Monday, June 20, 2016

Gifts for Teachers: What They REALLY Want

School's (almost) out for summer, and I need gifts for my kids' amazing teachers.

I searched for ideas on Pinterest, but I felt bad about myself almost immediately and gave up. The printables, the hand-made crafts, the candy, the highlighters - what do teachers REALLY want?

Luckily, I have several friends who ARE teachers. They gave me the low-down, and will remain ANONYMOUS because I asked them to be brutally honest. Their answers will surprise you!

Gifts for Teachers: What They REALLY Want (their answers will surprise you!)
First, ALL of the teachers said they don't expect a gift at the end of the year. Remember - they were speaking anonymously, so I actually do believe them. 

If you're going to be awesome and get something anyway, here are some tips.

What Teachers DO NOT WANT

  • Candy: "Every year, one of our teachers collects all the unwanted chocolate and takes it down to the drop-in centre to donate to the homeless."
  • Mugs: "Our staffroom kitchen is overflowing with coffee mugs."
  • Candles and other trinkets: no one needs more of that.
  • Perfume, bath stuff, and anything smelly: I have done this. I have given smelly stuff to teachers. I should have asked sooner!

What Teachers REALLY Want

A Note

One teacher said, "It's the notes from parents and kids I treasure. I keep some every year to pull out and read when I'm having a bad day." Be specific and sincere: 
  • Talk about a time when the teacher did something exceptional or special for your child. 
  • Try: "I'll always remember the time you..." 
  • Or: "It meant so much to us when you..."

Gift Cards

  • Safe bets are gifts cards from Starbucks, Tim Hortons, or Indigo.


  • Parents are apparently hesitant to give wine, but let's face it - your kids' teachers probably need a drink.
  • Don't worry - they won't crack it open until the kids are gone.

Hand-made Cards

  • Home-made cards from the kids are treasured for years.
  • One teacher said, "I have a pick-me-up file filled with cards and notes."

One of the teachers I spoke to had this to say: "Ending the year is actually hard for most teachers emotionally. We've come to know and love our students really well and we will never share their lives in the same way again. Seeing them move on is somewhat bittersweet: you're happy for them to grow up and move on to bigger & better things, but you'll miss them, too."

SNIFF. Now I want to buy teachers ALL the presents. They are awesome. Any other great ideas?

Monday, June 6, 2016

Serious Fun with Kitchen Kids

My friend Sarah (of Doing All the Things) recently paid full price for a party with Kitchen Kids, and she loved it so much, she decided to review it for Best Birthdays! Thank you, Sarah!

Me: “So what do you do?”

New friend at a party: “I host culinary birthday parties for kids based on competitive cooking shows.”

Me: “Take all my money and come do my daughter's birthday please!”

My eldest daughter, a selective eater, is nevertheless entranced by competitive Iron Chef-style cooking shows. When I told her I had booked a Kitchen Kids party for her 11th birthday that would involve timed challenges and a winner, she was thrilled.

Company founder Rachel Fugate throws kid-friendly food competition parties in your home, in the backyard or in a community centre. Parents choose the menu ahead of time and buy the ingredients,
and Rachel does the rest.

And the rest is a lot! Rachel showed up a little before the party with everything the girls would need, including measuring cups, bowls, knives, cutting boards, etc., which she set up around the island in individual work stations.

We had decided ahead of time to make smoothies and crepes. Smoothies were up first - the girls had one minute to choose their ingredients before Rachel instructed them on safe knife skills and let them prep their smoothies.

After a round of tasting they voted anonymously for their favourite before moving on to crepe making.

The girls took their time here, making their crepes from a standard recipe, cooking them then trying out their plating abilities. I think a few of them ended up learning that there is such a thing as too much whipped cream and icing sugar.

They voted again, and the winning girl was thrilled to receive a cookbook as her prize (provided by Kitchen Kids).

The girls dispersed to run off the sugar, and Rachel whisked the dirty dishes away in no time.

The details

Parties cost $250 for eight participants. Cooking-themed loot bags, with items like measuring spoons, cutting boards and recipe cards, start at $10 per bag.

We chose smoothies and crepes for our theme, but you can also choose from paninis, pizzas, tacos, salads, wraps and more.

Full Disclosure: Sarah paid full price for this party and it was worth every penny.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Birthday Parties at Calaway Park

One of the best things about summertime in Calgary is Calaway Park. And they have a NEW birthday party program this year!!

Birthday Parties at Calaway Park

Cost is often a deciding factor in party bookings, so let's look at that first.


Parties at Calaway start at $269 +gst. That may sound like a lot, but let's break it down. For that price, you get:
  • 8 admissions (inc. birthday child) - kids 7 and up are $36 each - that's $288 ALREADY. 
  • Pizza and drinks - this would cost at least $20 outside the park.
  • Birthday hats and prizes for all guests - let's say this is another $20.
  • A "comeback" pass for the birthday child - $36.
  • A party host who will take care of set-up AND clean-up for you - priceless. 
That adds up to... hold on, let me get my calculator. OKAY, it's $364. Plus you don't have to clean your house!! That alone is worth, like, $200 to me. 

You can also get a smaller party package for $179 - that gets you 8 admissions and cake/gift storage, but you don't get food or the Birthday Club House. Calaway IS fine with you bringing a picnic to help keep costs down, though!

With both packages, you also get a big yellow button for the birthday child that has their name on it. Ride operators are trained to greet the birthday child by name AND wish them happy birthday. Sometimes, they'll even get everyone in line to sing Happy Birthday! This would make any kid feel special.

Birthday Parties at Calaway Park

What You Get

In addition to everything above, if you book the larger party package, you also get to use the NEW Birthday Club House at Calaway for an hour. It's a really nice area, set apart from the rest of the park by a little lake on one side, and lots of trees and a mini golf course on the other. It's far enough from everything that it's less noisy and hectic, but still close enough to be convenient.

Birthday Parties at Calaway Park

The Club House has several picnic tables where the kids can open presents and gorge themselves on pizza. The view is really nice - this is a great place to take some photos of the kids.

Birthday Parties at Calaway Park

When you are finished at the Club house, Calaway will store all your presents and gear while the kids have a blast on the rides. You just pick everything up on your way out of the park!

Things I Love About Calaway Park

OMG you guys, I love it there. I have been going to Calaway Park for almost my entire life. And I have photo evidence. Below, you will see me with my sister on the boat ride, circa 1987. On the right, my own kids on the same ride, last week.

Birthday Parties at Calaway Park

Here's why I love it so much:

1) There's something for everyone.

There is a giant sign when you go into the park where you can measure all the kids in your party. If they are very different heights, you can break them up into two groups so that the smaller kids don't have to wait while big kids go on big rides.

BUT there is lots to do for kids of any age. My son is 19 months old, and he can go on loads of rides (often with a parent - BONUS, you get to ride too).

Birthday Parties at Calaway Park

2) There is an abundance of seating, AND tons of shade.

You don't have to elbow other people out of the way if you want to rest or cool off. The park is actually beautifully landscaped, with great big trees everywhere. There are benches near every ride, and many of them are shaded. There are also lots of places to sit and eat - we bought lunch right at noon, and we had no trouble finding a table.

Birthday Parties at Calaway Park

3) Mountains!

How many amusement parks have a mountain view? I did a very scientific study that says ONLY THIS ONE.*

* Scientific study consisted of asking my three-year-old.

You have a gorgeous mountain view ON THE RIDES. It's pretty awesome. You can kind of see the mountains in the picture below. You can also see that Calaway Park has excellent puddles (BRING EXTRA CLOTHES).

Birthday Parties at Calaway Park

4) The people are nice.

I estimate that Calaway Park's staff is 98% teenagers. At certain food establishments ALSO staffed largely by teenagers, I've become pretty used to surly service. But the people at Calaway are unfailingly cheerful and friendly. My husband actually worked here as a teenager, and he said it was a really fun place to work.

Birthday Parties at Calaway Park

5) The FOOD.

I love mini donuts. I also love giant pretzels, cotton candy, and churros. The hot dogs and burgers are good, too!  Um, I eat a lot at Calaway Park.

Birthday Parties at Calaway Park

If you have a toddler-sized person, be sure to buy a churro and give it to him. It will be as tall as him, and hilarious.

Birthday Parties at Calaway Park
See? My mouth is full of pretzel in this picture.

6) The shows (included with admission).

If your kids need a break from all the awesome rides, Calaway Park has a 3D theatre and live stage shows. We saw the Storybook High show, where the finale is a mash-up of "Let It Go" and "Defying Gravity." When the music started, EVERY kid in the audience gasped audibly. It was awesome.

Birthday Parties at Calaway Park

The stage shows have a lot of singing and dancing, and are very entertaining. They always get the kids in the audience up and dancing too, which is adorable.

TIP: The stage is right next to a food vendor, so if you are hungry, you can buy some food and nab a seat. Then the kids can eat while they wait. We arrived about ten minutes before the show, which was plenty of time. Even if you end up at the back, all the kids run to the front anyhow.

7) The Games.

I was raised with a healthy suspicion of midway games, but they're a bit different at Calaway Park. First, at a couple of them, your child is GUARANTEED to get a prize (the signs make it clear if this is the case). Second, the midway staffers are nice (see Reason 4 that I love Calaway Park). They don't hassle me like carnies do. And they WANT your kid to win.

Case in point: we paid for my daughter to have three tries at breaking balloons in this midway game. She started on the ground and instantly threw all of her bean bags. All of them came up short. The staff member handed all of the bean bags back to her, and put her up on the little counter. She tried again, and bang bang! She got a prize.

Birthday Parties at Calaway Park

She did it again and won another prize for her little brother. She is three and a half. If she can do it, most kids should be able to win something here.

8) It's so much fun.

This is kind of a given, but really - every time I go, my cheeks hurt from smiling so much.

Birthday Parties at Calaway Park

We were here on a Saturday. THE NEXT DAY, my daughter asked to go back again. Looks like we're buying season passes next year!

Full Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Calaway Park. BUT I mean every word I say. This place is totally awesome, and I'd have a party here even if they weren't working with me.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Pool Parties in Calgary

It's 30 degrees. If I'm going outside, it's going to be somewhere with water. Therefore, pool party!

Here's a handy list for other sweaty parents, of all the places you can have a pool party in Calgary.

A complete list of EVERY place where you can have a pool party in Calgary. There are some surprises!

Best Western Port O' Call (Waves Waterpark)

Location: 1935 McKnight Blvd NE

Price: $24.95 per child, plus GST and 17% gratuity

What you get:

Bowview Outdoor Pool (Summer only)
Location: 1910 6 Ave NW

Price: $100 per hour for up to 25 people; $115 per hour for up to 50 people

What you get:
  • Private pool rental
  • Use of toys, PFDs, sound system and BBQ
  • Lifeguard

Calgary Jewish Community Centre

Location: 1607 90th Ave SW

Price: For non-members: $90 for an hour of swimming, $185 for an hour in a decorated party room (inc. snacks) 

What you get: 
  • Access to your own private swimming area with life guard
  • Slide, climbing wall, life jackets, toys
  • Birthday greeting sign
  • Small gift for birthday child

Deerfoot Inn

Location: 1000, 11500 35 St SE

Price: $19.95 per child

What you get:
  • 1 hour of swimming
  • Lunch at the Mohave Grill
  • Birthday cake
  • Parties book up FAR in advance - call well ahead of time

Forest Lawn Outdoor Pool (Summer only)

Location: 1706 39 St SE

Price & what you get:
  • For information, call 403-221-3577

Highwood Outdoor Pool (Summer only)

Location: 25 Holmwood Ave NW

Price: $80 / hour to rent the entire pool (available 8 - 10 pm daily plus 9 am - 12:30 pm on weekends)

What you get: 
  • Admission for up to 50 people
  • The whole pool to yourselves
  • Invitations

Inglewood Aquatic Centre

Location: 1527 17th Ave SE

Price: $160.20

What you get: 
  • 3 slides, toys, poolside climbing wall
  • Poolside party room (max capacity 25 people)
  • See website for available booking times

Millican Ogden Outdoor Pool (Summer only)

Location: 2094 69 Ave SE

Price: $200 (for up to 50 people)

What you get: 
  • 2 hours in the pool
  • Lifeguards
  • Cash concession
  • BBQs

Location: 2310 6 St NW

Price: $90 per hour for up to 50 people

What you get:
  • Private pool rental
  • Use of BBQ, grill and pool toys

SAIT (September to June only)

Location: 1301 - 16th Ave NW

Price: $240 for a party with hot dogs; $275 for a party with pizza - pricing is for 12 kids. Additional kids can be added for $13.50 each

What you get:
  • 1 hour of swimming
  • 1/4 slab cake
  • Bag of chips and juice for each kid
  • 2 large pizzas from Boston Pizza, OR hot dogs (beef or veggie)
  • Generic decorations and utensils
  • Invitations
  • For an additional cost, you can add another activity (and another hour) to your party: bowling, yoga, or zumba

Sheraton Cavalier Calgary

Location: 2620 32 Ave NE

Price: Starts at $18 per person

What you get: 
  • Waterpark includes 2 water slides, main pool, kiddie pool and hot tub 
  • For details and available times, call 403-250-6323

Southland Leisure Centre

Location: 2000 Southland Dr SW

Price: $114 for a group of 10, $10.35 for additional guests (20 max)

What you get: 
  • 2 hours of swimming
  • Waves, aquaplay structure, water slides, swinging ropes, hot tub
  • 1 hour in a party room for cake and gifts

Stanley Park Outdoor Pool (Summer only)

Location: 4100 1A St SW

Price & what you get:
  • For information, call 403-221-3577

Trico Centre

Location: 11150 Bonaventure Dr SE

Price: $250 for 20 people ($5 for each additional child)

What you get: 
  • 2 hours of swimming
  • Water slide
  • 1 hour in the party room


Location: 3304 33 St NW

Price: $120 (max 12 kids, ages 4 and up)

What you get: 
  • 1 hour in pool with games lead by a Vecova staff member
  • 1 hour in party room
  • Invitations (choice of 6 themes)

Village Square Leisure Centre

Location: 2623 56 St NE

Price: $162 for up to 10 kids (additional guests are $10 each), adults $5.75 each (50% discount)

What you get: 
  • 2 hours in pool
  • Waves, water slides, safari splash zone, animal attic, dive tank, hot tub
  • 1 hour in party room
  • All ages

Vivo for Healthier Generations

Location: 11950 Country Village Link NE (formerly Cardel Place)

Price: Regular admission during public swim (20% discount for groups of 10 +); $48 per hour for party room

What you get: 
  • Swimming during public swim time
  • Party room rental includes set-up of tables and chairs, outside food welcome
  • All ages

Westside Recreation Centre

Location: 2000 69 St SW

Price: $130 for non-members

What you get: 
  • 1 hour of swimming
  • Water slide, waves, lazy river
  • 1 hour in party room
  • Swimming parties can be combined with gym activities, skating, and the climbing wall
  • Ages 5 - 12


Location: Every branch of the YMCA (except South Health Campus) offers pool parties

Price & what you get: Contact your local Y for details

Full disclosure: All photos are of Waves Waterpark, courtesy of Sarah Deveau. Nothing here is paid or sponsored. Be sure to check websites for the most up-to-date information!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

What Your Mom REALLY Wants for Mother's Day

Mother's Day is right around the corner, you guys! If you are a mom, you can leave this page open and put the computer somewhere conspicuous. If you are a husband or child, READ ON.

What Moms REALLY Want for Mother's Day

I completed a very scientific survey of my friends who are moms, and asked them to tell me what they REALLY want for Mother's Day. They were honest and hilarious - here's what they came up with.

Moms Really Want...

1) Alone Time

Moms often have no time for favourite hobbies. Like reading, or sleeping. There were a lot of requests for some alone time, including:

  • "Legit sleeping in. Not the crap where everyone screams in my ear until I get up."
  • "A night in a hotel. Alone."
  • "A full day at the spa and a night in a hotel with breakfast in bed." (Dream big, people!)
  • "A nap."
  • "I want to poop by myself and eat food without anyone thugging up on me."
  • "A book and a quiet place to read it."
  • "Two hours, preferably during the day, to read a book or watch TV and feel zero guilt about it." (The guilt thing is key, people.)

2) Alone Time at the Spa

This was a VERY popular choice. My friends suggested:
  • "A spa gift certificate to use another day." (Thereby creating TWO Mother's Days, smart!)
  • "A pedicure." (This came up more than once)
  • "Alone time - preferably 90 minutes of it on a massage table."

3) Food

  • "I want to sit down to eat and then NOT GET UP AGAIN UNTIL I AM DONE EATING. Sorry, did I yell?"
  • "A night in a hotel with breakfast in bed."
  • "I want someone else to make all the meals."
  • "Mother's Day brunch."
  • "Tea somewhere fancy with no kids."
  • "I want my kids to draw me a picture or something, and I do not want to make dinner."

4) Other
  • "I want not to end up at Urgent Care. Last year, my kid threw a popcorn seed into his brother's ear."
  • "I want to not spend an hour looking for a plastic Paw Patrol dog that is half an inch tall."
  • "I want drawings from my kids."
  • "Flowers."

A few people also said they'd like some quality time with their kids, but they were obviously just trying not to be jerks.

What Moms REALLY Want for Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day!

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