Monday, April 27, 2009

Birthday on a Budget

My sister throws unique birthday parties. Theme parties. For example, her son is really into Indiana Jones, so she made a cake shaped like a hat and created satchels and whips for all the guests. We cannot compare with her and her themes.

My cousin makes really high-quality birthday cakes. Museum-caliber works of art. The cakes are so good that she's gone into business. We cannot compete with my cousin and her cake-making.

My sister-in-law likes to host big parties. She booked the church and served up dinner for a large number of guests for her daughter's first birthday. It was not on the scale of a wedding reception, but it was a far cry larger than any party we've ever thrown. We cannot match my sister-in-law on matters of scale (but we did steal her balloons).

We know our limits, but we also know our strengths:
We excel in the deal department.

For Scotty's 2nd birthday, we got him piles and piles of loot for a low, low price after several months of careful acquisitions (we also took him swimming for 75% off).

1. Little Tikes Vacuum Cleaner (Kijiji): He has a little popper that he likes to push around the house whenever the vacuum comes out, so got him his own little vacuum, complete with dustbuster. I have a standing query in for anything made by Little Tikes, so we picked this up from a lady 5 minutes from our house.

2. Thomas the Tank Engine train rack with Lights and Sound Percy (Kijiji): Another Kijiji subscription tells me about all the Thomas gear that comes up for sale. A lady in a neighbouring community sold us this rack for Scotty's trains and cars for less than half of the retail price, plus we got this Percy engine that makes a a chugging sound when you roll it along. Two Replacement batteries would be $4 each at the store, but I got 10 of them for $1.75 on ebay.

3. Toy Garbage Truck (Chapters/Airmiles): We get Airmiles from shopping at Safeway, but rather than endure the frustration of trying to book flights with them, we traded some in for gift cards at Chapters. Since Chapters has recently started selling toys, we were able to order this toy garbage truck -- Scotty loves to watch the garbage truck come by our house. His pronunciation of 'garbage truck' sounds a lot like 'Scotty truck'. He took this toy to bed every night for 2 weeks after his birthday.

4. Knapford Covered Bridge for Thomas the Tank Engine set (Chapters/Airmiles): We bought his bridge with gift cards as well. Chapters has a train set kids can play with, and Scotty has always loved the bridge. We loved that it didn't cost us anything.

5. Tricycle (Kijiji): A friend down the street tipped us off to a Kijiji ad for this brand-new tricycle that someone was selling. I didn't have exact change, so instead of a loonie, the lady who sold it to me gave me a toy dog with a big gold chain that sings hip hop music if you squeeze his paw. I don't care much for the dog, but the tricycle was a good buy.

6. Unofficial Chuggington t-shirt ( credits): Scotty's favourite show for a while now has been Chuggington -- the British animated program about three young locomotive 'trainees' who are learning how to pull mail cars and passenger cars, etc. We have nearly every episode ever made recorded on our PVR. The show seems pretty new and the merchandising efforts have not made their way to Canada yet, so I had a shirt made up on, where I had $14 of credit from the sale of my Settlers of Catan design. Free custom shirt!

7. Thomas the Tank Engine musical couch (Kijiji): The piece de resistance was this couch, which I bought back in January from a lady in Edgemont. It has buttons to play the theme song and toot a whistle, as well as a throttle that turns some plastic wheels with appropriate sound effects (no, the wheels do not make the couch move). You can fold the side down for couch mode or velcro it upright for serious train-driving.

Those are the presents that we got him, but he also scored some sweet loot from his Grandparents, including a huge plastic road/rail set of Polish manufacture (Wader Toys) and the Disney/Pixar move "Cars", which he watches several times each week (he calls it 'car show').

The anticipation of holding these toys for so long made the big day that much sweeter. Time to start acquiring items for Christmas. I've already picked up a few items on ebay...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Beware of the Training Pool

You can do a lot of damage to yourself in a a kiddie pool only 60cm deep.

We have a family membership at the YMCA near our house, so we take frequent trips to swim in the pool. Back in January, Scotty transformed himself from a very static "stand-and-watch" swimming style to a hurricane on two legs -- streaming chest-deep through the water like a torpedo, with us scooting around in tow. It is very awkward to try to move quickly in 2-feet of water if you are 6 feet tall, since you are working from a seated position the whole time.

In one instance, Scott took a stumble and I lunged out to the side to catch him. I mean, heaven forbid that he should ever dunk his head! I managed to buoy him up without much more than a mouthful of water, but I smashed my elbow on the floor of the pool. It didn't seem like a big deal at the time.

Two months later it was still sore -- but sore in a very strange way. If I was a wearing a long-sleeved shirt or jacket, bending my elbow would pull the fabric against the joint and cause tremendous pain. I finally got an x-ray and they determined that I had cracked a piece off of the end of my elbow.

It's getting better now, but I am going to start wearing more protective gear in the pool from now on.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

This MBA is Done Like Dinner

Monday night I had the last exam in my 2-year full-time MBA program at the University of Calgary's Haskayne School of Business. Although I thought I had the upper hand, the program had one last surprise in store for me.

The exam was scheduled from 7pm-10pm on Monday night, but the class was normally held from 6:30pm-9:15pm, so halfway through the exam I got mixed up and thought that it ended at 9pm. This nearly gave me a heart attack at 8:45 when I looked at the clock and thought that I only had 15 minutes to finish a third of the exam. I didn't figure it out until 9:01 and the professor still hadn't stopped the exam. For a while there, I thought I was going to fail.

But don't worry -- I'm quite sure I passed (95% confidence).

You can't just go to sleep after such a monumental event, so fellow graduate SM and I headed out for Chinese food at Sun's on Center Street. We didn't order the jellyfish heads, the pig's ear or the deep fried intestines, so everything was pretty tame.

After that exam scare, my stomach couldn't handle anything too crazy.


Thursday, April 02, 2009

What Boys Do In Winter - 2009

Two years ago I posted an entry entitled "What Boys Do In Winter":

A few years have passed, and the faces are different, but boys are still boys:

This video was from a recent overnight trip to the Kananaskis Lower Lake campground about an hour west of Calgary. The daytime temperatures were decent, but it dropped to -26C during the night. As is typical with winter camps, discomfort and the call of nature rouses you out of bed before you would really prefer. To shake the boys out of their groggy haze and to give them something positive to remember about the camp, we went out in a clearing created by a frozen pond and played British Bulldog and Capture the Flag in the deep, deep snow.

The games gave way to random sequences of violence for the benefit of the camera.