Monday, September 29

The Happiness Project: September (Pursue a Passion - Guess What Mine Is?)

I've been following along with Gretchen Rubin's "The Happiness Project" month-by-month since January (though I read it at least twice before that). Her September goal: "Pursue a Passion".

Education is my first love. I loved being a student, and absolutely love being a teacher. Only two things I can strongly say I dislike about my job: winter yard duty and report cards (which you would think would come more easily to someone who writes, but I find them physically painful).

Because teaching is my hands-down first work priority. I've actually had to turn down amazing opportunities to pursue my other passions...but we all have hobbies, right? Over the past four years, I have been actively engaged in my passion for writing: both on my blog, and freelance writing for magazines. Thanks to this, I've had so many fun experiences, made incredible connections, and grown as a writer, which I believe has very much had an impact on my teaching as well, since writing is such a huge part of the curriculum.

I have another passion too, and it won't come as a surprise for many of you: television, and specifically news/entertainment/talk shows. I am addicted to watching them (and have been since my teens). To me, the hosts are just as interesting as the celebrities. I envy how they get to ask questions of both famous people and everyday experts/newsmakers, while at the same time having a media presence themselves.

I've actually had the chance to go behind-the-scenes at many of my favourite shows:




(See, don't I look right at home co-hosting with Marci Ien? Sure, we faked this shot, but still!)

This past August I took my love of TV one step further, joining the CHEX Daily team as a regular guest covering educational topics for parents.

Here's what I've chatted about so far:


While I have been asked before to make TV appearances (as a spokesperson for a company, or discussing non-education-related topics), I just couldn't prioritize that within a full-time teaching schedule. With the CHEX Daily spots, I'm thrilled to be able to head to the studio after work, plus I get to discuss my first love.

As Gretchen notes, "make time for it" is an important part of the goal to pursue one's passion, and it's much easier to do that when it dovetails with my day job, as well as what I'm living as a parent. As much as I enjoy researching and writing articles that are outside of this scope, I have a new grade this year and I can already see that I need to make calculated choices about my time.

Which brings me to the "How do you do it all?" question people often ask. (They seem to ask my mother as much as they do me, for some reason.) Well, I can start by saying that I am a very organized, efficient person, which helps in terms of getting things done. But really, I am writing and planning segments when you are knitting, doing Sudoku (do people still do Sudoku?), lurking on Facebook, cooking gourmet meals (or just cooking at all) or working out at the gym (I get exercise too - treadmill desk!) I would like to say that my passions never infringe on my sleep (which I mean in a really clean way), since I rarely stay up late or wake up early for them, but it's not entirely true as I have been awake in the night many times rehashing story edits or rehearsing what I want to say on TV!

Plus, let's be honest here: I couldn't get a thing done without the amazing support system I have. Knowing that my family, friends, and colleagues are all in my corner means a world of difference. (By the time I got to the car after my first live CHEX Daily appearance, I already had a dozen congratulatory texts/emails in my inbox, which meant more than those people may ever know. Unless they're reading right now, of course. Which, come to think of it, they should be, if they really care about me!)

My parents have always been huge cheerleaders for me (and willing to drive 40 minutes to pick up my children and take them for the day when they get sick at school, which we all know is priceless). As for my husband...well, I guess if he doesn't want me to talk about him on the blog, he won't be getting all of the thanks and praise he deserves here!

So, there's where I am with my September goal! Find the time to pursue your passion. It's so worth it.


Wednesday, September 24

Teacher Tips For Homework

In my latest installment of "Teacher, Teacher!" for CHEX Daily, I chatted with hosts Teresa Kaszuba (who came up with the new name for my segments) and Mike Judson about the huge topic of homework.

There are many different theories out there now about homework (pro and con), from educational experts, teachers and parents, but the reality is that many kids are coming home with work to do in the evenings, and it can be a struggle for parents. How much should you help? Is it okay if they are "breaking the rules" by doing their homework at different times each day, listening to music, or in the busy kitchen?

I could have taken up their whole hour talking about this, so I feel like I barely scratched the surface, but here's what I had to say:

(I'm at the 32:05 mark if it doesn't cue where I've set it, and if you can't see the embedded video, you can find it at http://youtu.be/nXmZc0aAh54?t=32m5s)




I'm not sure if I emphasized enough (since I don't watch myself after the fact) how parents should do what works best for their family. Sure, kids thrive on routine and it would be wonderful if they could do their homework at the exact same time each night, but I see in my own class that some kids are going home on the bus twice a week but to daycare the other three days, most are involved in extracurriculars at least once a week, and some are back and forth between mom's and dad's...so don't beat yourself up over it. If the kids are getting the homework done, to the best of their ability, the logistics don't really matter. (My older daughter prefers to work kneeling at the coffee table...and sometimes the TV is even on!)

Some kids certainly struggle with focus, and for them it's important to remove distractions (siblings, screens, etc.) as necessary.

On a personal/professional homework note, I am trying to get away from it in my classroom as much as possible.

I am teaching Grade 2/3 this year, and I decided not to assign regular nightly/weekly work (especially because it's primary - I'm not sure I would do the same in junior/intermediate). The only tasks that go home are the ones that students should have completed during class time, plus Math test review for the Grade 3's (I give them written tests for each unit, since they need to be prepared for EQAO) and occasional activities that require family input (e.g. when they need to ask their parents about the day they were born).

I send home levelled books for students to read, as I know not all homes have just-right books available for the children, but without any log or tracking required, and just ask parents to return the books when their child is ready for new ones.





My hope is that kids are spending their evenings being active, pursuing other hobbies (e.g. in the arts) and having leisure time, which hopefully includes lots of reading for pleasure. Their teacher is attempting to do the same thing with her evenings as well!

But it may surprise parents to learn that for every one who feels their child gets too much homework, there is a parent in that same class asking for more (no, really!) Some believe the more practice the better, but then others worry about their families having balance. It's a tough call, and the research isn't conclusive enough to make any sweeping generalizations...so I'm using my professional judgment and doing what I think is best right now, with the information I have.

To wrap-up with a story:

As you may (or hopefully may not) be able to tell, I was pretty sick when I shot this segment. That day at school, I mentioned to my class that I hoped I didn't lose my voice, as I was supposed to be on the news that night.

One special little guy asked, "On the 6:00 or 11:00 news?"

"Actually, it's a show that's on right before the 6:00 news," I replied.

"Oh, you mean The New CHEX Daily?"

I thought that was pretty cute, from an 8 year old. See, if he had too much homework, he wouldn't be able to watch such quality television!


Monday, September 22

What You Might Have Missed This Summer: Volume II

I'm back with another repeat episode!

Here's what you might have missed in August, if you were (for some crazy reason) not keeping up faithfully with This Mom Loves. As you can see, it was a busy month! Click on the titles to go to the posts.






















Now you're all caught up! Hope your summer was as wonderful as mine, and that your September is even better!


Saturday, September 20

Be a Donor: A Special Girl Tells Us Why

Today I'm sharing a very special guest post from 12 year old Sarah Edge. I was contacted by her mom, who not only is a This Mom Loves supporter, but was also my high school French teacher. (Knowing that I went on to complete my university degree in French and began my career teaching the subject, you'll understand that she had an important influence on me!)

I am very happy to be able to share Sarah's message with you here today, and I'll let her take it from here.

***************


I am 12 years old now. I love riding horses and have won quite a few ribbons.
But I almost died when I was very little. I started out okay, then went into heart failure when I was 6 weeks old. I had to have a heart transplant when I was 18 months old, after living at the Hospital for Sick Children for 3 1/2 months.


(That's also Sarah, at age 5, on the poster!)

I am doing really well now. I have been to the Canadian Transplant games twice. It was awesome to make so many friends there, and see so many kids and grownups that have been saved by an organ transplant. I love to swim and kayak. But horseback riding is my favorite thing of all. It's so much fun and also keeps me healthy. I have to take good care of this precious heart, because I am so lucky to have it.

I also needed 66 units of blood when I was sick, so I really want to convince more people to donate blood and to register to be an organ donor.

ANYONE WHO WOULD ACCEPT AN ORGAN FOR HIM OR HERSELF OR A LOVED ONE SHOULD REGISTER.





When I first realized that some perfectly healthy organs don't get used, I was shocked. I just couldn't imagine putting something in the ground that could save 8 lives! After all, we're supposed to recycle! :P
Nobody knows when somebody we love might need an organ transplant. I sure hope that if they do, that all of the people who pass away that could give an organ will decide to donate. I asked my mom what it was like to be hoping somebody else's child died so that I could live, but she explained that it's not like that at all. Bad things happen all of the time, she just hoped and prayed that no organ would be wasted, and if one was available, they would decide to help me live.



So please take the time to register. Just grab your health card and you can do it right here! If you think you've already registered, you can check here to be sure. Please talk to your family too.
********
Thanks so much for sharing your message, Sarah! 
Ontario residents can visit Sarah's Be a Donor page here to register, or confirm that you are already registered: https://beadonor.ca/sarah-edge-1


Wednesday, September 17

Tips For Getting Involved In Your Child's School

I was back on CHEX Daily last night chatting about ways parents can get involved in their children's schools. You can catch the 3 minute clip here:

(I'm at the 30:50 mark if it doesn't cue where I've set it, and if you don't see the embedded video here, you can go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NzgqFJ4-GF8&index=1&list=PL2pFQuOf-1_S60qk2ch4uaPjNK6shWEck&t=1849s)





There are tons of opportunities to get involved at school. Many take place during the workday of course, which isn't an option for a lot of parents, but if you're able, you can go on field trips, help in the classroom with reading, science workshops or arts and crafts, work in the library, prepare hot lunch, or even be one of those lice-checkers! (There's a waiting list for those positions. Just kidding.)

Parents who work or are at home with little ones during the day have options as well, as lots of planning, shopping, ordering, calling, sewing, writing, decorating, cleaning-up and number-crunching for school activities can be done outside of the regular school/work day. There's definitely something for every interest and talent, and roles can be ongoing or just a one-time thing.

Your child's teacher is the best contact if you want to be involved directly with his or her class, but as your kids get older there may be less of a need - and they may be less inclined to want you so close!

You can also check in with the school secretary, who will definitely have her finger on the pulse of what opportunities there may be for parent volunteering, and consider attending a School Council meeting. Even if you don't want to commit to a position on the Council, you can learn a lot about what's happening with your school, especially in terms of parental involvement, by being present at the meetings.

Even if you're able to make appearances at sporting events, Fun Fairs, concerts and recitals (or send a grandparent in proxy) it sends an important message to your kids about how much you value what goes on at their school.

****

A note about my TV wardrobe:

When I arrived last night, host Teresa Kaszuba complimented my outfit and jokingly asked if I was really a teacher, because I didn't look like one (I quipped back that I just play one on TV. Hey, thought that was a pretty good one!)

I have to admit I actually come home and change before I head into the Peterborough station. While it is very rare for me to wear heels in my primary classroom, and we are encouraged to have our shoulders covered in the workplace, on CHEX I am aiming for a teacher-slash-stylish-TV-personality look...so I amp it up a bit before I go!



Saturday, September 13

Perfect Parties Theme Nine: The Amazing Race Party

My friend Krista has done it again! This time she organized a super fun "Amazing Race" themed party for her daughter's birthday. If you're not a fan of the show, the details may be a bit confusing...but if your family does enjoy watching, it might be a great party theme to consider!

Colour Scheme: Red and yellow with black and white as accent colours (Amazing Race colours)

Decorations:  "Name's Amazing Race" signs and red and yellow balloons were all over the outside and inside of the house

Cake: Vanilla cupcakes with red sugar sprinkled on top in red liners and Amazing Race Flags as decorations








Loot Bags: Once the girls were in teams (they selected a random piece of coloured paper out of a bag and on the count of 3 they held out their hands and opened the paper to reveal which team they would be on) they received the matching coloured bag (to collect all of their clues), an Amazing Race water bottle, a bag of cheesies (snacks) and matching coloured sweatbands and bandana (to be worn during the race). All items were purchased at the dollar store, other than the water - and Krista added the labels herself. 




The second part of loot bags was matching blankets and glow sticks:




As teams arrived at the Pit Stop (made out of an old bath mat and coloured duct tape) they were allowed to select which matching blankets they wanted (which Krista thought was appropriate since the party was also a sleepover). It became a prize for finishing the race, and part of their loot bags. (Blankets purchased at Giant Tiger for $10 and glow sticks at Dollar Store.) The first place team received a dollar store trophy too!

A peek at the Pit Stop:





Route Info and Envelopes:  Krista would like to thank Chica and Jo's website for offering editable clues (details about their Amazing Race party available there as well).  She found a couple of clue ideas on the Internet and also made up a few of her own.

I have saved all of Krista's clues to Google Drive (three separate documents) which you can access here (feel free to use them!):

Amazing Race 3

As I read over her challenges, I was thinking that not only are they fun for kids, but many grownups would enjoy participating in an Amazing Race party too! Many of the same clues could be used, or they could be adapted to be as "adult" as you want!








First Leg:         “Hold Onto Your Spoon”
Second Leg:    “X Marks The Spot”
Third Leg:        DETOUR  “Squash It” or  “Washer It” 
Fourth Leg:      ROAD BLOCK “Poem Madness"
Fifth Leg:         FAST FORWARD “Oreo Kidding Me?"
Sixth Leg:        DETOUR “Lucky Doubles” or “Lucky Charms” 
Seventh Leg:   SPEED BUMP (means go back and do the other detour that you didn’t choose and do it)
Eighth Leg:      ROAD BLOCK “TWEEZE ME CRAZY” 
Ninth Leg:       “You Better Do It Write"
Tenth Leg:       FAST FORWARD “Don’t Burst My Bubble”
Eleventh Leg:  “Don’t Be a Buckethead” 
Twelfth Leg:     “It’s Time to Build A Tower”
Final Leg:         FIND THE HIDDEN TRAVELOCITY GNOME! 

Gnome was purchased at Green Earth:




Krista says that the order of the clues doesn't matter, so feel free to switch it up. You need a copy of the clues for each team you have playing, and some supervisors (she enlisted grandparents) working at each station.

Teams were not allowed to leave their teammates behind and everyone was encouraged to be positive and a good sport to other teams. The girls had so much fun running the race and it just so happened that the birthday girl and her teammate ended up the winners!

Thanks again for sharing your (ahem) "amazing" ideas with us, Krista!

If you've missed any past party themes, they're all gathered together in a Perfect Party Roundup right here.



Monday, September 8

What You Might Have Missed This Summer: Volume I (Celebs, Decorating and More!)

So, you know how TV is full of reruns all summer? I'm switching that up a little bit and sharing some recaps with you in September...as we're all getting used to being back-to-school, and I'm teaching a new grade, too!

Since you may have been travelling or just staying offline in the summer, you might have missed some of the action that happened here on the blog (probably the most exciting summer ever on This Mom Loves).

The July highlights:



















Now you're all caught up on July! Hope your back-to-school is off to a great start!


Tuesday, September 2

Traci Melchor: Behind the Scenes at THE SOCIAL

My first meeting with Traci Melchor, eTalk reporter and co-host of THE SOCIAL, was very brief...for a good reason. As I ran into her in the wardrobe room on my behind-the-scenes visit to THE SOCIAL, she was busy selecting her outfit for a special occasion that day: an interview with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

We chatted briefly - she complimented my outfit, told me how excited she was to be interviewing her "future husband" (she makes no secret of her crush on The Rock) and promised that we could talk again later.

As the day filled up, we decided that a future phone chat was the best bet for our interview, and we finally coordinated our schedules last week for a great conversation.





On THE SOCIAL, Traci comes across as a bit of a comedic princess, openly joking about how she likes her lighting just so and her face on-camera as much as possible, while throwing out zany one-liners and non-sequiturs (she often has co-hosts Lainey Lui and Melissa Grelo giggling like schoolgirls on the other side of the table after one of her remarks).

While chatting one-on-one with this single mom (twins Phoebe and Phoenix are nine years old), I got to see a different side of Traci, and I have to admit I was a bit surprised by the depth and wisdom in her responses. There's something here for every mom to learn from. Enjoy!

You recently went through a battle with cancer (a rare form called DFSP, dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans; more details here). How much information did you share with your kids, and how did you decide what to tell them?

I didn't share anything with them right off the top. Because my daughter discovered the spot, which led to my whole diagnosis, I didn't want to scare them. I knew I was going to be on bed rest and incapacitated for three weeks and they would have to see that, so I felt that that, in addition to knowing I had cancer, would be too much for them.  I also realized that I was going to have to deal with my own battle and figure that out first, but when I was over the hump and able to walk a bit more and they could see that I was on the mend and on the other side of it, that's when I told them. We had the conversation during my recovery.




Lainey Lui, Melissa Grelo, Cynthia Loyst, Traci Melchor


A question from a reader: "You're bubbly and friendly and a pleasure to watch on TV. Staying 'on' must take a lot of energy, especially as a single mom at home. How do you recharge your batteries and what do you do for 'me time'?"

You know I love my job, and even when I'm not at work I'm on my iPad, I'm doing research, reading newspapers and books and things like that, so that all feeds in to my job, but as my recovery continues I will start adding an exercise program into my life when I can figure out the time.

I really started delegating things in my life, and I know that's not an option for everybody but instead of doing my laundry every weekend I go to Wash-and-Fold, and I just drop it off and then pick it up on Sunday so I can have more time with my children. 

I also have a personal organizer come into my house a few times a month because for me parenting is challenging and it's great but no one ever told me about the amount of paperwork that comes with parenting. It can be very overwhelming with permission forms and extracurricular activities and "oh, it's green day today!". Keeping track of all of that is overwhelming so I'm not opposed to delegating anymore. I also let some things slide, and I have to get over it. 

I've even simplified my home. I only have white towels and white sheets so I don't have to worry about things matching all the time. If it's a white fitted and a white flat it's going on my bed. I don't get caught up in things like that. I've also even edited my kitchen. Now all my dishes are white, shatterproof Corelle. If people come over I can put out some fancy napkins with them. Streamlining is still a work in progress, but I find you don't need all that 'stuff' and it can bind you down because you have to clean it and figure out a place to keep it. Simplifying really helps.



Traci's Long Hair Look
(Photo courtesy CTV)


What would you say is the hardest thing about co-parenting with an ex? Do you have any tips for parents struggling with that?

I went to therapy with my ex after we broke up. He was looking for reconciliation and I was just looking to be able to speak to him in a civil manner. I find reading books on being divorced is helpful. I finally got it - I was on the jury for the TIFF Kids' Film Festival, and they had a couple of short films about children of divorce and there was one little moment that caught me. A lot of parents don't like to send the children's best clothes or best shoes to the ex's place, because they're afraid it's not going to come back, or not come back in the same condition, and during the course of the last year I realized that only hurts the child. When a child is seeing the other parent they want to feel confident and comfortable, it could be a new family situation, stepmom or stepdad and it's just stuff. Kids grow so fast and they're going to outgrow something and never get a chance to wear it half the time because we're not sending it between households. I think as parents we really have to let go of that stuff, if the child has a favourite pair of running shoes or whatever. 

We also can't send messages to the other parent through the children. No money messages. You really have to get on the same page. It's hard because it took my ex a while to come around to the idea that I'm not trying to fight, I'm just trying to coparent. I think there were hurt feelings on his part, but that's not saying I was a saint or a martyr in the situation because I'm sure if you talked to him, I brought my own issues to it too!

My kids are gone to LA right now, they're staying with their dad for the month of August and it's the longest they've been away from me, but I made an effort to pack each of them a proper suitcase, very organized with their favourite stuff, because I want them to feel confident and loved and secure with their dad, not just with me. We have to be the adults in those situations and figure it out for our kids, because they're the ones that get hurt. I'm still a work in progress - I was combing Phoebe's hair a while ago, and we were having this nice bonding moment facing the bathroom mirror and she was talking about something and I must have rolled my eyes because she said "Why is it that whenever I talk about Daddy you roll your eyes?", so that's something I have to work on. I keep thinking I'm doing all these great things but she's still getting those messages from me. Work in progress!

What's the funniest thing that's happened on the set of THE SOCIAL?

Well, just today we were talking about urban chicken farming and someone brought up ticks and I screamed out erratically "Did you know that a tick is an arachnid?" I just never knew that before and it really freaked me out. Everyday I'm just saying these things!

Someone came up to me after the show and said she thought the quote of the day was me saying that the raccoons in my neighbourhood are "like gangstas who wear their baseball hats backwards". Sometimes I don't really think about what I'm going to say before I say it! Obviously when we know the topics we're going to cover I think about those and prep myself and research but the beauty of our show is that we listen and have an actual conversation, so sometimes I'm just going to blurt out "ticks are arachnids"! 

Is there any celebrity out there you'd still love to interview?

Tina Turner. Definitely.





Traci's New Do
(Season 2 Photo Courtesy CTV)

Here's the last question, and it's a big one: your haircut. You've had it for several months now, so I'm wondering how you feel about it, and if you've had any regrets?

Since I first got my haircut in December of last year, I've actually cut it even more - now the sides are shaved! That happened after I came back from the cancer and the surgery and I'd been lying in bed for three weeks and there was a lot of dead, sick energy in my hair so that's why I shaved the sides down really low - I wanted to get the energy out, and I love it! When I see the old footage of me with long hair I don't even recognize that person, and I've had long hair all my life! No regrets. I still have a lot of variety in my styles, sometimes I wear it straight up or sometimes I have a little more curl in it. I feel freer! I'm not saying I'll never have long hair again but right now, in this moment, I'm still so excited about it!



Traci with THE SOCIAL team (and me!)


Thanks, Traci!

You can keep up with Traci Melchor on Twitter, and be sure to catch Season 2 of THE SOCIAL (premiering Tuesday, September 2) weekdays at 1 p.m. ET (2 p.m. AT) on CTV!