Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Closing Time

Where do I begin? (cue: Closing Time by Semisonic)

Hullabaloo Party Planner for Children will cease operating on December 31st, 2011 after 4 1/2 years of offering complete, in-home birthday parties. While our sister company Bre Creative continues to meet the demand for family and corporate entertainers, the time of the big blue hippo, Balooberry (our mascot) has figuratively come to an end.

Since Hullabaloo started, my children have lived in a house of decorations and costume storage, loot bags being built on the dining room table and the sound of the buzzing embosser for invitations. All three have participated in so many ways, even by donning costumes. My partner, Rob has been with me every step of the way, driving supplies, hanging streamers, even dressing as a pirate.

It was a family run business until Hullabaloo and Bre Creative came together in January under the corporate umbrella Parallela. Since then, my new business partner and best friend, Breanne Cram and I have enjoyed this colourful ride but have also been faced with hard choices.

Finally, I'd like to recognize the support we've had from friends and the new relationships that came from being a business owner. Your loyalty and trust through the years kept us going and will not be forgotten.

Granted, the lyrics in Closing Time are about a bar closing for the night, but some of the lyrics are oh so appropriate:

"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's new end."
"You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here."

Thank you.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

He's Still Here

We've all been there. When the twinkle dust of a new relationship settles, the Disney birds flutter away and we're left with the cold, hard fact that our partner, like us, is merely mortal.

Mine is not the toilet-seat-leaving-up kind, but he does have certain habits that make me grit my teeth (witness pie crust edged tongue from over-clenching - ew) and make me mutter to myself because no one on Twitter should have to read such cussing.

Case in point: every day when I shower, I have to first push down the shower head holder so the spray doesn't hit the back wall of the shower and find its way as gentle sprinkles on the toilet paper. That's because of HIM. And every day, he moves it back up. (You'd think we were dealing with a giant here.)

I have more, and they seem petty, so I'll get to my real point. For all of my griping, mostly inward, there is this perspective: These habits are proof that he's still with me. Not in a relationship kind of way, but on this earth.

I would take shower head re-positioning, unfolded towels on rods, coffee table moved within couch reach, spandex bike wear and all the sports channels in the world (okay now I'm listing them) over the alternative: not having him here with me.

He works the night shift but if he happens to catch me in bed in the morning, he always touches the small of my back. I wait for it, half awake, every time. And there it is. Just as comforting is the daily adjustment of the shower head.

He's still here.

Monday, October 24, 2011

It's a Colourful Life

It's not until my business partner Breanne and I take a step back that we realize how crazy our lives are. In one moment we could be dressed to the nines and discussing code delivery with a client, and in the next we're dressed as clowns and high-tailing it to a gig in one of our Mini Coopers.

We have so many anecdotes, we joke about writing a book. Things like, late night phone calls where one of us says to the other "Quick! Put on the Balooberry costume and slap a moustache on him so we can show our support for Movember!" or "Damn, I'm all out of nose glue. Do you have any?" or "Come on over and let's paint each other over a bottle of wine!" or "These balloon swords are looking disturbingly phallic."

Good times, good times. I no longer remember what normal families do. In the early years of the company, our basement was full of party props we could pull out at a moment's notice. My older children helped out at parties, often dressed in costume. Their friends sometimes helped make bookmarks or stuff jelly bean "swag" bags for a trade show. On the occasional Thursday, my kids and I are still flying down the highway (as fast as you can fly in a Mini), heading to clown practice.

Ah, the photo shoots: Planking in Victoria Park (yep, we're trendy clowns), black light face painting at Elements Night Club with our whole crew, three silly clowns working it for the camera in a studio, and the birthday party of our contest winner. All so memorable.

Most importantly, we've laughed until we've cried. It's a colourful life and I wouldn't trade it for all the sleep in the world. Well, maybe some.

I Telecommute with Clothes On

For almost eleven years now I've worked from home in Waterloo for a company in Toronto. I am one of many employees of this company who telecommute from all over North America. We program and consult from our desks, attend client meetings on the phone, and travel to the client as needed, which isn't often.

We don't visit each other's cubicles or gather around the water cooler, but we communicate often through phone, e-mail and video conferencing. Technology has enabled us to share information in this very visual work we do.

About ten years ago, Maclean's magazine had an issue with a clearly naked woman lying on her bed, covered only by her laptop. The subject was telecommuting. I was so angry at this portayal of work at home employees and felt the cover hurt the movement toward more employees of this nature, so I wrote to the editor. The letter, indicating I was fully clothed and fully engaged was published.

Here we are ten years later and still the daily commute continues because management feels work must be done in person. Industries where employee performance and accountability are easily measurable are not taking advantage of the tools available today. Offices are still leased and all of the expenses associated with having that office are eventually passed along to consumers. Don't get me started on the environment.

So while resources are being sourced outside the country, wouldn't the real savings be in setting up more "fully clothed" and "fully engaged" telecommuters?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sanity Saver: The Meal Plan

If you're a parent, we've visited the same hell known as "meal time." It's that time when coincidentally, you just want to go to sleep after a long day rather than think about what to make for dinner, wonder if you should have defrosted something, and then stand at a stove as your children in constant rotation ask what's for dinner, cry "ewwww!" and then ask if it's ready yet.

I don't claim to be the most organized person, but with a full time job, a small business, three children and a house, I can be cut a bit of slack. Thanks for that. Now I'll share my sanity saver: the Meal Plan.

My Meal Plan is a four week schedule of what's for dinner. The important part here is that I didn't create it alone. I sat down with my children and asked them what their favourite foods were. Mine are older, so we didn't get too many outrageous requests, but I still had to use discretion so not everything was slathered in cheese.

I took the list of suggested entrees and sides and made my four week plan. Then I posted it on the friedge. Because my children were involved in the process, they have automatic buy-in. Now they go to the fridge and squeal when they see what's for dinner. My shoulders have come down an inch. My shopping list is virtually created for me each week.

We do stray from the schedule sometimes if I'm away at dinner time or if the children want a special "eat out" night, but now I'm ready in advance of a meal. The energy draining question of what to make, followed by the usual rejection by the children has been eliminated.

Bon appetit!

Friday, October 21, 2011

What is a Single Parent?

We hear the term "single parent" and it creates a Pavlovian response of sympathy, as in "he or she has it tougher than everyone else", but really, what is a single parent?

Is it the parent who has single-handedly raised his or her children with no financial or other support from the child's other parent? Is it the the custodial parent who has his or her child most of the time while the other parent has access to the child and provides child support? Do we even need to differentiate?

Raising children with both parents present in the same home is challenging enough.
Now take away a parent and suddenly morning and bedtime routines, appointments, homework, clothes shopping, extra curricular activities, illness, etc. all fall on one parent, for the most part. Now take away a parent altogether and now there are no breaks for the remaining parent (which blows my mind) and no financial support. Add to that no second parent with whom to field questions of health, morals or education.

I know some parents in the last scenario who do it all and I don't know how they are still sane. Some say they prefer it that way but it certainly can't be an easy life.

My own situation has my children with me for half of the week. I miss them terribly when they are not with me but I'm also given that "down time" from parenting to do extra work, chores, errands, etc. The downside is that having a routine is next to impossible, as the children just start getting reminded of their responsibilities when they are gone again. All family business must be addressed in half of the time, leaving little time for just being a family.

Even though I have a partner, he entered into my children's lives when they were older, so the business of raising them (when they are with me) has fallen to me. Still, I don't feel I qualify or have "earned" the title of "single parent."

What is your definition and understanding of a "single parent?"

Friday, October 14, 2011

My Eyes Are Up Here

Interesting conversations on Twitter tonight around gender stereotypes, many centered around this thought provoking video from What is our responsibility when it comes to how gender roles are perceived? Is it our fault if our children grow up to believe men are more capable than women when we are inundated day in and day out with that very message? How much control do we have over our children's thoughts when as soon as they are out of our sight they see through all forms of media that women's bodies are the prize?

I grew up believing a man would be my protector and it's been a hard feeling to shake. I am surrounded by images of what my body should look like and only feel I am lacking when I frequent celebrity news sites showing "post baby bump" and "red carpet" pictures or leaf through magazines with endless photoshopped images.

The thinking is that the media and not the people are to blame, but is that accurate? I know that media and marketing push us toward what they think we want to think and feel but which came first in this scenario: the images of toned bodies with large breasts and full lips, or our desire to see/be those things? Futhermore, if we continue to be consumers of the movies,agazines and products that objectify women, can we really blame the media?

I observed a man tweeting that he was incensed to have been left out of a campaign by a large grocery store whose target demographic was women (who, incidentally make 80% of buying decisions). I agreed with him but also thought "if women are so powerful, why are they not using that power to say 'enough!' to gender stereotypical marketing?"

Now let's look at our children who from birth are exposed to the pink or blue world. Is there any hope that our own daily defiance of what they are exposed to as they just try to fit in will have any effect? How exhausting the effort seems to battle image after image from TV, internet, stores and magazines. I may have to quit my day job and don a unitard to battle each inference that my daughters can't be anything or that my son should open his mind to a woman's intelligence rather than her body.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Wealth is Relative

This week I attended the She's Connected Conference in Toronto. It was by invitation and I was grateful for the experience, not only because of the new and renewed friendships but because I was reminded that material wealth is relative. We were surrounded by brands, drove in a hands-free parking car, and received tons of swag. I was surrounded by smartly dressed women with a varying array of electronic devices.

I think it was the shoe party where the first stark contrast in economies hit hard: a friend stood at the back of a two storey shoe store where music blasted, price tags daunted and a roped red carpet let in only the invited. She was crying because of the helplessness of trying to give aid to a homeless women who not only refused the bag of food offered, she ensured she placed it in front of the shoe store for her donor to see.

Back at the hotel, as we stood outside, we were approached by a raving homeless man who stood two feet from our faces, wanting a cigarette. Normally I would have complied, but I didn't feel safe and told him to go away. With that, he snatched a lit cigarette from my friend's hand and walked away, daring us to call the police. I walked past the shiny new cars to tell hotel stuff what had happened.

While the two worlds of "have a lot" and "have nothing" were glaringly apparent, there was also the world of "woah is me." That world is occupied by those of us who look at what we do not have, instead of looking at what we have. We say we have "no money", but we have our electronic devices and our cars. We had enough to travel and stay in a hotel but not enough to buy the gorgeous shoes or purses.

When we compare our wealth to what we do not have, we are frustrated by our lot in life. We need to find ways to make more money. It is an endless, fruitless pursuit because we will never have it all.

If we compare our wealth to what others do not have, we can almost feel ashamed of the abundance in our lives.

I'm going to work on adjusting my thinking to realize all that I do have, instead of dwelling on what I do not have. It will be a monumental shift in thinking but one that will allow me to enjoy my reality instead of pining for future wealth. I'll bet just one year from now it won't matter that I didn't buy that fringed purse but it will matter that I spent more time with the people who are dear to me.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

She's Connected Conference Bound

Admit it, fellow conference attendees: your first thought after hearing you were going to the She's Connected Conference for Digital Women in Toronto after the intial "squees" was "what will I wear?" followed by "I have to go shopping!" followed by (and here's the ticker) "I hope I'll be accepted."

Now ask yourself this: how many men, upon hearing they are going to a conference hurriedly mark their calendars with all of the dates they WILL go to the gym, decline the dessert menu whilst sucking in their gut, and examine their faces for blemishes?

Why do we do this to overselves, Ladies? We're all on the same team, after all. We are the queens of multi-tasking, and day after day we get 'er done! Let's take a moment over the next couple of days to put aside our hang ups and our fears and enjoy the time away from our daily stresses. Most importantly, let's NOT compare ourselves to anyone else. Instead, let's take a deep collective breath and take in, I mean really take in each other.

We don't get many chances like this. Let it not be seen through a haze of uncertainty and self-consciousness.

P.S. I hope you like my shoes. ;-P

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

One Commiseration Coming Up!

In Alexandria Durrell's blog Cool blog. Fierce bite. she writes of feeling overwhelmed and then produces an impressive list of tasks in a day in the life. Alex (also known as @Clippo on Twitter) asks for commiseration. This is my Day in the Life:

Wake up to blessedly quiet house.
Make instant coffee because Tassimo pods are all gone.
Clean up dog's accident in the dining room because she doesn't like going out through her doggy door in the rain.
Tweet and Facebook - excellent for networking and said commisserating. But try explaining that to family and friends who miss you.
Husband-to-be returns home from night shift and raises eyebrow at me sitting in garage in robe, smoking, sipping coffee, laptopping. (We like to repeat this ritual every morning.)
12 year old daughter asks me to sign form.
16 year old son says his bus pass expired.
Remind children of wart doctor appointment after school.
Shower. Skip shaving legs if romance unanticipated.
Start work as Senior Consultant either from home (most days) or after two minute drive to office.
Feel hunger pangs and wish Boost had been purchased.
First meeting of the day.
Receive reminder that time tracking was not completed from week before.
Hullabaloo and Bre Creative inquiries start to come in via e-mail and voicemail. With quotes, schedules and invoices to be created after the workday has ended, I remind myself of the intranet I promised I would build to eliminate these manual processes. Add said task to neverending To Do spreadsheet but do not fill in completion date.
Call mother and answer e-mails while dog barks madly in background at mailman's nerve to show his face again.
Work, work, work.
Respond to travel plans for upcoming client meeting and realize the dates collide with children's extra curricular activities and social media event. I'll deal with that later.
Attend next meeting that runs over lunch. Inhumane but sometimes I can whip up a lunch, all the while checking that my phone is on mute.
Work, work, work.
19 year old daughter texts me that I'm not answering my phone. The phone I'm on for my meeting. Will I drive her to the student housing office? This is the child who moved out a year ago to be independent.
Father calls to ask if I've printed the photos from a photoshoot a year and a half ago. I have not. He says "no problem."
Time to run to the children's wart appointment while monitoring e-mail and phone calls. Mental note to book annual physical while there because I can never get through by phone.
Children ask to buy chocolate bar after "horrible" wart treatment. I throw debit card at them as I respond to a call and remind person that he or she should have been treating his or her feet. Oops.
Race home to make dinner using handy dandy new menu schedule, only to find key ingredient a.k.a. "food" is missing. Order pizza and hope it arrives in time for music lessons departure.
Miss business partners calls and BBMs regarding upcoming gig. She wings it and says I would be more than happy to dress like a freaking princess and do balloon twisting while singing Yankee Doodle Dandy and roller blading on a snowhill.
Back home from music lessons and realize that vowed daily after dinner walk with dogs did not take place.
Son takes shower and uses my towel.
Daughter is reminded to empty dishwasher.
Son wears said towel to take out garbage and recycling.
New neighbour meets him on driveway and asks if he can use our internet to look up a number because he's locked out.
I go over to new neighbour a short time later to apologize for son saying he didn't know our internet password.
Open daughter's door and see her cleaning out rat cage. That cage gets more love than her room.
Creep into son's room to find mountain of abandoned towels intermingled with guitars and random pop cans.
Uncork the wine and greet it as "Honey."
Realize I still have quotes to write and party supply shopping list to create.
Stare at bleak kitchen cupboards and vow they will meet their destiny with my paintbrush.
Cook husband-to-be's dinner that he'll consume in the middle of the night at work.
Retire to garage for some down time where DH2B will swear in the morning I've been all night.
Tweet and Facebook my little heart out until the late hour signals it's bedtime. Then stay up one more hour.

That's a Day in the Life! How about you?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Announcement: Manager of Operations

Was it four years ago that Hullabaloo Party Planner for Children was born? We have become a two owner, six helper company with diverse offerings and a strong following of repeat families. This growth has required us to take a look at how to best manage the activities at Hullabaloo with the acknowledgement that we can longer do it alone.

We are thrilled to announce the promotion of one of our party hosts, Cathy Lapar to the position of Manager of Operations for Hullabaloo. Cathy has proven her tireless energy, patience and flexibility again and again. The decision to move Cathy to this position came to us easily and at a time when we needed someone else to coordinate the birthday parties so we could focus on the growth of the business. That business includes our sister company, Bre Creative.

Hullabaloo Party Planner for Children will be known as Hullabaloo Birthdays going forward. The focus will be on what has been this company's strength: providing in-home birthday party packages. All other activities, custom events such as corporate family picnics and Christmas parties, charitable events, family reunions, wedding receptions, etc. will be moved entirely to Bre Creative.

We hope you'll join us in wishing Cathy great success in her new role!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

9-11 Means Act Now

Recently I hosted a birthday party for an adult friend. It was a Hallowe'en theme and I thought a fortune teller would be a nice touch - that is, until I went to pay her for her services for the evening. I myself had not had a sitting with her, but she felt it necessary to warn me. I pause here to remind the reader that the "foretelling" was neither requested nor desired. Nevertheless, the seer went on to tell me that having met with several members of my family, she needed to tell me that something horrible was going to happen in the next little while.

I'm going to share that I'm suspicious that she may have been looking for me to book a session with her. I was certainly incented, after hearing that. Who wouldn't want to know more. But clearer head prevailed the next morning and I have no inclination to follow up. It's not that I believe or don't believe in fortune telling. It's that I already know that horrible things can happen at any time and without warning.

This brings me to 9-11. I don't consider myself the sharpest knife in the drawer, so others picked up on the incredible irony of the date of the attack on the US before I did: 9/11 or 911. To me, both the numbers we dial in an emergency and the events that unfolded 10 years ago mean the same thing: Act Now.

Do not believe you have days, weeks or months ahead to right a wrong, spend time with your family or start that business. Act now. Imagine life without yourself or any one person in it and do now what you thought you had a lifetime to do. This is the procrastinator's nightmare: the thought that there isn't actually all the time in the world to take action on something. Act now.

If the fortune teller is right, I'm about to face something horrible. Let it happen with my knowing that up until that moment, the business of living was well run and profitable.

The Fine Art of the ASVP (you heard me)

I have long lamented on my own behalf and the behalf of countless parents the ridiculousness that is the RSVP. It is incredibly rude and discourteous, especially in this age of multiple communication channels, to not respond to an invitation to a party. By not doing so, you are leaving the party host with uncertain numbers and I don't just mean number of people attending. It costs money to have a party. A maybe or no reply at all means you or your child may actually show up and allowances for this must be made.

I thought failing to RSVP was the greatest crime.

But then there's "ASVP", which I made up and is intended to mean "Arrivez, s'il vous plait" or "why don't you do us all a favour and actually show up to the event you said you were attending." I can't tell you the number of loot bags, uneaten pizza slices, etc. that are a result of party guests who do not follow through with their promise of attending. Don't even get me started on wedding guests and how much their absence costs.

Life happens, especially with children who can go from sunny and happy to barfy and miserable in a matter of minutes. To the parents, we offer our sincerest hopes for a speedy recovery and total understanding. But hell hath no fury like the party host who was given a definite "yes", only to be left with a definite "I don't respect you enough to even offer an excuse why we didn't show up."

Please, for the love of civilization: if you say you are attending, do us all one little favour and ASVP.

Friday, September 9, 2011

This Isn't Your Feel Good Post

I never liked the expression "there but by the grace of God go I." It suggests the those who were victims of some horrible misfortune did not have God watching over them. Likewise, people who say they were "lucky" that the same tragedy didn't strike them would suggest others were "unlucky."

Grace and luck have nothing to do with being alive and healthy. Ask parents of children with cancer. This is where you tune out because no one wants to hear about cancer and certainly not cancer that ravages and often steals our children (myself included). Maybe if we don't think or talk about it, it won't happen to us. Where's that wood to knock on?

We hear a lot about fundraising for breast cancer with its bright pink and talk of "boobs." Men's health has a fun event like Movember where men grow moustaches for the month of November to raise money and awareness. These have been extremely successful charitable causes because as adults who face adult cancers ourselves or with those we love it's politically correct to make "feel your boobs" or "bend over" jokes, if it means people are getting checked.

It's very difficult to apply the same campaigning to childhood cancers. No one, not one person wants to see a child with cancer, let alone think about it or try to turn it into a catchy, quirky fundraiser. Better not to even allow the thought of the possibility of this striking home to enter our minds, or it could become our own horrible reality.

How about this new thinking: prevent childhood cancers by THINKING about them. Better still, find out what you can do to help. September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Today, I'm thinking about Darrel and those he left behind when he was only seven, and I'm hatching a plan. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Change is Scary. Being Forgotten is Scarier

You might think I eat, think and breathe children's parties around the clock (okay, maybe I do), but there's a whole other side to me. My English degree only made me annoying to the friends I corrected, so at age 27 I went back to school and became a programmer. 17 years later and over 10 years into my current job, I was offered a position with the same company that would take me away from coding and into ... the Customer Success Team (gulp).

There has been stress in my new role as I am having to quickly ramp up my knowledge of the software and what is expected of me. But the greater stress by far has been leaving behind a job I felt I was really good at, and with it the clients and co-workers I took pride in having nurtured solid relationships.

As I help to transition others to my clients I have this feeling of protectiveness for the clients, like I need to impart exactly how they need to be treated. Maybe I shouldn't leave them. Maybe I should stay in my comfort zone and keep them "protected" at the same time.

Or worse - what if everyone is fine without me and life goes on?

Right now I feel like the conquering hero, doing knowledge transfers and jumping in as needed. But eventualy my co-workers won't need me anymore and the phones that rings with my clients at the other end will be theirs.

Change is scary. Being forgotten is scarier.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

First Day of School? Not Here

While I am thrilled to see the first day of school and the end to the day-long complaints of "I'm bored" (strangely no one understood my response of "I'm not Julie, the Cruise Director!"), this is also a melancholy and guilt-ridden time for me and for many divorced parents.

This kind of guilt first started when my youngest daughter started school and her newly separated Dad and I united to take her for her first day. We both snapped pictures of her standing proudly in front of the name of her school. It wasn't until I got home that I realized the camera I borrowed my boyfriend had no film (remember film?). I took it as a sign: a sign that I was being punished for depriving this little girl of her unified family.

Nine years ago, I was once again in the position of being a separated parent but this time (through lessons learned) it was amicable. My estranged (weird word) husband and I were determined to have as much security for our three shared children that you could possible have in two houses on streets that touched.

The arrangement has always been that he has the children for the first half of the week. This means every Sunday night, all day Monday and Tuesday, and every Wednesday morning I don't see what they are doing and how they are faring. It also means I always miss the morning excitement on that first day of the school year.

I see the school buses go by and I look at the proud pictures parents post on Facebook and Twitter and I am sad. I know it's the life I "chose" but to all the parents who say I'm "lucky" I get a break (from my kids) I say "It's not 'luck' to miss half of your child's life. It's not 'luck' to miss every first day of school. But it is my good fortune that I have them in my heart each and every minute."

Monday, September 5, 2011

Thinking Suicide? Picture This.

When I was in driver training, we watched a very powerful movie about a guy who drove drunk and died but throughout the movie he witnessed the aftermath of his death. He saw his funeral, his grieving family - we all felt his regret over his actions. But it was too late to do anything about it. He was gone.

Now picture this: you are suicidal. You think the world would be better without you, or no one wuld really miss you, or the pain of being alive is just too much to bear.

So you take your life.

Picture this: someone had the horror of finding you.

Picture this: news of your death spreads and for a short time there is "glory" in the remembrances, the eulogies, your Facebook wall is covered (oh, but you can't respond and eventually your profile may or may not be taken down), there is shock on Twitter and like the morbid fascination with a car accident people are suddenly following you by the thousands (but you can't follow them back).

Picture this: every person who ever loved you is now left with an emptiness that will never be filled; regrets over things said or not said, things done or not done.

Picture this: those closest to you are left to deal with the clean up of your financial matters, your personal items, your unread mail.

Picture this: if you have children, their lives will be forever and horribly altered. They will still find joy but it will not be as full. They may blame themselves or wonder why they weren't good enough for you to stay. Holidays will be a painful reminder of your absence.

Picture this: life goes on without you. Oh sure, people will still remember you fondly, but many will also feel betrayal and will push you to the far reaches of their memory. You will come up fewer times in conversation. Past memories of you will be largely replaced by new memories of a life that continued despite your death.

Picture this: family events, parties with friends, new foods, new technologies, new relationships, new births, new movies, new songs, new rainbows and sunsets: all these will continue to occur because life stood still for only a moment when you died.

Now picture this: you reached out and people helped you remember that no matter what space you occupy in this world, you are invaluable. And your life found new meaning and new hope. And so you stayed. Thank you for staying.

Crisis Numbers:
1-800-273-TALK (US)
1-800-232-7288 (Canada)

Warning Signs

7 New School Year Resolutions

I used to welcome a new semester or school year, way back in the day because it was a fresh start: a chance to right the old wrongs, to be relieved that the old burdens were gone and to have a new determination that this was going to be my best set of classes ever!

Shiny new binders, a stack of paper, pens, a geometry set (we never used the triangle ruler) and highlighters sat at the ready. My handwriting in the first three minutes back to school was stellar!

Now as two of my children prepare for grades 7 and 11 (my eldest is in university), I feel the need to make resolutions to help make this their best year ever, but it isn't just about school supplies: it's also about being healthier and my being better organized so they are positioned for success. Here is my list:

1. Homework at the kitchen table: this way I am right there if they need me and I can keep an eye on their progress. It'll also be a nice bonding time and I can use that time to do make ahead meals and baking. (envisioning awards show where I get shiny medal)

2. Walks after dinner. This is great stress reliever and calorie burner. I won't feel as bad about what my kids are eating (but it will be great - see point above) and they'll sleep better too.

3. Adequate socks and underwear WILL be at the ready! I already disposed of "sock mountain" in our laundry room - the pile of orphaned socks.

4. This year my son will learn proper grammar and spelling. His handwriting will improve to the point where it is legible. I swear this to you on my English degree. His other marks were 88 to 97 so he's got the smarts, but if he can't communicate he'll struggle his whole life.

5. Books. We are a family sadly lacking in books. I woke up this morning realizing I have set a bad example in this area although I used to be an avid reader - before life set in.

6. A meal plan. I had a lovely four week, rotating meal plan that I abandoned over a year ago because the kids were being so picky and I got so busy. It's coming back and these teens are going to be part of the planning, preparation and clean up!

7. After school snacks will not all be store bought garbage! I will slice a cucumber, put peanut butter on celery and place them in open view and wait.

That's MY list. What's yours?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Adult Parties = Pushing the Envelope

When I planned birthday parties for my children, there was no limit to the creativity of the project, with the exception of my tiny "client", my birthday child who would sometimes try to reign in my zeal. I sometimes felt I was getting more out of the experience of the party than all of the party guests combined. But that can be a good thing when we're talking planning birthday parties that are, for most parents, something to be feared and dreaded.

When I started my own children's party planning business, it was an eye opener to realize there would be limitations to what I could do. Financially, I could justify the expense of elaborate props because they could be re-used. I couldn't so that with my own children's parties. At the same time, I had to maintain a budget in order to justify the business.

When it came to planning activities, I couldn't include games like "bobbing for apples and speading your germs." I suddenly had clients' potentially more cautious ideas of what a party should and should not include for their children. No balloons, for fear their youngest would choke, was one parent's concern. No chocolate for fear of allergies was another. (We still include balloons but ensure they are secured and out of reach of little ones, but chocolate is out.)

Now that I am planning a party for my business partner, the gloves are once again off and the sky is the limit. I'm throwing every imaginable curve ball into this event whose theme is one of my favourites: Hallowe'en. With an adult party, it's okay to be grotesque and scary. Very few will cry if they don't get a "pwize." No one will ask me if the skeleton is real or will say "no snakes - my husband won't eat for two days."

I can also push the envelope when it comes to what's considered appropriate or inappropriate, as in the case of our costume contest. Bottles of body parts will adorn tables. There will be a gruesome murder scene. Refreshing in its daring, the whole planning experience has rejuvenated and reminded me of why I love to plan parties: to see the fruits of my labour, even if it's in the form of shock and awe.

To follow along with the fun September 9th starting at 8 PM, use the hashtag #scarybre26 on Twitter or go to Visible Tweets.

Monday, August 15, 2011

When It Rains...

When it rains, it pours and we're loving it! Just this month alone we've been asked to be a part of the momstown 4th birthday celebrations in Kitchener-Waterloo and Hamilton (love to!), approached to offer Dairy Queen cakes with our parties (um, yes!) and received a $50 gift card from Elixir Bistro in Cambridge for a draw (gratitude!).

We'd like to think we are sending out positive vibes and our infectious thirst for fun wherever we can find it is drawing people to Hullabaloo and our sister company, Bre Creative.

Whatever the reason for it, we are deeply appreciative of those who are including us in the story of their own business success. We hope to grow together, to learn from each other and ultimately to celebrate our mutual successes.

Here's to partnerships and the spirit of entrepreneurship!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Happy Birthday to Us...Happy Contest for YOU!

It's been almost four years since the dream became a reality. Hullabaloo Party Planner for Children was born in a dining room/office with my children huddled around offering suggestions for everything from the company name to the logo. We came up with the name "Hullabaloo" and a blue hippo mascot that my son drew. That hippo would later get the name "Balooberry" as Lisa McDonald (@those2girls on Twitter) won the naming contest.

As the number of party themes increased, so too did the number of storage bins and shelving units. A home office in the basement was born and in January of this year, my new business partner Breanne Cram (@bre_creative) joined me in that office. We brought Hullabaloo and Bre Creative together under a new corporation, Parallela Inc. (Just ask her about my parallel parking and our easy symmetry to understand the name.)

We celebrate our collaboration, Hullabaloo's 4th birthday and Bre Creative's 1st birthday with a contest like no other we've previously offered: Breanne's stunning face painting talent, my "enthusiastic" balloon twisting, hand-made invitations, beautiful decorations, cute costume accessories, more-fun-than-they-can-handle games (with prizes for everyone, ahem) and of course the gift baskets, I mean quality loot bags. (Seriously, I'm very proud of the work I put into them.)

These elements all come together for a memorable event in your own home and fabulous photo opportunities.

Excited? Just shoot us an e-mail at and tell us why your family deserves this great prize, valued at over $400. Good Luck!

Contest ends August 4th, 2011. Winner announced August 5th. By entering, you agree to obtain permission from your guests' parents for us to photograph the event and use the pictures in our promotinal materials. Party must take place before August 5th, 2012.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Are Party Planners Like Triathletes?

I spent this past weekend in Peterborough, Ontario at a triathlon where my partner, Rob was competing. In sweltering heat, these athletes took to the open water (an intimidating feat in itself as fatalities have occurred and let's face it - the water is dark, deep and unpredictable). Then they raced up the hill to the transition area whilst trying to peel off their wetsuit (I hear a full coating of bag balm on said body helps with that) and the crowd cheered them on.

They sped around the park, all the while facing the possibility of a horrendous crash, and then quickly changed shoes for the run, panting as they went.
At the finish line, one woman was bemoaning her race results while those around her loudly and happily decried her disappointment: "YOU FINISHED!" they gleefully declared. I looked on and thought the same thing. See, for those of us who aren't athletes, any one of the feats of strength and stamina that they endured makes these people heroes in our eyes.

We couldn't picture being able to do this ourselves. Heck, IF I made it through the water part I'd still be flopping around on the ground, stuck in the wetsuit. This stuff is second nature to most who have trained and competed for years.
This brings me to the precarious comparison between a party planner and a triathlete. When the party is over, parents are incredibly grateful and in awe and it's because the feat of throwing a party for their child was seriously daunting. Sometimes I'm taken aback by the praise because I have to remember that this was something the parents couldn't picture doing themselves.

For us, the party planners, it's a great victory but it's something we've been training for and practising for years until it's instinctual. From the moment we arrive at an event until the moment we leave, that instinct kicks in. We don't ever have to deal with a mouthful of lake water, skinning our knees or heat exhaustion. But every event brings a new challenge to overcome, whether it be a crying child who lost a game or a parent who is late bringing out the food.

I should seriously have better abs after all of these events. ;-P

Take a moment a revel in your strengths because someone out there is in awe. When you realize that what you bring to the table really makes a difference, it gives you the strength to push on. And finish.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Favourite Movies with Birthdays!

Any movie with a birthday scene cannot help but add cheer as we are reminded of our own important day. Here are some of my favourite birthday scenes.

Who wouldn't love an Uncle Buck who goes all out for you on your special day? (hey, when you're only parenting for a few days, it's easy to have all that energy!) How about the handling of the clown? Nobody messes with Uncle Buck. Nobody.

The dreaded pinata! If you've ever had success with one of these suckers then you deserve a medal! The helium scene falls under the category of "don't try this at home." We mean it. Don't.

"We ate za cake." "Do the roar." Typical birthday party! ;-)

"It was my best birthday ever coach." Too bad it took a live snake and an overinflated jumpy castle for it to happen. Wouldn't every party be save if you a football team on hand?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Perfect Summer Theme: Survivor!

Summer weather begs you to have your child's birthday party outdoors and what better theme to have than "Survivor?" Here's how to make this theme happen with items from your local dollar store!

Invitations: you can find interesting wooden containers, some with a leather strap. Make your invitation on parchment paper and slip it into one of these. Right away your guests get a sense of the fun ahead!

Decorations: you want to transform the area into a lush jungle which you can accomplish with a variety of fake greenery, tikis, stuffed or plastic jungle creatures, grass skirts (cut at the waist and spread on the ground). Leis curled up add beatuful colour easily.

Costumes: buffs (handkerchiefs) in colours for each tribe can be worn by your guests, along with shell jewelry, temprary tattoos, leis and war paint. (make sure you use good quality face faints)

Food: jungle juice, coconut milk, skewers of tropical fruit, meats and vegetables (not together!)

Cake: slab cake turned into tropical island by cutting off rounded sections. Use brown sugar for sand and blue jello for water.

Games: obstacle course, cocoon wrap (with toilet paper), hula hoop race, coin drop in bucket, word find, limbo, snake race (two lines of kids with a balloon at the front, passed through the legs to the one behind), tug-of-war on logs, treasure hunt, net catch (who can catch the most plastic fruit, jungle stuffies in a butterfly net)
You can incorporate some water fun, but make sure the invitation says to bring a bathing suit and towel.
Instead of having eliminations, you can award prizes to the winning tribe after each challenge. If the winning seems lop-sided, you may need to offer consolation prizes, or even switch up some tribe members. The kids are having so much fun though, rewards may not even be necessary.

We play the games in all kinds of weather, even light rain, but be prepared to move the activities indoors if it gets really bad.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

It's More Than a Business

When I started my children's party planning company almost four years ago, I was able to include my own children right from the start. Whether it was with assembling loot bags, shopping for supplies or even having the older ones get into costume and help with parties, I was still able to spend time with them while building the business. But quality time that it was, it was still work.
Since joining Brant Clown Alley, I have discovered a new way of including my children in my profession: Brant Entertainers Skills Time, or B.E.S.T. Children twelve and up are welcome to come out to every Thursday for free to join the "pros" and learn/practise new skills such as juggling, unicycling, the diabolo, stilts, face painting, balloon twisting and magic. It's become a whole new way for them to expand their horizons, move outside of themselves and face new challenges. My son, who is almost 16, was so shy the first night but he took to the juggling right away. His face beamed with pride. Who knew he was also watching the boys using diabolos? It was a delight to take him (at his insistence) to Kind of Magic in Waterloo where Wilber and Phil welcomed us and got us outfited with juggling balls and a diabolo.
I carted three children to the next B.E.S.T. which is held in a park during the warmer months. What a magical evening!
To see pictures of that night, go here.
Brant Entertainers Skills Time meets every Thursday through the summer at Alexandra Park in Brantford from 7 to 9 PM, weather permitting. Indoor location is close by at Heritage Church

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Less of a Parent?

The first time I realized my children really were growing up and their time with me was limited was when my third and last child didn't need me to go trick-or-treating with her. It was like a blow to the stomach to find out that this annual event was no more. Hallowe'en was my second favourite holiday, next to Christmas and without trick-or-treating I might as well don a robe and slippers and shuffle to the door to dole out candy.
It was in that moment, that moment when I realized childhood eventually ends that I felt like less of a parent - less of a mom.
So much that goes on in social media that's directed at parents speaks to parents of small children. I'm on the outside looking in. No, I don't want to enter that contest for the swim diapers. No, I don't want to read about the stroller recall or how to decide if French immersion is right for my child.
I want to find out how other moms talked to their daughters about the dreaded Aunt Flo (maybe by not calling it that). How other parents struggled with finding their eldest daughter had been drinking. What can I do to encourage my teenaged son to be physically active without making him feel put down about his weight?
Tweet after tweet and wall post after wall post I seek out parents who are still parenting - even if their children are no longer keeping them up at night or dressing up for Hallowe'en. We are no less of a parent. But it sure can be lonely.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Handing Over the Trust

I recently had the chance to try ziplining, rapelling and snorkelling in a cinote (underground cave with water). This was in Mexico, for a trip I won, AND it was my birthday. Maybe that combination set the stage for me to be open to experiencing these new, scary things.
All I know is, when I ascended the wooden stairs of the tower to do the first zipline, I was handing over the trust. Handing it to our guide Roberto. Handing it to the tour operator. In that moment, the fear was replaced by excitement. I went on to love every minute of that and the rapelling without hesitation.
In the cinote, I lost that feeling for a moment. I thought we were supposed to dive under the stalactites that hit the water. I couldn't breathe. In THAT moment, I learned to breathe. The panic went away.
A little while after that I was snorkelling in Akumel to see the turtles. The waves were high and relentless and the fear returned. Once again, I made myself breathe and the panic went away.
At my birthday party back home this past Saturday, I had such a thrill when there were snakes, lizards, and even a tarantula to hold. I handed over the trust and by doing so, I could totally enjoy the experience: the touch, the look, even the smell.
What have the past couple of weeks taught me? By handing over the trust and remembering to breathe I can live, really live every moment of my life.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

It's a Whole New World!

These are exciting days for us at Hullabaloo as we have entered into a "dream come true" partnership with Bre Creative and formed the corporation lovingly known as "Parallela Inc" (sung to "Black and Yellow - the clean version). Parallela got its name from the many parallels in the lives and thinking of the two Directors, Breanne Cram and Michelle Peer. It also brings up fond memories of attempted parallel parking before a Brant Clown Alley event. There was much laughter which is exactly what we want to see in our business. The last part of the name, "ella" comes from Parallela being the umbrella company.

So what does all of this mean for Hullabaloo? It means we continue to provide fabulous in-home birthday parties and the Bre Creative side of the company will manage special requests such as character appearances, face painting, balloon twisting and magic at both family and corporate events.

It means we can pool our resources and talents to be the best we can be in this industry. We thank you for your support of Hullabaloo and know the future's so bright we have to wear clown glasses!

The Parallela launch party will be an online event on February 26th from 8 to 9 PM. We have some great prizes already lined up but welcome more sponsors! You can find out more and RSVP here on Facebook: Parallela Launch Party OR use the hashtag #paralaunch on Twitter!
Finally, if you are an entertainment professional in the area of face painting/body art, balloon twisting or magic, you will want to be at our Jam Day on February 27th from 1 to 4 PM at The Museum. Details are here on Facebook: Jam Day at The Museum

Monday, January 10, 2011

In a Heartbeat

This morning I was faced, for the third time, with reading ominous words of farewell from someone online. And for the third time I felt my limbs go cold and my eyes burn. In all of the cases, I had no direct way of contacting the person. One was a distant relative who said her goodbyes on her Facebook wall and then went silent. I called people who were closer to her and they found her to be fine. A bit groggy from the night before, feeling a bit silly, but fine. She removed the post right away.

The second was someone I heard about on Twitter. Others were asking for help in contacting this woman in the States who had written that she was done with this world and for someone to please take care of her husband. I was vaulted into action. I found her on Facebook and started to frantically search through her friends until finally I found a young man with her last name. I messaged him. Incredibly he messaged me back, at first saying his mother wasn't answering the phone. And then, that he had reached her and she was okay. Just sad about her life.

What happened next on Twitter goes beyond schoolyard bullying. This woman was chastised by so many for "scaring them", for the "attention grab" and other ridiculous comments. One woman claimed she had been up since 2 AM worrying and she was 5 months pregnant. She felt cheated and lied to. Why, because the woman didn't end up killing herself?

When someone says online that they are done with this world, they are reaching out. How horrible that we would make such a moment about ourselves.

Then there was today. I know and like this woman. So when someone on Twitter asked for any update on her, the alarm bells went off. Her last tweet was much like what the other two had said. My head silently screamed "NO!" and there was a flurry of activity with others, trying to find out if anyone had or could contact her.

I had only a business number and there was no response. I called the police. I had no address so they said they would have my local police come over and start an investigation. I said I understood procedure but I was worried about my friend. Frantically, as the police waited on the phone, I searched for an address. It was the wrong one. The police entered the wrong home and then informed the wrong husband that his wife was suicidal. Fuck.

Then an online friend gave me the proper address and I called the police back.

The woman is fine. As fine as you be when you were in such a state that you told the world that you were done with it. I'm not fine. I'm drained, I'm sad that I wasn't able to handle this effectively and that it created trauma for some.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.

Friday, January 7, 2011

How I Became a Clown (Guest Blog!)

My journey to become a clown started 3.5 years ago when I had my first child. My Aunt has been a clown for 11 years and she encouraged me to also become a clown to work for myself and earn some extra income. She kept assuring me that I could do it even though I've never felt like a particularly creative person. Just over 3 years later I (finally) joined her for a face painting jam she was hosting in her home for a small group of people. Most of us were newbies. I surprised myself! I was able to think outside the box and the painting wasn't all that bad, for my first time.

Shortly after that I attended the annual Clowns Canada Carnivale where I learned more about face painting, simple magic, basic balloon twisting and glitter tattoos. More importantly, the attendees were very open about sharing their experiences and answering questions. It was a great learning experience and I was pumped to start my own gig. I created my website and got a phone number and email account. Now what? Luckily I had my Aunt to guide me and she very generously invited me to attend a birthday party with her. There I learned how to put my magic into a show suitable for young children. I now had the confidence to take the plunge - I put up a free ad on the internet. I got responses!!

I was so nervous for my very first birthday party - a 5 year old girl with 20 friends and cousins. It was a huge success - there were smiling faces everywhere and lots of laughing. The time absolutely flew by and the smiles and laughter were on my face, too. What a FUN "job"!! Since then the jobs have been steadily coming in. I get nervous before each and every party or event, just as nervous as the first time. But at the end of them all I can say the same thing, "Where did the time go? I'm pooped and had so much fun!"

Sarah (a.k.a. "Pickles the Clown") lives in Barrie with her husband, daughter and silly little dog. When she's not clowning, she likes studying Endo-molecular biology.
Pickles The Clown serves Barrie, Ontario and the surrounding area and may be reached at 705.828.6284 or visit her website at
See you at the next Clown Carnivale, Pickles!