Tuesday, May 31

My New Coach Bag and Me: A Love Story

Okay, I must start by saying that I am really not a brand-name person. My kids wear few labels, and I shop for myself at chain stores in the mall. (This leads me to end up at school wearing the same outfits as the Grade 8 girls, but I digress.)

When it comes to handbags though, I have always wanted to own something with a nice, well-known label. To me, "Coach" seemed like the best bet. Classic and classy, (which I'd like to think suits me) but with a price tag manageable outside NY and LA. I also knew I wanted a shoulder bag, in black.

I had been checking Ebay for a while, and had my eye on a few possibilities, but as a non-regular Ebayer, I missed some opportunities because I forgot they were there. (Sure, I wanted a Coach bag, but it certainly didn't rank ahead of real priorities, like keeping up with my PVR.) I finally figured out the whole "watchlist" thing, and got a reminder one evening that bidding on one of my favourites was ending in 15 minutes. Sitting in front of Desperate Housewives, I quickly checked to see that the seller looked reputable (and was vehement enough - but not too vehement - about only selling authentic purses, and that purchasing fakes helps to fund terrorism, etc.) With three minutes left, I placed my bid.

The result?

Meet my very first designer bag:



The purse (NWT, in Ebay speak) arrived from the States within a couple of weeks, and I couldn't have been more pleased. It was exactly as pictured and described.

Until this, I don't believe I have ever in my life paid more than $40 for a purse...yet for this one, I went in to the three digits. (Barely three digits. I may be a teacher, but I'm only a teacher. That sentence will mean something different to you depending on whether you live in Canada or the US.)

I immediately moved all of my handbag contents into my beautiful new acquisition (I won't be one of those saving-it-for-a-special-occasion designer purse owners) and have been carrying it around ever since. Never before have I hesitated when setting my bag down on the ground, and I even took an injury to avoid having it soiled! We were sitting in a booth at a restaurant (an oh-so-rare occasion), preparing to leave, and Maggie decided to stand up on the bench and walk towards me. With her shoe poised to come down on the bag, my instincts kicked in and I threw my hand down to absorb the impact...and the dirt. I still have the bruise to prove it!

I would be the first to tell you that name brands don't define you, and in fact are a waste of money. However, I am embarrassed to say that I have been brainwashed enough to make sure that I walk with the cute little Coach carriage logo facing out..in case anyone doesn't realize that the textured letter C's on the bag prove that in fact I own "the real thing". (Though less than 10% of the people I come into contact with on a regular basis would notice or care. Which is probably good.)

And if you're wondering "What does one wear with a Coach handbag?", to you I say: Does it ever go nicely with my $30 Smart Set jeans and $15 Suzy Shier top...and you should see it with my new Zellers track suit!

Friday, May 27

Love Your Weekends Again!

This is a special guest post brought to you by the editors of Prevention magazine. (As soon as I read it, I knew I had to share it!)

Come Friday, we’re ready to relax and recharge—but too many of us sabotage our weekends by cramming in a month of chores or going zombie in front of the TV. Either way, the weekend is a bust.

If you want to feel truly refreshed by Monday morning, take to heart the findings from one study showing that in addition to eating, relaxing and sex, women enjoy themselves MOST when they’re socializing, engaging in spiritual activities and exercising. In the June issue of Prevention magazine (on newsstands now), Editors worked together to create the “Rule of Three” to help make the most of your weekend by mapping out activities, leaving you recharged and ready to face that manic Monday.

Outlined below is each rule and how to incorporate them into your lives, as well as, tips to help your weekends go from hectic to happy!




Rule 1: Use Your Social Network

· Even if you cherish “just for me” time, organize at least one weekend endeavor where you can bring along a friend. Feeling connected and loved are among the biggest predictors of happiness.

· Socializing encourages us to spend our time and money on experiences, which research shows makes us happier than material objects.

· So plan a Saturday-night outing to a play you’ve read about, or sign up for a cooking class with a pal. You’ll enjoy the advantages for weeks or months to come.

Rule 2: Try Soul Food

· The more frequently that people attend religious services, the more content they are.

· Faith and prayer regardless of religion, satisfy a basic need to feel part of something bigger than ourselves.

· It turns out that volunteering can have a similar effect. People derive a lot of pleasure from helping others.

· Also try meditation or a restorative yoga class instead. Research shows that spiritual practices, such as regular mindfulness exercises, can actually change brain structure in a way that promotes a sense of well-being.

Rule 3: Break a Sweat

· Exercise sparks the release of feel-good endorphins, but it also satisfies something more profound: the human need to perform and excel.

· Although any fitness activity you enjoy is good you’ll enhance its benefits even more by taking it outdoors.

· Studies find that people who exercised outside felt more energetic and were more inclined to keep at it.

Power Up Your Pleasure

Compress your chores. To avoid having your to-do list take over, carve out 2- to 3- hour blocks for errands. Also consider whether there are things you can outsource—or ignore.

Unplug. After a week of making decisions, channel surfing can seem like just what the doctor ordered, but TV is less enjoyable then we think. One study found that unhappy people watch 30% more TV than very happy people. Limit your web surfing too, since it comes with the added peril of checking work e-mail, which may invite stress into your time off.

Rethink Sunday night. A new study shows we remember unpleasant experiences as significantly worse if we expect them to recur, which may explain why so many of us ruin Sunday evening by dreading the week ahead. Instead, plan one of your Rule of Three activities for Sunday night: You’ll fall asleep with a fond new memory, not a crash of nerves.

I can totally relate to this piece, and "that Sunday feeling" is a frequently used expression with my family and friends. What advice will I take to heart? Well, I'm not so good at the unplugging thing, but this weekend I will try to "use my social network" (considering I'll have more than 20 people at Maggie's birthday party Saturday night, I think I have that one covered), and attend a religious service (as I do almost every Sunday).

I can't guarantee a relaxed beginning to the work week this time around, though. One acronym sums it up: EQAO. (In a nutshell: my class begins their provincial standardized testing on Monday, and when the results come out in September, the world can decide if I am a good teacher or not. No pressure. Okay, maybe "the world" is stretching it, but still. Don't get me started.)

For more, check out the latest issue of Prevention magazine, on stands now.

Wednesday, May 25

Wednesday Words

This week's "Wednesday Words" come from my book club's latest selection: Little Bee by Chris Cleave



The first words that struck me were actually on the book jacket: 

"We don't want to tell you too much about this book. It is a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know something, so we will just say this: This is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice. Two years later, they meet again. The story starts there. Once you have read it, you'll want to tell everyone about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens. The magic is in how it unfolds."

Tell me that doesn't hook you!

By page nine, I had already found a passage that I knew I had to share:

"...I ask you right here to please agree with me that a scar is never ugly. That is what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them. We must see all scars as beauty, okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived."

As of writing this post, I'm only a third of the way into the book, but unless it goes downhill fast, I'd suggest you add it to your must-read list.

Pirates of the Caribbean Giveaway Reminder

Don't forget to enter to win the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides gift pack! The contest ends tomorrow (May 26th) at midnight, and entries are extremely low!



Sunday, May 22

What I Learned From Brooke Burke's "The Naked Mom" - And a Giveaway!

Giveaway open to Canada and U.S.

Part of me didn't want to like "The Naked Mom". I knew Brooke Burke as the host of Dancing With the Stars, as well as a media mogul with a website - ModernMom - and a ridiculously high number of Twitter followers (1,775,785 as of this writing, though she is still uninterested in selling her tweets as some celebs do.)

Soon after cracking open her new book, I realized that despite the glamour and the fame, moms really do have a lot in common, whether we're attempting to balance parenting with a classroom or a ballroom.

Some of my favourite points:

Brooke asserts that there is no such thing as "balance", which I totally agree with (and have heard from several of my Momterview subjects). No parts of your life can get your attention equally, all the time, so don't even try.

She makes no attempt to maintain an illusion of perfection. If she did, she wouldn't use phrases like "setting out to stitch together a family from the tatters of my failed marriage" or "I'm convinced every Brady in the Bunch had to be smoking crack." In fact, she speaks candidly about her first marriage and subsequent divorce, shared custody, and the effects on her family.

From "The Naked Mom", I learned that performing on Dancing With The Stars is more physically and emotionally challenging than I ever would have thought. Sure, sure, no one is forcing these Stars to participate, and yes, they are getting paid, but the determination to push through challenge and pain is an important lesson, even if it is for the sake of entertainment. Brooke shares lots of behind-the-scenes stories and trials, both as a competitor and now as cohost of the show. (Though the woman's instincts aren't exactly bang on. When Dancing With The Stars was first in development, her response was "Hell, no, this will never work in America!" In case you live under a rock, DWTS is consistently the number one show in the U.S.)
DWTS Cohosts Brooke Burke and Tom Bergeron

I enjoyed the chapter on "Beauty, Deconstructed", where Brooke takes the reader step-by-step through all of the people and products that get her to look the way we think she appears all the time. ("Does anyone have real hair or real boobs or real teeth anymore? Not on my patch of the planet, babe.") Though unfortunately, she shies away from calling out any A-Listers, focusing only on her personal beauty regime. Style doesn't always come at a huge cost, I was pleased to note, as Brooke was once overwhelmed by gushing compliments at a party over her $15.99 choker. Now that, I can afford.

There are some stories which are a bit hard to relate to. Most of the "inner b---h" moments Brooke shares are a little out of the league of us normal gals, as they deal with the paparazzi, a manicurist, and an airport while waiting to board a plane to London. My "inner b---h" comes out more often at the grocery store. (Though it is frustrating when the paparazzi trails me to my rural Catholic school every day. I'm sure you've seen those crazy shots in the tabloids.)

I also found it amusing that Brooke's so-called diet "cheat" days sound pretty much like a regular day for me (a bagel WITH butter...a burger...AND a treat from Cinnabon! Wild!)

Despite a couple of these "yeah, we're not really the same" anecdotes, there are other times when Brooke really does "bare all", so to speak, like when she shares her worst mommy moment (forgetting her daughter in the car after running in to Starbucks and sitting down to enjoy a coffee with friends). You'll have to read the book to see how horribly embarrassing the situation turned out to be. Don't we all have one of "those" moments, the recollection of which still makes us cringe?

Brooke with her four (yes, FOUR!) children

Brooke's kids are older than mine, and I did take away a few great parenting tips, such as the reassurance that you can't be your child's friend (Brooke came about this realization in therapy; now you know for much less than $150 an hour) and she also has a beautiful tradition of writing back and forth with one child in a special Mother-Daughter journal. When Frannie gets old enough, I think I'll actually try that one.

She talks a lot about the importance of the connection between husband and wife, and goes so far as to share a fantasy that she and hubby David Charvet play out, where they are museum-goers admiring pictures at an exhibition. I found it such a coincidence, because my husband and I like to...just kidding. (If you seriously thought I was going to finish that sentence, you must be new here.)

David Charvet and Brooke Burke at the Los Angeles premiere of Terminator Salvation
David and Brooke

"The Naked Mom" is a warm and entertaining read, offering the behind-the-scenes-and-at-home-with-a-star details that many of us enjoy, as we get to know a mom who is both so totally unlike and exactly the same as "regular" moms like us.

Want to read it? I'm giving away a copy of Brooke Burke's "The Naked Mom" to one lucky This Mom Loves reader. All you have to do is let me know you want to win! (Make sure to leave your email address, if it's not on your profile. If I can't contact you, you can't win.)

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
  • You follow @thismomloves on Twitter (I'm planning to catch up to Brooke by the time my blog changes to This Grandma Loves)
  • You follow @brookeburke on Twitter (she really needs your support!)
The contest will run until Sunday, June 5th at 11:59 p.m., after which time a winner will be chosen through random number generation. Good luck!

Friday, May 20

"Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" Prize Pack Giveaway

Giveaway open to Canadians.


Yes, that's right: Captain Jack is back and PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES sails into theatres everywhere on May 20th!

Walt Disney pictures tells us what we can expect from this much-anticipated film:

Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Rob Marshall, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” captures the fun, adventure and humour that ignited the hit franchise—this time in Disney Digital 3D™. Johnny Depp returns to his iconic role of Captain Jack Sparrow in an action-packed adventure. Crossing paths with the enigmatic Angelica (Penélope Cruz), he’s not sure if it’s love—or if she’s a ruthless con artist who’s using him to find the fabled Fountain of Youth. When she forces him aboard the “Queen Anne’s Revenge,” the ship of the legendary pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane), Jack finds himself on an unexpected adventure in which he doesn’t know whom to fear more: Blackbeard or Angelica, with whom he shares a mysterious past. The international cast includes franchise vets Geoffrey Rush as the vengeful Captain Hector Barbossa and Kevin R. McNally as Captain Jack’s longtime comrade Joshamee Gibbs, plus Sam Claflin as a stalwart missionary and Astrid Bergès-Frisbey as a mysterious mermaid.



The first three instalments in this series have been blockbuster hits (grossing $2.6 billion worldwide), and "On Stranger Tides" is sure to be a similar crowd-pleaser. Johnny Depp recently told Entertainment Weekly magazine that his mission for the fourth movie was this: "Let's give them something character-driven. Something fun and irreverent. Hoops of fire and whatnot. New blood, as it were."

To celebrate the upcoming film release, I'm giving away a terrific PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES  prize pack, which includes (see images below):
  • PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES t-shirt (in adult sizes only)
  • PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES bandana in black
  • PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES temporary tattoo (2 per winner)
  • PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES official movie poster
  • PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES pin




Entry for this giveaway couldn't be simpler: just leave a comment below letting me know you'd like to be entered. That's it! (Make sure you provide your email address, if it's not available on your profile. If I can't contact you, you can't win!)

For additional entries, leave separate comments letting me know that:
The contest will run until Thursday, May 26th at 11:59 p.m., after which time a winner will be chosen  through random number generation. Good luck, and clear your calendars for May 20th!

Wednesday, May 18

Perfect Parties Theme Six: The Purple Party...and More!

I'm back again with another party plan from my creative friend Krista. This theme idea could work for whatever the birthday girl's or boy's favourite colour happens to be, but the examples here all work with the colour purple. (Not to be confused with the movie, which is not appropriate for young children!)

Here are some of Krista's ideas, with a few of my own thrown in.


Invitations:

  • Purple, of course, and make sure the guests are aware of the dress code colour.
  • Offer prizes for the person attired in the most purple.
Decorations:
  • Anything that suits the theme! Purple streamers, balloons, flowers. Krista hung purple "twirlies" (if anyone has the proper terminology, let me know) inside and out.
Activities:
  • Pin the tail on the purple unicorn.
  • Make a craft (e.g. foam door hanger craft, or paint small boxes purple and decorate with jewels; see what the dollar store has in stock)
  • Make abstract art collages out of different colours of purple paper.
  • Grape bubblegum blowing contest.
  • Scavenger hunt (inside or out) for list of purple items. Can provide a full list, or name one item at a time and leave a clue with each to help find the next.


Food:

  • Purple suckers
  • Welch's grape fruit snacks
  • Raisins
  • Grapes
  • Grape juice
  • Grape yogurt tubes, jello, popsicles, etc.
Cake:

  • With purple icing, served on purple plates and eaten with purple forks

There's a great recipe for purple poke cake (white cake which will have purple stripes running down through the cake) from About-Recipes.com (See photo below for an example of a Christmas-coloured Poke Cake from kandscakes.com.)



Jello Poke Cake


Loot bag:

  • purple skipping ropes
  • foamie stickers in purple cellophane wrap
  • purple ballet streamer
  • purple candies
  • purple tiara and wand
  • purple nail polish


As an extra little treat for you, it is now time for me to reveal the extravagant theme (or lack thereof) used for Frannie's birthday party in March. Despite all of Krista's fabulous ideas, I just couldn't force myself to put that much effort in. My excuse is that we stuck with a family-only party for one more year, which meant way more adults than kids, four of the five little guests being younger than the birthday girl (and four of them boys), so it was too hard to pick a theme to appeal to them all. Here's how it went down:

Cake: Sleeping Beauty, as requested by the birthday girl. Purchased, but I consider it "homemade" because it was made to order by my wonderful baker (who also has a child in my class).

Decorations: Frannie went to A Buck Or Two and individually chose a mylar balloon for each guest. (Batman, Superman and Handy Manny for the boys, Tiana, Cinderalla - or Cindalella as Maggie calls her- and Winnie the Pooh for the girls.) These were filled with helium and tied in strategic places around the party area and VOILA!...the room was decorated.

Loot Bags: A box of Smarties with a $5 gift card for Chapters taped to each one, and their character balloon.

I know, I know...pretty low key, but no one was complaining.

Krista was proud to hear that I am attempting a themed party for Maggie's 3rd at the end of the month...so stay tuned for that one!

Saturday, May 14

How Long Are You Going To Live?

Apparently, my magic number is 91 years of age, if you can believe the multi-step life-expectancy calculator at Living to 100.

I realize this is not an exact science, but I still found it fascinating to input my information for the various categories (personal, lifestyle, nutrition and medical) and see what verdict I received.


Livingto100 Home

Not only does the site tell you how much longer you likely have left on earth, but it gives you suggestions for extending your stay. For example, if only I could remember to floss every day, I could add on another year. Hygiene, however, is not my biggest problem.

Based on my current consumption, if I cut out fast food I could add 8 years to my life. That seems like a lot...but is it worth those years from 91 to 99 if I have to eat like a rabbit the whole time? I can get another 2 years if only I would cut back on sweets to once or twice a week, but I can't even imagine 17,160 long, sad days without chocolate.

If I follow all of the provided recommendations, I could possibly add 21.75 years, and live until a ripe old 112 and three quarters. Exactly how long can one pretend that one is not going gray, anyway?

Want to know your number? Check out Living to 100 and find out! Be sure to come back and let me know. If anything, it might spur you to make a few healthy changes. As for me...I'll be sure to floss after dessert.

Wednesday, May 11

Wednesday Words

Today's edition of Wednesday Words comes to you from my book club's latest selection, "Annabel" by Kathleen Winter:

"A child's worry was not like an adult's. It gnawed deep, and was so unnecessary. Why did people not realize children could withstand the truth? Why did adults insist on filling children with the deceptions their own parents had laid on them, when surely they remembered how it had felt to lie in bed and cry over fears no one had bothered to help you face?"

Perhaps this might mean something to you today.


RONA $50 GC Winner

Congratulations to the winner of the $50 RONA Gift Card, thanks to the BMO Eco Smart Mortgage:



# 98

Shepherd C. of McKellar, ON

Enjoy your prize, Shepherd!

P.S. The first winner didn't leave an email address, and her profile wasn't available...so I had to choose someone else. Let that be a lesson! :-)

Wednesday, May 4

Mother's Day Gift Ideas from Hallmark and Lucky Puppy

So, these two items aren't exactly on my wish list, since I already own them, but you might want to consider asking for one or both yourself.

As part of my role on the Hallmark Press Pause Panel, I received a box of goodies for Spring holidays (and non-holidays) and I particularly like one of their Mother's Day selections: "Mom and Me: A Conversation To Keep Recordable Book".




This book provides questions on each page to prompt your child, and his or her answers can be recorded. For example: "What does Mom tell you when you're scared or having a bad day?" and "If you could travel anywhere in the world with Mom, where would you go and what would you do there?" Some questions are funny, and some are sentimental, and on the left hand side of each page is a cute kangaroo mom and child illustration. I can't wait to try it out with my girls and record their answers.

I think this would be a great gift for Daddy to pick up and help the child(ren) complete as a terrific Mother's Day surprise.

There are other titles as well that would work for Dads and Grandparents, and they also carry traditional storybooks with the recordable feature.

My kids became a huge fan of the Hallmark Recordable Book when my parents gave them (and my brother's kids) "The Very First Christmas" this year. (My sister-in-law is no considering converting to my holiday-themed bins system after being startled awake too many times this Spring to the sound of my Mom's voice reading "This is a story of impossible things, of a baby and angels, of shepherds and kings" in the next room!)

Another cool gift idea is Mommy and Me matching t-shirts from Lucky Puppy. Maggie and I received the "Wings - Burnout" style (shown below), and the tops are absolutely adorable. They're soft and comfy, and the only caveat I would offer is that ladies who purchase this white style will definitely want to put a tank or some other layer underneath. (Ladies who are not exhibitionists, I mean.)


The mom's version is $30, and the child's is $28.  They have tons of other cute designs and products (onesies, dresses, etc.) and a great sale page. They also donate 15% of their online sales to Animal Haven Shelter. Check them out!

Now of course these material things are not important, and what I really and truly want for Mother's Day is to spend quality time with my family.

I mean, wouldn't it look awful if I publicly admitted that the best gift would be a day to myself? What kind of mother would say that?

Disclosure: I received the above-named items for review purposes. Opinions are, as always, my own.