Upchuck Fail

It had been a long time since one of my daughters was ill, but this weekend Olivia’s number was up.

She started complaining that her stomach was hurting on Saturday afternoon. OK, not so much complaining as letting out a loud chain of whines and cries. Sadly, we know Olivia often tends to exaggerate for attention, and we didn’t really take her seriously at first. For which I feel quite guilty, in retrospect. She said she felt like she might be sick. A few minutes later, turns out she was right.

Now, I understand she was sick and out of sorts. And she’s normally a very bright girl. But I really wish that when we told her to run to the toilet, she had grasped that we meant *stand in front of the toilet*, and not *sit on the toilet*. FAIL.

Whatever you’re picturing, it’s probably accurate.

A couple of loads of laundry later (not to mention some mopping and disinfecting), we realized the tone was set for the weekend. Throw in a fever, and now we’re really having fun.

She’s much better now. Finally managed to hold down some chicken broth, and her complexion is definitely a healthier shade of green.

But lesson learned – next time, specify what to do when arriving at the toilet.


Home Alone

Okay, not exactly alone – I do have the girls with me. But Chris is in Austin, Texas on a business trip until Saturday night. So I am, in fact, alone taking care of the girls and the house.

Although I find, with no offense meant to my loving husband Chris whatsoever, that the household is more organized and I’m more efficient when he’s not around. Since I’m aware that he’s not there for me to nag to do stuff count on, I find myself making the girls’ lunches ahead of time, keeping up with laundry, planning meals, helping Olivia with homework and piano practice, bathing the girls, all with time to spare for bedtime stories and tummy zerberts. And both girls are tucked in by 7:30.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, Chris always buys chocolates for the girls when he leaves, and every night when they’re asleep, I sneak one on their night table. The next morning, they both wake up to find a mystery chocolate “from daddy” and try to imagine how he possibly manages to put one there every night. Over time, they’ve provided an entertaining array of hypotheses:

– Our neighbour sneaks into our house when we’re all asleep and leaves the chocolate.

– Magic.

– He hides them inside or under a stuffed animal, and each night one chocolate comes out.

– He throws it up into the wind, and the wind blows the chocolate all the way to our house and into their rooms. (Points awarded for creativity)

As a side note, I should mention that these are all Olivia’s guesses. She’s always trying to figure everything out and asking a hundred questions. Angelina is just happy to get chocolate. Wise in her own way, she’s probably thinking “Shut up, don’t jinx it. Just eat the damn chocolate.” For now.

But this morning, and it was bound to happen, Olivia finally figured it out. I almost denied it, but finally admitted to being Chris’s accomplice. We won’t let Angelina in on our secret just yet – I want to hear all the crazy tales she comes up with when she tries to solve the chocolate mystery…

Attention Shoppers

Shopping is underrated. And I’m not just saying that because I’m a woman. I truly mean it.

When women talk about shopping, men get an instant image of us gallivanting through malls, frivolously whipping out our credit cards and coming home with a dozen bags of junk and a second mortgage. That’s the glazed look on their faces, ladies.

Truth is, because most women like shopping, we’re also much better at it. We’re savvy deal-finders and expert comparison shoppers. It’s not just about jewelry and shoes. No, really. We provide for the entire family: clothes for the kids, school supplies, home furnishings, and yes, clothes for our husbands who hate shopping and otherwise would wear the same old jeans and college t-shirt until the fibers disintegrated.

Without us, our walls would don nothing more than a couple of movie posters held up with blue sticky tack. The only place to tell time would be the alarm clock or the microwave oven. And the only decorations anywhere would be those likely to hold chips or pretzels.

But that’s OK. Since we do in fact enjoy finding the best items at the best price, we gladly step up to the task. In fact, we get great satisfaction from coming home with great stuff for our families and our homes. But given existing stereotypes, I feel guilty when I need to buy something for me. Like I somehow have to justify it:

– Winter boots date back to 1998, leaked freezing water in, and I lost three toes. I can buy a new pair.
– After getting new wardrobes for the kids, I’ll allow myself a new shirt for work – one that’ll go with everything I own.
– Five pairs of socks with holes. I’ve mended 4, but I’m splurging and buying a pair. And I’ll pick some up for my husband while I’m out.
– I’ve cleaned the entire house and threw my back out scrubbing the floors. I can go for an 80%-reimbursable massage, right?

I’m by no means someone with a large collection of shoes and purses; but I needed a new brown handbag, and I found the perfect one. Although it’s a little pricier than I hoped, it’s gorgeous, sturdy, and made entirely of chocolate brown cowhide. Including the straps, which means they won’t crack and break. The buckles on the front remind me a little of those old-fashioned leather school bags kids had in the 70’s. Utilitarian and stylish.

New chocolate brown leather purse

New chocolate brown leather purse

Few things are as satisfying as finding exactly that thing you’ve been looking for. Of course, now I’ll need matching shoes…

All-inclusive — ish

We just returned from a one-week vacation in breath-taking Samana, Dominican Republic. It seems many people aren’t familiar with Samana, which is testimony to the fact that unlike Punta Cana or Puerto Plata (both of which are nonetheless beautiful), it is not overpacked with resorts. Rather, resorts are spread out few and far between along the coast in the countryside. Samana is nearly an hour and a half away from the airport, on long and winding country roads boasting unspoiled mountains, small communities and glimpses of sparkling ocean.

We stayed at the Gran Bahia Principe El Portillo, a secluded resort in Samana, near the small town of Las Terrenas. A true scenic treat: beaches covered in soft white sand, coral reefs to tempt snorkeling enthusiasts, and picturesque sunsets and sunrises.

Sunset on the beach

Sunset on the beach

Sunrise on the beach

Sunrise on the beach

The resort itself is quite exquisite – from the carefully landscaped terrain to beautifully assorted tropical gardens to sidewalks lined with flowering shrubs and hibiscus. There were large open dining areas right on the beach.

Tropical garden

Tropical garden

The buffet was decent. The variety of meals was good, and the fruits were always fresh and plentiful. I did, however, get weary of the same sliced ham, salami and mystery cheese present at each meal. I say mystery cheese because aside from colour, it was difficult to tell the rectangular, humid slices apart. The à la carte restaurants were good for the most part. The variety and quality were enjoyable. And regardless of where you ate or drank, the restaurant staff was consistently friendly, and came by frequently to refill your water/wine/coffee.

The resort’s main services and areas earned their 4 1/2-star rating. The rooms did not. Oh, the accommodations had their charm: warm, colourful rooms adorned with paintings; curtains that matched the bed covers and sitting area; pretty wicker table and chairs near the patio room to the balcony; and bathrooms equipped with jacuzzi tubs and large ceramic-tiled stand-up showers.

But owning a sports car won’t do you much good if you don’t know how to drive. It’s like they woke up one morning and decided, “I wanna be a high-end resort today”, but didn’t quite know how.

The pretty matching beds contained old, uncomfortable mattresses. Never mind the fact that they were double beds, when they clearly advertised Queen beds. A sore back is the gift that keeps on giving.

The room was equipped with a mini bar – not to be confused with a mini-fridge. This device was non-electric: a brown upright cooler with a fridge-type door, for extra confusion. Nothing like a nice warm beer or Coke on a hot day.

The shower almost warrants its own blog entry. In a nutshell: there was no temperature control – the water continuously fluctuated from uncomfortably hot to offensively cold. As mature adults, we can deal with that; but 3- and 5-year-old kids aren’t nearly as reasonable. Ick factor: the shower wouldn’t drain!! The water level would rise to a good 2 inches in the shower stall, and would take up to 5 minutes to drain once the water was turned off. Note to self: introduce staff to Drano. We also ran completely out of water, not once but twice. Every room of every hotel on the resort. Thankfully we had already showered when it happened.

But hey, at least we were surrounded with pretty colours and ceramic, and after waking up, our girls got to enjoy a few of their favourite shows dubbed en Espagnol on a 19-inch screen TV. Did you know Curious George was fluent in Spanish?

See what I mean? No follow-through. There’s definite potential, but until they go that extra mile (or ten) , they’re still only playing pretend. Their accommodations get a whopping 3 stars from me, on a good day.

I ended my week on a great note – with a visit to the Bahia Spa. I enjoyed a package that involved exfoliation with coconut milk and corn meal, a pure coconut butter wrap, followed by a coconut and mango oil massage. That was a supremely welcome treat. The spa is clean and pretty, and the services were friendly and professional. Chef recommends.

Although we love the unspoiled beauty of Samana, Chris and I have agreed that our next all-inclusive vacation will likely be at a Riu resort. We stayed at the Riu Bambu in Punta Cana for our honeymoon in 2003: now they know what a 5-star resort should look like. It’s all about attention to detail. If you do it right, you’ll have your guests wanting to book their next vacation with you before they’re even done this one.

And then there were three…

Las Vegas Sign

Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas

Chris is abandoning us for a week. He’s leaving for Las Vegas obscenely early Saturday morning, while the girls and I are still comatose. He’ll be exhibiting at the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) show, collecting t-shirts/L.E.D. keychains/squeeze toys/pens, and occasionally making time for selling and schmoozing. A week of drunken fun in the name of work.

Last year, I got to go with him to the Interop show in Vegas, which was fun because I got to help him set up his booth (he was still a trade show virgin then) and we finally got to visit Vegas. Did I mention all we had to pay was my trip there? Chris’s flight and the villa at the lovely Polo Towers were covered by his company. Polo Towers is great: right on the strip, between MGM Grand and Planet Hollywood, rooftop pool and hot tub, and our villa included a king sized bed, full kitchen, living room / dining room, and a large bathroom with his-and-hers sinks.

We rented a Harley Davidson Dyna Wide Glide and went out to Red Rock Canyon on a scorching 39ºC-day. We drank 12 gallons of water each that day, and I discovered somewhat too late that I had missed a part of my back when applying sunscreen. It hurt to even look at the burn. But man was it worth it.

Driving a Hog in the desert

Driving a Hog in the desert

Unfortunately, Chris’s parents, who took care of our girls during our trip last year, are on a three-week trip to Tunisia with some of their brothers and sisters. We tried to have their vacation revolve around our schedule, but that didn’t fly. So instead, I’ll get to spend a week with my girls – morning routine, making lunches, swimming lessons, dinners and bath time, while entertaining them enough not to miss daddy too much.

The mystery chocolates help. Mystery as in “Hey, how did these get here?”, not “What the hell is this, mocklate?”.

As a side note, I discovered a couple of years ago that there really is such a thing as mocklate. Chris once brought home some chocolate which, in his defense, was wrapped in thick, pretty gold wrapper, giving the illusion of a high-end European chocolate bar. Once unwrapped, it seemed almost normal – until you pop a piece into your mouth, giving way to an unfortunate bitter taste. This putrid substance also refused to melt as you ate it. It just crumbled and sat in your mouth, laughing at you, while it made your tongue feel thick and pasty. Mocklate shouldn’t be authorized for use outside a laboratory.

Anyways, when Chris goes on a business trip, he buys a package of small, individually wrapped chocolates. Every night, I leave one of them on the girls’ night tables, which they find and get all excited about the next morning. And they just can’t figure out how daddy manages to leave the chocolates there for them while he’s gone.

Last month, when Chris went to San Francisco, Olivia came up with a theory. My first thought: “Uh-oh. She’s finally found me out.” I still have teeth marks on the inside of my cheeks from trying not to laugh at the explanation that followed. She suggested that Chris had given the chocolates to our next door neighbour, and that either he or his son sneak into our house in the middle of the night and leave the chocolates for them. Not at all creepy.

Thank God they’re pretty.

Barbie World less than rosy

I grew up playing with Barbie dolls in the 70’s. I had it all: the furniture, the house, the RV, and the pink Corvette. Lots of Barbie friends, and boxes of clothing and accessories. In fact, my goal was to someday have the lifestyle that my Barbie had.

Today, my daughters play with Barbie dolls. But I’ve noticed some changes in the blonde bombshell that I’m less than enthusiastic about.

True, since her 1959 debut, Barbie has had about 125 careers or occupations, including aerobics instructor, U.S. army officer, astronaut, veterinarian, McDonald’s cashier and ballerina. She is a great toy for little girls to fantasize being anything they want to be. But lately, I’ve been wondering what exactly Mattel is trying to inspire girls to be.

Besides the obvious physical anomalies, which would cause Barbie to be 5’9″ tall, with a 36″ chest, 18″ waist and 33″ hips and missing about 20% the body fat required to menstruate, Mattel has made a few marketing blunders. Among these:

– Teen Talk Barbie, in 1992, featured a doll that spoke various phrases, including “I love shopping!” and “Math class is tough!”. Mattel has always claimed Barbie could be a positive role model for girls. Perhaps they meant for girls aspiring to marry rich.

– Oreo Fun Barbie in 1997, a cross-promotion with Nabisco, was criticized because in the African American community, Oreo is used as a derogatory term, meaning you’re “black on the outside, but white on the inside”.

– Totally Tattoos Barbie, in 2009, featured a series of tattoos that girls could apply to Barbie, including a lower-back tattoo. I mean, what if things don’t work out with Ken? Will Mattel throw in laser tattoo removal as part of the divorce settlement?

Ken Tattoo

Ken Tattoo

As a girl, my Barbie accessories ranged from fun to glamorous. Today, it seems challenging to find anything for Barbie that doesn’t scream “I charge by the hour”. I’ve been to various toy stores. I searched online on sites including Barbie and Toys R Us. In fact, I think Mattel is encouraging girls to think “sexy” at a premature, inappropriate time — shorts that barely cover Barbie’s ass, shirts that she shouldn’t bend over with in public, and outfits that look just plain sexually provocative.

I thought my point would be better illustrated by using examples of Barbie merchandise I found on the Barbie and Toys R Us web sites, and playing a little game called Name that Barbie:

1. Frat Party Barbie — complete with Daisy Dukes, easy-to-remove top, and Jell-o shots. Promotion: Purchase Frat Party Keg and get Tipsy Tina for real cheap.

Frat Party Barbie

Frat Party Barbie

2. Escort Barbie — includes cheap faux-chic ensemble, black boa, stiletto heals and matching purse perfect for carrying condoms. Barbie’s all about safety!

Escort Barbie

Escort Barbie

3. Mile-High Club Barbie — from the skin-tight teaser uniform to the f#@k me boots. Bonus handcuffs inside luggage.

Mile-High Club Barbie

Mile-High Club Barbie

4. Poolside Fling Barbie — comes with, evidently, very little material and Barbie’s own cabana boy

Poolside Fling Barbie

Poolside Fling Barbie

5. Little Black Dress Cougar Barbies — Can be sold separately, but usually sold as a pair of aggressive, slightly used dolls

Cougar Barbies

Cougar Barbies

My point is that Barbie is moving beyond the merely flimsy onto the full-blown skanky. Just in case I haven’t illustrated my point, here’s one more item, taken online from Toys R Us. They call it “Premium Pink House furniture”; I call it Barbie’s venture into adult films.

Barbie Boudoir

Barbie Boudoir

Am I the only one here who sees the inappropriateness of some of the available toys? And yet Mattel has launched an “I can be” Academy, meant to inspire girls by putting on display all the careers Barbie has held. There’s a great article in the Ottawa Citizen explaining the Academy and how it highlights Barbie as a positive role model. Girls can even design their own engagement rings, cakes and wedding dresses. They can walk down a pink carpet and receive a diploma from Barbie herself. Now there’s one to add to your CV.

They say the goal of the campaign is to empower girls. Just seems oddly self-contradictory with the other messages they’re sending.

From the mouths of children

Sisterly Camaraderie

Sisterly Camaraderie

Chris and I are parents to two wonderful creatures. They’re smart, funny, sensitive and beautiful. As with all parents, we have ups and downs with our girls – a breakdown in communications, if you will. Miscommunication between parents and children isn’t a teenage phenomenon. It actually starts in their toddler years.

What I say vs. what they hear:

  1. OK, but just this once = Sure, go ahead. Anytime you want.
  2. Not now, maybe later = Ask me again in about 2.5 seconds. Surely I’ll say yes then.
  3. Share your toys = You should take that toy from your sister, because you shouldn’t have to wait your turn.
  4. Come here right now = Once you’re done whatever you’re doing, if you decide to get to it, and if it’s not too much trouble, come see me.
  5. We’re having pork chops and broccoli tonight = We’re going to force-feed you fecal matter.
  6. Time to put the toys away = It’s the end of the world and we want you to fuss loudly.

Never a dull moment. We fill our girls’ lives with activities that will help shape them into somewhat normal functioning adults. We try to teach our children everything from reading and writing to social graces, but I truly believe we learn as much from them in return.

Things I’ve learned from my kids:

  1. Asking one of my girls what they did wrong will always generate a response about what the other one did wrong.
  2. Even the best-behaved kids will wait until they’re in public before having a meltdown. Hence the phrase “She really isn’t usually like that…” followed by the other person’s usual smile and nod.
  3. However hellish your child can be with you, she will spontaneously become angelic around grandparents. Just to prove you wrong. That’s how they flip you the bird before learning how to.
  4. When my girls tell me they’re too full to finish their meal, they’re actually taking into account how much room they need to leave for dessert.
  5. I can try to teach them things countless times before it sinks in. But I let a four-letter word slip just once, and of course they pick that one up instantly.
  6. Kids notice everything. Like the veggie you tried to purée and sneak into the food. Or the doll you accidentally sat on the left side of the toy chest instead of on the right.
  7. A hand-made cardboard crown can in fact turn a little girl into a princess.
  8. Kids give the best hugs because they mean them with every fibre of their being.

I look forward to many life lessons from them as the years go by. Each one adding grey hair to my formerly all-brown mane.