Wednesday, December 28

Wednesday Words

"Is it coincidence that we spend far more than our parents ever did on the restyling and improvement of our homes - homes in which we spend less and less time because we are out earning the money to pay for French chrome mixer taps and stripped oak floors? It's as though home had become some kind of stage set for a play in which we one day hope to star."

from "I Don't Know How She Does It" by Allison Pearson


I had never even heard of this bestseller until I first saw trailers for the (scathingly-reviewed, SJP-starring) movie. When a friend loaned me the book, I expected a chick-lit equivalent of the chick-flick previews I had seen, but I was very pleasantly surprised. It's actually heavier and more thought-provoking than I ever would have imagined as it churns up all of the mixed feelings about motherhood, marriage and work.

The film comes out on DVD on January 3rd.

Saturday, December 24

Christmas Wishes

"A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!"

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, December 22

Big City Family Getaway

Last weekend we took the girls for a little pre-Christmas getaway in Toronto. The highlights:

We stayed at the Marriott Renaissance Toronto Downtown Hotel (attached to the Rogers Centre) simply because we were looking for accommodations that were reasonably priced and reasonably close to the Sony Centre. We booked online and got an amazing deal. Our room was $139, and upon arrival we were told we had a $40 restaurant credit (which almost covered the Sunday morning buffet for the four of us). The room was huge: two double beds, and a separate area with a pullout couch and a second flatscreen TV. (This is where we put the girls. And where we were reminded that there is a reason they don't share a bed, or even a room, at home.) The bathroom was also spacious, with an unusually ample countertop perfect for beauty products. (Yes, it does take some help for me to achieve this look. Shocking, I know.)

The pool, shown below, was fantastic, and you can see the hot tub to the right. This is where I spent most of my time "supervising" as Daddy and the girls swam. Plus, it was unbelievably quiet. Except for a set of grandparents with a little girl whose visit overlapped a bit with ours, we were the only swimmers (using that term loosely for myself, of course) for over an hour.

Indoor Pool


Later in the afternoon we hit the Eaton Centre for a little bit of last-minute browsing. We even allowed the girls in the Disney Store, with very strict warnings that we would not be making any purchases, and any such requests would be met with removal from the premises. Of course Frannie found countless more items to add to her list, which is always oh-so-helpful when Mommy and Santa finished gift selections a month ago. We keep reminding her that Santa is so amazing, because he remembers things that kids ask for all year long, and has so many of his own great ideas too!


Decorations at the Eaton Centre

The girls took their first ever cab rides while downtown, and managed to entertain the drivers with their conversation.

Frannie (à propos of nothing): Do you have to be married to have a baby?

Cabbie chuckles.

Me: Um...usually people get married first, and then have a baby.

Frannie (yes, the five year old): Well, I want to have kids someday but I don't want to get married. Can I do that?

Cabbie laughs.

Me: Um...well, it is possible to do it that way, but...well, we believe...sometimes people...oh, let's talk about this when the time comes.

Maggie: Why is this man driving us? Where is our car? Why? Is this his car? Why are we in his car? Where is he taking us? Why? Is he going to wait for us? Why? Where does he live? Where are his kids?Why did you give him money??? (Thankfully the girls are now cultured enough that questions about skin colour and accents are far less common than they used to be.)

Then it was off to The Sony Centre for the Leahy Family Christmas. Yes, I grew up just country blocks away from the Leahy family (and shared their last name for the first 24 years of my life, which wasn't at all annoying. "Leahy, you say? Are you one of the ---?" "No. No, I'm not",) however we went all the way to the big city to catch their Christmas performance.

This band of 8 siblings (there are 11 in all, but 8 in this performance) is as good as it gets when it comes to their style of music, but I especially enjoyed all of the vocals and stepdancing to break up all of the instrumental (which appeals way more to my musician husband than to me). The highlight for me (and for our daughters) was when the grandchildren (as young as four years old) took to the stage to perform.

Frannie was particularly interested in comparing her own stepdancing skills to those of the six year old daughter of Donnell Leahy and Natalie MacMaster (catch my Momterview with her here), who is older than she is by three months. (Oh, who am I kidding, "comparing" was more what her mother was doing.)

I must admit that I made the mistake of telling the kids in advance that I had Smarties for later, which caused a few distractions throughout the first act, but generally speaking they were both captivated by the show until their bodies finally gave in to sleep near the end. (Frannie's snores added what I hope was a little 'je ne sais quoi' to a particular a capella number. She did manage to wake up for the fantastic two-generation finale.)


Leahy


Now, if this had been a girls' getaway instead of a family adventure, I would have made two other stops:

The Grace Kelly Exhibit ("From Movie Star To Princess: An Exhibition") at the TIFF Bell Lightbox

and

The Bata Shoe Museum, which I have wanted to visit for years. Perhaps I'll hit both during the holidays. (But not with my poor husband.)

(New readers, please note: despite what you may assume, I do not get paid by the parenthesis.)

Wednesday, December 21

Wednesday Words on Receiving

As Christmas approaches, we make it a priority to talk to our children (and students) about the importance of giving. On the flip side, here is an interesting thought about receiving:

"Receiving is often harder than giving. Giving is very important: giving insight, giving hope, giving courage, giving advice, giving support, giving money, and most of all giving ourselves. Without giving there is no brotherhood or sisterhood.

But receiving is just as important, because by receiving we reveal to givers that they have gifts to offer. When we say, 'Thank you, you gave me hope; thank you, you gave me a reason to live; thank you, you allow me to realize my dream,' we make givers aware of their unique and precious gifts. Sometimes it is only in the eyes of the receivers that givers discover their gifts."

Henri J.M. Nouwen

Friday, December 16

One of My All-Time Favourite Books: "Before I Go To Sleep" by S.J. Watson

The jacket sums it up better than I could:

"Christine wakes up every morning in an unfamiliar bed with an unfamiliar man. She looks in the mirror and sees an unfamiliar, middle-aged face. And every morning, the man she has woken up with must explain that he is Ben, he is her husband, she is forty-seven years old, and a terrible accident two decades earlier decimated her ability to form new memories."



This was a page-turner that I found impossible to put down. My friend Heather brought it to book club to share, and am I ever glad I snatched it up first.

At the suggestion of her neurologist, protagonist Christine begins to record her daily events, and the doctor prompts her every day to find her journal and reread the past entries in an attempt to relearn her life and jog her memory.

Published this year and classified as a "thriller", I found Watson's story (which just happens to be his debut novel) both compelling and disturbing, and could barely stand the suspense as I searched along with Christine for answers to her growing questions.

I'm sure my friend was amused by my mid-book wild predictions (can't share them here, as it I don't want to spoil the first half of the book for you) but as much as I thought I had things figured out, I was wrong. There are lots of twists and surprises to this one. It's a must-read.

Visit the author's website at http://www.beforeigotosleep.com/.

Tuesday, December 13

Natalie MacMaster: The Momterview

Here's how Natalie MacMaster's website bio introduces her:

***

"Meet Natalie MacMaster: wife, mother of four and virtuoso Cape Breton fiddler.

You know her more as the latter than the former; an electrifying performer whose passionate proficiency on the beloved four-string amplifies the traditional East Coast sound for contemporary times.

It’s a signature sound that has resonated with world audiences through 10 albums, multiple gold sales figures and 27 years; numerous Juno and East Coast Music Awards; two honorary degrees (from Niagara University, NY, and Trent University) and an honorary doctorate (St. Thomas University); the Order Of Canada – and a reputation as one of Canada’s most captivating performers."

***

The gorgeous musician married fellow fiddler Donnell Leahy (of the all-sibling band Leahy) in 2002, and is now mother to Mary Frances (6), Michael (4 1/2), Claire (almost 3) and Julia (almost 1). No word yet on whether she's trying to compete with her mother-in-law's 11 offspring.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Natalie about her brand-new CD, "Cape Breton Girl", as well as motherhood, house design, and her fashion fetishes.



This Mom: Do you think your music has changed since you've become a mom?

Natalie MacMaster: Yeah, I do. How? This is my 11th recording, and my mother said to me that the fiddling sounds more mature. It's been about six years since I've recorded in the studio, and incidentally my oldest daughter just turned six a few days ago. I'm sure as you go through more of life's experiences you're able to get deeper into things, but as far as me being aware of how my music has changed, there was a day when I was completely devoted to my music, and now I am completely devoted to my children. Music is something that happens because of the good for them and the good for myself, as opposed to it being all about the fiddle. It's not that way anymore. It's changed. I haven't gotten worse, my mother thinks I've gotten better. I think I'm just evolving.

TM: I hear you're homeschooling your kids. How is that going?

NM:  It's going pretty well. I'm a teacher, I actually have a teaching degree. I've never used it, ironically now I'm teaching my own. This is my second year, and I'm on the road now so I usually school my six year old and my four year old from 9:00 to 12:00, four mornings a week and it's ever-evolving.


Natalie and Donnell onstage

TM: You recently built a new house. What are some of your favourite features?

NM: Oh, that's a good question. We have stone on the front of the house and I love that. Also the function of the house. We put our laundry room on the second floor - we have a storey and a half- and all the clothing, bedding and towels are there. It's where we get dressed so it makes sense to have it there. It functions really well. I thought a lot about where to put the washrooms, so one would be accessible if the kids were playing outside, which drawer should the knives be in...and homeschooling, I took that into consideration as well. How to have homeschooling as part of my home, so I could put up the alphabet and things like that without it making the house look too much like a school. It's an open concept so you walk in and it's all right there, but this little room that jets off our main living space has all windows, so when you're standing in the centre you just see windows, but when you actually go into the room and look back, that wall is covered with alphabet, calendar, kids' art and all that, so you don't see it unless you're in there looking for it.

TM: I've already seen Mary Frances and Michael perform live with Leahy {the special appearances by the next generation always tend to steal the show}, and obviously they're exposed to a lot of music at home. My own daughter stepdances and I'm curious to know how much time your kids spend practising each day?

NM: It varies. The only one really doing that is my six year old daughter. We started my four and a half year old son on the fiddle at age four, but he's not really that ready for it. Not like our daughter was. So he's just playing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and plays maybe three times a week for ten minutes. The dancing is much shorter; maybe two minutes twice a week. He dances all the time and I don't want to thwart his enthusiasm. He actually dreads me saying 'Okay, Michael, try this'. He doesn't like that at all, so I don't make him very often. He's just not ready for it yet.

Mary Frances does piano, fiddle and dancing, so she practises them all pretty much every day. Probably five days a week for half an hour each.



TM: Do you think there is one instrument that kids should learned before any others to give the best musical start?

NM: It all depends on the child and what they like. Start off with anything and go from there. I have no preference. I'm sure there are people who study that sort of thing, but my own opinion is play whatever they want. They have to start somewhere, and as they get older they may be drawn a certain way.

TM: I read that you went through a phase when you were younger when you were very nervous about being on stage. How did you push through that?

NM: I guess just by knowing that nervous energy is an energy and thinking of how to make it something positive. If you're half asleep when you go onstage, that's no good. If you're nervous you have intensity running through your body. It's mind over matter I guess. Prayers too!

TM: What do you want people to know about your brand-new CD, "Cape Breton Girl"?

NM: I want them to know that I very much like it, and it is what I hoped it would be. It's very Cape Breton, which was the point, so it's for the hard-core Cape Breton fiddle enthusiasts.


TM: And was that always going to be the title?

NM: No, in fact I was going to call it "Our Water Runs Deep". I was convinced of that, and really liked the title. The reason why I changed it was because I was trying to find a title to suit the cover picture {see photo above}, and I could find all sorts of analogies about water running deep, like my roots, the blood runs deep, all of that. But the music on the record is so happy and light-hearted that to me the title didn't match. Cape Breton Girl is a title I've had for a long time and haven't used on anything, and it kind of resurfaced at the last minute after all the artwork was done.

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

NM: Well, the first thing I thought of was This Mom Loves tradition. I'm not just talking about the music. I love "traditional": furniture, the way we live our daily lives, Christmas, holidays, anything. Other than that, more materialistic things...This Mom Loves being blonde. I guess that would mean highlights. Can't get along without those. I do love shoes, and I like them with a heel. Nothing unique there! This Mom Loves the farm. The whole farming lifestyle. And I have a bit of a coat fetish. I love coats and jackets!

***

The new CD "Cape Breton Girl" is available now at your music retailer, through Natalie's website or on iTunes, and would be a perfect surprise under the tree of any Natalie MacMaster fan. {The great thing about my family is that my 78 year old Grandma and 5 year old daughter would be equally happy to find this gem in their stockings...and they both just might!}

Natalie's favorite place was also the theme of the book she put out last year, "Cape Breton Aire" which can be purchased online, at her live shows, and at some boutique shops.



Find out more about Natalie MacMaster on her website.

Friday, December 9

More Great Books For Kids (For Home and School)

The Flying Canoe by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Daniel San Souci and Justin San Souci
The Flying Canoe: A Christmas Story

A French Canadian legend, "The Flying Canoe" tells the story of a group of lonely fur traders on Christmas Eve, far away from their families at home in Montreal. A stranger appears and claims he can get them home, but they must not speak until they get there. They climb into an enchanted canoe...and the rest is history.

There are many versions of this story, but this Eric A. Kimmel does an excellent job retelling it, and the beautiful illustrations draw children into the tale.

A nice seasonal treat.

If You Lived Here: Houses of the World by Giles Laroche



This one fits perfectly with the Grade 3 unit on Structures (and also ties in with Urban and Rural Communities). "Step into homes from around the world and discover the many fascinating ways people have lived and still live today. Uncover the reason why each home was constructed the way that it was, from houses built on maze-like streets (to confuse invaders) to homes built on wheels (to be able to travel in your home at any time!)"

The illustrations in this book are intricate bas-relief cut-paper collages, and provide a springboard for art lessons as well. Quality nonfiction isn't always easy to find, and I'd recommend adding this one to your collection.


Just a Second by Steve Jenkins
I'm always thinking like a teacher, and this book is perfect for teaching the concept of time. Did you know that:

In one second...a hummingbird beats its wings 50 times,
In one minute...a skydiver in a free fall plunges 3 1/4 km, and
In one hour..an adult takes about 900 breaths?

The book gives examples for each of these, as well as one day, one week, one month and one year. Some neat graphs and timelines are included at the back of the book. I'll be pulling this one out when I teach time later this year.

Winners...Many Winners!

Congratulations to the following winners of the Christmas Extravaganza:

Secret Gift Basket: Jessica of Burlington, ON

Moonjar Moneybox: Bev of Winnipeg, MB

Rubbermaid Set: Valerie of Minto, NB

Rubik's Race Game: Lisa of Vineland Station, ON

My Friendship Bracelet Maker: Jonathan of Edmonton, AB

My Ribbon Barrette Maker: Lorie of Foxboro, ON

$50 Posterjack Voucher: Pam of Moncton, NB

Swagger Tags: Candace of 100 Mile House, BC and Bob of Longlac, ON

Very Cranky Bear Set: Angela of Beaver Bank, NS

Skechers Shoes: Kirsten of Calgary, AB

I am sorry to say that a couple of winners were notified by e-mail and given 48 hours to reply, and after several days went past without a response, new winners were chosen...so be sure to check your e-mail regularly!

And the winner of the KitchenAid Food Processor: Pauline of Saint John, NB

Enjoy your prizes, and thanks to everyone for entering!

Wednesday, December 7

Christmas "Treats" From Hallmark

These treats may not be edible, but they're a sure-fire bet to spark that festive feeling! A couple of weeks ago, I received my latest Hallmark goody box, thanks to my role on their Press Pause Panel.

My two favourite items, for home and classroom use:

Merry-Okee Micro Karaoke (Christmas Karaoke Microphone) $19.95



This battery-powered microphone (3 AAA batteries ARE included) works like a normal mic, or changes your voice so you sound like an elf! A favourite with my students and my daughters, it also comes prerecorded with six favourite holiday songs, and is accompanied by a songbook with both original and silly lyrics. It's not super-loud, but still a good laugh for a small group (and a great way to encourage students to make oral presentations. How can you feel pressure when you sound like an elf?)

Rockin' Talkin' Santa Hat $19.95



Press the button on this adult-sized hat to make it move back and forth in sync with the words and music to "Santa Claus is Comin' To Town". A great way to make an entrance this holiday season!

Other great items for the kids:

"Jingle" Interactive Storybook and Story Buddy $29.95


 

My girls have the similar Watson the Raccoon Storybook and Story Buddy and just love it. Frannie can read the book now, and Maggie has memorized the key phrases so that they both can make the raccoon talk (without requiring an adult to read the book). This toy responds to certain spoken phrases and the recorded voice adds to the story. A Hallmark favourite and winner of two Dr. Toy awards, "Jingle The Husky Pup" is ready to bark, whimper and even sing when he hears the magic words.

Make-A-Wish Recordable bear $24.95

This adorable white plush has simple "Record" and "Play" buttons so you can leave a message for someone special! And even better: when you buy a specially-marked product like this bear, Hallmark will donate 25% of the sales to help make children's wishes come true all year round.

A Charlie Brown Christmas Recordable Storybook $19.95


Always a great idea, these recordable books are a nice way to read to love ones even if you can't be there. This one is a special Hallmark Edition of the Holiday Classic, featuring music. Join Charlie Brown and the whole Peanuts gang as they learn the true meaning of Christmas. Last year my parents recorded one of these Hallmark books for my girls ("The Very First Christmas"), and as soon is got pulled out this year with the Christmas paraphernalia they snatched it up again.

Wayne Gretzky Edmonton Oilers Keepsake Ornament $24.99


His Oilers sweater may be long retired, but true hockey fans will never forget. This might be the perfect gift for a not-so-little-one on your list, and is sure to find a prime spot on the Christmas tree.

Disclosure: I received the above-named items for review purposes as part of my role on the Hallmark Press Pause Panel. My students and daughters are enjoying a few, and the others were door prizes at our school's annual Family Movie Night. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Monday, December 5

Frannie's Spy Club: The Official Rules

The following are the rules for my five year old daughter's "Spy Club". The members of the club fluctuate frequently, depending how they treat Frannie on any given day (there is an ever-changing list on her door where she crosses out and adds names accordingly) and I don't believe they actually hold meetings or do any real "spying", but the club is nevertheless of high importance (e.g. "Be nice to my cousin or you're out of the spy club," "Let me play with the puzzle and I'll let you in the spy club"). Membership has temporarily replaced the valuable currency of birthday party invitations, and related promises and threats.

Despite the random nature of the group, the rules are clearly posted in Frannie's bedroom (for her eyes only), and have not changed since first written:




1. Hans to yourself (I think this is a spelling error, and not a coded message to a secret Scandinavian member of the club, but I can't be sure)

2. No hrting uthrs felings (Trouble with vowel sounds, but seems to have figured out "ing")

3. Stic with a techr (Even for spy club, teacher supervision is apparently very important!)

4. Be gud (Better than "Be God". Wouldn't it be ironic if Rule #4 conflicted with Commandment #1?)

5. Duw good things (How she learned how to spell "good" between Rule 4 and Rule 5 is a Spy Club mystery)

6. Good to othrs (Enough said)

Now I have to go make snack or else I'm kicked out of the club.

Friday, December 2

Companies That Give Back: Crorey Creations, the Choose Friendship Company

Earlier this fall I put out a call to companies, offering to post about any products donated to my school's annual Christmas Toy Drive.

The first takers: Crorey Creations, makers of My Friendship Bracelet Maker and My Friendship Bracelet Maker. (Two of each of these products have already been deposited in the Toy Drive Donation Bin.)

My Friendship Bracelet Maker

My Friendship Bracelet Maker's design innovation loom lets you create friendship bracelets quickly and easily! Includes 56 precut threads in 14 different colours, and the slide-out tray with inside storage keeps strings organized. This product has a travel-ready design, and comes with easy to follow instructions. You can even access bracelet patterns and free video tutorials online! Find more information on their website.




 


My Ribbon Barrette Maker
This one's a blast from the past! Girls can design and create their own 1980's retro-style braided ribbon barrettes! The box includes a ribbon loom with barrette holder, 8 barrettes, 16 ribbons in 8 colours and 128 tri-beads. The website has more info as well as an instructional video. I can clearly picture the light-pink and white versions of these barrettes that I had as a little girl. Definitely something to share with your daughter!





Thanks to Crorey Creations for helping make the Christmas mornings of four local girls a little brighter!