Friday, December 28

Winter Getaway: The Wizard of Oz in Toronto!

Every year we try to get our girls tickets to something as a Christmas gift (you know, experiences over "stuff". Which isn't to say that they didn't get any "stuff".) This year, we decided to surprise them with a family getaway to Toronto for Mirvish's The Wizard of Oz. While the kids put on a nice polite show when opening the gift on Christmas Day, the thrill of it never really hits them until we arrive at our destination ...this time the stunningly beautiful Ed Mirvish Theatre (formerly the Canon Theatre), where we were greeted by giant-sized ruby slippers!

Six year old Frannie adored the show, never taking her eyes off the stage. (She had to catch all of the details in order to answer her own incessant questions from the drive there: How will they do the tornado? How will they put "Surrender Dorothy" in the sky? How will the monkeys fly? Will all of the songs be the same? You get the idea.)

As for four year old Maggie, she covered her face at the first appearance of the Wicked Witch of the West (played by Lisa Horner, who completely stole the show) and spent most of the time on one of our knees, but she also enjoyed it, and was later quoting lines that we thought she missed.

Dorothy is played perfectly by 20 year old Danielle Wade, who was voted into the role after 8 gruelling weeks and 16 episodes of CBC's Over the Rainbow.

Here I am with the girls in front of a poster:

(On a completely random note, I believe there is irony in the fact that this is my first time wearing a beautiful jacket handed down to me by a friend as it was too tight on her chest...and I wore it over a double pushup bra and almost immediately popped two buttons off.)

Now Frannie can't wait to watch the movie again in order to properly compare it to the theatrical production. Hey, I'm never one to back away from a teachable moment. But don't worry, I won't make her write it out in a Venn Diagram or anything. It's holidays, after all!

I did lament the cost of the tickets a bit before Christmas, until my husband reminded me that people pay as much to attend professional sporting events. After the show, I was quite satisfied that we got our money's worth...and more! I'd definitely recommend it for any little Wizard of Oz/live theatre lovers.

We stayed at the Marriott Toronto Eaton Centre, which is always a favourite due to a great pool and hot tub and an indoor connection to downtown Toronto's largest shopping mall. I'll leave you with a shot of the girls striking a pose with the Sears mannequins which greeted us each time we entered the mall. (I have no idea where they get this drama queen thing from.)

Thursday, December 20

Last Minute Family Gift Idea: Jenga

While out Christmas shopping, my husband decided he wanted to buy some sort of game we could play with the girls, and he chose Jenga. And then couldn't wait until Christmas to give it to them.

It's been a huge hit. It's very quick and easy to play (we're not quite at the Monopoly marathon phase of family life), I can argue that it helps with fine motor skills, and my daughters love it. However I'm not sure they love how every time we play it, I insist on singing the jingle from the Jenga commercials of my childhood:

(Insert music notes here)

"Jenga...Jenga...J..J..J..Jenga. You take a block from the bottom and you put it on top, you take a block from the middle and you put it on top. That's how you build the tower; you just don't stop. You gotta build that tower putting blocks on top. And it teeters and it totters, as you build it on up; it weebles and it wobbles, but you don't give up. You take a block from the bottom and you put it on top, you take a block from the middle and you put it on top, till someone knocks it over, and that's when you stop, but you start all over putting blocks on top!"


In case you're not familiar with the game, the object is to pull blocks out of the tower, placing them on top, without knocking the whole thing over. Of course my perfectionist six year old always prefaces her moves with "If it falls over, it's because I'm actually trying to do that".

Portable and perfect for kids or game-players of any age, I think we've already played it more than any other board game with our girls. Keep it in mind if you still need to cross someone off your list!

Monday, December 17

How To Order a Microsoft Surface in 31 Painful Steps

I am not a demanding customer. I hate to return things, I apologize for bothering staff, and I avoid conflict at all costs. You need to know that before you continue.

You also need to know that this post could potentially put you to sleep. So if you're just surfing mindlessly during a bout of holiday insomnia, then please proceed, and good night.

However, just to make this interesting (and keep you awake) I'd like the rest of you to turn on your powers of empathy full force. Imagine you are me. Put yourself right in my shoes. They're 10's, so they might be big, but you're not going anywhere, believe me. Okay, not quite so close to my husband...good, right there.

As you read the details of the saga I endured just to order a Microsoft Surface tablet (which is a Christmas gift for my family by the way, so please don't tell them) I guarantee that if you empathize fully, your (usually low) blood pressure will begin to rise. You may experience heart palpitations and sweats, and horrible words that you have never even dreamed of saying will be on the tip of your tongue. Sounds fun, right? Damn that Oprah and her "Favourite Things". Here we go.

Monday December 3rd

• Went to Microsoft website at lunchtime and ordered a Microsoft Surface, type cover and insurance. Website promised delivery to Canada in 3 -7 business days.

• Checked my account a couple of hours later, and it said there was no order history.

• Did the online ‘chat’ with an employee who told me that my order had been cancelled for some reason, but that he could help me do it again through chat.

• Spent a great deal of time communicating back and forth and going over the order and at the end he said that he couldn’t ship it to me because I was in Canada. (I had been on the Canadian site when I hit ‘chat now’.)

• He provided me with a different number to call for Canada. I called that number, but while waiting on hold, I went online and tried to put the order through again myself.

• I finally got to speak to a person who said that it looked like both orders had been cancelled but to wait until morning to see.

Tuesday December 4th

• Overnight I received two separate confirmation emails from Microsoft with tracking numbers saying that the product had been shipped to I was getting two, when I only wanted one.

• I phoned again to cancel the second order, and was told that actually nothing had shipped at all, those emails were both in error, and I would probably have to go through the order again with a different credit card. (I don’t have one. I have one Visa, with a healthy limit and excellent credit.)

• E-mailed back and forth with a Customer Service rep who said that she would process my order over the phone. Had to play e-mail/phone tag throughout my work day, and then wait by the phone when I arrived home as she was on another call.

• Finally spoke with her shortly before 5 p.m. and she attempted to process the order again, but then informed me that I would need to set a Microsoft security question and answer, and provide the answer to complete the order. I did not have a computer at home, and attempted to do this on my BlackBerry, but the site told me I had to be on a PC to access the options.

• Was told to call in the morning to complete the order.

Wednesday December 5th

• Arrived at work, went into my profile to set a security question and answer, and emailed my answer to the rep.

• She then said she would have to call me to complete the order, as the final go-ahead has to be verbal.

• Waited on my lunch hour for her call.

• Provided my Visa number again and order details, and she assured me it would then be processed.

• Received an e-mail a few minutes later saying that I needed to call Visa to authorize the charge, as they were not authorizing it.

• Spent more time getting the number for Visa and waiting to speak with someone there only to be told that there was no problem at all at their end authorizing the charge, and that in fact the charge had gone through.

• E-mailed rep to update her, and she said she would go ahead with the order.

Thursday December 6th

• E-mailed rep to ask for an update and received a reply that “Your order is still in review. Our fraud team is running behind with all the orders that are being placed this holiday season.”

Friday December 7th

• Checked online banking and discovered that my Visa had indeed been charged TWICE for this order, which "had yet to be processed".

• E-mailed rep prior to 8 a.m. and received no response.

• Called Microsoft, was put through to the Microsoft Store customer service department.

• After a 40 minute phone call, was told that all three orders were cancelled and they had no record of me ever being charged. I was asked to send copies of my invoices and proof of being billed to my Visa, which I immediately did, yet heard nothing back.

Okay, stop skimming and wake up. Here's where it gets good.
  • Arrived home to find two boxes on my doorstep. Yep, the two orders HAD gone through, and I was the proud owner of two Microsoft Surfaces.
  • I immediately e-mailed for instructions on returning (and most importantly, being reimbursed for) the second tablet.
  • No response.
Saturday December 8th/Sunday December 9th
  • Nothing. Didn't really expect to hear over the weekend, but it's Christmas season and we are talking about Microsoft. Not exactly a little mom-and-pop storefront.
Monday December 10th
  • Nothing.
Tuesday December 11th
  • Called Customer Support for the Microsoft Store and was told that they would issue me a UPS return label for the second tablet, and start the process of refunding my Visa.
  • Then I got as demanding as I could possibly be with a stranger, and politely asked to whom I needed to speak to see what they could do about making me a satisfied customer. The response to that was that the "volume" of this problem is so high that they are unable at this time to offer any sort of compensation (so the fact that it's happening to lots of people is supposed to make me feel better?), but that he would let his supervisor know. Wow.
Wednesday December 12th
  • UPS picked up the second box.
As of this date, I am still waiting to have my account credited back. And I'm sure I will be waiting a long time to be compensated in any way for the hours and hours of my time that I spent just to order this product.

Can you believe how long this story took? You were so sweet to stick with me throughout my ordeal. Is your blood pressure up yet?

Now, let me be clear: each rep I spoke with was polite and apologetic. Obviously they have a good (though slightly patronizing) script and know how to talk people off a ledge. It's the system that I have a huge problem with. Why did they think multiple orders were cancelled when they weren't? What did I do to make them think my order would need to be checked by the fraud department? Why did I deal with multiple people, playing e-mail and phone tag to get answers?

So, what do I think of the Microsoft Surface? It was easy to set up, but I won't know much until after Christmas when the family gets using it. All I know is it better be worth it.

(And for you iPad fans who cannot fathom why I went this route, I really wanted Microsoft Office on our tablet, as it will be for business and pleasure.)

Monday, December 10

Christmas Idea # 6: DIY Decorative Pots

Again inspired by Pinterest, I decided to do some jazzy pots for my walkway this year. The pots are actually leftovers from Spring 2011 when I picked up ready-made arrangements at Costco. Almost still full of dirt, there was a perfect base to start with.

I used dollar store red 'stuff' (what's the real word?), red and green ornaments, and some natural evergreen branches that my parents kindly brought me from their woods. The bows (which are a bit overdone, but it's Christmas!) are also Dollarama steals.

My final result:

The original Pinterest pin:

Friday, December 7

Christmas Idea # 5: Printables

Thanks to Pinterest, I am so into printables these days. I jumped on the bandwagon around Easter, and have been loving them right through summer and fall.

I know lots of bloggers who keep one beautiful frame in a prominent position in their home, and then rotate the contents to coordinate with the season. I took a lazier and only slightly more expensive approach, and buy a new 8 x 10 Dollarama frame each time.

To go with my Christmas décor: this cute "Baby It's Cold Outside" printable, of course courtesy of Pinterest:

Even if you're not interested in something Christmas-y, you can find tons of neat ideas for every room of the home. I also have a cute one up in my laundry room:

And remember, you don't have to join Pinterest to browse the great ideas. Just go to and search whatever you're looking for (e.g. "nursery printable"). You can bookmark your finds the usual way; you just can't save them to "Boards" like Pinterest members can. Happy printing!

Wednesday, December 5

Christmas Goodies From Hallmark

As part of the Hallmark Press Pause Panel, I receive a few boxes throughout the year of hot-ticket Hallmark items to review, and the Christmas selections are always my favourite!

Here are the items I'm recommending this holiday season:

Unicef Cards: At $13 for a box of 12, it's not much more costly than the dollar store, and a portion of your price goes to support a good cause.

Bell's Big Move: This is a book with a read-along CD, and the dog responds to certain phrases. Frannie's getting this one for Christmas, which I think is particularly appropriate since the dog we used to have was named Belle, and although another family adopted her five years ago, Frannie still included her in the first family portrait she drew at school this year. ($34.95)

Mini Instant Scrapbook Kit: The perfect size for 4 x 6 photos, this little book comes with 20 Christmas-themed scrapbook pages and a little package of decorative attachments. ($14.95)

Talking Mistletoe: This motion-activated decoration would be fun to have up at a party, though with "8 flirty fun sayings" this one's not for the kids: "Where I come from, we do everything in know what I mean, don't you?", "Did you make the naughty list this year? Well, there's still time!", "I wish you a Merry Kissmas!"

Wireless Children's Angel Choir: This is not your ordinary choir... and my girls are loving these! We received "Michael" and "Faith", two of four choir members who can sing songs on their own, or sway and harmonize with the other angels' songs. Whichever choir member you activate first takes the lead and the others follow. Ours perform "Joy To The World", "Silent Night", "Angels We Have Heard on High" and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing". Each angel is $14.95 with any purchase.

Light-Up Frame: This cute battery-operated 4 x 6 frame has lights that can blink for 1 minute or 1 hour, depending on how long you press the button. ($24.95).

Disclosure: I was provided with the items above for review purposes. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Monday, December 3

Christmas Idea # 4: The Throw Pillow

Okay, I know pillows aren't exactly the most original idea in the world, but I love this one because it's unique.

Mom is into making pillows and transferring pictures onto them, and when I first saw one I oohed and ahhhed enough to prompt her to ask "Would you like me to make you one?" (If it had been Dad, I would have batted my eyes).

I love the retro-looking picture she used here, and I'm glad to have something new and different to add to my décor this year.

Here are mom's instructions: "I found a free graphic online, and saved it in 'My Pictures'. Then I printed it on TAPS (transfer tshirt transfer paper) and ironed it on the fabric. I used canvas painter's dropcloths from Home Depot, washed and dried first. Then I make an envelope type pillow. (Instructions are all over the web for those)."

And here's one of hers:

As much as I would have loved to pass these off as my own creations, loyal readers wouldn't have believed me. Especially since my most loyal reader is the one who made them!