Ballet Feet

Ballet Feet

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Lunchbag Lessons

It's the start of another school year and by now you would think I'd have packing lunches down to an art but alas, I am still learning my lunchbag lessons.

With my youngest entering JK and my oldest in grade 2, I am now tasked with providing healthy (nut free) lunches for two children, five days a week.  In addition, our school is on a balanced day which means my kids get two 20 minute breaks in which to eat - not really all that much time if you ask me.  Now if my children enjoyed processed food I would have it so much easier - just pop open a can of Chef Boy-ar-dee like my mom did and voila!- instant lunch.  My children also are not fond of sandwiches -except peanut butter for the younger one which for obvious reasons is a no-go & tuna for the older one which is a good choice. So what is a mom to do?  

So far here is what I've found works (thanks to all those bloggers & articles that gave me great tips)

  • Pack small portions of everything.
  • Make sure food is ready to eat (ie: pre-peel oranges, cereal bars out of the wrapper, etc) - this also helps with the litter free lunch initiative.
  • Make staples ahead and freeze in portion sizes (plain pasta, shepherd's pie, etc)
  • Make your own "lunchables" with cheese, crackers & kielbasa

Some things my kids really enjoy in their lunches include:
  • bagel with cream cheese - I buy the PC thin bagels which are a better portion size
  • sushi - wish I could make this but once in a while we buy some to go in their lunch
  • fruits & veggies - just cut up and plain (lucky me!)
  • cheese quesadilla
  • tortillas (I sneak in whole wheat ones) and salsa
I found some great containers at IKEA that were cheap (since we usually lose a few a year) and in good sizes - the whole package retailed for under $6.00 and we use the bigger containers at home.  



I also picked up the re-usable bags that come in a package with two sizes (sandwich & snack).  I really like the snack size, it is bigger than most but smaller than a sandwich bag - just right for some plain popcorn.


This year we also found some great lunch bags at Target.  They have a hard shell inside which keeps them from getting squished and makes them easy to wipe out.  They are large enough to hold lots of food items and at about $12, so far they've been worth every penny.

Of course we always grab some personalized Mabel's Labels to tag everything.  Many schools and daycares have fundraising efforts through Mabel's and if yours doesn't you might want to start one.

The one item I wish I could find is an insulated sandwich sized container that would keep foods hot (like ribs and chicken fingers) so that I don't have to try to cram them into a cylindrical thermos container.   If you know where I can get one of these please let me know. 

I am always on the lookout for other great lunch ideas that are quick and easy to make (as I am not the cook in our family) so please comment and share your lunch lessons.

Have a great school year! 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Life through a different lens

If you know me or read my blog, you will know that my father passed away last December and you will also know what a trying time it was for me to come to terms with his death.  Everyday I feel in some small way that my dad is still with me and sometimes at the most unexpected times I grieve again.  What I didn't expect was what would happen next.

My parents were married for over 65 years and my mother has never lived alone.  I know in this day and age it is hard to imagine, I mean I spent a good portion of my adulthood living alone and married late so the thought of being alone again while sad is not foreign to me. After the passing of my father my mom needed more care than we were able to provide and than she was willing to accept.  This meant that her planned stay in respite at a retirement home to ensure she wasn't alone over the holidays became a permanent relocation in February.  My mom did not transition well and hated the "system" of care, giving up her last sheds of independence and having to admit to needing help did not go smoothly.  The loss of my dad, coupled with the sudden change led to a quick regression in emotional, physical and mental well-being. I won't get into the specifics but it was deemed necessary to once again move my mom and this time it was into a long term care (LTC) facility.   Over the past few weeks since moving into LTC my mom has become increasingly agitated, anxious and her cognitive levels seem to be rapidly deteriorating.  From the time my father passed she has said that it wasn't supposed to be like this, they were supposed to go together.  She talks about 87 years being enough and wishing she was dead. On a good day she resigns herself to living.  My mom is not suicidal but she is definitely depressed, lonely and sad.  In the first months I was upbeat talking to her about all the positives - her children, her grandchildren, and tried to convince her that in time she might enjoy tea on the patio or a bus trip to the local Walmat...and I really believed what I was saying.

The other day I looked at her life through her lens.  Her days are spent alone (mostly by choice), she goes to meals, lays in bed or sits in a chair and looks out a window at an empty courtyard and sleeps until the next day when the routine starts again.  My father will never be their to keep her company, sit with her, argue with her, and be her constant companion.  (cue for me to start crying again).  When I stopped thinking about her life from my point of view, my selfishness and my desire to have her carry on, I realized that my role is not to try to change her mind and convince her life will get better because in all honesty for her it won't.  My role is to listen, to be there for her when she needs me and to make sure that when her time comes that it is as comfortable and peaceful as possible - if that's within our control.   I know she is being well cared for and is in a safe and caring environment which is all I can ask.

If there is any learning to be had from this experience, it is that we cannot will others to do what we want them to do even if we think it's best.  Sometimes we need to step away and look at it through another lens so we can be the person we need to be.


In happier times with  Dad and Lil L
                                             


Monday, December 9, 2013

Saying Goodbye at the End of Life

Less than a month ago I went to visit my parents and spent the day with them just sharing time together and going out for lunch.  At 91 years old my dad was not as steady on his feet as he used to be and his hearing was not great but there was no indication that I would be sitting at my computer crying and trying to find the words to convey the struggle I am having with his impending passing.

Two weeks ago today my mother called me and asked me to come and help them out, my father wasn't well.  Half-way from my house to theirs I got a call from my mom telling me she was going to call EMS when I got there to take my dad to the hospital.  Having seen him just a week prior I couldn't imagine what the problem was and told her to hold off and I could drive him when I arrived.  She told me he couldn't go in my car, we need to call an ambulance.  When I got there he was obviously sick and looked so weak and frail I couldn't believe my eyes.  We called EMS and as is usually the case the Fire Department got there first.  They were kind and helpful and got my dad situated and on some oxygen then EMS took over and we left for the hospital.  At the emergency, my dad was checked and tested and slipped in and out of being lucid.  It was crushing and I couldn't understand how this could happen so quickly.  We found out that he was suffering from pneumonia and had a heart attack (not of the traditional nature) and would be moved into a room once one came available.  One of the doctors asked if he had a heroic measures plan, I had no idea what he was asking and said no.  I send a text to my brother who was at home dealing with the passing of his mother in law just days prior to find out what the doctor was talking about.  What I now understand is that  they wanted to know about a DNR (do not resuscitate) and the use of heroic measures to keep my dad alive.  We were lucky that my parents had made these decisions for us and it was clearly laid out in his power of attorney.  That said, we were shocked to be asked and I pondered if my dad was going to make it.

The next day my dad was moved up to a room and they started treatment for his illness and he seemed to be responding but he also had stopped eating and drinking and seemed to come in and out of lucidness.  I read up and heard that this was often a result of an illness like pneumonia and I held out some hope that maybe he would get better once it was resolved.  The conversations over the next week with doctors and other hospital staff often left me bewildered and trying to understand what the next steps were.  In the end, it seems he would need to go to long term care and if they could not place him immediately then he would stay in hospital as a co-pay.  We made some decisions about possible locations and I felt as though we were moving forward until the day the light dawned on me after we had a talk with the discharge planner and CCAC. My father was not getting nourishment and if he went to long term care they would not offer an IV to replace fluids.  It would be up to him to eat and drink and we knew that he already was not doing this and the minimal amounts he was taking were not enough to sustain him.

I always believed that quality of life was important and felt that if you no longer had an adequate quality of life then the decision to go peacefully into death was the right one.  What I didn't realize is that even when your love one makes that decision for you, executing it is the most heart wrenching choice to make and there isn't anything that can be said or done that makes you feel better about making the right choice.

Last Tuesday we switched my dad to comfort care, he is being kept comfortable and pain free through sedation and the last time I saw him awake I fixed his pillows and he smiled up at me and touched my face.  It took every ounce of self control not to burst into tears but that may be my last memory of my dad awake and alert enough to interact with me.  The last few visits he has been sedated and hasn't roused but I could sit with him day and night, I find it strangely peaceful and to be honest it's also selfish, I don't want to miss my chance to say goodbye one last time.  I live in a constant state of anxiousness, afraid the phone will ring and he will be gone and I will have to come to terms with the fact that my dad won't be there for me any more.  I am a grown woman with a family of my own but he will always be my "daddy" and my protector.  He was always a kind, wonderful person and I would find it hard to believe that there were many people that met my dad that didn't like him.  So now as we await the when instead of the "if", I reflect and am thankful that my dad was able to walk me down the aisle and know my daughters (I waited a long time for both - my fault, not his) and I cherish the fact that I had my dad in my life for so long, some are not so lucky.

My dad has chosen not to have a visitation or funeral so there is no time or place for goodbyes and so as I write this blog through tear filled eyes I say my goodbyes, my I love you's and you will always be in my heart.

My father passed away today (Tues Dec 10th), my brother was there and said he went peacefully and I was able to come and say my final goodbyes.  Rest in Peace sweet daddy <3


Monday, October 21, 2013

UNICEF Canada - Give the gift of life

Unicef box
It's almost that time of year when children dress up in costumes and run through the streets, the air filled with laughter and screams as they fill their bags with trick or treats.  I remember years ago (and no I won't say how many) heading out with my pillowcase in hand and my black and orange UNICEF box in the other.  I would gleefully collect candy for myself and spare change to help others in lands far away.  Over the years, this program continued but time brings change and this Halloween when you answer your door you won't see the familiar orange box but that doesn't mean you can't help.  If you have school aged children there are new ways for them to join Team UNICEF in raising funds.  Visit the website for details on how to get involved. 

October 31st is still National Unicef Day and there are lots of ways you can get involved, don`t worry I`ll get to those but first I want to share a story.

Recently I attended the Blissdom Canada conference and was fortunate to have an opportunity to spend some time with one of the representatives of UNICEF who took me around their "room" and explained what UNICEF Canada is doing today and how they make a difference.  I was given the opportunity to taste the Plumpy Nut therapeutic food that can help a malnourished child gain up to 2lbs in a single week.  I saw the products that help prevent disease, improve quality of life and in some cases life saving essentials that we take for granted on a daily basis.  As I toured around, I certainly felt sadness for the situation and thought about how I could help but all in a superficial kind of way - it's not that I didn't care but emotionally it hadn't struck a chord.  Right about now I probably sound like I could give the Grinch some competition. While I truly felt like the work UNICEF is doing is worthwhile and the cause is one of need, it fell into the category of humanitarian and important causes that I wished I could support (and if I win that lottery I assure you, I will).  


Unicef artwork
As we passed by the area dedicated to supplies for children like the "School in a box", "Art in a box" and Early Childhood Development Kit, I thought about how fortunate my daughters are and how little it takes to help a child in need and what an amazing job UNICEF is doing but still no stab at my heart that would spur me to action until....we passed a wall with artwork from children from impoverished and war torn countries and as I looked at the drawings and paintings I started to cry.  I've always felt that art was a great way to communicate when words sometimes were too hard or too difficult to articulate and as I`ve talked about often, my daughter frequently expresses both her joy and her unhappiness through art. Embarrassed  I wiped away my tears  but the damn things kept coming, so there I was trying to have a mature conversation as I blubbered away.  The UNICEF rep was very kind and talked about how different people are affected by different things in different ways (I guess my go to is sobbing).  When I looked at those drawings it was like those children were reaching out to me and the effect was both unexpected and disarming.  

So now the question is how do I make a difference?  Well I start by spreading the word, to family, to friends and through my social networks.  I signed up for the 1 email = 1 vaccine campaign, I`m writing a blog and I believe at only $32.00 there is the gift of Art in a Box in our future.

Now it`s your turn, there are many ways to help that don't cost a thing thanks to generous sponsors like Hallmark and others.  

Start by providing your email address to the 1 email = 1 vaccine campaign.  From October 11 to October 31, everyone who provides their email and phone number to UNICEF Canada through unicef.ca will provide 1 life-saving tetanus vaccine to a child, thanks to the generosity of their partners. Every email counts.

If you are a blogger, write a blog about the Give the Gift of Life Campaign. UNICEF is working with Hallmark Canada to provide 10 vaccines for every blog post written in support of our Likes Don’t Save Lives, Survival Gifts Do campaign. 1 blog = 10 vaccines. 
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Purchase a Survival Gift for as low as $10 (you probably spend more than that in coffee in a week) you can make a difference. 

I hope that my blog inspires you to help and find what touches your heart and makes a connection with those in need.  If you need a little more inspiration listen to Nigel Fisher and find out about his boots featured on cover of this years Survivor Gifts catalouge.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Great Service = Brand Loyalty

I admit it, I am loyal to brands I love and I will go out of my way to shop at or for them but my loyalty is based on high expectations.  As someone that has worked in customer service in one form or another for my whole life, I really believe that providing great customer service isn't really that hard.  If you think it is then you are probably in the wrong job.  Don't get me wrong, I had many a day when I had to deal with unhappy and unreasonable customers and sometimes I didn't have on my happiest of faces but 99.9% of the time I really wanted to help each and every person that walked through the door.

Enough about me, back to brands...if you know me you will know that I drink coffee from Starbucks, spend lots of time (and money) in the Disney store, frequent Old Navy for kids clothes and most recently have begun my love affair with Target.  When I heard Target was coming to Canada I was so excited, I had shopped their U.S. stores and always got great deals on the things I wanted.  I also knew that just like every other U.S. retailer that the Target stores that opened here would not be the same as their stateside counterparts and I'm okay with that - I get it.  However, what I did expect was good value, great service and another option for my "value" shopping.  So far Target is making me really happy and here's why:

1. The Red Card - this handy little card linked to your bank card (or their is a credit card option) saves you 5% on your purchases and it comes off right away - no need to build up points or save for redemption!  I love this card

2. Starbucks - each location has a Starbucks, it's perfect for me

3. Shopping Carts with kid's seating - while they are a bit of a beast to maneuver, these carts are one of the few my two kids will actually sit in for the duration of a shopping trip

4. Value - the pricing has good value, not to say you don't need to shop sales or price check but most items are in the range I would expect

5. Service - this probably should have been my #1 reason but I saved the best for the last.  The staff at Target is always attentive, they ask if you need help and if you do, they take the time to assist you not just point you in the right direction.  It was actually their service that inspired me to write this post.  

Great Service Story
This morning at just after 8 am, I went to Target to return an item (without the receipt), pick up something small and get my daughter dropped at day camp before heading to work.  When we entered the staff were in their team "meeting" at the front of the store but immediately the staff person on customer service came over to help.  My return of a pencil case even without a receipt was smooth sailing and the salesperson was quick & efficient.  We got our gift card and went into the store to pick up some chapstick for one of my daughter's friends (that's a whole other story) then I noticed they has butterfly wings in the party section that I had hedged on buying during a previous shopping trip.  My daughter is having a Rainbow Magic fairy themed party and I thought the guests might like to have "fairy wings" - a steal at $2 a piece.  I asked my daughter if she'd like them for her guests and she was very excited at the idea.  I grabbed the pile of wings and counted 7...the downside, we needed 12.   I asked the salesgirl across the way working in cosmetics if they had any more and she offered to take it to the front to scan, then another staff person came by with a hand scanner and checked sadly, this was all they had but they offered to call another store and check for additional stock.  We all went up to customer service and the salesperson that had processed my return asked which stores I would like to check and I gave her the locations close to our house and my work.  She then got on the phone and started calling around, and at one point had another staff person take the line as she had to serve a customer on cash - when she was done she got on another line and joked it would be a race to find out who could locate the fairy wings first.  The young man helping us, made conversation not just with me but with my soon to be six year old daughter, asking her about her party and listening intently as she gave him ALL the details.  In the end, another store thought they might have stock but I couldn't wait to confirm so I said I would just pop in and see.  The salesperson offered to hold the items at their store so I wouldn't come back to find them sold - perfect.  I did find another 5 wings at another store and my daughter and I returned to the original store to pick up the other 8.  Again the staff person on duty (a young guy) was friendly, and asked what the wings were for and then talked to my daughter about her party and the Rainbow Magic books which I am sure were not of any interest to him but my daughter would never have known that by the way he treated her.  This is the kind of service that keeps me coming back to a store/brand and I will let all my friends and fellow moms know what a great experience I had.

So to all the retailers, brands and companies out there...my best advice is to hire, train and retain great staff they are your best ambassadors!

Happy Shopping : )

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A lesson learned...saving your money by Linda Cvetanovic

I haven't posted in a while and it's not because I don't have much to say its just been busy - life got in the way.  However, today after I left a mall seething because of the treatment of a retail manager who ruined a lesson we are trying to teach our children.  If you save your money, you can buy stuff - simple.



Since my oldest daughter (5.5 years) was born she has been the recipient of cash and at times lots of it.  When she was younger we took the money that was gifted to her and invested it in RESP's with the hope it would help with tuition costs in the future.  As she got older and started to ask for things (mostly a trip to Disney World) we explained that "things" cost money and that we need to save and plan when we want to buy something important to us.  With that she was given the largest plastic jar we could find, which she decorated with princess stickers and we dubbed it the "Disney Jar".  From that point on whenever she received money whether it was as a gift or for helping around the house she had the option to save it, spend it or save some and spend some.  99% of the time she put the money in her Disney jar to save for 'the trip'.   

As time when on, I found myself buying a lot of frivolous items on almost every trip to any store (this girl can shop at a gas station!) and I thought it was time for her to realize that things don't come for free and going shopping for apples doesn't mean we are buying a toy.  It started with the explanation "we don't have money for that" but she grew wise to that argument and suggested we ask her dad for money, to quote "he has lots".  Time for a new tactic and one I felt was a better lesson learned.  When we went out shopping I would tell her in advance what we were shopping for and let her know that if there was something she hoped to buy then it was up to her if she wanted to spend her money on it.      She also starting asking if she could do "chores" to earn money, which I am happy to oblige.  We have recently started to introduce this concept to our soon to be 3 year old daughter as well.

At first she spent her bills buying things she wanted, then we were down to coin.  Today, she told me she wanted to go to the Disney store while we were at the mall and buy
something from Tangled (in anticipation of the show airing that night).  We were running a last minute errand to get my husband a new suit and it was 3 pm on Saturday afternoon.  I told her she would have to use her own money to buy something and she went up and emptied lots of coins into her purse.  I explained that we should count the money so she knew how much she had to spend and then roll it so it could be used at the store.  I helped her roll $10 in quarters, $4 in nickels and then the additional $7 in loonies were added to her purse.  We also rolled some money for her sister to purchase something and off we went.

Both girls spent lots of time looking around the store and learning what they could (and couldn't) afford.  In the end, they settled for a Tangled art set for the oldest and a bunny from Sofia the First for the younger one.  My five year old went to the counter with pride to pay for her purchase and it came to $21.90 just under the allotted $22.  She gave the cashier all her money and that's when things went downhill.  The cashier asked another cashier if she needed to count the coin inside the rolls (she did) and then the cashier was told to re-roll it....the ensuing disaster of counting I won't even go into but in the end the manager came over and assisted scooped up the unrolled coin into a bag watched the cashier finish the sale.  I said "wow, you're not going to like our next purchase" as we had the younger ones purchase and rolled coin in hand.   The manager told me she couldn't take our rolled coin, she had just done a coin order and didn't need that change.  I was pissed!  Not only was it ridiculous that they wouldn't accept cash (all be it coin & rolled) but it negated the very message I was trying to teach.  If I had wanted the girls to bring "my money" to the store I would have changed their coin for bills at home.  The point was to take their hard saved money and buy something that they valued and could be proud to have bought themselves.  In the end I paid for it with my cash to avoid a meltdown by my 3 year old had we left empty-handed.  I felt awful for the cashier as I am sure I was shooting flames out my eyes and I did apologize and tell her I understood it was not her fault, she was only doing what her manager said.  What I do know is that it will be a long time before we return to the Disney Store as they must not need our money.

In the end, I hope that my girls understand the value of saving, making good decisions and spending wisely.  Next up my lesson on customer service....


*Note - I did contact the Disney Store head office and they were very quick to respond and apologetic.  They will be forwarding our issue on to the Regional Manager for the area...I hope that I have saved someone else from having a less than magical experience.  They are graciously sending Lily & Eva a gift from Sofia the First which is  a lovely gesture although not required or expected.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Disney World...can we do it?


My oldest daughter (Lil' L) has been in love with Disney princesses since she was just over 2 years old.  Shortly there after she found out about the magical place called Disney World in Florida and she has been unrelenting in her begging to go see the castle and meet the princesses.  We explained to her that going to Disney is a BIG trip and that we needed time to save money and plan our trip - she bought into that and we bought some time.  

Around the time Lil' L turned three she decided that she wanted to save all the money she received (Christmas, birthdays, etc.) for our upcoming trip to Disney.  I found the largest plastic jar I could and we decorated it with princess stickers and wrote Disney on it as a reminder of what she was saving towards. She has been a great saver and given the opportunity to spend some of her money or save it for Disney, it inevitably went into the jar.  Around this time Lil' E was born which delayed any thought of a cross country trip (another break for us!)

Fast forward to 2013, Lil' L is now 5.5 years and Lil' E is 2.5 years and both are equally enamoured with princesses although Lil' E is far less "girly" than her sister.  However, both love to don princess dresses, tiaras, wands and shoes and play make-believe.  After two  years of stalling, one day my husband announced that this was the year we would go to Disney World.  What?!?  The good news was the girls were out of earshot.  I love my husband but  I don't think he did much research before he made his grand announcement.  I am all for visiting Disney World but I don't want to be paying for it for the next few years.  So the research began, I checked flights, low season, accommodations, attraction pricing and no matter how I worked it, this trip is likely to cost between $4,000-$5,000 for a family of four.  Once I shared this information with my hubby, he changed his tune a bit.

I am not sure how other people manage it but that seems like a pretty expensive vacation for two young children and their parents.  I want nothing more than to bring my girls to Disney and see their little faces light up and the wonderment in their eyes as they see Cinderella's castle and experience everything Disney while they still believe, in fact it will probably bring me to tears.  However, I have to be realistic and that means that I can't justify spending that kind of money on a family vacation for one week.  

So I put it out there to you the experienced mamas that have made the trip - how did you manage to do Disney on a budget or did you just suck it up and consider it a once in a lifetime trip?

Evolution of my Lil' L princess : )
Princess at one year
Age 2 from Mulan


Age 3 - Cinderella

Age 4 - Snow White



Age 5 - back to Mulan