Wednesday, June 30

Celebrate Canada Blog Party!




Introducing the Celebrate Canada Blog Party, hosted by Canadian Mom Blogger! Welcome to the party! Participants were asked to do a post describing their blog for their new visitors, so here goes:

This Mom Loves was launched about five months ago. I'm the mother of two girls, ages four and two, as well as being a full-time Grade 3 teacher and freelance writer in Ontario. I had all sorts of writing ideas and thoughts to share, and decided that a blog would be the best place to put it all together.

My blog is a place for me to share some family stories and true confessions, but also to offer my opinions on education, books, and movies. I've recently opened myself up to a few product reviews and giveaways, mainly for small Canadian businesses. Although I'm thrilled with how the blog is growing, it's still fair to say that my giveaways are 'low-entry', so be sure to check out the current offerings:

Win a $25 Gift Certificate for Bugalug Baby (nonslip barrettes, headbands, belts and soother savers)
Ends July 6th

Win a $50 Gift Certificate for Angelface Prints (custom-designed photo cards and personalized name art)
Ends July 11th

And the most appropriate for today:

Win a set of kids' books about Canada
Ends July 14th

Another new feature here is the Momterview, which began when I had a great chat with Canada AM's Marci Ien. Next up will be former The Mom Show host Laurie Gelman.

Sometimes informative, (especially if you're looking for crazy organizational tips), sometimes controversial, This Mom Loves has become a wonderful hobby and networking tool for me. Welcome; I hope you'll be back! You can find buttons for Google Friend Connect, Twitter, and email subscriptions in my sidebar. I also have links to my published magazine articles, in case you're interested.

Happy Canada Day!

Kids Need Nonfiction! Books About Canada - Review and Giveaway

Giveaway open to Canadians.

Fact: kids love nonfiction.

When we go to buy or borrow reading material for our children, we adults seem to be the most drawn to to make-believe. Maybe this is because our lives expose us to an abundance of non-fiction - newspapers, reports for work - and we crave a break, and assume the same of our kids. Research, however, as well as personal experience, has taught me that kids love to read nonfiction books, and motivating them to love reading is one of the most important steps in reading instruction.

Recently there's been a big push towards providing nonfiction titles for boys in particular, which is well-founded, but at the beginning of this school year at least half of my girls would steer away from the fiction bins at self-selected reading time as well. Instead they would choose to read animal facts, jokes, arts and crafts instructions, or biographies. Chances are, there is a child in your life whose reading could be enhanced by more exposure to this genre.

The goal of this post is introduce you to a few non-fiction titles your child(ren) might enjoy, and even give you the opportunity to win them! In honour of Canada Day, I reviewed a few different Scholastic books about our beautiful country:

101 Canadian Jokes by Howard Hershkowitz


What kid wouldn't get a kick out of jokes like these:

What has antlers and sucks blood? A  moose-quito!
How do you keep a grizzly bear from charging? Take away its credit cards!

I mean, this is funny stuff, people. And the beauty of books like this is that kids start sharing jokes with each other, telling the riddles at home, and making reading an interactive activity.



This one covers some of the wacky laws we've had on the books in our country, like the old B.C. law that made it illegal to kill a sasquatch, or the current Fredericton, N.B. law that forbids the wearing of a snake!

Again, this gets kids reading, thinking, and talking about the material. Chapter books can sometimes be overwhelming. Books like this, that look like chapter books but instead have little snippets of information, keep kids motivated. Children gain the sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing a book, but with less time and struggle. If this is what it takes to foster a love of reading, I'm all for it!

Crazy Canadian Trivia by Pat Hancock


Everything you never wanted to know about Canada - the Great Outhouse Race, the world's biggest ice-cream sundae, the oldest living person and the day Niagara Falls stopped falling. Again, little bits and bites that kids will love to share with their friends and family.
Go Green, Canada! by Jeff Sinclair


This timely book is not just reading material, but also contains puzzles, games and quizzes that kids can complete. (It's very hard to keep these books in the classroom library, as the kids find it difficult to refrain from writing in the answers!) Though a child-friendly format, this book actually tackles some important issues, and offers valuable tips about saving our environment.

So, what do you think? You must know a child who would love to spend the rest of the summer poring over these gems. If you are a Canadian resident, they can be yours! To win ALL FOUR books (total retail value $27.00):

Leave a comment telling me one thing you love about Canada. That's it!

For additional entries, leave a separate comment letting me know that:
  • you subscribe to This Mom Loves through email
  • you follow This Mom Loves publicly through Google Friend Connect
  • you follow @thismomloves on Twitter, and tweet about this giveaway
The contest will end on Wednesday, July 14th at midnight Eastern time, after which a winner will be chosen through random number generation.

If you don't win, consider picking up one of these titles, or at least peruse the non-fiction shelves the next time you're in the bookstore or library. Every kid should be encouraged to read for pleasure; it just may take some trial-and-error to find out what type of book pleases them!

P.S. I didn't even need a sad book to start the waterworks yesterday when I said goodbye to my beautiful Grade 3 class -- before the last bell rang I had tears streaming down my face. Sure, I'm more than thrilled to begin my wonderful long holiday, but I have grown to love the children and will truly miss them!
Disclaimer: These titles were provided to me by Scholastic Canada for review purposes. Opinions, as always, are my own.

Monday, June 28

Organize Hair Accessories - Without Buying a Thing!

Here's a short and sweet post for you:

My current Bugalug Baby Review and Giveaway got me thinking about all of the hair stuff in my home. My girls have a ton of hair accessories, and I thought I had wisely organized them by type (barrettes, hairbands, ponytail holders, etc.) I realized that this system wasn't working well, so I switched things up. A look at my cluttered container before:




I decided it would be much more efficient to sort by colour into sandwich bags. That way, I can take a look at what Frannie or Maggie is wearing, grab the right baggie, and choose the accessory. (I could have used any number of different small storage containers, but baggies are cheap, plus they were already in my kitchen the day I decided to tackle this oh-so-important project. I'm not exactly a patient person.)



Once everything was sorted, I put the baggies back in to the same little tub I had been using, and presto, I was done! I told you, short and sweet. Man, I feel so much better now. And you can do it too!

Yes, things like this seriously make me happy. I'm not expecting many comments on this post, earth-shattering as it may be. Except perhaps an occasional sympathy note.




Friday, June 25

Angelface Prints: Review and $50 Giveaway

Open to Canada and U.S.

I was thrilled when I recently had the opportunity to review products from the Canadian business Angelface Prints. They specialize in customized announcements (holiday, thank you, invitation, etc.), like the adorable twins' birth announcement below.




Why order through Angelface, and not just use the supermarket kiosk like everyone else? Well, for one, you don't have to line up at a kiosk, and secondly, because you don't want your greetings to look like everyone else's! The best thing about these cards (besides the reasonable rates) is that they can be custom-designed, like card they made me for Canada Day.

I was excited to order a sample product, but didn't want to wait for the next traditional card-sending holiday...and there are certainly no birth announcements in my family's (near) future! I asked business owner Christie if she could design a little something I could send out for Canada Day, in order to review the cards. Aren't Frannie and Maggie cute little Canadian girls? (We won't talk about the effort involved to take these shots. I'll save that for another post!)



To order your greetings, you simply contact Angelface to let them know what sort of design you're looking for (one you found on the site, or something you'd like custom designed for no extra charge). Then you attach your photo(s), and wait to receive your proof through email. The photo part couldn't be easier - they actually prefer if you don't crop, remove red-eye, or switch to black and white. Just send your raw images, and they do the rest! Once you have approved your order, you make your payment and wait for your cards and envelopes to come in the mail.

Angelface Prints is also branching out into art work - I received an adorable 'M is for Maggie'...well, not really, since that's her pseudonym, but you get the idea. It's actually quite nice to get a personalized piece for her, as her real name is quite uncommon and won't be found on the usual name merchandise available in stores.



Here's your chance to go shopping at Angelface Prints yourself!

Up for grabs is a $50 gift certificate, to be used towards any products you wish! Have a special occasion coming up? The invitations or announcements can be looked after! Interested in the initial art? This amount could buy the names of three different children...wouldn't that look cute lined up on a playroom wall?

Entering is simple! Just visit Angelface Prints, and come back and leave me a comment about a product you like. Make sure to leave your email address in your comment, if it's not linked to your profile. If I cannot contact you, you will be disqualified.

For additional entries, leave a separate comment letting me know that:

  • you are a This Mom Loves email subscriber
  • you follow This Mom Loves publicly through Google Friend Connect
  • you follow @thismomloves on Twitter, and tweet about this giveaway
  • you 'like' Angelface Prints on Facebook
  • you've added Angelface Prints' button (found in their left sidebar) to your blog (include your link) for 2 extra entries (leave two comments)
Good luck! This contest is open to residents of the U.S. and Canada and ends on Sunday, July 11th at midnight, after which time a winner will be chosen through random number generation.

While you're here, don't forget to enter to win a $25 gift certificate to Bugalug Baby (ends July 6th) as well!

Disclaimer: I was provided with a sample of a personalized name and some announcement cards for the purpose of this review. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Thursday, June 24

Sorry I'm Not "Just Spiritual"


As I began planning this post, I was just going to tell you about my latest Pandora bead purchase, and touch on how faith is so important to me and my family. As I got going, however, I decided that I wanted to share a little bit more about my thoughts on organized religion.


I always find it interesting when parents boast that they aren't forcing any religion on their children, and that they are going to allow them to "decide for themselves". I completely disagree with this philosophy, because for me, being raised Catholic was one of the strongest influences in my life. Once I got old enough, it was certainly my choice to stay, but I think a big part of a person's faith is developed through childhood rituals. It's not like these parents are going to a weekly service and paying for a babysitter until the kids are old enough to decide. It usually just means they don't have any religious affiliation themselves, or they aren't happy with the one they were born in to.

I also find it amusing when I hear someone say "oh, I'm not religious, I'm just spiritual". I'm sure that for some people this is perfectly authentic (and if that is you, then no offense intended), but for others, it's a copout ('spirituality' can be pursued while sitting on the deck; 'religion' requires some time on hard pews and kneelers) or just a safe, politically-correct assertion. Sort of a "don't-hate-me-because-I-go-to-Mass/temple/mosque, I'm not really one of 'them'" kind of thing. I am definitely a spiritual person, but I am proud to say that I am also religious, and my religion is Catholicism. Whoosh. And some readers bounce away.

I harbor no ill-will towards atheists; if anything I kind of feel badly for them, because I can't imagine a life without my relationship with God. Despite being told during one sermon that Catholicicm is not a buffet where you can take some things and leave others, I do sometimes question rules and decisions of my Church, and I'm no perfect Catholic (I've been married 9 years and have two children. Enough said.) I do, though, consider Catholicism to be a huge part of my identity. I have no interest in convincing anyone else that it's the 'best' religion; I just know that it's mine. Ours.

As a child, we attended Mass EVERY Sunday, as well as all other days of obligation. My father comes from a long line of Irish-Catholics, and my mother is a very active convert; both are retired Catholic school teachers. And when I say we went EVERY Sunday, that means we hit a church in every city on my brother's summer-lacrosse circuit, and Saturday weddings did not replace Sundays' obligations. While attending a Catholic school in a little Irish community (I have since moved 40 minutes away to my husband's hometown, which could easily pass for the same place I left) I was in the choir, and eventually read on the altar. I wanted to be an altar server, but in 1987 our priest just wasn't ready for girls in that role.

When looking for a partner, a belief in God was a deal-breaker, a strong faith was very important, and finding a fellow practicing Catholic was a huge bonus. My husband and I both teach for the same Catholic School Board we attended as children, as do two of my husband's sisters and my brother. I enjoy teaching the catechism and incorporating our faith in to our daily lessons and activities. (And I'm not just saying this in case my employer is reading!)

Our parish really feels like extended family for us. Admittedly we attend Mass a little less often than our devoted parents: compared to my in-laws, who often go more than once in a weekend, our attendance rate is an embarrassing 90 - 95%. Frannie and Maggie were baptised within weeks of their births, and their godparents were chosen carefully for the example they would set. All future sacraments will be very special occasions for us.

Lately, I have been reading a Frannie a story each night from her children's bible, though at age four, some of it is a little over her head. Her big thing right now at storytime is that she wants to "be" any female character we read about:

Me: "This story is about Abraham and Sarah, who --"
Frannie: "I want to be Sarah!"
Me: "Fine, you can be Sarah. Whatever. Just let me read."
The other night I had to try to explain to her why she really wouldn't want to "be" Delilah.

It's not always easy to try to explain something as abstract as religion to young children. The other day, while driving to daycare, Frannie said "I'm glad there aren't any bad guys in heaven. You said there aren't any bad guys in heaven, right?" I don't even remember that discussion, but sure, okay. "But I have another question. Do we all have to die on a cross?"

Despite all of your efforts to instill your beliefs in your children, if you raise them to think for themselves, they may very well grow up and choose to abandon your family's religion, to find another, or to question God's existence altogether. But you still will never know the impact of the gift of a childhood full of faith and religious tradition.

So back to my bead. I chose this beautiful crucifix as a symbol of my firm religious beliefs. I truly never question the existence of God, and if some details of Jesus' time on earth have been tweaked a little in translation (as I am sure you DaVinci Coders will be quick to argue), it certainly hasn't hurt me, my family, or my students by setting our standards as high as those of a man we know once lived and died for us.

How about you? Are you religious? "Just spiritual?" What role does faith play in your childrearing? Do you still have the same beliefs and practices that you did growing up? I am very interested to hear my readers' thoughts on this. I welcome opposing ideas, but please be gentle. Remember, what would Jesus do?

Monday, June 21

Bugalug Baby: Review and Giveaway

Giveaway open to US and Canada!



I'm always looking for cool new accessories for my girls, so I was thrilled when I got the opportunity to review some items from Bugalug Baby. I received a pony loop, a few barrettes, a headband, and a belt  for Frannie and Maggie to try out, and I was very pleased.

I mean, first of all, everything is adorable. Which, of course, matters. In terms of quality, I was also very impressed. Maggie FINALLY has long enough hair to work with (she was rockin' an awesome mullet for quite a while) and Frannie adores new hairwear, so the items have been put to good use. As promised, the barrettes (with a unique grippy strip) and pony loops hold very well (though, to be completely honest, my determined two-year old was able to work them out of her super-fine hair eventually, but it did take her a lot longer than usual!) And although I don't think I've ever actually purchased a belt for my kids, the one I was given looks very cute with Maggie's jeans, and the elastic and snap button are so practical.



The headbands are particularly brilliant because they have a little size adjuster on the bottom, which allows you to tighten or loosen the band as necessary. That was handy, because the girls could share a headband, and it will grow with them as well.



The prices are very reasonable for the products you're receiving. Items certainly aren't dollar-store cheap, but you're not getting dollar-store quality, either. No sweatshop junk here: these accessories, available in an array of colours and patterns, are hand-made by Canadian stay-at-home moms. (There are sales on the website to watch out for as well.)

Bugalug Baby is the place to go if you want to invest in some trendy-looking accessories that are going to work, and going to last. An excellent gift idea, too! Their tagline says it best: simple and sassy accessories that stay in place! And come on: if they're good enough for Brooke Shields' girls, aren't they good enough for ours? :-)





How would you like to go shopping at Bugalug Baby? I'm giving away a $25 gift certificate, which can be used for anything available on their site. (Shopping for baby boy? They also have boys' belts and multiuse Soother Savers!)

To enter: all you have to do to enter is visit Bugalug Baby's website and come back and leave me a comment about a product you like. This giveaway is open to residents of the US and Canada.

Be sure to leave your email address in your comment, if it is not available on your profile. If I cannot contact you, you will be disqualified.

For additional entries (after you have completed the steps above), leave a comment letting me know that:

  • you subscribe to This Mom Loves through email
  • you follow This Mom Loves publicly through Google Friend Connect
  • you follow @thismomloves on Twitter, and tweet about the giveaway
  • you "like" Bugalug Baby on Facebook
  • you follow @bugalug on Twitter, and tweet about the giveaway
The contest will end at midnight Eastern time on Tuesday, July 6th 2010. A winner will be chosen by random number generation, and will have 48 hours to respond to my email.

Disclaimer: I was provided with the above-named products for review. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Sunday, June 20

Tips For a Successful Vacation With Kids

When aspiring writer Arzel Ariosa contacted me about doing a travel-themed guest post here at This Mom Loves, I couldn't refuse! Welcome, Arzel. Take it away!
***

Tips For A Successful Vacation With Kids

A family vacation is the perfect way to spend quality time together, but it should be carefully planned to make sure everyone enjoys the experience.

Try to interact while on the road. A car packed with kids and baggage can easily get stuffy. While some parents distract their kids with videos and iPods, it just doesn’t give them the chance to interact. Try quizzing them on spelling, provincial/state capitals, geography, multiplication facts or whatever you can think of. You’ll find it amazing just how quickly the time goes by.

Plan some entertainment for long flights. It really helps to bring some flash cards, puzzles, and toys for the younger ones. For older kids, have them bring along books, music, or anything else that will entertain them.

Bring food and snacks. Whether it’s a drive or a flight, bringing along food can save you money since you won’t have to purchase snacks while getting gas or spend money on the plane.

Choose kid-friendly resorts. Not every destination is child-friendly. You may have spent a vacation there when you did not have kids only to find out it’s completely inappropriate for a family trip. On the other hand, you may also want to get some adult entertainment. It’s all about balance. Look for resorts in advance to make sure you pick the right one.

Pick age-appropriate resorts. Look for one with programs fit for the age of your kids. If you have both toddlers and teens, make sure they each get the right activities for their age.

Get to know the person watching over your kids. Talk to the camp supervisor or the diving instructor. This will help you make sure the kids are in good hands so that you can also spend some time with your partner or with friends without worries.

Bond with your children for a truly successful vacation. Share new experiences with the kids. There are many destinations offering activities where parents and kids can participate together.

There are a lot of travel choices out there, but planning ahead gives you the advantage of knowing what to do in case of changes in plans. Think of alternate ideas in case there are disruptions.

Finally, enjoy! Make the most out of every moment spent with the family. A successful vacation is something that you and your kids can remember and talk about long after you have gone home.

***

Thanks, Arzel! I can't resist adding a few of my own tips, from personal experience:

  • Call ahead to see if your destination has high chairs, playpens, etc. Why pack your own if you don't have to? Vehicle space is very precious when hitting the road.
  • Try to get a room with a fridge and a microwave. Makes bottle-feeding so much easier!
  • If you will be swimming, remember the right earplugs, water wings, etc. Some kids are picky about their swim gear.
  • Although Arzel is right that interacting with the kids provides much better quality time, I have to admit that we have the in-car DVD player with screens for both girls. We just use it for long trips (honestly!) and Frannie's the only real fan. Maggie prefers to talk, play with toys, or look at books. Do you think there's something wrong with her?
  • If you need tips for camping...well, you're in the wrong place. We're lucky enough to have a provincial park five minutes from our house, so when we "camp", I come home to sleep! I still use the (two year old) "baby" as my excuse. I think this might be the last year it works.
  • Finally: try bringing the grandparents. I mentioned this in my eating-out article as well, and it applies to any sort of travel plans. Multi-generational bonding is very important, and so is the extra help!
Feel free to leave your own travel tips here!

Friday, June 18

Winner of Scholastic Hope and Heroes Giveaway



The winner of the Scholastic "Hope and Heroes" book set, chosen by random number generation, is....

Tina O. from Peterborough, ON!

Tina was entrant #7 out of 48 valid entries, and she said:

"Hi Kate. Even though my children are getting older (16, 18 and 20), I love your blog. You think your worries will lessen as your children grow older, but they really don't. They just change, and they even seem to multiply because it is difficult to begin to let go, and to let them become their own person after you have controlled their every waking moment for most of their lives. My hope for my family is that I have given them enough of myself and enough of a foundation that will enable them to have very happy and fulfilling lives, to make good decisions, and to aim high for themselves, and that I can feel peace in my letting go. Keep up the good work!"

Congratulations, Tina!

Coming next in book reviews: kids' books about Canada!

Wednesday, June 16

Marci Ien: My Exclusive Momterview

Welcome to a new feature here at This Mom Loves: The Momterview! I will be profiling different Canadian moms who are well known...and for the right reasons.



Joining me for this inaugural post is the beautiful Marci Ien from CTV's Canada AM. I'm a longtime fan of this talented news anchor, and Marci graciously agreed to chat with me for a question and answer session to launch this feature.

This Mom: Thanks for speaking with me, Marci. It's after 8 p.m. Am I keeping you up?

Marci Ien: No, actually we were running late tonight. I got home and thought 'what are we having for dinner?' so we just went on a grocery run. Blaize is occupied with her meal right now!

TM: So, your daughter is five. Help me prepare: what was it like for you when your baby started school?

MI: She's actually going to be six soon, and she graduates from kindergarten this week! She's been in preschool for a couple of years, and in kindergarten in the afternoons in the same facility. I cried the first day we dropped her off. My husband and I were stressed about it, but she ran in and started playing and I thought 'she's a big girl now!' I think it's more about parents letting go than the kids.

TM: Is she involved in many extracurricular activities?

MI: Well, she takes piano, jazz and tap with a bit of ballet...she does gymnastics, swims, she's on a break from skating right now. She says she wants to play hockey, and I used to as a kid, so once her skating skills improve we'll think about that too.


Blaize at Circus School

TM: What's she in to now, in terms of toys, books...?

MI: She loves Spiderman. Right now she is eating off a Spiderman plate and cup -{Blaize calls out in the background} oh yes, and she says a Spiderman placemat too. She loves all the Superheroes. For her birthday we're having a movie party at a local theatre, and I asked her what kind of cake she wants, and she'd like to fit 10 or 15 superheroes on one cake! She's a bit of a tomboy, just like I was. There's some girly in her too, she likes to dress up, but although I hate to categorize things as boy, girl, if you were to use the word tomboy, she would be it. She loves to wear jeans and a cap and climb trees.

She's still in to Thomas and Caillou. She used to love Dora, but now she's out of the picture. Oh, and she loves Robert Munsch! She's starting to read now, so at bedtime we let her read a page, then we read a page. We go through a lot of Robert Munsch. And also the Olivia books.

TM: So I have to ask: what time do you get up in the morning?

MI: Are you ready? 3:30!

TM: {Gasps} But lately you've been sending Tweets out at 10 or 11 at night!

MI: Here's the thing: I'm a sports fan. It'll be 13 years next month that I've been with CTV, and it's mostly all been early mornings. I've always said "I won't give up my life." My family and friends don't operate on these hours, so I'll take a nap if I have to, but hey, I've got the best of both worlds. I'm not going to give up watching the basketball game. I just won't! So I walk around half the time sleep deprived.

TM: {Now distracted by the thought of that little sleep} How do you manage the work/family balance?

MI: I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves as women to get it all right and perfect, but it's a high standard that most of us can't attain. If the house doesn't get vacuumed, so be it. {I didn't want to interrupt her to tell her that my house must be vacuumed}. If you have to buy a meal one night then so be it {Now I'm back on board!}, in order to spend time with your family and be good to yourself. Women put everyone else first and don't give ourselves enough time to just breathe. That will make you a better mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend.

Michael Landsberg {host of TSN's 'Off The Record'}  was on our show talking about how he has been battling depression for 10 years, and I thought he was so brave to tell his story. He said "you have to fight for your joy, you have to fight for your happiness". My family, my friends and my job make me happy, and I want all of it. I'm not going to be as hard on myself as I have been in the past; I don't believe in balance. Everyone always asks me about this, and I really don't. I'm not perfect, maybe I'll get two out of five things right one day, because we can't do it all. It's not fair. I'm allergic to balance!

TM: Do you think you'd be doing anything differently in your career right now if you hadn't become a mom?

MI: Not at this point, but now looking forward, I think I want to travel, so is it Canada still? Is it the States? Obviously I have to think about Blaize, as that would mean pulling her out of school and moving. My husband is really supportive, he says that she's still young, and we can make it work no matter what. When I first started in Nova Scotia with CTV it wasn't a problem. Now the first question is always 'how does it affect Blaize?'


Blaize and Daddy in Vancouver during the Olympics


TM: What do you like to do when you get some me-time?

MI: I love movies. I love theatre. My husband and I recently took a quick trip to New York and saw Denzel Washington in Fences, for which he just won a Tony by the way, and it was fabulous! I just adore theatre. For Father's Day my sister and I are taking my Dad to see Jersey Boys. He has always been in to the Arts. We grew up going to Stratford and Shaw at a young age, and the theatre has always been really special to me. I love trying new restaurants. Also, I've recently brought a couple of girls together, my sister and some friends, to form a book club. We're going to start with "The Help" {by Kathryn Stockett} and go from there. Things are so busy for us that reading has been thrown completely off the rails. We read for work, but you have to read for the joy of it, and discuss books and make it social. I'm really looking forward to it.

TM: What about couple time?

MI: My husband Lloyd and I have date-night on Fridays, and we try to stick with it. Sometimes Blaize crashes it, but we try to keep it up. Sometimes it's a weekend away; my sisters and parents are great to keep Blaize. Our anniversary is in September and we usually take a trip then.

TM: How long have you been married?

MI: Nine years. We were married right after 9/11, and we got married as part of a cruise in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, and it was crazy. Some ships weren't sailing, they were patrolling the seas and the air, and we had guests flying in. It was a ton of fun but we weren't sure who was coming and if people would be able to get there!

TM: You're a strong supporter of several charities. Can you share a bit about them?

MI: Well, as part of the balance thing, I realized years ago that we can lend our name to a lot of different things, and I felt badly about saying no, but you can't do everything. It has to come down to what's important to me, and I'm passionate about kids and youth issues so I narrowed it down. I've been working with the Children's Miracle Network for probably a decade now, and do things with their 'Celebration' which brings together kids from Canada and the US who are suffering from cancer and diseases I can't even pronounce. The kids come together and the families get to connect and meet others going through the same thing.

The next one is a combination of journalism and mentoring: 'Journalists for Human Rights'. I got involved a couple of years ago and basically their whole mandate is to promote human rights journalism in countries where democracy isn't a given. They asked me to go to Sierra Leone to meet with journalists there and hear their stories and give them tools to report. This is a country making its way back from civil war and it's not easy to be a woman there. Women are meant to be in the home, raising kids, not having a career.

World Vision is another charity I love. I went to Sri Lanka for them when Blaize was six months old, right after the tsunami and it was a rude awakening. They had protected areas there where, after the disaster, kids could go to be kids, and forget they lost their parents. They had psychologists on hand, it was amazing.

TM: My blog is called "This Mom Loves". What are some of your favourite things that you love?

MI: Well, I love my lip gloss. I really love trying different moisturizers, night creams, day creams. Anything to keep me looking good! {This is where I compliment her - have you seen this woman? - she acts modest, and continues.} I can't live without my family, they keep me sane. I love long walks. If I could, I would do it first thing in the morning, get up at 6 a.m. and do it first thing, but I tend to do it in the afternoon or evening. And I love to travel. There are a lot of places still to see.

TM: Thank you so much for your time, and for sending me photos to share with my readers as well! Go get a good night's sleep!


Blaize and Mommy: Olympic Torchbearer

Now, a question for my readers: Who would you like to see as a future This Mom Loves Momterview? Which well-known Canadian moms are worthy of some extra attention? Who would you like to know more about? Please, leave me a comment...and for now, I'll keep you in suspense about who's next!

You can catch Marci very early each morning on Canada AM, and follow her on Twitter @MarciIen.

Monday, June 14

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

If you have a child with autism, work with a child with autism, or live in a world where children have autism, you really need to read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. I had never even heard of this book until a coworker suggested it to me (thanks, Trina!) and now I think it should be recommended reading for, well, everyone. Especially those supermarket-sneerers who think they can judge children while knowing nothing about them. To be fair, if you see my kids misbehaving or acting in a way you would consider odd, they have no excuse. However, the main character of this book does.

Told from his perspective, the story takes you inside the mind of a boy with autism (written by a man who has worked with such children) and it is truly enlightening to be a witness to this inner monologue that lower-functioning children could never hope to articulate. Plus there's a storyline. And some parts might make you cry. (That's coming from me...I do tend to cry at anything.)




Coincidentally, the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly profiles "The 100 Greatest Characters of the Last 20 Years", and this book's protagonist, Christopher Boone, lands in at number 92, on the same page as Napoleon Dynamite and Fargo's Marge Gunderson. High praise for what they call "the absolutely most reliable narrator".

Add it to your must-read list!

Saturday, June 12

Having It All: Lessons From Mom




Mom has been teasing me lately that my blog is called This Mom Loves, and there has been little mention of her yet - therefore I must not love her very much! How far from the truth. As my mother prepares to retire from a career in teaching, I've been reflecting on what she has taught me about work, parenting and doing both at the same time.

When I was two months old, Mom returned to the classroom. That was a normal length of mat leave back then (can you believe that? I cannot imagine leaving my child at that age...for her sake or mine...thank God I live in a country that now values parental leave), and I'm sure money was a factor. I also know that my mom loved her job. Not so much that she would just leave me with anyone, though - I was looked after by her Aunt Diann, and although I have no memories of my first daycare days, I still think very fondly of Aunt Dee-Dee.

When my brother was born twenty months after me, Mom again took a short mat leave, and returned to work, this time bringing a terrific babysitter in to our home. Mrs. Clysdale even snuck us Honeycomb cereal...much tastier than our usual Cheerios! Although I was young, I do remember a few things from these years (like the time she brought me a new bubblegum pink plastic hairband, and I promptly sat on it and broke it, or the times she used to bathe Ed in the bathroom sink) and I still make sure to update Mrs. Clysdale on milestones in my life.

When we were four and two, Mom decided to stay at home for good. She quit her job and cashed out her pension, ready for a permanent at-home lifestyle. I have many memories of these days: the homemade cinammon pinwheels, riding to the corner in the wagon to catch the kindergarten bus. The funny thing is, I have never really asked her what made her decide to stay at home: whether it was pressure, (because I know my Grandma's a big stay-home-with-your-kids proponent), or if it was truly her heart's desire. I was reading a post the other day where a writer wondered what it would be like to have a first date with your mother, in order to really get to know her. Although I'm sure it would be very eye-opening, I'm quite comfortable with our friendly mother-daughter relationship. I think would be very bizarre and disconcerting to get to know her as an actual woman!

I do know that once Ed and I were both in school full time, she started to go nuts being at home all day. Although she's an avid reader, she has a hard time staying in one spot for very long. Plus, let's be honest, one income only provides you with a certain lifestyle. Many of you can relate to being home all day making no money, and therefore not being able to go out at night or on the weekends because there's no money to spend. She decided to reapply to the school board, and one fateful August day, got the call that there was a full-time position waiting for her. It's funny that the way she remembers the story, my seven year old brother cried and asked who would be waiting with cookies after school. In reality, the tears and question actually came from nine year old me, sitting at the dining room table believing that my world was falling apart.

In retrospect, I am unable to name any negative consequences of her decision to return to work. We only needed before and after care, which was provided by a neighbour who popped over to get us on and off the bus. Other than that, what difference did it make once we were at school? It was certainly fun to push her guilt button at times (hey, I learned the guilt-trick from her!), but we had grandparents to pick us up when we were sick, and we really didn't feel like they missed any of our events. Most of our classmates had parents who worked outside the home, so we certainly weren't the only ones. And Mom took personal leave days for important occasions, such as the day I made my confirmation stole.

I have learned so much about teaching from my parents, (the "Leahy look" has quieted many a student), although ironically they discouraged us from following in their footsteps, as we graduated during a time of labour unrest and low public opinion of teachers. Of course we didn't listen. My mother has also taught me, through example, about how to be a (good) teacher and a (good) mom at the same time. She often had marking or planning to do at night, and required us to pitch in on household tasks, but that taught me the effort necessary to make a family run (and perhaps contributed to a little bit to my neatfreakishness). She was always there when we needed her, but didn't suffocate or smother us in the meantime. (Honestly, had she not returned to work, I think the potential for smothering would have been way higher.)

Mom taught me that it's okay to want a family, and a career, and that it's possible to do both well. My job means so much to me, and I have never felt any guilt from my parents whatsoever about leaving my children at daycare in order to return to work. I mean, my brother and I turned out just fine. At least I did anyway. (Just kidding, Ed. You know, 'cause I'm sure you read this blog all the time; don't want you to be offended.)

So, thank you, mom, for inspiring me to 'have it all'...which I always have, thanks to you. See...I do love you!

How about my readers? Do you think your mother's work history has impacted on any choices you have made as a parent? Does she voice her opinions about your work situation, or stay out of your way? Do you try to follow her lead, or avoid her path? Does your mother-in-law play any role? (Mine was a farmer's wife who stayed home to raise NINE kids. I can learn a lot from her example as well, though I have no desire to keep up to her!) I'd love to hear what the rest of you have to say.

Friday, June 11

Looking for Ontario Moms

Update:

Thanks to all of those who volunteered to share your experiences for this article. I now have enough information!

Calling Ontario Moms...I'm working on a magazine article, and I'm looking to do a few interviews. If you're in Ontario and you've been on maternity leave recently, I'd love to ask you some questions through email.







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Thursday, June 10

Little Leggings N' More Winner!

Congratulations to the winner of the $25 gift certificate for Little Leggings N' More...

Brittney P. (Metal Momma) from Oneida, TN! She was number 47 out of 77 valid entries, and her number was chosen through random number generation at random.org. I have contacted Brittney by email, and she will have 48 hours to reply.
Thank you for all of your entries! There's still time for my Canadian readers to enter the Scholastic Books Giveaway (ending June 17th), and stay tuned for another great prize coming soon!

Tuesday, June 8

A Few Birthday Party Ideas

Preface: If you are someone like a certain unnamed coworker of mine...okay, I'll just say it, it's Krista...then these ideas will seem pretty simple and, well, lame to you. That is why she has promised me that she will share her repertoire of kids' party themes (she always ensures that the decorations, games, loot bag contents, and toilet paper ALL coordinate with the theme - okay, just kidding about the toilet paper) and I will bring you a FANTASTIC post (or maybe even a series of posts) on that topic. However, if you're an average party-thrower, read on!

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My baby is now two years old. Little Maggie just celebrated her birthday, and while we keep our birthday parties pretty low-key at this age, I thought I'd share a few highlights.

Craft:

Although Maggie and her 17 month old cousin just observed the arts and crafts portion of the evening, I figured that Frannie, our nephew, and our five nieces in attendance would need something "to do", so I headed to the dollar store. I picked up a wooden hanging sign for each child, and a few different colours of acrylic paint. They went to town on their designs at the beginning of the party, and let the paint dry while we ate. (Cold meat and buns, if you must know. Can't get much simpler. Although I did roll up the slices of meat and put them on a fancy tray! Yeah, we're high class around here.) Okay, back to the crafts. Once the paint was dry, the kids used glitter, jewels and stickers to decorate. One thing I wish I had done is have more than one bottle of glue on hand. The kids got excited about writing their names in glue and then glitter, and it kind of took the wind out of their sails when they had to share one bottle amongst the seven of them. Definitely an activity I would recommend. And check out the masterpieces!






Cake:

Our usual baker (of Frannie's Fancy Nancy cake fame) put this dessert together for a retirement party we attended a couple of months ago, and we asked her to do the same for Maggie. She loaned us the innovative stand her husband made for her, and filled it with these adorable cupcake cones. If you've never seen this idea before, you'll be surprised to learn that these are not ice cream, they are cupcakes baked inside the cones and then decorated to suit (pink, white, and chocolate icing with little butterflies for Maggie). It was actually a beautiful centrepiece on the dining room table...while it lasted!





Gift:

As always, our daughter was completely spoiled, and every single gift she received was perfect. I'm including this one specifically to make my mother feel better. I had actually suggested that my parents get Maggie some sort of magnetic board that she and Frannie could use down in the family room with all of their girly magnets. The fridge works fine, of course, and we have all of our educational Fridge-Phonics stuff happening on it, but I wanted something for downstairs, since we spend a lot of time there (wouldn't you, with a red room this lovely?) With all of the new toys, books, lawn chair, sunglasses and clothing being strewn about during gift-opening, I think Maggie was a little too distracted to see the potential in the empty whiteboard propped in the corner of the room. I think this led Mom to believe that she didn't like it...which couldn't be further from the truth. Within minutes of waking the next morning, the fighting over it began...a sure sign of an item's popularity!



Loot Bag:

Seriously, don't you hate it when your kid comes home with crap? I mean, first, there's candy, but I don't even mind that because my kids have average diets, are very active, and, well, their mother is a junk-food junkie who shouldn't be a hypocrite. And it least it gets eaten and no longer takes up space! The plastic junk is another story entirely. I decided to go with something somewhat purposeful...a decorate-it-yourself mug, purchased at Michael's for less than two bucks each, complete with markers. Plus the attendees got to keep their lovely wall hangings. I had actually intended to do the mugs as a second craft during the party, until I came to my senses. I'm saving Frannie and Maggie's mugs for a rainy day.




Since our kids are still pre-school, we've been sticking with family-only parties (grandparents and godparents), but next year Frannie will be in school, and I'll be interested to see what trend is set by her peers. There are going to be six girls in the class, and having the other five over seems doable. Her birthday isn't until March, so someone else can set the standard. I'm sure it will make for another post topic.
Feel free to leave a comment and share any other party tips that have worked for you...or maybe you've already used some of the ideas here. (I tried to patent the cold meat and buns thing, but apparently I'm not the first to do it.)  I have designed This Mom Loves as a bit of a magazine..some personal essay content, some informational stuff, and some reviews and giveaways. My hope is that when you read one of my posts, in addition to being thoroughly entertained, you also take away a useful tidbit here and there, whether it be something you might try, buy, or just think about. (Plus I get to write about what I want, when I want, and use parentheses excessively just because!)

I do value my readers, so thanks for being here...and Happy Birthday, little Maggie!

Friday, June 4

Sex and the City 2: My Review

Here's my review in a nutshell: I liked it. I'd say the the first one was better, probably because the Abu Dhabi locale didn't do anything for me (I much prefer the NYC setting), and the Carrie/Big wedding drama was so intense in the original, but the sequel was still enjoyable.

Think of it this way: when you haven't seen friends for a while, it's nice to just get together, even if there's not a lot of exciting news to share. That's what this felt like: I had missed my girls, and it was great to see them again. Although at two and a half hours, they did wear out their welcome a bit.

It's ironic, but I kind of associate the franchise with my little girls. We've never had HBO, but when Frannie was born, my husband bought me a mini-TV/DVD for the nursery, and I caught up from the first episode to the last while nursing in the middle of the night. Then, the movie came out on the day Maggie was born...and I took her to the Stars and Strollers feature four days later. (Yes, that says four days. I guess it would be fair to say I'm a bit of a die-hard.)

Although I was easily distracted by the extravagance of these lifestyles that are so out of reach for me, motherhood is clearly an equalizer. When an overwhelmed Charlotte shut herself in the pantry to escape her daughters, I cried along with her. Been there, done that. Well, not exactly the same way. I rarely decorate cupcakes in my cream-coloured vintage Valentino skirt.

After this long, all of the characters feel like friends, and I can relate to each one differently - Charlotte's style and, well, uptight nature, Carrie's writing career* and taste for tall, dark and handsome, Miranda's workaholism, and of course Samantha's... um... okay, I don't relate well to Samantha, but my sisters-in-law, who went to the movie with me, thought that Kim Cattrall stole the show. And she's Canadian, so there's my connection.

*Admittedly no book deals or Vogue articles for me. Yet.

If you've always been a Sex and the City fan, you won't be disappointed, but if Carrie and gang have never been your cup of...Cosmopolitan, then this movie certainly won't change your mind.

Eating Out With Kids: The Ten Commandments

So, have you ever taken your children to a restaurant, only to live to regret it?

Either you said yes, or you are a LIAR, because I'm sure we've all had those experiences. That's why I wrote "Eating Out With Kids: The Ten Commandments", for the June/July issue of Peterborough, Northumberland and Lakeridge Kids, available now online.

Now, I hate cooking enough that eating out with my kids has to be truly awful to counteract the benefits of someone preparing, serving and cleaning up after my meal, but we've definitely had our share of painful restaurants visits.

Check out the article, and be sure to come back and let me know if you have a tip that I've missed. I'd also love to hear your restaurant horror stories...it's nice to know we're all in the same boat!

Tuesday, June 1

Hope and Heroes: Scholastic Books Giveaway!



I have terrific news! I've recently teamed up with Scholastic Canada, and I will be bringing you reviews of some of their best children's books, as well as fantastic giveaways for you and your family!

If you have school-aged children, you have likely seen Scholastic flyers come home, and I encourage you to purchase from them when possible. The prices are very competetive, especially for book sets, and every dollar you spend helps to earn free books and rewards points for your child's classroom. This year alone I have purchased close to 50 books for my class using free picks and rewards coupons, so it's certainly very valuable. The kids love awaiting their orders as well: it's like Santa has arrived when the secretary walks in with that brown package!

What you may not know is that Scholastic books are not only available through these flyers. You can find their publications, from board books right through to young adult titles, at your local bookstores as well. The books I will be reviewing here are all available nationwide, so if you don't end up being a winner, you can go out (or online) and purchase all of the titles yourself. Which you will want to do!

You might also want to visit the Scholastic Summer Challenge page, which offers kids the opportunity to read for the world record this summer, and includes age-by-age booklists to guide their reading.

On to my first review!

I'm starting today with the beautiful picture book "Hope Is An Open Heart", by Lauren Thompson. Although most of my readers are fortunate enough to live in comfort and security, this touching book helps encourage those families who aren't quite so fortunate, and helps teach our little ones how to cope with tragedy and strife. The book is also a call to action for those of us (including kids) who are in a position to make the world a better place. And in our own way, aren't we all?

I can remember in teacher's college, we often heard about the barriers faced by minorities, the impoverished, people with disabilities. These discussions always left me (white, middle class, able-bodied -- at least I wasn't a man!) feeling very guilty and embarrassed. When I mentioned this once in a paper, my professor wrote back and said that those who enjoy privilege need not feel guilty, but we should feel responsible for instigating change. What a good lesson to teach our children as well: that they indeed have the power to change the world for the better.

This book touches on such disasters as Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami in Sri Lanka, and the earthquake in Haiti; demonstrating how children were affected by these events, but then inspired to help or make changes. Every spread includes a gorgeous photograph, and a message about hope:

"Hope is your father's good-night kiss. Hope is remembering his kisses when he can't be there with you."

and one of my favourites:

"Hope is knowing that things change - and that we can help things to change for the better."

I read this book to my class (another one of their "Mrs. Winn cried again when she read to us today!" experiences...that's okay, right?), who thoroughly enjoyed it, and it would be excellent for sparking discussion with your own children at home. More information is given at the back of the book, explaining some of the specific stories that go with the photographs and messages.

"Hope is an Open Heart" would be a beautiful book to add to your child's collection.

And speaking of adding to your child's collection...on to our amazing giveaway!

Enter below to win not only a copy of "Hope is An Open Heart", but two other great titles which promote heroism and hope: "Terry Fox: A Story of Hope" by Maxine Trottier (30th Anniversary Celebration -- yes, it's been that long), and "Peaceful Heroes" by Jonah Winter, which heralds some of the world's bravest heroes who were willing to die, but not kill, for a cause. These books would be fantastic additions to a classroom as well. The retail value of this package is over $40.


To enter, simply leave a comment below sharing one hope that you have for your family. Please leave at least your first name, and enough info for me to find you should you be the winner (email, etc.) You could also leave a comment, and then send me your email address at katewinn77 at yahoo dot ca. 

For additional entries:


Leave a separate comment indicating that you are a This Mom Loves email subscriber.

and/or

Leave a separate comment indicating that you follow This Mom Loves publicly through Google Friend Connect.

and/or

Leave a separate comment indicating that you follow me on Twitter @thismomloves, and tweet about this giveaway.

This contest is open to residents of Canada, and will close on Thursday, June 17th at 11:59 p.m., after which time a winner will be chosen by random number generation and contacted by email. The winner will have 48 hours to reply, after which time another winner will be chosen.

Good luck, and stay tuned for more great reviews and giveaways from This Mom Loves and Scholastic Canada!

Disclaimer: Future promotional titles will be provided to me free of charge by Scholastic. For this post, I reviewed my own copy of Hope is An Open Heart. All opinions are strictly my own, and I am under no commitment or obligation to recommend any Scholastic titles. Prize books are provided by Scholastic and will be shipped by them to the winner.