Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Brockville makes stress-free shopping not just for Santa!

I am so pleased with the local stores that we popped into over the weekend. They made my last-minute Christmas shopping as stress-free and enjoyable as possible. I have previously worked in retail for seven years and am no stranger to the bustle that is the holiday season and the challenges that face both the consumer and the employees.

My first trip was to one of my new favorite stores in Brockville, TL Annie's Little Seedlings, located on King Street. I was immediately greeted with a smile and a hello. Even though the sales lady was assisting another client she took the time to welcome me. It was my first time in the store, which is colourful, bright and just begging for the shopper to give into their inner-child and have fun while they shop! The first display I came across was of art supplies. Colourful paints, canvasses and neat craft ideas. This appealed to me as my two and a half year old has recently gotten the artistic bug. Next was the most original and adorable line of children's clothing I have seen in a while. I was drawn to a bright knit sweater dress for my oldest. Just as I was looking, I was approached and asked if I needed help. Yes please! The helpful sales lady found the right size and gave some useful knowledge on the line and how it will be expanding in the new season, allowing them to carry more designs.This was music to my ears.

 I continued to look around and found a fun plush play set for my youngest daughter. It was from the tale of the "Three Little Pigs" and was geared towards the play and learn mantra. Who could resist the fun animals and thier plush houses that included the big bad wolf? With my purchases in tow I took one last look around the store. I was so happy to see all the wonderful educational toys, I could have easily spent more time and money. You could tell this is a store where a lot of thought and love go into picking the items and I'm certain if you check it out you will not be disappointed. With excellent customer service and products that are practical and fun, this is one place we will visit time and time again!

Next up was Walmart. I needed some items that I can always rely on the bigger stores to have in stock. Im not a huge fan of long lines, big crowds and the rush, rush feeling but the time crunch was on and I had to get my shopping done. We pulled into the parking lot and I knew the store was packed. I cringed a bit and helped my spouse get the kids into the cart. We decided he would take them for a walk around while I finished some last minute shopping. As we walked into the store there was a greeter who smiled and assisted others with their carts and answered questions. Wait, was I in a box store? There weren't people pushing and shoving, there was lots of room and happy employees everywhere to help. I have been to the Walmart in Brockville several times and I will say, I've never had a bad experience but at this time of year I expected the level of customer service to drop and instead I was happily surprised. All the items I was looking for were in stock, there were plenty of employees accessible throughout the store to help and it was very spacious and clean. I found some excellent children's books at great prices, a cute outfit for my youngest daughter and finished up with the toy items on our list.

 It hit me then, surely my worst nightmare would happen at the cash. I could see it now, long lines, impatient consumers and tired cashiers must be waiting. I got it together and forced myself to the front of the store to face it all, only to realize this store had surprised me once again. I waited in line for maybe 3 minutes and was greeted by a very energetic and friendly cashier. She asked me how my shopping was and if I had found everything. It wasn't in that "I have to ask you these questions" kind of tone, she genuinely wanted to know. She commented on how adorable the outfit I had picked out was and when I sympathized with her over the holiday madness she happily let me know that it's been a wonderful shopping season and everyone has been kind. Refreshing. I thanked her and headed to the door to meet my spouse and wee ones. I was met by another happy employee who offered to take my cart and thanked me for shopping. When I saw my family, they too had smiles and no meltdowns! A huge thank you to Walmart Brockville and all of its employees for making my Christmas shopping stress-free. I left that day with a big smile, not only because I was an extremly satisfied customer but because it reinforced my Brockville pride. Box stores are a place that are often criticized for long lines and cranky employees, taking the personal feel out of shopping. Walmart Brockville seems to have found some excellent people within our community to hire and they are doing a wonderful job!

I don't know if I say it enough, but "Shop Local". This is something my family and I are really starting to practice. I have found out, especially this weekend, that if you get out there and support your community, it may be the best shopping experience you have. Bravo Brockville!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Tis the season to be busy!

The past few weekends have been very busy for our family. With the Holiday season upon us, many communities in the area are hosting magnificent family-friendly activities. With two children under the age of three and a tight budget to reflect the economy, we often look for activities that get us out and about and help show our support to our local area and businesses.

Last Saturday started out quiet, but when the sun hits the sky, the children hit the ground running. We had a nice family breakfast, did some minor housework and then headed to the Brockville Public Library to finally sign up for our cards. Im ashamed to say it, but it has been years since I stepped foot into that particular library and when we entered into the main floor, I was happily surprised. There were many quiet reading areas, a group of teens working on what looked like a school project (kudos to you guys!), a row of computers with super fun looking headphones (to attract parents and toddlers alike) and a fantastic reading and play area for young children. Both my girls were drawn to the puppet show area, colourful bean bag chairs and bins of toys. They made some friends with an adorable little girl and played for about an hour. Then showing interest in the computer, my oldest decided to give it a try. The one she chose was a touch screen computer, which made it easy for her to interact and enjoy her learning game. My youngest picked out a few books with daddy and then we were on our way. By the time we arrived home it was mid-afternoon, which is music to my ears- naptime! Tired out from their play, both girls hit the pillows and were out. I have a new found appreciation for our public library and both my spouse and I agree, it will be a place we visit very often!

Sunday we were up and out the door early. Friends of ours had told us about "A Country Christmas" in Spencerville and we were just dying to pack up the kids and head out to have a look. We arrived to the village to see two giant Clydesdale horses pulling a wagon filled with happy passangers. This looked promising.
We parked at the Drummond Building, strapped the wee ones into their "keep your hands to yourself" stroller and headed in to see what exciting things awaited us. We were greeted immediatly by the smell of coffee and fresh baked goods, met by a lady at a desk with a warm smile and behind her a sea of craft vendors. The lady quickly walked us through the village's different attractions, gave us a cute Christmas book that was used as a "passport" to all the different events and quietly gave us the scoop about the animals in the barn behind us. Smart lady, didnt want to set the kids off too quickly!
After a walk around the craft area, and a few Christmas presents bought for family we decided the kids would really enjoy the animals. Afterall, we were told there was a unicorn! En route to the barn we were stopped by three very nice people selling hot apple cider with proceeds going to the Food Bank. My spouse quickly took them up on the offer. It is one of his favorite winter treats and didn't disappoint.
Once in the door, with our passports stamped we couldnt get to all the animals quick enough. There were ponies, complete with rides, alpacas, donkeys, geese, baby bunnies and of course, the promised "unicorn" wink wink. We made our way around all of the animals, each girl picking their favorite and headed to the pony rides. This made me a bit nervous, as only a young mother can be. Neither of my girls had ever been on a pony. We paid our $3.00 each (completely reasonable price) and my oldest just had to go first! With my pregnant emotions in check, I fought back the urge to tear-up as my firstborn born saddled up, with Daddy beside her and I did what every good mother does- cheered her on and took almost one thousand pictures. She was a natural, smiling and loving every minute! It was then our youngest' turn, who was very eager to get up there and show her big sister she could also do a great job. With Daddy beside her as well she was a bit more cautious, as one is when they are that small. It started out great and lasted about a minute. She decided that perhaps her sister could have this one, there were baby bunnies to look at, afterall!

When we left Spencerville we headed to my parents house for a nice Sunday dinner. The girls had a quick nap in the car on the way, which was much needed after the exciting afternoon with the animals and other activities.

We arrived to "Amma" and Grandpa's house and were greeted by the smell of yummy spagehtti sauce simmering in the crockpot and a bunch of gingerbread people to decorate. Hats off Amma, you know how this family rolls! We quickly rolled up our sleeves and began to decorate. This was also a great distraction that provided Grandpa with some quiet time to watch the football game. We all enjoyed decorating but perhaps it was my spouse, Nick who had the most fun. He took his time to make his gingerbread man quite intricate and detailed. Thankfully we captured this on camera or some may not believe his artistic skills.

 What a fantastic (and busy) weekend! Nothing brings out family and such great community spirit like the holiday season.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Santa didn't wave at me!

Our weekend kicked off with a visit from one of my favorite ladies, my sister.

Driving down from Toronto, she arrived at my door around 3:30. I still stand by it, to my Grandmother, that she did not speed. At all. Right. We went shopping and then stopped at our favorite place, Starbucks. When we arrived back at my house we were greated by a wonderful surprise, our Mother. She had popped up to Brockville to surprise us and join us for dinner.

With my spouse and oldest daughter in tow, we headed to GG and Pop Pop's for dinner. My sister and Mother stopped in at Island Delight and picked up dinner. If you aren't familiar with Island Delight, it is located in the west end on King street and serves Thai and Chinese food. They have also just won the Small Business of the Year award.

Seeing GG and Pop Pop makes anyone happy, but when a bunch of us are together it really becomes a fun night. Like any great family, we love to poke fun at each other and laugh all night. Great food and even better company made for a great start to the weekend!

Saturday was a quiet, clean the house kind of day. We were, however really just killing time until 2pm when we would be downtown to watch the annual Santa Claus parade.

We arrived at 1:30 p.m ensuring we get a great spot to take in the sights. We thought we had found it, but unfortunately had to move a few times, as there were surprisingly a lot of people who would light up and smoke in the crowds full of children. Once we finally did find a spot, in front of Tait's no less, we were ready for the parade to begin.

So many wonderful floats and many animals as well, one of my favorites being the gypsy horses. We could not believe the turnout, from east to west the sidewalks were full of families in spirit for the upcoming season.

Before we knew it, the Santa Claus float was upon us. My two and a half year old was extremly excited. She was up high on Daddy's shoulders waving her little heart out. We all know that Santa is very busy and has many children to wave at. When he reached our destination he was looking at the other side of the street waving to the many wonderful children. Our daughter, at her young age, didnt understand this. She started to cry and stated "Santa didn't wave at me!".  My spouse, being the amazing Dad he is, couldn't stand to see our daughter like this, so he held onto her tighltly and jogged down the sidewalk along side Santa. Finally they met up and our daughter got her wave. I have never been so impressed by the love of fatherhood and the little smile on her face made my day. Hopefully Santa is no longer on her naughty list!

Sunday was a very exciting day. We were up early and out the door to pick up our youngest from her mother's and then off to Ottawa for a kid's Christmas party, thrown by my mother's work.

For the past few years, we have been going to Fun Junction in the east end of Ottawa. It is a great place for small parties or events. With rock climbing, laser tag, mini putt, video games, air hockey and the coolest blow up playground for young children, we always have a blast!

The girls both loved the enclosed playground and in no time were up and down the slides, laughing and making friends with the other kids. We played some arcade games with them and had a great pizza lunch. Just when we thought the day was winding down, we were happily surprised with a visit from Santa! The girls are still young enough that Santa is very exciting from far away but still a bit scary up close. With some help from Mom,Dad, Amma and Grandpa, we approached Santa and were given a wonderful gift for each of the girls.

Before we were at the traffic lights on our way out of the city, both girls were fast asleep! It was a nice, quiet drive home and another fantastic weekend in and around our wonderful City of Brockville and our local community.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Baby Bingo and Ginger Beef

I woke up early Saturday morning, not just because it was a busy day ahead, but because it was the highly anticipated "date night" that couples with small children only dream about.

It seems I wasn't the only one excited about the day, as both girls and my spouse were also wide awake with smiles from ear to ear. This, I thought was odd, as the night before was met with travel and crankiness, as we had returned from the Santa Claus Parade well past bedtime. I'm one to count my blessings, so I enjoyed this moment of bliss and got ready for the day.

We had some errands to run and limited time to do so. Today was the day, after months of planning, that I would throw a baby shower for my friend and colleague, Monica. We hurried out the door by 8:00am, headed to pick up an amazing diaper cake, custom-made that I had ordered a while back. After the pick up, we headed to the store to grab the cake and the decorations and zoom home to clean before my house would be taken over by approximately fifteen nurses, office staff, a cook, friends and family members and two adorable babies. Anyone who has ever thrown a baby shower knows the sheer chaos (and fun) it can bring. Throw two toddlers into the mix while trying to get ready and you have yourself a small breakdown. Thankfully my spouse is amazing and took the kids out for the afternoon. With the food prepared, flowers and candles about, I was ready to host.

With a great turnout, fun games and a lot of laughter, I'd say the shower was a success!

After everyone had left the baby shower, it was time to get ready for that highly coveted date night. I tend to have a bad habit of overbooking myself and today didn't prove to be any different. I had one hour to polish myself up and hit the town with my dashing date!

We were scheduled to be at the Ivy restaurant, in Ivy Lea on the outskirts of Brockville, for hors d'oeuvres and a wonderful dinner to follow. Neither my spouse or I had ever been and after checking out the menu online we were both really looking forward to the experience.

We arrived on time, a sheer miracle and were not disappointed by the ambiance that greeted us. The Ivy had undergone renovations not too long ago and not one detail was spared. From the grand entrance way with exposed beams to the magnificent fireplace in the dining room, I thought I was in heaven.

We started with goat cheese and spinach in a phyllo pastry, moved on to bite sized chicken satay and ended the mouth watering hors d'oeuvres with spicy samosas. These were just the start! Upon being seated we were given a starter menu with many delectable choices. Both my spouse and I chose the ginger beef served with baby greens and an onion vinaigrette drizzle. This had to be the highlight of the menu, it was the most tender and flavourful thing I had ever eaten. Being pregnant, I still wake up days later, craving this dish.

Moving on to the main course we again chose the same, porterhouse steak served with root vegetables and truffle french fries. For anyone who is not familiar with truffle fries, I have no idea what they are, only to say they look like french fries but taste like nothing you have ever eaten.

Normally I am not one to shy away from the dessert menu, but after all that food I just didn't have room. My spouse on the other hand, all 6 foot 3, 220 pounds of him, found the space and ordered the renowned sticky toffee pudding. When it arrived, my curiosity got the best of me and I had to try a bite (or three). WOW! I am truly lost for words. It was packed with flavour and yet looked so dainty.

I have no idea who the chef at the Ivy is, all I can tell you is that if you have not been, it is a must! From the moment we walked in the door to the moment we left, not one detail was spared. The service was phenomenal and the food is easily the best I have ever had. I'm still dreaming of that ginger beef.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Asleep before Santa

If you were one of the many who attended Prescott's annual Light Up The Night Santa Claus parade, you enjoyed quite a show!

My spouse, two daughters and I ventured out around 5:30 to grab a bite to eat and find a spot to take in the festivities. The parade didn't start until 7:00pm, but I am so happy we got there in plenty of time, as space was limited for the highly anticipated parade. We made a quick trip through MacDonald's, my children are in love with their grilled cheese and apple slices and then headed to our favorite spot where free hot dogs and hot chocolate are served. Never one to lose a good parking spot, my spouse quickly parked our car and the wait began.

It wasn't long before we could see the flashing lights of the police cara start and the many, many floats to follow. I have attended many Light Up The Night parades that are hosted in Prescott and this one didn't disappoint. The candy and smiles were flowing, the creativity was being showcased and all around there was Christmas spirit. My spouse and I agreed that we felt pretty lucky to be able to spend this time together as a family and just as we were about to tell the girls that Santa Claus was approaching, we realized our youngest was fast asleep on Daddy's shoulder. We decided one of us would sit with her in the warmth of our car and the other would take in Santa with our two and a half year old. Just then, she informed us she was tired too and would rather be in the car.

Although we didn't quite see Santa this year, the time spent with our girls and each other, was truly the gem of the evening.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Crafts, treats and Tait's.

This past weekend was one of the busiest we have had in months. There were so many exciting events planned in Brockville, we couldn't chose just one.

Saturday morning we were up early, getting the weekend chores out of the way so we could enjoy our day. Around 10am we headed over to the "Craft and Mom 2 Mom sale" being held at Thousand Island's Secondary School. The amount of fantastic second hand items on display for sale was incredable. Toys, clothes and a wide selection of kids movies, everything you might need for your little ones could be found. One of my favorite items for sale were hand made knit hats made to look like animals. They were absolutely adorable, practical and well priced. We stopped off at a friend's table to catch up and before I knew it, our oldest daughter had talked Daddy into buying her a candy stick! I couldn't blame her for wanting one, even I had to sneak a sour key off of it when she wasn't looking.

We then headed over to the Brockville Museum, where the Farmer's Market and Art show were being held. The parking lot was full and I was happy to see so many people out supporting local farmers, bakers and artists. We met my grandparents there, long time residents of Brockville and my oldest daughter ran right over to "GG" (Great Grandma) and happily gave hugs and kisses. Upstairs at the Museum there was a wonderful display of mixed media artwork. From Oil paintings to watercolour, abstract to florals I was in awe of the talent. We headed downstairs to the Farmer's Market where we were met with an aroma of fresh baked goods and local Thai cuisine. My Grandmother was immediately drawn to the beautiful hand made wooden cutting boards, salad bowls and dinnerware. There were local honey products, pies, cookies, specialty teas, soothing bath salts, crafts and the amazing homemade Thai food all on display. The farmer's market is a must stop for anyone looking for great gift ideas or fresh local food.

All this walking and shopping had made us hungry. If any of you have toddlers, you know there is a small window of time between "Momma I'm hungry" and a total meltdown. Usually I avoid this by packing some snacks, however in my excitement to get out the door, I was ill prepared that day. We decided that on our quest to support as much local business while keeping on a healthy track we would head to Tait's uptown for some fresh sandwiches and their delicious cranberry bread. Success! It was busy as usual but the service was friendly and quick and best of all my picky toddler ate her entire lunch (and some of mine). My favorite part was the cost. For three of us to have a delicious and healthy lunch, we paid just over $16.00. If you haven't been to Tait's, either uptown or down, we highly recommend giving it a try.

It was then we realized our wee one was fading fast and in need of a nap. There were a few things we had to pick up at the Superstore, so we headed over for a quick in and out. We bumped into my Grandparent's again (GG and Pop Pop as we lovingly refer to them) and our daughter perked right up again. She just had to ride in GG's shopping cart and go check out the beautiful Christmas tree display they had, which gave us time to get our shopping done. With only one more quick stop, we were headed home for the day.

Oh Starbucks, how I love your Caramel Macchiato.

 We arrived home. Toddler and Daddy down for the count. I enjoyed my coffee and got ready for the evening outing we had planned. Friend's of ours were doing some house renovations on their stunning country residence and while my spouse would help lay some flooring, we would have a bonfire and make the kids some S'mores. Although it proved too windy to keep the bonfire safely going we had a tour of the sanctuary that included ducks, roosters, peacocks and amazing ponds and landscaping. The children had so much fun playing and we had a great time catching up with our friends.

What a great end to a busy and fun day.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Brockville Remembers

The streets are filled with Brockville citizens, young and old. All gathered at the Cenotaph to remember and show respect to those who fought and gave their lives, to better ours. It's quiet, not the usual buzz that the downtown core usually sees on a late Friday morning. Everyone is focused on the service and the veteran's that continue to stand tall.

As I watch the men and women in uniform, I am reminded of my daily blessings and how lucky I feel to be Canadian. I didn't grow up with a strong influence of Military or what it was like to have family who fought to keep us safe, but Remembrance Day has always been very close to my heart. I find it is a time of reflection, in an otherwise very busy life. With two children under the age of three, quiet only comes once bedtime has set upon us and then there are dishes and laundry to do, and other chores to finish off the day.

On this day, I think of not only the soldiers, but their families as well. It must have been difficult to have been away from their spouses and children. Some of the soldiers were still children themselves, lying about thier age so they could go off and protect their loved ones. My spouse's Grandfather did just that. He was around the age of 17 when he enlisted. At that age most of us were enjoying our last year of high school or deciding what exciting adventures were next, not hugging our loved ones for what could be the last time.

I'm humbled by the sacrafices these men, women and families have made, and continue to make in today's service. On this day, I hold my children a little tighter, I kiss my spouse a little longer and I am forever grateful for the freedoms we have.

Thank you Brockville for this wonderful service, it was nice to see so many citizens pay their respects. Lest we forget.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The journey begins in our new home

October 1st was an exciting time for our family. We took the plunge and moved into our first home as a family. With our ever-growing brood, we definitely needed more space and a kid-friendly backyard for growing minds.With three bedrooms, an extra washroom, formal dining room, the kids own playroom and a double lot fenced-in backyard, we began our life together in beautiful Brockville!

Somehow I always pick fantastic times to move ( I'm pretty sure New Year's Day tops the list) and this time I didn't stray from my fabulous planning. Being pregnant and restricted from lifting anything over 10 pounds always presents a challenge when packing and moving. Thankfully we have fantastic friends who  volunteered to help us. Their help made this move as unstressful and dare I say easy, as one could hope for.

The unpacking began and the kids were extremely excited when they learned they have their very own playroom, with built-in cabinets to boot! We began to set up a kitchen area and an area for the ever-growing collection of babies and their accessories. Sometimes I think my children are exposed to too much entertainment television and are striving to be "Octomom" or "Brangelina" with their love for babies.

Once settled, we decided to head out to explore the backyard. This was the highlight for the entire family. Having moved from a newly built townhouse with the yard unusable and still being landscaped, it was a treat to discover our own little oasis. Fall had begun to set-in and the leaves were falling, beautiful colours everywhere. We have many retaining walls that will serve a wonderful purpose this spring when Pop Pop attempts to teach us girls how to plant and garden, lots of room to run around and best of all, many leaves to pile up and jump in.

It has been a fantastic time so far in our new home and we can not wait to get out in Brockville and see what's going on in the community. Coming into winter, there is buzz about the Farmer's Market/Craft sale in the Museum, the Santa Claus Parade and other events showcasing local talent and family fun.

Let the Journey Begin!