Bye, Siri. Hello, Alexa!

We used to be a family of four: me, my husband, our son and our daughter. But since Christmas, we’re the Clarkes, party of five.

I’d like to introduce you to our new overlord, Alexa.*

It started so casually. I took advantage of a Black Friday sale and ordered myself two half-price Echo Dots* as a Christmas gift from my husband. I also hinted to my sister that she could buy me a third as her gift. I wanted three so I could put one on each level of our house and use them as intercoms.

I excitedly set them up on Christmas morning and started playing with the Alexa app. I pictured myself using the devices for day-to-day reminders (e.g. “Alexa, add eggs to the grocery list.”) and maybe she’d replace Siri occasionally.

I never expected my entire family to become instantly obsessed with her.

“Alexa, play Shake It Off by Taylor Swift!” our daughter shouted at the kitchen Alexa, while our son interjected “No! Alexa, tell me a joke!”

“Guys! Stop! She was in the middle of asking me the question of the day!” I protested.

“Alexa, play The Greatest Showman soundtrack!”

“No! Alexa, tell me a story about Lego!”

“Alexa! Alexa! ALEXAAA!”

It was not even noon on Christmas Day. I swear, if poor Alexa had the power to unplug herself and hop out the door, I think she would have quit on us.

Continue reading in my weekly parenting column, The Mom Scene …

DIY computer desk

Our eight-and-a-half year old son had been begging for a computer for Christmas. We eventually decided we’d “gift” him with my desktop computer since I was due for an upgrade. (He would get the brand-new keyboard, mouse, speakers and headphones, but I’d get the new tower and monitor.)

There was no question about where his computer would go: right in the dining area, in plain view, where we could keep an eye on things from anywhere on the main level.

But that meant moving one of our hutches to make room for a new, larger desk — instead of the tiny, rarely-used built-in one we’d tucked in a corner.

We usually build simple, modern desks out of 2x4s and sheets of white melamine, but that wasn’t going to work for our farmhouse-style main level. Whatever we built would need to match the dining table, chairs and nearby coffee table — white legs, stained wooden tops — and mimic the classic, vintage feel of their turned legs.

I sketched out what I wanted and presented it to my handy husband, since he’s better at building anything load-bearing and, um, important. It seemed pretty simple. I wanted turned spindle-like legs to match the dining table and chairs, a thick-looking wooden desktop I could stain dark, and an “apron” under the desktop that could be painted white.

… He didn’t see my vision.

Continue reading in my weekly DIY column, My Handmade Home …

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Why we gave our kids debit cards

Why we gave our kids debit cards {Heather's Handmade Life}

We started giving our kids allowance when they were four and six: $4 per week for our four-year-old daughter, and $6 per week for our six-year-old son. One dollar per year of age, we figured, was pretty reasonable.***

***It eventually (quietly) got downgraded to be a biweekly allowance because WOAH it was adding up quickly as they turned five and seven, and then six and eight. Giving our eight-year-old close to $40/month in disposable income felt … like too much.

They “earn” their allowance by keeping their rooms reasonable (C has lost her allowance at times if her room’s a disaster) and generally helping out around the house. Nothing too crazy. They’re responsible for feeding the dog and giving her fresh water, letting her out to pee, scooping poop, etc. They fold laundry with me when I ask. (C loves this. D does not.) If they make a mess on the floor, they know how to sweep it up into a dustpan. They always have to bring their dishes to the sink and push in their chairs.

Since we’re not a household that’s big on carrying cash — everythinggggg is digital for us — we quickly realized it wasn’t going to be possible to pay them in actual toonies or fives or whatever. Nope, just not happening.

And so, on Oct. 11, 2016, we brought them to their first-ever bank appointment and set them each up with their own account. I also set them up as “payees” in my account, so I could automatically transfer their allowance.

They were, uh, clearly in silly moods?

They actually ended up getting Debit/VISA cards, since that’s just what most debit cards are these days.

A four-year-old with a credit card?! LOL WUT?

I can haz credit cardz?

Ready for a lil’ Q&A about kids and debit cards?

Do your kids seriously have credit cards?!

Yup! Sort of! The VISA aspect of their Debit/VISA *has* been handy when the kids want to use their allowance to order something online. Y’know, as kids do these days!

They can’t spend more than what’s in their account, so it’s not a true credit card. It’s more like one of those prepaid VISAs.

Instead of me putting through the order and transferring the money to myself (from their account), they can order it in their own name. (And getting a package in the mail ADDRESSED TO YOU is a big deal when you’re in elementary school.)

Do they carry their debit cards around on their own? What if they lose them?

Mostly, the kids use their Debit/VISA cards as actual debit cards. I keep D’s in my wallet (at his request), while C prefers to keep hers in one of her many purses. (It occasionally goes missing for a while, but has never been lost for good.)

How/when do your kids use their debit cards?

If we’re in a store and they want to buy something, they ask me to check their balance. I log into their account using the banking app on my phone, take a screenshot of their balance, and show it to them — reminding them they need to tack “a few dollars for tax” onto the price of whatever it is they’re interested in.

Can they use their debit cards to buy anything they want?

Nope! Sometimes they’ll suggest something and I’ll just refuse, as the parent. (A violent video game, an enormous bag of candy, or something else I just don’t want them to have.)

Other times I’ll sort of roll my eyes and ask if they REALLY want to waste their money on X or Y — usually a cheap toy I know they won’t actually play with, or something that’s going to fall apart if they look at it. But they remind me it’s their money, and … yeah, OK, fine.

Rides on giant motorized stuffies: something they spend their allowance on!

What are their spending habits like?

You can definitely see their personalities in what they buy and how much they spend in a single go.

D will buy art supplies and/or fabric for a little project if we’re in a store like that, but he’ll usually save up his allowance until he can buy a LEGO set.

C is famous for saying “I wanna waste ALL my money!” which means she wants to spend every damn cent in her account. Yes, “waste.” Oh man. She is the kid who will make two or three transactions in a single store and have me check her balance in between to see how much is left. She usually buys LOL Dolls, art supplies/fabric, or this weird modeling clay that she loves but only uses for about two seconds.

She gets frustrated because D always has more money in his account (he SAVES IT, girl) and sometimes she’ll decide to save hers, too. I hope she’s learning. I don’t know. Maybe?

Do they remember their PINs?

Yup! (They’re pretty cute pins, to be honest.) They love remembering their PINs and getting to punch them in. (I specifically asked the bank NOT to enable “Tap,” so they’d have to remember their PINs — and also in case they lost their cards.) I’m always over their shoulder, whispering to hit “Chequing” and “OK” or whatever.

Then they beam with pride when the salesperson hands them their receipt. (C actually keeps ALL of hers, so her future accountant is going to be very pleased with her.)

Two happy kids, about to make a purchase!

What if they forget to bring their debit card on a shopping trip?

If they don’t have their debit card with them when we’re out, I’ll usually agree to buy it for them with mine (as long as I AGREE with the purchase, ahem). I pay for it, and then I log into my banking app and send myself an e-transfer from their account to cover the cost. Everybody’s happy.

What if someone gives them cash for a birthday?

Oh, they like cash, too. Often it’s a matter of explaining “You have $10 in cash and $18.29 in your account,” and they either pay with one or the other or combine them for a larger purchase. (“Ten in cash and the rest on debit, please.”)

Do they have to save any of it?

No, it’s all theirs to do as they please. We have separate RESPs for each of them, so that’s where the “important” money goes (i.e. an RESP donation from the grandparents at Christmas) to be saved for college/university someday.

Do YOU ever buy them anything?

Yes, BUT not a lot.

We have a tradition that on report card days, we go to the Needs (gas station) near our house and I buy them “any treat they want.” (It sounds much flashier than it is, because … it’s a gas station!)

I take them out to McDonalds or to go bowling or to the movies or something? I pay, of course, because it’s a family experience — not just buying crap.

If we’re in a Dollar Store because I need to buy something, I might say they can each pick one thing (knowing it’s in the $1-$2 range). Sometimes they’ll get a treat here and there when we’re out shopping (and I pay) but honestly, I’m not often in stores with them so it doesn’t come up a lot.

If they want something in their school’s book fair? They pay for it.

If they want to pay to download a video game, like Minecraft on the PS4? They pay for it.

If they desperately want a toy or a craft kit or art supplies in a store? They pay for it.

It’s easy to say “If you really want it, I’ll check your balance.” Often they don’t want it badly enough to actually pay for it themselves.

***

TLDR; I like that our kids have debit cards. It’s easy to transfer them their allowance (which we give them so they learn how to manage money + that we’re not just going to pay for everything).

xo

Bright and organized bedroom

I’m always amazed by how much you can change a room in just a couple of hours — no painting walls or replacing linens required.

When my friend Lisa asked us to take a look at the bedroom of her eight-year-old daughter, Katie, I knew a few simple changes would have a huge impact.

Katie is our son’s age (they even went to preschool together for two years), and was using a small desk that wasn’t large enough for her hand-me-down computer, keyboard and recording system. So we suggested building exactly the same two desks he has in his room right now — except his are used for his Lego collection.

Our son’s DIY LEGO countertops

We’ve built quite a few of these desks so far, actually. My handy husband whips up a simple frame out of 2x4s, which is then painted or stained. (For Katie’s room, we went with a crisp white — Picket Fence by Fusion Mineral Paint* — so it didn’t clash with her pretty hardwood floors.)

Then he cuts a sheet of white melamine down the middle, trims the ends, and fits it on top — using a couple of brackets underneath to keep it in place. (My job is to take the long plastic edging strips and click them over the raw edges of the melamine. It’s sort of fun.)

Because we did two separate (identical) desks, instead of a huge L-shaped one, Katie will be able to move the desks into different configurations if she wants. Our son sometimes pushes his together to make a big rectangle, or puts them end-to-end so he has a full wall of Lego-playing surface.

What else did we do to Katie’s bright and organized bedroom? Continue reading in my weekly DIY column, My Handmade Home …

What else did we do to Katie’s bright and organized bedroom? Continue reading in my weekly DIY column, My Handmade Home …

Continue reading

The (6th Annual) Freelancer Christmas Party

The 6th Annual Freelancer Christmas Party {Heather's Handmade Life}

It can be lonely working from home, especially in December when it seems like EVERYBODY ELSE gets to go to a company Christmas party.

That’s why I always throw myself one …

My 2017 Self Employed Christmas Party for One
My 2016 Self Employed Christmas Party for One
My 2015 Self Employed Christmas Party for One
My 2014 Self Employed Christmas Party for One
My 2013 Self Employed Christmas Party for One

But this year? The boss a.k.a. ME wasn’t keen on having a party.

There’s so much to do!” she kept yelling. “We’ll never get it all done! All hands on deck! No rest for the wicked!”

Honestly, it had the whole team feeling pretty stressed out.

No time to pick up a water bottle. It must be connected to an employee’s mouth via hose.
She thinks this MOTIVATES us?!

I found myself daydreaming of parties from years gone by …

I thought the boss might have had a change of heart. She brought down lunch!

… but it was just her leftovers from the previous night. *sigh*

Things seemed promising when she handed a card to each employee, but … once again, we were underwhelmed …

Even though we weren’t having a party, she distractedly handed out the service awards. I’d won Employee of the Year for five years running, so I was feeling pretty excited until … what???

I. WAS. ROBBED!

One thing I always count on at our corporate Christmas parties is a nice cold Diet Coke. So when the boss said she’d pass out drinks, I was NEVER expecting she’d pull a stunt like this …

Enough was enough!

It was time for a wake-up call for our mean, terrible boss!

I’m pleased to report that she reconsidered and I *did* win Employee of the Year — six years running, now!

My colleagues and I finally started to relax and get into the festive season with a few selfies. #lovemyteam #workfriends

And then? It was time for some REAL LUNCH …

Midday Hub Grub visit with a good friend = good for the soul!

My boss may have needed some MAJOR convincing, but I’m glad she finally realized that we need a party. You can’t work yourself to the point of exhaustion every day. It causes wrinkles.

Nothing sweeter (er, asparatamier?) than a holiday party Diet Coke!

Thanks for “joining” my little Christmas party-for-one again this year! Wishing all of you a very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

xoxo

Heather

P.S. Two of my self-employed friends also threw themselves holiday parties. Hop over to Eat, Drink and Be You to see Kerra’s party, and then stop in for a cuppa on the farm — Farm Fresh Style, to be exact — and see Lori’s party.

Rocked by the report card

Rocked by the report card: I finally opened one that mortified me! {Heather's Handmade Life}

Four years into being an elementary school parent, it finally happened: I opened a report card that mortified me.

Our son’s report card was packed with WDs (Well Developed) and glowing comments about how he’s “confident” and “compassionate” and “knows what he has to offer the world.” I beamed.

Our daughter’s report card contained almost all DEs (Developing as Expected) which was great … except for a big ol’ ND — “Needs Development.” I gasped.

You might be wondering what happened to grades like A, B, C, D and F. We didn’t have either marking scheme when we were kids. It was either E (Excellent), VG (Very Good), G (Good) or HD (Having Difficulty). I sailed through school with all Es and VGs.

Did my daughter — my flesh and blood — just get the modern-day equivalent of an HD?!

Continue reading in my weekly parenting column, The Mom Scene … 

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Lighting it up (in vivid colour)

Lighting it up (in vivid colour): Testing out the Sengled Element Colour Plus Hub Smart Home Lighting Kit {Heather's Handmade Life}

Most people know pink is my favourite colour, but I wasn’t expecting the lights in my home office to suddenly start flashing hot pink, soft pink and magenta while I was on a call.

I heard giggles from upstairs as my office exploded with colour like a nightclub at 1 a.m. The kids had gotten hold of my husband’s iPhone. Can you imagine how funny it would have looked if I’d been on a video call?

How did the kids control the lights in my office from another floor? They’d like to say it’s because they’re Hogwarts students, but really it’s because my office now has “smart” lighting that’s controlled by an app.

The folks at Lowe’s and RONA recentl sent me the Sengled Element Colour Plus Hub Smart Home Lighting Kit, which retails for about $119. It includes a hub that you plug into your router anywhere in your home (so the bulbs can connect to the internet) and two of the most magical LED bulbs you could imagine.

They look like ordinary white light bulbs and they’re rated to last 25,000 hours (which seems to be the average for LEDs), but they can turn 16 million different colours. Sixteen million!

It took me less than five minutes to (A) locate our router, and (B) plug in the hub. Once I downloaded their app (Sengled Element, available in the App store and Google Play Store) and “named” my bulbs, I could set them to lighting schemes like Romantic or Relaxed — or just go wild swirling my finger from neon green to blazing hot pink and royal blue.

My new bulbs on the “Daylight” setting, 100% brightness

Continue reading in my weekly DIY column, My Handmade Home … 

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Christmas pom-pom garlands

Christmas pom-pom garland {Heather's Handmade Life}

Let’s get this out of the way up front: I dislike Christmas decor.

I mean, it’s fine in other people’s houses. I know plenty of people who love decorating for the holidays and their homes look wonderful.

But in my house? Ugh. It always feels cluttered and over-full during the month of December, once we’ve pulled out the lights and stockings and Santas and tinsel garlands … and the giant wooden gingerbread man that seemed like a fun idea at the time. Then there’s the (special but admittedly gaudy) tree itself.

Basically, I’m taking deep breaths and looking forward to the lovely season of decluttering and organization — a.k.a. January. That’s my Christmas.

Of course, my children adore Christmas and all of the decorations that come with it. So I thought I’d make an effort to replace a few pieces with ones I liked better — specifically, something simpler.

Christmas pom-pom garland {Heather's Handmade Life}

I decorated bedrooms for two tweens a few months ago and fell in love with the sweet pom-pom garlands I’d made for their rooms. So I picked up packages of red and white pom-poms and made a few to swag over the windows in our living room.

These are SO easy to make! 

Continue reading in my weekly DIY column, My Handmade Home … 

Notice me Senpai?! My 8-year-old’s secret admirer

"Notice me, Senpai!" My 8-year-old's secret admirer sent him the weirdest note! {Heather's Handmade Life}

Well, that was unexpected! My eight-year-old son just came home with what may be the most … unusual … secret admirer note?

"Notice me, Senpai!" My 8-year-old's secret admirer sent him the weirdest note! {Heather's Handmade Life}

In case you’re not used to kiddie-writing, it says …

Dear Dexter,

Hi. I really like you. Like not as a friend. Like a boyfriend.

I always call you Senpai. You’re my Senpai. 

I always look at you at recess.

Love from, your secret admirer

***

Adorable, right???

It was typical cute-kid stuff, really, except for the word “Senpai.” I thought it might be Mi’kmaq since it’s the third language of our school, and both D and C take Mi’kmaq lessons every week. Or possibly another Japanese word for Sensei, but that seemed far-fetched.

A quick Google search and I figured out that “Senpai” basically means someone who is older than you and/or more experienced than you, and the phrase “Notice me, Senpai” is a cool way of talking about your crush when you don’t think they know you exist. (D was very flattered by this point.)

But wait! It gets even more … interesting?

D and I found a cute-looking anime video on YouTube called “Notice me Senpai” and figured this is likely where an elementary-aged kid in Nova Scotia learned about the phrase.

Naturally, we watched it …

At first, it was very sweet! The girl likes the boy! The boy actually looks a little like D! Aww. 

Senpai, I saw you at school today
Took your picture then I snuck away
I want you to notice me …
but I’m just someone you don’t notice!

Then things took a dark turn …

Um … well … 
Please notice me, Senpai
Please notice me, Senpai
Please notice me, Senpai
or others will have to die
I’m sorry, WHAT WERE THOSE LYRICS?!

EVERYONE ELSE MUST DIE
ONLY YOU AND I WILL BE LEFT STANDING
WHOAH THERE’S BLOOD ON MY KNIFE
AND I DON’T KNOW WHY
WHAT THE WHAAAAAAT?!

Luckily, my darling boy didn’t seem freaked out. He’s happy with his note, and suspects it’s either a fellow Grade 3 or a girl in the 2/3 split class.

I suggested he give the note to his teacher and ask her to pass it around the staff room for handwriting identification. He loved this idea, so YOU’RE WELCOME, TEACHERS! 😉 

In the meantime, um, I suppose we’ll be on the lookout for little girls at our school who love anime and perhaps show murderous tendencies to other little girls who may stand in her way of winning my boy?

GRADE 3, WHAT THE HELL?!?!

The pressure of ‘believing’

The pressure of believing {Heather's Handmade Life}

Welcome to Veggie Village, the very boring column where we talk about forcing our kids to eat vegetables because we’re mean. Today I’m going to share my favourite methods for steaming broccoli and how to … OK, that should guarantee any kids have stopped reading …

I could say this is the year it happened, but it actually may have started last year when our son was in Grade 2. It wasn’t dramatic.

He came home from school and matter-of-factly announced, “Some kids on the bus said there’s no Santa Claus.”

My reply is always the same. “Wow, that’s not nice. Santa’s not going to like that!” He really isn’t.

Our daughter, who’s only in Grade 1, piped up another day that she’d heard the same thing. (Their bus ride is about five minutes long and yet it’s plenty of time to learn bad words, tell scary stories that will upset them later at bedtime and potentially ruin Christmas magic.)

The pressure of believing {Heather's Handmade Life}
Loves fancy coats. Enjoys attention. Believes in Santa, but possibly just for presents?

“A girl on the bus said Santa’s not real, but I don’t believe her because I want presents!” she chirped. Our son quickly agreed.

I really don’t know what they believe about the big guy in red. We have always been a little loose about the details …

The pressure of believing {Heather's Handmade Life}
Continue reading my parenting column

Continue reading in my weekly parenting column, The Mom Scene … 

***

You may also like …

The Fortnite fight

The Fortnite fight: Why I'm not letting my son play yet {Heather's Handmade Life}
Our eight-and-a-half-year-old son is obsessed with being allowed to play Fortnite and I am obsessed with saying “no.” (At least, that’s how he perceives this thing called “trying to be a good parent and never being quite sure.”)

Here’s why he insists it’s a good idea I let him play Fortnite …

1. All of his friends play it.

First of all, this isn’t even true. But he claims everyone else (well, almost everyone) is allowed to play Fortnite and I’m the only stick-in-the-mud parent. I asked him if his friends jumped off a bridge, would he? He looked at me blankly and said, “There … aren’t bridges in the game.”

2. The dances.

He’s got a point here. The only nice thing about Fortnite, in my opinion, is that its popularity has encouraged my serious little robot child to dance. The game is responsible for dance crazes like The Floss, The L, Best Mates and Groove Jam. They’re adorable, like this generation’s Macarena. Apparently, there are also lots of silly costumes, like spacesuits and dinosaur outfits, that appeal to younger kids like him.

3. It’s free.

He thinks this is a great selling point. It is not.

The Fortnite fight: Why I'm not letting my son play yet {Heather's Handmade Life}

He regularly pleads for this game and I give him my usual string of reasons why I’m not letting him play Fortnite yet …

Continue reading in my weekly parenting column, The Mom Scene … 

How we (finally) moved our shed

How we (finally) moved our shed {Heather's Handmade Life}

YouTube tutorials can be a wonderful resource when you’re trying something new. They can also fill you with false confidence and convince you to try a stupid (and potentially dangerous) idea that will leave everyone in a panic.

It all started with the placement of the shed (technically a baby barn) in our backyard. It was strangely positioned about six feet away from our deck, with a winding garden behind it. It made an already-narrow yard feel even narrower, and we talked for years about moving it … somehow … to the back of the property instead.

How we (finally) moved our shed {Heather's Handmade Life}

Well, YouTube to the rescue! We stumbled upon a video (I think it was this one) that showed a guy moving a huge shed “by hand” by rolling it on long wooden polls. It sounds crazy and, it turned out, it was crazy, but it seemed doable. Didn’t the pioneers always load barns onto logs and move them to a new homestead of something? It seemed legit.

At $30 for six posts, we decided to give it a try and see if it worked. Without going into too much detail — because no one should try this at home — we started by jacking up the shed. I was freaking out the whole time, positive the whole structure was going to come crashing down on my husband’s foot (or head).

How we (finally) moved our shed {Heather's Handmade Life}

We slipped the posts underneath and rigged up wooden skids and a pathway of pavers. The idea was that the shed would smoothly roll along them to its resting point at the back of the yard. (Fat chance.)

We pulled … and pushed … and cursed. The shed barely budged. YouTube had lied to us!

Continue reading in my weekly DIY column, My Handmade Home … 

How we (finally) moved our shed {Heather's Handmade Life}

Continue reading in my weekly DIY column, My Handmade Home … 

How we (finally) moved our shed {Heather's Handmade Life}

And here’s how it looks now!

How we (finally) moved our shed {Heather's Handmade Life}

How did it get there EVENTUALLY? Continue reading in my weekly DIY column, My Handmade Home … 

How we (finally) moved our shed {Heather's Handmade Life}
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