Monday, May 22, 2017

Kids in a Candy Store

As we stepped across the threshold of the Stirling General Mercantile, it was as if we stepped back in time. There were all the favourite treats of my childhood; candies that I didn't even know were made anymore.  There are black balls and black licorice pipes, Big League Chew and Thrills gum, countless flavours of salt water taffy, old fashioned candy sticks and more. But more than just a candy store, the Stirling General Mercantile is an experience.

I don't know who was more excited, me or the kids. It was fun to point out all of my childhood favourites. The most exciting part of the experience, however, is the option to fill a bag from the rows of jars on and behind the counter.

It reminded me of when I was a child. On Sundays I would put a coin in the Sunday School offering and then after church I would go to the General Store next door. With a two dollar allowance, I would have money to give, enough to get a pop and bag of chips and a brown paper bag full of penny candy, and still have a little leftover to save.

At the Mercantile you can still get a nice paper bag full of candy for a couple of dollars. You let them know your budget and they help you fill your bag, letting you know when you are near reaching your limit. We had fun selecting candy. There is so much to choose from, the children wanted to try one of everything. From jelly beans to sour gummies they have it all.

At one point a young boy came through the door, having parked his scooter on the sidewalk in front of the store. He asked if there was any "counter candy" and proceeded to search in between the jars for any candy that had fallen in the process of filling bags. Apparently "counter candy" is something that is known to local kids; anything on the counter is fair game. He left with his pockets full and was out the door and back on his scooter again.

I can see this becoming a regular family outing. Sweet memories for a sweet tooth.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Breakout Fever!

This past year I celebrated a significant birthday. When asked what I would like to do to mark the occasion, I replied that I couldn't think of anything I'd rather do than be locked in a room with my in-laws, and be forced to stay there until we worked together on some problems.

I got my wish; we played an escape room game at Breakout Belleville. We weren't literally locked in the room, but we did have an hour to look for clues, solve riddles and figure out a pile of locks to finally win the game. Our game hostess was fantastic (thank you for the hints under the door when we were pulling our hair out), and the venue and staging was great too. It was interesting to see how each person had a different perspective, how our personalities really came out, and how ultimately we worked together to win the game (with just two minutes to spare). Here we are immediately following our successful break out. I think those are pretty happy faces for a family that just spent an hour "locked" in a room together.

This was the second escape room game I had played. The first was at a Google Apps for Education Summit that I attended in the fall. There we had the opportunity to play a game designed by the folks at Breakout EDU. Breakout EDU brings all of the excitement and challenges of a breakout game into the classroom. Rather than trying to break out out of a room, players need to break in to a locked box. All you need is the Breakout EDU kit, and you can play any of the hundreds of free games on their site (

We now have boxes at a couple of the schools where I work. I have set up many games for students and staff, and even made a custom game for a class review for a test. I've learned more than I ever thought I could about setting, troubleshooting and sometimes even,, yes, decoding (ie. picking) locks. It has been fun to watch the players enjoying the games. They are learning, making connections, and working cooperatively. I love seeing the lightbulb moments, and seeing how each one contributes to the group. Even when there are tense moments, when a group successfully "breaks out" I almost always see the same kind of smiles as in our picture above. Who knew learning could be so fun?

This weekend I am setting up an Easter Breakout for my family. It will be a new twist on the old Easter egg hunt. In about a month I'll be heading to Ottawa to present Breakout at the Ontario Association of Library Technicians/Association des bibliotechniciens de l'Ontario 44th Annual Conference. You could say I've got Breakout fever. Don't worry though Breakout Belleville, I will be back. I want to be able to play sometimes too!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

An Ode to Spring (With Apologies to the Neighbours)

It has been quite some time since I posted. I have been hibernating for the winter. Leaving for work and coming home in the dark has been quite uninspiring. Then suddenly, with the start of Daylight Savings Time and the longer warmer days, I feel like I am waking up again. My Canada 150 tulips that survived the foraging squirrels have popped up lush and green. The grass is growing, birds are singing, and best of all the kids are outside in full force, the whole neighbourhood alive with the laughter, hoots and hollers of childhood fun.

Neighbours we practically haven't seen all winter are out visiting on the front steps. The bikes and scooters are all out. My kids got a pogo stick for Christmas and he has enjoyed bouncing around the neighbourhood.  His friend went and got one too, and now they jump around together, trying out new tricks or seeing who can stay on the longest. Last I checked they had invented a type of pogo derby--bouncing while trying to knock the other one off. Ba-dunk, ba-dunk, ba-dunk. It has a distinct sound. Turns out that it is also a sound that the neighbours can hear inside their houses! Sorry neighbours and friends; we will try to keep it between the hours of 9am and 8pm. Ba-dunk-ba-dunk!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

This Makeup is Delicious!

Would you eat your makeup? I would. I know exactly what is in it, because I made it myself with ingredients from the pantry.

Over past couple years I have experimented with going shampoo-free (or no-poo) for my hair, so I have gotten used to the idea of kitchen ingredients as beauty products. Apple cider vinegar, for example, makes a fantastic rinse that removes build-up of product and leaves my hair soft and shiny. It shouldn't have seemed strange then, when I saw a post in my newsfeed about making make-up (

The recipe that caught my eye was for a powder foundation. The ingredients were simple; arrowroot flour, and then a combination of cinnamon, cocoa and/or nutmeg to achieve the desired colour. It sound reasonable enough, but then I hesitated. Would it look "caked" on? Would I look like the mom in the cereal commercial who puts flour on her face to appear as though she has spent all day making those marshmallow cereal treats? Ultimately, I just had a hard time wrapping my head around going out for the day with food on my face.

My partner thought it was strange too. "Can you do that?" he asked. I had been asking myself the same thing. Then it dawned on me. Of course I can. Why is it any stranger than putting any number of chemicals mixed together in some factory on my face? Who is it that tells us we have to wear commercially manufactured makeup?

I went to the local bulk store for the ingredients and for under $0.50 I think I probably have enough to last a year. Then I got to mixing. I have a fair complexion, so I only needed a little cocoa and cinnamon. The thing that I really liked was I could keep trying it, and then add ingredients little by little until I had the perfect match for my skin tone. And it smells so good!

I have a powder brush that I really like, and a good brush is key to applying this makeup. You want to shake the excess powder off the brush before applying. Less is more. I find it evens out my skin, and it feels nice on. It can be a little drying, and you want to exfoliate first, or it can draw attention to problem areas (yes it can look a little flaky). However, I find the same to be true with any loose powder foundation.

I've been wearing it for a month now and I really like it. It is in  an airtight container and so far it still looks and smells great.  I felt nervous the first few days, still not able to shake the feeling that I was doing something wrong, or socially unacceptable.  Those feeling soon dissipated. Now it is just part of my routine and I love it. So that's my two cents worth. How about you? Have you ever made your own make-up or beauty product? Do you have any tips or recipes? A penny for your thoughts?

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Patriotism and Scaresquirrels

Have you seen the new Canada 150 bulbs? This beautiful tulip has been developed in the Netherlands to resemble the Canada flag, in celebration of our upcoming 150th birthday. You can get them exclusively at Home Hardware. They need to be planted this fall so that they will be in bloom coast to coast in time for the big party.

Feeling especially patriotic, I decided to plant a bag of these bulbs in my tiny front flower bed. Then as a pest deterrent, I put a garden ornament over where I had planted.  I was telling my friend who is a manager at the local Home Hardware that I had planted my bulbs, but that I was a little worried that they would just end up being squirrel food. She told me that she covered her plants with chicken wire.

"Oh my goodness, chicken WIRE!" I exclaimed.  "I covered mine with a METAL CHICKEN to keep the squirrels away." Chicken wire...metal chicken. I was so close. I wonder if it will still keep the squirrels away. I guess we will know in the spring. O Canada 150 tulips, the chicken stands on guard for thee.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Do You Believe In Magic? : Celebrating 100 Years of Dahl

"And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it." -- Roald Dahl (The Minpins)

Today is Roald Dahl Day. Roald Dahl was born on September 13, 1916. I grew up reading his books, and now my own children are discovering his fantastical stories for themselves. To mark the occasion I dressed up as Mrs. Silver from Esio Trot.

My daughter and I also made dream jars for the BFG.

Could I say that the pound of World's Finest chocolate covered almonds that I polished off this week were in honour of Willy Wonka? (No picture as they have been consumed in their entirety.)

I hope that sharing my love of these stories with my children has helped them to have glittering eyes. Like Annie Dillard's pennies, there are secrets and bits of magic in hidden in those unlikely places. Happy birthday Mr. Dahl. Thank you for the splendiferous stories.

Do you have a favourite Roald Dahl book or film adaptation? Is there a particular scene that made an impact on you as a child? Share in the comments below. A penny for your thoughts?

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Let Them Climb

My son is a climber. He is happiest when he is up in a tree.  I couldn't figure out why there were smudges on the wall in the stairwell, until one day I caught him going up the stairs without touching the steps. He spread out, a hand and foot on each side, and was shimmying up the staircase. After he finished washing the walls, I decided I needed to find a more appropriate way for him to work on his climbing skills. The children have discovered a love for the sport of rock climbing.

They have climbed rock walls at parties and events. Their favourite place to climb though, is a climbing gym about an hour from our home. It is an amazing place with forty ropes and over eighty climbs, as well as a bouldering area. The centrepiece of the gym is the chimney. At 100' it is the highest indoor climb in Canada.

When you first arrive at the gym you are given a mini-lesson on how to tie the knots and belay. Since this most recent trip was only our second time at the gym, it was good to have a refresher. My mother came along so that both children could climb at the same time. At one point my mother commented it was getting hard on her shoulders doing the ropes. I reminded her that you aren't pulling the kids up the wall. They do the work, you just keep the rope tight.

They hadn't been climbing long when they started asking to climb the chimney. I was trying to avoid it. The first time they climbed the chimney was absolutely terrifying--for me. My daughter made it to the top using the ladder, but I made my son come back down when he was only halfway up when I heard a clink, followed by "Uh-oh." I panicked. He was only six at the time. He never forgave me.

Here is the thing about the chimney--you can't go in there with the climber. The person holding the ropes sits in a chair in the crawlspace just outside the chimney. You have to keep the rope taut, so that if the climber slips they don't bang around in there like the clapper of a bell, and you have to do it all by feel. After a staff member came and did a safety check, my boy began to climb.

It seemed to take forever, and the rope just kept piling at my feet. One hundred feet is a long way up there. He wanted to climb using the holds instead of the ladder. He only needed to use the ladder for a few rungs when he wasn't quite tall enough to reach a hold. Finally he called down excitedly that he was at the top and that the view was amazing. I asked if he was ready to come down, but he wanted to stay up there and enjoy the view a little longer. When he was ready I let him down. I was so proud. My daughter went next, and although I was still a little shaky, I think it gets easier every time.

I guess it's kind of like life. I won't always have them in my sight, as they go off and explore the world, but I can be their safety support system. We have to trust each other, and trust that there will be others in their lives that have the skills and expertise to challenge them and help them grow. I can't do the climbing for them, but I can keep the connection tight. And one day they will be climbing mountains.