July 22, 2017

Summer Vacation Swimming Lessons? Yes Please!

Let me start off by saying that taking the kids to swimming lessons, has historically been, one of my least favourite things to do as a parent. It’s really is just not my thing. Ask my girlfriends – I grumble about it every time the kids are registered.

…AND…for a whole laundry list of reasons, I ESPECIALLY detest taking the twins to swimming lessons in the wintertime!

Last summer, though, a very smart mom-friend of mine (Rachelle, I’m talking about you!) told me about how she hired a swim instructor to give private lessons to her trio of boys on one of her summer vacations.  They arranged for the lessons to be done at the local outdoor pool where, she was holidaying, and she seemed really happy with her experience!

I was so amazed at what a smart idea it was! It just made so much sense! She was able to book it last minute, got a pretty reasonable price (if memory serves me it was a ‘cash’ sort of arrangement), and her boys got to practice their skills plenty since…well, they were on holidays!

(Also, can I just take a moment to say that she didn’t have to deal with the aggravation of swimming lessons in the winter time…yucky/dirty/muddy change rooms, everyone’s hair needing to get dried before leaving, everyone is freezing cold inside and out, winter gear getting dropped on the wet floor…I could go on! Yuck!).

Did I mention I’m not a fan of winter swimming lessons?

Coincidentally, when Rachelle and I had the conversation, we were actually in the middle of a camping holiday and I decided I was going to look into lessons, near where were camping, right away.

Jackpot! There were lessons being offered at the hot springs pool close to where we were and I was able to get them into a class within days of contacting the organizer (a contrast the waitlists I have had to go on, in the city, for not registering on opening day). On top of that, there were only a couple of other kids in the class AND the price was reasonable!

The kids ended up really enjoying the lesson. The ‘tone’ of the lessons was a lot more casual than what we are used to in the city, which is what I think the kids needed at that time. They also LOVED having their lessons in the ‘warm pool’ of the hot springs – what a world of difference in their level of enthusiasm before classes – from them and me!

(Here is a little plug for Dara’s Dolphins, the organizer for the swimming lessons…she was great to deal with and, also, happens to be another twin mom!  …so she gets extra ‘props’ in my book!)

Darren and I decided then that summer swimming lessons, over holidays, are the way to go for our family for sure!  There are other activities we are focused on in the winter and it just makes sense to us that the kids get their lessons when they can be practicing them the most.  PLUS….I don’t have to deal with winter lessons…because, well…you know.

Unfortunately, when I contacted Dara’s Dolphins for lessons this year, I was surprised she was pretty much already filled up! I guess I waited too long.

#ParentFail

Apparently, Rachelle wasn’t the first person to consider summer-holidaying lessons and the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort appears to be a popular place for children to learn to swim this year. Who knew?

So…we got ‘crazy’ and we made a little splurge in the name of ‘safety’ – we inquired about getting the kids into some private lessons…still through Dara’s Dolphins and still at the hot springs. We normally wouldn’t do something like that, but the kids have been in water so much this summer, we really wanted them developing their skills.  Especially as they get braver and want to venture into deeper water when we are out swimming.

We did end up getting some private lessons set up and we are so glad we did!

#ParentFailPaidOff

Wow – what an amazing experience!

We can’t afford to always offer the kids the luxury of a dedicated instructor, but the results and enthusiasm shown by the kids was really impressive and was really worth the money! The results we saw, in one-week’s time, were way beyond any other swim lessons they have taken.

Now the kids spend more time ‘under’ the water than ‘out’ of it!  Gray on the left, Miss A on the right.

I think part of it was having the ‘one on one’ instruction (or should I say ‘one on two’ instruction?)…but we also got so lucky with a really super instructor! The kids just responded to him so well!  He was really patient but still encouraged them to push themselves and, well, he was doing something right because the kids really made a world of progress over the week.  There were times Gray was coughing and sputtering water, trying to figure out a skill, but willingly keep trying at the coaxing of his teacher .  I don’t have enough good things to say about the amazing experience!


The twins with Louis, their beloved swim instructor…they LOVED him!  We will definitely look for him again!

So, I’m not saying register your kids in private lessons (or if you can, I guess I ‘would’ recommend it – especially if you’re swimmers are trying to get over a ‘hump’ of some sorts)…BUT…I can’t say enough about how well summer vacation lessons have worked for us for two summers now. The kids love it and I enjoy watching them…while warm…in the beautiful outdoors.

And I don’t have to dry anyone’s hair before we leave.

And no one has wet mittens…in minus 30 degrees celcius.

😀

Hooray!  They passed!

 

June 5, 2017

YYC to the Ellen Show – How I got tickets!

Ever since my husband and I scored tickets to the Ellen Degeneres Show, the number one question I have gotten is, “How did you get tickets?” – so I thought I would write about it for you!

Here is the good news my friends – it actually really wasn’t that difficult. It just took time, patience, teamwork, and a little flexibility!

Periodically, the Ellen Show opens up their website to accept ticket requests for a select range of dates. That’s a great place to start!

To keep things super easy for you (because I get how busy mom-life is), here is the link for you: Click here for the ticket request page to the Ellen Show! 

Now, I will tell you that my experience is that you have to submit many times since the demand far exceeds the supply so, don’t give up and keep trying! I actually went through this process for two entire years before finally getting lucky.

One thing that helped me remember to check the website to see if they had opened up any dates (back to that whole ‘busy mom life’ problem) is setting a simple daily reminder in my phone. There is some strict criteria for how often you can submit your name for tickets, but you can figure out those dates once you review the guidelines for applying for show tickets and then you can sort your reminder from there.

Now…I’m going to tell you a little secret – here is where I ‘upped’ my game.

I think there is power in numbers so I recruited some of my other Ellen-Fan-Friends to help! I volunteered to be in charge of keeping my thumb on the pulse of when the Ellen Show opened up their website to accept ticket requests (we know I was doing this anyway) and then I would text my ‘ticket-pursuing-coalition’ of girlfriends the web link when I saw it did. We would all request tickets and list each other as the guests we would like to bring!

Teamwork, right?

Finally…after two long and committed years…my BFF, Tara…got what she referred to as, ‘THE EMAIL’…and we celebrated!!!

Let me just mention a few things here…

The date Tara got offered guaranteed tickets for wasn’t actually the date she requested (I think it was for a date that was week, or so, later) – that’s where the flexibility comes into play. We had to be able to bump our travel days from what we requested. I don’t think this is always the case, but it seems that we were able to at least go to the show sooner by being able to have some flexibility on our travel dates. Unfortunately Tara wasn’t able to make it in the end, but like the loyal friend that she is, she made sure I stayed on the audience list and I was able to still go to the show with Darren.

THANK YOU TARA!!!!

That’s really it! It was fairly simple and mainly just took a small amount of effort and some time.

Of course, you are probably wondering how the show was. I could go on and on about all of the exciting details, but I will just tell you that it was AMAZING and totally worth the wait! I will definitely be trying to work out tickets again in the future!

One last quick thing…in the name of ‘teamwork’ we couldn’t have made it to the Ellen Show without my in-laws, who drove in from Saskatchewan to help with the twins while we ‘gallivanted’ to Burbank. Securing care for the kids was another really big part of the equation in getting to the show. So…thank you, Don and Carol!

Waiting to enter the studio from the ‘Riff Raff Room’ which also doubles as the ‘Ellen Shop’!

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!

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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August 10, 2016

Our Family’s RV Options Wishlist

 

Natureworks-on-Morguefile copy

Photo credit: Natureworks – Morguefile.com

I touched a little bit on the fact that I started making an RV Wishlist in my blog post Glamping – How We Got Started and I thought it might be helpful to share it with you.  So…here it is…

Our Family’s RV Options Wishlist

  1. Multiple lower sleep options for the kids

You can get bed rails for upper bunks, but we didn’t want the kids (who at the time were only 3 years old) falling down the ladder or stepping onto the other child when trying to get down in the middle of the night for a bathroom break.

  1. Power awning

My poor husband got into a losing battle while trying to bring in the manual awning on our rental. He didn’t have much to add to this list, but power awning was a must-have for him.

  1. Outdoor kitchen

When food gets cooked outside, it means there is less mess inside the trailer for me to clean up AND more cooking help from my husband who seams to be more interested in taking on cooking if it’s outdoors. So, basically everyone wins here! Or…on second thought…’mom win’!

  1. Bathtub

It was so nice to be able to give our kids a good soak at the end of a full day of being outside all day (which is basically every day). Hot water tanks on RV’s tend to be pretty small and showers need to be fast and furious…not ideal for trying to clean up extra dirty tiny humans).

  1. Accordion door/Curtain at kids’ sleeping area

We still planned to keep a bedtime routine and I felt strongly this would help. They don’t do much to block sound, but they do block some light. Also, I believed it made a big difference that the kids weren’t able to ‘see’ us sitting at the table eating snacks and playing cards. I’m pretty sure if they were laying in bed just watching us have our ‘adult time’, it would have ended with them at the table too (and me probably hiding in the tiny bathroom to catch a break).

  1. TV/ TV outlet

Sometimes it rains, so having the option to pop a dvd in on a rainy day is really nice! We took out some dvd’s with us from our collection. It was also nice to put those to use since they haven’t been touched since the era of PVR’s and Netflix.

  1. Power slides

Remember when I mentioned earlier to you my MIL (Mother-in-Law) calls me, ‘citified’?

  1. Air conditioning

While I like the heat, my husband doesn’t like it as much. It also helps you to not melt the food in your pantry (trust me, plenty of food items get crammed into the pantry since RV refrigerators are very, very small).

  1. Outdoor tap

It’s really nice to have something to spray off dirty children and outside toys, or to fill up a bucket of water for putting out your fire pit, etc.  Sometimes you can get a little extension-type hose for your outdoor kitchen tap. Some RV’s also have an actual outdoor shower-type spray with both hot and cold. Either way, it’s really nice to have.

  1. Outdoor-accessed storage

Storage that can be accessed from outside – because who wants to haul their outside stuff inside to put it away?

Bonus RV Wishlist Items:

  1. Outdoor speakers

Because who doesn’t love listening to great music outside?  It’s probably going to be where you’re spending most of your time, after all.

  1. Bluetooth

Listening to music is even better when it comes from your device…because it’s going to be the stuff you love!

**I should note a special thanks to my friends, Liane & Ericka, for helping me round off this list**

PS In case you’re interested to know, in the end, we settled on a Venture RV Sport Trek ST312VBHK.  We love it, so far, and know it will accommodate our family for years to come!

August 8, 2016

Glamping – How we got started

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Glamping

Noun [glamp-ing]

Glamorous camping

Once she had young twins, she could no longer bring herself to ‘rough it’ and camp in a tent. She wanted to camp but with the same comforts as home. 

Before we had the twins, my husband and I used to enjoy the occasional summer camping trip (like, real camping…in a tent). Something about escaping from the busy city and sleeping in the fresh forest air was such a fun escape!

There were a number of times that we camped together with his cousin, whose family camped in an RV (recreation vehicle). It was so nice to be able to jump inside their travel trailer to visit or enjoy a board game if it got too chilly or started to rain (which it literally did every. single. trip.). We also really appreciated being able to use a non-public washroom. I always hated having to trek in the dark to the typically stinky, (and maybe even a little scary) common camping washroom (yes, okay, this is probably a good time to confess…I am very much what my mother-in-law – who lives in a very rural community in Saskatchewan – refers to as ‘citified’).

It was during that time that we first started talking about maybe looking into getting a travel trailer of our own. Unfortunately, at that time, we didn’t have great RV-towing vehicles PLUS we aren’t very good at making decisions about big purchases, so the thought got shelved.

Once we had the twins, we started to revisit the idea of camping again. My husband had grown up in Saskatchewan, where ‘going to the lake’ during the summer, in the family’s fifth wheel, was a favourite family past time. He has many great childhood memories from those trips and we thought camping would be great way to create memories for our family as well!

Really, more than ever before, there was an appeal to us to have some of the comforts camping in an RV (aka Glamping): running water, heat, a little bit of space in case we get rained in, etc., etc.

So…we stopped in at our local RV dealership and wandered around from trailer to trailer. To be honest, we were a little overwhelmed with all of the various sizes, models, options, and prices that were available and we really didn’t know what we wanted or needed. I finally had a brainchild that we should maybe rent one for a summer holiday to:

  1. See if our family even likes to travel that way…and…
  2. Get an idea about some of the features that might (or might not) be important to us.

So, last summer, when the twins were 3-years old, we rented an RV in Salmon Arm from Country Camping RV and booked a camping site at Sandy Point Campground. To be honest, the cost of the holiday was a little bit more than we wanted, but it was really worth it. The campground was waterfront with a sandy beach (and not an unreasonable drive from Calgary), the trailer was really nice and had been delivered/set up upon our arrival AND we got the experience we were hoping for. It turned out our family loved camping and we got a great ‘wish list’ of RV features and options started for our next RV dealership visit.

Once we had our wish list compiled, it made a great difference in our shopping experience. We decided to check out Bucars RV just north of Calgary based on a recommendation from friends. Literally, the first thing I did was present my list to the sales rep who was helping us. With this information, he was able to really narrow down the best RV’s for us (which made this dealership experience way less over-whelming than our previous RV dealership visits) and after a few visits, we finally bought a travel trailer!

PS The photo in this blog post was taken of us with our Venture RV Sport Trek ST312VBHK during our ‘Red Carpet Walk-through’ at Bucars RV…that really happens. See the red carpet? They roll it right out! Sounds cheesy (okay, it is a little cheesy), but it was memorable, that’s for sure!

 

August 8, 2016

The Inaugural Blog Post

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Wow! I can’t believe I’m finally here!

This tiny idea of having a personal/lifestyle blog has sort of become a bit of a project, so I am elated to finally be sharing it with you!

(starting a blog seems like it should be simple but, man, there are A LOT of things to consider before actually getting to put your pen to paper! That’s definitely going to have to be a blog post later!)

How it all began…

Over the last couple of years I have had a couple of friends loosely comment in passing that I should write a blog. I think it’s probably because I have been sharing our ‘trials and tribulations’ on facebook and social media with friends and family since the twins (Gray & A) were born. I usually have a pretty honest approach, sharing both the joys, as well as the ‘imperfect’ moments, often. I am a first time mom AND a mom of twins, so my husband and I really just jumped right in with both feet. As you can imagine, it has been beautiful, crazy, joyful and sometimes flat out chaotic.

Only people without children gift chapstick this bright to a 2-year old

I envision Refined Imperfection as a little space that I can share my journey of raising my twins, being a wife, and holding on to a little sliver of still being my own person – here in beautiful YYC.

Thanks for coming by and saying, ‘hello’!

Shampoo pumps work great when you only have 1 hand - also when you have 2-year old hands and a mirror

Shampoo pumps work great when you only have one hand.
They also work great when you are 2-years old and you are left totally unsupervised.