoil the plot but it was a good read. My only beef with it was that I had no idea it was going to carry on into a second book so I was disappointed I didn't have any closure, yet!

3. Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods - Suzanne Collins: This series just does not get old! I am really enjoying each book and the new missions Gregor ends up on. Suzanne does a great job coming up with interesting settings and new characters. This journey has Gregor in search of a cure to a deadly virus. Read the series, it's a great one!

4. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood: I have always wanted to read this book ever since seeing part of the movie back in the 90's. This is the first book of Margaret's I've ever read and all I can say is that I can't wait to read more of her work. Her story of a future America where women are used essentially as concubines to reproduce is bleak and yet moving. I can see why it's considered a classic work of literature and made it onto the 501 Must Read List.

5. Coraline - Neil Gaiman: With every book I read of Neil's the more I fall in love with his work. The tale of Coraline is so wonderfully creepy!! I can't imagine reading it to my kids as it's a little too scary for little ones but I sure enjoyed it. Coraline discovers a new door in her house which leads to another home very similar, and yet very different to her own. Her other mother and other father want her to stay in their version of her house but Coraline soon realizes this is not a good idea. Original and creepy, a great mix!

6. Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card: I'm on a roll with books that I've enjoyed! Again I felt this story had many original concepts and honestly an ending I didn't see coming until very close to the end. This story is about humans training children to help fight a race of bug-like aliens that attacked Earth in the past. I haven't had a chance to see the movie yet but hear it's a good adaptation to the book. The only thing I had trouble with in this book was the racism.

7. Journey to the Centre of the Earth - Jules Verne: Annnnnd here my streak of great, enjoyable books ends. I really struggled to get through this book. I know it's a classic but I found it to be very difficult to get through at times. While the idea had merit, Verne got so bogged down with the initial trip details that when they finally got there the centre didn't seem like a very interesting place to go. I'd have to say if you're going to read about the centre of the Earth go read the above mentioned series in #3.


1. Divergent - Veronica Roth: Finally! I waited over a year for this book to come out! Sadly there were so many details I didn't remember about the ending of Insurgent that I was baffled by a few things. I really did myself a disservice by not reading the last few chapters of Insurgent before picking this one up. Of the trilogy I have to say this was the slowest moving one but I think the ending fit the series so well done Veronica!

2. Dark Places - Gillian Flynn: This is the story of a young girl who had her family murdered when she was 7 and she was the key witness in getting her teen aged brother charged with the murders. As an adult Libby is paid to go back and talk to some of the people from her past to see if she really saw what she thought she saw. Gillian does a good job moving back and forth in the story from the sequence of events from the past to how Libby is discovering new facts in the present. Interesting and easy read.

3. When did you see her last? - Lemony Snickey: This is the second book in the series that follows Lemony as a preteen as an apprentice in secret society. In this story he's searching for a missing young promising scientist. It's  a super enjoyable series!

4. Beatrice & virgil: Yann Martel: What a weird book! Generally it's about a successful writer named Henry who has suffered a writing setback and floats through a series of jobs and hobbies. The weird part is he stumbles upon a fan who requests Henry's help with his own writing about Beatrice and virgil, a story about a monkey and donkey who are friends. The story takes a turn I didn't expect and leaves you feeling a little creeped out. It's an odd book for sure!

5. Gregor and the Marks of Secret - Suzanne Collins: Book 4 in the Underland series and just as good as the previous books. I can't really say much about it without spoiling parts of the book so I'll just say it's really good!

6. The Fantastic Mr. Fox - Roald Dahl. Roald is another author I like who comes up with the most unique stories to tell. I enjoyed reading this one with my 5 year old son. I like how ingenuitive Mr. Fox was to keep his family and friends alive. Cute book.   

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Job Well Done

I just wanted to send a quick post out to everyone who contributed to our 2nd Because Edmonton Cares Diaper Drive in support of the Edmonton Food Bank.

We had our first company donation of 1,800 diapers which was a huge boost! We also had several people who asked their friends and family for diapers/formula in lieu of gifts at birthday parties; they raised hundreds of diapers and multiple cans of formula.

In just about 3 weeks we donated 5,000 diapers (twice our goal), 36 cans of formula, 14 tins of formula and 24 packages of baby wipes. The Edmonton Food Bank was taken aback at how large our donation was this time; we took up an entire pallet!

So I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who donated. It means so much to me that you took the time to sort through your closets, meet me for a pick-up, or go to the store and buy a donation. You are GREATLY appreciated and are helping to make this city even better.

                                             A job well done Edmonton, a job well done.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

August and September Book Reviews

There's just so many wonderful stories out there I wish I had more time to read and then write about each one I encounter. Alas, I must keep these short or I 'll never do them anymore!

1. The Silver Stay - Jeannette Walls: What I liked about this novel is I think it's the first where she hasn't based it off her own, or the life of one of her relatives. It's the story of two sisters who are abandoned by their mother and need to make their own way to stay with an uncle they've never met. They encounter a bit more stability with their uncle but also some challenges with the community and an employer. What is sweet is they get to uncover bits and pieces of their mother's past and learn a little more about where they came from while growing closer to each other and their uncle. All in all very enjoyable.

2. Mistress of the Sun - Sandra Gulland: Sandra is the author of the Josephine B. Trilogy, which I really enjoyed, so I thought I'd give this one a try. It's about the woman who becomes the mistress of Louis XIV of France. There is a large back story of how she became noticed by Louis XIV and it takes up at least 1/3 of the book. The character is interesting though there is so much plotting and back-stabbing you tend to forget who is good and who is bad. The book is historical fiction so it is enjoyable but leaves you wondering what is real and what is not.

3. I Am Legend - Richard Matheson: One of my 501 books I was happy to read because I'd already seen the movie and enjoyed it. I was really surprised to see how very different it was from the movie!! Why did the movie not take more of the original story as it was well worth a translation to screen. The last known survivor on earth is fighting zombies that used to be his neighbours, friends, etc. and at the same time is trying to learn what happened. It's an incredible struggle for him to daily endure the taunts of these creatures and have no one and seemingly no hope. Give this book a read as the ending is well worth a good discussion with others who have read it.

4. InterWorld - Neil Gaiman: I pretty much love everything Neil writes so just go buy his stuff :)
This is a story of Joey who discovers he can walk between different variations of Earth and our timeline.  He's not the only one as he's joined by the other versions of himself who can do the same thing! They battle two sets of other worldly beings who are bent on using the versions of Joey to their advantage. Pretty cool ideas and enjoyable for people of all ages.

5. City of Bones - Cassandra Clare: I saw this movie was scheduled to come out so figured I'd give it a try. What I like is that it has some original ideas when it comes to teen lit/fantasy. It even has some neat twists in the end. It's is much better than the movie (as usual) and if you've read the book you likely didn't enjoy everything the omitted that was great about the books. It's about Clary who discovers she has some abilities to see a secret world within our world. She realizes her mother has been hiding the truth from her and embarks on a journey to find out all the secrets as well as stop a madman who is threatening her family. Fun times.

6. The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing - Tarquin Hall: This is another adventure of Vish Puri, Most Private Investigator. Right now I'd have to say this is creeping onto the lists of my current favourite series I'm reading. I love the character of Vish because he's smart and crafty but also vain, proud and humourous; to me it makes him more real than some other characters. These stories never turn out to be about just 1 case so I'll just say it's a super fun series and this one is mainly about the death of a "myth-buster" and Vish sets out to find out what happened.

7. Fortuna's Ghost - Evan Bly: This little gem is a graphic novel written by a friend of mine. He's one talented dude but you can only get his book by contacting me and I can have him send you one. The graphic novel is about love and battling worlds in space - pretty cool! You can also check out his awesome graphic work on youtube here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7hWkxBRevw

8. Let's Pretend This Never Happened - Jenny Lawson: A super humorous look into the life of The Bloggess herself, Jenny Lawson. She has a very peculiar sense of humour that can easily be attributed to her parents! I laughed out loud at times but also cringed during others. Enjoyable but not for faint-of-heart parents who may take exception to how she was raised.

9. The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds - Alexander McCall Smith: I believe this is the 9th book in the Isabel Dalhousie series. I enjoy Alexander McCall Smith's writing quite a bit but find Isabel a bit dull at times. Thankfully the situations he usually puts her in help drive the story and keep me in there when times get slow.

10. Gregor the Overlander - Suzanne Collins: This is book 1 in a wonderful YA series written by the same author who wrote the Hunger Games series. You follow Gregor who accidentally follows his sister down a grate in the laundry room that takes him to the centre of the Earth where rats, mice and cockroaches are human-sized and can talk. He sets out on an adventure to help the "humans" of the Underland while also trying to discover what happened when his father disappeared. It's well written, original and engaging. Thumbs up!

11. Orange is the New Black - Piper Kerman: *sigh* I just did not enjoy this book. The TV series must be VERY loosely based on this book because I found myself struggling to get through it. The pacing was off, the details were unnecessary, and there was very little substance. Piper writes about her experience going to jail 10 years after being convicted of transporting drugs. I found the book to be a bit boring so  I wouldn't suggest picking it up.

12. Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane - Suzanne Collins: Book 2 in the Overlander series and again it was very enjoyable. I think my favourite part of this series is his sister Boots and Gregor's fierce desire to protect her. In this book Gregor sets out once again to help the Underlanders take care of a growing threat to their world. Great series for lovers of YA or kids ages 10 and up.

13. Who Could it Be At This Hour? - Lemony Snicket: Love it! This is book 1 in the 4 book series where we go back to when Lemony Snicket was a boy. He becomes an apprentice in an unusual organization and they set out to solve a crime about a stolen statue. Very smartly written and it's easy to love Lemony as a young boy.

14. Love's Sweet Bait - Jennifer A. Thomas: I was asked to read a short story by a friend of a friend and all I can say is that I'm so very pleased to be given the honour of reading it. The story centers on the life and love between Joshua and Catherine, a robot and a human. I finished the story in one sitting and was left wanting more. I wanted Jennifer to turn this short story into a novel so I could learn more about their era, their meeting, and their relationship growing from a working one to a partnership based on love and respect. It's incredibly sweet and made me cry. Exceptionally well written piece of work; watch out for Jennifer as I think she's got a great future in literature!