Thursday, March 29

Who Wants a 50 Dollar Gift Card For Shell Gas?

Giveaway open to Canadians.

I'm pretty sure we've all noticed how expensive gas is. The huge tank in my sexy minivan will guzzle over $100 in one fillup, which seems insane to me. That's why I figured readers would be quite interested in a giveaway of a Shell prepaid MasterCard loaded with $50 of Shell Nitrogen Enriched Gasolines, in honour of Shell's new sponsorship of the AIR MILES Cash program.


As well as the gift card giveaway here at This Mom Loves, Shell is giving away AIR MILES rewards miles through the Shell 5 x 5,000 Contest. As a proud national Sponsor of the new AIR MILES Cash program feature, Shell wants to celebrate this new opportunity that lets consumers decide how they want to redeem earned reward miles including redeeming them for instant savings at Shell.

The Shell 5 x 5,000 Contest runs until April 24, 2012. As the summer travel months quickly approach, Shell knows that family travel can get expensive, so they thought that this might be a great chance for your readers to win 5,000 AIR MILES which could go a long way in helping plan a family trip to Disneyland, a road trip fueled by Shell Nitrogen Enriched Gasolines or even a visit to the in-laws.

To enter that contest, simply visit and "like" the Shell Facebook Page by clicking here.

Just want a chance at $50 in Shell gas? Fill out the form below, and you're done! (Extra entries for following me on GFC, Twitter, Pinterest or through e-mail. See blog sidebar for links to do all four!) This giveaway will run until Thursday, April 12th at 11:59 p.m. Eastern, after which time a winner will  be chosen through random number generation. Good luck, and happy gas-guzzling!


Thursday, March 22

March Break at Sandos Caracol, Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Before I get into the fantastic story that was last week's trip to Mexico, I'd like to explain why you were treated to "flashback" posts the week before.

There was a loss in our family, as after 85 years on the farm, 49 years of marriage, 9 children and 17 grandchildren (not to mention a hand amputated in a farming accident, which he certainly didn't) we laid my father-in-law to rest on March 9th.

I'm sure I have already said too much for my very private husband, so I will leave it at that.

*****************

Rather than making this a long and prose-y post, I'm going to attempt to do this in bulleted (no Mexico pun intended, Mom!) highlights:

The basics:
  • 5 days and 4 nights at Sandos Caracol Eco-Resort and Spa, Playa del Carmen
  • Went with friends who have three kids close in age to ours (One is in my class. Which really wasn't too weird.)
The prepwork:
  • Got Hepatitis shots and hubby and kids took Dukoral to prevent travellers' diarrhea. After one sip my brain told me that Dukoral was not right for human consumption, so I did the "Pepto Bismol pills at every meal" preventative trick. None of our family got sick.
  • This is, of course, in addition to the packing and extensive personal prepwork involved in being seen in a swimsuit in mid-March.
The flight:
  • Girls' first time on a plane. No issues at all, likely because I have trained them well to sit and watch TV
  • Had never flown WestJet before, but found the plane roomy and comfortable, and enjoyed the personalities of the flight attendants (one even made an ex-boyfriend joke when giving the required pre-flight safety spiel, and coming back we got "Welcome to Toronto, home of the 1967 Stanley Cup Champion Maple Leafs"!)
  • Bought little rolling suitcases for girls which they carried on, with books, Frannie's MP3 player (it's a Hello Kitty version and although she calls it an iPod, I refuse to).
  • Gave them children's Gravol before flight just in case.
  • Neither seemed to suffer the ear pain and popping of the ascent/descent that their father unfortunately did.
  • Hard to know what to wear when travelling between two climates, so went with layers, and added/removed as necessary.
Hotel:
  • Booked through WestJet vacations, and we were very impressed by the service (they had reps waiting at the airport, stationed at the resort, etc.)
  • Had been warned on Trip Advisor that we would be invited on a "tour of the resort" (i.e. time-share presentation), and while we were offered massages, etc. as an incentive we still didn't want to give up the 90 minutes. (Our WestJet rep said "Remember, 90 minutes in Mexico is more like four hours!") 
  • Weather was in the high 20's, humidex mid 30's. Though I am aware that it was mild around here that week, I'm still pretty sure my neighbours at home weren't walking around in bikinis every day.
  • Our room was amazing: each family booked a "Junior Suite", with king size bed, sitting room with pull-out couch (where girls slept), lots of storage areas, beautiful bathroom with huge tiled shower.
  • Hotel promotes itself as being extremely natural (it is built right into beautiful surroundings, like a cenote and tons of treed areas) and eco-friendly. I was concerned when there was no recycling bin in our room, but then I realized that housekeeping sorts the trash!
  • Being so "natural", there is wildlife around (think cats, raccoons, and ugly raccoon-like creatures) which may be a novelty to city folk, but not the kind of thing I want wandering around my feet when at the snack bar.
  • The food: you get to book a specific number of a la carte dinners (Mexican, Italian, Brazilian, etc.) depending on how many nights you're there. We went with the Steakhouse which was great, except that the 'medium rare' I asked for came out well done.
  • All other meals are buffet (a few to choose from) which were huge and there was lots for all of us to eat, although the spots all seemed to blend together and have many of the same offerings.
  • A couple of great family pools. My husband preferred the busier large main pool where music was playing and activities were taking place. I liked the smaller one right behind our building as I could allow the kids to splash freely while also enjoying my book!
  • Photographers cruise the pool area taking shots of kids with exotic animals. They start at 12 bucks American for a 6 x 8, but when is the next time I will see my girls cuddling so closely to an iguana?


  • There are kids' movies and shows, and grown-up entertainment in the evenings (I had written "adult entertainment" but that has a bit of a different connotation).
  • Safes in the rooms for valuables (passports, electronics).
  • 24 hour snack bar (kids loved that you could eat sitting in swings).
  • Some rooms have flatscreens with satellite and wifi. Ours didn't. Had to give the TV a whack just to get the few Spanish channels to appear.
  • Had a minibar stocked with free beer, soft drinks and bottles of water.
This was our balcony (note the Jacuzzi!)



This is what we looked out at (the perfect pool, and of course a bar beside it)




Kids' Aqua Park:





Main pool:


  • Also had  a Kids' Club (think indoor playground, crafts, movies, on-resort excursions), where you could drop the little ones off (they need socks, btw) ...which we swore in advance we wouldn't do. The first couple of times we visited, we let them play and just sat and watched, the other two times we sat at snack bar table in clear view of the front doors and enjoyed a drink.
  • On the subject of the all-you-can-drink offerings: apparently the selection was fantastic, and apparently I am a freak of nature for not indulging. Picky taste buds, sensitive stomach, control issues, who can say? But a drinker I am not.
  •  Beautiful beach. A bit rocky for walking in, but our kids were more interested in playing in the sand than swimming in the Gulf.


Extras:
  • We were treated to a romantic boat ride, but I felt uncomfortable being rowed around by a Mexican dressed in native (and I do mean native) garb. (Think speedo, loincloth and body paint). Hubby reminded me that I felt the same when the pedicab driver from Harlem toured us around Central Park. Middle-class guilt, I guess.
  • There are lovely Mayan ruins just a short walk away at the back of the resort. Can you make out Frannie waving at the top of the photo?



Bottom line:

  • Fantastic trip, and would highly recommend resort, especially for families.
  • Service was amazing. Friendly, helpful staff everywhere.
  • Uncertainty about tipping: supposed to be included, but some people did it anyway...which makes you feel like you should...
  • Couples trying to avoid children have lots of options (adults-only residences, pools, spa area and designated adults-only nights at a la carte restaurants) but you certainly can't go through the main area (main pool/restaurants/snack bar/shopping) without spotting lots of kids and families.
  • Back to Trip Advisor: we were scared by some of the reviews (the more recent ones seem much more positive than some older ones), but came away from the trip agreeing that some people are just whiners. Could we find things to nitpick? Of course, as I could in my own home or school, even though those are the happiest places in the world for me. My advice would be to bring issues to the attention of staff right away (which doesn't just apply at this resort, but anywhere you go).
  • There were tons of things we could have seen/done in Playa del Carmen and/or Cancun but with the time we had (and a total of five kids) sticking to the resort was our best bet this time around.
Thank goodness we returned home to nice mild weather this week and don't have to be too nostalgic about the heat that was. As always, let me know if you have any questions!

Disclosure: This was no blog perk; we paid for it ourselves! When I e-mailed in advance to request rooms close together, etc. I did throw in the fact that I was a blogger, which perhaps accounts for the gold wristbands and romantic boat ride coupon!

Monday, March 19

Books For Earth Day...and Fractions!

I wanted to share with you a few great books I've had the opportunity to check out lately. Two of them are timely for Earth Day, and one is another educational resource for parents and kids.

Miss Fox's Class Goes Green by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Anne Kennedy







In this cute, animal-characters picture book, teacher Miss Fox comes to school on a bicycle to "go green," inspiring her students and then the whole school to find ways to save the environment, doing such things as conserving water and energy and using cloth bags instead of plastic. Great for sparking discussions at the preschool/early Primary age levels.

Polar Bear, Why Is Your World Melting? by Robert E. Wells



From the publisher: "In the Arctic, the summer ice is melting, making it hard for polar bears and their cubs to survive. Why is the world getting warmer? The heat of the sun is trapped by the “greenhouse” gases that surround Earth—carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and water vapor. If there is just the right amount of these trapped gases, the air is warm enough for plants, animals, and people to thrive. But now there is too much greenhouse gas, especially carbon dioxide. Polar bears, and all of us, are in trouble."

A fantastic nonfiction picture book, it actually taught me a couple of things about global warming too!


Fraction Jugglers: A Math Gamebook For Kids and Their Parents by Ruth Bell Alexander


From the publisher: "Fraction Jugglers helps kids grasp fractions and their real-world applications--while having such a great time, they don't even realize they're learning. Combining a full-color, illustrated book of 19 games and a custom-designed deck of 86 cards, Fraction Jugglers steadily and thoroughly builds up a student's understanding of how to apply and manipulate fractions. In the What's Bigger? Game, the smallest denominator wins. In the Renaming Game, players find ways to match "target" fractions. Reciprocals come into play in the Great Divide. And there's the Family Matters Game, the Mix and Match Game, the "I've Got It!" Game, and lots more. Fraction Jugglers can be tailored to fit all ability levels, from fraction neophytes on. Adaptable and open-ended, the games encourage kids to both think and problem-solve creatively-and have a blast, too!"

Parents are always asking me for ways to help their kids with fractions at home. While there are several great websites that I can recommend, actually interacting and playing games with your child is a wonderful way to reinforce math concepts. I think I'll pull this one out at home when my daughter is in Grade 2. For now, it will be a great resource with my Grade 3 students, however it's important to note that the games advance well into the older grades as well (adding and subtracting fractions, etc.)
Disclosure: I received the above-named books for review purposes. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Wednesday, March 14

My Recent Pinterest Favourites

As I mentioned back around Valentine's Day, I have become a huge fan of Pinterest. (Remember these cute Valentine's frames I made, inspired by a Pinterest pin?)



Original pin (yes, hers are way nicer than mine, but that's hardly the point):



I wanted to share with you some more of my recent finds:

These adorable Leprechauns with an "I Feel Lucky When..." writing prompt (my students loved this activity):



And for Social Studies, this "My Place In The World" project was a great hands-on way to launch our unit on Urban and Rural Communities, with kids exploring the concept of how everything fits together:



To get my home ready for St. Paddy's day, of course I again turned to Pinterest for cheesy themed decor ideas, and came away with some great subway art printables:





Here's how my finished products look (for a total cost of about five bucks):




I also pulled out a photo of my girls dressed for the holiday (t-shirts and Irish Princess tiaras) three years ago and framed it to go along with one of the subway art pieces.

If you'd like to see what else I've pinned for St. Patrick's Day, check out my Pinterest board here. And of course,

Follow Me on Pinterest

I follow back any boards that apply to me...so no weddings, babies, knitting or cooking! :-)

Monday, March 12

Glerups Slippers: Warm, Natural and Stylish!

Winter may be winding down, but it's never too late to invest in a great pair of slippers! Glerups slippers from Denmark are made naturally from the warmest wool and all-natural leather soles.

Until recently, I haven't been a big slipper-wearer, but I was very excited to try out a pair of Glerups because we always have PJ day at school and I never have any coordinating footwear!

I received a pair of the women's "slipper" style in red, valued at $99. (You can also get "shoe" and "boot" cuts, all shown below, and all styles come in black, brown, grey and red).

These are VERY comfortable slippers. There's a small lip on the back that bugged me at first, but then I quickly got used to it, and I love them. I actually didn't realize that they were meant to be worn barefoot until I explored the website, so I started taking my socks off, and it actually makes them feel even nicer.

Made of 100% wool with calfskin soles (Glerup likes to say that the leather bottoms "take the 'slip' out of slippers"), they are self-cleaning, but come with instructions for handwashing in cold water, should you decide to do that.

SLIPPER STYLE:


B-08

Glerups are very warm, since wool actually releases heat when dampened, which is one of the important reasons for wearing them barefoot.

SHOE STYLE:

A-02
BOOT STYLE:


G-04
While I happen to think they are extremely stylish, my husband's first reaction was: "Those look like slippers we used to wear growing up on the farm!"...which he did not consider a compliment. However, I take it as as further proof of their natural appeal.

For more information, please visit their website at http://www.glerups.ca/.

Disclosure: I was provided with a pair of Glerups for review purposes. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Thursday, March 8

Flashback: Looking For Travel Ideas?

As March Break approaches (and summer gets blessedly closer each day!) I wanted to share with you some of my most popular posts about travel destinations with my family (both with and without kids).

















side





And most recently, although I didn't post about it, we went to Niagara Falls with family and did the Fallsview Indoor Waterpark...which I would highly recommend as well. Just another idea!



In a couple of weeks, I will be back to report to you on our biggest family vacation yet, as Frannie and Maggie experience their first time on an airplane!

As always, let me know if you have any questions about any of our travel destinations. I'd be glad to help out.

And to those of you on holidays at the same time as our School Board, have a fantastic March Break!

Monday, March 5

Clutter Control #4: Clutter Flashbacks

The fourth edition of my Clutter Control series is actually a flashback to some of my archived organizational posts that you may have missed:













and...





Next up in This Mom Loves' Clutter Control series: Organizing Your Jewelery!

Thursday, March 1

Kristi Yamaguchi: The "It's a Big World, Little Pig" Momterview

Kristi Yamaguchi refuses to slow down. Olympic Gold Medallist in Figure Skating? Check. Dancing With the Stars champion? Sure. Workout video? Yep. Devoted philanthropist? Of course. Wife of a Stanley Cup winner (former Carolina Hurricanes player Bret Hedican) and mother of two? Done. Oh yeah, and she writes children's books.

Born in the year of the pig, Kristi has always taken a particular interest in the animal, and last year decided to make Poppy the Pig the star of her first children's book, New York Times Bestseller "Dream Big, Little Pig!" (Daughter Keara, now eight, helped choose Poppy's name, and Poppy's best friend was named after Kristi's daughter Emma, now six.)

Fans will be delighted to learn that Poppy is now back in the sequel, "It's a Big World, Little Pig!" My (almost) six year old daughter Frannie enthuses: "It is so funny, like when it says 'New Pork City', and the colouring is beautiful. Poppy had a big talent and she learned that as soon as she travels somewhere she makes friends that she never even knew she would have! I've always wanted to see the Eiffel Tower in real life, but at least I could see a picture in this book!"

Courtesy Claire Deliman for M. Magazine

Kristi was kind enough to make time to answer a few questions for my readers and me.

This Mom: Your daughters are a couple of years older than my two. I'd love to know what their hobbies and interests are these days, and how parenting has changed since they were preschoolers?

Kristi Yamaguchi: My eight year old loves art, reading, Hula dancing. Also singing and dancing for fun. The six year old is starting figure skating, soccer, and singing and dancing for fun as well. Parenting has changed from a more playful/engaging role to now a bit more structured with homework and after school activities.


The new book

TM: After all of your accomplishments, what made you decide to write for children?

KY: My two daughters inspired me to write for children. They love books and reading and I wanted to give them something special from mommy. Also, I have always wanted to encourage and inspire kids to reach for their dreams, so this has been a fun way to bring that message to them.

About the second book: It’s a Big World, Little Pig! follows Poppy as she travels to Paris to compete in the World Games. At first, Poppy is nervous about meeting so many new people in a new place. But, ever courageous and supported by her family (and best friend Emma, too!), Poppy begins to realize that although these animals look different, act different, and are from different places, they are all the same at heart. They all smile in the same language!

TM: I would imagine that after a successful debut, there is pressure to come up with an equally great sequel. How did you come up with the theme for this second book, and was it more difficult than the first?

KY: Yes, more pressure! I once again looked back at some valuable life lessons I learned as a young skater and went from there. My very first experience traveling internationally had such an impact on me that I wanted to share some of that. So eye-opening at a young age. This book was more difficult than the first because Poppy is known now, she has a personality to be true to. A fun challenge though.


The first Poppy story

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

KY: This Mom loves Italy, skiing, reading, food, and shopping/fashion!

Thanks, Kristi! Be sure to check out "It's a Big World, Little Pig!", and Poppy's first adventure, "Dream Big, Little Pig!"

Disclosure: I received a copy of "It's a Big World, Little Pig!" for review purposes. Opinions are, as always, my own.