May 22, 2017

Hello, again, Instagram!

 

 

Here’s a funny story – Not that many weeks ago, I was on the verge of closing my Instagram account. I literally had a conversation with my BFF telling her that I have been thinking about shutting it down for a while.

The problem was that I just hadn’t been active on it for several years and thought I would focus on my social media faves…Facebook and Pinterest.

Fast forward to one-week later…I was at a dinner-party at my cousin, Meagan’s, house. I asked her opinion on what she thought I could do to improve this little blog of mine (she is my ‘go-to’ for all things social-media. She deals with it on a daily basis and she was actually the person who encouraged me to start Refined Imperfection).

Guess what she told me?

You got it – “Get on Instagram”.

See how in active I was on it? She didn’t even think I had it! Sheesh!

And so…here I am. Telling you that I am re-connecting with my Instagram and giving it some life. Now that I have spent some time getting re-acquainted with it…I kind of like it!

So, the moral of the story is that you can now follow me on Instagram and actually see what’s happening in my life these days…@RefinedImperfection

I really hope to see you there!

May 6, 2017

Is one of your children staying at, or visiting, the Alberta Children’s Hospital?

Is one of your children staying at, or visiting, the Alberta Children’s Hospital?

If so, have you heard of Emily’s Backyard?

If you haven’t, this blog post is definitely for you!

We have been visiting the Alberta Children’s Hospital (ACH) since the twins were born. We have mainly been there for clinic visits plus, one unfortunate trip to the emergency room, when Gray was accidentally burned on our gas fireplace.

Each visit we had to ACH, we either had one parent stay home with the non-visiting child or we tried our best to arrange childcare. Usually, after months of waiting to get in to see a specialist, I like to be focused on the appointments and not distracted by the extra parenting efforts that we are required with additional children. You know how it goes…

”Please don’t touch that, it’s not a toy.”

“No, you can’t climb on there.”

“Please get off the floor, it’s yucky.”

“Stop poking your sister.”

Having only the ‘patient-child’ in the appointment allows me focus on actually ‘hearing’ what is said and maybe taking a few notes with my phone. I also find that I have a reduced chance of forgetting to ask the questions I wanted to ask (or…like I mentioned earlier, actually ‘hearing’ and ‘retaining’ what the answers are).

If you have visited the hospital, for any reason, you have probably walked by it. It is a colourful play area, seen through windows, right as you enter the hospital. The name of it is posted above the doors (there is a second location on the second level of the hospital as well).

So, here it is…in case you aren’t aware (like I wasn’t)…it is a short-term childcare option available if you have a child staying in the hospital, or visiting a clinic.

And are you ready for this?

IT IS FREE!!!

What??? Why didn’t anyone mention this to us when we booked our clinic appointments? Man…if only I had known about this sooner. For some reason, it didn’t even occur to me that this was a service available to us. Don’t ask me what I thought it was for…or who it was for…but it just never occurred to me.

Anyhow, after 5 years of visiting ACH, I had a brainchild to check into it when Miss A had her most recent clinic visit just last month. I can’t believe how easy, and convenient, it was to book our son in.

If you are wondering how Emily’s Backyard works, here is some info you might find helpful:

 

-Emily’s Backyard is intended for patients, or siblings of patients, who are staying at (or visiting) the hospital

-This amazing service is free!

-Emily’s Backyard is suitable for children who are as young as infants and as old as early teens

-You cannot stay in Emily’s Backyard if you have any of the following symptoms: rash, cough, fever, runny nose, diarrhea, or nausea/vomiting

-There are a variety of activities available for kids to do…from toys to games to crafting

-There is a maximum time limit a child can be left at Emily’s Backyard (at the time of writing this, the maximum is 1.5 hours)

-Emily’s Backyard is operated by both staff and volunteers

-It is best to pre-register your child (which you can do up to two-weeks in advance), but they will work to accommodate drop-in if they can.

That’s it!

I booked the service by submitting an email (you can call or email) and I had a response the very next day…and it was good news…they had space!  A part of me was expecting to have to be put on a waitlist or something of that nature, but that was not the case at all.

I will also say that the environment was very welcoming and Gray didn’t have any troubles being dropped off at all.  He was playing happily when I came to pick him up after Miss A’s appointment.   In fact, the hardest part was trying to explain to Miss A why she couldn’t also visit.  They sent us off with a sticker for ‘both’ kids which I thought was a nice touch.  It also worked as a distraction for Miss A’s disappointment of seeing this fun place but not being able to stay and play.  Awesome!

Like I said earlier…I am a little disappointed and surprised that this fantastic service wasn’t mentioned in the past, when we have booked our appointments there…but now we know and we are so happy that we do!

If you are interested in more information, on Emily’s Backyard, you can get more information here.

Hopefully this post finds you ahead of any visits you might have with your littles there. If you have any additional thoughts or suggestions about Emily’s Backyard, please feel free to comment below.

Grayson playing when I came to pick him up from Emily’s Backyard

April 25, 2017

My Favourite YYC Used Kids’ Clothing, Toys and Gear Sale (plus tips for successful shopping!)

Living and raising a family in Calgary is expensive…especially if you have kids. Most of the parents I know are conscious about wanting to save money – and that’s why I want to tell you about my favourite used kid’s clothing, toys, and equipment sale here in the city.

Some of you may have heard me talk about my favourite local organization, TTMAC (the Twins, Triplets, and More Association of Calgary) before.  If not, you can check it out here. Not only are they a wonderful organizing supporting YYC families with mulitples, they also put on a really great consignment sale twice a year which is open to the general public.

Now, if you don’t have twins, triplets, etc., please don’t feel like this sale isn’t for you. Most items for sale there are not sold in pairs (although some are and that is super for those looking for coordinating outfits, toys, etc).

Here is what I love about the sale:

 

It is extremely well organized

Everything is sorted in the room based on category…clothes are organized by size, toys are all together, strollers are all together, bikes are all together, etc.

Everything in season

The timing is perfect for trying to update everyone’s spring/summer or fall/winter wardrobe in new sizes (depending on which sale you are attending).  Typically there is a sale in the spring and one, again, in the fall.

The variety is awesome!

This sale isn’t specific to just ‘clothes’ or ‘toys’.  Some of the items you will find here include: toys, strollers, high chairs, clothes sized newborn to size 12, gymnastics and dancewear, shoes, equipment, baby gear, bikes, books, and even maternity-wear.

Photo credits: Twins, Triplets, and More Association of Calgary

Coordinating items are available for those with multiples

This is awesome for those parents of twins, triplets, quadruplets, etc. who might like to coordinate their littles.  Where else can you easily find gently-loved items that match??

The organizer, and the sellers, are near and dear to my heart

TTMAC has been a great resource that I have been supported by since I was pregnant with Gray and Miss A.  I’m always really happy when I can try to ‘give back’.  The sale is run by TTMAC volunteers to sell consigned items from members.

 

Tips for Successfully Shopping the TTMAC Sale

 

Okay – so let’s talk strategy here! Before I attended my first sale, I got some good tips from other fellow parents. I have since added to this list and here it is:

Arrive as close to opening as possible

Of course the early bird gets the worm. If you want the best selection, you definitely should consider starting your shop early, when the sale begins.  If you do arrive early, you should expect a short line up.

Take advantage of special early access shopping privileges

If you are a TTMAC member, you can usually gain early access to shop ahead of the general public. If you are not a TTMAC member, make friends with someone who is and ask them if you can be their ‘token guest’.

Bring cash

Cash the only form of payment they accept…unless you are a TTMAC member, in which case, you can also pay by cheque if you present your membership card (if you have misplaced your membership card, you can email TTMAC to arrange to have a new one picked up right at the sale).

Bring bags

This is a BYOB situation (bring your own bag). You might be more comfortable shopping if you have a large-type bag that you can carry over your shoulder…I would pack something over-sized myself.

Consider leaving your strollers and children at home

Why? Well…you know. And if you don’t know…trust me, you don’t want to.

If you think you might be shopping for larger items, bring an ally (non-shopping partner)

One year I brought my girlfriend and she found a great sandbox she wanted to buy, but she was worried to leave it alone to keep shopping. If you think this could happen to you, you may want to bring a spouse or buddy that you can leave your items with to keep an eye on.

Once you arrive…if you are considering an item, throw in your bag and keep shopping

If you are anything like me, you might get indecisive about purchases. That’s fine…but don’t waste time standing around thinking about it – you have valuable goods to get your hands on! Toss anything you are considering into your bag and keep going. Once you have been through the sale, review all of your items and then put back what you have decided against. But listen…don’t be that person who dumps it where it doesn’t belong.  If you can’t get it to where it should go, find a volunteer to give it to and just let them know you changed your mind (they are usually well-marked by the shirts they are wearing).

Enjoy your goods and revel in your savings!

That’s it! I won’t post the details of this year’s sale in this blog post since it can change from year to year…but you can always get current information (map, floor plan, etc) from the TTMAC Sales page.

Happy shopping!

This haul was from my first TTMAC sale in 2014 – I bought all of these goods for a grand total of $37.50!

April 4, 2017

Conversations with the Twins: My Body, Conception and Delivery

Now that the twins are five years old, they are more curious than ever. They are forever asking us in-depth questions about ‘ANYTHING’ and ‘EVERYTHING’.

Lately, I have been fielding a tonne of questions from them about my body, their conception, delivery and even about death. It has been a confusing, funny, and scary journey trying to navigate what information is age appropriate for them yet will still satisfy their curiosity.

Here is a recent question I got from Miss A:

Miss A: “Mommy, did I hatch out of an egg in your tummy?”

Me: “Ummm….can we talk about this later?”

Miss A: “Okay.”

Insert panic! Wow. I was not really prepared for that and I was totally unsure about how to answer it. So, I didn’t. I basically just put it off hoping she would forget about it.

Of course, she did not.

When she asked me again, a few days later, I told her I would like to talk about it in a few days after a special book arrived that would help me explain it. She agreed this would be okay and I hurriedly ordered a book that a psychologist at the Calgary Regional Fertility Program had recommended to us at one of our appointments. I remember she had suggested that when time came, we should be honest with the twins about their conception to avoid mis-trust in the future. So, I hopped online and ordered up her recommendation, a book called, ‘I loVe my Family‘.  See the ‘IVF’ in there?  This is a book about assisted conception for young children.

The book arrived and we read it…it very ‘lightly’ touched on the subject but I think it was still a bit confusing for the kids. Well, obviously Miss A was still confused because a couple of days after that…

Miss A: “Mommy, I know I hatched out of an egg in your tummy, but you didn’t tell me how I got out.”

Jesus.

Okay, so now there were two problems. First of all, she thinks she hatched out of an egg in my tummy. Second of all, she wants to know how she got out.

Why me??  I’m not ready for this!

But wait, it got better…

Miss A: “…Oh! I know! I must have come out of your mouth!”

Pretty much I was totally dying at this point. Panicked, confused, my heart was literally racing. …but, I just couldn’t let it continue so, I semi-blurted out to her, “You came out of my vagina!”.

(Insert a very long pause)

Miss A: “Did I come out of your bum?”

Me: “No, you did not come out of my bum. You came out of my vagina.”

Miss A: “Oh.” (insert another long pause) “I would like to see that sometime.”

…and thank the heavens above, the conversation ended there.  For now.


Now Gray, on the other hand, has been very curious about my body.

Right or wrong, I set the kids up with something to play with in the bathroom with me when I’m having a shower, so they do still see me getting ready for my day. Is five-years-old too old for that? I feel like we are on the cusp of needing to be more mindful of not being clothes-less in front of our opposite gendered kids…but I still feel like they should be supervised while I’m in the shower so, you can see the dilemma.

The other day I had just gotten out of the shower…

Gray: “Mommy, why do you have lines on your bum?”

Me: “Because my bum grew to fast at one time.”

Gray: “Is that what happened to your tummy, too?”

Me: “Yes.”

Gray: “Is that what happened to your breast?”

Me: (chuckling) “No, that definitely didn’t happen to my breast.”

Gray: (reaches up and ‘pokes’ my breast with one finger) “Then why is it falling down?”

Ha!!!!

…And there you have it! I’m not saying that these are the ‘right’ conversations; they are just the ‘real’ conversations.

If you happen to have come across a book you think would be perfect for us, please let me know! I’m obviously in need of some help here!

February 12, 2017

Birthday Party Loot Bags – It’s Okay to Say ‘No’!

Can we talk about birthday party loot bags for a moment? I really want to know if you ‘love them’ or ‘hate them’? Do you think it’s ‘taboo’ not to give them out?

The twins have a birthday party coming up and, to be honest, I’m not going to be providing loot bags this year. I’m kinda feeling guilty about it…but isn’t that kind of ridiculous?

The truth is that, since I went back to work (if you missed the post about this, you can find it here), I hardly have time to get out birthday party invitations in a timely fashion – let alone organizing appropriate, affordable, thoughtful loot bags. For me, affordable and thoughtful are the key points…if you have 10 kids and spend $5, or more, each…that’s $50! $50, people!!! If you are spending that kind of money on loot bags, you want them to be appreciated and enjoyed, right?

I remember one of the first years I did loot bags, I was discussing them with my friend Kim. She challenged me and asked me why I was doing them – was it to ‘keep up with the Jones’’? It was a different perspective…it made me think about the purpose of why we do give out goody bags.

Was it about keeping up with the Jones’? Honestly, the truth was that it wasn’t about that at all. I didn’t feel like I ‘had’ to provide them to ‘keep up’…I think it was really more of a cultural thing. The same way we eat cake at a birthday…there is often a loot bag given out. It felt a little more like tradition. I do remember being so excited to receive them at birthday parties when I was a child; it was fun to create the same kind of experience for the twins’ little friends!

But, here is the thing. This year, after planning an ‘off-site’ birthday party, extending invitations, and organizing the other food and details, I just don’t feel like I have the time or energy to do any more this year. On top of that, we have already spent a great deal of money on this party since it is off-site and since we have the twins (which makes our guest list a little longer). Shouldn’t that be enough?

On top of this, if I’m being totally honest, I have heard various parents comment on what is an acceptable loot bag standard and I feel like this does complicate how I approach planning loot bags. I mean, now I’m trying to find something perfect…for a reasonable price…for 14 kids…but not include what I have heard to be unacceptable loot-bag fare. Gah. In case you don’t know, here is a list of potentially unacceptable items:

…Dollar store ‘trinkets’ that break easily.

…Treats that other kids might not be permitted to eat.

…Items you may find age-appropriate but another parent doesn’t

So, now take that list and try to find something everyone will enjoy. Sounds so fun, right?

(Insert my head shaking ‘no’ here.

Isn’t a loot bag a gift? Should we really have to be so conflicted about what kind of items we ‘gift’ out?

Here is another point to consider…on the heels of talking about the fact that a loot bag is a ‘gift’…is it ‘necessary’ to be gifting children for coming to a birthday party in the first place? I mean, really…please come to our party where we have entertained you, fed you cake (and maybe snacks) and now let me give you a present for coming. Are we setting the right expectation for our kids by providing these every single year?

One thing that is really important to me as a parent is to raise my kids to be gracious and thoughtful and to not act or feel entitled. A part of me worries that my kids are going to expect that they need to receive a loot bag every time they go to a birthday party. I remember a friend of mind telling me a story about how, as a single parent, she put on a birthday party for her son. At the end of the party, a child basically chastised her since she hadn’t offered him a take-away. What??? Kind of horrible, right?

So…I’m not saying that I won’t ever do loot bags again but I do just want to say that, once in a while, we should just give them a break. I think that should be okay.

To my mom and dad friends who take the time and effort to send these home with my child…they are definitely appreciated! …BUT…I want you to know that having my child (or children for that matter) to your party is also ‘enough’.

In my opinion, it is totally okay to say ‘no’ to the loot bag. This year, that’s exactly what I’m doing.

#SayNoToTheLootBag     #NoBirthdayLoot     #NoLootForYou

February 5, 2017

Why have I been ignoring you??

I have been a bad, bad blogger – Have you felt neglected?

I’m really sorry if you did…I have been thinking about all of you (and this beloved blog) so much for all of this last month! I have missed you!

The thing is, something really unexpected happened very last minute right as we entered the new year – I went back to work full-time.

It isn’t permanent…it is a contract that will take me into spring…I’m really excited to have this opportunity but it has thrown my world completely upside down. For real.

Here’s the thing. I’m working for my ‘pre-kids’ employer…in a job that I LOVE…for a company I also really love…but it’s a lot and a really big change for our entire family. I went from my usual ‘life of leisure’ (or so we-will-call-it) to life in the fast lane working on over-drive! I think I may be running on adrenalin.

The last 30 or so days have been a ridiculous adjustment of ups and downs, pros vs cons, and sacrifices. If I’m just summarizing what the adjustment around this decision has felt like, here is rollercoaster I have experienced:

Upside: My old boss still thinks I’m capable!

Downside: Am I? What if I’m not? What if I fail AND sacrifice my family time while I’m at it?

 

Upside: My bank account will be replenished!

Downside: There is a cost to that – I had way less time with Gray, Miss A, and Darren and, literally, no days off as a family. Not even one in over a month!

 

Upside: It feels so good to have a piece of my old identity back! I am remembering I have a worth beyond being a mom and wife (please don’t send me hate-mail for saying this!  Huge props to all the full-time, stay-at-home parents out there!)

Downside: Is there a downside? If there is, I haven’t thought of it.

 

Upside: I’m keeping myself current in my field, with my employer, and my fingers in the ‘work-pie’.

Downside: Whoah! I’m on a HUGE learning curve since things have actually changed A LOT since I left! That doesn’t feel good when you’re trying to make good and efficient use of a short time. Also my perfectionist personality, that likes to have all of the information before going forward with decisions, is about to blow up!   …BUT, there isn’t time for that! Shall we ‘wing it’???

 

Upside: Oh, it feels nice to wear make-up again!

Downside: How do you apply make-up again?

 

Upside: Darren gets to see my hair in a hair-style other than ‘messy bun’!

Downside: Covering up gray hair is expensive! Also, why does my hair have to be so difficult? Pregnancy ruined it! That happens sometimes.

 

Upside: We can think about saving more aggressively for some spring ‘glamping’ projects we have planned!

Downside: I don’t have time to plan said ‘spring Glamping projects’.

 

Upside: I really like my co-workers!

Downside: I really miss my kids! …And even my husband!

 

Upside: Darren has really been pulling his weight around the house and has really worked hard to take on his share!

Downside: Hey! Why am I just discovering these ‘hidden talents’ now??

It is NOT easy working full-time AND parenting (…and running a small business…and being a blogger…).

I know this may be a controversial thing to say, but for me, it is much harder working outside the home than being home full-time. I want to still do all the same things I did before for my family – cook ‘clean’ food for my family, spend good quality time with my kids, have an organized home….but I simply can’t. Some of it, sometimes all of it, just has to be let go of. Today none of the beds got made, we ate pizza for dinner, and I have spent my evening fielding work calls. Now, as I am writing this blog post, Darren is relaxing and watching Netflix.

Romantic or what??

Honestly, overall, I’m glad to have the opportunity to work this contract. It gives me a chance to put in some time but still have the summer off and enjoy my last time at home with the twins before they start kindergarten in the fall. In the mean time, I’m adjusting….and learning to let some things go. That simply has to be okay.

So, bear with me please while I sort out how this whole ‘balance’ thing works for working parents! I do promise not to be away for so long next time!

xo

Dionne

January 3, 2017

Tips for Choosing and Registering Your Child in Preschool

If you’re anything like me, you may put a great deal of thought into most of the decisions you make and things you buy – And ‘Whether or not you send your child preschool’ OR ‘Which preschool you choose for your child’ won’t be the exception.

Because I wasn’t completely convinced that preschool was for our family, that was really the starting point for me. Actually, truth be known, I had decided against preschool all together for my duo – but a good friend encouraged me to reconsider our decision (based on the educational path we are hoping to take), so I gave it some more serious thought.

Really, that’s the first place to start – decide whether, or not, you want your child to attend preschool.

Things to Consider When Deciding Whether or Not to Send Your Child to Preschool:

Could this be an opportunity for my child to learn to socialize? Many parents worry that their child may not be well-socialized and consider pre-school an opportunity to introduce them to other children and being in an un-parented (not to be confused with ‘unsupervised’) environment.

Are academics important to me at this age? Many preschools offer a component of learning. There are also ‘play-based’ preschools if you prefer something a little more ‘casual’ for your child.

Do I need child-care and might like some fringe benefits a preschool might offer (more structured play or learning)? Preschools come in part-time and full-time form and could be an option if you need full-time care but want the additional structure or learning also. They don’t come without a price tag though.

Can I afford it? Without a doubt, preschool is an expense! …And if you are like us, with twins (or more), you can pretty much double the cost (sadly the ‘Two for the Price of One’ joke only applies to the ‘conception’ part of having twins).

Do I need a break? …OR… Am I willing to give up that time with my kids? Both are totally valid questions and I actually struggled both ways. I am always telling my husband I could use a break but somehow I also mourned at the thought of sending my duo to preschool (I actually wrote an entire blog post about my struggle with sending the kids to preschool on their first day, you can read it here).

…After thinking about all of these things, you may decide to pull the pin or you may decide to go forward with finding a preschool. If you decide against pre-school…that’s okay! As my friend Kim has been known to say, “There is no need to keep up with the Jones’!”

If you do decide to pursue finding an appropriate preschool, here is a list of things you may keep in mind.

How to Find and Appropriate Preschool:

Get recommendations from friends and people you trust – The first step I took was asking some of my trusted friends if they liked the preschools their children attended and ‘why’ they liked them.

Inquire to see if the preschool is fully licensed in your area – This ensures that they are held to a certain level of accountability. If you live in the Calgary, or even Alberta area, you may inquire about the preschool being fully licensed with the Alberta Government.

Find out if the preschool is ‘play-based’ or ‘academics-based’ – you may be looking for one or the other based on your wants or your child’s needs.

Understand what the teacher/student ratios look like – Obviously there is a benefit to having a lower ratio of students per teacher.

Inquire about what the teacher’s qualifications are – You may find there is a broad spectrum of qualifications different teachers have at different preschools.

Ask how, and how often, the school communicates with parents – you will likely be curious to get feedback regarding your child and it’s always nice to know what the school has planned for the day/week/month ahead.

What hours does the preschool operate? Some preschools run as little as a handful of hours per week and others are full-time. There are many options available out there to suit a variety of schedules!

Ask about the daily activities – What does a typical day look like? Will there be changing stations or variety offered?

Inquire about special events – Some preschools take initiative to put on special events such as Christmas or Winter Concerts, Picture Days, and Graduation Ceremony’s. I wouldn’t call these ‘deal-breakers’ but they could be a bonus if you are down to a couple of choices and looking for a deciding factor or wondering why one school may have higher fees than another.

Is there an open house you can attend? – Many preschools offer an open house at the preschool for you to attend with your child. This is a great way to see the environment and meet the teachers. You may also be invited to have a personal tour, which is usually set up by appointment. It’s definitely not a good idea to just show up, expecting a tour…be sure to call ahead to see if this is available.

Find out when registration starts – You may be surprised to hear that preschool registration can begin as early as January for a school year which begins the following September.  You won’t want to miss out on this important date!

Know if your preschool of choice tends to fill up – Some preschools are coveted and will fill up quickly. I remember one of my friends telling me she had experienced a line up at her preschool registration. I was totally not prepared to hear that, but I was happy to have the information.

…Good luck with your choice! It can be a difficult one to make, but hopefully you have some tools to get you started!  If you think I’ve missed something, please feel free to comment!

December 20, 2016

Keeping the Marriage Alive in November – our YYC Date Night

Doesn’t a full belly laugh just feel so good??? Let me tell you, it’s a great way to spend time with your spouse!

Darren and I really wanted to go to Amy Schumer Live and had talked about getting tickets for several months. In case you’re not familiar with who Amy Schumer is, she is a ‘no-topic-is-off-limits’ kind of comedienne. We both really enjoy her humour, which is strange almost, because we don’t typically have the same tastes in entertainment…so, bonus right??

We were really lucky to have found someone, rather last minute, who was not only selling a pair of good seats…but also for a great price!  I guess it was meant to be!

The show was really fun and Amy Schumer did a great job! …And this was a really fun change of pace for our typical ‘dinner out’ dates. We didn’t do a lot of ‘bonding’ but that’s okay! We both had a great time – it was so fun!

Oddly enough…November was a great month for us getting in some ‘alone time’ together.

On top of getting out to the comedy show, we were also able to grab a couple of lunches out together while the kids were in preschool! It was lucky, really! We even snuck in a little ‘day drink’ during one of them…imagine???

Huge bonus for us since getting out once per month can sometimes be a big stretch for us.  I guess we are making some progress on our monthly date journey!

#livingontheedge

December 7, 2016

The Polar Express Train Excursion at Aspen Crossing – My Review and Tips

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The Conductor punched a letter ‘G’ into Gray’s golden ticket

Since the Christmas that my twins were 2-years old, they have loved watching the Polar Express movie! I keep it stored away and only pull it out at Christmas-time to try to preserve some of the magic that the movie brings over the holiday season.

Last year, I learned that there was a Polar Express train ride being offered at Aspen Crossing in Mossleigh, Alberta (a little town, just south east of Calgary). I remember looking into it at that time, but just feeling like the season was too busy for us to add one more thing to our plate…so I left it alone.

This year was a different story and I really felt like it would be a perfect year to take the kids. They are 4-years old now and are really acting wondrous about all things these days. I knew it would be right up their alley!

The first thing I had to do was convince Darren that we should buy tickets for our family, which actually wasn’t very easy. At a starting price of $57 per ticket (plus tax) this is not a cheap excursion and it definitely required some consideration.  Initially he joked that I should just buy three tickets but then he finally got ‘on board’ (pun intended) and we took a chance!

When you arrive for your train ride, everyone meets in a common area. You find the table that holds the tickets and they will take your name and give you your train tickets – not just any ticket though, a replica of the ‘golden ticket’ that you see on the movie.

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It was fun to start the experience this way! The kids really enjoy receiving their own ticket and I think it created a little bit of a buzz for everyone. The train loading process went fairly quick and, just like on the movie, everyone loads the train and is greeted by the conductor! Note: he is in character but very happy…which was a relief since Gray and A were a little nervous about him…he is historically a bit of a grouch.

Can we talk about seating for a moment? There are various seating options you can purchase with the cheapest being in economy – and that was the max we were willing to spend. I can now assure you, they were great! We got our own table and chairs and had a window – and that’s all you really need to enjoy the ride and outside displays. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the economy section to anyone at all.

Early into the train ride, everyone receives a Polar Express mug, filled with hot chocolate, as well as a cookie. Very ‘animated’ waiters serve these and I thought they did a good job of getting everyone excited about the ride. Most of the families were starting to take photographs and, when they asked the staff for assistance with taking them, no one was ever denied.

Shortly after that, we enjoyed in-train visits from: The Conductor, The Hobo, Billy, the Hero Boy, the Know-It-All-Kid and, eventually, Santa Claus. The only character that didn’t make an appearance (that of course Miss A asked about) was the Hero Girl. I simply told her that she must be not feeling well or on a vacation and she easily accepted it.

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On our journey, we rode by several displays including a stop at Billy’s house (where he actually boards the train) and a stop at the North Pole where elves are excitedly dancing and Santa Claus boards. There was a lot of excitement around that – especially when he started making his way down the isles, gifting the children with their own Sleigh Bells. My heart, honesty melted, when Miss A placed her bell into her housecoat pocket – just to replicate what she had seen on the movie. Swoon!!!

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On the ride back to the station, there is a book reading (of course, it’s the namesake book – The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg) and the children are encouraged to dance and jingle their sleigh bells in the isles while the Waiters and parents (NOT Darren! lol) sang Christmas carols.

I have to say that the experience of this activity exceeded both my husband’s, and my, expectations. On top of the fact that there is a ride to the North Pole and a visit from Santa, there were many of the characters from the movie that made appearances on the ride and did a great, and convincing, job. Not only did they ‘look and dress’ like the characters, they were actually ‘in’ character as well and engaged with the passengers regularly. There were actually times during the ride where I felt the same magical feeling watching the kids as I did in Disneyland! Of course I’m not saying this ride is the same as a trip to Disney, but certainly there is some ‘magic’ that comes with the experience of riding this train.

Over all this was a really fun activity and something I think we would consider doing in future years again. Even Darren admitted that this excursion exceeded his expectations and said he would recommended it to others and will consider it again in the future for our family. Most importantly, the kids LOVED it!

Here are my tips if you go:

  1. Bring your kids in their pyjamas! It is encouraged and most of the kids (and some of the parents even) wore them.
  1. Pack a handful of plastic bags. You get to bring the Polar Express mugs home when you leave and, although you get a bag, we were offered 1 bag for every 2 mugs. I was a little nervous when I heard them ‘clanking’ around. It might be a good idea to be able to wrap them up a bit. Even a large baggie, for each passenger, would work well.
  1. Bring your coats, etc. from your vehicle. There is a period of time where you do wait in line to board the train and it is outside.
  1. Head out there a little early and take some time to browse the gift shop. They have some cute, little things and it was nice to get some souvenirs. We didn’t go through the gift shop, ourselves, until after the ride and it was totally jam-packed! Save your sanity and go through it beforehand.
  1. If you’re up for a little pre-ride dinner, there is a restaurant onsite inside an actual train car. I had a look at the menu and I thought it looked decent. Because we booked our tickets rather last minute the restaurant was full and I wasn’t able to get reservations, so we will have to try again next time. A mom-friend has told me that the food there is good!  …just call to book early!
  1. If you want to make a little adventure out of your evening, check out the Mossleigh Bar N Grill. I had asked some staff at Aspen Crossing for a suggestion of where else to eat, since the onsite restaurant was full, and they had suggested this spot. It is very close to Aspen Crossing and the food was decent (and so was the wine actually). Our ride was on a Sunday night, which happens to be their ‘Kids Eat Free’ night at the restaurant– so it was a total score for us! Our family of four had: four entrees, two glasses of milk, a glass of wine, and a premium beer and our entire bill (with tax) was $38.70!

Unfortunately, since I started writing this blog post, all tickets for the 2016 Polar Express have sold out. Having said that, I noticed a number of tickets available for sale on some of the buy/sell sites (including Kijiji). I took the liberty of contacting Aspen Crossing to make sure the tickets are transferable and I was told that purchasers of re-sale tickets should just ensure they have both the confirmation number as well as the name the tickets were bought under.

If you haven’t considered tickets to this fun, festive evening out, I would definitely recommend it!  Just be sure to purchase your tickets early to avoid disappointment!

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November 27, 2016

What to do with the Arts, Crafts and Colouring that your Kids Create

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I’m sure many parents can relate to the ‘problem’ of having a major surplus of arts, crafts, and colouring pages around the house. Especially if you have kids in school or children who especially love to craft and colour!

In our house, the twins bring home a minimum of four crafts from preschool per week, but sometimes it’s more. They are usually really well-done, and totally display-worthy pieces, but because we have the twins we happen to have double…and on top of that, Miss A is usually crafting and colouring at home almost daily.

We have A LOT of children’s ‘art’ to display!

Don’t get me wrong, it really is wonderful when our children ‘create’ but, honestly, what is a parent to do with all of it?

After 2-years of my husband and I ‘thinking’ and ‘talking’ about creating an Art/Gallery Wall, we finally got one together – hooray! This is a major accomplishment for us since:

  1. I don’t have a creative bone in my body (true story…I don’t even have ‘one’).
  2. Darren literally hates hanging pictures. I know ‘hate’ is a strong word, but it’s the truth.  He is not an overly detailed person and the thought of putting holes in walls seems to give him some sort of ‘picture-hanging-anxiety’.

So, because of those reasons, there is often procrastination in our house around stuff like this…but…somehow…we did work it out!  And here’s how…

I started by searching the wonderful World Wide Web to get ideas. Of course, this led to me creating a Pinterest Board for my Art Wall Inspiration.

After I had an idea of what my vision was I started picking up miscellaneous picture frames, here and there, that would fit some of my favourite drawings and pictures that the kids had done.

My favourites included little creations such as:

  • The first time the twins created finger-paint pictures
  • A little drawing that Miss A put together while writing her name for the first time
  • Some cute, little ‘handprint’ art pictures the kids did at their day home (thanks Ange!)
  • A drawing of our family, by Miss A – the first time one a picture had been done by either of the kids (this fine piece of art is on the reverse-side of a restaurant paper place mat)

Once I had collected those, I ordered a couple of Westcott clipboards from Amazon.ca.

I actually order loads of stuff from Amazon simply because:

  1. I am always able to get free shipping since they often offer it when you spend a relatively low minimum.
  2. Their prices are in Canadian dollars.
  3. I can do it while the twins are napping.
  4. I can do it while drinking coffee.

The actual clipboards that you see in the art wall photo, in the beginning of this blog post, are these ones.  

They were only a few dollars each and I did get the free shipping since I also had some other stuff that I ‘needed’:

  1. A book called, ‘On Becoming Preschool Wise’ by Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam – from my all time favourite series of parenting books
  2. Printer Ink

In a stroke of luck, my very creative and design-savy friend, Helen, suggested I also use a couple of small floating shelves that I had received from my girlfriend, Kim, when she was cleaning out and renovating her basement.

So smart, right??

So, Darren and I planned it out and put it up on a central hallway wall on our main floor and we LOVE it!!! It makes our home feel way more ‘homey’ and now I don’t have ‘art’ taped all over my fridge – because that’s sometimes what you have to do when you have a stainless steel fridge and magnets just don’t work on it.

(As a side note, I have discovered a great alternative to tape for stainless steel fridges – you will use these up fast on your fridge, cupboards, doors and walls so you may still revert to tape, but check out these amazing Scotch Re-usable Tabs – they are 2-sided, removable, re-usable, and they are truly my favourite!!)

The clipboards add a little bit of interest and make it super easy to switch out paper crafts and the shelves house all of their 3-D crafts and lego creations. It’s perfect because now these items are nicely displayed and aren’t taking over my counter tops and mantle!

Yes!!!

Of course, there is still a bit of an excess of stuff being produced here, so I rotate the art and colouring often and I keep a large 11”x14” sketch pad for each child. I picked a couple of these up from our local Dollar Store for literally $2/each.  Once their time is done on the gallery wall, I mount them in the sketch books and they will be saved in their keepsake boxes once they are full.

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A few items here and there might get sent to grandma and grandpa, but even they have commented about how much ‘art’ there is.  So, alas, the rest gets ‘filed away’ in the bottom of the recycling bin.

Don’t tell the kids!

PS If you are interested in saving either of these ideas to your own Pinterest board, there is a handy-Pinterest social media button just below this post!   Hopefully you’re better at tackling this stuff than we are.