Monday, August 30

Perfect Parties Theme Three: The School Party

Guess what? This party is actually mine, and not credited to my party-planning friend Krista!

(In case you missed it, she brought us The Polka Dot Party and The Pajama Party, with more themes on the way!)

Since Frannie is starting school in September, I decided to have a little get-together for the five girls who will be in her Junior Kindergarten class. (There will also be twelve boys, in case you're curious.)

I would have called this a back-to-school party...except they haven't even been yet! So instead it was more of a starting-school party.

I wrote the invitations on little school-themed magnetic notepads, and sent them through the mail. (Note: some post offices will process envelopes that are eight cents short in postage. Some will return them, delaying the whole process. Get your mail weighed first if uncertain!)

When the girls arrived, I gave them some free time down in the playroom (since I have heard that kids seem to enjoy the unstructured time at parties more than the forced games). Then, I forced some games! (Hey, it was a school party and I'm a teacher - what do you expect?)

First, we sat in a circle and I read the funny "If You Take a Mouse To School", by Laura Joffe Numeroff  (I adore her books.)



Next, we played a memory/name game:

"I'm Frannie, and I'm taking a lunchbox to school."
"She's Frannie, and she's taking a lunchbox to school. I'm Tasha and I'm taking a backpack to school," etc.

There were five girls in total, and I swear they still don't know each other's names!

By that time Daddy and Maggie had arrived home with the pizza (one cheese and one pepperoni), served with juice boxes - very appropriate to the theme - which few four-year-olds can finish in one sitting. (If this were a really authentic school party, I would have served peanut-free sandwiches that would have two bites out of them before being thrown in the garbage in favour of the snack foods and dessert. Believe me, I see it every day!)

After eating, we headed outside to burn some energy, and the girls did a little scavenger hunt that I had set up during naptime. (This is my proudest party-throwing-mommy moment.)

Each girl was given a hard plastic pencil case (pink, of course):


Then, they were instructed to search the backyard, where I had strategically hidden ziploc bags full of various school supplies: one bag had six pairs of scissors, one held six gluesticks, etc. (And since one little classmate didn't make it, we even let Maggie participate.)



The girls ran around the yard looking for the bags, and when they found each one, they distributed the contents amongst themselves, and ended up with their own personal back-to-school kit (the total cost was about $32, with everything purchased at Dollarama. The only other costs were the pizza and the cupcake mix.)


They played on the playset for a bit after that, but then it was time for dessert! As I got it ready, the girls gathered around the kitchen table and coloured some school-themed colouring sheets I had printed off the internet.

Then, they were presented with...the cupcakes! (It was a little anticlimatic with no 'Happy Birthday' or blowing out of the candles. I'm sure Krista would have written a school song to the same tune, but oh well. Maybe for Maggie.)


They were just made from a mix, and I then decorated them myself. ("Whew," you're thinking. "I was afraid she paid someone to put together that mess!") However, I thought the pencils and eraser toppers were cute little decorations. (I did wrap the bottoms in tinfoil, by the way, so no chocolate made contact with lead!)

It was a great experience, which I think the cute little classmates enjoyed. An added bonus was that it taught me Kindergarten is not in my future.

Child: I don't want to play that game. I'm going to Frannie's room.
Me: (thinking) Um, no. I said we're playing the game, so we're playing the game. I'm the teacher, don't you get it? (I said something much more sensitive.)

I think I'll stick with letting our excellent K/Grade 1/Grade 2 team break them in before they hit my classroom!

So there you have it...my first party for Frannie and her 'friends'. Not bad, eh?

Saturday, August 28

Review Roundup: An Organizer, A Book and...Pens?

The girls are at Grandma and Grandpa's today, so one of my jobs was to tackle "the blog drawer" where I keep goodies I have been sent to review. A few highlights I'd like to share with you:

Busy Mother's Organizer



Every mom is busy, and I firmly believe every mom needs an organizer. Many women have gone digital, but I still treasure my pen and paper date book. This version has fun sticky notes on the inside cover, with sections for contact information, lists and menus, and notes. It also has enough one page 'week-at-a-glance' sheets to last for a year. I have to admit that I am pretty loyal to the brand I already use, which I prefer for the softcover and larger daily spaces, but the Busy Mother's Organizer is beautiful and worthy of consideration.

Let's Sign, Baby! by Kelly Ault



This is a board book to share with baby in order to learn to sign together. Many parents are going this route these days, as it's certainly useful to know that baby wants "more", or wants to "play" instead of trying to guess what's going on in his or her mind. It's also cute to see babies communicating "thank you" or "I love you" well before being able to do so verbally. Personally, I did not use sign with my girls. At the time, the research I read was showing that babies certainly learn to communicate through sign earlier than through spoken language, but if they do sign, they may wait a bit longer to start speaking. I was okay to mind-read for a while longer, and just wait for the verbal language to come (which was not the same for both girls, by the way). I'd love to hear from any moms who have used sign with their babies, to find out about your experiences. This is a terrific baby-and-parent book, which I would definitely use in conjunction with more of a "parents' manual" type of title.

BIC ReAction ballpoint pens



I'm going to tell you a secret, and it just might breach blogger etiquette. When I received a pack of two pens (retail value $3.99) for review, my first thought was: "Sorry, but I will not spend an hour crafting a post about pens." However, the promotional angle presented in the accompanying media release hooked me: "Looking To Boost Workplace Performance? Consider the Handwritten Note". The press release goes on to talk about the importance of personalized praise, and that a survey shows handwritten notes are the most valuable form of communicating this. I wholeheartedly believe in the need for employers to show their appreciation (and I know my coworkers concur, as we have discussed it), and let's be honest, we like to know we are appreciated by more than just our bosses: our spouses, children, friends. I know that I adore (positive) notes from my students' parents, and I know they like to receive (positive) notes from me, too.

Email seems to be the most common form of communication amongst employers and employees now, but there certainly is something about a handwritten note that takes things up a notch. Now, do we have to write our notes with the BIC ReAction ballpoint pen? Well, no, (although honestly, it is an excellent product) but their strategy did appeal to me enough to get me to mention it to you, didn't it? Clever. Whoever came up with that PR idea deserves a raise. Or a handwritten note of appreciation!

(Oh, and teachers - if you're looking for a nice red marking pen that will glide along, this one works. That is, if you're still marking with red. I know some people are against it because of the colour's negative connotation on children's work.)

There you have it, folks, my review roundup. Now I have to go enjoy my "nice, relaxing day without the kids": by cleaning the garage and doing school prep!

Thursday, August 26

Make Money, Save Money!

It recently occurred to me that all of my Google followers and email subscribers may be missing the oh-so-terrific links in my sidebar, so I decided that occasionally I should highlight a couple of noteworthy items.

This time of year, many people are cleaning out their houses (especially those of us with kids, who need to get rid of summer and get ready for fall), and I've written two freelance pieces that might be of interest to you.

Turn Your Trash Into Cash was written for Together Family magazine (the first time I had a national byline -  I was très excited!) and is a quick comparison of the different ways to make money from your junk (yard sale, consignment, etc.)

Using Online Classifieds was written for Peterborough, Northumberland and Lakeridge Kids magazine, and is a more thorough set of tips based on my former addiction to Kijiji. When I was on mat leave, I was buying and (mostly) selling through Kijiji every day. I am such a clutter-phobe that as soon as I thought Maggie was done with a baby item, I was taking a picture and listing it on Kijiji, with the hopes of getting it out of the house that week. Whether you're buying or selling, Kijiji (and Craigslist) are excellent ways to either make or save some money, and kids' items are hot commodities.



Whether it's generosity or laziness, I've turned away from the Kijiji world somewhat, and tend to just drop stuff off in donation bins once I have a full bag. However, when I was at home on leave I appreciated every extra dollar I could get...since it just went towards the next stage/size of kids' paraphernalia anyway!

Check out the articles, and hopefully you'll find a tidbit that will help you make some extra money, or at least find a way to spend less!

Tuesday, August 24

Stop Second-Guessing Yourself: Baby's First Year

Ah...refreshing. I just received a copy of Jen Singer's Stop Second-Guessing Yourself: Baby's First Year, and it was a breath of fresh air which I inhaled in less than a day.



It's an excellent book: sympathetic, understanding, and not as judgmental as some of the official first-year bibles seem. (There's lots of black and white in those books, and with my short-term breastfeeding and belief in sleep training, I always felt like I was the 'black'. Not so with this one.)

Singer offers all perspectives (breast and bottle, several schools of sleep tips) so it's not just her opinion...although she and I seem to agree a lot. She writes in a casual, informal tone and includes many sidebars funny enough to cause concern for an incontinent new mom. Example? "Baby Milestone Charts According to the Moms in Your Playgroup", referring to the competitive braggarts whose children are always ahead of ours: "3 months - Pushes up on to his hands while lying on belly, and adds a clap between push-ups, like Sylvester Stallone in Rocky 4."

I also love her perspective on getting out of the house with and without baby (and NOT asking Daddy's permission before leaving the kids with him...I guess I wasn't the only one guilty of this.) Plus, I totally agree with her that society today is (too) childcentric; not a popular viewpoint in some circles.

This book is a wealth of baby information (diapering, feeding, babyproofing, illnesses) but with a "you're normal, you're doing fine, trust your judgment" undertone the whole way through.

Stop Second-Guessing Yourself: Baby's First Year is an essential gift for a new or expectant mom. But if you're already past that phase, I have good news! (Other than the fact that you're past that phase.) Singer has also penned (or more likely typed) Stop Second-Guessing Yourself: The Toddler Years and Stop Second-Guessing Yourself: The Preschool Years, which I wish had been written even earlier. I could have used them to complement my more factual, baby-centred reference manuals. Even though my "baby" is well in to her third year (and my big girl in her fifth), Singer's book helped to affirm many of the decisions I made during the all-important first 365 days and, as instructed, I have stopped second-guessing myself. As much.

You can find more of Singer's writing at http://www.mommasaid.net/. It's kind of a major blog. Yes, even bigger than This Mom Loves, if you can believe it. And here's a coincidence: she met Kelly Ripa this summer too!

Disclaimer: I was provided with the above-named book for review purposes. Opinions are, as always, my own. I'm sure you know this by now.

Monday, August 23

New York City Day 2: Live! With Regis and Kelly

You thought the Day 1 Julia Roberts sighting was exciting? The next day was even better!

Day 2 began with our first New York City cab ride, taking us uptown to 67th and Columbus...the studios of Live! With Regis and Kelly. I watch the show all the time, and was thrilled to be able to get tickets. (You can see their website for ticket info, but there is also a standby line which forms early each morning. Friends of ours were in the city the week before us and had good luck with that.)

The first thing I noticed about the set is that it is much smaller than it appears on television. (So is Kelly Ripa...if that's even possible!) We both really enjoyed getting to see the ins and outs of how a live talk-show is produced, and since returning home I've been watching it with a different perspective.



Here I am with the set in the background. This shot reminds me of what my husband said when he saw my new driver's license photo. "When getting your picture taken, you should always squint. That way your eyes will look the same size as a normal person's!" Obviously I forgot that here.



We were fortunate enough to not only see the live show for the day, but the audience also got to stay as they faked the opening host-talk for the following Monday, when they wouldn't be taping. (You have to watch for the little "Previously Recorded" disclaimer that appears as they come walking in.) They also recorded some video and audio promos as well, and I found it quite fascinating to see the different tasks their jobs entail.



During commercial breaks, I expected the hosts to be flipping through notes and getting touch-ups, but they both came right out to the audience to chat and answer questions, which shows you how comfortable they are with the job. (And how many people are working hard behind-the-scenes so Regis and Kelly can appear relaxed!)

It was funny though, at one point Kelly joked to executive producer Michael Gelman that some talk shows take an extended summer break, to which he replied "and that's why they have a 2 share and we have a 15 share". It's good for business that they come to us "Live!" for most of the summer. They also have a great co-host system in place, where they bring in favourites like Anderson Cooper to fill in for Regis' absences, and promotions like the Women In Radio Cohost for a Day contest, where four winners replaced Kelly during her week of holidays.

Afterwards, we had the privilege of popping backstage to meet and get a photo with Regis and Kelly themselves. (Just for interest's sake, I am wearing flats, Kelly is in three - if not four - inch heels.) My claim to fame will now forever be that Kelly Ripa thinks my hair is the colour of lice. (If you were watching the show that day, then you'll know it wasn't just a random insult.)






As I mentioned with the Julia Roberts red-carpet experience, I hate to come across like a star-struck teenager. I am thirty-three years old; a well-read professional. I scoff at the ridiculousness of  "celebrity status", and the questionable talents necessary to attain it. However, witnessing the making of the show I have to tell you that I have a lot of admiration for everyone involved...and it was, like, so totally cool!

The rest of the day was spent doing the cheesiest tourist activities we could possibly find, such as:

Top of the Rock: a neat experience, but next time I would definitely tour the NBC studios as well while I'm there.

New York City Public Library...for the architecture, sure, sure, but also because it was the scene of the ill-fated wedding of Carrie and Big in Sex and the City!

Empire State Building: it was pretty redundant to do this and Top of the Rock in the same day, so I'd recommend sticking with one or the other...and probably choose this one. We bought vouchers for both online through Circle Line Cruises, and saved some money that way. Plus, we were fast-tracked in the Top of the Rock ticket line since we already had our vouchers.

View from the Empire State Building

And of course we had to buy one cheesy photo (6 x 8 plus 2 wallets for $20)


You may be wondering where (and if) we were eating in between all of our adventures. Meals were actually not a big deal for us on this trip (we even went to Subway and TGI Fridays) because we didn't want to make reservations and have to be in any one place at a certain time. In this city, you can find good food for every budget and taste in every neighbourhood, so we played it by ear. (Seriously, something I didn't plan! Yay me!)

After our whirlwind afternoon we went back to hotel to freshen up and change in to the one fancy outfit we brought, and headed down 46th St to Sofia Indico, an amazing Italian restaurant. They had an incredible selection, reasonable prices, and a variety in clientele (some were in shorts and t-shirts, but most were a couple of notches above. We looked well-dressed in our shirt/tie and little black dress.)

Next on the agenda: would any trip to New York be complete without a Broadway show? (And is anyone else out there as naive as me, assuming that every Broadway show was actually found on that street? We were actually at the Gershwin on 51st.)


Our choice of show was the critically-acclaimed (and wildly popular) Wicked. I bought tickets online in advance, even though I had heard about New York TKTS booths where discount tickets can be purchased the day of a Broadway (of Off-Broadway) show. (Matinee tickets are sold the day before.) My problem is that I knew Wicked was the one I wanted to see, and also knew which night we had available, so I didn't want to take any chances. If you're willing to be flexible (more flexible than moi? Hard to imagine!) it's a great idea.

I was not disappointed: Wicked was an incredible show. It ranks right up there for me with Chicago for favourite musical (I've never been to NYC, of course, but I've seen several in Toronto, including Phantom of the Opera, Mamma Mia, and Beauty and the Beast). Frannie would absolutely love this show, with the whole Wizard of Oz spin going on, but I'm certainly not springing for a $150 ticket for a four year old any time soon (or a trip back to NYC, but you know what I mean.)

So are you exhausted as we were? One more full day to go in the Big Apple - details coming soon!

Thursday, August 19

3M Safety Products Update

If you've already read my review of 3M's safety glasses and ear protectors, you need to go back! I'm now able to provide a pair of each to one lucky winner...so just go back to the post and leave a quick comment to be entered - the prize is worth $60!

Now Hubby Appreciates the Blog: 3M Safety Products Review and Giveaway

UPDATE: NOW A GIVEAWAY - OPEN TO CANADIANS!

So my husband has now decided that there is some value in having a blogger wife: he has finally reaped the benefits of a product review! (Can you believe he didn't get excited about legwarmers, hair clips, bread cutters or backpacks? What is wrong with him?)

3M sent us a couple of safety products to try out, and sexist as it may be to say, I handed them right over to my husband. I knew he would get more use out of the Rivet High-Impact Safety Glasses and the AO Safety Professional Earmuffs than I would. Hey, I work hard, but I have yet to injure my eyes or ears doing laundry, scrubbing tubs, or washing dishes.

We hear a lot about safety, and while it's easy sometimes to slack and cut corners, my husband does take care when working outside. Both of these items came in very handy for his whole weed-whacking/push mower/lawn tractor twice-weekly routine. He particularly likes the glasses, because although they meet or exceed all required safety standards, they look just like regular, stylish sunglasses. This way, if anyone drops by, or he leaves them on when running to the gas station, no one can tell the difference. In fact, he's worn them out in public a few times when unable to locate his regular shades!



The earmuffs also work very well. Again, they meet all safety standards, and have an adjustable headband and comfortable liquid/foam ear cushions. My Dad has actually requested a pair for his birthday later this month...but I'm not saying that he's getting them! (Don't want to spoil the surprise...he actually does check out my blog sometimes!) However, I do happen to know that they are on sale at Canadian Tire this week.



There's never a bad time to think about safety, so take a moment to make sure that you have eye and ear protection for all of the hard workers in your household...whether male or female! (And if they can look stylish too, all the better!)

UPDATE: Since originally posting this, I learned that 3M would like to offer one This Mom Loves reader both of these terrific items, with a total retail value of more than $60! Wouldn't that make a terrific surprise for the man in your life...or, of course, a great gift for yourself? Entering couldn't be simpler: just comment below and tell me you'd like to be entered!

For additional entries, leave a separate comment letting me know that:
  • you follow This Mom Loves publicly through Google Friend Connect
  • you subscribe to This Mom Loves through email (be sure your subscription is activated)
  • you follow @thismomloves on Twitter, and tweet about this giveaway (just once in total, please. I don't like overwhelming the Twittershere with giveaway tweets!)
Contest will be open until Thursday, September 2 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern time. A winner will be chosen through random number generation. Good luck, and be safe!

Disclaimer: We received the above-named products for review purposes. Opinions are, as always, my own. And my husband's. But you know whose matters more.

Winners: Stuck On You, Playhouse Disney and Read Me a Story

Congratulations to the following winners:

Stuck On You personalized backpack and tag:
#39 out of 84 entries
Missy from Winnipeg, MB



Playhouse Disney Prize Pack:
# 57 out of 84 entries
Rae from Creston, BC



Read Me A Story from Scholastic:
#13 of 89 entries
Chelsey from Langley, BC



All winners were chosen by random number generation at random.org. Enjoy, ladies!

Don't forget to enter to win a set of Brain Quest Write and Erase Books, and stay tuned for more great giveaways coming soon!

Monday, August 16

New York City Day 1: Julia Roberts

I know, I know, you can't wait to hear every single detail about the Winns taking Manhattan, but I'm going to drag spread the trip out over three posts for each of our three days in the Big Apple, offering you the high and lowlights of our first trip to NYC!

We stayed at a Toronto airport hotel the night before the trip, and flew to LaGuardia without a hitch...unless you consider waking up at 3:45 to catch the shuttle a hitch! We had prearranged another shuttle to take us to our hotel, and arrived at the brand-new (10 days old) Cassa NY Hotel and Residences around 10:00 in the morning...five hours before their check-in time. Lucky for us, they had a room available, and we were able to freshen up and unpack before hitting the town!



Cassa is a very modern boutique hotel, where we stayed for an incredible price thanks to Travelzoo. Now, since they are so new, the building isn't completely finished (our free breakfast was provided at a restaurant around the corner, as they have no facilities of their own yet) but the room was perfect for what we needed, and was right midtown (West 45th between 5th and 6th Avenues), convenient for walking everywhere. The service was also incredible, and the staff went out of their way to greet us, answer questions, and assist us with restaurant ideas, directions...on the last night they even let us print out our boarding passes using their main laptop, since mine had crashed that day! The only thing I might have liked in the room was a bathtub as well as a shower, but I had no time for luxurious bubble baths on this trip anyway.

First on our agenda was heading down to Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises. I had pre-purchased one of their tours (which you'll hear about on Day 3), and also got a discount on several other attractions by purchasing through them. The catch was that even though our boat cruise wasn't until the third night, I had to physically take my printed receipt to their building in order to get vouchers for all of the other attractions which we needed right away. I wasn't too concerned, because we had enough time, plus we saved enough money to make it worthwhile. 

Next, we walked up to Central Park (you may have heard of it), and splurged for a pedicab ride, which gave us a one-hour overview of the park's highlights, such as:

Bethesda Fountain


Loeb Boathouse (used in the movie 27 Dresses - yes, I'm a sucker for anything movie-related)


Strawberry Fields


The Fountain Used in the Opening Credits of Friends
(I'm a bit of a fan. I actually thought I was pretty innovative because I used to record and save the episodes on VHS when the show first started. I thought maybe they'd be worth something someday! Then along came DVD collections. Sigh.)


After the Park...wait a second. I need to explain that I have been asked to use the pronoun "I" for the next portion of the trip. The pronoun "we" would imply that my husband took part in the following tourist activity, which apparently is not something to which a man wishes to admit.

Therefore, next "I" hopped on a Sex and the City tourbus, and spent three hours navigating the island for a glimpse of settings used in the shows and movies. While it was great to quickly visit some of the neighbourhoods we didn't explore on the rest of our trip (Chelsea, SoHo, etc.) this is something I would only recommend for a die-hard fan, and to tell you the truth I found it a bit long. I'm also not usually a frequenter of bars or...well, some of the other locations we visited (I'll leave it at that - Catholic schoolteacher, remember?), although I was totally on board with the Magnolia Bakery cupcake stop:


After being up since 3:45 (and barely sleeping before that) we should have headed back to the hotel at this point, but I insisted on another exciting stop. I had read in my Entertainment Weekly that Eat Pray Love was premiering in NYC that very night, and after a bit of internet sleuthing I was able to find out the location: The Ziegfeld Theatre on 54th Street.


I must admit that I have been torn about how to present certain portions of our trip on this blog. Part of me wishes to come across as a worldly, unaffected, New York type who doesn't even flinch at the glimpse of a well-known personality. But who am I kidding? I may possess some city tendencies, but my country-girl heart was racing with the excitement of being near a red-carpet premiere!!! (And I doubt many worldly, unaffected, New York types are reading this blog...so I assume none of you will judge me!)


Josh Brolin chatted with the group gathered outside
(a much smaller group than I anticipated, actually)


Eat Pray Love author Elizabeth Gilbert (who avoided the crowd)


Eat, Pray, Love star Julia Roberts, proving just why she is such a fan favourite, spent several minutes shaking hands and signing autographs.
 (I was way too cool for THAT...I just kept barking orders at my 6'2" husband to keep taking pictures!
And yes, we were this close! Only a couple of feet away.)


On an interesting note, I found an article on the web written by someone who actually attended the premiere, but barely got a glimpse of Julia ("The scene was set up so the mere plebes and press attending could not see or get on or gawk at the red carpet", she writes, and it's true, the "normal people" entering the building were rerouted around the celeb entrance) so I no longer feel sorry for myself for not actually getting inside. Heck, I'll go see the movie at home, but I think we had the best view of the action stationed right across the street from the entrance.


And that, my dear readers, was my first red-carpet premiere, and the conclusion to our first day in New York City. Now, you may think that would be the highlight of my trip, but things got even more exciting the next morning. Stay tuned for more tips and tales when I share Day 2 of The Winns Take Manhattan...coming soon!

Saturday, August 14

Brain Quest Write and Erase - Review and Giveaway

Giveaway open to Canadians.

I love love love the new Brain Quest Write and Erase books.

"Sure," you're thinking. "She loves every product she tries." Not so! It may surprise you to know that many products I am approached about don't even make it to "This Mom Loves". Sometimes I turn down the opportunity because I know the item won't fit with my family or the vision for my blog. Other times I try something out, but don't feel right recommending it, so it doesn't make the cut. That's why the reviews you will find on my site are almost always positive.

That said, I don't just like these books...I love them!


As a teacher, I know there is value in kids working on academic concepts like letters and numbers, but it defeats the purpose if you have to force your child to sit and drill things when they are neither interested nor ready. While games and interactive play are the best approach with preschoolers, if they take a liking to an actitivy like this, it's a great bonus.

We were sent the Brain Quest Write and Erase Alphabet deck to try, and Frannie had the dry erase marker out and was using it by the time we were in the door from the post office. Since she started using it, I have truly seen both an improved attitude towards learning letters, and actual improvement in printing and letter recognition.



The pages fan out on a grommet, and are thick enough to support the printing... great for the car, bed, outside, etc. (Please don't chain kids to a desk before they even start school!)

The Alphabet book covers uppercase and lowercase, and I thought the size of the pages was perfect, as the child first writes large letters (each page has a model with arrows showing the proper direction for letter formation, a traceable letter, and space for the child's own attempt) and then further on there are smaller lines for the kids to practise on, always with a model at the beginning.



Frannie absolutely adores this, and asks every day when she can do her "homework"! (I also appreciate that it's reusable, and doesn't just end up in the landfill or recycling bin when completed!)

I am very excited to tell you that I have a complete set of four Brain Quest Write and Erase books to give away: Alphabet, Numbers, Phonics and Shapes and Colours...total retail value $44!

All you have to do to win is leave a comment below telling me something your child does well. (Sing, ride a bike, use manners, whatever!) Let's celebrate the positive! Make sure to leave your email address if it's not on your profile, so I can contact you if you win!

For additional entries, leave a separate comment letting me know that:
  • you follow This Mom Loves publicly through Google Friend Connect (be sure to specify if you're a new follower, so I can pop by and return the favour)
  • you subscribe to This Mom Loves through email
  • you follow @thismomloves on Twitter, and tweet about the giveaway (feel free to retweet mine)
Contest is open to Canadians, and will end on Saturday, August 28th at 11:59 p.m. Eastern time, after which time a winner will be chosen through random number generation. Good luck!

If you can't wait to see if you've won, you can purchase each deck separately from bookstores or online.

Thursday, August 12

Not Just IQ: Executive Functioning in Kids

I just finished reading a great book called "No Mind Left Behind: Understanding and Fostering Executive Control - The Eight Essential Brain Skills Every Child Needs To Thrive" by clinical psychologist Dr. Adam Cox. In this book, Dr. Cox outlines the eight pillars of executive control (or what he calls "The Ex Factor" ) that may have more impact than IQ on our children's success.



John Hoffman also wrote about this in the August issue of Today's Parent magazine: "When we think about brainpower, we tend to think about intelligence and knowledge. But what really sets a child up for learning and life skills - even being happy - is a set of abilities that experts call executive function."

As an educator, my philosophy is that all students can learn, regardless of IQ, (which for a large part may genetically predisposed). The pillars of executive control, however, are very teachable (and in fact, many children need to have them explicitly taught).

Dr. Cox cites research stating IQ accounts for only 4 to 10 percent of career success...which can be very hopeful for parents of students with lower IQ's! But you're likely not worried about career success quite yet, especially if you're like me, and your child hasn't even started school. I was quite interested in this tidbit, however, where Hoffman quotes a professor of developmental cognitive neuroscience:

"Various studies have shown that executive function skills are more important for school readiness than a child's IQ or level of reading and math ability as children enter school." I found this fascinating, and I have since made time to read through the pillars to see how my kids are coming along.

What are these eight essential skills? Here's a summary, in the words of Dr. Cox:

Initiation: getting started on an activity without having to be asked multiple times

Flexibility: learning to adapt and shift focus

Attention: focusing long enough and accurately enough to learn important information; also the ability to block out distractions (many bright kids have low marks because of difficulty with this skill)

Organization: managing space, and "taking the emotional impact of chaos seriously". I love that line! In my class, we spent a significant amount of time, especially at the start of the year, working on organizational skills. I absolutely understand the theory about creativity sometimes requiring a bit of chaos, but I truly believe that organization will help students succeed academically.

Planning: managing time

Working Memory: retaining information long enough for it to be stored in long-term memory

Self-awareness: having sufficient self-knowledge and understanding of how one is seen by others

Managing emotions: expressing one's feelings in proportion to the events that elicited them - being neither a "silent recluse" nor an "erupting volcano"

The book contains a parent-friendly checklist for assessing your own child's skills, and a chapter on each with tips for helping your child to develop. Now that you've read through the descriptors, do you see any areas in need of improvement?

You are probably working on many of these things now (without even thinking about it), and have been since your kids were born. If you can target a couple of areas of weakness to improve, your child could see enormous benefits, and not just at school. Wouldn't your home life be more positive, for example, if  improved planning skills led to fewer arguments and less nagging and rushing?

Keep in mind, of course, that these skills are not performed in isolation, they all work together. Whether your child is still preschool, or even heading off for post-secondary education, being proficient in these eight pillars can have a huge impact on his or her success. You can check out Dr. Adam Cox's website for more information.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!

Tuesday, August 10

What To Read: Flashback Episode

No, there's no writer's strike...but every blogger needs a break, so I'm leaving you with a 'best of' post for your reading pleasure!

First, here's a title I haven't mentioned, which is perfect for summer chick lit:

A Mile In My Flip-Flops by Melody Carlson



This one is extremely light and fluffy, yet with Christianity weaving through it (I loved this aspect, but ironically a reviewer on the Chapters website was annoyed by it.) Main character Gretchen is a single thirty-something kindergarten teacher who makes a crazy decision to buy and flip a rundown house. I loved following the progress of the home renovations, and of course the developing relationship she has with carpenter Noah. The ending is way too cheesy, but if you're in to home renos and predictable romances, you might enjoy it as I did.

A second, significantly heavier book which I recently devoured is:

Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda



This novel (a Globe and Mail bestseller) was incredibly moving, and I found it very hard to put down. Here's the publisher's description:

In a tiny hit in rural India, Kavita gives birth to Asha. Unable to afford the 'luxury' of raising a daughter, her husband forces Kavita to give the baby up -- a decision that will haunt them both for the rest of their lives.

Halfway around the globe, Somer, an American doctor, decides to adopt a child after making the wrenching discovery that she will never have one of her own. When her husband Krishnan shows her a photo of baby Asha sent to him from a Mumbai orphanage, she falls instantly in love. As she waited for the adoption to be finalized, she knew her life would change. But she was convinced that the love she already felt would overcome all obstacles.

In a braided narrative that unites the stories of Kavita, Somer and Asha, Secret Daughter, the debut novel by Shilpi Somaya Gowda, explores the emotional terrain of motherhood, loss and belonging. As the story moves between the two families, one struggling to eke out an existence in Mumbai, the other grappling with the challenges of raising a brownskinned child from another culture, Gowda poignantly parses issues of culture, identity and family loyalty.

What I loved about this book was the way the author weaves the stories together, and the vivid, well-described emotions. I think women who have either adopted or given a child up for adoption would connect to it on a different level as well. I also enjoyed learning more about India and the Indian culture.

What didn't sit very well with me was the portrayal of the adopted family. Although I have no experience with adoption, and therefore cannot pretend to understand the associated feelings, I would like to believe that there are situations where the adoption does not hang over the heads of everyone involved on a daily basis. In the book, daughter Asha never feels like she fits in, and Somer (who was not portrayed as sympathetically as her husband Krishnan) always seems to feel inadequate and awkward. I think the fact that the book covers the stories of the three women over more than 20 years, all in 330 pages, has affected the character development. At times, I felt like information was missing from the years that were skipped between chapters, but I did finish the book feeling fairly satisfied.

So, those are my two new suggestions, one being much lighter than the other!

If you're looking for something to read for the rest of the summer, check out some of my past recommendations:

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The First 13 Books Selected By My Book Club (that's not the title of a book, it's the title of my post!)

Good To A Fault

Notes Left Behind

There are also a couple of titles in my sidebar "Bookshelf" which aren't mentioned here, so check those out as well! Happy reading, and stay tuned for my NYC recap!

By the way, I'm always open to hearing your must-read suggestions...feel free to leave a comment about what you've loved recently, or your thoughts on any of the books mentioned here!

Friday, August 6

Front Door Makeover!

As teachers, we are lucky enough to have our summers off. Because of that, we spend ten months of the year adding to the "we'll do it in the summer" list. For 2010, one of our goals was to update our front door with a new paint colour. This is the before shot:


Now, of course there was nothing actually wrong with it, but we found it a bit blah. We naively thought that we could just decide to paint it, and then forge ahead. Little did we know all of the questions we would be faced with:

  • What colour? Well, we knew we wanted black. True black, or a shade of black? (The lady at the paint store thought we would love the greenish black she used on her home, but I dug in my heels. I wanted black black.)

  • Do we paint the trim around the window panes? Do we paint the casings? I am embarrassed to say that we spent at least an hour Googling these questions and looking at various before and after photos in order to reach our decision: trim yes, casings no.

  • Do we keep the hardware? It's a brassy metal, and I am much more into the stainless steel or brushed nickel look, but we weren't going to get rid of a perfectly functional (and only seven year old)  set of hardware. Plus, there are gold-toned accents in the window panes, so silver tones wouldn't really match anyway.
Here is the after...do you think we make the right decisions?


Thanks to my darling hubby for doing most of the legwork on this one (the trips to the paint store and the actual painting - one coat of grey primer and two coats of paint). I did do the washing and taping...and the childcare throughout the whole process, which is even harder when you are trying to keep a two year old away from her Daddy and the wet black paint!

One more thing crossed off the list. Next up: remulch the gardens!

Wednesday, August 4

Read Me A Story: Review and Giveaway

Giveaway open to Canadians

Hot off the press, Scholastic has a fantastic collection of five classic Canadian favourites entitled "Read Me a Story". Included in the book:
  • Henny Penny by Werner Zimmerman
  • The Party by Barbara Reid
  • A Second Is a Hiccup by Hazel Hutchins
  • Sophie and the Sea Monster by Don Gillmor
  • Too Many Books by Gilles Tibo
I have now read this book to my daughters several times, and they love it, especially four-year old Frannie. Quite often when I turn the page, she'll say "turn back for a second!" because she's not done absorbing the detailed pictures. Her favourite story (today) is Henny Penny, "because it's the funniest!" (Ask her tomorrow and it may be different).

Barbara Reid's trademark plasticene art graces the cover - which includes an item to represent each story

Another terrific feature of this book is that there is an "about" page following every story, where you and your children can learn more about the authors and illustrators, the origins of the stories, etc. I haven't shared this information with my girls yet, but I've certainly enjoyed a behind-the-scenes look at the development of the books.

Each story offers its own bonuses: the rhyme and repetition in Henny Penny, the opportunity for children to connect to The Party, the lesson about time in A Second Is a Hiccup, the imagination in Sophie and the Sea Monster, and the humour in Too Many Books. I love having such a sampling of Canadian storytelling and illustrating talent all in one place.

Be aware that "Read Me A Story" is not a throw-in-the-diaper bag, disposable type of book; this one is a hardcover classic that you'll want to share with your children and save for the grandkids.

And yes, of course, I have an opportunity for you to win your own copy of Read Me A Story (retail value $25), simply by leaving a comment naming one of your favourite children's books. Be sure to leave your email address so I can contact you (if it's not on your profile).

For additional entries, leave a separate comment letting me know that
  • you follow This Mom Loves publicly through Google Friend Connect (be sure to specify if you're a NEW follower, so I can pop over and return the favour)
  • you subscribe to This Mom Loves through email
  • you follow @thismomloves on Twitter and tweet about this giveaway
Contest is open to Canadian residents only, and ends at 11:59 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday, August 18th. Good luck, and don't forget to check out my sidebar for other great giveaways running now!

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book for review purposes. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Monday, August 2

In Praise of Epidurals: My Birth Story at Ingenue Mom

Today I am guest posting for the first time over at Ingenue Mom!


Cameron was looking for a variety of birth stories to share on her blog this week, and I have the honour of being first up with my pro-drugs experiences. Pop on over to Ingenue Mom and check it out. While you're there, explore a bit, because she has a terrific blog, and she loves new readers, followers, and subscribers (as do I, so if you're a new visitor, sign on up!)

Sunday, August 1

So, How Do I Look?

WAIT! STOP SCROLLING!

If you're reading this post in your Google reader or email, you absolutely must click on the title above, and pop on over for a quick visit at This Mom Loves. I have a new look!

While I love the template I've been working with, the header was a little uninspired. The flowers were nice and feminine, and I did like how the butterflies moved when your mouse hovered over them, but I'm not much of a gardener (although if you looked at our landscaping, you might think differently, but that's mostly thanks to my husband!)

In terms of what "This Mom Loves", so to speak, my girls and books rank a lot higher for me than butterflies and flowers. Thanks to the talented Julie at Leelou Blogs, I now have a much more personal look (plus, she kept a couple of moving butterflies just for old times' sake!)

My daughters are obviously the inspiration for this blog, and the new illustration captures something we love to do together --- read! My job and students are also important to me, and I had an idea for fitting that in, but Julie suggested that it might make the header too busy (and heaven forbid something of mine should look cluttery! I was aiming for more of a streamlined look.)

It's funny, because I felt like a teenager waiting by the phone for a cute boy to call as I sat by my computer awaiting Julie's mock screenshots. I swear, I would even keep refreshing my email to just see if anything was there! (I'm sure my fellow bloggers can understand.) I actually went to bed with my laptop beside me last night in case there were any last-minute questions (Julie's in a different time zone, and has to do her work after her kids go to bed. Can anyone relate?), had bad dreams about the final product, and had to force myself to go back to sleep several times as if it were Christmas Eve...all I wanted to do was log on and check things out!

Needless to say, I am thrilled with the result, AND...I now also have a button just perfect for grabbing (see sidebar for code)! If you add it to your site, leave the link below so I can check it out and return the favour.




I also wanted to quickly mention the content of This Mom Loves. This week is giveaway heavy, which some of you love. However, I have many loyal readers who have been with me since before my "PR Friendly" days (drawn in by my touching prose and witty remarks, I'm sure). I would like you gals to know that while I am enjoying product reviews and giveaways (I'll be honest - I love free stuff, I enjoy sharing my opinions about it, and giveaways help build readership) I have no intentions of taking This Mom Loves completely in that direction.

Finally, apologies to my American readers for the fact that so many current contests are Canadian only. That won't always be the case.

So, back to my cute new illustration...comments are very appropriate at a time like this (hint, hint!)....so, how do I look?

(P.S. If you're still seeing the old title at the very top, it is going to be removed!)