Happy Samhain

Last night was Hallowe’en and I have to say, it was the most fun I’ve had on Halloween in a while. K is now officially “too old” to dress up (says him! “Never!” says I!).  B went as a ninja (and was out the door to meet her friends so fast, I never got a photo). She debated adding an onion and a kitchen knife to her costume (in tribute to those onion-chopping ninjas who sneak up on you during certain episodes of Gray’s Anatomy just to make you cry), but after discovering we were out of onions and pondering the wisdom of bringing an 8″ long blade to a party, decided a plain ninja would have to do.  I was a witch, as I often am–when I’m not wearing a hazmat suit and handing out terribly “toxic” candy with BBQ tongs that is. This year, I added battery-powered copper stringed fairy lights wrapped around my pointy witch hat for good measure and I quite liked the effect.

But the house…

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The house was done up in fine style with a graveyard on the lawn, a Harry Potter-esque dementor hovering just below the tree branches, and a quirky magic shop set up beside the porch. (I apologize for the terribly blurry picture).

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I had, as I often do, left the garden to grow wild and unkempt and suitably spooky for the season.

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And of course, as I do every year, I had the fog machine going with its sound effects, strobe light, and smoke.

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So what did my magic shop sell? I had candy galore, of course, and stickers promoting Girl Guides of Canada, and books.

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A whole table full of children’s books, plus an extra bin under the table with more. All for free.

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The reactions of the kids when they realized I was giving out books was fantastic. It truly was amazing.

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One little boy said “Oh! It’s a shop! A book shop! How much are the books?” When I told him they were free, he could pick one to keep, he turned around and ran over to his parents, yelling “Mom! Dad! Books! She has books!”

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Many of the kids expressed how much they like to read. Some shyly, some loudly, but all with sparkling eyes and absolute sincerity.

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Those who chose to take a book often lingered over the table while making their choice. Some lingered so long it prompted their parents to come closer to see what, exactly, was going on at that spooky house with the witch behind the table and a lovely set of Griffindor robes hanging off a dressmaker’s dummy.

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Another group of tall teenaged boys in various gruesome costumes all took some candy and laughed at the kids’ books on offer until one of the boys reached for the pinkest, prettiest, girliest book on the pile. His friends started teasing him, but he ignored them and asked me “Is it okay if I take this one? I have a little sister who would love it.”

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Suddenly their teasing turned to “Oh yeah! Great idea! Way to go, man, she’ll love that. That’s really awesome of you!” and I thought to myself, yup, they’ll turn out just fine, those boys.

All in all, 65 books and 175 snack-sized pieces of chocolate later, it was a very fun night for me and probably the best Samhain celebration I’ve had in a long time.

After all, books really are the very best sort of magic.

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Pride and Joy

There are few things in life that inspire pride and joy more than the people you bring into the world. Sometimes you are proud of their academic achievements. Sometimes it’s their musical talents that trigger that rush of warmth and joy. Sometimes, it’s the kindness and generosity with which they treat others both larger and smaller than themselves.

Mostly you’re proud of the sheer focus, determination, and hours of hard work they throw at whatever they’re trying to accomplish at the moment.

Lately, it’s been so many things. It’s been a teenaged girl working with tremendous dedication and attention to detail on a project for a well-loved science teacher. It’s been a teenaged boy happily entertaining his very much younger cousin with endless patience and much 3-year-old giggling.

It’s been this small group of girls taking over the sunroom with copious amounts of cardboard and duct tape and paint, all in the name of charity.

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It’s been our young man joining a group of kids on the ski hills week after week, stretching his comfort zone and building new friendships. And coping admirably well when a moment’s poor judgement by one of his peers coupled with spectacularly icy roads led to a ski patrol rescue, an ambulance in the ditch, a second (and quite spectacular) rescue involving ropes and crampons and I’m sure more than a few hearts in throats, and 2 bus loads of teenagers (including mine) stuck at the bottom of the hill an hour from home until the wee hours of the morning.

It’s been our boy and a bunch of his friends and classmates walking for hour upon hour and raising many, many thousands of dollars for Relay for Life.

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It’s been a whole group of girls, none of them not mine, who are so willing to strike off on an adventure without the slightest clue what we’re going to be asking them to do, merely because we ask them to trust us week after week and they do.

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We have a serious amount of fun together, these girls and my fellow Guiders and I, trying our hands at circus school, glass mosaics, obstacle courses, computer programming, shoreline cleanups, all the hijinks and fun at camp, and more than a few community service projects. It’s a beautiful thing.

But mostly what’s filling my heart with pride these days is the sight of these:

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Both kids are playing in the ball hockey leagues again this year and come home red faced and drenched with sweat, happy they won or dissappointed they lost, but always playing hard, having fun, and congratulating teammates and opponents alike on great plays or fantastic saves.

Of course, it could just be that these shirts are making me happy simply because with 2 kids in 2 different leagues, we’re spending so very much time at the arena. I’m either cheering those shirts on, washing them, hanging them to dry, or asking if you’re SURE they’re in the bag and ready to go because we really do have to leave 3 minutes ago if we want to be on time for the pre-game warmup…hockey is sort of our life right now and these shirts seem to be everywhere I look, making me proud.

Maybe it’s because I’ve reached a certain age, or maybe because I’ve been investing so much of myself in 30 girls not my own week after week, or maybe just because I’ve been thinking about it a lot and therefore noticing it more, but everywhere I look these days, I see kids and teens doing great things, having fun, giving back to their communities, and making me proud of the world we live in. How about you?

Making

For the past few years, we have ventured out to this little thing called the Ottawa Mini-Maker Faire. This year, sadly, they announced there wasn’t going to be a Mini-Maker Faire.

Instead, Canada held its first official fully-fledged Maker Faire last weekend, right here in Ottawa, and we were so excited to go.

The Maker Faire was held in the beautiful, historic Aberdeen Pavillion at Landsdown.

And it was, to be perfectly truthful, a little disappointing.

In previous years, we have easily spent 3 or 4 hours exploring and watching and listening and trying and doing while we were there. This year, though, we were there less than 2 hours before we had seen and tried everything that enticed us and we were ready to go, and that included spending 20 minutes talking to the delightfully patient gentleman from ParLUGment about the best way to custom paint Lego minifigs.

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There was a surprising lack of artists and crafters, and very few exhibitors blurring the lines between art, science, and engineering. There was quite a lot of hands-on exploration for very young children, but little to fascinate those 9 to 12.  The aisles were a little ragged and hard to navigate, and no one had thought out how, exactly, to make sure there was enough room for more than a few people to be able to stop and watch a demo without being overwhelmed by the noise and visuals coming frmo the booth next door, or behind. Backdrops might have helped, I suspect, making the fair more like Artist’s Alley at ComicCon and less like a jumbled row of table after table crowded round with people.

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There were plenty of people with 3D printers, but not a one of them excited me. Most were showing off boring little models of their favourite TV and video game characters. Not one had something truly innovative or even terribly beautiful or emminently useful. I’ve seen so much gorgeous art and innovative inventions being 3D printed online, it was sad to see little other than character models printed out.

All in all, it was a fun time, just not as impressive as I was hoping for. There were some fabulous displays of creativity and wonder, including an absolutely mezmerizing kaleidescope

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A precisely milled R2D2 builder

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And a fascinating melding of sandcastle building, real-time 3D mapping, and sound that let you change the sound being produced by sculpting sand mixed with baby oil into shapes of various heights.

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The sand box was being continually scanned by a mapping machine that projected various colours on to the sand based on the sand’s height map, and then produced a sound pattern whose frequencies were based on the measurements it had just scanned. It was very cool.

But the Lego…Oh, the Lego! ParLUGment is Ottawa’s adult Lego enthusiasts club and they are fantastic. There was a wide variety of creations ranging from minifig scaled operating rooms to a full-scale Tesla charging station with all it’s swoopy curves (an impressive feat considering it was made entirely from rectangular blocks). But by far my favourite was the Star Wars-themed mechanized marble run that stretched about 3 metres long.

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All in all, the Maker Faire was quite enjoyable and we will go again next year. Hopefully they’ll have learned a lot from this year’s experience and will have worked out some of the kinks.

 

Towering

There’s nothing quite like going up in the CN Tower…

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…standing so tall against a gorgeous blue sky and so high, the people below look like ants…

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and the view is almost infinite…

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…only to look down through the glass floor…

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…and discover…

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…that you can totally watch the Jays game for free.

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Here be dragons

I’ve always loved dragons. From the fiercely carved beastie who graces my desk to the soft stuffed version (in sparkly purple, no less) who often lives on my bookshelf, they’re wonderful creatures of myth and fantasy.

Lately, there have been a few more dragons flying around our house.

Literally.

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They’re paper dragons that you throw like paper airplanes, and they fly marvelously well.

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There are definite advantages to having a son who is fascinated by the Netflix show Chef’s Table. Here’s one of them:

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Pork chops in sour orange sauce with a side of sweet maple-glazed veggies paired with a salad fresh from our garden with balsamic vinegrette dressing, plated to look pretty, just like they do on the show.

He may have lots more to learn in the kitchen, but man oh man are my tastebuds loving this young man’s cooking!

New toys

When our kids were little, the family room was full of toys. Thomas train sets, Rescue Heroes, toy fire engines and dump trucks, teddies, and dollies, and so much more.

Despite being determined not to fill our house to the brim with toys, we had a lot of toys. And yet, whenever there was a holiday, or a birthday (or a rainy Tuesday in July, let’s be honest here), a new toy or two would make its way into our home, much to the kids’ delight. Mine too, truth be told, since nothing makes Mama happier than when the people she loves most in the world are happy.

Often times, the toys served a dual purpose. Board games that taught math skills and money handling. Playmobil that taught careers and adventure loving and opened the door for many a conversation on values, behaviours, and life in general. Musical instrucments for noisy play that set the foundation for the wonderful musicians they have become. Those wonderful science kits from the Young Scientists’ Club. And the LEGOs…Oh, how we love those!

Over the years, the toys changed. Some have stayed constant – the Playmobil sets, the science kits, and of course the LEGO blocks. Others were around for a very short time indeed — well loved at the time, but not for long, like Rescue Heroes, play kitchen, and Pokemon cards.

Lately, the nature of our toys has changed. Imaginative play is slowly being replaced by sports and books and video games. Craft kits have been replaced by drawing lessons thanks to Craftsy and YouTube. But most surprising of all has been the latest obsession: baking.

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know that I bake a lot. Cakes and cookies, squares and brownies…the kitchen is one of my favourite places to spend time.

As a result, I have quite a few toys in my kitchen, though there are a few still on my wishlist. Most recently though, we added three new toys to our stock of kitchen things: A meat slicer, a dehydrator…and this:

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We came across it at Canadian Tire and both kids instantly started chattering away in that very earnest and somewhat frantic and wildly pleading way they haven’t used since they were rather a lot younger. It was clear in an instant that this was to be one of those toys that would see a thousand hours of use in just a few short days, and then quite possibly, having been used to exhaustion, be then soundly ignored for weeks, and then months, and maybe even years.

But they were so excited at the possibility of owning such a thing, explaining how the band teacher for years has done something similar, and how awesome it is, and how they could do it all by themselves, and it would be AWESOME!!!!!!! (Though I’m not sure there are enough exclamation marks in the entire world to express exactly how awesome, so you’ll have to use your imagination.)

So we bought it. (It was on sale, after all.) And it was put to use almost immediately, much to their delight.

To my delight, too, since they are now of an age where they can be completely independent in the kitchen, trustworthy with sharp edges and hot surfaces, and confident that they can follow a recipe.

So what is our new toy? It’s a cake pop maker.

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They’ve already made at least two dozen cake pops, and they have plans for more, though we have run out of sticks. And sprinkles. (Oh, the horrors of not having enough sticks and sprinkles!)

The way I see it, though, is that a cakepop without a stick and covered with a little bit of sugar glaze or powdered icing sugar is rather remarkably similar to a Timbit, which opens up a whole new world of possibilities, as far as I’m concerned. Though I will have to figure out how they get the jam in the middle of the raspberry jam ones.

I think, when the kids have decided they’ve had enough of this particular kitchen toy, I just might have to play with it myself.