Category Archives: Potpourri

Toilet phone

My iPhone took a dive into the toilet at our B&B in Colonia, Uruguay last week. Sadly, ours is a world in which this type of thing happens with alarming frequency, as it seems we can no longer enjoy even the throne in disconnected solitude. Just tell the techie at the Apple store that your phone “got wet” and he’ll say, “Please tell me the toilet was clean.”

With a little advance planning, you too can avoid dropping your iPhone in the toilet.

With advance planning, you can avoid dropping your iPhone in the toilet.

In true Game of Phones style, the toilet was not clean. It was a pee toilet. I immediately rescued my pee phone, removed it from its pee case and patted the pee dry. I returned to bed (why, oh why had I taken my phone to the toilet at dawn? To check the time and to see whether I had any new likes for my Facebook post, of course) and obsessed about how I was going to find the rice that’s necessary to properly dry out a wet phone. I rehearsed the conversation in Spanish:

Me: “Buenos dias, senor. Tengo una pregunta. Tiene arroz?”

Senor: “Arroz?”

Me: “Si, arroz. Mi telefono estaba en el bano? En la agua? Necessito arroz para secar el telefono.”

Senor: Blank stare at the crazy lady.

He found some rice, bless him, and dumped it onto my phone inside a ziploc baggie. And this was all before 7:30 a.m. The prognosis was looking good, so long as the urine didn’t fry the circuitry or something.

When I got back to the room it was my husband who was looking at me like I was a crazy lady. Not only had I dropped the phone in the toilet, the device contained all the images from the trip — beautiful pictures of Mendoza wineries and colonial buildings in Uruguay — and I wasn’t on the iCloud! The pictures weren’t backed up, my contacts weren’t backed up, so my very existence was pretty much in the toilet, too.

There was naught to do but begin the long journey back to Canada, via ferry to Buenos Aires, bus to the EZE airport, and planes to Santiago, Toronto and Calgary, where I hoped by then the rice would have saved my phone. Yes, my phone is mostly functional again (the rice works, people!), but I’m using it a lot less. Three days without a phone was actually awesome and liberating, and I wanted to share what I learned.

Don’t bring your phone to the toilet

This is obvious, right? And yet, everyone does it. It’s like, we’re all scanning our news on a mobile app so when nature calls, we bring the phone to continue reading. I know a lot of people whose phones ended up in the toilet or on the floor next to the toilet because of this bad habit. Plus, it’s unsanitary — think of the germs! So don’t bring any device near the bathroom. Instead, use that time to think deep thoughts.

Back up your devices

My first thought as the touch screen began to slow down during the patting dry process was, “My photos! F*#K!” All those great images of the kids on spring break and me dressed up like a gaucho in the Andes: fading fast. I made a vow to activate iCloud for my phone and computer back in Canada, and to regularly download images from my phone to the computer (the idea of everything floating somewhere in the ether is a bit too airy for my liking).

Make a habit of turning off your phone at home

There’s a lot of talk about “being present” in your life, with your spouse and children. Let me tell you, nothing yanks you back to reality quite like not having a phone. With no portable connection to social media, you actually become more social with the people you live with. Imagine! This is a great thing. I found I listened to my kids without any mental distraction. In the mornings, I enjoyed my coffee with my thoughts, or read a chapter in my book. It was like an experiment for the slow technology movement: “Let’s not check our email or know what’s happening in the world until we get to work. Let’s see if that brings more balance to life!”

Maybe we don’t all really need smart phones

This thought ran through my head at the Apple store, after the techie refused to look at my “biohazard” (his word) toilet phone, and then tried to up-sell me on a newer, bigger, higher-memory iPhone. I thought about what I use it for: mainly, taking pictures, texting, reading news and occasionally social media. Apart from texting, I can do the other three using a camera and my laptop, which I would never bring to the toilet with me. I rarely ever use my phone as a phone since we still have a land line (quaint, I know). So why would I spend $800 on the fancy iPhone 6S plus model when I could just go ghetto with my old iPhone 4 and use it to text until my contract is up?

We all seem to think we can’t live without our phones. But we can, and in a lot of ways, the living is better.

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Consider this our family Christmas card 4

The Kadane-Ford family Christmas card: 2015

Family photo on Playa Grande beach on our last evening in Costa Rica.

Family photo on Playa Grande beach on our last evening in Costa Rica.

It’s been another exciting year for our family that included spring break in Costa Rica and a road trip to Denver and Salt Lake City, as well as lots of hiking, trips to Fernie and Game of Thrones book bingeing for me (yes, I read all five and have become one of those nerds people who knows what R + L = J means. See you next year at Comic Con! I’ll be dressed as Brienne of Tarth.). In between the fun we made 220 school lunches, read over 600 bedtime stories, cooked salmon (Avery’s favourite!) at least 50 times and spent 57 hours planning future holidays. Here are some 2015 highlights for each family member.

Blake continues to enjoy his time away from an office job and has begun to cultivate some hobbies including wood-working and tending bonsais. He began to take an interest in the tiny trees on a trip to Japan and we now have two. On the same trip, Blake crossed off a bucket list item after he ate blowfish, a.k.a. fugu. The empty Tokyo restaurant seemed like a bit of a red flag, but Blake dug in with enthusiasm to the sushi, deep fried and weird congee-style blowfish and told me not to worry when his tongue went numb.

Poison, poison, tasty fish! In which Bennett makes like Homer and lives.

Poison, poison, tasty fish! In which Blake makes like Homer and lives.

Upon returning to Canada, Blake had a closer brush with danger when he hit a tree while mountain biking on his last ride of the regular season and suffered a subdural hematoma dark bruise in his kidney area. Fortunately, he stopped peeing blood after a week  healed in time for winter fat biking!

Avery continues to enjoy Girl Guides and piano and she tried jazz dance this fall. She is also keen to try archery after secretly reading The Hunger Games books at school. “What’s the big deal?” you might be thinking. “I read Flowers in the Attic in grade six.” Yeah, well, I guess Katniss offing fellow teens isn’t as bad as Catherine’s sibling love with her brother. Still, it pains me to see her growing up so fast and it makes me want to hide the Game of Thrones books (killing AND inappropriate sibling relationships!).

Avery was in her element in Costa Rica and loved all the wildlife including this red-eyed tree frog.

Avery, age 10 (grade 5) was in her element in Costa Rica and loved all the wildlife including this red-eyed tree frog.

There are still plenty of little girl cuddles, though, even if Avery has started giving us the hairy eyeball when we sing dorky witty made-up songs about Piper in public. She is signed up for the Fernie Extreme Club again this winter and I will die a little be a proud mama if this is the year she surpasses me on the slopes. Avery has also mastered her back flip on the trampoline, taught Piper how to “play dead” and “sit pretty” and is on her way to being a math whiz (even if we will never ever understand regrouping). We are thrilled by how much she loves to travel, and humbled by her desire to help others, including four-legged friends — she’s volunteering at the SPCA this year.

Bennett has had another busy year that included learning how to doggie paddle and chew gum, and trying new tricks on the trampoline including diving head first into the net. He has also branched out with his vocabulary and after-school activities. We had him in therapeutic horseback riding this fall, which he loved, as well as swimming every week through the Special Olympics.

Bennett loves horseback riding. Here he is on a pony ride in Grand Lake, Colo. this summer.

Bennett, age 8 (grade 3) loves horseback riding. Here he is in Grand Lake, Colo.

And, I don’t want to brag, but I am happy to report that Bennett has reached the life-changing (for me) milestone of being able to vomit into a toilet when he has the stomach flu — rather than all over his sheets or the carpet; that is such a dose to clean up at 2 a.m. We are so very proud. There are still many challenges with Bennett’s autism, which I wrote about in a Today’s Parent story, but for the most part he keeps making progress and finding new ways to torment the dog.

Speaking of Piper, she has calmed down considerably now that she’s closing in on three (that’s 21 in dog years — time to move out and get a job, Pipes!). The only time she still really loses it is when there’s a squirrel in the backyard. Then she trembles and whines and barks like a ninny as she bolts down the stairs after her ever-elusive quarry.

She has also started grazing like a cow on long blades of grass. This poses a problem during elimination as she swallows them whole and then they don’t necessarily come out all the way, if you get my meaning.

Piper stops for a rest at Nose Hill Park.

Piper stops for a rest at Nose Hill Park. Wouldn’t she make a great cover model for Gun Dog magazine?

We have also begun to question her intelligence as every morning when she exits her kennel, instead of running straight for the food bowl, she takes the time to stretch and thus gets herself caught in a steer wrestling headlock by Bennett as he seizes the opportunity to manhandle his favourite playmate. But for all her idiosyncrasies, she teaches us every day about unconditional love and she never takes us for granted. I can leave the house for just five minutes but when I return, there’s Piper, tail wagging, holding her lovey in her mouth as an offering.

Lisa (that’s me) has finally succumbed to ageing and has invested in a bookish/sexy pair of reading glasses. It got to the point last summer where I was hardly reading A Feast for Crows because the light had to be just so and I needed a selfie stick to hold the book three feet from my eyes. Alas, the “librarians” are LIKE A MIRACLE and I no longer need large print books.

Hangin' with the hairy coos on Islay, Scotland.

Hangin’ with the hairy coos on Islay, Scotland.

I stay young at heart through travel and this was a banner year. I enjoyed a press trip to Scotland where I drank my face off gained a deep appreciation for peated whisky. I also visited Churchill to test the limits of my cold tolerance see the polar bears. And Blake and I jetted off to Japan on a couple’s trip to tour the temples of Kyoto, stay in some ryokans and feed the aggressive deer in Nara. I continue to write about travel, parenting and cocktails, and I even appeared on TV mixing holiday drinks.

We’re looking forward to a busy winter break that includes skiing, snowmobiling, time with family and, hopefully, a visit from Santa. Happy holidays!

Yellowstone

Autumn Margarita

In my humble opinion, it’s always the right season for a margarita. So I was excited to try this fall twist on one of my favourite cocktails. It uses apple butter in place of Cointreau, and lemon juice instead of lime, but there’s no mistaking its margarita-ness. Plus, the cinnamon-salt rim is suitably seasonal and delivers an apple pie quality to the drink. #omnomnom

Apple butter is a lovely addition to this twist on a margarita.

Apple butter is a lovely addition to this twist on a margarita.

Autumn Margarita

  • 1-1/2 oz Maestro Dobel Tequila
  • 1 tsp. apple butter (available at Loblaws)
  • 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz agave nectar
  • Garnish: Cinnamon stick
  • Coupe rim: Ground cinnamon and sea salt powder

Method: Rim a coupe glass with ground cinnamon and sea salt powder, set aside. In a cocktail shaker, combine tequila with apple butter, lemon juice and agave nectar, then shake with ice. Strain the contents into the coupe glass and garnish with a cinnamon stick.

— Recipe courtesy Maestro Dobel Tequila

Illuminasia at the Calgary Zoo

You can see the glow as you cross the zoo bridge from Inglewood to St. Patrick’s Island. Bright, multi-coloured lanterns in the shape of animals and plants illuminate the night inside the Calgary Zoo. They beckon to moms like me — whose kids love the zoo — to come and see the Illuminasia Lantern & Garden Festival, running through Nov. 1, 2015.

Illuminasia at the Calgary Zoo features 366 plant- and animal-shaped lanterns from China.

Illuminasia features 366 plant- and animal-shaped lanterns from China.

We’ve been big fans of Zoolights for years, so I was eager to see how this shoulder-season event — designed to attract visitors during a non-peak time of year — stacked up. As luck would have it, I was invited to check it out by the Travel Media Association of Canada (I’m a member) for a great price, but it was an adult media mixer so I left the kids at home.

Illuminasia features 366 lanterns (183 plants and 183 animals) of varying sizes built in China and then shipped 12,000 km to Calgary. The lanterns are made of a silk-rayon fabric that’s been stretched over a frame, with details such as stripes (tigers) or facial expressions (check out the zebras!) airbrushed or hand-painted on.

Some of the Illuminasia lanterns, like this lion, almost look like they're made of glass. Very cool.

Some of the Calgary Zoo’s Illuminasia lanterns, like this lion, almost look like they’re made of glass. Very cool.

We walked past delicate cheetahs, a fierce roaring lion, hunting velociraptors, a giant moose and a flock of flamingos, among many others — all animals that are represented at the Calgary Zoo (the zoo obviously doesn’t have real dinosaurs but rather features animatronic giant reptiles in its Dinosaurs Alive exhibit). A favourite are the panda lanterns, likely because the zoo is gearing up to welcome real giant pandas in 2018.

The pandas are the most popular lanterns at the Calgary Zoo's Illuminasia festival.

The pandas are the most popular lanterns at the Calgary Zoo’s Illuminasia festival.

In addition to the lantern walk, Illuminasia features programming tied in to themes that celebrate different countries in Asia. Experience India, for example, runs through Oct. 25 and offers a chance to see a performance by Bollywood-style dancers (free), or the opportunity to get a henna tattoo or make a block art print ($10).

Colourful elephants add flair to Illuminasia at the Calgary Zoo.

Colourful elephants add flair to Illuminasia at the Calgary Zoo.

I’m all for the zoo enriching its programming and thinking of creative ways to broaden the zoo experience (now that Avery and Bennett are older, there are only so many times a year we want to go see all of the usual animal suspects). I only wish the zoo would make these extra offerings more accessible.

For a family of four to go to Illuminasia it costs $84 (note: it’s $76 for regular zoo admission for two adults and two kids), plus $5 parking. And it’s not like you can pull a twofer take in the lanterns and the real animals at the same time, since the lanterns turn on at 7 p.m. but by then it’s too dark to see the animals and/or the animal buildings are closed. There is a discount on Illuminasia tickets offered for Engage or Inspire level zoo members (20 or 25 percent, respectively, plus free parking), but, for comparison’s sake, the member discount price still works out to be more than regular Stampede admission (which is $54 for a family of four). It seems like a lot of money to look at lit-up animals, and I can’t help but think that by lowering prices or offering more member incentives, events like this would attract a lot more people and ultimately earn the zoo more money.

I liked Illuminasia, but the cost might leave you feeling cheetah-ed.

I liked Illuminasia, but the cost might leave you feeling cheetah-ed.

So the question is, will I bring Avery and Bennett to Illuminasia before it wraps up for the season on Nov. 1? I really liked it, but for $84 for our family, I’d have to say no (we are no longer zoo members now that the children are older). Yes, we pay for Zoolights every year, but for us that’s become a Christmas Eve tradition so we don’t mind the cost. The zoo has plans to make Illuminasia an annual event, so perhaps it too will eventually become a tradition. Time will tell.

Inglewood Bird Sanctuary reopens!

More than two years ago, before the Calgary flood, one of our favourite things to do as a family was to walk the trails in the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. In summer we’d look for ripe Saskatoon berries, in fall we’d admire the colourful foliage, and in winter we’d appreciate the stillness save for the chatter of chickadees. In all seasons there was wildlife, notably deer, and occasionally we’d see muskrats or a bald eagle.

Blake and Bennett spot ducks from a new bridge at the recently reopened Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.

Blake and Bennett spot ducks from a new bridge at the recently reopened Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.

For the past two years Bennett would ask, “The bird sanctuary will be closed forever?” It began to feel like it. So we were thrilled to return from vacation on August long weekend and find out our old stomping grounds had been (partially) reopened. Not all of the pathways are ready for foot traffic — the flood did a number on the trails and infrastructure like bridges and viewing platforms — but our favourite loop that meanders past the Colonel Walker house, across the lagoon over two new bridges, and around to the main rehabilitated bridge, is once again open. We walked there on a recent evening to check it out.

Peaceful evening inside the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, which has finally (partially) reopened after the Calgary flood.

Peaceful evening inside the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, which has finally (partially) reopened after the Calgary flood.

We immediately spotted several fawns walking in the brush on the other side of the lagoon, their mother grazing not far away. Then, we saw an enormous great blue heron perched atop a fallen log. We got a good look and then he took flight, his enormous wings beating the still air.

This is why they call it a bird sanctuary -- a great blue heron rests atop a fallen tree.

This is why it’s a bird sanctuary — a great blue heron rests atop a fallen tree.

On the other side of the lagoon, where the forest is thicker, we saw what looked like numerous trails leading from the water into the trees. On closer inspection we realized they are beaver runs and lead to trees that have been felled by the industrious critters, which have pretty much taken over during two years of free-range chewing.

Have trees, will chew. The beavers have taken over the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.

Have trees, will chew. The beavers have taken over the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.

As we walked along the path we kept our eyes peeled for the fawns, and we were lucky to spot all four of them (!), plus mama having a rest among tall grass near the water’s edge.

One of four fawns spotted on a recent evening.

One of four fawns spotted on a recent evening.

Her babies were skittish, but mama deer is entirely non-plussed about sharing the bird sanctuary with humans again.

Her babies were skittish, but mama deer is entirely non-plussed about sharing the bird sanctuary with humans again.

In all, it was a special evening that reinforced why we love — and truly missed — the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.

Selling Girl Guide cookies

The reason we didn’t want Avery to join Sparks back in kindergarten, or Brownies in grade two, came down to cookies. Essentially, we didn’t want to spend Saturdays sitting outside of Walmart trying to sell chocolate mint cookies or the lesser chocolate and vanilla sandwich cookies to people who had probably just bought a bunch of junk food in the store. (Note: America has waaay better Girl Scout cookies than Canada. I craved Samoas and Trefoils as a child.)

We finally caved and let her join up as a Brownie last year. She graduated to Girl Guide at the start of grade four (I still call it Brownies though. I just can’t get my head around “Girl Guides” — who is she guiding, exactly?). Instead of hawking $5 boxes of cookies at the mall, she sells them door-to-door. And by she I mean we. I hold the case of cookies and she negotiates the transaction.

Wouldn't you buy a box of cookies from this Girl Guide?

Wouldn’t you buy a box of cookies from this Girl Guide?

Avery: “I’m selling Girl Guide cookies. Five dollars a box. I only have four boxes left.”

Customer: “What kind are they?”

Avery: “The sandwich kind.”

Customer: “Oh, too bad. I like the mint ones.”

We get that every third house. Everyone likes the mint ones. I have yet to meet anyone who would rather trough on the sandwich kind. Dear Girl Guides: it’s time to retire the sandwich cookies. (Why not just sell the mint ones all year? Or better yet, imagine how well those Girl Scout shortbread Trefoils and caramel-chocolate-coconut Samoas would sell here. It’s criminal we don’t have more options. Truly.)

Because spring is the season for the sandwich cookies — and because I’d already seen Facebook posts from parents of cookie selling competitors, trying to unload their boxes to other parents at school pick-up — I knew Avery and I needed a strategy to get rid of our case.

Using social media to sell sugary goodness. Genius!

Using social media to sell sugary goodness. Genius!

The plan: Pick a nice hockey playoff evening when the Flames were playing and go door-to-door before the puck dropped in the hope that anyone not at a bar would be in the market for munchies while they watched the game on TV.

Day 1 (Game 2/Away): We sold a case in five minutes! Our neighbour and his friend purchased eight (8!) boxes, and another neighbour snapped up the remaining four. Wow, cookie selling is EASY! Imagine if we had more cases, we could’ve sold them all! So, I emailed the Girl Guide leader and asked for another case.

Day 2 (Game 4/Home): Where is everyone? They either think we’re door knocking for the Alberta election, they’re at a bar, or they’re at the game. One woman (who I know is home because I saw her go in the front door when we were half a block away) just ignores the doorbell. Another man answers, takes one look at the Girl Guide box, and tells us no thanks, he still has half a box of the mint cookies left over from December. WTF? Those are the good ones! Evidently, his two kids aren’t allowed to eat cookies.

We make our way down the street, practically begging people to take them off our hands.

Lady: “I’ll go see if I can scrounge up some change.” She returns with eight quarters and three loonies. “I raided the loose change drawer because we’re almost through the two boxes we bought from another girl earlier this week.”

At least someone likes the sandwich kind.

Avery: “Oh, really?” (Wondering who beat her to this street.)

Lady: “She had a big wagon of cookies.”

Ah, the cookie wagon. It takes dedication to haul cases of sandwich cookies around in a wagon. And possibly all day to sell them.

Finally, a reprieve. With only two boxes left to sell Avery rings one more doorbell. The man who answers takes one look at Avery, all dressed up in her shirt and kerchief, holding a case of cookies, and his hand dives into his pocket for money. When it surfaces empty-handed he checks his wallet, despairing that there’s no cash. But then he remembers his wallet’s secret cash stash, pulls out a ten dollar bill, and buys the two remaining boxes.

Selling the lesser sandwich cookies? Not as hard as I’d imagined.

Dear Diary…

I picked up a pen on October 7, 1984,and wrote the words “Dear Diary.” I didn’t stop writing about life’s highs and lows, friendship triumphs and betrayals, love found and lost and found again — all penned in looping teenage girl cursive — until sometime in my late 20s.

My diary, circa 1990.

My diary, circa 1990.

 

Dear Diary, In 25 years I will laugh at this entry!  P.S. That relationship didn't last another month!

Dear Diary, In 25 years I will laugh at this entry!

By then, with a husband and a house and a blossoming writing career, life became predictable enough that I no longer needed to use blank lined pages as a sounding board for my deepest thoughts and dreams. I put down that pen and the privacy of a diary, and took to a keyboard, typing stories of my trips and travails for the general public as a journalist.

And then, after I left the Calgary Herald in 2011, I started this blog as a way to record bits of the next chapter of my life: the one about raising kids. Blogging is easier than writing — my hand never cramps — and I can add pictures too! It’s like a scrapbook journal. I like to think that Avery and Bennett will read these posts and remember their milestones and laugh at all the crazy things they did.

The modern journal.

The modern journal.

But it’s not always light and cheery. Parenting has its dark moments, especially when raising a child with special needs. I’ve “put it all out there” a couple times in parenting posts and stories about my son and our family’s struggles with his genetic condition and autism. I know this open talk of our sadness, and subsequent coming to terms with our new normal, can seem foreign to people. Sometimes they use words like “brave” or “honest” to describe my words.

The words are honest in the same way my teenage rants were honest in the late 80s. They are brave only in the sense I am writing them knowing that thousands of people will find my “modern journal” and read it cover to cover. I have another word for it, one that’s now backed by research: therapy.

It turns out a Clarkson University professor has written a paper on how mothers raising a child with autism can manage stress through emotional disclosure in journal writing. The article appears in the December 2014 issue of the Journal for Autism and Developmental Disorders.

“If people can really comprehend what’s happening to them, if they find meaning in it and find tools for managing it, they are healthy and resilient,” said author Rondalyn V. Whitney, the director and founding chair of Clarkson’s occupational therapy program, in a news release about the paper. “Journal writing is one of their tools in their toolkit, and it helps them find meaningful coping strategies.”

I’m not sure that writing about Bennett helps me find coping strategies, but it does put our challenges into perspective and help me see them in a new light. I also think it’s important to share our struggles, so that others can come one step closer to understanding what we’re going through. I’m not one to beat the disability drum, but I think we can learn valuable lessons from children and adults with differences. As I wrote in a Today’s Parent story this month:

“I wonder at times if I’ve become a better person because of his autism, and I think I have—I’m more patient than I ever thought possible and I’m continually amazed by my perseverance and my ability to adapt to a new normal every few months as behaviours come and go.”

Maybe everyone should have a little Bennett in their lives, I think. And so I write. Because life is no longer as stable and predictable as it was when I was 28, and my keyboard and a blank screen — and you, my readers — have become my new sounding board.