Friday, 27 November 2015

What Is My Brand? - How A Modern Mom Blogs

I started blogging because I like to write.  I'm not creative enough to compose a story, but writing about everyday things is easy for me.  I used to use LiveJournal (back in my University days...) and I had a little community there of friends, mostly from the Wide Mouth Mason fan sites, and I loved it!

Now that I have kids, and a husband, and I juggle work and home lives I thought I could easily write a blog.  I was right on that.  Subject matter abounds, whether anyone wants to read about it or not.

Turns out there are a TON of things I didn't know about blogging:

  • I didn't realize you could make money from blogging.
  • I didn't know you needed a "Brand"
  • I didn't know you had to be on every form of social media
  • I didn't know you could get stuff for free if you wanted to write about it
  • I didn't know you needed more followers than God to qualify for some "sponsored posts"
  • And I definitely didn't know it would totally take over my life at some points

I've read more about blogging in the past 6 months that I have read about anything since I was at school.  Sadly, I still don't "get" most of it.

I've joined Twitter - that's going okay except I've followed so many people now there's no way I can keep up with (or even focus on) all the tweets.  I have not gotten onto Pinterest or Instagram - I can barely keep up with Twitter and Facebook. (aside: I love that the spellcheck does not know either the word Pinterest or Instagram.  Makes me think the world has not gone as digital as I've thought!)

And this "Brand" business - what is that even?  I mean I get it, if you're an author, or a crafter, or a parenting magazine.  But why do I, the average mom blogger, need a "Brand"?  My brand is just me writing about stuff that I do, or my kids do, that's interesting - or maybe some drama that's happened in our lives that I want to share.  I see so many posts and sites about having a "brand."  Do I need one?  Does it help define me in some way?  I don't really get it.

I would so love to make money from my blog.  I do not have nearly enough readers to allow me to qualify for anything really interesting - and I refuse to belong to every possible social site just for promotion's sake.  I also can't fill my blog with ads - I want people to read my material, not navigate around ads!

I have done a book review, where I got the book for free.  That was cool because I love reading.  I'm getting another book (this time a children's book) for free and I will write a review for that as well.  I've applied for a few other things to review, but it doesn't usually work out since I don't have a lot of "unique pageviews" for my blog.  Some sites and companies want you to have over 1500 unique pageviews - say what?  That's unattainable for me right now.

I was super excited to see my ballet teacher share my last post about my adult ballet lessons.  Sure, my hubby sent the link to him to read, but still - someone new reading (and sharing!) my stuff!  Excitement!

I'm trying very hard to not be bogged down by all the "shoulds" of blogging.  I want to share my events, thoughts, feelings, milestones, and interesting tidbits with people who appreciate them.  If I get free stuff, or make $2 that's just a bonus.  I don't want to obsess about "unique pageviews" or Twitter followers, or whether I qualify for any specific reviews, sponsored posts, or anything else.

Friends, I hope you appreciate my candour - I will always be sure to tell you if my posts are sponsored in any way.  And let me know if there's anything you'd like me to post about.  Or if there's posts you didn't care for and don't want to see more about.  A blog is only as good as it's readers!

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Now I Am A Dance Mom

Emma has been taking dance lessons (ballet) since she was 4.  Rose has been going since 2 and a half.  They like it a lot (most of the time.)  Emma has expanded to Ballet and Contemporary dance so she dances 2 hours once a week.  They were both in the Santa Claus Parade this year on the Kingston School of Dance float (while their Dad drove the truck to pull the float!)

KSD is a great learning environment for the girls.  It's the only non-competitive dance school in town.  Everyone learns at their own pace, and no one is pushed beyond their limits.  We have only had positive experiences with this dance school.

For a few months now I've been thinking about punishing myself by trying out the Adult Ballet class.  This ties in tightly with my idea that I need more music in my life - there's a post about that here.  Also I need more active time in my week.  My hubby works late one night (at least) a week, and I'm home every night, for every dinner and every bedtime.  This could also be my escape, once weekly, from bedtimes!

The girls don't let hubby put them to bed if I'm home - who knows what he's missing out on (besides a LOT of reading) when he doesn't put them to bed.  Sometimes, but not often, tidbits about the day are shared at bedtime.  I love it when that happens!  But I would also love him to share in the routines.

The Adult Ballet I happens Monday nights - there's also an Adult Ballet II on Wednesday but I am so not ready for that.  I can get to the Monday night class right from work.  I work until 6 and class is at 7 so I leave the store, walk back to the car and drive to dance.  Then I change into whatever Flashdance inspired outfit I managed to create that week and then wait.  Most weeks one of my friends is there as her daughter is taking Contemporary dance as well (but in the class one lower than Emma - she's only 5.)

I've been to two classes now.  The first one had only 5 ladies in it, including me.  I was comfortable with the crowd, but not at all with the ballet.

Everything is French.  I guess I should have anticipated that, but somehow it didn't figure into my decisions.  I know a lot of French words, but somehow I can't apply them to my feet or my body.  Also everyone else is a dancer.  You can just tell by the way they move, and how they seem to know all these French code words for everything.

The workout was great - my legs were sore for about 36 hours, with some lingering stiffness as I tried to stretch out the pains the next few days.  I was fully recovered before the second class.

Second class had 8 people total.  That was more daunting as they mostly all knew all the French code words as well.  And when the teacher says things like "lunge" what he's really saying is "do the splits!"  There was a lot more barre work, and extra stretching, in the second class, but I really liked it.  I must have been warmed up enough as I managed to actually get my leg onto the barre to actually do the stretches!  I needed some technique critiques as the class went on, but I managed to pick up on a lot of it the second time around.

In between classes I went online.  I read at least a dozen websites about "basic ballet."  Foot positions, arm positions, and French words and how they apply to your movements.  I watched videos (and some I even tried to follow along to), read up on beginner sequences and what they're called and basically just increased my ballet vocabulary.

Guess what - it worked!  I felt like I remembered things from last week, and retained some idea of what the words were and how they related to foot and arm positions.  I stumbled through the second class more easily, and I felt more confident that I wasn't quite 1,000 years behind everyone else.  The second class went more quickly and I felt like I got much more out of it when I wasn't worrying quite so much about how the basic moves went.

I guess it can only get better from here.  The ballet barre workout is great, and the sequences are pretty simple.  Half the class is barre work but then we move out to the floor.  That's where I lose all my coordination - but it's still fun.  And no one is judging.  Everyone is at their own level and working toward their own goals.  They support you when you're doing well and don't criticize when you have no idea what's going on.  It's a great group of ladies (who were all dancers is seems, except for me!)

Have you ever taken a ballet class?  Or done those "barre workouts" that seem to be popular now?  What did you think?  How was your coordination?  And was it fun?  Please share your experiences with my in the comments!

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Head Lice - One Of Many Parental Nightmares

Every time I get an email from the school I have to read it right away.  I have anxiety about the lovely principal emails, and not for any actual school-related reasons.

Whenever an update appears in my inbox I immediately tune out everything around me until I can scan the email for those dreaded words: Head Lice

We've been lucky so far this year.  I've seen a notice twice that there was a "suspected case" but there was never any follow-up or school head checks.  Not like in years past.

The girls have had their fair share of head lice so far in their little lives.  The first time we experienced it I was pregnant with Rose, and Emma was probably barely 3 years old.  I had a little breakdown because I didn't think I could deal with all the things expected of a household who finds head lice.

I didn't want to use the horrible chemical shampoo on my 2 or 3 year old.  I didn't think I could vacuum every surface in my house before she came into contact with the surfaces again.  I couldn't imagine corralling all her toys and either washing and drying them or putting them in a bag for 2 weeks (and/or in the freezer - who has room for that??)  And how do you get a 2 or 3 year old to sit still for an hour while you nit comb her entire head?  Especially with a pregnant belly in the way?  Ack!

Luckily I have great family nearby so I asked for help - mostly to do Emma's hair.  She was a star that first time.  She hated it, but she sat and let me pick and pick and pick.  The girls had thin hair as toddlers so mostly I could see what was going on in there.  I put on a movie and (no joke) she sat for a hour.  And this is after I picked through while she was in the bath getting the shampoo washed out as well.

We've been fortunate that neither girl has had a serious infestation.  I've managed to find it early every time (and there have been 3 large bottles of R&C amounts of times!) and alert daycare, which is where I think they came into contact with it - but not necessarily in the daycare house.  They used to go to all sorts of programs and other places (which is also why I loved my daycare!) where the girls came into contact with lots of kids.  Never have I been sure where the lice came from.  I find that very frustrating.

A few things we do now (that may or may not be helping!) routinely:

  • Tea Tree Oil - I put it right into the kids shampoo bottles, and then add a few drops to the squirt I put into my hand as well right before shampooing.
  • Check the hair all the time - like while we're watching tv and the kids are cuddly.  Catching it early is key!
  • Wearing hair up as much as possible - this isn't often in my house because no one likes their hair brushed, and that's a vital component to being able to put it up!
  • Using conditioner - I know there's conflicting evidence about conditioner use and head lice, but here Emma uses conditioner now (if she didn't there'd be no hair combing after!) and I often forget to do the tea tree oil, and she's not had lice in years.  May be a coincidence, may not.
  • Teach the kids about head lice - how it's spread, how early detection is key, and how to stick their hats into the sleeves of their coats.  If they understand why we need to do this stuff, they are way more likely to comply.  At least that's my experience.  For a bit Rose was confused about "hair bugs" and "sugar bugs" (you know, the ones that cause cavities)  That made for interesting teeth brushing conversations because that was often when I would try to look through her hair as well.
Do you have any other tips or household things you do to help keep lice under control and out of your house?  What we're doing is working right now, but I read so much about the "super lice" that I'm still hyper aware that my kids spend a huge amount of time with kids I don't know!  Please share in the comments if you have any helpful ideas!

Saturday, 14 November 2015

My Life Needs Music

I've been wanting to craft up a post about music for a while now.  I'm just not sure how to start or what, really, to say.  Let me give it a try.

I love music.  I have for as long as I can remember.  I learned to play piano around age 4 and I did Royal Conservatory up to grade 8, which got me a high school credit.  How cool!

I still try to play, but truthfully I don't make the time much anymore (which goes for all my hobbies right now: knitting and crochet; "real" gardening - not just pulling a few weeds and watering when I absolutely have to; I wanted to learn to paint but didn't get past buying some paper and paints; and I'm sure there are more hobbies I had that I haven't done in so long I've forgotten!)

Music I still fit in, mostly because it can be a very passive pastime.  I put on the radio, and I use my phone and headphones when I walk from the car to (and from) work every day.  That gets me maybe 30 minutes of music a day, once you remove the commercials and talking from the radio shows in the morning.

There was a time when I had my finger on the pulse of current music trends.  In highschool and university I prided myself on knowing all the "cool" bands as well as the more obscure, but still great, other bands that toured around our area.  I would go to concerts all the time - so much so I'd try to schedule classes around the late nights I knew were concerts nights at the nearby bars.  That didn't really work out that well, but I tried!

Being a Canadian I got a lot of my music information from MuchMusic.  That was back in the days when they played more music videos and much less "shows."  Now they've gone back to videos an hour at a time randomly through the day, but there was a point where I'm sure they didn't play more than an hour of videos a week.  Anyway, I digress - but the network had great VJs and writers who managed to get all the good "music news" out to the public and had bands in the studio all the time.  It was worth watching if you were a music junkie, like me.

In the 90s and early 2000s I knew so much music news.  And my parents loved rock, so right from the beginning it was "classic rock" and "80s rock" (from the radio at the time) all the time in my household.  Of course my sister and I went through the "pop" phase, and I don't know if I ever fully left it behind.  I like so much varied music that I find it hard to pinpoint a favourite genre.  I'll listen to most anything, but less of the twangy old country music, and I have a low tolerance for old-fashioned rap. Personally, I feel that music genres do not exist the way they used to.  I know a lot of artists "cross-over" but I believe that us fans just like things in a broader scope that it's hard to classify artists in one genre anyway.

My favourite bands are from the 90s and early 2000s, and they're mainly Canadian Rock.  I can't define them any more than that.  And finally they are resurging.  The I Mother Earth, Our Lady Peace, Moist, The Tea Party, Wide Mouth Mason era bands are either touring again, or releasing new singles.  I'm returning to a happy place these days.  I saw Hawksley Workman here in Kingston earlier this year, for free, in the pouring rain.  No one was brave enough to come with me, so I said "to hell with everyone!" and went myself.  There was a small showing of people for the concert, but the rain stopped, the stars came out, and the show was fabulous!

Later this past summer Big Sugar came for a free concert as well.  It rained a smidge for that one, but they're cooler (or just more popular!) than Hawksley Workman and there was a huge turnout for that show.  I still got to be in the very front though!

The biggest thing I miss right now is the time I used to have to just absorb music.  I remember buying a new cd, taking it home, fighting with the wrapper (because those pull tabs never worked!) and then lovingly placing the disk in the player in my room.  I would just lay on my bed absorbing the new tunes, reading along to the lyrics if the band provided them in the liner, or just mellowing out to the tunes.  I would listen over and over until I had the song order memorized, and most of words (and all of choruses) learned well enough to get me by until I could just lay around some more and listen.

Those days are long gone.  Now I know the words to the choruses of the songs on the radio, but sometimes (okay, most times) I don't even know who the artists are.  It's a sad decline in my life.  Almost as bad as my loss of reading time (the post about that is here) but I still try.  Concerts are few and far between, but when I do get to go I totally soak it in - even if it's in the arena setting, and not the up-close-and-personal bar scene (because I physically can't stay up that late anymore and then function at 6:30am for the kids!)

I know all is not lost - I still make a little time for music - but I will never be as tuned in to the music scene as I was when I was younger.  I don't even know when I bought a cd last, and I'm so resistant to buying "albums" digitally.  I like to hold these things in my hands - cds, books, movies and so on.

Share your feelings with me - who are your favourite bands or artists?  Do you still make the time for hobbies that you enjoyed when you were younger?  Are your kids "coming around" to your tastes in music, movies, books etc?  I'm desperately curious to hear how other parents deal with the loss of what made you "you" in your younger years.  Or have you managed to hold onto everything you loved, and enjoy it the same?  Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Adventures in Baking - Marble Cake

Alison's Marble CakeMy sister's birthday is in early November.  We are a family who tries to get together for everyone's birthdays and just have a nice family dinner.  Since my mom reads my blog (Hi Mom!) she knows I've been getting my bake on more often.  So when I asked her what I should bring to dinner, she told me (okay, asked me) to bake a cake.

Not only did I rise to the challenge, but I also made the non-decision to make a marble cake.  Does Alison like chocolate or vanilla cake better?  Who cares, let's make one that's both!

So I Googled cake recipes for an entire night.  I never know how to know if this recipe works, tastes good, or any of that.  I will read an entire page of comments and still not really form an opinion because for every person that struggled with it, 2 more loved it, and then 3 people made it, but with substitutions, or add ons.  If there are enough positive reviews I'll make the assumption that it must usually work out okay.

The recipe I used was at (That's the link directly to the recipe, not just the Real Simple website.)  It tasted good but as you can see it turned out more like a chocolate cake on top of a white cake.

I found the original batter quite thick and almost tough to work with.  I scooped the 2 cups out and into the cocoa/water/sugar mix and that batter was much more workable.  Were I to make it again I would add a little more milk to the original vanilla batter before I poured it into the pan so I could "swirl" the flavours together better.

My second struggle was actually baking the cake.  I have a nice glass 9x13 dish that has a lid.  I thought "Great! I can travel with it!"  What I didn't realize was baking in glass is different than in metal pans.  Of course the recipe didn't specify pan material, but I put it in at the temperature suggested for the smallest allotment of time suggested and it was nowhere near done.  The toothpick came out coated in chocolate batter.

Logically I thought this was due to the runnier consistency of the chocolate batter, and the fact that I put the timer on for the shortest time.  I put it back in for 2 more minutes.  Then 2 more, and then another minute and thirty seconds.  I think in total I cooked it for almost 10 extra minutes.  At that point there was one spot where the toothpick still came out fairly coated, but I wanted to be able to eat at least some of the cake so I decided it was done enough!

 If you look closely at the photo you can see a small spot in the middle where the cake sank a bit.  I was quite worried that it would still be runny in that section!  Of course it turned out fine, and once I'd iced and decorated it you couldn't tell it had a sunken spot at all.

I made some icing from scratch using this recipe, but I really had to read all the comments as there was a confusing part about the icing sugar.  At any rate it tasted really good and I didn't thin it out too much so it spread on the cake beautifully.  After the white icing I used the various decorating stuff I had from doing the cookies for Emma's Halloween party.  Who doesn't love black and pink decorations on their cake?? (I think my artistic handwriting needs some work, but no one complained about my block letters!)

I then put the lid on thinking there was lots of space, but it did squish the letters a bit.  To make up for that we took our girlie coloured sprinkles (pink, blue, yellow and purple) with us to dust the cake with right before the candles went on.  The girls love putting sprinkles on stuff.

Here's the last photo - the cake all ready to go!

We had a nice birthday visit with Alison and the parentals.  My kids didn't eat the cake (I didn't think they would) but everyone else said it was good.  I tend to agree.

Do you have any baking catastrophes (or successes!) that made a good story?  Share in the comments, and thanks for reading!

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

5 Things We've Learned About Night Terrors

My older daughter experienced Night Terrors.  We had no idea what was going on with her, and it was scary for us!  I thought I'd share a few things we learned while dealing with Emma and her Night Terrors.

Emma Asleep
  1. They are distinctly different from Nightmares.  Emma would sit up quickly, exclaim loudly (sometimes screaming or crying) and be completely unresponsive.  She would then just lay down and be asleep.  It's really freaky, especially when it happens the first time!
  2. Having a child be completely unresponsive, especially at night, is a heart-stopper for anxious moms! (or Dads or other caregivers.)  I don't know how many times I went in to see her knowing she was having these Terrors and I felt so completely helpless.  I would hug this stiff-as-a-board little girl while she cried or carried on, or sometimes just gestured wildly, and would just get absolutely no response.  Eventually she would relax and just be completely asleep.  It was mind-boggling for me.  I did finally manage to acknowledge there was nothing I could do, but while it didn't really make me feel better, it did allow me to go back to sleep myself after tucking her back in.
  3. Being over-tired made them worse.  If Emma had a really drawn-out bedtime (which she always had, so I mean an extra-long 'drawn out for at least an hour' bedtime) there was a greater chance she'd wake with a Terror.  Same deal if the day was really busy or she didn't nap (which she never did for me anyway...)
  4. They will almost always happen just after you fall asleep.  Most of the literature about Night Terrors suggests they happen 2 to 3 hours after the kid falls asleep.  For most households that's likely the time parents are getting into bed and falling asleep themselves.  Of course.
  5. Kids grow out of them.  Our daughter didn't really start with them until after our second was born.  Correlation?  No idea.  Emma would have been approaching 3 and a half.  Most things I've read suggest kids between 4 and 12 can have them.  Emma is now 7 and hasn't had one in a long while (maybe even a year.)
Rose Asleep
Strangely Rose, our second born, has never had a Night Terror - although Murphy's Law dictates it will happen now that I've said that.  Rose has also always been a good sleeper who had no problem taking naps and going to bed when tired.  I suspect that could be part of the reason.  She also had no problem sleeping through Emma's carrying on back when she was afflicted with these Night Terrors.

We didn't actually have Emma checked out and diagnosed with Night Terrors, but Dr Google and Dr Mom agreed that that was definitely what was going on with her some nights.  She didn't remember any of the episodes she had, so much so that she would argue with me at the breakfast table that she never woke up once (which I guess she technically never did!)

If you think you're experiencing Night Terrors with your little one, take heart!  They will pass, and they aren't dangerous (unless your child is prone to falling out of bed, which did happen at least once here!)  They're scary, but more for the parents than the child.  Read up on them online like I did and maybe understanding what they are will give you some measure of reassurance.

Please share your experiences in the comments, and if there's any other helpful tidbits I didn't touch on, share those too!  But remember, nothing can replace the advice of a physician when diagnosing anything anywhere ever.