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.