Saturday, August 1

Kate's Favourite Things - August 2015

I have a jam-packed edition of Kate's Favourite Things for you this month, because when I'm on holidays I have the time to soak a lot up - especially books! To save time and space, I'll spare you a personal review of each book (I'm linking to Chapters so you can find them), but rest assured that if it's on this list, I recommend it! (I read - and abandoned - a few which didn't make the list, so believe me: I am discerning!)


The Vacationers - Emma Straub (I didn't like the characters at the beginning but ended up enjoying the book)

At the Water's Edge - Sara Gruen (author of Water For Elephants)

The Good Girl - Mary Kubica (a great thriller - see how long it takes you to figure out the ending!)

In the Unlikely Event - Judy Blume (though I wasn't as crazy about it - or her - as some readers are)

We Are Not Ourselves - Matthew Thomas (long, but so worth it)

Where They Found Her - Kimberly McCreight (twisting and turning suspense)

The Hand That Feeds You - A.J. Rich (another fantastic suspense story)


Up Ghost River - Edmund Metatawabin (memoir which includes native residential school horror - not easy to read, but important)

Leave Your Mark: Land Your Dream Job, Kill It In Your Career, Rock Social Media  - Aliza Licht (DKNY PR Girl)

I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time - Laura Vanderkam

A few of points I loved from that one:

  • When looking at life balance, think 168 hours, not 24 (i.e. how does your whole week look, not just one day?)
  • Data shows that people claim to work more hours than they do (honest overestimation or exaggeration?), which does no favour to women eyeing their fields, being given the impression that there's truly not enough time to work and have a family
  • Vanderkam makes a great point about being "strategically seen". With home obligations you may not be able to go to every happy hour or conference, but it's an investment in your career, especially personal relationships, to make yourself available occasionally - even if it requires a babysitter or juggling of other commitments
  • "Whatever you do, make time for people, and the investment will come back to reward you down the line."
  • We live in "a world that views sleep deprivation as a sign of importance". Not me. If you are not ill or responsible for the personal nighttime care of another human being, get your sleep. It's more important than anything else.


Inside Out (in theatres, family - you've probably already seen it)

Minions (in theatres, family - I was surprised how much I enjoyed this. Entertaining and lots of historical references for the adults to pick up on)

Trainwreck (in theatres, DO NOT take the kids)

Woman In Gold (pay per view - this one was very moving)


Fitbit bracelets

While the students who gave me Chapters gift cards at the end of the year were probably envisioning that I would use them for books, I actually picked up some brightly-coloured Fitbit bracelets so I could take off the blah-looking standard bracelet and give my fitness some punch! ($34.95 for set of three, shown above)

Super Genius Reading 1 (Game)

This is the only freebie I'm recommending this month. One of a line of educational card games made by Blue Orange, Super Genius Reading 1 is a learning tool for parents and teachers to use. This one (in a durable little box) focuses on Dolch sight words, and comes with instructions for four different variations of the game, which can be also be adapted for different numbers of players. My girls absolutely LOVED it (I think the fact that I sat down and played it with them for review purposes may have increased their motivation) and my seven year old asks for it often. I will definitely be using it as a fun way for kids in my class to practice their sight words this year, and in fact I wish I had enough for multiple groups to play at the same time. (You can also get other reading games, as well as addition and multiplication - perfect if your child's teacher has suggested they work on any of these skills.)

I hope there was something here to interest you this month! Now I have to get back to my reading and movie-watching!

Disclosure: Super Genius Reading 1 was sent to me for review purposes. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Friday, July 31

Behind-the-Scenes with Alan Carter and Farah Nasser: The New Global News Hour Duo

Soon after Global named Alan Carter and Farah Nasser as the new anchor duo for their Toronto News Hour (replacing Leslie Roberts, who had been solo on the desk), I received an email inviting me to come and visit the show.  My readers know that as a broadcast journalism junkie I couldn't possibly say no to an invitation like that, so in late July I headed behind-the-scenes with busy parents Alan and Farah (Alan's daughter Ava is nine, son Wynn is seven; Farah's son Kian is two and a half and she is expecting a baby girl in October).

I began with a tour of the maze that is the Global office. I had been in the building before behind the scenes with Cheryl Hickey at ET Canada, but didn't get the full tour. All I can say is that I'm glad the publicist didn't leave me alone because I would never have been able to find my way around!

Everyone I spoke to was so accommodating, and I especially loved having the chance to ask all my burning TV journalism questions. Supervising director James Oliphant indulged my what-do-I-need-to-learn-to-be-an-anchor curiosities about the teleprompter and the earpieces the anchors wear. I would definitely have to work on the skill of listening to direction in my ear while acting normal on camera - the dirty look and "Shhh!" that I give my girls when they try to talk to me while I'm on the phone wouldn't really cut it. James even made sure that I left with a souvenir photo of myself at the anchor desk, which you can see at the end of this post.

Chief meteorologist Anthony Farnell was also very welcoming, showing me all of the resources he uses to come up with the forecast - and nope, it's not just a roll of the dice.

Even the set was a bit surprising: Alan and Farah sit in front of a green screen, with backgrounds all put in by hard-working members of the crew.

This is the set. No, really. All green screen, all the time.

Makeup artist Dana gives Farah some finishing touches, with Alan in the background. {Turns out Dana and I were both at the Mission Impossible premiere the night before, but she got a lot closer to the action, as she was brought in to be Tom Cruise's "groomer"!}

Farah records some headlines

I had met Alan earlier in the year when I visited the Global Morning Show, but had never met Farah and they were both a pleasure to spend time with, going about their business (which believe me, is busy-ness) while welcoming me to take it all in and ask any questions I had. While they were in hair and makeup I had a chance to chat with them both. Here are the highlights of our conversation (with part two to come at another date - there was so much great material I couldn't fit it all in one post!)

I’m really curious to know how you got this job, Farah. What was the process?

Farah: Global approached me in February, just to have a chat about it. I was working at CP24 at the time, and I had just found out I was pregnant, so it was a really great career opportunity, but at the same time I wondered ‘Is this the right time in my life?’ I hadn’t even told my family I was pregnant, just my husband and I knew, so I went along with the process and when we started discussing salary and going forward with it I basically said to them, "Look, I have to tell you something: I’m pregnant. I’d still love this job, but don’t think you have to hire me; I want you to want me with my child. I don’t want to be here if you feel you’re forced to hire me, I will not come after you legally or anything, you need to know I come with this child. It’s going to be challenging, but it’s my second and I feel I can do a short mat leave and I can still devote time to the show, but I will obviously need some time off." It’s hard to ask for that when you’re starting a new job! What was so great is, I don’t know if there’s any other place you could actually have this conversation and feel positive about it. It’s such a family-oriented company. They really care about your family, they really care about you as a person as opposed to just you as an employee, so they said "This is a long-term thing, and we really like you, and we want to make it work", which was so great. I couldn’t believe it and I was really happy. Very thankful.

I had the pleasure of meeting ET Canada's Sangita Patel when she dropped by to 
tape an entertainment segment with Farah.

What are your plans in terms of maternity leave?

Farah: The baby is due at the end of October, and I’m definitely taking November and December off, and I’ll come back in the new year. The whole point of this job, and the reason I took it, is that it’s not just sitting at a desk being an anchor. I want to go out in the field, but when I first come back from mat leave I won’t be doing that, I’ll just be focused on the show until I can get my act together, so to speak. That’s the plan right now, but you know how it is. Anything can happen.

I’m hearing great feedback about your chemistry, both online and from my mother. How do you account for that? Is it the kind of thing you just can’t control, or have you developed it?

Alan: I think sometimes it’s a combination of hard work and luck - like any relationship, really. Farah and I are lucky that we’ve known each other in this business, in this city, since the beginning of her career. I met her when she first started, and like everybody who meets her I was blown away by her, so we’ve had a past before this job together. We just find we have such a great time being able to work on this show and put our prints on it. It’s been an enormous amount of fun – probably more fun that it should be to call it work! Last week was our first – it was last week, right? It feels like it’s been months but it’s been a week and a half – and it’s been really good. We just go out there and talk like normal people without thinking ‘Oh, we’re on TV!'

Farah: I think it’s also because we were both reporters in the field, we haven’t only been anchors, and I really respect Alan in terms of his journalism, the stories he’s covered, and he’s won so many awards and things like that. It’s a mutual respect and it’s also that we’re just people. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We’re both parents, we talk about our kids all the time, it seems easy. It’s not like the Anchorman movie!

The Global News Hour Toronto team. And me.

You’ve both been in this business a long time. Have there been any mentors or role models who have helped or shaped you?

Alan: Yes, many of them still work in this business. It’s a small business, across the country, and I started in Vancouver and worked with people who are {lowers voice} at another network now who are senior reporters and taught me how to write a story and I’ve had great mentors along the way. I had someone say to me about five or seven years into my career being on-air, “The second I stopped applying for the job every day is when I got good,” and that’s really been true for me. It’s like any kind of job, you feel like ‘I’m going to be found out, I’m a fraud’, and it’s that self-doubt we all carry with us, but when I was able to put it away and realize ‘I know how to do this, I can do this’, that’s when I got better at it. That’s when I was able to be me. This is a very odd thing to do for a living. When you see the studio, it’s the two of us sitting at a desk in a giant green room and we’re essentially talking to boxes. To robots. Everything about the business is designed to be unnatural, and your job is to be natural in the midst of all of that, the chaos that’s going on. That’s what my mentors have really taught me over the years, that you have to be yourself. It sounds trite and simple, but after years in the business you realize that it’s one of the hardest things in the world as everything is designed to make me not be myself, so to go out there and do it is a challenge.

{Farah later asked me if teaching was the same, always feeling like you're 'auditioning' for your job. My answer could fill another blog post, but I thought it was kind of her to inquire.}

Farah: In terms of mentorship, I’ve seen a lot of strong females in leadership positions in this industry which has been amazing because they have these long days, and they love their careers almost as much as they love their families. These are women who have said, "It’s okay that you weren’t crazy about being on mat leave and that you missed your work," because you have these feelings and you think ‘Is this right?’ You try to balance it all in your head and you wonder if your feelings are okay, and I’ve had a lot of people who’ve really helped me along the way in that sense. Like Alan, I really truly love my job, and I love being a mom. You can love both. It’s the whole idea of having it all, and being able to good at a million different things. That’s been influential for me. 

Thanks to Global for indulging a dreamer. 
Farah, where were you with your round-brushes-and-hairdryer trick when I needed you?

I've heard that you’re into yoga, Farah?

Farah: Yes, I’ve done a lot of yoga. In this pregnancy I haven’t done it as much as I want, but it really helps centre me, and even with my health and this autoimmune illness I have {more on this in Part 2, coming soon}, it helps circulation and blood flow and things like that, so it’s really been great for me.

What else do you like to do in your spare time – when you have any?

Farah: We like to do farmers’ markets, explore the city, go to the island in the summer. I really love Toronto, we try to attend any festivals going on. It’s just been so fun doing that stuff with my son because you get to see things through his eyes and it’s so cool to see what he likes. We took him to Taste of Toronto, the food festival, and he tries everything so it’s a lot of fun. In terms of sports I like swimming, in the winter we go skiing a lot. We’re foodies, that’s what we really like. We like to go out for dinner, go to street vendors or holes in the wall.

Now is that because you don’t cook, or don’t like to?

Farah: Oh, good question! My mom and my mother-in-law are both ridiculously amazing cooks. They cook Indian food so well, and I just have never been able to get to their level. I definitely cook, but I don’t have a superhuge interest in it, it’s just something I do for my family, but I guess it is a little bit about getting out of cooking.

Alan, I know from my sneak peek at the new Anchors In Cars video that you’re into longboarding. What else do you like to do?

Alan: I’m really avid about sports. I’m a mountain biker, snowboarder, general risk-your-life kind of guy. That’s my free time, and all other time is for my kids. {Alan shares custody of his children.}

Are you getting them into some of those outdoor activities as well?

Alan: They’re both skiers. My daughter, who is nine, has been asking to snowboard since I’m a snowboarder, so I said this fall she can try it out if she wants, and decide if she wants to do that or continue skiing, but she’s a daredevil. She’s got a longboard too, she longboards with me and my son has a scooter. We do that, or we go out and play basketball. Every time we’re together we try to do some sporty thing. 


Thanks so much to Alan and Farah for giving me a peek at their exciting new roles. You can catch Alan Carter and Farah Nasser on Global News Hour Toronto weekdays from 5:30 - 6:30 pm, and click on their names to find them on Twitter. Stay tuned, as I'll be offering Part 2 of my in-depth chat with Alan and Farah soon, where Farah gets personal about the child she lost and the autoimmune illness that she was hit with in her 20s, and the anchors discuss parenting, social media negativity, and if they think women on television are judged more harshly than men.

P.S. Associate publicist Samantha Simic did a fantastic job of touring me around, filling me in on the workings of the show, and getting answers to all of my questions. {She also shared a few "off the record" tidbits about celebrities she's worked with.} Publicity was really done right, and since the behind-the-scenes folk aren't always acknowledged, I wanted to do so here. 

Tuesday, July 28

Tom Cruise at the Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation Premiere in Toronto

Last night I was excited to attend the premiere of Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (the fifth MI installment) at the Scotiabank Cineplex Theatre in Toronto.

Even better: Tom Cruise and director Chris McQuarrie were there, and did Q & A after the movie! (Yes, I know there are Cruise naysayers out there, but Scientology isn't contagious and doesn't seem to affect his ability to make great movies. I thought it was pretty cool to be in the same - very large - room with him.)

As for the film itself, I'm not an action fan, per se, but it was a great movie, with enough humour to make it more than just a car chase/motorcycle chase/underwater-danger picture, and the international locales added interest for me, too.

Thanks to my wonderful stalker long lens camera, I got a few good shots of Tom, Chris and ET Canada's Rick Campanelli, who did a great job moderating the Q & A.

Rick gets ready

Tom arrives on stage

Tom and MI director Chris McQuarrie

The overall takeaway from the Q & A (which was streamed to several other Canadian Scotiabank Cineplex locations) was that Tom is a workaholic, does his own stunts, and starts thinking about the next project when the current one has only begun. They kept the focus firmly on this film (when asked their favourite MI villain, Tom and Chris agreed it's the one from Rogue Nation). Tom did share a few stories, one being that the first time he broke his leg was when he was a child living in Ottawa for a short period of time. Of course he was already attempting stunts, and was flipping off the roof into a snowbank. One flip wasn't enough, so he pushed himself to flip twice...with painful results.

Souvenir poster and lanyards

If you're an action fan - or a fan of any of the cast members (shown below; I particularly like Jeremy Renner) - you should definitely see the movie. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is in theatres Friday, July 31st.

Monday, July 27

Scott McGillivray Launches Digital Series "Good To Grow" on YouTube

Scott McGillivray, real estate and renovation expert and the host of the top-rated HGTV show, Income Property, has launched his first digital series, "Good to Grow," on YouTube. "Good to Grow"​is a 1​6​ episode series that ​follows​ McGillivray as he and his family prepare​, plant, and harvest their fourth-annual organic vegetable garden. McGillivray and his wife Sabrina ​share their passion for gardening as ​they try to make healthy food and healthy eating exciting to their young daughters, Layla (1) and Myah (3)​.

Each episode follows the growth of the family's seasonal garden​, reveals Scott’s tips and tricks for the perfect crop​, and offers some delicious treats from each harvest. New episodes premiere on Wednesdays (the first 5 episodes are already available), with a corresponding food prep episode released the next day (each Thursday) right through the first week of October.

I'm also excited to announce that I'm going to be chatting with Scott soon for Parents Canada magazine, so stay tuned for that! {Update - July 31 - I just got off the phone with Scott, and we had a great conversation about the new series, parenting, and what his wife thinks of all his "Most Beautiful" titles! Watch for that soon on!}

"Good to Grow" can be viewed on Scott's YouTube Page at

Saturday, July 25

Help Me Out, Win a $25 Tim Hortons Gift Card!

Hello, lovely reader! Yes, I'm talking to you!

I'm working on an exciting new project (more details to come) and I need some reader input - in fact, as much as possible - from Canadian parents of school-aged children.

If you fit the bill and you would be so kind as to answer the questions below about school lunches and snacks, you will be entered to win a $25 Tim Hortons gift card. I'll make the draw on Sunday, August 9th 2015 at 11:59 pm EST (though you're still welcome to respond to the survey after that date).

You do NOT need to answer every question, so if you want to leave something blank, feel free.

If you wish to be entered into the draw, you'll need to leave your email address at the end of the survey. While your responses to the questions MAY be printed in the future, they will be used anonymously (I will never connect them to your email address, if provided).

Thank you so much in advance for your time. I can't wait to tell you more about what I'm working on!

Monday, July 20

My Stay-Slim Secrets! (Don't judge a post by its title)

Come on, admit it. You're not interested in my fun family travel stories. You haven't visited for any of my educational expertise. My celebrity interviews? Meh. I can appear on national television and you don't bother to click. But: WEIGHT LOSS! Now you're here.

I know one actress who laments the fact that no matter what project she's working on or what charity she's supporting, every time she's interviewed there's always a question about how she lost the weight (years ago). The worst part is, the answer isn't buried within the story, but is always the headline.

A current campaign is calling us to fight back against "dietainment", but is it the media we're battling? Do they have it all wrong? Publications and programs cater to their audience (and the spending power of said audience). Articles about diets and weight loss sell, because someone is buying them. It's not me (I swear), not for that reason anyway, because other than post-pregnancy, weight loss has never been my goal. However, promise me secrets to clear, youthful skin, blinding white teeth or minimized varicose veins and I'll pick up your magazine or tune into your network. We all have our "thing", and for millions of women it's weight.

I almost feel like I'm not allowed to weigh in (pun intended) on this issue, because someone could easily say I don't understand (I see some women - and men - work so hard to maintain a healthy weight, and it doesn't seem fair that it is easier for some than others), but I do know that I am allowed to look out for my girls, who are bombarded with these messages no matter how hard I try to protect them.

I never put down my appearance in front of my daughters or mention anything negative about my weight. Nor do I bring up the physical insecurities that truly do nag at me - you know, the grey hairs that pop up, the age spot that has appeared overnight on my right cheekbone. I keep my inner voice firmly contained.

As my readers already know, I'm a talk-show junkie, and the girls enjoy watching some of the segments with me (fashion for my older daughter, cooking for my younger) and sometimes they're playing or hanging out within earshot of other types of TV conversations. Frankly, I care less if they overhear comments about sex than I do weight, which means I'm frantically pushing the "mute" button quite a bit, though it's impossible to catch everything.

Now, since I lured you in with a misleading headline, I feel the need to share something helpful. But honestly, I think the fact that I am thin is due more to genetic luck than anything else. I must have a pretty brisk metabolism, which could easily give out on me at any time. Therefore, I don't have any "stay-slim secrets" to share with you, despite the experimental title of this blog post.

But since you're here (and thanks for visiting!) I do have some health habits that I am proud to share and model for my girls:

1. I insist on eight hours of sleep a night.

2. I drink mainly water (fine, with a few Diet Cokes thrown in).

3. I don't smoke or do drugs, and never have. (I had one drag of a friend's cigarette when I was about 19. One was more than enough.)

4. I walk on the treadmill at least six days a week, for 30 minutes. (I have a treadmill desk, and the machine is pointed towards our television, so being productive and entertained provides motivation.)

5. I wear sunscreen.

6. I eat regular meals and snacks.*

*I'm a fan of grazing, but I certainly can't promote my diet, since (full disclosure, right?) it's high-carb, low-fruit-and-veg, lots of fast food/restaurants, and I eat what I want, when I want - in reasonable quantities. I've never been one to eat a bag of cookies or full carton of ice cream, but not a day has gone by in my adult life (barring illness) when I haven't had chocolate.

Is there anything here that can help you stay or get slimmer? Maybe, maybe not. Does it matter? We all want to look our best, and to stay strong and healthy, and there's nothing wrong with the reasonable pursuit of these goals. What is wrong is telling women - and children - that there is one ideal when it comes to beauty, and you either make the cut or you don't.

I don't mind my girls seeing headlines (pulled from some of my current Next Issue selections) like:

"Fitness Trackers"
"Fresh Healthy Meals"
"Your 15-min get-fit plan"

However, I think the messages sent by some of the following headlines require a bit of conversation (because I swear, there are little, healthy growing girls out there who think that THEY should be striving to reach these goals):

"Lose Weight Faster" 
"Lose Belly Fat Forever"

I experienced great joy last year when my then-5-year-old stepped on the scale and announced "I want to see what size my feet are!" I'm not worried about sex ed; this is the innocence I am desperate to cling on to.

Friday, July 17

Fun and Easy Summer Learning Ideas

In my latest post for Oxford Learning, I'm sharing some easy tips for holiday brain boosting - no textbooks or worksheets required!

The list includes reading (with a link to popular family read-alouds), writing, math and questioning.

Just because I'm a teacher, that doesn't mean my kids are overworked on holidays. I'm an admitted screen-lover myself, so the rules at my house aren't very strict, but the girls are are allowed to watch TV when they wake up, and again before bed, with nothing in between. They do get some iPad/iPod time throughout the day, though when they're using their devices for music I don't think it "counts" the same.

They spend the rest of the time swimming or hanging out in the yard, playing with their toys, reading (one more enthusiastically than the other), working at their little cold drinks booth or practicing music (singing/playing instruments). I'm not big on overstructuring my their time (weekly soccer, a set of swimming lessons and one week of drama camp is enough for us) or "entertaining" them, as I think it's good for kids to be independent and figure out what to do on their own when they're bored, but we do a lot of errands and chores together, and I can always find time for stories and cuddles.

Plus, there's one family trip planned for later this summer - I'll definitely keep you posted about that!

Wednesday, July 15

Help Your Kids "Measure" Up This Summer

...and by "measure" up, I mean help reinforce measurement skills this summer. It's so easy, and the kids won't even know they're doing math!

In my latest CHEX Daily segment (just days before my first anniversary as a guest on the show) I chat with hosts Teresa Kaszuba and Mike Judson about all of the ways we use measurement in our daily lives...all you need to do is bring the kids in on the conversation!

I'm at the 26:40 mark, and you can also find the link here:

A few additional points:

  • The biggest issue kids have reading non-digital thermometers is the scale. If the mercury goes one notch above the 20, they assume it's 21...even though the notches may be going up by 2s or even 5s. Remind them to figure out the scale before coming up with the temperature.
  • Many parents ask if it's okay for kids to start with digital watches and clocks. My personal/professional answer is...absolutely. It gives them a great introduction to what times "look" like, they see the pattern of minutes starting over after 59 and hours starting over after 12, they start to "read" times properly, and get a sense for what activities happen at what point in the day. (On a parenting note, digital clocks have earned me many extra zzzzzs. My girls were very young when I set them up and taught them that they could not leave their rooms in the morning until the time started with a "7"!) That said, it's still essential that they learn analog clock skills when the time is right.
  • Finally: when it comes to measurement, estimating is a very important skill that we work on a lot at school, and kids need to realize that it's OKAY if their estimates are incorrect...even by a long shot. They don't need to erase or backtrack on answers to prove themselves smart. Good mathematicians learn from their errors and use that information to do better next time. Never mind mathematicians, that principle applies to people in general.

Now for some fashion fun (note that the beautiful apple necklace and gold chain were given to me by a student at the end of the year):

If you can't see the photo, click on the Instagram caption to bring it up.