Happy National Coffee Day!

My Facebook newsfeed greeted me this morning with a suggested post from Starbucks wishing me a Happy National Coffee Day.

The first thing that crossed my mind (after “Mmmm! Coffee!) was, “As a coffee aficionado addict, how did I miss the memo?” Then I realized that suggested posts in my Facebook newsfeed kind of are the modern memo. Which got me to thinking that I haven’t really heard the expression “I didn’t get the memo” much in recent years. Which made me wonder if anyone under 30 even knows what a memo is. Which made me realize that more and more I hear my kids saying things like, “Did you see the post/watch the video/read the tweet” which, for all intents and purposes gets the message across, except that they mean it quite literally, whereas “Didn’t you get the memo?” is the perfect way to figuratively point out someone’s cluelessness in a way that I don’t think could ever adequately be replaced by “Didn’t you see the post/watch the video/read the tweet.” By which point all I could think was, “Man, I need a coffee!”

In any case, had I been on the ball, I would have saved my post about turning my living room into a Starbucks for today. But I didn’t, so feel free to check it out if you missed it.

You can also read about my love affair with coffee here.

Happy National Coffee Day!




My next crazy reno idea

If you know me, you know that if I’m not drinking wine, I’m drinking coffee.

And I’ve been at Starbucks a lot more than usual lately drinking an obscene amount of coffee to earn game plays in the Starbucks for Life contest.

While I didn’t win (damn you one missing game piece!) I also didn’t sleep much over the past three weeks (see obscene amounts of coffee mentioned above), giving me ample time and caffeinated energy to consider my next home renovation project.

So here’s the plan: I’m turning my living room into a Starbucks.

Hear me out…

I’ve struggled with our living room since we moved into our house. Originally, we furnished it and treated it as the traditional, formal living room it was meant to be. Translation: we never used it.

Later, when the kids came on the scene, we swapped out the coffee table for a Thomas the Train table, traded in the bookshelves for IKEA toy storage and used it as a playroom. That worked great for a few years, but as the kids got older and I started working from home, we transferred the playroom to the basement and set up an office space in the living room for me.

Because it was still technically the “living room,” however, we kept the sofa, chairs, end tables, coffee table, etc., in there along with my new desk and bookshelves. And oh, yes, the piano. There also happens to be a 5-foot baby grand piano sitting in the front window and taking up a good third of the space.

Instead of “living room” we could call it “the over-stuffed and under-used room.” Aside from my daughter using it to practice piano (when she can reach it) and me using it for work (which, more often than not, I take to the dining room table for a little breathing space), we rarely go in there.

So for the past couple of years, I’ve been toying with different ideas of what this room could and should be, moving furniture in and out and around, and rearranging artwork. But sitting in Starbucks today (go figure!) I had a revelation. Obviously, a traditional set-up in the living room just isn’t for us. We have a perfectly comfy family room complete with sofa, chairs, coffee table, end tables, TV and fireplace that we spend most of our time in. So why not take some inspiration from one of my other favourite places to be, and apply it to my living room?

Here’s what I’d like to do:

  • Trade in my office-y computer desk for a counter height, long, slim table and bar stools (like they have in the Starbucks window). This could serve not only as a great place to perch and work for me, or for the kids to do their homework, but also as extra seating when we have family or friends for dinner instead of the dreaded kids’ table.
  • Put cubby-like square shelves on the wall over my desk for my reference materials (like Starbucks has behind the counter to display bags of coffee).
  • Set up a “conversation pit” (the primo seats at Starbucks that people (and by “people” I mean “me”) are willing to hover over and let their lattes go cold for): a pair or two of comfy stuffed chairs facing each other over one or two small tables. That way, if the adults want to enjoy a coffee (or glass of wine) we might find ourselves gravitating there instead of the family room where the TV, the Wii and the kids are sure to be.
  • Work in lots of texture à la Starbucks décor: stone or brickwork (maybe an accent wall behind the piano), wood in varying grains, and modern rustic metal and wood furniture. Maybe even a funky horizontal tile “backsplash” between the counter and the cubbies…
  • Add in multiple sources of lighting for atmosphere (a combination of pot lights, pendant lights, track lights, and spotlights over artwork–and maybe a small crystal pendant over the piano–to replace our one sad, overworked halogen floor lamp).

Of course, once I get going on one reno idea, it inevitably leads to another. There’s no way I could redecorate the living room and not also redecorate the adjacent dining room…

  • A set of three low-hanging industrial pendants instead of our old-school chandelier would turn our dining room table into the large work table some Starbucks offer.
  • My china cabinet (currently housing crafts the kids don’t do and dishes I don’t use) could be replaced by wall-to-wall cubby bookshelves (matching those over the counter-style desk in the living room), giving it the “library” feel I’ve always envied.
  • And, finally, I’ve always wanted a coffee bar in the kitchen (a full-on set-up for my coffee pot, espresso machine, kettle, mugs, cups, and all hot beverage-related supplies). But maybe this could be incorporated into the dining room as well (there’s a side board in there that I only use to store placemats and napkins; surely that could be repurposed!)

So maybe it’s not exactly a Starbucks, but Starbucks is certainly the inspiration behind my vision: a relaxed, comfortable, piano lounge-y, coffee shopish kinda room that I’d actually enjoy working and hanging out in.

Do you have a unused or misused room in your house? What would your dream room be?

Just to clarify…

A friend recently posted a lengthy yes or no Q&A on Facebook called Bucket List–Canadian Version. Since I’m a list lover and questionnaire taker extraordinaire, I couldn’t resist filling it out. But the black and white yes/no format was a little too constricting, and I feel like some clarification on a few of the items may be in order…

  • Yes, I have technically been on a cruise. Several in fact. A dinner cruise on the St. Laurence Seaway in Quebec City. An evening family cruise on the Bahia Belle sternwheeler on Mission Bay, San Diego. Sightseeing cruises on the Rideau Canal here in Ottawa. But have I been on a CRUISE cruise? Like a Disney cruise? A Caribbean cruise? A Mediterranean cruise? A Viking river cruise? No, I have not. Do I casually leave huge glossy brochures about said cruises in strategic places around the house in the hopes that Luc will book one for my 50th birthday? Yes. Yes I do.
  • Yes, I can drive a stick shift. No, I do not enjoy it. Tying up my right hand on the gear shift when it could be put to better use bringing my latte to my mouth seems silly. And having three pedals instead of two–and using two feet instead of one–seems like a waste of parts and energy, and is way more complicated than it needs to be since the invention of something called AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION. I would rather stay home than drive Luc’s standard. But I will concede that having this skill under my belt has come in handy on more than one occasion over the years, so when the time comes, both of the kids will learn to drive on Luc’s car.
  • No, I have never played in a band, unless pots and pans and wooden spoons count. Those, combined with my piano and some pretty awesome air guitar were the basis for a band that my brother, some of our childhood friends and I pulled together from time to time. We also did some stellar lip syncing to the likes of Blondie, Journey and the Grease soundtrack. Who knows? If “Canada’s Got Talent” had been around in the 80s, our lives may have taken a completely different path…
  • Along the same lines (but not really), yes, I have sung karaoke. Twice. The first time I have absolutely no recollection of. I’m told it was with a group. I’ve been reassured that it wasn’t absolutely horrible. Considering the amount of alcohol it took to get me on stage, I have my doubts. The second time was captured on video at my step-sister’s 40th birthday party. Surprisingly (but not really), it was with those self-same childhood friends mentioned above. Less surprisingly, we performed a song from the Grease soundtrack, background singers, dance moves and all. No, I will not share it with you.
  • No, I have never been downhill skiing. Plummeting down a mountain with only two slim boards, a couple of sticks and my limited athletic abilities does not sound like fun or a good idea.
  • No, I have never jumped out of a plane, nor do I ever plan to. Unless, of course, we’re going down in flames over an ocean somewhere, I have my inflatable life jacket on and my seat cushion flotation device gripped in my hands, and the stewardess is yelling “Abort! Eject! Jump!” in which case I will do so willingly. Jumping out of a plane is not a sport. It’s survival.
  • No, I have never donated blood. How is that possible? I should really call Canadian Blood Services today. It’s in me to give.
  • Yes, I swear I have been on TV, but no, you can’t see me. There’s an a-ha music video that includes footage from one of their concerts, a wide camera sweep of the venue and audience. I’m convinced it was the concert I was at in Toronto and if I could just get the VCR to stop on exactly the right spot on the tape that I taped off of MuchMusic when the video was released, you’d find me there in row 6. But it was dark. And blurry. So you’ll have to take my word for it.
  • No I do not have a tattoo. Not yet. My best friend brought up the idea the year we turned 40. Six years later I haven’t been able to decide on a design I love enough to have it permanently etched on my body. Maybe I’ll decide by the time we turn 50. Hey! Maybe I could get it done on the cruise that Luc’s taking me on!

My First Seven Jobs

Thanks to Lynn (my blogging mentor and inspiration) over at Turtlehead for this idea. Since one of the first things anyone asks is “What do you do?” and my current position of mom/writer (or is that writer/mom?) is under review, it’s kind of fun to look back (waaay back) at the first seven jobs I ever held. (Plus, #firstsevenjobs is super trendy on Facebook and Twitter right now, so why not?)

  1. BABYSITTER: From the age of 12, babysitting was my bread and butter. I had an awesome gig just five doors down the street. David and Linda were young enough to still need a babysitter but old enough to be fun to hang around with when their parents (and mine) headed to their monthly euchre club. I also raked in the babysitting cash ($2 an hour, $2.50 after midnight) for looking after them for countless date nights and conferences and pretty much every New Year’s Eve of the 80’s. Mr. and Mrs. S. were awesome to work for. Every time I babysat, Mrs. S. left me a box of Bridge Mixture chocolates to enjoy once the kids were in bed, and Mr. S. would always walk me home. Several years ago, I was thrilled to learn through a mutual friend that David is now an award-winning photographer. And I love getting updates on Linda and her family via our parents’ still ongoing euchre club.
  2. VACCINATION REMINDER SENDER: My dad was a vet and owned and ran two veterinary clinics in London. At around the same age I started babysitting, he hired me to send out vaccination reminders to his furry clientele. Saturday mornings I would haul out stacks of client files by the drawerful and, using the colour-coded plastic tabs on the tops, determine which cats and dogs were due for vaccinations. I had a pack of pre-printed postcards that I would fill in (“Dear Rex, Happy Birthday! Please be sure to tell your owners that you are due for your annual shots!”) and then address by hand. The best part (besides seeing all of the weird and wonderful names people call their pets) was the Canada Post stamp machine: making sure the red ink was topped up, then shooting the postcards through to be stamped and seeing how far down the counter (or across the room) they could fly. (Sorry, Dad. It was a little boring in the back room all by myself!)
  3. CASHIER AT THE A&P: I worked part time at the A&P grocery store for several months the year I was 15. After my initial training I don’t know that I spoke a single word to a single other employee the entire time I worked there. I showed up, cashed in, worked my shift and cashed out. There was no overcoming the divide between the older employees and the teenagers, nor the further divide between teens. Very cliquey. But the pay was awesome (even the part-timers were unionized), and it was because of this job that I’ll never forget my Social Insurance Number (we had to recite it to the lady behind the tinted glass window in the back before she would slip us our paycheque through the metal slot in the counter…just another indication of the unfriendliness of the place: they couldn’t even be bothered to put names to faces). My only other enduring memory of this job: dreaming about punching in hundreds of memorized produce codes all night, every night.
  4. PIANO SELLER: When I was 16, my piano teacher scored me a job working in a piano store. The owner was expanding in new digs and adding synthesizers and digital pianos to his offerings, so he wanted some young blood in there to help with sales. I guess to be called a “piano seller” I would actually have had to sell a piano at some point during my employ at the pianohaus. Never happened. Customers were few and far between and I’m sure the business made more money renting out the space for piano recitals than it ever did selling instruments. I loved spending hours alone playing on the 9-foot grand that was the store’s showpiece and hosting evening recitals. The only item I had even a small hand in selling was one magnificent grand. The parents of a boy I knew in elementary school came in looking for a piano to set in the circular entryway of a new custom house they were having built. No one in the family played, but the mother had briefly taken lessons as a child and always wanted a grand piano, more for show than anything else. Because I happened to be working the day they came in and they recognized me, we got to reminiscing. They ended up coming back another day to purchase their piano of choice directly from the owner, but when they mentioned my name and the fact that they had already been in talking to me, I ended up getting a nice little bonus…not, as the owner must have assumed, for my sales skills, but just for being me.
  5. CLEANING LADY: Off and on through high school and the beginning of university I cleaned houses for cash. It started when my mom fired our cleaning lady (long story) and started paying me to do the job instead. After that, some of her friends found out and hired me as well. I could get a two-storey, three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath suburban home looking brand spanking new in four and a half hours…and working moms were willing to pay me some serious money to do so. These days in my own home I have trouble even getting around to scrubbing the toilets on a regular basis, but that’s a post for another day…
  6. SALESGIRL AT RICKI’S: As a teen, most of my money went towards buying clothes, so working at one of my favourite clothing stores seemed like a logical choice. I worked at Ricki’s the summer I was 17 and was let go two days shy of the end of my three-month probation period. They told me I wasn’t “pushy or agressive enough” and pointed to my refusal to upsell customers (as in “Would you like a blouse to go with those pants?”). Ironically, that was the very reason I had repeat customers that summer (as in “I love how you never try to sell me something I don’t need and didn’t come in for”). On the plus side, I made excellent use of my staff discount for the time I was there…
  7. HOSTESS AT MCGINNIS LANDING: I’m not even sure if my ever-so-brief stint at this restaurant qualifies as a job. I had gone in looking for a waitressing position because I’d heard the tips were fabulous, but they tried me out as a hostess instead. At the end of my very first four-hour shift of seating patrons, the manager expressed his concern that I wasn’t “perky” enough and instructed me to try harder to be so the next day. By the time I got home, I’d decided that “perky” (along with “pushy” and “aggressive” (see No. 6 above)) was something I never wanted to be, so I called him and quit. Never saw a paycheque, but learned the valuable lesson that in addition to sales (see Nos. 4 and 6 above) I was not meant for a stellar career in service either.

Wow. Working through that list has brought back a slew of memories!

What were your first seven jobs?


The Front Door Dilemma

When we bought our home in 1999, it was already a decade out of date, boasting 80s décor throughout. Every room was a different shade of pink, from palest blush through bubble gum. Plush dusty rose carpet covered all of the floors and the pink flowered wallpaper in the entry and under the chair rail in the hall was a perfect match to the pink flowered drapery in the family room. But worst of all were the garage and front door: both a shocking shade of fuchsia.

Over the next few years the wallpaper came down, the carpet was replaced with hardwood and we gradually de-pinked every room in the house with gallons and gallons of paint. But the one thing we had vowed to take care of the minute we moved in–covering up the ghastly colour on our home’s exterior–just didn’t happen. It became a running joke, as well as our address: “Don’t worry about remembering our house number,” we’d tell visitors. “Just look for the fuchsia. You can’t miss it.”

When we finally decided to put some time and money into our home’s curb appeal a decade later, we were thrilled with the results. The gorgeous grey interlock driveway, pathway and front porch tied in beautifully with our light grey siding. And the coordinating deep charcoal paint we finally chose for the garage door and front door finished off the classy and classic look we’d always wanted.

Not everyone was as thrilled as we were, though. My directionally challenged friend had to program our actual address into her GPS now that she didn’t have her colour-coded landmark. And my dad, on more than one occasion when he has visited from out of town, has driven right on past.

But we seem to be at a colour crossroads yet again.

Two years ago the motor on the garage door died. We’ve gotten by until now by opening and closing it manually, but last week one of the panels came off the rails and there’s no forcing the twisted metal beast back into place. So a brand new garage door in a timeless glossy black is soon to be installed.

The question now is what to do with the front door?

The grey has got to go, not only because it just won’t match the new garage door, but also because the nasty fuchsia is showing around the new handle and deadbolt we recently installed.

We could go with a glossy black to match the garage. That would be the safe, conservative way to go.

But something in me is calling for colour. Contrast. Personality. Like a candy apple red. Or a jade garden teal. Something that says, “This is us. Welcome.”

Here’s my dilemma: I’m sure the previous owners, when they selected their fuchsia failure, were going for the same thing. And I don’t want my front door to become just another drive-by joke.

So do we play it safe? Or bring it on?

(And just out of curiosity, what colour is your front door?)




My Own Little 4-H Hell

Today’s forecast is 32 degrees with a humidex of over 40 (for my American friends, that’s Really Freakin’ Hot Fahrenheit) and it’s been similar weather almost every day here for going on three weeks now.

Guess what else is hot and steamy lately?


No, I’m not getting my sexy on. I’m having hot flashes.

Welcome to the menopause years.

I was out with girlfriends the other night, and we were commiserating over the regular topics: kids, work, husbands, finances. Then I started venting about the 4-H hell I’ve found myself in lately (heat waves, humidity, hormones and hot flashes) expecting one of them to chime in at any moment.


Apparently I’m the only one of the group whose body has taken to spontaneously combusting.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I was the first girl in my class to wear a bra. The first to get her period. Why not the first for this?

But commiserating isn’t the same when there’s no “co” to my “misery.” It just feels like plain old complaining.

So if you need me,  I’ll be just over here, standing on top of the A/C vent, fanning myself with one hand and holding my hair off the back of my neck with the other, asking “Is it hot in here, or is it just me?”



Summer, Screens and Screams

I remember summer as long, lazy days. Playing outside with friends. Tag and hide and seek. Riding our bikes and building forts with the lawn chairs. Playing dress-up and putting on plays. Barbies, Legos and velvet doodle posters. Puzzles, board games and cards. Mini-golf, swimming and hanging out. Climbing trees. Reading. My mom telling us to get the heck out of the house, ring some doorbells, find someone to play with and not come back until lunchtime. And the same again until dinner. And then dark.

And here we are, halfway through summer. The weather is spectacular. We have a swing set, a large yard and a brand new pool. There’s any number of awesome parks and playgrounds within walking or biking distance. The family room shelves are packed with towers of board games. The craft cupboard is overflowing with supplies. The basement has enough toys to outfit a daycare. And what do my kids want to do?

Stare at screens.

I know this is the world we live in. But I don’t have to like it.

Another of my favourite pastimes, any time of the year, was listening to music. Back then, it was records, and oh! the thrills associated with them: placing the needle perfectly at the start of the song you wanted to hear…the cover art…the liner notes. And if the lyrics were included? Score!

I love that my kids love music too. But now, they have iTunes and YouTube for music. They know nothing about waiting for more songs by the same artist to be released so you can decide whether or not it’s worth it to buy the album (and there were always 45’s if all you ended up wanting was a particular single).

These days, if they hear a song on the radio that they really like, they don’t even need to wait for it to end, praying the announcer will say the name of the song or the band so that the next time they’re at the record store they can check it out. Instead, they grab my phone, Shazam it and immediately, at their fingertips, can call up the artist, title and lyrics, and even link to iTunes and buy it on the spot (with Mom’s OK and password of course). Instant gratification at its worst.

At least with iTunes, they can put on a playlist and listen while they do something else, like read, do a craft or play a game. It’s YouTube that drives me even crazier. Yes, they use it to listen to music, but they end up just sitting and staring at the screen (even if the accompanying image is a still-shot and not a video) while they do.

Speaking of sitting and staring, don’t even get me started on TV and videos. The hundreds of TV channels airing 24/7, where we once had a dozen that went off the air overnight. The on-demand shows they can call up whenever and however often they want, where we had a TV guide and had to plan what we wanted to watch ahead of time (and if we missed it, were SOL). The PVR with its seemingly limitless capacity to store shows, where we had a VCR that could tape a maximum of 6 hours of TV (IF you used the lowest quality recording, set it up properly, and someone else in the house didn’t inadvertently tape over it).

Yes, this has the air of a rant (with a “Back in the Good Old Days” slant). I know it and I apologize. But yesterday, they pushed me over the edge.

After their agreed-upon hour of “screen time” (which never ends up being just an hour, and during which they usually either play video games or watch YouTube videos of other gamers playing games (HOW IS THAT FUN?)), the daily negotiations started.

“Can I just watch one more?”

“I just need to finish this level…”

“She got more time than me yesterday…can I have more now to make it even?”

“He’s just going to go over to his friend’s house and play more of it there!”

No, no, no and no.

“Can we listen to music?”

Yes. Music would be lovely.

But five minutes later, they’re “listening” to a YouTube Minecraft parody of the song 500 Miles called 500 Chunks. AKA “sitting and staring at a screen.”

So no.

“Can we colour?”

Yes! Colouring is good!

But ten minutes later I check in on them only to find that they are not actually colouring in any of the dozens of colouring and doodle books that we have, but googling “colouring pages” to print off. Which, of course, means sitting and staring at the screen, endlessly (and mindlessly) clicking until they find the non-existant perfect picture to colour.

So I lost it.

I screamed. I yelled. I threatened to ban all screens in the house (TVs, computers, laptop, phones, gaming systems, you name it) for the rest of the summer if they couldn’t tear they glazed-over eyes away and drag their lazy butts off the couch and GO FIND SOMETHING ELSE TO DO!!!

I guess they could tell I was serious and this was no idle threat. The next thing I know, they’ve called friends to come over and gathered in the dining room. The board game Apples to Apples is dusted off and the cards arranged on the table.

They’re playing. Talking. Laughing. Explaining. Discovering. Even singing! It’s the most interaction I’ve seen so far this summer. And it’s real. Not virtual.

I wish it didn’t take a tantrum, a tirade and threats for them to see that they are capable of having fun away from a screen. And I wish screens weren’t so prevalent in their lives that it’s become their go-to pastime.

But I’m glad there’s still half a summer left to convince them.