Murder in Sin City

Our Vegas-themed murder mystery party got off to a bit of a slow start due to a combination of confusion about the meeting time and a raccoon that was scaring people away from our front door. But everyone did eventually make it, one of us killed another one of us, and we all had a blast. This was the 10th anniversary of doing these parties, and we commented on how things have changed over the years: more elaborate costumes and decor, no need for babysitters, more need for reading glasses.

You’re never too old to have fun!

Our casino setup
Check out that headpiece!
Elvis was most definitely in the building
Cheese dice! (And crackers arranged like poker chips)
You can’t tell from the photo, but the lights around the sign actually blinked
Getting started…
The high roller
Elvis and Hustling Hailey
The awesome cast

Fantasizing About Food

All I want for Mother’s Day is a live-in personal chef.

That’s it. Forget the flowers. Skip the chocolates. And definitely don’t bring me breakfast in bed (all those crumbs in my sheets…ugh.) All I want is someone who will take care of the grocery shopping, meal planning, and food preparation. Because I’m done. Seriously, done. There are just not enough hours in a day.

In our household, spring sports season is the worst. Baseball three times a week, soccer twice, plus youth group and physio appointments and on and on and on. I made it extra fun this year by starting a new full-time job (!) so Chris and I basically pass each other in the garage as we chauffeur kids to various activities.

It’s not like I never have any fun. I play in a golf league, for instance. Not a real league, where you have to finish every hole and count every stroke. It’s the kind of league where the players all take a shot of whiskey when someone sinks a birdie, or when no one sinks a birdie, or when everyone loses hope of ever sinking a birdie. Most of the time I don’t even keep score. It’s a fun league.

But that’s just one more thing taking up time in my week. There are precious few opportunities to buy the groceries, much less prepare a meal. I had to resort to making a lasagna at 7:30 pm one night just so we’d have something quick to warm up whenever we found 10 minutes to eat. At work the other day, my lunch consisted of a sandwich that had spent the previous day uneaten in Brayden’s backpack. Yum.

So this Mother’s Day, I’m sure I speak for moms everywhere when I say that all I really want is for someone to keep my family fed without any help from me. And not just for one day. From now on.

Life would be so much simpler if we didn’t need to eat.

My Life as a Winter Wimp

I’m not like other people. I lack the basic mammalian ability to regulate body temperature. The technical term for this is Raynaud’s Phenomenon, but in essence it means my body is trying to conserve heat by not letting my extremities have any. My hands, feet, ears, and nose have to beg for blood flow. I’m freakishly cold pretty well all the time.

This came to light when I was in high school. I’d always been mocked for my inability to tolerate cold weather (which, since I grew up in Saskatoon, comprised a significant chunk of the year) but when I had to start wearing mini gloves in class just to be able to hold a pen, my mother realized this was something beyond wussiness. I went for some tests and confirmed that yes, my body hates me. I was instructed to avoid caffeine, nicotine and stress…and try to stay warm. (In Saskatoon. Right.)

So I was ecstatic when, years later after I finished university, I landed a job in the Okanagan. I was hired in January, which was the perfect time to get out of Saskatchewan. My parents drove me out, and I remember watching the temperature indicator in the van go from -28 at the start of the trip to +7 when we pulled into Kelowna. The Promised Land!

But despite the mild BC winters, my circulation and my winter wimpiness have both gotten much worse as I’ve aged (I’m turning 40 next month — ack!) These days I have to wear sweatpants, two shirts and a couple pairs of socks, and that’s just when I go to bed. I have to layer up even more if I actually want to venture outside.

Getting older sucks.

The Force Was Strong at This Party

The Force awoke with a roar at Brayden’s Star Wars laser tag party. I’m fairly sure we could be heard from anywhere in the galaxy. If you give a bunch of nine-year-old boys a laser weapon and set them loose in the dark, then add copious amounts of sugar…well, you know what you’re going to get.

For the first hour, all I had to do was wait in the party room while the boys played a couple rounds of laser tag. That was easy. It was when they came into the room for snacks and cake that the decibel level exploded. After having some Jedi Juice, Chewbacca Chips, Wookiee Cookies and Galactic Goodies (and after we got them to stop crawling under the table, dismantling the chairs and tearing up the plastic tablecloth), I led them in a few rounds of Star Wars trivia. That brought the noise level down a bit, but boy, they were wild.

Happy ninth, Brayden!

A Super Super Mario Party

When I asked Justin if he just wanted to have a few guys over to play video games for his birthday (on the theory that 11-year-olds are too cool to have birthday parties), he looked at me like I was crazy. “Can’t I have a theme?” he pleaded. As someone who built a 10-foot pirate ship in her living room for her last birthday (see Murder Among the Mateys), I could hardly say no. So we decided on a Mario theme.

I didn’t really want to let the boys play video games for two solid hours, so I came up with a few Mario-themed party games we could do first. We started with block hopping: I split them into teams of three and gave each team four floor tiles that kind of looked like the blocks from the games. Each team member lined up standing on a tile and passed the extra tile to the guy in front; then they all stepped forward caterpillar-like and repeated the process until they made it to the finish line. We were hoping to do this outside, but the weather didn’t cooperate, so we had to snake a line through the living room, down the hall and into Justin’s room. It was still pretty fun.

We also did the Yoshi egg race (your basic relay race with plastic eggs on wooden spoons), and I was kind of surprised at how many times they dropped the eggs when all they had to do was walk slow. It seems boys are all about speed.

The biggest hit was the scavenger hunt. The premise here was that Bowser had stolen all of Mario’s gold coins. Each clue was a word search grid: the boys were supposed to cross off all the letters that are found in a certain word (say S-T-A-R), then unscramble the letters that were left to figure out where the next clue was. They all got a bit stumped with F-O-F-C-E-I (office), but eventually they got it. The last clue led them to a question mark block filled with chocolate gold coins, all of which quickly got devoured.

After snacks and cake, I set them loose playing video games. In addition to all the Mario games we have for the Wii, we borrowed my brother’s original Nintendo system so the kids could play the original Super Mario Bros from 30 years ago. Way cool.

A successful party!

Crafting an Awesome Minecraft Party

There was never any doubt about the theme Brayden would want for his eighth birthday party. There was some doubt about my ability to pull it off, however, since all I knew about Minecraft was that it was basically an online Lego game with retro graphics. I was such a noob. Fortunately, Brayden was happy to explain the basics, and of course there were many ideas available online (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: what did parents do before the Internet?)

First up was a game of “Knock over the creepers.” I bought a bunch of green floral styrofoam cubes from the dollar store and put creeper faces on them with electrical tape. The kids stacked them up and threw a ball at them to see how many they could knock over…which almost instantly degenerated into chaos, but they had fun. I was wise enough to leave the plastic wrap on the cubes so my house wasn’t littered with bits of green styrofoam — score one for Mom.

Next came freeze tag with a Minecraft twist: Chris was a zombie out to get the kids, and when he tagged them they “died,” and they could only “respawn” when another kid touched them. The kids quickly figured out that Chris couldn’t get them if they hid under the trampoline, so I joined the game as zombie #2 to flush them out (I can fit under there). It was a surprisingly hot day, and there was so much running, so everyone was sweating by the time this one was done.

For a change of pace, we played a few rounds of Minecraft bingo. This was a freebie download that kept them quiet and still for almost 10 straight minutes — amazing.

Then it was on to some crafting recipes. I printed out a bunch of the Minecraft icons needed to “craft” a torch, a TNT block and some cake (hey, it’s a birthday party!) I hid the icons all around the family room and the backyard, split the kids into two teams and set them loose to hunt down the materials. Each team ended up with a redstone torch and a block of TNT (to be used later) plus the right to eat cake.

I used one brown and one green plastic tablecloth to make the table look like a grass block. Since everything in Minecraft is cubed, I used square black plates. The game even has certain foods, so I used that as the basis for the snacks: carrots, melon, redstone (strawberries), fish (goldfish crackers) and of course cake (courtesy of Wal-Mart).

When they’d had their fill, we moved on to the hotly anticipated grand finale: our version of “Light the TNT.” We had a couple big bottles of Diet Coke and some Mentos, and when you combine the two you get an explosion that boys of every age dream of. I swear that Coke shot up 25 feet in the air. Good stuff.

And now my baby is eight!

Let the Games Begin: Birthday Olympics

For my sports-obsessed first-born son, there seemed to be no better theme for his 10th birthday party than the Olympics. And there was certainly no better venue for that than the school gym, which came with all the sports equipment you could ever want, a full kitchen for preparing food, and a helper to run the games. Plus it kept the craziness out of my house, so that alone was worth the price of the rental.

As the kids arrived, they drew names out of a box to see which country they would represent (Germany, Russia, Sweden or the USA — I deliberately didn’t have a Canada team because Brayden had pointed out that everyone would want to be on it). Then they got a pinnie in their respective team color.

Before we got started, I talked to them about how the Olympics are not about winning, but about competing — and then I had them all raise their right hands and take the Olympic oath: “I solemnly promise to play hard and play fair in the true spirit of sportsmanship.” This was my attempt to head off any tears, whining or excessive celebrating. It seemed more or less effective, so hey.

For the opening ceremony, Justin held the torch and led the procession of athletes around the gym while the Olympic theme song played over the sound system. I thought the kids might find this part kind of lame, but they all held up their team flags and seemed to be really into it. Then it was time to let the games begin!

We had two individual events (long jump and discus throw) and two team events (relay race and floor hockey). For the long jump, we had each kid stand on a line and see how far they could jump. They each got three tries and we took their best score. For the discus throw, we put a bunch of hula hoops on the floor at different distances and had each kid throw four frisbees — the furthest hoops were worth the most points.

The relay race had each team running to the wall, picking up a ball, and running back to dump it in a bucket, then tagging the next team member. This one was the toughest to judge because we had to know not just who finished first, but who also finished second and third. If I had to do it again, I’d probably have each team go individually and time them. That would’ve been easier.

Floor hockey was the main event, of course. We had two games going simultaneously, then the winners played each other for gold and the others played for bronze.

We handed out gold, silver and bronze medals for each event and then added up the team totals for the final standings. Gold medals were worth three points, silver was two and bronze was one. We just happened to end up with a tie for gold, so all four teams got at least one medal, which was probably the best thing that could have happened.

A great party!

Ten Years of Text

I started this blog as a way to stay connected with the world when I went on my first maternity leave. Ten years and 427 posts later, I’m proud to say that while its purpose hasn’t always been well defined, its audience is growing: it had 4800 views in 2012 (the first year I started tracking stats), 5200 in 2013 and 8500 in 2014. I’m pretty sure my mother was my only fan in the early going, but more and more people seem to enjoy getting a vicarious look into my life. Thanks to you all for making me feel like what I’m doing is worthwhile.

In honor of the blog’s 10th anniversary this week, I’ve collected some of my most popular posts — and a few of my personal favorites:

T Minus 12 Days (April 11, 2007)

The Way-Too-Early Bird (March 5, 2008)

Strengths and Challenges (September 24, 2010)

Shedding Some Light on Asperger’s (March 26, 2011)

Second Child Syndrome (November 30, 2011)

Debating the Fine Print: Day 5 of No Yelling (April 9, 2013)

Once Upon a Murder (January 19, 2014)

The Labour of Love (February 13, 2014)

The Independence Project (August 18, 2014)

Wanted: Personal Assistant for Absent-Minded Aspie (November 17, 2014)

The Glass-Half-Full Perspective

We had a run of bad luck recently that had me wallowing in negativity — until I finally decided to appreciate what I actually have. Here’s a look-on-the-bright-side rundown of what’s been happening in our house:

The furnace died. I’m grateful that we never lost our electricity. And that we have friends with space heaters.

I keep having to buy more gifts for Christmas and an endless string of birthday parties. I’m grateful that my kids have friends who include them in special celebrations. And that we’ll be spending the holidays with family members we don’t often get to see.

Both vehicles needed repairs. I’m grateful that my kids can walk to school and that my husband can work from home. And that we’re fortunate enough to own two vehicles.

The kids have had a ton of homework I have to help with. I’m grateful that the schools are open and that my kids are getting an education. And that I’m not so crazy busy that I can’t help.

Justin insists on getting up well before dawn. I’m grateful that he seems to get all the sleep he needs and that he’s old enough that I don’t have to get up with him. And that my loved ones are all healthy and happy.

Seriously…my life ROCKS.

Confessions of a Narcissistic Showoff

Considering I write documentation for a living, it seems bizarre to admit that maintaining my private journal has become more work than it’s worth. I celebrated 25 years of journal keeping a few months ago — but I haven’t written a single entry since. And when I read over entries from the past few years, most of them are simply copies of what I write in this blog.

Why the shift to public writing? Because I got hooked on the feedback. I’m like the kid who gives a presentation to the class and then won’t leave the stage until everyone has complimented it (my nine-year-old does this; I know where he gets it from). Every “like” I get on a blog post is another brick in my personal affirmation wall.

But writing for an audience is different than writing for yourself. The up side is that I’m forced to think about how to connect with other human beings; the down side is that I have to filter my thoughts for public consumption. And sometimes I get paralyzed wondering why anyone would care about what I have to say.

That’s a 200-word way of saying I’ve had writer’s block. It will get better. Don’t leave me.