Friday, June 29

Artist Series Activity Pack from Stuck on You: Review and Giveaway

Giveaway open to US and Canada!

When I was contacted by Stuck On You and asked if I would be interested in reviewing their personalized Artist Series Activity Pack, my response was a resounding YES! Frannie, my six year old, is quite a budding artist, and I knew she would absolutely love to experiment with some new goodies. (Too bad I couldn't have timed this for Christmas or her birthday!) It literally hasn't left her side since she received it. (It has been in the van, to school, to daycare, and in her bed.)



The Artist Series Activity Pack is personalized with a name of your choice, and comes with:

  • 1 activity book (colour-by-number, mini wordsearches, etc.) with child's name
  • 1 mini scribbler (images to colour as well as blank space for drawing) with child's name
  • 12 kids' artists coloured pencils, pre-sharpened (these little details matter!)
  • 10 double tip marker pens
  • 1 large pocket pencil case (this is really big; it actually holds all included items plus more of Frannie's junk treasures, and it's also durable) with child's name
  • 1 sheet of mini-stickers with the name of your choice for labelling the pencils and markers (these don't come labelled. This would be one thing that would make the package even better.)



This package is available from Stuck On You for $49.95 (a $59.85 value). It may seem a bit pricey (I wouldn't spend that amount for a toddler) but the quality really is excellent, and older children can appreciate the personalization. (Your child's teacher will too, when he/she doesn't have to ask "Whose marker is this?")

Since Frannie is now six, I told her she is responsible for reviewing any of the goodies she receives through the blog. Here is a transcription of her responses:
What is your favourite part of the Artist Series Activity Pack?

The Mini Scribbler because I love colouring the best.

What else do you like about it?

The Activity Book because the activities are really cool to do. It's a good thing and it can help you learn stuff. I like things with my name on them because I think my name is different, and it's cool when you open something and you don't know it's going to have your name on it, and when it does it's really special.

If you could change anything, what would you change? (Her eyes lit up at the thought of having this power.)

It should come with a pencil sharpener.

Of course Stuck On You is offering one Artist Series Activity Pack (name and design of your choice) to a lucky This Mom Loves reader. Please enter using the Rafflecopter form below. The contest will close on July 14th at 12:01 a.m. Eastern time. Good luck!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, June 27

Meet My Personal Stylist: Practical Fashionista

Allow me to introduce you to my personal stylist: Lisa McLatchie, Practical Fashionista! (You may have noticed her link at the top of my sidebar.)



I found her through a simple web search (looking for a personal stylist in or near the GTA) and was very impressed by what I found.

So, what makes her qualified anyway? This must be a common question, as she addresses it on her site:

"Yes, I have been trained as a Personal Stylist. Not only did I study Fashion Design at Seneca College, I am also a certified Image Consultant, and have been personally trained by Stacy London from ‘What Not to Wear.’ Yeah, THAT Stacy London!"




Before contacting Lisa I had tons of other questions, but as I continued to browse the site I realized my worries were not unique to me:

"Seriously though, I fully understand the idea of working with an Image Consultant can seem a bit scary…


“Will she make me get rid of ALL of my clothes?”
“Will she think my clothes are ugly and cheap?”
“Is she going to make me spend tons of money on a new wardrobe?”
“Is she going to use me as a dress up doll, and put me in clothes I don’t feel comfortable in?”

Simply put, the answers are “No”, “No”, “No”, and “No Way”! Well, THIS one won’t anyway."

Reading that on her site really put me at ease about setting up a consultation.

While she offers many services, including colour analysis and personal shopping, what I need the most is a "Wardrobe Makeover", so I contacted Lisa to set something up. She's a busy lady, but after a few e-mails back and forth we picked a final date....which will be arriving next week!!

In advance, she sent me her "Personal Style Assessment", a fill-in-the-blanks Word document asking questions about my style and colour preferences, where I usually shop, my lifestyle, work specifics, size information. etc. She also asked what I am hoping to achieve with this makeover, so I provided her with my three main goals:

1. Purging my wardrobe. I am great at getting rid of things in every other area of my life, but I feel wasteful parting with my clothing, and I often think that perhaps an item will come back in style, or if I just had the right shirt/skirt/pants/accessories to go with it, I'd wear it much more often. Sometimes it takes a second pair of eyes to notice that something just doesn't work anymore.

2. Making new outfits with what I have, and accessorizing. I'm good with jewelery, but I have tons of belts, scarves, tights (and legwarmers - who can forget those?) which I rarely wear because I don't know what to wear them with.

3. Coming up with a Fall 2012 shopping list - hopefully not just my standard sweaters-and-dress-pants combos.

Now, I have tons of stylish friends who could help me with this endeavour, but I don't think I am cut out to take even the kindest wardrobe criticism from friends whom I see all the time.

My helpful friend C predicted: "She's going to tell you that you need real leather boots, which I already told you!" Well, C, I will have you know that I do own real leather boots, but the black thigh-highs with stiletto heels just don't seem appropriate for our work environment!

I've already started excitedly thinking about my "Keep", "?" and "Donate" piles, which will be ready to go when Lisa arrives.  With any luck, her expert eye will pare down the "?" pile, leaving me with a big donation bag...and an excuse to shop!

I can't wait...and I'll be sure to give you all the details! Check out Practical Fashionista for more information.

Disclosure: I am being provided with a Wardrobe Makeover for the purposes of reviewing Practical Fashionista's services. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Monday, June 25

Anastasia's Picks: "Capture the Flag" by Kate Messner

My ten year old niece "Anastasia" offers her latest book review:

Capture the Flag by Kate Messner (available July 2012 from Scholastic Press):



When the flag of the U.S.A. is stolen, three kids meet each other at an airport, and decide to try to find out who stole it. Searching for a flag is dangerous, when evil people are on the loose and searching for you. But when you have a gang of eager kids, anything can happen!



My favourite parts are when suspense takes place. You are on the edge of your seat, waiting to see what happens!


Something I would change is ... well, maybe... nothing! I liked this book through and through!


I recommend this book for 9 to 12 year olds. I will give it 4 out 5 stars.

*****

Kate's research for this book was particularly interesting. She contacted the curator of the Star-Spangled Banner exhibit at the National Museum of American History, and once he checked her out, he invited her family to the museum an hour before it opened one day to enjoy the exhibit, "talk about how one might go about breaking into the enclosure, prowl the back hallways and ride the freight elevators to devise a getaway plan".

My students know Kate Messner as the author of "Marty McGuire", which we read this fall. We even had the opportunity for a virtual author visit through Skype, which was a fantastic experience for the kids. The second installment in the series, "Marty McGuire Digs Worms" is now out...and my students have been fighting over it!


Visit Kate Messner's site for more information.

Friday, June 22

Does the "Monday's Child" Poem Ring True For You?

Just a little bit of Friday fun here: Remember the old poem, "Monday's Child"?
Monday's child is fair of face,


Tuesday's child is full of grace,


Wednesday's child is full of woe,


Thursday's child has far to go.


Friday's child is loving and giving,


Saturday's child works hard for a living,


But the child born on the Sabbath Day,


Is fair and wise at work and play.

My girls were both born on Fridays, and they are certainly loving. The giving part may come a bit more as they mature and sharing becomes a easier...but we practise being charitable by donating used clothing, books and toys.

As for me...I'm sure you're all guessing that I was born on a Monday (ha ha) but I actually fit my Saturday profile very well. I don't mean that I work hard in a "slaving away just to make a dime" kind of way, but I certainly get a lot of joy out of work (whether that be teaching, writing, or working around the house) and practically nothing makes me happier than crossing something off my to-do list. (I'm currently on my report-cards-are-done high.)

Productivity is my idea of "fun". (Which is why my friends are always wary when I suggest doing something "fun". Apparently not everyone uses that adjective for organizing kitchen cupboards.)

Does this poem fit you? Your kids?

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, June 20

Hello Summer $1000 Cash Giveaway!

These cash giveaways are so fun, I couldn't resist joining up for one more:




And here we are again to give you a chance to win BIG BUCKS!!! Happy Home and Family, Diva Fabulosa and a group of amazing bloggers have teamed up to give 1 lucky winner a whopping $1000 paypal cash! Yep you read it right, $1000 cold hard cash!

What would you do if you win $1000?

Go on a holiday ?
Have a home makeover ?
Go on a shopping spree ?

If someone handed me an extra grand right now, I would probably spend it decking out the new deck....or save it until it was time to shop for a back-to-school wardrobe! (It feels like a sin to say "back to school" in June...my apologies!)

Here are the details:
  • Giveaway will run June 20 at 12:01 am EST – July 20 at 12:01 AM EST
  • OPEN WORLDWIDE
  • You must be 18 years or older to enter.
  • Entries will be verified.
Wait for the Rafflecopter to load and enter below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck to you!!

Monday, June 18

SEO For Absolute Total Complete Beginners

I am not a web analyst; I am a teacher. I could prattle on all day about SRTs, IPRC's, IEPs and ADHD. I cannot, however, give you any sort of expert tips on SEO.



What I can offer you is a beginner's perspective. After blogging for two years, I recently decided I should learn a little more about this oft-used term, and here's what I found out:

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, and it's the process of trying to get your site (or blog) to show up more often naturally in search engine listings. For example, I want to make sure that when someone is searching for information on PC Cooking School Birthday Parties, my post shows up in their results (and as close to the top as possible). That way, my work gets more exposure and I get more traffic.

I read many articles on SEO for Beginners, and compiled the top three tips which I have begun trying to incorporate into This Mom Loves:

1. Use correct, specific titles for posts. Looking back at my archives, I haven't always been good at this. Titles like "My New Favourite Thing" won't draw people looking for "Pandora Bracelets". That said, I don't want to abandon all creativity in my titles either just for the sake of SEO.

2. Use correct, specific anchor text and labels. When linking to another site (or elsewhere on your own site) with anchor text, avoid generic expressions like "click here for more info". Instead, make sure the highlighted text represents exactly what it's pointing to: "find more info on organizing linen closets here".

The same goes for your photos and other images: I had no idea that the name you've given to the picture when saving it to your computer affects how your posts come up in searches. Not many people are Googling "jpg023", but if you've labelled your image properly, someone just might find you.

3. Write quality content. Well, I certainly strive for that. I'm still trying to find the balance between sharing personal parenting details, review/giveaways, editorials, and information items. I love trying out products and finding new readers with the exposure that giveaways provide, but I certainly don't classify myself as a "review and giveaway blogger". However I also don't fit into the "look how cute my kids are and read about their every milestone on a daily basis" niche either. I love all of the Celebrity Momterviews I've done, but I'm not strictly an entertainment blogger. Hopefully my reader base enjoys the eclectic mix they find here at This Mom Loves: travel, decorating, education...it's all there.

Another oft-shared tip is to post frequently, and while I know there are some twice-a-day bloggers out there, that just doesn't work with a full-time teaching schedule. I try to set aside chunks of time to write two or three posts and program them for the week, but sometimes I can only get one post out. It's not worth forsaking the quality referred to in Tip 3 in order to pump out a greater quantity of material.

Where are you on the SEO spectrum? Are you a guru who can suggest a next step for me, or a fellow beginner guilty of cryptic post titles and generic photo labels? Do you even care? I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, June 15

Don't Buy This Spice Rack


I took a photo of my beautiful new "9 Can Magnetic Spice Rack" (purchased at Canadian Tire) but then didn't get around to writing up a post that day. Good thing, since by the end of the day the cans had fallen off the magnets, and I began the almost daily process of hot-glue-gunning them back on (a few each day, repeating in rotation as it happened again and again. I see now that others who reviewed the product online had the same problem).

I know, I know: I should have returned it. But the packaging was already broken down, and I would have had to empty out all the spices and wash the cans before taking it back. Plus I'm just not much of a "returner".



So while I did love the look of it when functional (for a few hours) now it sits flat on my counter, looking awkward and taking up more space. And really, nine cans isn't enough anyway, so we still have multiple other spice containers stashed away in the cupboard. Live and learn.

I don't normally bother writing about products I don't love, but I thought this one might save someone else some grief! Once summer comes and I have time to assess my kitchen cupboard situation, I will be finding another place for the spices.

Wednesday, June 13

Our Backyard Reno (Pool and Deck) Phase One!

I wanted to let you in on the first few steps of our 2012 landscaping project: a deck extension and an above-ground pool! We toyed with the idea of an in-ground pool, but our slope is not ideal for it, and I knew we would have spent a crazy amount of money just to landscape afterwards. I also know that when the kids are grown, I sure won't be swimming on a regular basis (I'm more of a hot-tub girl...which hopefully will be Phase Three!) so we will have the easy option of taking it down.

View of the back before commencing
(Of course we usually keep an excavator there. It's art, don't you think?)






After the land was cleared and levelled, and some deck deconstruction (and dandelion growth):



And finally...the pool is in! We went with a 15 x 30 "rectangular" pool (not exactly a rectangle) with a saltwater system and a propane heater. (Neither of which are hooked up yet, as we are still waiting for the deck phase to be completed before deciding exactly where the permanent home will be for the eyesores essential components.)




We are extremely lucky to have hired my Dad and brilliantly talented uncle to undertake the construction project, so we know it will be done right...and that we are of course their first priority! When their work is done, I will be back to show you Phase Two! Until then, Frannie is having a blast swimming in the new pool, and Maggie is thrilled about sitting on the second step. (That's progress from the first step. We have all summer, she'll come around!)

Monday, June 11

Need a Grad, Wedding, or Baby Gift? Hallmark Has You Covered!

As part of the Hallmark Press Pause Panel, I receive goody bags filled with Hallmark's latest and greatest products. What's worth sharing this time around?

WEDDINGS

His and Hers Travelling Mug Set ($29.99): The bride and groom can enjoy this matching set of travel mugs with silicone lids and a no-slip grip.

Hallmark Wedding WEH6209 His & Hers Travel Mug Set
Mr. and Mrs. Apron Set ($44.99): A fun way to start off the marriage...and ensure that both the bride and groom help out in the kitchen!



Hallmark Wedding WEH6212 Mr. & Mrs. Apron Set



GRADUATION

Class of 2012 Flip Flops ($14.95): Ditch those heels after graduation and celebrate in style! Available for men and women.






2012 Autograph Monkey ($12.95, $9.95 with purchase of any Graduation card): This cute little stuffed monkey grad comes with a pen to capture the signatures of classmates.





Graduation Autograph Monkey



BABY

What's That In Mommy's Tummy? Recordable Book ($24.95): My girls (with Daddy's help) completed a Hallmark Recordable Book for me for Mother's Day (not this title, I swear!) and I will treasure it forever. If the big brother- or sister-to-be is old enough to verbalize some responses ("What books should your parents read to the baby?", "What do you have to do to take care of a baby?"), this one would be a real keeper!


Hallmark Recordable Books DIG5202 What's That In Mommy's Tummy Conversations To Keep




Cake Plush ($23.99): Celebrate baby's first birthday with this cute and cuddly plush cake. Reading "My 1st Birthday", the plush features light and music when the button is pressed.


First Birthday Cake Plush



Now, let me be honest here. When it comes to many of these occasions, I am as much a fan of cold hard cash (whether as the giver or the recipient) as anyone else. But it's always nice to have some meaningful little gifts that will help the special person remember the day (and you!) long after the money has been spent. Hallmark is definitely the place to go for memorable gifts to honour any celebration.

Disclosure: I received some Hallmark items for review purposes. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Summer Splash Cash $400 {Giveaway}

Giveaway open worldwide.

So for those of you who missed it, a couple of months ago I participated in a great cash giveaway, which was a wonderful way to bring in some new readers and followers...and to give someone a fantastic prize!

(There were 245,000 entries by the way...no, I'm not joking! But remember that each blog/Twitter follow, Facebook like, etc. counts as an entry, so that doesn't mean there were 245,000 people.)

For your entering pleasure, I now present:



$400 Summer Splash Cash Giveaway

 
Welcome to the $400 Summer Splash Cash Giveaway hosted by Giveaway Promote.
 
We've joined a fantastic group of bloggers to give away $400 in cash via PayPal to one lucky person. Complete the tasks below to earn entries into this giveaway. One winner will be chosen at random from all valid entries.
 
Do you love entering giveaways, sweepstakes and contests? You'll find the latest and greatest listed at Giveaway Promote. You can submit your giveaways and upcoming giveaway events for free today!
 
This giveaway is open worldwide.
It will end at 11:59pm EST on June 24th, 2012.

Friday, June 8

PC Cooking School Birthday Party (Alternate title: My Baby Is Four!)

A couple of weeks ago we held Maggie's fourth birthday party at our neighbourhood Loblaws. It was a PC Cooking School Birthday Party, and the kids had an absolute blast!

One of our nieces in Aurora did her birthday this way last year, and I knew I wanted to copy it for one of our girls. Because our kids' parties usually involve their godparents, and Maggie's have five daughters from ages 7 to 11 between the two of them, I try to tailor the parties to suit the older kids as much as the guest of honour. This idea was perfect for all of them (including the four boy guests as well).

I made the booking through the website, then went into the store to make a deposit and meet with "Chef Cat". She answered all of my questions, and even asked Maggie to make several important decisions about the menu for the day. I sent out the provided invitations, and left the rest of the planning and prep to the PC team!

Here are some highlights from the party:



Chef Cat welcomes the guest of honour



I bought a set of 12 children's aprons for $12 from e-bay (a few vendors have them; I found one with free shipping). Aprons are available for use at the party, but I thought this made a cute loot-bag replacement.



The kids began by making fruit kebabs with cut-up strawberries, apples, grapes, kiwi and melon. (Don't you love the chef's hats, which the kids get to keep and decorate?) 



Next, they prepared pizza toppings with their own little chopper. Pizzas were then put in the oven to cook. (You'll want to do this party around a mealtime.) Kids were encouraged to try toppings they might not usually eat, but there was no pressure.



While the pizzas were cooking, each child received their own round cake to ice and decorate. Even the candy toppings were included, as well as an official bakery box to transport the creation home. This was the "party favour" (replacing the idea of a loot bag...although I couldn't resist picking up those aprons too).





Next up? Enjoying the meal they had prepared themselves. This is Maggie's plate...with some yogurt and a dollop of whipped cream on the side for fruit-dipping!




Even the birthday cake was provided, made to Maggie's specifications. She chose a pull-apart cupcake cake with chocolate icing and pink and purple flowers!

(If you're wondering about this photo, my husband was egging my sister-in-law and me on in a who-has the better-macro-feature competition. It works for this purpose, as I don't want to show the whole cake with Maggie's real name on it!)
After the cake, time was provided for gift-opening (with the bonus being that you can leave all of the garbage behind!) and Cat was terrific about arranging a photo op and making the birthday girl feel very special.

From start to finish the party was two hours, but it is a jam-packed time period, so encourage your guests to be punctual!

As for the price...no prices are given on the website, which may mean that they vary by region, but we paid just over $200 for the minimum of 12 guests (extra for each additional guest).

It was well worth it, considering that our alternative would have been to throw the party at home as usual, providing a meal, an activity/craft of some sort, decorations and loot bags. (Not to mention the time it takes to plan and shop for all of that.) Plus, not having to clean my house before and after? Priceless.

I would highly, highly recommend this to anyone looking for that sort of venue party idea. While I likely wouldn't repeat it again with the same crowd, I could definitely see doing it for one of Frannie's future birthdays with her girlfriends from school.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or check out the PC Cooking School website for more information.

Disclosure: As hard as I tried, there were no deals for bloggers on this one! I'm promoting the party simply because I enjoyed it!

Wednesday, June 6

Father's Day Gift Ideas

It's hunting season again...hunting for the perfect Father's Day gift, that is!

Whether it's for your own dad or grandfather (lucky you!) or for hubby, I've got you covered with my 2011 Peterborough, Northumberland and Lakeridge Kids article entitled:
"Make This Father's Day Special".



Check it out not only for "commercial" gift ideas, but also for Mom-and-Dad-recommended crafts, activities and outings to enhance your celebration this year.

I would tell you how Frannie and Maggie will be honouring their Daddy...but I don't want to spoil his surprise!

Monday, June 4

Pinterest: Tips and Tricks for Beginners

If you've been following This Mom Loves for a while (or even a week), you know that I'm a big fan of Pinterest. That's why I thought it would be the perfect topic for my latest article for Peterborough, Northumberland and Lakeridge Kids Magazine, entitled: 

Get Pinning!



The basics of the site and advantages for busy parents are covered in the article, but here are a few more personal notes:

-If you want to follow someone, you don't have to follow ALL of their Boards. Just because you love their decorating stuff doesn't mean you want knitting or motorcycles. (Just a couple of examples.)

-If you get a message that someone is following you, definitely check her out, as you likely have something in common. (I have my settings so that I get these "follow" notifications through email, and I moved the first one to my Spam folder so all subsequent ones would filter there as well, to be viewed later.)

-Install the "Pin It" button in the toolbar of your browser, so that when you're on ANY website (not just Pinterest) you can "Pin" the things you like, to be saved to your boards and shared with your followers.

-I also went through my "Favourites" on my computer, and "Pinned" the sites instead. This way I can access all of my saved stuff from any computer, anywhere there's an Internet connection (plus others can find these great ideas on my boards.)

-If you sign up for an invitation on the site, you might be waiting a long time. Try to find someone you know on Pinterest (like me!) and she or he can invite you to speed up the process. (Leave a comment below with your e-mail address and I promise to invite you ASAP!)

-If you're looking for ideas for Boards, here's how I've organized my pins:
  • Father's Day
  • Mother's Day
  • Fashion
  • Blogging
  • St. Patrick's Day
  • Easter
  • I Guess I Need a Recipes Board
  • Haven't (Yet) Been There, Done That (places I want to travel)
  • Halloween
  • Organization/Cleaning
  • Valentine's Day
  • Christmas
  • Decorating/Home
  • Kids
  • Arts and Crafts
  • Education (this one will need to be sub-split into subjects eventually)
As I have completed some one-time-shot home projects, etc. I have removed the pins from my Boards (kind of like taking something off your to-do list) but some things like seasonal crafts for students will need to stay on as yearly reminders for me, and other ideas are just inspirational and will remain on the Boards indefinitely.

Check out my article for more tips and tricks, and the Peterborough/Northumberland/Lakeridge Kids Magazine site for tons of other parenting information and resources. (They're on Pinterest, too!)

One last note...if you follow me on Pinterest, I will follow back any Boards that fit with my interests (i.e. no cooking, sewing, or martial arts!) and remember, if you're still waiting for an invitation, wait no longer! I'd be glad to get you in!

Friday, June 1

Rock of Ages Cineplex Passes Courtesy of Splat!

Giveaway open to Canadians.

As I'm sure you are aware, the Rock of Ages movie hits theatres on June 15th, and Splat is giving away a pair of Cineplex tickets to one lucky This Mom Loves reader!

Based on the Broadway musical and filled with an all-star cast including Tom Cruise, Julianne Hough, Alex Baldwin and Catherine Zeta-Jones, this is the perfect way to get the summer started. (And based on movie prices, this prize is worth about $452. Just kidding!)




And what is Splat, you may be asking? It's a line of vivid hair colours (wash out or semi-permanent) to help you get in the mood to rock! Visit their website for more details. (And no, I won't be sampling this product myself any time soon. Going blonde was wild and crazy enough for me for one summer!)




If you're interested in the tickets, there's a quick turnaround: this contest will be open for seven days only, closing on Friday, June 8th at 11:59 p.m. Eastern. All you have to do to enter is leave your e-mail address.

Extra entries for following This Mom Loves through GFC, e-mail, Twitter or Pinterest, or liking my brand new Facebook page or Splat's Facebook Page. (See sidebar for links.) Be sure to hit "submit" when you're done!

Good luck, and get ready to rock!




Disclosure: I was provided with two pairs of tickets, one used for the giveaway, and one pair which I will use to check out the movie myself!