Tuesday, October 28, 2014

DIY Firestar Halloween costume

For the second year in a row, Alexandra set her mind on being an obscure character for Halloween. Last year it was WordGirl. This year, it's Firestar.

Last year's DIY WordGirl costume
Who is Firestar? I had no idea. Apparently she's a friend of Spiderman from the cartoon Spiderman and his Amazing Friends circa mid-1980s. (Thanks Netflix for introducing my kids to these old 80s cartoons.)

(By the way, who is WordGirl? She's from a PBS Kids TV show that Alex was obsessed with last year.)

Alexandra first saw the cartoon last year, but it was when watching a few episodes again this summer that she set her mind on Firestar for Halloween.

At which point, I sighed.

Because everyone knows that I don't sew and being crafty is not really my thing. Thank goodness for the Internet.

After spending much time Googling FireStar kids costumes, I discovered that there were other parents out there over the years in the same predicament as me -- having a kid who wanted nothing more than to be a little-known superhero for Halloween.

Thank goodness for much craftier moms than me, who lay the how-to ground-work that I simply had to adapt. The hardest part was running around to different stores to find the different pieces.

I started with finding a pink, long-sleeved ballet leotard from a dance store and (roughly) matching pink leggings from a children's clothing store.

Then they were dyed yellow (for the record, Ryan helped with this part) using RIT clothing dye.

The red boots, we just so happened to already have in the dress-up box. So, I cut the bows off of them, cut a flame pattern out of orange felt and used a glue gun to stick it to the sides of the boots. 

The same orange felt flame pattern was cut out for the gloves. The gloves were made up of two parts though. The sleeves are the cut-off pieces of long, red witches gloves I found at the dollar store. They were way to big for her, hence the cut-off part. The fingered gloves are simply little red magic mini gloves, also from the dollar store. 

The mask was a great find. I had planned to make it myself, but while buying the Rit dye, I found these plain white masks at the craft store. Alex painted it red.

The hair? An Ariel princess wig. 

The results? One VERY happy girl. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Race report: The second time was way more fun than the first

Yay me!
On October 19, I ran the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront half marathon – two years almost to the day from the first time I ran the same race.

It was a cold one. Just 3C – which is fine if you’re dressed for it, but I was wearing just capris and a long sleeved run shirt.

Ryan and I started the morning off by meeting up with my teammates at the Fred Victor office. I wasn’t planning to run with them, but we all fundraised for the same cause so it was nice to get together before hand to motivate each other and take a few pictures. And our team captain had bright green Fred Victor tech-T’s for us to wear for the race.

Team Fred Victor is ready to go!
When we got over to the start line, I felt much calmer than I ever had before a race. I had this ‘Bring. It. On” mentality, rather than one of fear, which is how I felt two years ago. There was no doubt in my mind that I could cover the distance this time, and I just wanted to get started.

That and I was freezing. Once in my corral, strangers simply started huddling together to keep warm.

Finally, my corral start time came and we were off. I was feeling pumped and before I knew it I had covered the first kilometre, with my RunKeeper app telling me it was at a way faster pace than my normal pace. As I passed Ryan (who was looking for me, but didn’t see me until I yelled at him), I tried to tell myself to slow down. I still had 20K to cover after all.

The obligatory selfie. Bring. It. On.
At 2KM, we turned onto Bloor where friends of mine were standing by the side of the road scanning the crowd for a glimpse of me. Their screaming gave me a boost and helped me settle into a rhythm.

Along Bloor and down Bathurst – this is my favourite part of the race and I flew through it easily. The onlookers cheer for everyone and it's so easy to just suck up their energy. I was having so much fun that I barely noticed I was running.

It’s here where it became apparent that the GPS on the RunKeeper app was off from the actual race markers. It was ahead by about 50 metres. Let me tell you, 50 metres is not a big deal at 1KM, but it’s cumulative – so by the time I got to 20KM, it had me ahead by a whole kilometre! (Now that’s frustrating when you’re exhausted – but I’ll get to that part later.)
Me and my race stalker

Ryan, who once again was amazing and chased me by bike for the entire 21.1 kilometres, showed up again as I was running down Bathurst. I was about 6 kilometres in, feeling good, and thinking “I’m ok, I'm having fun, I don’t need you to motivate me through this (but it sure gives me a smile and a boost to see you).”

Kilometre 6, 7 and 8 also flew by and I actually had to remind myself to stop and swallow a gel pack. And then I was on Lakeshore. This was the part of the race that I was least looking forward to, as it’s an out and back to Ellis Ave. And let’s face it; Lakeshore – with the lake to one side and the Gardiner to the other – isn’t that interesting. But I kept going, and as I passed the 10KM mark, I realized (according to my not-quite-right RunKeeper) that I was ahead of my target pace (My official 10K time was 1:09:31 and I was targeting 1:10).

The fatigue and the dreaded wall started to set in soon after that and I was relieved to see Ryan again after a 5 or 6 kilometre break.

Kilometre 14, 15, 16, 17 – they all started to look the same. Because this was on the way back on Lakeshore (with a bike path alongside the road), Ryan was there to cheer me on a lot. At times he was encouraging me (or taunting me) every 500 metres or so.  I even got a little chatty with him as I ran by.

But as the kilometres went on, my chattiness turned to a simple nod of the head acknowledgement of his words of encouragement. He was shouting “you can do it” and I am so grateful to hear it coming from him and not just the random strangers.

By 20 kilometres, I was done (especially since my RunKeeper was telling me that I was), and what motivated me most at this point was being relatively confident that I was ahead of my target pace – meaning if I could just keep it up for 1 more kilometre, I’d come in at around 2:30.

Turning up Bay Street (from Lakeshore) towards the finish there’s a tunnel. It was dark in there – in fact it almost felt too dark. And then suddenly, you’re on the other side and people are lined up along both sides of the street cheering as you run your final 1K.

Ok, yup. I'm exhausted. But I did it!
It was exciting and suddenly I found the strength I'd been having trouble finding for the last few kilometres. As I got closer to the finish line, the crowds increased, as did the noise. And I was scanning every person as I ran – two years ago, I couldn’t find Austin and Alexandra in the crowd and I was determined to see them today.

And there they were, 100 metres from the finish line and yelling like crazy with my sister and brother-in-law. I smiled. I couldn’t wave. I just had to keep going.

Two years ago, I ran this race in 2:31:45 – this year’s goal was 2:30.

Finishing time: 2:27:23!

It’s official, I think I’m addicted – because I’m getting some crazy ideas of what race to run next. There’s a half marathon in Ottawa that looks like fun.

Team Fred Victor post race: Check out all those medals!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Lacing up my runners to raise money for an incredible organization


For those of you who know me, you’ll know that two years ago I ran my first – and only – half marathon.

Running it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. And I’ve birthed two kids, and I can still say that running a half marathon was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. Mind you, my finishing time of 2 hours and 31 minutes was a full 2 hours and 24 minutes longer than it took to birth my daughter!

I was on an adrenaline high when I finished the race, and that high lasted for weeks and weeks. That high led to me wanting to run another half marathon but as winter turned to spring last year, I lacked the motivation to start training again. After all, it’s not only the 2 and a half hours of race running that’s the killer – it’s the months and months of putting in the mileage beforehand.

So I must be crazy when I say I’m training to do it again.

But this time, I’m motivated to run the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront half-marathon to raise money for an incredible organization here in Toronto. Fred Victor.

Fred Victor has been helping homeless and low-income people in Toronto for the last 120 years. Every day, more than 1,000 people use their programs and services and every person who comes through their doors is experiencing poverty or homelessness.

So why am I running for Fred Victor? Because their much-needed programs and services help people rebuild their lives. And because the issue of homelessness suffers from stereotypes and prejudices. The reality is that there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ homeless person. Very few people choose to be homeless and it can happen to anyone – sadly, in a city as expensive as Toronto, it can happen faster than many of us care to think about or admit. For some, their descent into poverty is swift, with the loss of a job, the loss of a loved one, a family break-up, substance abuse or the onset of mental illness. For others, poverty comes from escaping a violent situation or being kicked out for coming out.

Most homeless people don’t actually live on the streets, but in emergency shelters or on the couches of friends and family. Regardless of how they get there, Fred Victor is a place where everyone is respected and accepted. Fred Victor offers affordable housing units, emergency shelters, food access, job training, health information and support services.

These services are essential because not everyone is lucky enough to have a family that loves, supports and accepts them, as I have always had. And not everyone can easily pick up the pieces if they lose their job, as I once had to do.

On October 19, I’ll be lacing up my runners and running 21.1 kilometres through the streets of Toronto to raise money for Fred Victor. Please visit my fundraising page tosupport me – all money raised greatly benefits everyone in the Fred Victor community.

Learn more about FredVictor.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The last 8 months with my partner in crime

It’s been 8 months since I last wrote on this blog. And 8 months since Alexandra quit going to Montessori School and started coming home every day at 11:30 after Kindergarten. And to quote what I wrote then:

It means that for 8 months, I'll have to go back to working many evenings. It means that for 8 months, arranging meetings with clients will require creativity. It means that for 8 months, we'll put together a hodge podge of care -- a sitter's going to come in one afternoon a week, etc. It means that for 8 months, my friends and family will be relied on from time to time and I'll be less available for a coffee break or a lunch date. It means that for 8 months I'm going to be juggling a lot of balls.

But, most importantly, it means that for 8 months, our child will be happy again.

It means that for 8 months, I get to spend a little extra time with my baby.”
 And apparently, it meant that for 8 months I wouldn’t write on this blog.

So here’s what happened in 8 months. It took a few weeks to find our groove of being together every afternoon and Alex slowly started to return to being that happy and easygoing child we once knew. She once again started eating, she became less clingy and she slowly came around to sleeping better as well.

After that, it took a village to get through the school year. As much as I said I’d scale back work, business was booming. And as I’ve said before, when you work on contract it’s hard to say no when business comes calling.

And so I have a lot of thank yous to pass around. Some days Alex and I had time to just hang out, and other days friends and family all came to my rescue when I was sinking in work and suffering from a severe lack of hours in the day. And some days, Ryan would come home from work a little early or take the kids out on the weekend for a few hours just so I could get back to work. Working full time with just two hours to yourself every day ain’t all it’s cracked up to be!

But because of the village, some days and weeks I got much more than two hours a day. And on the days and weeks that I didn’t need more than two hours to get the job done, I got to spend time with my baby. And, in a way, the two of us became partners. The one thing I hadn’t considered back in October, was that at 5 and a half years old, she ‘gets it’ when I say ‘mommy has work to do’. She rarely ever complained on the days that I had no additional care for her and after lunch I’d have to hole back up in my office for a couple of hours. She found something to do – which wasn’t always just sitting in front of the TV.

And sometimes, 'my partner' would sit and work with me. We'd print off worksheets from the Internet or simply get the craft bucket out. And while I sat with my laptop at the kitchen table, she worked away as well. 

And I discovered that I really enjoyed the time I got to spend with her. Not that I thought I wouldn’t but despite the stress, the constant time crunch and the feeling that I was always running to somewhere (or to pick someone up from school), I enjoyed this school year. I enjoyed having my baby home with me.

And so as the school year wraps up this week, it’s a bittersweet feeling. Gone forever will be my afternoons alone with Alexandra. Gone forever will be Kindergarten as she makes her way into the brave new world of Grade 1 in the fall. And although I’m looking forward to getting some me time back (and getting back to having more work hours in the day) – I’m also going to miss the company.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

And the solution to our impossible situation...

It's been a long month. From my last post, you all know that Alex was having trouble at her Montessori school.  (Quick recap: Alex's new French Immersion school is only half-day Kindergarten, unlike the full-day Kindergarten she went to last year. So to fill the gap, we registered her at a nearby Montessori school for the second half of the day.) Here's what's happened since.

The mornings before school continued to get worse, not better. Most mornings, she'd start crying and whimpering when she work up around 6:30 and would continue to do so until it turned into all out wailing at 8:30 when we got to school. That's until it turned into me having to drag her, screaming, through the school yard into school. Yes, I was that mom with that kid.

And again, we knew the only reason all this was happening was because she had to go to Montessori school. Not because she had to go to the new French Immersion school -- she likes it there  Why do we know? Because she didn't cry on Fridays -- the one day of the week that she didn't go to Montessori.

During a particular bad morning just before Thanksgiving weekend, I lay all the cards on the table; if she went to both schools for the rest of the week, she could come home after school the next week.

So last week was project boredom. Every day, she came home on the lunch bus after half-day Kindergarten to sit around the house with me while I worked. The goal was to show her that being with mommy isn't that much fun because mommy is sitting in front of her laptop all day long.

Project boredom failed miserably. Despite interacting with her as little as possible, she was happy. Every morning she ate her breakfast (something she had stopped doing weeks ago) and went to school without a single tear. Some mornings she even forgot to hug and kiss me goodbye. And every day she came home, had lunch with me and then found something to do.

Flash forward to yesterday (Monday) morning when it was time to go back to Montessori. On the weekend she said she was going to go back and although Ryan thought that her decision to do so was a good sign, I was more skeptical. I had this feeling that she was telling us what we wanted to hear, not what she really wanted to do.

And so, Monday morning came around and the bawling started, along with the chant 'I never, ever want to go back.'

And so, she's not. What it came down to is that we realized that we had to stop deluding ourselves into thinking that she needed more time to adjust (it's been 2 months after all!) and accept the fact that she's actually trying to tell us something. She's trying to tell us that although there's absolutely nothing wrong with the school, it's just not the right fit for her.

So, what does this all mean? For me, it means that for the next 8 months I have to be selective with the work I take on. Unlike 2 years ago when the kids were both in half-day school, I now work basically full-time. I have several retainer clients with a fixed number of hours of work per month. They'll be my priority and I'll have to be choosy about any contracts I take on above and beyond that. (Although there's certain people I'll still take contracts from.)

It means that for 8 months, I'll have to go back to working many evenings. It means that for 8 months, arranging meetings with clients will require creativity. It means that for 8 months, we'll put together a hodge podge of care -- a sitter's going to come in one afternoon a week, etc. It means that for 8 months, my friends and family will be relied on from time to time and I'll be less available for a coffee break or a lunch date. It means that for 8 months I'm going to be juggling a lot of balls.

But, most importantly, it means that for 8 months, our child will be happy again.

It means that for 8 months, I get to spend a little extra time with my baby.

And isn't that why, 5 years ago, I decided to stay home with the kids and start my own business? So that I could be there for my kids as they grow up? I have 20 + years left to work -- and if I'm lucky those 20+ years will be in running my own business. So what's 8 months in the grand scheme of things?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Our impossible situation

My 5-year-old daughter is putting us in an impossible situation. It's the 5th week of school and we're still stuck in the same place we were on day 1 - the crying place.

Our problem is this: last year at age 4 she started JK. And when she did so, she was one of the lucky (unlucky?) ones to go to an all-day kindergarten school. It was the first year of the program there and that's just the way it was. She cried a lot for the first few weeks - going to all day school was a huge adjustment for her as a child who, with the exception of a couple of hours of preschool a day, had never really been away from mommy.

And even with preschool, she cried for weeks. She suffers from separation anxiety, social anxiety or whatever you want to call it - she doesn't deal with change. And so, last year, once she got over crying, she liked school. And although I was told by her teacher that she occasionally still had 'I miss mommy' moments, we never really had a problem again.

Which brings us to this September. Alex changed schools this September to go to the French immersion school with her brother. You have to start in SKor you can't go through the system at all. We expected tears at the start - tears for the separation, tears for having to make all new friends.

The problem was that the SK school is only half-day kindergarten. So after being used to being in school all day, she suddenly had to go backwards. And me, who after spending a year building my workload up to full time, would have to scale it back to part time.

And so, Ryan and I decided to register her in a Montessori school for the other half day. It seemed like a perfect fit - I could work, she would still be around other kids and because it wasn't daycare, she'd still be learning and stimulated. And the woman who runs the school would pick her up at her French immersion school every day. How much easier could it get? And as a treat to Alex and me, Fridays would mean no Montessori school but instead come home to be with mommy.

It was a great plan on paper. But here's how, 4 weeks into school, it has worked out: Alex cries every morning. And I don't just mean as we get to school - most mornings it's from the moment she wakes up (which is anywhere from 1 to 1.5 hours earlier than usual lately) at first the crying was about school in general but now it's more focused. Now it's about Montessori school only. She doesn't want to have to go there. Here's the catch, she seems to like it when she's there, and her teacher there says she's doing fine and seems fine. But she doesn't want to go. She says her days are too long when she goes (they're the same length as her all-day kindergarten days give or take 15 minutes). She says it's too much work (which it's not).

What it comes down to is the transition of having 2 starts and 2 ends to every day is too much for her to handle. It's stressing her out, it's causing her anxiety, it's wearing her down. How do I know this? Because she doesn't cry before school on Fridays.

This is where the impossible situation comes in. I'm feeling incredibly guilty for sending her there. Someone (a social worker) suggested to me that she may be feeling feelings of abandonment. A sort of 'why doesn't mommy want me, why do I have to go here?' Yeah, that made me feel so much better.

So now I'm seriously wondering if I should pull her out of Montessori and just have her come home everyday. She's such a happy, easy going kid and she looses all of that when she even thinks about having to go there.

So I'm thinking of pulling her out. It's only one year, I can manage one kid in the afternoons while I also have a workload for one year, can't I? Will I regret it if I have her home every day and start losing my mind when works gets busy? Will we be teaching her that you can just give up when you have to do something you don't want to? Or will we be causing her long-term emotional harm my forcing her at 5 years old to basically 'suck it up buttercup'?

Isn't this one of the reasons I like what I do, so I can be flexible and be there for my kids? Do I really want to scale back my work after working so hard to build a successful business? And whats wrong with it if I did? Well I'd have to start saying no to some clients if the workload gets to difficult to handle.

It's a impossible situation without a good answer.

*Since I wrote this, Ryan and I had a long talk. We're going to stick it out until Thanksgiving and really talk to her and try to work her through this every day. We're wondering if it's not only the transition that's difficult for her but if it's actually the school work. Half-day kindergarten is definitely more of a sprint to get through the curriculum than full-day kindergarten is. And she's used to the more leisurely pace of learning. So now she's got the sprint learning in the morning, followed by more learning in the afternoon -- maybe sending her to montessori school wasn't the right idea after all.
I'll keep you posted.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Holy crap, I haven't posted in 3 months!

Um...I think I forgot about this blog. More to come