Guest Post: Kelly Quinn on Frugality, Postponed

When Nathalie asked if I could do a blog post on the debt diet in January, I thought I was all set. I positively LIKE being frugal, when I manage it. It’s not like, say, swearing off chocolate, which makes me cranky and resentful. No, frugality is, for me, deeply satisfying.

So I thought I would talk about the pleasure of a small credit card bill in January, that sort of thing. Or I could talk about January as the month in which I reign triumphant, after my husband’s relishing of December, because while I take pleasure in frugality, he, in ways I can’t begin to understand, enjoys spending. (Beth-Anne talks about the experts who tell you that cutting out some small luxury can save you $30, $60, $100 a year. In our house, I am that expert. My husband is the poor beleaguered man being barked at about how if you add this or that up, that’s $50 a year!)

South AfricaBut then, within 24 hours of Nathalie’s request, everything changed. My husband is heading to South Africa in the summer, for work, but with a more-than-generous dose of pleasure time. He went to South Africa a few years ago, and absolutely loved it. Back then, accompanying him was unthinkable: our youngest was a baby, and a challenging one at that. (Come to think of it, solo-parenting for two weeks was also unthinkable at that stage, but somehow I got through it.) But now, the children are a little older. And we have enough points for a plane ticket for me, and so for the price of two children’s fares and food and drink while we’re there, the rest of us can tag along. So we’re going. I can’t even decide whether this is a money-wise decision (enormous value for dollar) or money-foolish. But whatever it is, there it is, SPLAT, on the January credit card bill. SIGH.

February, February…

::

Kelly Quinn is the mother of two daughters and lives in Ottawa.  See one of her previous posts for us on her electricity bill.

Guest Post: Patsy Spanos on Being a Dancing Queen at 40

Español: Bailarines en la discoteca Pachá Ibiz...

Español: Bailarines en la discoteca Pachá Ibiza por la noche (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My situation is a unique one. I am a mother of three young boys — six year old twins and a nine year-old — and for the last five years, I have spent my Julys in Ibiza. For those of you who don’t know Ibiza, it’s a Spanish island close to Barcelona, with a party scene that resembles Babylon during the summer months. Seeing body-painted, half naked women, in their G – strings, is as common here as Lululemon pants are for us in Canada. Bare breasts and string bottoms on the beaches are more accepted than tankinis. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who knows what a tankini is in Ibiza.

Along with this eccentric fashion sense is the out-of-this-world nightlife that starts somewhere around at 2 a.m. and goes strong until 7 a.m. Luckily dinner in Spain is usually at 10 p.m. and if I feel like putting my dancing shoes on, I tuck the kids in bed by 1 a.m. and away I go! This 40 year old, Canadian mom turns into a Dancing Queen.

Let me stop right here for a second, and put things into perspective. I am a stay-at-home mom from Stouffville, Ontario. The most excitement I get throughout the school year is scoring two free slices for the school pizza lunches. Dancing in the V.I.P section in all the hottest clubs in Ibiza (thanks to a very connected brother in law) throughout the month of July is a far stretch from my home life in Stouffville.

Needless to say, I feel like a fish out of water in this subculture, kind of like Madonna, with her toned arms, desperately trying to hold on to her youth. But the saving grace in all this is that I am a certified YogaDance instructor and I love to dance. So this old maid feeling I get amongst all the young beautiful ladies quickly disappears for me once I start to dance and allow the music to take over.

It is this passion for dance is that controls my Mother Bee instinct and keeps me from throwing a sweater on these half naked 19 year old girls, or from having a one on one with a go-go dancer and strongly suggesting that she read The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf.  If I did, I’d be behaving like a frumpy Oprah in a Lady Gaga world. Nobody asked me for my opinion, and these girls are all having a great time…so maybe I’m the one with the issues…Maybe I’m just too rigid, and uptight…Maybe I have to change my angle, and let loose….

So, last night, at a very happening club, I made an extra effort to embrace this foreign world. When my husband knuckle-chucked the bouncer, who then waved us through the VIP entrance letting us bypass the horde outside, I instantaneously allowed my I.Q. to drop by five notches. I squeezed my husband’s arms and whispered in his ears, “You are HOT!” After 16 years of marriage, no matter how hard you try, a comment like that oozes with sarcasm, so my husband grabbed me by the waist and pulled me in for a long, romantic kiss. For the first time in a long time I felt like he and I were the only people on the crowded dance floor.

I slowly turned into a Solid Gold dancer, twisting and moving, and turning my body into pretzel positions that would make most people blush in Canada. It was fun! I smiled at strangers and danced close to them. I didn’t know their first names, but I definitely knew the size of their waistlines. I laughed, made funny faces, and challenged them with a dance move that would make the shirtless guy with the cowboy hat on City TV’s Electric Circus nervous. Oh yeah! I would have given him a run for his money that night.

Last night, I wasn’t a conservative, Canadian stay at home mom, looking for the latest specials at Wal-Mart. I was a Goddess who was offered a drink while her husband was in the restroom. Of course, my instinctive reaction was to scream, kiss the boy and thank him for reminding me that I still got it. Whatever “it” is, I like “it”! Even though I had to say, “No thank you,” to the young boy with a Mrs. Robinson fetish, at that moment, I was fifty shades happier 40 year old in Ibiza.

Disney Daze

We’ve just come back from several enjoyable and unforgettable days in Florida. Each time I travel with my family, I learn something new about them. Traveling, even somewhere as relatively mundane as Florida, pushes out the walls of your comfort zone — and as Oprah-ish as that might sound, I think it’s a good thing for all of us to have our boundaries pushed at a little. My own boys seem each to be a year older and six inches taller today, and I swear that’s a by-product of being somewhere other than home for eight days.

Travel also reminds you of things you already knew, but probably have forgotten. To wit:

1. No matter how obedient your children might be, there will be moments when corrective action need be taken to keep their behaviour in check:

2. Not only are my boys friends, they are also best friends. Sometimes, they even act as if they are:

3. Theme parks are loud, crowded, and boisterous. They can be incredibly fun places if one is in the right frame of mind to be jostled, well prepared for the crowds, armed with a touring plan (we really liked this website, for that) and armed with a sense of humour and a large packet of patience.

Wine helps, too. Especially when you can sip that glass of wine anywhere in the park:

4.  I’m convinced that there exists over Disney’s Magic Kingdom theme park an invisible bubble, which keeps in all the fairy dust, happy, scented air and whatever else it is they spread around there that makes it virtually impossible to be angry or grumpy at anyone for the entire duration of your stay. About ten minutes after you leave, you will find yourself doubly confused, both by the sudden return of your cynicism about all things Disney, as well as by the gaping hole in your wallet where your money once was.

5.    Every now and again, it’s okay to get a little Goofy:

We’re Game

Traveling with your children this week? With the extra week off of school after New Year’s Day his holiday, undoubtedly some of you are packing your bags for (hopefully) warmer climes.

But, how to entertain them on long car and plane trips? Thank Jobs for Iphones and Ipads.

Yes, I know. We survived family vacations with nothing but a deck of cards, travel bingo and those magic mystery ink books. But really, wouldn’t you have preferred to play Fruit Ninja when you were stuck in the backseat of the station wagon?

Here are some of my family’s favourite Ipad game apps. These are in frequent use in our house, even when we’re not on the road.

image copyright itunes.com CarcassoneIdentical to the popular board game of the same name, play is   deceptively simple: build a medieval territory and garner the greatest number of “followers” by linking to other players’ roads, cloisters and and cities while preventing your opponents from doing the same.  Simple to learn, and quick to play. You can also play against others online.

Ipad Chess (Mastersoft Chess version): there are numerous chess apps available for the Ipad, but we like this one for its clean graphics and smooth play.

Scribblenauts Remix: You may already be familiar with Scribblenauts for the Nintendo DS, but this game is even more fun to play on the larger Ipad screen. Maxwell, the game’s main character, needs to collect “starites” to complete each level.  You can use the objects on screen to achieve his goal, or you can summon random objects to help him. Type in a noun, add the required adjectives (my favourite so far, courtesy of Sebastian, has been “Big yellow knight shoes”) and see what happens. Educational (you have to spell the words correctly!) and imaginative, this game is fun even for grown-ups.

Of course, Angry Birds can eat up an afternoon, too. Not that I recommend that.

For younger kids, try out these apps:

AniMatch:  Littles will enjoy trying to match the animal faces. They can match animal sounds, too!

Pictureka!: Kind of like Where’s Waldo and I Spy, but with cooler graphics.  Note that the most recent version appears to be a bit buggy.

Helicopter Taxi:  Uses your Ipad camera to simulate a ride in a toy helicopter.Fly around the room and pick up more passengers as you go.

All of these apps work on your Iphone as well.

What are your favourite Ipad/Iphone apps? Any you think we should know about? Be sure to leave a comment.

With a Side of Garlic Butter

As I write, I’m sitting in a hotel room in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, where I’m attending a work-related conference. It’s rare that I travel for work, and it’s been quite some time since I’ve been away from my family for longer than a weekend away with girlfriends.

Over the years, I’ve made a habit of bringing home a “souvenir” of my trip for the boys. Over the years, this has varied from the mundane (a Thomas train from the toy store in the Ottawa Rideau Centre) to the unusual(wooden puzzles from a toy store on Granville Island). My souvenir isn’t always a toy. Sometimes I bring home brochures for local attractions, a map of local transit,  or postcards so that the boys can see where I’ve been — although, we’re just as likely to pull up Google streetview now.

This time, the boys have made a specific request (other than, “Not something to wear, Mom“).  They want me to bring home a lobster.

A genuine, fresh-from-the-sea lobster. Never mind the fact that I’m not sure when I will have time to procure a lobster while at a conference 15 hours a day, or the fact that I can get one, ready-steamed, at my local grocer. It’s not even lobster season, from what I understand.  They’ve got crustacean on the brain.

So if you see a frazzled lady leaving the Toronto Island Airport on Friday, juggling a lap top case and a lobster in a cooler, say hi. It’s probably me.

Spending Days in Montreal

Schwartz's smoked meat medium fat Montreal Que...

Image via Wikipedia

The boys and I are taking our first mommy-son vacation later next month, when we hit the rails for a four day adventure to Montreal.  When trying to decide where to go, it didn’t take long to land on Montreal as our first choice. In fact, the location was a no-brainer. Where else could we go where we can reach our destination within hours, take a “real” train (says Sebastian, as opposed to the subway he rides every day) and hear French at every turn? Daniel starts French lessons this fall at school, and he’s anxious to try out a few French phrases (which I will dutifully make him and his brother practice between now and them, whether they like it or not).

Having spent some time in Montreal, I’m familiar with the city and its charms. Finding things to do will be easy peasy: Hike to the top of Mount Royal? Will do. Visit the Biosphere, stroll through Old Montreal, and eat smoked meat until you puke? Why, don’t mind if I do!  Montreal is such a wonderful city for visiting that I’m sure that we’ll all have a fantastic time.

There’s just one hiccup.

I haven’t got a clue where to stay. I mean, I really can’t decide. There seem to be hundreds of choices, and all the regular web sites offering hotel reviews are, surprisingly, unhelpful. For every decent review, there appear to be seven negative or neutral reviews, for all but the chicest, most exclusive (and least likely to be child-friendly) hotels. While I try to see through the comments made by chronic complainers, I’m finding it hard to make up my mind about my options.

It shouldn’t be this hard. My list of hotel needs is not huge. At least two beds ( A king will not do. I love my boys, but they sleep like starfish). A pool would be ideal. I’d prefer a suite with at least two rooms and some sort of kitchenette, which makes it easier to save on food costs and allows one person (read: the adult, a.k.a. me) to remain awake in the living room while others sleep in the bedroom.  Close to downtown…or close to Old Montreal…or close to the Main, or close to, close to….ARG!

So here’s my request to all of you. If you’ve been to Montreal lately, or know someone who has, let me know where you stayed. Where does your neighbour from Montreal stay when he’s in town? How about your co-worker? Right now, I’m looking for room for three people, close to downtown, and I’d love an honest, genuine recommendation. Let me know in the comments if you’ve stayed somewhere worth revisiting.