Happy Birthday! Pass the Wine.

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Yesterday was my birthday and the day before that was Daren’s. And with our 10th wedding anniversary coming up next month I’ve been thinking a lot about how gift-giving and celebrations have changed so drastically since we got together.

Birthday at 32? Lots of wine, sex and presents.

Birthday at 42? It’s all cake, streamers, sprinkles, crumpled gift bags and excited, sugary faces running in circles yelling “do you like it do you like it do you like it?”

Tiffany and Pottery Barn have been replaced by Homesense and homemade necklaces. Dinner at a hot new restaurant is now dinner at “that new place with the chicken fingers Leila likes.” In short, my expectations (like my breasts) are a little lower.

There are a few reasons for this:

1. We’ve been shopping for each other for 15 years and we’re running out of ideas. Clothes, jewelry, furniture, trips, books, booze, experiences, household decor, kitchen appliances, sporting equipment, massages, mani-pedis and fancy dinners have all been tapped. Livestock, gravel driveways and skywriting are all that remain and do you have any idea how expensive goats are? Though by some miracle of science they produce delicious cheese so I’m not ruling them out.

2. Unique gifts are too hard to think about and shop for between working, driving, cooking, shopping, bathing and all the other things normal humans are supposed to do each day. If we get 10 minutes to swing by Canadian Tire and another 3 to pick out a card at Shoppers that is a good year.

3. Gift-giving is no longer solely up to the adult. With the kids involved you inevitably end up getting what THEY want you to have. Harmony is working on her reading and insisted we get daddy a hockey chapter book. So off I went to buy Daren his 91nd book on the evolution of NHL goaltending. You’re welcome honey.

4. Expensive gifts just aren’t in the budget anymore. Discretionary purchases of $100 and up must now meet one of the following criteria: Can we eat it? Does it increase the value of our home? How long will they play with it (preferably in the basement or at a friend’s house)?

What about a quiet dinner out just the two of us? It goes something like this:

“Mommy and daddy are going out.”

“Why? Where?”

“To our favourite restaurant to celebrate our birthday”.

Stoned silence.

“But it’s your birthday”

Yes I know. That’s why I just said we”re going out to …”

“BUT. IT’S. YOUR. BIRTHDAY.”

“I know and we’ll celebrate as a family later but tonight it’s just daddy and I”.

“I thought birthdays were for families. You said that when I wanted to have all the grade 2s over last year.”

“Well they are and we will celebrate all together tomorrow but right now mommy and daddy are having some mommy and daddy time.”

“Fine”

“Fine? Did you just “fine” me?”

“It’s just that I thought birthdays were for families”.

“Get in the car”.

I don’t begrudge a single one of these changes because they are part and parcel of the lifestyle we embraced with open arms (and wallets) when we became parents. But I do look forward to once again waking up to a little blue box that is NOT the recycling bin.

Really? You shouldn't have!!

Really? You shouldn’t have!!

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My Why

The response I usually get when I tell people I’ve left the corporate world to “stay at home” and become a Stella & Dot Stylist is, “Oh. Really.” I understand it can be a difficult concept for people to wrap their heads around, especially since my style was (is?) probably best described “backpack chic”, emphasis on the backpack. But I’m just crazy enough to think that staying home AND making money at something I love are not mutually exclusive.

 

I started doing this because I want to have more time for the girls. I want to volunteer at the school and have time to pack more than a cheese whiz sandwich and a bag of chips for lunch. I want Daren to be able to focus on his job while I hold down the fort. (And by the way, if you’d told me 10 years ago that I would eventually settle into such a traditional division of marital roles I’d have kicked you right in your Leave It To Beaver. But here we are. It’s working and I love it.)

 

I also fell deeply in love with the product. I think looking great makes us feel great, and when we feel great we do great things. So when my favourite t-shirt is stained with olive oil and the ass of my yoga pants is smeared with peanut butter, I can still put on a rocking necklace and feel like a million bucks. Or when I have failed at creating a sexy topknot and my hair looks like a cat’s been chewing on it, I’ll throw a great bag over my shoulder and not get arrested for ugly.

 

This weekend I attended Stella & Dot’s annual conference in Las Vegas. It’s called Hoopla and Hoopla is equal parts conference, training, boondoggle and religious experience. Sitting in the ballroom of Mandalay Bay, watching women and company executives tear up when other Stylists talk about what this opportunity has done for them and their families, visions of sweltering chapels in the deep south and cries of “you are SAVED!” did admittedly cross my mind. But that’s before I was encouraged to really think about “my why.”

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Your “why” is why you joined Stella & Dot. Why are you doing this, what is your motivation? For some it’s extra money for a vacation, a home reno or post-secondary education. Some are supporting their families after a husband’s injury or job loss. Many are single moms who need a second income to survive. “I want my kids to see me doing more than laundry”, one woman told me. And another, a 69-year old retired University professor, just wanted to prove to herself she could do something else. And she loves the bags and scarves. Some are making a few hundred extra dollars, many are making six figures annually and a tiny handful are making seven figures. Yup, seven. And by the way, this is what our office parties look like.

 

CEO Jessica Herrin and VP Training Danielle Redner rock out at the annual Friday night dance party.

CEO Jessica Herrin and VP Training Danielle Redner rock out at the annual Friday night dance party.

When setting my goals, I documented my why like this: “Make enough money to stay home with my kids.” Many women shared that same motivation this weekend but eventually we started peeling back the layers of why – WHY do you want to stay home. And that’s when shit got real. I could tell you dozens of stories I heard about the importance of family, of giving their kids everything they didn’t have, or of being home after school because no one was there for them. It was all very personal and very real.

When I started peeling back the layers of my own why they looked like this.

I want to make enough money to stay home with my kids.

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Because I want to have more time with them. Because I missed four years of each of their lives already and I don’t want to miss another minute more than I have to. And because being a working mom is really fucking hard and I’d like a minimum of 60 God Damn minutes per day to read a book or clean myself.

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Because I don’t want to have a boss anymore. Because I’m tired of someone else deciding when I work, how I work, how much money I make and when my services are no longer required. Because I felt like barfing every time I had to call and say “kids are sick, I can’t come in” (and because sending them to school or daycare when they’re sick is frowned upon).

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Because it’s hard when both parents have demanding jobs and there’s no nanny to pick up the slack. And because when I’m home I have the time to do it all and because that’s my contribution to the family, I don’t resent it. When we were both working full time and I still did all the shopping, the planning and the cleaning I walked around the house like a fire-breathing dragon. Did I mention I did all the cleaning? Because my husband is happier when I’m not bitching at him about housework and we argue less.

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Because I swear there have been times when I thought my dogs’ legs had atrophied from lack of walking. Because feathering the nest, making sure appointments are made and kept, and ensuring we don’t eat out of a frozen box 5 of 7 nights is important to me. Because having a tidy house and an organized life is important to me.

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Because our girls didn’t have that for the first few years of their lives. They came into a world where filth, chaos and neglect were the norm. Because they were born into circumstances where regular Doctors appointments, healthy meals, gymnastics at 5:00 and mommy holding their hand on the school trip were never going to be possible. Because this is what they deserve.

And there it was.

Doesn’t it always come back to the little people who rule our hearts with an iron fist?

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My Why

 

I’ve chosen to share this not because I feel like I have to explain my choices to anyone but because I want people to understand the motivation behind the work I’m doing, my why. So when I post about a Flash Sale or a new bag, you know I’m not trying to sell you something. I’m just sharing what I love because this new adventure is about so much more than great jewelry. It’s about my why.

Adopting a New Outlook

Wine + Smarties posts are inspired by the things I’m passionate about. Moving forward, I’ll be adding travel to the list and sharing the experiences I’ve had as well as the ones I’m pining for. Happy reading!

“Travelling with kids.” Are these the most cringe-inducing words in the English language? Aside from “mom, look what’s in the toilet” and “Knock knock!” they just might be.

It’s not easy to travel with any child, but for families of kids with different needs, finding the right vacation experience can be even trickier. Typical family attractions are often a recipe for disaster resulting in over-stimulation and meltdowns (them) and extreme frustration and binge-drinking (you).

Make mine a double.

Make mine a double.

For our family, ADHD, poor self-regulation and a determination to push every limit means we have to choose our excursions carefully and manage our expectations about what will happen once we get there.

The first time I travelled with H we took a 4-day Disney cruise to Florida and the Bahamas with my best friend and her daughter. Naturally (because I’m stupid), I had envisioned H and I sprawled on comfy deck chairs, snuggling, reading and colouring while Frozen played on the giant screen. We’d get up only to refill our soft-serve ice cream and to cool off in the pool. In port, we would shop and explore. I fantasized about finding a little restaurant with an ocean view where we would sip wine and chocolate milk while gazing out at the ocean.

I know. Hilarious.

First day at sea

First day at sea

In reality, my daughter did not want to sit quietly and watch a movie. She wanted to move, to test the limits of everything. How many times could she run on the deck before the lifeguard told her to quit it? How far could she climb on the outside rail of the pool before I told her to quit it? How many times could she pester me for ice cream before I gave up on the quaint, ocean front restaurant and settled for plastic chairs in front of Baskin Robbins? Lots, that’s how many.

Yes, as a matter of fact I would love to spend two hours watching you play arcade games instead of sunning myself.

Yes, as a matter of fact I would love to spend two hours watching you play arcade games instead of sunning myself.

Very quickly I was forced to confront the fact that the mother-daughter adventures I’d been fantasizing about were probably not going to happen the way I envisioned them. My dreams weren’t dead, they just needed a generous sprinkling of reality.

Around the same time, I started paying more attention to all the material things we were acquiring as a family, and the sense of entitlement to these “things”, my daughter and I both had. $100 rain boots, a Disney cruise, $400 for 7th birthday party entertainment. I was setting an unsustainable bar, foolishly trying to make up for the lack of new toys, cute clothes and experiences missing from her early years.Naively, I thought spoiling her with “stuff” might also prevent the conflict and heartache many adopted kids face in adolescence.

“What do you mean you hate me and want to find your birth mom? What about all those cute dresses I bought you in elementary school?”

For real.

And when we welcomed L into our family, making better decisions and setting a good example became even more important.

After some strongly worded self-talk and a few embarrassing CARD DECLINED incidents (damn machines, so unreliable), I realized something had to give. Eventually, new fantasies about travel started taking shape and I started looking for places to go that would meet the girls’ need for fun and entertainment, fuel my passion for new experiences, and help us learn about the world together.

Here’s our list so far:

-Saving Sea Turtles in Cancun
-Surf school in Costa Rica
-Kenyan Safari

Anything to add?

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So … About that Easter Bunny….

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Confession: I just Googled “What is the religious meaning of Easter?” Because when your almost-5 year old asks “Why do they call it Good Friday?” and the best answer you can come up with is “because there’s no school,” you know you have some work to do.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

Easter or Resurrection Sunday,is a festival and holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, described in the New Testament as having occurred three days after his crucifixion by Romans at Calvary c. 30 AD. It is the culmination of the Passion of Christ, preceded by Lent (or Great Lent), a forty-day period of fasting, prayer, and penance.

Hmmm… Still a little fuzzy. Let’s try “What is the religious meaning of Good Friday?”

Good Friday is a Christian religious holiday commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his death at Calvary. The holiday is observed during Holy Week as part of the Paschal Triduum on the Friday preceding Easter Sunday, and may coincide with the Jewish observance of Passover. It is also known as Holy Friday, Great Friday, Black Friday, or Easter Friday, though the last term properly refers to the Friday in Easter week. Based on the details of the canonical gospels, the Crucifixion of Jesus was most likely to have been on a Friday (the day before the Jewish Sabbath).

That clears things up a bit, but how does all this translate into a giant bunny breaking into our home to leave chocolate and over-priced pastel-coloured stuffies?

Glad you asked. Another quick Google search of “What is the connection between Easter and rabbits?” turns up a Huffington Post article from 2011, which states: “The Easter Bunny is perhaps the biggest commercial symbol of Easter. But how did a rabbit and eggs become associated with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Well there clearly seems to be no correlation between the secular symbols and the Christian holiday.”

Great. Let’s try again.

Discovery.com says “Bunnies, eggs, Easter gifts and fluffy, yellow chicks in gardening hats all stem from pagan roots. These tropes were incorporated into the celebration of Easter separately from the Christian tradition of honoring the day Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

Bunnies, eggs, Easter gifts and fluffy, yellow chicks in gardening hats all stem from pagan roots. These tropes were incorporated into the celebration of Easter separately from the Christian tradition of honoring the day Jesus Christ rose from the dead. According to the University of Florida’s Center for Children’s Literature and Culture, the origin of the celebration — and the origin of the Easter Bunny — can be traced back to 13th-century, pre-Christian Germany, when people worshiped several gods and goddesses. The Teutonic deity Eostra was the goddess of spring and fertility, and feasts were held in her honor on the Vernal Equinox. Her symbol was the rabbit because of the animal’s high reproduction rate.”

So let me get this straight: in order to explain the religious origins of Easter and Good Friday and why we celebrate these days the way we do, I have to talk about death, resurrection, goddess worship and sex. And not just any kind of sex: rapid, frequent and very effective sex – the kind that only rabbits and pro athletes are (fortunate?) enough to be having.

I think I’ll stick with “Because there’s no school.”

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Back in the Blog Saddle

So it’s been a few (okay…. 10) weeks since my last blog. But I have a series of really good excuses lined up.

Ready?

1. My parental leave ended and I returned to work.
2. My oldest child was diagnosed with ADHD and I lost my sense of humour for a wee bit.
3. I joined a swim team. Stop laughing.

How’s it all going, you ask?

Well, let me see. I’m no longer working but my daughter is doing GREAT and I love being back in the pool. So, kind of a mixed bag.

First, the job. My position was eliminated, effective March 31. Being eliminated, terminated, restructured or whatever you want to call it is not a pleasant experience. On the upside I’m free to spend more time feeling guilty about the hot dogs and fruit roll ups I pack for lunch, not to mention the lack of clean underwear and tights.

I’ve also been watching a tad more television which has been entertaining and educational. For example, I recently learned that for the low price of $199 you can buy a DNA test kit online. I used to think you could just get your mom drunk on Zinfandel to find out if “Uncle Mike” is really your Dad, or just grab a Venti latte to find out if you’re lactose intolerant, but apparently there’s another way. So that’s something.

I must confess that I do love being at home. More accurately, I love how things run much more smoothly and how everyone is happier when I’m at home. The laundry actually gets folded before it’s worn, the dogs actually get walked and dentist appointments are made and kept. Could losing my job be the universe telling me that binge-watching Netflix is my new profession? Probably not, but I’m delighted to have more time and energy to look after my family and get back to Wine and Smarties.

Second, the ADHD. We’ve always known there was “something” there with H. And thanks to a great and varied support system we’ve been able to pin it down. The latter half of January was spent agonizing over whether or not to medicate and 8 weeks later I can say that I’m thrilled we did. My daughter is thriving in school and our biggest fear – that her sparkle would be dulled – has not been realized.

Q: How many ADHD kids does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: Wanna go for a bike ride?

Ha! I love that one.

Third, the swim team. I haven’t swam competitively or even done a flip turn in 25 years, so getting out of the house two or three nights a week to shower by myself, talk to adults and do the one sport I don’t actually suck at has been exhilarating. I wish I’d done it years ago. My long-term goal is to swim the straight between New Brunswick and PEI (and when I say long-term I mean like, before I die, not 2016).

So what’s next?

I am torn between feeling like the world is my oyster and that the sky is falling in and I’m never going to wear high heels or earn a decent income again. I’m sure the truth is somewhere in the middle so for now, I’m going to enjoy every minute.

J xo

To Paris with Love

 

Eiffel Tower kisses

Eiffel Tower kisses

Dear Paris,

I’ve been writing you a love letter in my head for close to thirty years. Given recent events, now might be a good time to share it.

In 1988 I visited you for the first time. It was march break of Grade 10, and I was supposed to be spending the week on a family trip to Myrtle Beach. But that plan changed at the last minute and my parents let me join my high school’s trip to Paris and London. I will never forget stepping foot on a Paris street for the first time. You were beautiful, exotic, loud and exciting. You were like nothing I’d ever seen before. I was 15 years old and IN PARIS.  We stayed in a tiny hotel, sleeping two to a room the size of an en suite bathroom. We ate chocolate croissants and drank coffee. We walked the streets, saw the Louvre, toured Versailles, tried not to lose our passports and just breathed it all in. We were terribly cool.

I had always been interested in travel but it was never an obsession. But Paris changed that. You opened my eyes to everything that was different about the world I lived in the other 360 days a year. Remember, there was no internet then, at least not in my home or school. I didn’t even have my own computer. I had no idea that there was a world out there like Paris. You changed everything for me.

Paris helped me grow up, or at least it felt that way. I felt so worldly, so mature upon coming home. I felt like a different person and much of my life since then has been about where I’m going next. And it all started with you.

The second time, I skipped the city in favour of France’s glitzy beach towns. It was 10 years later and I was a backpacker on a budget. The South of France is not the easiest place to find budget accommodations but I knew I couldn’t skip the country entirely. At a hostel overlooking the sea I met a girl I would travel with for several more days. She was the best companion I’d met so far and we bonded instantly. She came along at the perfect time, when I needed a friend, and we stayed in touch for more than a year after that trip (pretty amazing for the pre-Facebook era).

The third time I fell in love with Paris was on my honeymoon in 2006. We stayed in a hotel around the corner from the Eiffel Tower and spent each night sitting on the grass, watching it light up. The Da Vinci Code was wildly popular at the time so we fought the crowds at the Louvre along with Notre Dame, Sacre-Coeur and my favourite place in your entire city, Sainte-Chapelle.

But your appeal was never just about the tourist attractions. Not even the incredible churches, the architecture, the history. It was never just about the food, and I love food. Paris is the whole package. It is beautiful and exotic with enough flaws to provide just the right amount of character.

It was on this trip that I fell in love with the idea of being a mother, too. Sorry for being indelicate but I think you should know that I flushed my birth control pills down the toilet in your fair city. Things turned differently in terms of our route to parenthood, but once again it was Paris that inspired.

This July I’ll bring both my girls to Paris to visit their aunt and uncle and experience the city I love. We’ve rented a flat close to the Eiffel Tower so they can experience a picnic on the lawn and see the lights at night. We’ll take them to all our favourite spots and let them experience the magic of Paris. I hope it will initiate a lifelong love of travel and adventure for them, as it did for me.

Paris, you’ve been part of my life for almost thirty years. There are countless pictures of you in my home, in my photo albums, on my camera and in my heart. This has been an awful few days. Your citizens are in shock, and your streets are crowded with police. To some it might seem like you’ve become a symbol of bloodshed, radicalism and hate. But not to me. Never to me.

 

 

Letter to Myself re. Christmas 2015

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December 1, 2015.

Dear Jen,

By now your Christmas preparations will be in full swing. You’ve pulled out the decorations, circled the tree-buying date on your calendar and started a “who’s getting what” list. But if past behaviour is any indication, you will start to go a little crazy around December 20th. You’ll be tired, overwhelmed, stressed and a little bit bitchy. Think PMS with mistletoe. You will resent all the running around, the obligatory social engagements and the pressure you’ve put on yourself to find the perfect gifts. The purpose of this letter is to save you from yourself.

Christmas is like birthing a baby (I think). There’s excitement and anticipation leading up. You are organized, you are ready and you have a pan. You even get a little cocky, congratulating yourself on everything you accomplished in advance, pitying those who weren’t as smart as you. Then it begins and you want to get off the ride. You wonder how you could have miscalculated reality so severely. You beat yourself up. You beat your husband up. And before you know it you are screaming for drugs and vowing “never again.”

Jen, the most important thing you need to remember is that Christmas is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be joyful. It’s not supposed to cause stress, anger or bankruptcy and if it does, you’re doing it wrong. Remember the spirit of Christmas, how it promotes love, togetherness and peace. You got so caught up in having the right stuff with which to celebrate that you forgot a little bit about why we were celebrating in the first place. Yes, there is a lot of shopping that needs to be done: gifts, decorations, food, toys and warm clothes to donate, the all-important sparkly top … these are all part of our enjoyment of the season. But you need to know when enough is enough. If you can’t relax until the garland is up and you’ve found the perfect twinkly lights then, once again, you’re doing it wrong.

Remember the day you went to three stores to find the perfect little ornament to go with the neighbours’ cookies? That was stupid. Your heart was in the right place but you got caught up seeking picture-perfect presentation instead of thinking about the reason for the gift. They are wonderful neighbours who tolerate our dogs, pool parties, overgrown foliage, squeaky trampoline and occasional hot tub nudity. I’m thrilled our kids are growing up together and I hope they never move. Wouldn’t that have been a nicer sentiment to put in the card (minus the nudity) instead of scrawling “Love the Millards” 30 seconds before flying out the door?

Do you remember what caused you the most angst in 2014? I do. It was shopping for people outside our immediate family. Let’s be honest: shit got crazy. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make someone happy but for God’s sake, the 15-year old who babysat once is probably not expecting diamonds. So chill.

We are not a religious family but this year we need to find a way to teach our daughters about the true meaning of Christmas. In 2014, the Kindness Elves helped us promote random acts of kindness that hopefully they’re continuing to practice. I’m not suggesting we erect a live nativity in the front yard but maybe it’s time to stop being so afraid of talking about God and Jesus. It’s okay if you don’t always know what to say, and it’s okay to not have all the answers. When in doubt, refer to chill out instructions.

In short, you need to take it easy. Less is more. Christmas is all about the kids, and they don’t care if the garland comes from Walmart or Pottery Barn. They don’t even know what garland is, and in a few years they’ll be spending most of their down time with friends. What they do care about is a warm, loving home, time and attention from mom and dad, and presents under the tree. If your kids are happy, your family is healthy and we’re all together, then everything else is just noise. Don’t give in to the temptation to make Christmas about more than that.

And as an extra bonus for sticking to that healthy eating plan (you look fabulous, by the way), here are a few more suggestions for making Christmas 2015 a little easier. You thought of them while lying awake wondering about amazon.ca’s Christmas shipping cut off.

1. Organize a pancake breakfast for staff at school. Hold it the morning after the winter concert. This will be your gift to everyone who interacts with the girls outside their homeroom teachers. Nothing says “I appreciate how much you care for my children” like a table full of syrup and bacon.

2. Almost no one appreciates knick knacks, coffee table books or joke gifts that clutter up their home (except for Daren, who could open a museum). But everyone appreciates something delicious that has the added bonus of disappearing when you’re done with it, so give more edible gifts.

3. Your friends will be feeling equally frazzled and clueless as to what to get you. So instead of stressing over gifts, plan a night out in January as your gift to each other. A kidless night out is better than a new scarf or lip gloss any day, even it means pitching a tent in someone’s driveway and watching SITC reruns on an iPhone.

4. Resist the pathological need to see that person you worked with in 2011 “before the holidays.” Unless she’s leaving the country on December 25 you can see each other AFTER the holidays. It won’t be any less special.

5. Know this: Twisted Peppermint is NOT THE BOSS OF YOU. If you don’t have Bath & Body Works candles and hand soaps scattered throughout your house, Christmas is not ruined. Resist the temptation to buy 13 soaps to get nine free, and spend it on wine instead.

Love,

you.