Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The conundrum of teacher gifts

I've tried a few different ideas for Christmas gifts for teachers over the past few years.  I have several good friends who are teachers so I polled some of them for ideas of what not to get.  No mugs (obvious), no homemade gifts by kids (sounds harsh, I know, but the teachers don't know what to do with them afterwards and feel bad throwing them away), no wine (in case they don't drink).  With all that in mind, I've normally stuck with something small from Ten Thousand Villages and then baked them some goodies based on what I already know they like.  This usually seems popular.  This year however, Emily's teacher announced right off the bat in September that she LOVES chocolate brownies and I've already heard that many of her students' families are giving her brownies.  So, while I am willing to put myself out there and say that it's possible that I make the best brownies EVER, I'm not going to make Mrs. B any brownies.

So, what to do?  I started with getting each teacher a can of Ten Thousand Villages Milk Hot Chocolate (super yum).  And I was thinking of taking the easy way out with a Chapters gift card but then I got a small catalogue in the mail from Unicef.  It's entitled Unicef Survival Gifts 2011/21 Gift Guide.  You can view the catalogue online here .

The first page of the catalogue reads: "Give gifts from our carefully chosen Survival selection, and give children what they need most to survive and to thrive."  The next page of the catalogue has a detailed map of where the Unicef Survival gifts will go (some to Central America but most to Africa).  The gifts are divided into sections: Health, Education, Water, Food, Emergency and Play.

I was intrigued but assumed that, like most Living Gift programs, none would be priced at what I budgeted for teacher gifts (around $20 per teacher).  I was wrong.

You can buy pencils for a school for $20 (that is 1,000 pencils), water purification tablets for $20, a Plumpy'Nut packet (peanut-based food for a child) for $10, therapeutic milk for $25, a writing and sketching pack for $10, and storybooks for $23.

I chose the pencils for schools for one teacher and the storybooks for another.  There are also lots of gifts in the $30 range as well.  I particularly like the Art-in-a-Box for $30 and the Literacy Pack for $30.  I will be mailed a card for each teacher that will inform the teachers that these particular gifts have been bought in their name.

I think they'll appreciate these gifts a lot and I know there are children in Africa who will appreciate them even more.  It feels good to do something like this and to know that I'm not adding to a pile of gifts that aren't really needed.  I think it also sends a great message to my kids about eschewing consumerism and using your money where it is really needed and that giving a gift doesn't have to be about buying something tangible.  It can be about finding a different yet meaningful way to express your appreciation for someone that also helps someone in dire need in the process.  I hope that they see how well this represents the meaning of Christmas when they present their gifts to their teachers.

I can see this becoming a yearly tradition for teacher gifts for our family.

What do you normally do for teacher gifts?  If you're a teacher, what do you love to get? Or dread?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Why we will always turn the radio on from now on before any car trip

When I started writing this post two days ago, I wrote: One week ago right now, I was sitting down to a lovely dinner of chicken burgers and other yummies with my friend Michelle and her two lovely daughters (and John and our kids) at Michelle's house in Waterloo.

But now it is two days later and I finally have downloaded the rest of the photos to go with this post.  My intro kind of lost its poetic appeal when I have to say "as of a week ago two days ago, I was sitting down to a lovely dinner..."  Such is life around my house.  Great intentions!

We had a great weekend two weekends ago visiting our friends and family in Waterloo and vicinity.  The drive there was HORRENDOUS, worse than last year even when construction on the 401 heading west slowed us down so badly that we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in scenic Trenton, Ontario.

That was a total walk in the park compared to our drive to KW last weekend.

We hit the road 30 minutes after we had planned to (which is pretty much what we always plan for).  The kids were chatting so much in the car that I didn't turn the radio on to listen to CBC Ottawa's drive-home show.  (Cue foreboding music here.  DA DA DAAAAA.)  We stopped for supper in Kingston.  I got a curious Facebook message from my friend Jan asking if we'd encountered the slowdowns on the 401 because of "that accident" she'd heard about on the radio.  Nothing so far, I commented.  On we went.  DA DA DAAAAA.

Not long after we were faced with endless brake lights.  We had just passed an exit that would have allowed us to get to Highway 7.  Instead we sat between that exit and the next one for...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Why hula-hooping by an almost-40-year-old should only be attempted under the supervision of a qualified physician

I was lazily preparing breakfast on Saturday morning (not rushing to make school lunches and breakfast at the same time like I do from Monday to Friday) when I heard Rob Burwash's sleep-inducing voice announce that there would be a hoop-a-thon/hoop dance/hoop thingy on Sunday afternoon in front of the National Art Gallery.  A woman came on to talk all about it - hoopers (yes, that's what they're called) from all over Ottawa would gather with their hoops and hoop til the sun went down.

It took me all of about 4 seconds to decide where I would be on Sunday afternoon.  Because hooping = awesome.

Emily and Hope really like hula-hooping and so does their mother (not that I imbibe often but when I have I rather love it).  Emily is especially fond of it along with her friend, Rebecca.  In fact, I even made hoops for them all last year (it is really fun to make your own hoops and they are SUPERIOR quality to the poor excuse for a hula hoop that you find at Canadian Tire).  And so, I invited Rebecca and our neighbour, Anna, to join Emily, Hope and me on Sunday afternoon to hoop the day away.

Here is what we saw when we arrived (after driving all over God's green Byward Market to find a parking spot):

Coordinated hoop dancing!


There were piles of hoops to be tried - all homemade jobbies of course - and we tried many.



The favourite was this giant hoop:


I hooped right along with all the girls while trying to perfect some tricks (or at least get them to a point where the hoop wasn't hurtling across the brickwork at breakneck speed aiming to remove a tooth from an unsuspecting hooper or non-hooping innocent bystander).

We stayed for two hours.  I was hooping for about 90 minutes of that.

As I said, I don't exactly hoop a lot.

So it shouldn't come as a surprise that the next day I was whining incessantly mentioning on Facebook that my back was hurting.  And later that day, I tried to bend over and pick something up and could barely stand upright without the help of that "I've fallen and can't get up" contraption due to my abdominals being in shreds.  Oh and also, my neck hurt.  I think I hurt my neck when I was perfecting my neck spin/launch the hoop to my hands trick that was oh-so-awesome and yes, it will appear on Youtube someday or at least on Canada's Got Talent.

A good number of people were there - it seems mostly hooping teachers and their families/friends - and us.  And then a slightly strange woman who attached herself to our little posse.  She was nice and friendly and really liked kids and I assumed she was there with her own kids but then she said and did a few things that made me realize that there is no way she has kids.  Like, for example, she was INSISTENT that we pose for a photo with the hoops arranged JUST SO and everyone SMILING and LOOKING AT HER... RIGHT NOW.  SIGH.  WHY AREN'T YOU LOOKING OVER HERE?  And me thinking... you do not have kids because someone with kids would not even attempt to get a staged artistic shot with four girls, one of whom is five years old and all of whom have been HOOPING for almost two hours.  Because we all know that that would only be attempted in order to illustrate why you should never attempt it.

That grimace is me wondering why I didn't stop this idea in its tracks.
And then she insisted on drawing portraits of the girls right after I suggested I take them for hot chocolate before heading home.  So now we have four tired girls with the hot chocolate carrot dangling in front of them being asked to sit quietly and NOT MOVE after hooping for two hours.

Recipe for success!

It would have gone more quickly if Emily's damn hair hadn't been so difficult to translate to the page.

But we did finally get the hot chocolate, and a sketch of the girls, and lots of stories to tell.

And possibly a hernia.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Do or do not. There is no try.

When I saw this shirt on Etsy, I had to buy it for Henry.


First, I'm a big Star Wars fan.  John is an even bigger Star Wars fan. 

Also, this Yodaism fits Henry to a tee.  This guy is bigger, stronger, smarter and definitely more mischievous than you would assume. 

To your own peril.

As evidenced by him pulling down the laptop, climbing on the couch and opening it.  This is just one of the many, many moments of Henry's day when he is into something, pulling down something, messing up something or taking something.

The morning often starts with him opening the dishwasher (on his own - it requires that he depresses a latch and then pulls the door open), removing cutlery and throwing the cutlery into the cutlery drawer.

He then moves on to opening my iPad, finding the video folder, choosing Netflix and then finding a Barney episode to watch.  On.  His.  Own.

After that, it's time to empty the Tupperware cupboard or perhaps unfold all the laundry or maybe walk around with the cloth diaper pail.  Or climb up to Emily's bunkbed.  You know... if he's in the mood.

Or perhaps he'll find my teacup and drink the remnants.  Or eat garbage off the floor.  Or out of the compost bin.  Yum.  Breakfast of champions.

He may wear my underwear around on top of his pants.  Or pull every Wii game out of the drawer.  Or pull a step-stool over to the sink and start playing in the dishwater.  And take photos of his day with my iPhone.

Yeah, I no longer judge him by his size. Actually, now that I re-read this post... I'm starting to think that Henry is actually Yoda.  Without the Jedi powers.  Although they still may show themselves.  Next time my plane is stuck in a Dagobah swamp, I'm going to see if he can lift it with just a blink of his stink eye.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A snapshot of me right now

Given that I've pretty much abandoned this space of late, I think I'll just give you a quick snapshot of me right now... Actually, it's more for the me of a future since most of the time I figure that's who I'm writing for anyway.

I've made a small change in my daily eating habits that I feel could have some great long-term benefits and just plain makes me feel better about how I'm treating myself: I'm eating vegetarian lunches which must include a good amount of raw vegetables.  Fish is allowable (and encouraged).

I'm completely ADDICTED to Camelot on CBC.  Have you been watching it? If not, watch the first episode and then don't give up.  Watch the second episode and I guarantee you'll be completely hooked.

I'm getting excited about the plans that Isobel (dearest neighbour) and I have for Sugarplum Fairy Homebaking.  I love that I now have a partner in crime to share the burden and generate ideas with! Also, she rules at decorating cakes while I decidedly do not.

Why is it that it is always the same small group of people in any large group that are always the ones who volunteer?  Church, school, the community... always the same few people.  And we same few people are starting to get tired out!

Yesterday I decided that I'm tired of how our house looks inside.  I'm sick of our wood furniture.  I'm tired of looking at late early 2000s IKEA furniture.  I'm tired of our once-beloved earth tones.  I want some bold colours, some great art and a cool mix of eclectic furniture - American colonial, modern, even Victorian.  With some leather here and there.  I want a bunch of money so I can do all this redesign.

Have you seen this photo?  I'll link to it but I won't post it so that it doesn't show up on people's mobiles or iPads as the photo that introduces this post.  You all know that I'm new to Girl Guides of Canada but I love the organization and what they give girls around the world as though I've been a lifetime Guider.  When I saw this I was disgusted and angry.  Maybe you'll choose to make jokes and take it lightheartedly.  But not me.  I've reached my limit on the sexualization of girlhood in every sphere.  Nothing is left untouched.  This is an organization that goes against every message in this photo and to take it lightheartedly is to miss what this is really doing and to miss the messages that our girls and young women (and we old ones) are being sent by the world around us on a daily basis (just the tip of the iceberg is that we are valued mostly as sexual beings).  We in Girl Guiding (not to mention parents, teachers and many, many others who work with girls on a daily basis) work really hard to combat these messages each time we're with our units because a pillar of the Guiding movement is building strong, independent and confident women who are leaders and feel empowered to make great choices for themselves.  To use the very image of a Girl Guide to send the exact opposite message is disgusting at best and downright offensive at worst.  So laugh.  Make jokes.  Shrug it off.  Say you wouldn't say no to her cookies.  Just don't say it to me.