Empire Reel 2011 Gift Card Holiday Program Review

Christmas is coming at me with the speed and intensity of a runaway train. No matter how far ahead I plan (and believe me, this year I was on the ball!), I always seem to have a couple of people on my list who are nearly impossible to buy for. How do you figure out what to get for the person who has everything?

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Empire Reel Babies – Review and Giveaway

My kids are now 7 and 9, and therefore fairly independent, but I remember what it was like when they were babies. Everything in my world revolved around them and day-to-day living. It was easy to find myself staying at home for days at a time. One of the things that really helped me to stay connected with the world outside of my mommy-and-baby cocoon was to hang out with my local new mother’s group once a week. It’s so good to get out and about, socialize with other moms and have some “me” time.

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Barbie I Can Be

As the mom of a girl, one of the most important things to me is helping to ensure that my daughter is self-confident, happy, and proud to be who she is. Ask any mom and I think she’d agree. It’s so easy for girls to fall into the cycle of “I’m not pretty enough, I’m not thin enough, I’m not good enough” and, frankly, it’s terrifying! It’s a full-time job to help bolster our daughters’ self-esteem, whether it be through encouraging them to try new things or validating all of the things they’re currently doing by recognizing their various skills and strengths.

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Invisalign Teen – Review and Giveaway!

Logan, my 9 year old, is sensitive about his teeth. They’re coming in quite crowded and crooked and decidedly un-straight. He’s less than thrilled about it and has been asking how to go about fixing them. Not only that, but at our last dental appointment, the dentist said, “If you think his teeth are crowded, check out the x-rays of your daughter’s teeth. They’re worse!”

Super.

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We’re all in big trouble…

The kids went out trick or treating for about 90 minutes and came back with roughly 57 pounds of candy. Lord help us. I think we’ll all be diabetic before this is over with.

A Not-so-Tricky Halloween with Allan Candy!

My kids have been preparing for Halloween since school started. They’ve carefully decided what they’re going to wear, right down to the small details. (Logan is going as a metal head, complete with rock star wig, studded wrist cuff and black guyliner. Lily is going as a witch to school – complete with pointy hat and fancy eyelashes – and a vampire at night, switching out the pointy hat for a fabulous pink and purple wig.)

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Dempster’s Lunchbox Inspirations

I haven’t done the math right down to the day, but if you subtract a few weeks for summer vacation, Christmas, spring break and PD days, you’re looking at approximately 40 weeks of school a year. That’s 200 days. 200 lunches. Two hundred! That’s a lot of lunches. It’s tough to keep the ideas flowing!

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Finding My Voice

I have a hard time advocating for myself. I don’t like to rock the boat and the thought of saying something that could possibly offend someone and/or make them angry with me makes me feel physically ill. And so, for the most part, I tend to accept things without question.

(This, of course, applies to the general public and not my family and closest friends because don’t we all feel more comfortable and secure expressing ourselves with the people we know and love the most?)

It’s easier to advocate for my children because I am absolutely a mother bear and ain’t nobody gonna mess with my kids. However, in certain situations (the ones where I can’t help but wonder if it’s more about me than my kids), I am hesitant to assert myself. I have to get riled up enough to believe that my opinion counts for something before I can go ahead and express my concerns.

Case in point:

My daughter Lily is turning 7 on Friday. She has been taking dance classes since she was 4. (For those who are math challenged like myself, this year is her fourth year in dance). In life, she’s shy and nervous and ever-worried, but get her on a stage and she glows from the inside out. She loves it.

For the first two years of her dance training, she was in preschool classes, ones that were focused on ballet, tap and jazz, on a weekly rotating basis. These classes were lighthearted, fun, and  very basic. She loved them enough that she was more than happy to go each week and life was good.

At the end of her second year, when she was 5.5 years old, each child in the class was issued a recommendation – either move into the competitive program or continue on in a non-competitive class. Lily’s teacher recommended that she move into non-competitive jazz only, as she didn’t seem to be focused and disciplined enough to take ballet. I was fine with this because, at age 5, I didn’t feel it was necessary for my child to have to choose a specific activity to be “the one”. She was doing other things as well, such as t-ball and swimming.

Things went very well in in the 6-7 age group non-competitive jazz class last year. Lily had a great time, she had a sweet instructor and some very nice girls in her class. She flourished and by the end of the year, her instructor recommended that she move into ballet , as ballet is a requirement for competitive dance, as well as a non-competitive jazz class. The recommendation would be to have her move to competitive once she’s decided whether or not she loves ballet enough to continue.

She does.

The ballet class is wonderful but the jazz is, well, not. Based on her age, she has been put back into the 6-7 age group class where she is re-learning the same steps she learned last year. For a price tag of $500 plus costume fees.  She is, in a word, stagnating. Lost in the cracks. Not moving forward. According to Lily, the hardest part of the class is the stretches.

This is not okay. For a variety of reasons. I’ve been unhappy about it for awhile but haven’t asserted myself because I didn’t want to come across as pushy. Or as a “my child was born to be a staaar” living-in-denial mom diva.

At the beginning of the year, I asked Lily’s instructor to watch her and see if she would be a good fit for the competitive program. (Now, just to be clear, I am not a stage mom or one of those crazy Dance Moms you see on TV. I am a mom who wants the best for her child.  I want to see her grow and learn and continue to be excited about her hobby.) Her instructor was very dismissive and gave me a pat, “yeah, sure, I’ll watch her” answer. I was unconvinced but let it go.

Fast forward to the beginning of October. The month where I expected to see my daughter move into a class where she was actually learning something new. I approached her instructor and asked how things were going in class. The response I received was, “good”. When I mentioned that Lily was complaining about already knowing the steps, I was told that things would get harder. Hmm. Fine. I don’t think quickly on my feet and, not having a thought-out response in place, I let it go and spent the next two hours raging to my friends via text message about my frustrations with the class, the instructor, and the studio in general.

I decided on Friday that I would try again. I approached Lily’s teacher and flat-out asked her if it was possible to move Lily to a more advanced class. I was told no. The excuse given was that the classes had already started learning their routines and so it was too late.

Right.

I asked if the goal with these girls was to have them move forward and be able to experience entering competitions and continue to grow and learn. Again, I was told no. At the age of 7, she is officially too old to make the transition from non-competitive to competitive and it’s “too late” for her.

Cue my jaw hitting the floor.

Too late? For my not-quite-seven year old? Too LATE? Oh, I beg to differ.

I am not interested in turning my child into the most amazing and special dancer to ever walk God’s green earth. I am interested in giving her the opportunity to actually learn some new dance steps and not some old broken-down repeat of what she learned last year. It took me a long time to realize it, but this is not an outrageous request.

I decided that I was going to go straight to the top and email the owner of the studio Lily dances at. I would voice my concerns and outline my expectations. I would advocate for my daughter.

It was at about this point that I hit a standstill. If I sent an email to the owner, she might *gasp* judge me. Or be ticked off that I had an issue with her studio. I didn’t know if I could go through with it! What if I sounded unreasonable? Oh noes!!!

So I decided to pump myself up. I vacuumed the bonus room. Then I vacuumed the rest of the house. Then, because I still hadn’t fully worked up the gumption to plunge into the land of diva-dom, I cleaned all the bathrooms. All the while, I was working out in my head what I was going to write.

Once I had finished cleaning the house and had made myself some lunch, I sat down to write the email. While I was at it, I queried a few other dance studios in the area, outlining my concerns with my current studio and asking what was available elsewhere.

To my surprise, I received an email back from another studio almost immediately. The owner told me that she believed all of her students deserved the right to enter into competitions if they wanted and she placed students into categories based on skill. We are booked to go try out a class there on Thursday.

I sent the email to Lily’s current dance studio and the next time I checked my email, I had received responses from three other studios.  All three stated that their goal was to have all students who were interested be able to compete in jazz and/or ballet if they felt they wanted to. They design their classes around skill level and make sure that no child is lost in the shuffle.

Vindication!

The positive responses I got from the other dance studios made me feel so much better about standing up and demanding more for my child. It is not okay for her to be stuck stagnating in the same class she took last year. Her current studio has experienced a huge increase in competitive girls coming in and I don’t believe they can handle the volume. But it’s no excuse to treat the non-competitive kids like they’re second class and not offer them the opportunity to actually learn something new.

Our current dance studio is not a good fit. By finally getting up enough gumption to find (and use!) my voice, I am going to ensure that my daughter is given the chance to enjoy dance, as well as learn new technique, for as long as she wants to do so.

I am now a bit tired and a lot headachey, but I’ve stood up for my daughter and I see great things happening on the horizon. We’ll be checking out three of the four studios I heard from this afternoon and then switching over to the one we like the best.

Plus, my house looks frigging fantastic. Two birds, baby. Two birds.

Speaking of Heart Palpitations

(Rather than haul all my old WordPress posts over here, I thought I’d occasionally repost them one at a time. I’m feeling a little nostalgic up in here! This particular post is from 2008.)

The new Super Walmart opened yesterday. Being the idiot that I am, I decided to mosey on over there, y’all. Big fun and excitement, thy name is Walmart. I’m not even sure what I was thinking because just driving past that behemoth of a building was enough to kick my blood pressure up a notch. The thing has three seperate entrances at the front and another at the back for the auto repair stuff. My heart rate doubled just from the act of trying to find a parking spot close enough to the door so that I wouldn’t have to hail a cab.

I managed to find a decent spot, found a cart (they have two sizes – regular and super-size) and took a deep breath to steady myself. I was half expecting the greeter to give me a map and a compass as I walked in the door. This is not simply a store. It’s a black hole. I really think they should offer ropes to each customer so we can tie one end to something in the outside world and the other end around our waist. (Just as a precaution in case the Walmart sucks us in and eats us, you understand.)

(Anyone remember that SNL Walmart skit from a few years back? It’s funny because it’s true.)

This shopping experience was one I’ll not soon forget. I have never seen so many bewildered looking people in one place before. There were throngs of people everywhere, standing awkwardly in the aisles, looking heavenward as if asking for a sign that they were going the right direction. (Ok, so they were looking up at the eight thousand aisle signs suspended from the ceiling. Same difference.) I think you could fit Disneyland inside the store. Where the old one had an aisle of books, the new one has six. The old one had a McDonalds, an optician, and a bank machine. The new one has a hair salon, a Build-a-Bear store, a souvenir shop, an indoor circus and a go-kart track. I think I blocked a lot of it out in a vain attempt to thwart the panic attack that was building up inside me.

While it may sound that way, I don’t have agoraphobia. What I’ve got is much, much worse. I have a deadly combination of unknownaphobia and lostforeveraphobia.  I often can’t find my way out of a room with only one door. I had visions of myself getting lost in that Walmart and never again seeing the light of day. I cursed myself for not bringing bread crumbs along to sprinkle as I walked and made a mental note of various landmarks along the way.

I was strung tighter than a violin the entire time and had to stop for food and water twice, but in the end, I manage to claw my way out of the black hole in one piece. And yes, my daughter made it out alive as well. I even managed to cross several Christmas gifts off my list, so yay me! I think I’ll need a month or two to calm my ever-loving nerves before I attempt to navigate that place again, though. I just can’t help it. The Super Walmart scares the crap out of me.

My Newest Project

Both of my kids are in school full-time and my husband has made me keenly aware of his desire to have me working again. Because in his world, taking care of the kids, volunteering at the school, cleaning the house, doing all the laundry and dishes and cooking, not to mention pimping my bloggy review skills, isn’t actually a viable contribution.

*Ahem*

But I’m not bitter.

So, in an attempt to make some extra cash while still being wholly available to my children should they be sick or have school holidays, I’ve started up a cake business. I haven’t actually advertised it to anyone other than a few close friends, but those aforementioned few close friends have kept me quite busy over the last few weeks!

Up first, a baby shower cake shaped like an owl. For this one, I used two 1L pyrex bowls to bake the cake and then inverted one on top of the other:

Next, a girly baby shower cake with polka dots and stripes:

And, because boxes make everything look more professional, here’s how it looked when I delivered it:

My take on the cupcake pop made popular by Bakerella:

This past weekend, I had three cakes due. First up was the girly baby shower cake above and second was a cake for my BFF’s daughter. The birthday girl turned 9 and loves everything Monster High:

And, for her to bring to school, 36 cupcake pops in blue:

The third cake was a Thanksgiving cake for my friend A. (Canadian Thanksgiving was yesterday, so happy belated to all of my Canuck peeps!) This cake is made from two 9 inch round pans and a boatload of fondant in various sizes and designs layered on top!

At the beginning of the week, when I was doing prepwork for the cakes, Lily was home sick. She desperately wanted to help me make the big bow and the leaves and pumpkins for the fall cake but…

  1. she was sick! and
  2. I’m being paid for these cakes, so professionalism and, er, cleanliness, is a must

… so she was stuck watching from the sidelines. To keep herself in the cake decorating loop, she drew out some designs for me so that I could have a visual of how each cake should look.

(I can’t find the picture she drew of the Monster High cake but I can say that it was very detailed – repeating argyle, skull and crossbones, big bow, the works!)

I’d like to think I stayed fairly true to the pictures she drew, so thanks for the help, Lily girl!

Finally, I made a dozen fall coloured cake pops to go along with the fall cake:

By the time Saturday night rolled around, I was tired! Two sips of my self-congratulatory Baileys-on-ice-with-chocolate-milk and I was half asleep. Still, it was worth it. Hopefully I can turn this whole cake thing into a steady part-time job because I’m not interested in retail. I just don’t think I can play nice in public for that long…

Wish me luck!