Monday, 31 August 2015

Consumer Traps

There are an awful lot of traps waiting to trip you and your wallet up in the Western world of conspicuous consumption. Marketing ploys, gimmicks, tantalizing window displays, tempting discounts and deals – all consumer traps designed to encourage us to buy, buy buy.
One of the most insidious traps is that which convinces us of a need we don’t have, then promises to fill it. The one which most readily springs to mind – mostly because it is so astonishingly superfluous – is the sale of seasonal decor.
I don’t mean a Halloween pumpkin or ghosts dangling from the eaves at the end of October, or a Christmas wreath or garland with red bows. I mean actual furniture and decor, housewares being hawked as replaceable as the seasons change.
Summer’s drawing to a close, autumn’s on its way – time to pull out the rust-and-gold pillows and nappy wool throws, time to replace the airy summer bed linens with rich autumnal shades, time to cover all surfaces with pumpkin hues and all things bark-and-wood.
There’s a chill in the air, winter’s breath is blowing the last few fall leaves from the trees – time to drape the furniture in fur throws, replace that crystal stemware with rich red glass and glittery chargers to go with your chunky winter white tableware, recover the bed again in deep, warm colours – bedskirt and duvet, sheets and shams and a half-dozen throw pillows in varying satins and velvets in red and gold and green.
The snow is melting, birds are chirping, spring is springing – time to lighten up! Toss those throw pillows in plush fabrics and deep, dark shades. Cosy is out, cool is in! Light fabrics, florals, clear glass, crystal. Crisp, clean watery blues and leafy greens and lots and lots of light, bright whites. New outdoor tableware – acrylics in fun patterns and funky colours ready for summer barbecues.
Are you kidding me?
I’ve been sleeping under the same duvet and cover for more years than I care to admit. My furniture is my furniture – I’m not going to change it because the season happens to be changing. I mean, I don’t even buy new clothes because the season happens to be changing – I’m not buying a new armchair just because it has a leaf motif.
But the conspicuous consumption of our consumer culture tells us that we should – this season, next season, and the season after that.
Have you ever fallen for this sort of consumer trap? Are you ever tempted?
Originally published as "Consumer Traps" on my weekly column at gailvazoxlade.com

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Friday, 28 August 2015

Ikea Dreaming

It's that time of year.

We've been waiting for it all year.

We've been looking forward to it with the giddy anticipation of kids on Christmas morning.

Summer vacation?

Back-to-school?

No; it's Ikea catalogue season!

I don't know if it's because we've never been in a position to buy everything we want for the house - we were always either too poor or there were too many other more important demands on our wallets: new homes or new babies, new flooring or a new deck, car repairs, an electrical emergency, sports fees, family vacations - or if it's some sort of throwback to childhood Sears Christmas "Wish Book" fantasizing, or if it's just because it's the best actual printed paper-and-ink catalogue with actual pages to actually flip through, but I've never gotten over the excitement of the annual arrival of the Ikea catalogue in my mailbox.

I looooove the Ikea catalogue.

I love flipping through the glossy pages of room ideas and folding over those ones that appeal to me for one reason or another - a pretty armchair, a comfy-looking couch, creative furniture placement or a clever storage solution.

I love poring over the product pages looking for this or that perfect little treasure or genius space-saving idea.

I love making my wish list for the next twelve months - my "if there's a little bit extra I'd love..." list.

And the best thing about fantasizing about Ikea furnishings (aside from the fact that they're almost all designed for small space living - an important consideration for a family of five living in a tiny townhome) is that they are actually affordable. An Ikea wish list doesn't have to be fantasy - it can actually be reality.


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Friday, 21 August 2015

Little Things

It's amazing, sometimes, how much pleasure the little things can bring.

The best things in life are free - or priceless, depending on how you look at it. Health, happiness, family, friends, time together, memories. You can't attach a cost or value to these things.

But even for those things that do come with a price - things that you can buy in a store, things that are most definitely tangible things - it's surprising how much pleasure those little things can bring.
Some of my favourite little things?

Just the right coffee mug - the right shape, the right size, the right weight when I wrap my hands around it. Nothing makes a morning coffee better than the perfect mug to sip it from.

Potted plants. Coloured glass.
Fuzzy slippers. Freshly cleaned sheets.
Kitschy Christmas decorations.
A perfect-fitting pair of jeans. (Is there anything that makes you feel quite so good as knowing that you look good?)

And the little thing that prompted this post?

The brand-new notebook I'm writing in. That's right - a notebook. I'm an old school sort of writer - almost everything I write is drafted in pencil on paper. And as I sit here curled up in my comfy armchair in the sunniest corner of the kitchen sipping coffee from my favourite mug I'm filled with pleasure by the brand-new book full of crisp, clean blank pages just begging to be filled with words.

What are some of your favourite little things?


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Monday, 17 August 2015

If I Were a Millionaire...

Even the most frugal of us has a wish list that has nothing to do with wants versus needs, budget or practicality. A wish list that has no basis in reality. "If I were a millionaire, I'd..." move to the west coast, winter in Greece, drive a Mercedes, put in a pool.

What's on your wish list?

I've been thinking about mine lately, thanks to some upcoming changes in my life.

This year's impending back-to-school season is a big one for me, because for the first time in many years back to school also means back to work - the youngest of my boys will be school-age and I will be returning to work outside the home in addition to my freelance gigs. Though I'll only be working part-time - being there for my kids before and after school is still my first priority - the addition of that part-time salary to the income we've become accustomed to living off of will make an enormous difference to our lives.

We're going to feel like millionaires.

(Important note: we won't be. Not even close. But we'll be a heck of a lot wealthier than we are right now!)

So we've been putting some thought into what we're going to do with that money. We've reworked our budget to give ourselves a little more for everyday expenses - food, clothing, sports and entertainment. The kids' RESP's are already maxed out but we'll start putting a bit more into RRSP's every month. For the first time in years, we'll finally be able to afford a second family car, and there will finally be enough extra money in the budget to tackle our home decor wish list.

We wrote down all our wish list items, both big (like all new kitchen cabinets, granite countertops and stainless steel appliances) and small (like a new bistro table for the living room.) We added those extra luxuries that were always in the "maybe one day..." corners of our minds like extra vacations and putting in a hot tub or a small pool. We wrote down literally everything we want, everything we wish for, everything we'd like but don't need and certainly never necessarily expected to have - and it turns out our wish list is not so unrealistic after all. We won't need to be millionaires to make our wish list reality.

What about you? What's on your wish list? You might be surprised at just how attainable it is!

Originally published as "If I Were A Millionaire" on my weekly column at gailvazoxlade.com


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Friday, 14 August 2015

Beaches & Splashpads, Picnics & Parks

The entire focus of my life is my family: spending time together, making memories together, sharing moments and experiences and learning and growing together. I try to make the absolute most of my time with my kids while they are still kids. 

I work a job with hours that lets me raise my kids myself instead of sending them to daycare. I spend my time with them actually with them - playing a board game together, going for a bike ride together, working together to build a Lego or sandbox or toilet-roll-and-construction-paper city. Even if it's just a popping-in-a-movie-and-curling-up-on-the-couch kind of day, I curl up and watch with them. There is nothing more important to me than spending time and making memories with my kids while they are still kids.

Because of this focus on quality family time and making memories we often find ourselves scheduling outings and field trips - expensive excursions like Ripley's Aquarium and Canada's Wonderland and the CNE; inexpensive outings to the botanical garden, swimming at the public pool, picking fruit at the local farm; free community events like Music in the Park and outdoor theatre and special holiday events; and our family field trip traditions like the zoo and the Science Centre and all our favourite local fairs and festivals.

This summer, though, in part because we are so busy with baseball and soccer every evening of the week and in part because we needed some time to decompress after an extra hectic and stressful spring, we've not done much in the way of field tripping at all. We've hit no amusement parks or museums. After the round of late spring and end-of-school festivals and celebrations we haven't been to a single festival or fair. We're been to the library, but not for any of the special events or craft activities - just to take out books.

Our summer has been very unscheduled, unstructured, unplanned. (Except for sports, of course!)
And it has been lovely.

We spend most mornings lazing about and the rest of our days outdoors. Bubbles and water balloons in the backyard. Soccer and baseball at the park. Hide and seek and tag at the playground. Bike riding and rollerblading through the neighbourhood and the ravine. Running through the sprinkler, sliding on the Slip N' Slide.

We wandered over to the splash pad for a few afternoons of water play and rode the scooters over to the new skate park a couple of times to try some tricks. A wrong turn coming home from a tournament led us to discover a tiny beach not ten minutes from home and we've since spent several sunny afternoons playing in the sand. And a picnic lunch on the grassy hill at the park just behind our back gate is one of our favourite ways to while away the lunch hour - without any planning or travel or expense.

There have been a few days consumed completely by board games and video games and the furthest we've ventured from the living room has been to pick the vegetables for dinner from the back garden. During that stretch in July when the humidex hovered above forty degrees and the air conditioning was running non-stop and it was just too hot to go outside there was a day we stayed in our jammies, pulled the drapes shut, popped bowl after bowl of popcorn and watched movies all day.

And we are having just as much fun this summer as we ever have before.

Memories are made from the moments we share, not the activities we plan or the money we spend.

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Monday, 10 August 2015

Mid-Summer Pause

It's hard to believe this summer's half over. The last summer before my youngest baby goes off to join his big brothers at school full-time. The last summer before I go back to work outside the home.

We were so looking forward to this summer, the boys and I, our reward after a difficult year of doing home daycare for those poor neighbour children. It stretched out endlessly in front of us, a glittering golden dream, ten tantalizing weeks of sunshine and outdoor play and long, lazy days at home and sports nights at the field.

And now - somehow - in the blink of an eye it's half over. We've not done nearly so much in the way of field tripping and special events as we normally do; it took a few weeks just to decompress and unwind from the misery of that home daycare nightmare. Our evenings and weekends are completely eaten up by baseball and soccer and my soccer club commitments tend to take up a lot more hours out of every week than I intend.

Catching up on social obligations postponed during the end-of-school, beginning-of-outdoor-sports, winding-down-of-daycare months has taken several weeks; hosting a half-dozen playdates for friends who understandingly kept inviting our kids over while the daycare kids were here without expecting an invite in return, a long-overdue trip to my parents' place up north, a long-promised slumber party for the boys and their friends, catching up with friends there just never seems to be time to see during the school year. Just trying to coordinate around our evening and weekend sports obligations has been challenging enough that it's taken the better part of the summer to get caught up.

And here we are, August already, and beginning to feel that inevitable wind down toward fall - back to school, back to work, back to reality. And I don't feel nearly ready to feel that way.

I want to savour every precious moment we have left of our summer. I want to revel in the freedom of endless unplanned lazy days with my babies, of staying in our jammies until noon and building sofa forts to curl up and watch movies in, of drifting from the backyard to the park and back again all day, of bike riding and rollerblading all over the neighbourhood and through the trails of the ravine, of watergun fights and running through the sprinkler, of ice cream treats and picnic lunches and puttering around the yard, of golden evenings on the ball diamond and the soccer pitch surrounded by our surrogate sports families.

I'm holding on to this summer, to these moments, for as long as I can.


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Friday, 7 August 2015

Little Long Weekend Getaway

For our family, the August long weekend for many years meant a trip to my parents' cottage with the whole family. My parents, my grandparents, my brothers and their wives and kids; a great big boisterous mess of kids and cousins, beach towels and toys, too much food and too much drink and endless hours of sun and sand.

In recent years that tradition has changed since my parents sold both their cosy family cottage and their posh downtown harbourfront condo for an enormous, sprawling waterfront home up north - combining the best of both worlds for their retirement home. It's a beautiful home - and there's endless space to spread out and entertain and play - but it's not a family space like the old cottage was.

At the old cottage we all just headed up whenever with armloads of food and drink, we spend the day or the night or the weekend, we slept wherever we could fit. We spent the days drifting from the deck across the dunes to the beach and back, lounge chairs and plastic toys spread out across the sand, dozens of beach towels draped over the deck railings to be pulled down at a moment's notice after a dip in the hot tub or a dash into the lake. Late afternoons stretched into evenings as we lounged and cocktailed on the big, sun-baked deck, eating late and watching the sun set slowly over the water.

My parents' new place is their home. Designer-showroom-decorated (but not so kid-friendly-comfy), waterfront and harbour views (but not on a sandy beach), lots of space and extra rooms (but guest rooms, not family bedrooms) - their home, not the family cottage. Their home, not a comfortable, communal hangout we all share memories of. It's just not the same.

But the family cottage is no more, so this long weekend we packed up our family and headed up north to my parents' place for a visit - just us, no brothers and sisters-in-law, no nieces and nephews, no big boisterous family party.

It was different, but it was still nice.

Long walks up and down the pier, leisurely meals on the patio watching the sailboats out in the bay. A long boat ride across the lake, a picnic lunch and a swim off the diving platform anchored in a sandy cove. A slumber party, all three boys choosing to sleep together on the pull-out sofa bed in the alcove over the living room with windows looking out on the water rather than the enormous children's room with more than enough beds for everyone.

It was different, and with only two days off soccer for our mid-summer break, it was brief - but for a little long weekend getaway, it was nice.


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Monday, 3 August 2015

Kale Chips

I've blogged a fair bit this summer about our lovely little backyard vegetable garden.

A new addition to the garden this year was kale. Though we've grown several different kinds of lettuce and greens in the past, this summer was the first time we tried growing kale and had no idea how it would turn out.

It turns out it has half taken over our little garden!

Kale grows very quickly and we find ourselves eating it every single day - in salads, in stir fry, chopped up and sauteed with every meat and potato and vegetable dish we make. Fortunately, it's both healthy and delicious and the whole family loves it.

kale, kale chips, organic food, healthy snacks

Yesterday I tried my hand at kale chips - such a quick, easy treat to make! Spread kale leaves on a pan, drizzle lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt, and bake for eight to ten minutes at 300F.
 We will definitely make this tasty treat again!

kale, kale chips, organic food, healthy snacks









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