Wednesday, August 31

ET Canada's Cheryl Hickey: The Momterview

Update: Cheryl is pregnant again! She and husband Kevin are expecting baby #2, a girl, in 2013!

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My readers know very well that I am a huge entertainment junkie, and what better place to get all the news than Global TV's Entertainment Tonight Canada?

I recently had the opportunity to chat with ET Canada's gorgeous, talented (and most importantly, Ontario-born!) host, Cheryl Hickey.



This Mom: You're a busy mom like all of my readers, with one big difference being that you're on national television every day! Can you take us through what a typical workday is like for you?

Cheryl Hickey: Usually I wake up at about 7:00 to "mamamama"; that's my alarm clock. Lately it's been "mama backhoe", because that's his big word right now. Then I go in and see my son, and we have a bottle and cuddle time, and then off to shower.

Usually I'm at work by 8:30 in hair and makeup, or as I call it, "restoration", and I go into a morning line-up meeting where we talk about what's happening with the show, what stories have broken overnight, some of the local stories we're working on. Then back into hair and makeup and between 10 and 10:30 I go into my office and catch up on e-mails and phone calls and things like that that I need to do.

Next I go into the voice booth and start voice-overs for the show for probably 20 minutes, then I jump into wardrobe and throw on my clothes and we start the show at 11 and do that until usually 3:30. Right now my schedule is condensed and I'm working until about 1:00 and then I go home to my son.

Work has been really great in that I was working part-time for a little while. To everyone at home it looks like I'm working full-time, but we've managed to condense my day so I can be home with my son. My husband {Kevin Foley} works a very busy job and he's not around a lot, so this way works out much better.

TM: You're around fame on a daily basis, but are there any celebrities who still make you feel starstruck?

CH: I think after doing this for a little while you realize these guys are just people like all of us, and they get really nervous before big events, and you can see it in their faces when you're on the red carpet. But sure, there are still some stars you get excited to see, like your Julia Roberts and Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, certainly. They're all pretty big.

TM: Is it common when interviewing a celeb for you to be told in advance that certain questions are off-limits, or are you generally open to ask whatever you want?

CH: Most of the time whatever you want to ask, but I would say that over the years, the number of publicists coming up to you saying "We don't want you to talk about this, we don't want you to talk about that," is definitely increasing, I think because their privacy is being taken away by all of the sites on the internet, the sort of 24 hours people watching, so there are certain things where they just don't want to talk about it.


TM: You always look amazing on the air. Do you have choice in your wardrobe?

CH: Oh yeah. I think Meg and I have developed a really fantastic relationship in that she knows what I feel I can wear and what I can't wear. Like any woman, you sort of know your body and you know what works and what doesn't. Every once in a while I'll wear something and think "Oh, jeez, why did I do that?" Meg will get a selection of clothes and I walk in and put on what I think works and then I'm out.


TM: What can we look forward to with ET Canada's coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival this year?

CH: We're going to be all over it, of course! We'll be at all the really big red carpets, and we have a really great room set up to do some one-on-one intimate interviews with everybody and we've got a couple of really good parties with a ton of celebrities coming, and we'll have our cameras rolling of course so we can show everyone the next day. And we'll show all of the prep that goes in to it, and the big swag rooms, and how people get ready for big events like this.

Cheryl rocks her baby bump with ET co-hosts Rosey Edeh and Kim D'Eon
at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival (just weeks before Jaxs was born)

TM: How old is Jaxson now?

CH: {You can hear the smile in her voice as she answers} He's going to be two in October!

TM: And what is he into these days?

CH: Everything to do with construction and trucks. One of his first words was backhoe. They're doing some construction on the street in front of our house, and have been doing it for quite a while, so every morning he wakes up and he's totally excited to look out the window. He says "backhoe", "dumptruck", "front loader", so that is all very big. Also Baby Einstein. The Rocket. Loves it.


Cheryl and Kevin, http://www.houseandhome.com/


TM: Do you foresee any siblings in his future?

CH: You know, if we're lucky enough, that would be great. Absolutely. It would be wonderful for him to have a brother or sister, but you know, you can't really plan those things. It's not really up to us.

TM: We might think it is, but someone else may know better! Speaking of kids, I've read that you're a big proponent of sleep, as am I. Some people seem to to be able to get by on very little. Why is it so important to you?

CH: I think you become delirious if you don't get it, quite frankly, and it's hard to function. I think anyone who has been sleep-deprived knows that you have to have it. You don't function nearly as well. And I had a colicky baby, and I realized relatively quickly that it's really difficult not sleeping. I also think I did things wrong by not napping when he was napping. Sleep is huge.


Haha I'm up Jaxs still sleeps lol on Twitpic
Cheryl shared this pic on Twitter when Jaxs was two months old

TM: What do you and your husband like to do for family time?

CH: We make sure our weekends are always family time, because we're so busy during the week. My husband runs his own company, a production company with Vernon Wells, and anybody who runs their own company knows that you work long hours. It's much different. A lot of the time he's not home for dinner, it's just Jaxson and I, so on the weekend it's family time. In the summer we go to every splash pad we can find! We have a really big backyard so we make sure to do lots of fun sports outside. We go to the beach. He's big into the beach and swimming, so anything with water.

TM: How would you complete the sentence "This Mom Loves..."?

CH: I have a steamer and blender that you use to make your own baby food, and I still use it to this day to steam all of his vegetables and things like that, so I love that! I got it at Williams Sonoma, and it's green. {The Beaba Babycook Baby Food Maker, pictured below.} I also use a couple of really beautiful creams and oils that I love for my son because he has sensitive skin. We have a ladybug that shines moons and stars on the ceiling at night and that's a great way to soothe him, and he loves it. And I love his hands and feet!

Beaba Babycook Baby Food Maker

Thanks, Cheryl!

To stay up-to-date with entertainment news, both worldwide and from here in Hollywood North, be sure to catch ET Canada weeknights on Global TV at 7:30 p.m. ET/PT.

You can also follow @ETCanada and @CherylHickeyETC on Twitter.

Monday, August 29

Our East Coast Vacation: Highlights and Lowlights

I bring you now the highlights and lowlights of our East Coast (i.e. Ontario to Quebec to New Brunswick to PEI and back) adventure:

Lowlights:
  • We realized right before we left for the 16 hour journey that the in-van televisions were not in working order. Had to stop at Canadian Tire along the way to buy new ones. Tried to install new ones; they were defective. Went back in to return them, left receipt in van. Figured it all out, and discovered that we had left our DVD in the returned system. But believe me, it was ALL worth it. You just can't drive that far with kids without TV's. Other tips: Children's Gravol works for car sickness. We also kept a small cooler in the front of the van with cheese strings, granola bars, cut up strawberries, etc. to keep snack breaks to a minimum.

  • French Mass in Shediac. Not because it was French, or Mass, but because the priest used the word "pouvoir" and Maggie very loudly demanded to know why he said "poo"! Other than that, it was actually a bit of a cultural highlight for me.

  • Did I mention it was a 16 hour journey? We did it over two days, stopping in Quebec on the way down and the way back, but it's still a lot for two children, a driver daddy, and a not-so-patient mommy.

Highlights:

  • The "cottage" was more of a "huge beach house". My parents had a room, the girls shared one, and we got a huge room with ensuite and jacuzzi tub! We woke up every morning to this view of our private beach:


  • Crystal Palace: an indoor theme park for kids in Dieppe, New Brunswick with rides and games. Buy the wristbands and everyone rides all day.



  • Shediac, New Brunswick: This is where we resided for the week, and it was a fantastic little town. We were there for the Acadian festival, so the girls and I got matching bracelets (which, despite my awareness of the Acadian culture and reasons for their symbolic colours still made me feel strangely Texan). Though the parade was brief and unremarkable, we did get a photo of Canadian Liberal leader Bob Rae and his wife with local MP Dominic Leblanc (below). This may not be a big deal to you, but my 78 year old grandmother has quite a crush on Leblanc.




Acadian flag
    History lesson in a nutshell: "Acadia" refers to portions of Quebec, the Maritime provinces and Maine which were originally part of New France. In the 1700's, residents who refused to swear unconditional oaths of allegiance to the British Crown were deported. Many have since returned, but a large number settled as far south as Louisiana, where "Acadian" was eventually pronounced "Cajun". Learn something new every day, don't you?

  • Avonlea Village in Cavendish, PEI: Anne of Green Gables fans would LOVE this authentic village, complete with buildings, wagon rides, and costumed actors. (Wristbands were good for two days, so if you get rained out, you can always come back.) Gift shop note: the large Anne dolls can cost more than $40 (and will likely just sit on a shelf). I talked Frannie into the $6.99 figures of Anne, Diana and Gilbert which have already been fodder for hours of interactive play. Check out our little girls-of-Green-Gables in the dressup building:


  • Anne of Green Gables - The Musical in Charlottetown, PEI: Frannie was absolutely enthralled, and it even kept the attention of three year old Maggie (who had no shortage of - loud - questions throughout the performance. "Why did she do that? Where is he going? Who is that boy? Why is her last name Green Gables?")

  • The World's Biggest Lobster photo op in Shediac. Just because it was cheesy.


  • Quebec City. Arguably the most beautiful city in North America, it never fails to take my breath away. My girls and my brother's children were particularly captivated by the street performers. Though I cherished all of the family time, I wouldn't recommend trying to navigate the narrow European streets as a group of ten with a double stroller. It's more a "divide and conquer" kind of place. No historical reference intended.


  • It was fantastic to spend so much quality time with family, including my parents, brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew. I mean, the girls coloured Grandpa's fingernails with markers and played Princess Yahtzee with Grandma...you can't get that every day. (Usually Grandpa does his own nails. Ha ha.) I am the type of person who has a very hard time slowing down (so the Internet access was an absolute must) but even I was proud of myself for just taking some time to stop and smell the seashells. (Though I don't recommend that particular olfactory sensation. There was a "mystery smell" in our van upon our return, and a couple of days later the same overwhelming smell was in Frannie's room. When I walked in one morning and gagged, she told me "It's just the seashells!" They have since found a new home.)

  • Coming home. Or as Maggie put it: "Our real home!"


Tuesday, August 23

In Memory Of Luke Thomas: July 11, 2011 - July 12, 2011

Luke should have been born today.

Dear friends of ours, after a great deal of time spent hoping to be blessed with a child, found out they were finally expecting, and due August 23rd. The news was shared, and joyful preparations were made. An ultrasound confirmed that it was a boy, and Luke's name was chosen (though kept secret from even his parents' closest friends!)

On July 11th, six weeks before his due date, Luke's Mommy noticed that he wasn't as active as he had been, and subsequent testing showed that he was in distress. He was born via emergency C-section (at a fighting weight of 6 lbs, 3 oz), and whisked away for observations. Later in the day, his parents received the devastating news that Luke had suffered from a very rare, spontaneous in-utero condition where the blood flow reversed and went from baby to mom, with fatal consequences. This tragedy was not foreseeable, or preventable.



After blessing his grandparents and aunts and uncles with time to meet him, Luke passed away on July 12th, 2011.

It's not right, and it's not fair. Not that two warm, smart, generous, loving people, the best parents a child could ask for, don't get to bring home the baby they were expecting. Unfortunately, we are not granted the privilege of understanding why.



Luke's Mommy naturally struggles with the "what-ifs". I'm sure you can join me in reassuring her that, while we would all question ourselves just as she does (guilt is a requirement of joining the mommy club, of which my friend is now a member) we all know that she couldn't have handled things any differently. In fact, I feel that she was gifted with a special awareness of her own body that day which allowed her to meet her son, as doctors have told them that babies with this condition are usually stillborn, their problem rarely caught in time to bring them into the world alive.

"Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning."  Psalm 30:5

I truly believe that prayers for Luke's perfect little soul are unnecessary, and that he saw heaven in the moment of his final breath. I do ask, though, that you pray for Luke's strong and brave Mommy and Daddy, that they may continue to forge ahead through the darkness of the night, and that the morning will bring them unimaginable joy.

Sunday, August 21

Back To School Books From Scholastic: Giveaway

Giveaway open to Canadians for 7 days only!

I love Scholastic. When my PR contact asked me if I wanted to take a look at some back-to-school books, I was very specific: I'd be interested in some kindergarten-appropriate titles for my daughter, and an early chapter book that would appeal to my Grade 3 class. She certainly delivered! Here's what I have to say about these three picks...which, of course, you can enter to win below.

Eddie Gets Ready For School by David Milgrim



This one's a picture book, written in checklist form. Be forewarned that it's definitely not a real step-by-step for your kids, unless "drink root beer" and "put cat in backpack" are normal morning instructions around your house!

The illustrations are also funny, and kids can look to see how the pictures don't align with the words (e.g. "Get dressed" to Eddie means a pair of underwear on his head and a superhero cape!)

Bailey by Harry Bliss



This is another funny picture book, with speech and thought bubbles to spice up the story. As the jacket describes:

"Bailey is not your average dog. In fact, he's top dog at Champlain Elementary School. And with Bailey around, school has never been so unpredictable --- or so much fun! "

Although Bailey attends school with regular kids, he's certainly different...especially since he eats his own homework! It's actually a bit of a neat lesson about how the other students accept and love him anyway.

Marty McGuire by Kate Messner, illustrated by Brian Floca



This is an illustrated book with lots of short chapters, all about third grader Marty McGuire...who would rather spend recess catching frogs in the pond than playing dress-up with the other girls.

My daughters really enjoyed hearing this story, and it will be a read-aloud for my class in September.

I'm always looking for books about Grade 3 students...and I'll never forget when I bought one with "Third Grade" in the title, didn't preview it, and had to think on my feet to change the story as the main character spilled the beans about the Tooth Fairy! (Don't worry...my students had no idea!) Now that I've read "Marty McGuire", I know it's a safe bet! Plus, it's the first in a series, so maybe I can hook a few kids in. Click here to check out the author's website.

If you're interested in receiving these books for little school-goers in your life, just fill out the form below. Extra entries for following me through GFC, e-mail or Twitter (links in my sidebar) or following @scholasticCDA on Twitter.

This will be a quickie contest, and will close on Saturday, August 27th at 11:59 p.m. so the prize can be sent to the winner ASAP in order to celebrate back-to-school. Good luck!

Friday, August 19

First Day of Preschool: 5 Tips For Avoiding Tears and Tantrums

Today's timely post is brought to you by Maisie Knowles, the founder of BestBabyStuff.com, a website reviewing only the best baby products. I'll turn things over to her!














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Back to school is just around the corner. For many toddlers, it'll be the first day of preschool and the very first day they're away from mom and dad. My oldest daughter is starting preschool in the fall and just the thought of her going off to school for the first time gets me teary eyed.

How will I handle dropping her off at her first day of preschool? Better yet, how will she deal with her first day? If I know my daughter, I won't be the only teary eyed person at the classroom door. Not only will there be some weeping, but possibly a tantrum or two while I peel her off my leg and try to make a get away.

To help make a smooth transition into the school year, I sat down with veteran moms and asked them how to survive the first day of school.

1. Tour the school with your child before the first day.

A tour will help your preschooler become familiar with her surroundings before getting dropped off by mom or dad. While visiting, meet the teacher, visit your child's cubby, and get introduced to other children in the class. Make sure to act excited about everything you see. Your enthusiasm will help your child become more enthusiastic about school.

2. Go shopping with your child.

Yes, brave the toddler tantrums, grab your coupons, and take her to the store. Getting your child involved in picking out their own school supplies, backpack and clothes will help her mentally prepare for school. Give her the freedom to choose those gaudy, pink, sparkly shoes she loves. Tell her that she can wear them to school and show them off there. You can also have your child help you cut out or search for coupons for her school supplies. She'll enjoy finding coupons for her items and will learn a simple lesson in savings. For a full list of places you and your child can search for coupons click here.

3. Let Her DIY

On the first day of school, allow her to pick out her outfit, help pack her lunch, and prep her school bag. Remember to be over enthusiastic about all her choices and be super duper EXCITED ABOUT EVERYTHING BECAUSE IT'S HER FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL!!!!! HIP HIP HOORAY!!!!!

4. Saying Goodbye

Now for the hard part -- leaving your precious, screaming, teary eyed child at school. Give her a hug, kiss and a big smile at the classroom door. Wave goodbye and walk away. Don't show any hesitation because, if she sees your uncertainty, it'll make her uncertain about staying there.

5. Take It Easy Afterwards

The first day of school is over, but there's one more tip for surviving the first day. Don't plan on doing anything after school. Your child will likely be exhausted, so take it easy. Plan a nap and put together an easy dinner. The rest of the day, talk about what she experienced during her first day. Be upbeat about everything she tells you; remember she'll have many more school days when you'll both want to share the excitement.

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Thanks, Maisie! This year is Frannie's second at school, so it's not as monumental for me. However, next September Maggie will start JK, which will then be all-day, every day at our school, and Frannie will be in Grade 1...so both girls will be full-time students! That's a tough one to wrap my mind around!
 
You can check out Maisie's site at BestBabyStuff.com.

Tuesday, August 16

Skechers Fitness: Review and Giveaway!

Yes, you can win a pair of Skechers shoes here! Giveaway open to Canadians.

So, lately I've been rockin' my new pair of Skechers Tone Ups. I'd seen the ads for these shoes, and jumped (so to speak) at the opportunity to try them out.

Skechers Fitness has a full range of shoes, which come with a variety of benefits:

The Shape-ups Line is designed to help you reach maximum potential (toning muscles, improving posture, burning more calories) while doing anything from exercise to errands. Three popular styles: 

The Radius Trainer: designed for a high-intensity workout with maximum calorie burn



Evolution: a flexible walking shoe designed to incorporate maximum muscle action in each step


Liv: a lightweight walking shoe with an emphasis on guiding movement back to your natural gait




The Skechers Resistance Runner is a lightweight shoe designed to help burn more calories and create a more fluid stride for long distance runners, and also reduce injuries and enhance speed. (If I actually keep up with the running program I started at the beginning of the month, I may consider purchasing a pair of these babies.)


The Tone-Ups Fitness Shoe, which I received (tagline: "Make your bottom half your better half"), is designed to help empower healthy living and achieve results by increasing calorie burn, toning thighs and calves, and firming buttocks. (With a picture of Kim Kardashian on the bag, I couldn't help but focus on the potential booty-benefits!)


One of the secrets to this shoe is what they call the "Kinetic Toning Pods", which "create a bi-axial instability that may require muscle activation to maintain balance"...which in less technical terms means you feel a bit like you're going to fall over, so you have to use your muscles to keep you up! (Which is why I love this particular shoe for walking, but agree with the Skechers people that it's not suitable for running or other high-impact activities. There are other styles for those!)

After walking in my Tone Ups, I definitely feel a tightness in my thighs and calves that I don't usually feel after walking in my usual shoes. I haven't noticed anything in my butt...definitely no Kardashian fullness happening here yet!

I use them on the treadmill as well as outside, and I would definitely recommend them. Even if there were no truth to their extra-toning claims, they're reasonably priced and attractive, and everyone needs a good pair of walking shoes.

Each Skechers style is available in different colour combinations, and the prices range from $85 to $120 Canadian.

Okay, okay, on to the good stuff. Up for grabs here is a pair of Skechers shoes OF YOUR CHOICE! One lucky This Mom Loves reader will receive a gift certificate for a Skechers store to purchase the style and colour that suits her needs...all you have to do is fill out the form below and click "submit". That's it! Extra entries for those who follow me through GFC, e-mail or Twitter (you can find all of those options in my sidebar). You also get a bonus entry if you like Skechers Canada on Facebook. Oh, and I will actually check to be sure you do follow/like...so please be honest and save me some time!

The contest will run until 11:59 p.m. Eastern on August 30, 2011 after which time a winner will be chosen through random number generation.

Good luck, and get fit!

Saturday, August 13

Better World Books: Buy a Book, Help Save the World

Better World Books is a book-shopping website...with a twist.

BetterWorldBooks.com


Here's some info I received about them:

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“Goodnight Moon” saving the world? Do-gooder online bookseller supports literacy and the environment


For years, “do-gooder” moms and book lovers have shopped Better World Books for its big discounts and even bigger impact on the environment and literacy.

And now the company has some seriously good news to share.

But first – for those who don’t already know – here’s how it works.

Better World Books collects discarded books from libraries and campuses around the country, and sells them on BetterWorldBooks.com. For every book they sell, a cut of the money goes back to the library or campus it came from, and another goes to non-profit literacy organizations like Books for Africa.

Consider the fact that they sell millions of books every year – and those dollars start to add up.

Since its launch in 2003, Better World Books has raised millions for libraries and literacy – and in a few days, it will hit the TEN MILLION dollar mark! They’ve even got a cute ticker on the homepage “counting up” to $10 million…looks like it’s just a few days away.

That huge pile of cash is in addition to Better World Books’ contribution to the environment – the company’s business model has helped divert over 40 million books from landfills!

To celebrate its big milestone, the company is planning an exciting announcement on August 15. Check http://www.betterworldbooks.com/ then to find out what it is!

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I checked out their site, and it's a very cool concept. You can definitely buy children's books, but they also sell textbooks, and lots of fiction and nonfiction for us gals. You can find my recently-recommended "The Help" under Beach Reads, and they also have a section for "Big Screen" adaptations (e.g. "Water For Elephants", another of my favourites). Their categories are even helpfully subdivided, so when you click on "Parenting, Family and Relationships", you can then choose more specific topics like Adoption, Baby Names, Toilet Training ,etc. (My recommendation to the site: you need a "Sleep" subcategory!)

When you click on a title, you are given options of what condition you want to buy the book in (Used Very Good, Used Good, Used Acceptable), with corresponding prices. Most of the novels I checked out were in the $7 - 8 range.

You can also shop their 5 for $30 bargain bin!

Right now, the collections are based on Georgia and Indiana, with the goal of expanding to new states. They aren't collecting in Canada (yet). However, they offer FREE worldwide shipping.

Take a look: http://www.betterworldbooks.com/. I think it would be neat to explain this concept to older kids, and have them choose some books themselves. By the time of this post, hopefully Better World Books will have hit the $10 million mark...and on August 15th you can find out the details of their big announcement!

Thursday, August 11

Samsung ST30 Camera and Mamarazzi!: Reviews

I've been shopping around for a new camera lately, and was excited to get the chance to review the new Samsung ST30. I mean, first of all, check out all the cute colours:



But what you can't see in the picture is that this camera weighs in under 90 grams, and is a pocket-sized 82 x 52 x 17 mm.

Some selling points, in my opinion:
  • It has a Smart Auto feature for point-and-shoot fans like myself, but all sorts of different settings (portrait, night, etc.) for those who want to get a little more specific.
  • It takes videos.
  • There's a rechargeable battery (just plug the camera in to a power source to recharge)
  • It's very easy to hook up to a computer, and comes with Intelli-Studio software on the enclosed CD-ROM.
  • The Samsung ST30 is easy on the pocketbook, retailing at under a hundred bucks.
I found that the display screen didn't do the photos justice, as they turned out much sharper and with better colours on the computer screen and when printed at a photo lab, so don't be fooled if you test drive one and aren't thrilled with what you see on the display.

This camera takes a MicroSD card, which is not included.

I know you're just dying to see samples of my work, so I won't keep you in suspense any longer. (These shots are completely unedited.)

I took some close-ups (my adorable nephew and godson on his first birthday):




Mid-range (Frannie's now-clean room!)



And some distance shots (the gorgeous beach at Bon Echo Park).



If you're looking for a compact, reasonably-priced yet high-quality camera, this is the one for you. (And did I mention the pretty colours?)

To go along with this great new camera, I was recently sent a new book: Mamarazzi: Every Mom's Guide To Photographing Kids by professional photographer and self-proclaimed mamarazzo Stacy Wasmuth.


News image

This fun guide combines humour with solid know-how. There are sections to help casual photographers like myself, but lots for the more hardcore mamarazzi who want to play with their settings, investigate different gadgets, etc. The book is interspersed with tip sections from other photographers as well. Some highlights:

  • Techniques for capturing genuine expressions instead of cheesy smiles (there's even a chapter called "No cheese, please!")
  • Tips for every age and stage, from pregnancy/newborn to teens
  • Basics of composition, lighting exposure, focus and white balance
  • Camera settings and lenses
In a nutshell, the two best features of this book:

1. The GORGEOUS photography. You'll get tons of ideas for your own kids' shots, and enjoy the experience of savouring all of the fantastic work in the book.

2. The "voice". This is no textbook, and Stacy knows her audience. I laughed out loud at lines like "Does all this sound a bit like Charlie Brown's teacher: 'Waah, wah, waah, waaah'?" (after a particularly technical explanation) and "...wait for the magic moment and (cue Emeril's booming voice) BAM!"

It's like a private tutorial from your best girlfriend, who just happens to be a professional photographer.

So...pick up Mamarazzi and the Samsung ST30 and capture the rest of your family's summer memories!

Disclosure: I was provided with a loaner camera and a copy of the book for review purposes. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Tuesday, August 9

Pampered Chef Review and Giveaway

Giveaway open to Canadians.

You all know I'm not a cook. If I can eat out or get someone to cook for me, then I'm a happy woman. But I realize that, for many reasons (a: I'm not rich, b: my mom lives too far away and c: if my husband did ALL the cooking, I would be too indebted to him), I am called upon to make meals on a regular basis.

Therefore, I am a fan of any item that makes it easier for me to feed my family, and Pampered Chef is one-stop-shopping for all sorts of time-saving tools. Some of my favourite goodies:
  • the apple corer and wedger, which slices through apples, removing the core and leaving kid-friendly wedges

  • the ice-cream dipper, which works like a charm every time (no digging your fingers in to dislodge the ice cream)

  • the classic batter bowl, perfect as a mixing bowl, measuring cup, or for baking the always-a-hit Barbie-skirt cakes (and it comes with a lid)


I have to admit I was very lucky this year, because one of the girls in my class was the daughter of my Pampered Chef Consultant...so two of those three items were received as teacher gifts!

In case you've never heard of Pampered Chef, the products are sold through direct-sales parties hosted by trained consultants. Some people think their stuff is expensive, and some items are (cookware, knives, etc.) but the quality and guarantees can't be beat, and there are a ton of more budget-friendly items. A couple of weeks ago, I held a cooking party in my home (I know, the irony) with ten guests, and I ended up earning $245 worth of free Pampered Chef loot. My choices:
  • vegetable peeler
  • large round stone with handles 
  • egg separator
  • large cutting board
  • medium cutting board
  • stoneware pan - 12 muffin 
  • pie plate 
  • large serving spatula
  • all purpose spreader
  • basting brush
  • pizza cutter
  • tongs for Cool and Serve
(Yes, I got ALL THIS just for having the party at my house...and a free veggie wedger for having 10 purchasing guests, and a choice of products at 60% off and 50% off.)

The stoneware is one of their best products as far as I'm concerned. My first ever purchase was a large stoneware bar pan (which you can enter to win today -- your own, not mine!) This can be used for meat, baking, etc...and the most beautiful feature is that it cooks evenly,and there is no need to flip your food! More adept cooks will love it for fresh meat and home-baked treats, while I find it's fantastic for frozen fish, chicken strips, and cookie dough! My Pampered Chef Consultant has mentioned that she likes to put a whole slew of bacon on it (overlapped, whatever) and it will cook to perfection.

Thanks to Mandy, the aforementioned Consultant and great teacher-gift-giver, I am giving away one large stoneware bar pan to a lucky This Mom Loves winner! The prize is shown below, and is valued at $45! All you have to do to enter is fill out the form below and click "submit". The only question I'm asking is your favourite Pampered Chef product...if you have one! If you don't own any Pampered Chef (yet!) you can say that too. Be sure to let me know if you follow This Mom Loves through GFC, email or Twitter for extra entries.






If you're interested in Pampered Chef, feel free to check out Mandy's website. If you happen to live in our area, she'd be thrilled to host a party for you, or get you started on your own Pampered Chef business. No matter where you live in Canada, she can hook you up with the right contacts to help you, whatever your needs may be.

This contest will run until 11:59 p.m. Eastern on August 23rd, after which time a winner will be chosen through random number generation.

Good luck, and get cooking!


Sunday, August 7

Back To School Big Spenders

I received this press release today, and thought I'd share it. There's some subliminal (Visa) advertising, and it's pretty easy (Visa) to see who (Visa) commissioned the (Visa) study, but I don't mind throwing them a free plug. My CIBC Classic Visa and I have been quite close since first year university, and I pay the balance in full each month (of course!) so I don't believe they've ever actually taken any of my money. Really, I owe them!

FYI: To date, I have purchased a $10 lunch bag for each girl (Frannie: Hello Kitty, since we couldn't find Star Wars, Maggie: Dora), and that's it. And that was debit, not Visa, and in-store, not online. I'll get Frannie a first-day outfit, and she needs a few pairs of pants since she has her mother's legs, but I'm not going crazy with shopping. Now, my own back-to-school-as-a-teacher shopping is another issue!
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Ontario Residents Survive Back-to-School Stress with Online Shopping:
Visa survey looks at Canadian back-to-school spending habits

(Toronto, ON) August 2, 2011 –This summer, eCommerce will see a boost as Canadian consumers will be looking to the web for their back-to-school shopping preparations in order to keep stress low and avoid lineups in-store and Ontario residents lead the trend with an average anticipated back to school online spend of $259.

This year’s back-to-school shopping survey revealed that 29 per cent of Canadian consumers dislike the crowds at brick and mortar stores. To avoid this, they are heading online for cheaper prices (54 per cent), better sales and promotions (48 per cent) and because it is faster and more convenient (38 per cent).

“As parents and students prepare to return to the classroom, the stress of back-to-school shopping can take a toll. Forty five per cent of those surveyed suggest the best way to stay stress free when back-to-school shopping is to start early and 27 per cent said shopping online is the second best way to keep the stress level low,” said Stephanie Wallat, Visa Canada. “We are seeing Canadians take advantage of the convenience that online shopping offers and Visa makes it easier and secure when purchasing those back-to-school must-haves.”

According to a July 2011 survey of online shoppers commissioned by Visa Canada, Canadian shoppers plan to spend an average of $404 online and in-store between now and Labour Day on back- to-school items with Ontario shoppers planning to spend the highest average of $447. Clothing is the back-to-school shopper’s most popular purchase, and 48 per cent of respondents are planning on adding to their wardrobe online. Other online items Canadians are looking for include school supplies (41 per cent), computers/software (36 per cent) and footwear (32 per cent).

“Shoppers in the market for back-to-school deals should also visit Visaperks.ca for coupons and special offers at merchants like GAP Kids, adidas and Lenovo,” adds Wallat.

Back-to-School (BTS) Online Shopping: Canadian Cross Border Shopping

Interesting variances also exist in how respondents’ perceive online back-to-school shopping in Canada and the US. British Columbia has the highest incidence of US online shopping with an average of 36 per cent, compared to 24 per cent in the Maritimes and 25 per cent in Ontario. Of all Canadians polled, 49 per cent found there is more variety in the US, while 37 per cent stated the store they were looking to purchase from was not available in their area.

Online layers of security also reduce stress.

Visa cardholders who want to shop online can count on several layers to protect them when online shopping:

• Verified by Visa, a password-based security program designed for online shopping, has been adopted by more than 378 million Visa cardholders and 430,000 merchants around the world. Adopting Canadian merchants include Air Canada, WestJet, Via Rail, Best Buy, Future Shop, Dell, Telus, Cineplex, Tim Hortons, Aldo, Suzy Shier, Bluenotes, and La Senza. CVV2 or the “three-digit code”, which is the number printed on the signature panel on the back of a Visa card. It helps to prove to the merchant that the cardholder has the card in his or her possession when ordering online or over the phone.

• Visa E-Promise, which assures Visa cardholders that if they have not successfully resolved a dispute with an online, phone order or mail order merchant, they can contact their Visa card issuer directly to initiate action to resolve the credit card charge in question.

• Visa cardholders are also covered by Visa’s Zero Liability policy, which means cardholders are protected against fraud if a lost or stolen Visa card is used to purchase goods in person, online, by mail or by phone.

For more information about Visa’s Zero Liability Policy and the Visa E-Promise, please visit http://www.visa.ca/.

“Visa’s layers of security offer added protection and peace of mind for online shoppers using Visa cards, letting them shop online with confidence wherever and whenever they want,” said Wallat.

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So...how about you? How much money do you think you'll be spending on back-to-school? Do you shop primarily online or at brick-and-mortar stores? (Tech-savvy as I am, for me "going shopping" means actually "going" somewhere.) And most importantly, did you catch the subtle advertising within the survey results?

Thursday, August 4

Our Las Vegas Long Weekend

So last week my husband and I made our first ever trip to Sin City...and it was a blast!

First things first, I got a Vegas-appropriate Shellac manicure: bright pink with sparkles. It's not a rule per se that you have to look like a showgirl in order to enjoy your experience, but I figured a little taste of it couldn't help but get me in gear!

To make the timing work out, our flight down was with Air Canada, which is the only airline we had ever used. I assumed that the choose-your-own movie on board was a standard airplane feature, but we flew American Airlines on the way home, and didn't even have our own TV's!

We booked a couple of months in advance through Expedia, and got the best hotel deal at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino...and wow! It could safely be called a resort, as it was huge, with a variety of food options (upscale and casual dining choices, all-you-can-eat buffet, and a food court complete with McDonald's and Starbucks).

Our room was in "The West Wing", which is known for its modern-style accommodations. However, we did feel like we were far away from the action, and had a bit of a walk through the building just to get anywhere. The more old-style-Vegas rooms are closer to the casino, restaurants, etc...but I'm sure they don't have TV's embedded in the bathroom mirrors! (Have I already mentioned TV twice in this post?)

MGM Grand West Wing
West Wing Room

One recommendation I would make is to stay at a hotel where you are seeing a show. The MGM Grand is relatively far south on the strip, and it ended up being a fair hike to each of the three other hotels we hit in the evenings. (Not an unreasonable walking distance, but the 45 degree Celsius heat and a pair of heels affected my perception.)

Apparently Vegas is always hot, but we were there during a heat wave...which made the MGM Pools even more of an attraction. There are 5 large pools (some designated adults-only), 3 jacuzzis, 5 bars, and a lazy river. Honestly, I could have spent days just lounging outdoors...and that is very out of character for me.

Seriously.

We arrived on a Friday afternoon, and after checking in and unpacking, we explored the hotel and then headed up the strip towards the Wynn Las Vegas Resort. We intended to check out their dinner buffet, but the line was too long and we were worried about time, so we did a pizzeria thing instead, and a bit of shopping. I now own cute pink Wynn Las Vegas flip flops, and a nice Garth t-shirt. (Yes, I like to work out in cheesy souvenir apparel.)

The concert was at 8:00, which to East-Coasters like us felt like 11 p.m. (I'm sure my fellow book club members are incredulous as they read this, as I usually break up the meetings around that time, as I need my sleep. And by "break up", I mean I leave to go home to bed, and everyone else remains to talk about me.)

First we stopped for the requisite concert-poster shot, and I have to tell you, our fellow tourists were so friendly on this trip. My poor husband had to keep fighting people off when they offered to take pictures of the two of us together. His short answer: "Oh, no, thanks." (The long answer: "Oh, no thanks. My wife is a crazy blogger, so I know these pictures will end up online and I don't want to be in them.")

I actually used the word "fanatic" instead of "crazy" when I first wrote the sentence above, but then I worried that you, dear reader, might be skimming my work (for shame!) and think that I said "fantastic"...which sounds a bit cocky. Even if it's true...but I digress.


Garth Brooks was fantastic. I knew it was just going to be him and his guitar, so even though I'm a huge fan, I expected something fairly simple. However, he still managed to put on quite a show all by himself, with not only his own music, but samples of various genres and artists that have influenced him all the way back to his childhood, and even some stand-up comedy thrown in for good measure! If you love Garth, you will definitely love the show. If you're more a country-come-lately fan, then maybe not so much...and avoid it if you're anything like a girl who passed us in the hallway and was overheard asking "Is he that guy who sings Achy Breaky Heart?"

Garth Brooks @ the Encore Theater in Las Vegas

The buzz after the show included comments like "That was way better than I thought it would be!" and (you need to visualize big blonde hair and a southern drawl for this one): "I've seen a whole lot of shows, but this was one of the best. It was so intimate!" You really did feel like you had Garth Brooks right in your living room for a chat and a jam session. But be forewarned: he does a lot of first verse and chorus, and then moves on to another song...so don't be disappointed if the second verse is your favourite and you don't hear it. And definitely don't start belting out a line, assuming that it's coming, because then when it doesn't you might feel embarrassed. I'm just sayin'.

We cabbed it back for the sake of my blistered feet. Oh, and Vegas isn't like New York, where you can just hail a taxi randomly on the street. They line up at the hotels, and you have to line up too and wait your turn for one...so they're not necessarily a time-saver, more an indulgence for the lazy (or sore-footed).

Saturday we "slept in" (although the time change confounded my system all weekend), and dined at "The Grand Buffet". You might assume that I'm wearing flowy summer dresses in these photos because of the heat, but it's actually because of their capacity for expansion. Buffets in Vegas are incredible! After breakfast, we spent a couple of hours at the pool with some books and magazines.

In the afternoon, we explored the hotel further and checked out the Lion Habitat. For all of you animal-rights advocates, I'd like you to note that there are more than 30 lions brought in interchangeably from their as-natural-as-possible habitat off The Strip, so no one lion actually lives in the casino. A couple of times per week, each animal gets gussied up and brought in to town, to be shown off for a few hours (which, let's admit, is the same thing we do with our own children).


Later in the day, we headed to a very VIP, celebrity-packed event at The Venetian. (Rural Ontario mom bloggers get incredible perks, you know.) Can you believe all of the amazing people we met?

Bradley Cooper and me

Chatting up Will Smith


Saying hello to Angie and Brad


Striking a pose with Eva Longoria

Okay, for the sake of journalistic integrity, I should be a bit clearer. When I say we were at "The Venetian", I am actually referring to a business located at The Venetian called "Madame Tussaud's". And when I say it was packed with "celebrities", I probably should have prefaced the word with "wax figures of..." But you get the idea!

Honestly, did any of them fool you? I thought the first two were pretty good. Now that you know the truth, here are a couple more fun (and even less believable) shots!


Watch out, Faith Hill!


Simon Cowell judges my performance (Randy found it "pitchy", but at least Paula thought I looked pretty!)

My first interview with Oprah (I'll be pulling this one out for sure when I have my first real interview with O)
Alright, enough of my corny, pop-culture-addicted fun.

We returned to The Wynn, not because it's our last name only spelled differently, but because we were dying to try their dinner buffet, and there we stuffed ourselves to the point of pain. I am a picky eater, but I managed to fill my plate three or four times before sampling five different desserts.

Somehow we managed to walk over to The Mirage for Cirque du Soleil Love: Songs of the Beatles. I have to admit that Cirque du Soleil isn't really my thing, but this show felt more "Broadway Musical" than it did "Acrobatic Contortionists" (which is a good thing)...and how can you go wrong listening to Beatles music for an hour and a half?



On the walk back from The Mirage, we stopped at The Bellagio to witness their famous fountain show (add it to your list).

Next stop: The Nine Fine Irishmen pub at the New York New York Hotel. The live music was awesome (if you're in to Irish music, of course).


Sunday we buffeted and pooled it again, explored the lobbies and attractions of several other themed hotels along The Strip, and enjoyed fine dining at a quaint little place called The Outback Steakhouse. (Sometimes you just want the familiar!) That night was the grand finale of the trip...Celine Dion, live in concert! Yes, we saw Garth and Celine both - our tastes are eclectic. It was funny leading up to the trip, when we would tell others our plans for Vegas, they would either say "Garth! Wow!" or "Celine! Wow!"...but never both!

For this show, I wore appropriate footwear (because ladies, if you can't wear gladiator sandals to The Colosseum at Caesar's Palace, then where can you wear them?)


Celine did not disappoint. It was quite a contrast to the Garth Brooks performance, as she shares the moving-parts stage with a 31-piece band, and her music is enhanced by high tech lighting and screen projections (e.g. adorable footage of her three children). I won't spoil any surprises, but there are some interesting duets, and she covers songs of other artists as well. I felt like a lot of her fast stuff was missing, as it was more a flowing-ball-gowns-and-ballads kind of show. But we got to eat special Caesar's Palace M and M's during the performance, and had a great professional photo taken of the two of us in the theatre...for only 45 bucks. What a steal!

Speaking of money, you probably want to hear all about our experiences at the slots and tables. Sorry, we didn't have any! Well, we each spent $20 at the slots right before the concert, just to be able to say that we gambled...but it didn't last long! Here I am spending my last pennies at the Sex and the City machine:



I would totally recommend Las Vegas for a couples', girls' or guys' getaway. As for bringing kids...while there are tons of things for older ones to see and do (pools, tourist attractions, shopping, activities), they may cramp your style depending on what you're going for (e.g. they aren't allowed around the slots/tables, there's a lot of walking, etc.) Definitely not a trip for babies...and I think my 3 and 5 year olds are too young to get enough out of it. I would, however, consider going back with the girls when they hit the tween years and we would all be able to enjoy it together.

Feel free to ask if you have any questions, or if you've been to Vegas, add your own tips and tricks to help others plan their trips!