Thursday, May 21

My Faves From the Today's Parent List of Top 100 Canadian Kids' Books of All Time

When Today's Parent recently released a list of the Top 100 Canadian Kids' Books of All Time, (based on expert input from coast to coast) I thought it was a great great that I decided to chat about it with CHEX Daily hosts Teresa Kaszuba and Mike Judson in my latest Teacher, Teacher appearance.

In this segment, I share some of my favourite picks from the list at various age levels (the folks at Today's Parent have conveniently colour-coded the list by age group).

I'm at the 27:20  mark, and you can also find the video here.

Remember, providing your kids with great literature doesn't have to break the bank. Your public library will have most of these titles (I love to search the online catalogue and put books on hold if they're not currently on the shelf) and your child's school librarian would be thrilled to help you out. Pick your must-reads and send a note to school with your child - free backpack delivery included!

Image courtesy of Today's Parent

The books I showed on-air were:

The Paper Bag Princess - Robert Munsch
The Party - Barbara Reid
Something From Nothing - Phoebe Gilman
The Hockey Sweater - Roch Carrier
Owls in the Family - Farley Mowat
This Can't Be Happening at Macdonald Hall - Gordon Korman
Elijah of Buxton - Christopher Paul Curtis
The Breadwinner - Deborah Ellis
Silverwing - Kenneth Oppel

(Oh, and for those of you who have already asked: my nails are "Gilded Leopard" Jamberry wraps!)

By the way, if you're a new CHEX Daily viewer thinking perhaps I was a little diggy with host Mike Judson near the end, you should know that in almost every one of my segments he manages to mention how much he hated school as a I really was happy to hear there was a book he liked. Off-air he clarified with me that he has always loved to read - as long as no one told him he had to!

If you don't have a copy of the June issue of Today's Parent, you can click here for a printable version of the full list, and don't miss the Chapters Indigo giveaway where you can win ALL 100 books! (Contest ends 6/12/15.)

I tried to think of a classic book missing from the list and I couldn't do it...can you?

Monday, May 18

Little Live Pets - When Your Mom Is Too Mean To Get You a Real One

Yes, I'm a mean horrible mother who won't allow her daughters to have pets.

Not real ones, anyway.

I thought perhaps I could make up for it in part when I had the opportunity to review Little Live Pets. My rule for the girls now is that if they want to receive products or services through the blog, they have to be willing to do the legwork and come up with the reviews. They happily agreed!

The day their items arrived, I picked them up from the post office before school (the woman who runs the post office was quite amused by the chirping coming from the box), and the girls eagerly met me in my classroom to tear into them. Can you tell they were a little bit excited?

After a couple of weeks, here's their feedback.

"Frannie", my nine-year old:

"I got the Tweet Talking owl and baby - Graceling Family ($26.99 at Toys r Us). I named the mom Elizabeth and the baby Violet and I like them because the mom can feed the baby, they sleep every half an hour and the baby sounds like it's snoring and you can record the mommy owl's voice. I just wished the owls came with a cage so I made my own out of a clementines crate!"

Here are the facts on Frannie's new toy(s):
  • 55 Owl and Baby Bird calls, with many popular songs
  • Mother Owl feeds her baby
  • Mother Owl records your voice and says it back
  • Place the baby in your palm and it will HOOT happy songs
"Maggie", my almost-seven-year old:

"I got the Bird with Cage - Singalong Sammy ($26.99 at Toys r Us). I like it because you can record your voice. It came with a cage. It's OSUME!" (You know what she meant, right? Sometimes I find invented spelling too cute to correct.)

The facts on Maggie's toy:
  • 30 New bird calls. All new songs. The more you pet, the more I SING
  • Display and take me with you
  • Includes: 1 Bird 1 Cage 1 Instruction booklet

The bottom line for me is: once they're out of the packaging they're small plastic toys, but they are pretty neat in the way they make noise and interact, and the price is very reasonable considering the hours of enjoyment they've already provided.

Maggie is reading over my shoulder and just said "tell them at the end that Maggie and Frannie really love them". So I'll wrap up there!

For more information, check out the Little Live Pets website (which includes product details, instruction manuals and helpful videos.

Disclosure: We were provided with the above toys for review purposes. Opinions are, as always, our own.

Thursday, May 14

Hair Donation Day 2015 - Amazing Girls & Generous Sponsors!

As you may remember, last year our school held our first ever Wigs For Kids assembly, where several students (including my two daughers) and one teacher (yep, me!) donated their hair. As soon as the event ended, I had girls lining up to participate for 2015...and this year's initiative was another success!

Here's one last shot of the excited girls with their long locks (be assured I have parent permission to share):

With their pigtails ready for cutting:

We had one amazing mom donate as well, and her daughter (also participating) had the honour of cutting her mom's hair.

And the awesome "after":

A HUGE thanks goes out to the amazing sponsors who donated their products to make gift bags for the girls. There's no doubt it's the children with medical hair loss who are the really brave ones, but for these young students to voluntarily donate their ponytails is still pretty special in my books, and I was so happy to be able to surprise them with some goodies...and they were thrilled!

Thanks to...

McDonald's Canada (generous gift card)

OURS by Cheryl Hickey (Head To Toe Wash and 2-in-1 Conditioner) I knew Cheryl would be happy to help out, since she and I are such great friends now! Okay fine, she let me spend one day with her behind the scenes at ET Canada but it was very special!

Quaker (cookies and granola bars)

Splat  (wash-out hair colour)

Jamberry Nails (nail wraps provided by Jamberry consultant Lindsey Frater - I am totally a Jamberry convert)

Shout! Factory (My Little Pony and Littlest Pet Shop DVDs)

Arm and Hammer (Super Mario - Princess Peach Spinbrushes)

Also, in case you weren't aware, First Choice Haircutters will cut (or repair amateur cuts done at assemblies like ours) for free when hair is being donated to charity. I'm pretty sure several of our students were headed there later in the day!

Thanks as well to Caley and Kevin of CHEX Daily who came out and gave some media love to our event! (Yes, the same CHEX Daily I visit biweekly for Teacher, Teacher segments.)

Considering we have approximately 85 girls registered at our school, the fact that 15 have already donated their hair over two years is pretty fantastic. I'm so proud of them! So...who's up for 2016?

Wednesday, May 13

SickKids May Cure Food Allergies in the Next Decade

May is National Food Allergy Awareness Month, and I'm pleased to be able to share some information about the incredible work SickKids is doing when it comes to research and care related to food allergies (which have seen a rise of over 18% in the last 15 years).

For approximately 300,000 Canadian children and their families, or one child in every classroom, constant anxiety and stress over the possibility of a deadly allergic reaction is a reality of everyday life. With your support, SickKids believes they can cure allergy in the next decade.

Now, more than ever before, researchers are poised on the cusp of major breakthroughs in allergy research and have the tools at their disposal to develop a cure for allergy. Within the next decade, the Allergy Program at SickKids will drive transformation in children’s health to eliminate the health challenges and emotional burden posed by the threat of allergic reaction.

·         Exploring ways to turn anaphylaxis into a non-fatal reaction via oral treatment (i.e. pill)
·         Looking at a type of immune cell that can control allergic responses
·         Investigating the ability to predict which children will be able to tolerate allergenic food if it is prepared differently
·         Working to predict, at birth, a predisposition to allergy and seeking to modify or eliminate allergic response through genetic or drug interventions

Clinical Care
·         Desensitization
o    Food challenges are conducted at SickKids to expose children to increasing amounts of the very food they are allergic to, with the goal of desensitizing their immune system
o    For example, it’s been shown that some children who are allergic to milk and eggs can eat them in baked form
·         Delabelling
o    The right diagnosis is extremely important, and we work to ensure children are correctly labelled. Removing the “allergy” label for those who have been misdiagnosed can be transformative for the family.

·         There has been an increased realization and appreciation that allergies do not only affect the child who is diagnosed, but their family, friends, classroom, and community
·         Answers to common questions: Will my child outgrow their allergy? Can I prevent an allergy in my next child? What should my child eat at school lunches or birthday parties?
·         Advice on current allergy literature, including recently released guidelines and recommendations on early intervention and treatment

As a teacher, I see students every day who are struggling with food allergies. I can't even imagine how life-changing it would be if they could be eliminated. Good work, SickKids!

Saturday, May 9

Who Helps You Mom? #theMotherhood

Question: Kate, how do you find the time?
Answer: I have a LOT of help.

I was intrigued when I was contacted by Campbell Canada about their #theMotherhood promotion. I love the idea of honouring the village of people who help us to raise our children - specifically my own daughters. I'd like to think I'm a decent mom, and part of that is outsourcing and embracing all of the love and assistance available to me!

For example...

  • My husband. For some that would go without saying, but from what I hear, in some homes having Daddy's help isn't a given. Too bad my girls' loving father doesn't like to be discussed on the blog because this would be a great opportunity to give him some attention.
Then there are my parents. I could write posts and posts about everything they do to support me as a mom.

  • First, my Dad. He had already retired from teaching when my oldest was born, and he often made the 40 minute drive to come up and hold his first grandchild so I could take a nap or a shower, or meet me at doctor's appointments. I vividly remember him giving me some perspective as I sobbed at the portrait studio because my three-month-old cried through her first official photo shoot. We returned an hour later and settled for some pictures of the little "angel" asleep instead. Nine years later, Dad is still quick to come and help us around the house and offer yard advice and assistance, and has passed on his love of the Montreal Canadiens to another generation.

  • My Mom is not only there for regular advice and inspiration, but also for the practical things - helping organize my class retreat to take some pressure off, putting together my flower pots each busy springtime, going on class trips and volunteering in the girls' classrooms, and taking them for visits and sleepovers when we have other commitments. I truly don't think I could do it without her. 

  • My Grandma: She is a wonderful support, even embracing technology to be able to follow me online and text me compliments...and she thinks I'm always right! My girls adore their Great Grandma (they call her GG...GiGi...GeeGee...we can't figure out which way to spell it) and who else would teach them to knit? (Okay, fine, she even sews my buttons for me!)

  • Our beloved babysitters: I am not ashamed to say that we started leaving our firstborn with a teenage babysitter when she was three months old, but be assured that she was no average teenager. The babysitters we've had for our girls over the years have all been incredible, and our daughters never, ever cried or complained when we left them. I like to joke that we helped put our first sitter through university (of course now she's an amazing teacher, no surprise) because we hired her so often. Getting out without the kids sometimes is one of the best ways to stay refreshed as a mom, and having couple time to strengthen your relationship is a gift to your kids as well (at least that's how I argue it). This wouldn't have been possible without the amazing young women we welcomed into our home. The babysitting category also includes daycare, and we have been incredibly blessed to be able to take advantage of my husband's sister's home daycare. Since I returned to work for the first time, when my daughter was almost a year old, my sister-in-law has been lovingly looking after our most precious assets. (The other day the girls were trying to convince me to give them a sibling, and argued "If you can't take care of it, Aunt Rose will!") Knowing that we could leave our daughters with someone who loved them like her own made it so much easier to devote my days to my students.

  • Teachers: Let's be honest - during the week, they're spending more waking hours with the kids than I am, and their beloved teachers have such a huge impact on their development. Plus, they give my girls some extra TLC, since they're much nicer about handing out band aids and ice than I am! When I value education so strongly, it's a relief to know that they're in excellent hands (and I do have insider information, considering I work with their teachers!) You know the school is doing something right when the girls were looking like this on the first day:

  • As I fear leaving anyone out, I also want to acknowledge my friends (several of whom are also my sisters-in-law) and coworkers who give me parenting advice (or, just as importantly, keep me company when I'm on a break from parenting) and while it may seem like indirect support, I wouldn't be the mother I am without a fantastic cleaning lady and a wonderful massage therapist too!

This Mother's Day, take a minute to reflect on who's in your "Motherhood" and helps you do what you've gotta do.

Disclosure: This post was generously sponsored by Campbell Canada. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Friday, May 8

The Celebrity Moms' Swag Bag: Incredible Giveaway Worth $1000+

{Spoiler alert! Read on - you could be gifted just like a celebrity mom!}

You may think that new moms in Hollywood already have it easier than we do. Nannies, chefs, personal trainers, makeup and hair wonder they make it look so easy! ("Look" being the key word - I'm pretty sure all moms share some of the same pressures, stresses and worries.)

As an extra perk, stars often have products bestowed upon them (more details on that later), and what better occasion than Mother's Day to share the wealth love?

This year, an unbelievable gift basket is being given to 25 new Hollywood moms: Jennifer Love   Hewitt, Hayden Panettiere, Rachel Bilson, Christina Ricci, Gaby Hoffman, Kelly Rowland, Stacy Kiebler, Lake Bell, Eva Mendes, Kate Hudson, Zoe Saldana, Molly Sims, Milla Jovovich, Amanda Peet, Shakira, Carrie Underwood, Sara Gilbert, LivTyler, Alicia Keys,Vanessa Lachey, Blake Lively, Ali Larter, Jessica Biel, Zoey Deschanel and Mila Kunis.

The basket, worth more than eight grand (!) includes products shown below:

I was very curious about how the whole gifting thing works, so I jumped at the chance to fire a few questions at Lash Fary, founder of Distinctive Assets (they've orchestrated  coveted Gift Baskets and Gift Lounges for events such as the GRAMMYs, the Latin GRAMMYs, the Tony Awards, the Kids’ Choice Awards, the People’s Choice Awards, the MTV Movie Awards and the Academy of Country Music Awards). Here are the questions, with Lash's responses.

What is the process for businesses who want to get their products into your swag baskets?

It is a simple and streamlined process. They either contact us or one of our sales associates reaches out to them.  The logistics of participation are fairly straight forward so if they have the budget to participate (it is only $900 so it is incredibly affordable for any size brand) there is truly no down side for them.  We handle all of the organization, assembly and delivery (in most cases directly to talent).  

How did you decide on the celebrity moms to receive this Mother's Day basket? 

Each year, we try to find new-ish or soon-to-be moms . . . mainly because so many of the items we gift are geared towards infants.  There actually aren’t dozens and dozens of new or expecting moms so the selection is pretty straight forward.  We keep tabs on pregnancy and delivery announcements throughout the year and announce our final recipient list in early March (or April at the latest).

Can you share any success stories in terms of stars who have been seen with/talked about products from your swag baskets? Do you usually receive thanks/feedback yourself?

So many of the recipients in the past (Leah Remini, Jenna Elfman, Kourtney Kardashian, Nancy O’Dell, Elisabeth Rohm, Samantha Harris, Fergie)  have sent thank you notes directly to clients … which obviously makes the clients very happy.  The thank you note of 2015 is of course the tweet, and our clients have been the lucky beneficiaries of a bunch of those as well.  For example, last year Jennifer Love Hewitt particularly loved the Bert and Bratt portable sterilizer and tweeted about it the day after our delivery to her.  She gave Twitter love to several other faves as well. Tammin Sursok gave a Twitter shout out to the Artisan Group.  And then there is the homerun when a celeb recipient is later photographed using one of the items they were gifted . . . as was the case with Kourtney Kardashian and a photo that appeared in Star magazine.

What would you say to those who argue that celebs have so much money and aren't in need of these freebies?

My biggest frustration with this argument is that folks confuse need with basic marketing. This is a publicity and celebrity seeding promotion NOT a charitable initiative. Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t “need” $20 million per film … nor did Robert Downey Jr. “need” a billion dollars for the last Avengers movie.  But that’s what celebs receive because their brands warrant it.    

Brands are leveraging the fame of the recipients to publicize their products.  So the trade off is more than fair.  The celebs are, in fact, not receiving the products for free . . . they are purchasing them with the power and cachet their names represent.  And brands take full advantage of that fact.

Ultimately, the root of this question is (1) not understanding basic PR and Marketing and (2) basic jealousy . . . because 9 out of 10 of these types of complaints I receive are accompanied by a request to have the product sent to them instead!  Not even to a women’s shelter or orphanage . . . to THEM!

The power of celebrity is real.  They sell movie tickets . . . they sell magazines . . . they sell products.

Thanks for all of that insight, Lash!

Now guess what? Distinctive Assets is going to provide one lucky This Mom Loves reader with a selection of these amazing gift bag items! (Not all $8000 worth - but it's still a pretty fantastic prize!)

Here's what one lucky winner will receive (a great mixture of fashion, beauty and treats - with some books thrown in because hey, I am a teacher!):

The total value of this prize is $1243.89 USD - my biggest giveaway yet!

To enter, simply leave a comment below letting me know which item you're most excited about, and make sure there's a way for me to contact you. (Contest is open to Canada and US.)

For extra entries, please leave additional, separate comments letting me know that:

Giveaway ends Saturday, May 16th at 11:59 p.m. Eastern.

Now, if any swag gifters ever decide that I make the "celebrity mom" cut (I mean, I appear biweekly on CHEX Daily and I did make my debut appearance on Canada AM) I would adore any of the items above...and please note that my feet are a delicate size 10.

Wednesday, May 6

Make Math Fun!

In my latest post for Oxford Learning, I share some ways that you as a parent can help make Math fun and interesting for your kids.

This was also the topic of discussion last night on CHEX Daily (I'm not sure I convinced Mike Judson). I'm at the 28:18 mark, and you can also find the video here:

This makes it all worth it:

The books I shared on the show were:

Seeing Symmetry by Loreen Leedy
Lemonade For Sale by Stuart J. Murphy
Math For All Seasons by Greg Tang
Just a Second by Steve Jenkins
Me Counting Time by Joan Sweeney
Ready or Not, Here I Come! by Teddy Slater
The M and M's Counting Book by Barbara Barbieri McGrath

If you have Math-related games, websites, apps or books to suggest, I'd love to hear them!

Sunday, May 3

The Age of Adaline: Mini-Review

Early reviews of The Age of Adaline were so positive that it jumped right to the top of my must-see list...and it didn't disappoint.

For several years I've thought of Blake Lively as a gorgeous fashion icon (and of course now an honourary Canadian, since she's married to our own Ryan Reynolds) but since I never watched Gossip Girl, I only knew her acting from her supporting movie roles in The Town and Savages.

This movie gives her a chance to shine, which she certainly does.

My term for the premise of the movie is "beautifully implausible":

"After miraculously remaining 29 years old for almost eight decades, Adaline Bowman has lived a solitary existence, never allowing herself to get close to anyone who might reveal her secret. But a chance encounter with charismatic philanthropist Ellis Jones reignites her passion for life and romance. When a weekend with his parents threatens to uncover the truth, Adaline makes a decision that will change her life forever." (

If you watch Nashville like me, or Game of Thrones like millions of others, you'll recognize Michiel Huisman, who plays Ellis in the movie, and Harrison Ford plays his father, drawing different generations of fangirls. Fanwomen?

I thought the film was sweet and moving, and Blake Lively did a beautiful job as a woman who's been alive for almost a century without ever looking a day over 29 (it must have been odd to pretend to be Ellen Burstyn's mother). The only plot element I had trouble wrapping my mind around was the idea of being alive for a hundred years and being attracted to men decades and decades younger. I mean, even if you look the same age, that still seems a little...perplexing to me. (Perhaps because the first students I taught are now 29, I personally find even one decade younger than me icky. And of course I still look 29, so.) However, Adaline couldn't exactly find love with anyone her biological age, so I really shouldn't be so hard on the poor woman.

By the end of the movie, I even came to the conclusion that I should be grateful for every grey hair I get to experience. That doesn't mean I'm not going to immediately colour them, but I have a better appreciation for the natural process of aging, and the gift of growing old with someone.