Monday, July 30

My Summer Reading: From Canadian Literature to Fifty Shades of Grey

In no particular order (well, actually, starting with real literature so I look smart even if you don't finish this whole post), the reading material that's been in my hands poolside so far this summer:

Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay (author of the Scotiabank Giller Prize-Winning "Late Nights on Air" , which I disliked, but I'm all for second chances)





This was Canadian literature, but not in the obvious "I'm being deep and hard to understand so I can win an award" kind of way. I really enjoyed it, although I felt like I had to stop and review periodically to keep all of the characters and their time periods straight.

Rather than recapping it myself, here's the publisher's description:

Hay's runaway bestseller novel crosses generations and cuts to the bone of universal truth about love and our relationship with the past. In 1930, a school principal in Saskatchewan is suspected of abusing a student. Seven years later, on the other side of the country, a girl picking wild cherries meets a violent end. These are only two of the mysteries in the life of the narrator''s charismatic aunt, Connie Flood.


As the narrator Anne pieces together her aunt's lifelong attachment to her former student Michael Graves, and her obsession with Parley Burns, the inscrutable principal implicated in the assault of Michael's younger sister, her own story becomes connected with that of the past, and the triangle of principal, teacher, student opens out into other emotional triangles -- aunt, niece, lover; mother, daughter, granddaughter -- until a sudden, capsizing love changes Anne's life. Alone in the Classroom is Elizabeth Hay's most tense, intricate, and seductive novel yet.

This was one of those books where I kept jotting down the quotes that stood out for me:

 "A child lies like a grey pebble on the shore until a certain teacher picks him up and dips him in water, and suddenly you see all the colours and patterns in the dull stone, and it's marvellous for the stone and marvellous for the teacher."

"The older you get, the closer your loves are to the surface."

"They say that the past goes on and on, but what I love about the past is that it's over. The past is on its own, just as your children in some essential way are on their own, and your parents, no matter how dependent they might have become, are still on their own."

"It's easy to fall in love with someone who writes excellent letters."

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes



Publisher's blurb:

Winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize and #1 international bestseller, The Sense of an Ending is a masterpiece.



The story of a man coming to terms with the mutable past, Julian Barnes's new novel is laced with his trademark precision, dexterity and insight. It is the work of one of the world''s most distinguished writers.


Tony Webster and his clique first met Adrian Finn at school. Sex-hungry and book-hungry, they navigated the girl drought of gawky adolescence together, trading in affectations, in-jokes, rumour and wit. Maybe Adrian was a little more serious than the others, certainly more intelligent, but they swore to stay friends forever. Until Adrian's life took a turn into tragedy, and all of them, especially Tony, moved on and did their best to forget.

Now Tony is in middle age. He's had a career and a marriage, a calm divorce. He gets along nicely, he thinks, with his one child, a daughter, and even with his ex-wife. He's certainly never tried to hurt anybody. Memory, though, is imperfect. It can always throw up surprises, as a lawyer's letter is about to prove. The unexpected bequest conveyed by that letter leads Tony on a dogged search through a past suddenly turned murky. And how do you carry on, contentedly, when events conspire to upset all your vaunted truths?

A short yet heavy book, you think you have it figured out, and then you pat yourself on the back for being so wise, and then realize you didn't have it figured out. If you're anything like me.

Noteworthy tidbits:

"It strikes me that this may be one of the differences between youth and age: when we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are old, we invent different pasts for others."

"But time...how time first grounds us and then confounds us. We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but were only being cowardly. What we called realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things rather than facing them. Time...give us enough time and our best-supported decisions will seem wobbly, our certainties whimsical."

This one threw me a little. Is it telling me that I'm living my life all wrong, or is it an easy way to rationalize immaturity and irresponsibility?


Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy by E.L. James






Perhaps you've heard of these books? They aren't necessarily well-written, but the first two kept my attention. Too little character development, too many euphemisms (if you can call them that)...but my book club forced me to read them. Well maybe just the first one. And "forced" might be a strong word. There were no handcuffs or cable ties used or anything. Just the peer pressure. And the need to be prepared to give my two (fifty?) cents during the 10 minutes of our four hour meeting usually spent discussing the book. Not surprisingly, we actually spent way more time discussing this title than we have any other.

In terms of the content, personally I'm not too worried about what couples are doing in private...but can't get the idea of wanting to be with someone who wants you to be in pain. But obviously the author did something right when I felt the need to read the second and third instalments.


The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson





I saw the movie (Hollywood version) of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and loved it. A friend then loaned me the book but it was too thick to get through when I already knew what was going to happen. So I jumped to the second and couldn't put it down, and now I can't wait to read the third.

After that, I'll be ready for another stack of books....any suggestions?

Saturday, July 28

Win $50 in Shell Gas Here, or $1000 By Sharing Your Road Trip Story!

Giveaway open to Canadians.

Have you checked out Shell's Favourite Road Trip Contest yet? If you submit your Favourite Road Trip story (in 250 words or less) to the Shell Facebook Page, you get a chance at one of three $1000 prizes of Shell Nitrogen Rich Gasolines...enough to fuel your next road trip!




This contest got me thinking about some of my own road trip memories (not all positive, I'm afraid, but certainly memorable):
  • the girls' trip in University when my alternator gave out while in the fast lane of the 401 near Toronto
  • the summer Frannie was a baby and we went to the East Coast with my parents (other than heating bottles, it was surprisingly easy to travel with a five month old)
  • last summer, when we repeated the trip with both girls and they got to visit Avonlea Village and dress up like Anne of Green Gables
  • July 2012, when little Maggie threw up repeatedly as we navigated the windy roads to Mont Tremblant
  • just a few weeks ago, the 24 hour whirlwind trip to Montreal for a funeral, sharing the van with my husband and his three sisters
What's your favourite road trip memory? Share it on Shell's Facebook Page if you're interested in free gas (or would you prefer to pay for yours?)

The kind people at Shell are also giving away a $50 prepaid MasterCard loaded with Shell Nitrogen Enriched Gasolines to one lucky This Mom Loves reader, and all you have to do is enter using the Rafflecopter form below.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I was provided with a Shell gift card to facilitate this post. Shell has also provided an additional gift card for giveaway purposes. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Thursday, July 26

Get Building With the Kids This Summer - Family Constructables From Mag Ruffman and Lowe's

When I first heard that Mag Ruffman (you may remember her as Olivia King from Road To Avonlea, but she is also quite the home improvement expert) was teaming up with Lowe's for a series of Family Fun Projects videos, my interest was piqued and I had lots of questions. Who better to seek answers from than the ToolGirl herself, Mag Ruffman?




This Mom: Why did you decide to get involved in Family Fun Projects with Lowe's?

Mag Ruffman: So many kids don’t get a chance to work with their hands or build stuff because parents often don’t know how to help them, or don't know what projects to build with their kids. Sometime parents are even afraid of tools and they transfer that fear to their kids. But kids are the biggest, most eager audience of builders in the world, and they’re also the fastest learners! So I pitched some TV shows last year that would teach kids how to use tools. However, the TV networks were worried about liability issues regarding children and tools, and they all said ‘no’. So I went to Lowe’s and pitched the idea to them. They were excited and agreed to fund a pilot project, so we just finished producing our first web series of Family Fun Projects. We have 20 different projects available online at http://lowes.ca/kidsvideos, and each project features a short video plus a free, downloadable illustrated booklet with complete step-by-step instructions, a detailed supplies list, and lots of tips!




TM: Why are these projects preferable to other summer activities kids might be partaking in?

MR: Building things is a bonding experience for kids and parents. It’s also great for brain development, coordination, spatial perception and it increases inventiveness and resourcefulness in both kids and parents. Building together produces memories that will last forever. It creates problem-solving abilities and self-sufficiency. Family Fun projects allow children to be self-directed; parents don’t need to do much except (in some cases) cut material or do some of the drilling. Kids can do most of the fastening and finishing with the parent providing just a little background guidance.




TM: What age ranges would these projects be suitable for? What about cost range? Length of time to complete projects?

MR: The projects we've shot so far include children from 2-3/4 to 9 years old. Some of the projects, for example the Art Table, which doubles as a study desk, would appeal to kids 10-14. We try to keep the cost of the projects under $50 for materials. Some are well under $50. Most of the projects can be completed in about two hours. More complicated projects take four hours, including drying time for paint/glue.





TM: Do you notice any gender differences when working with children on construction projects?

MR: Just a couple, but first I should mention that we don’t audition any of our kids. We take any child, because we've discovered that they’re ALL good at using their hands. They’re all deliciously grabby with the tools. Honestly, both boys and girls ‘get’ the tools so quickly, they can hardly wait to get their hands on them.

There’s no difference in coordination and eagerness between boys and girls. There’s no difference in design aptitude or body strength. The only differences show up in colour preference; girls more often like pink and purple while boys usually opt for blue, green and black. Also, and this is a bit of a generalization, when they need a break, boys tend to get kinetic, whereas girls seem to get dreamy. So plan for lots of snack breaks and running-around-outside moments!





TM: Anything else moms and dads should know about Family Fun Projects?

MR: After 4 million years of evolution, this is the brightest generation of toolmakers and tool-users ever born! Your kids will amaze you with their grasp of construction - just sit beside them and watch them. They’re insanely creative and focused when they’re allowed to use tools to make things. They quickly learn respect for the tools so they don’t hurt themselves.

And by the way, here are a couple of thoughts on appropriate tools for kids: We use a drill and screws as fasteners rather than hammer and nails because a drill is much easier to control than a hammer, so there’s less risk of an accident. We also allow the kids to try using a saw; the only rule is that they place one hand behind their back so there’s no risk of cutting themselves on the saw blade. We have a trick too; we use a Japanese-style hand saw, which cuts on the pull stroke so it never balks or binds. It’s the easiest saw in the world to use (about $30 at Lowe’s), even for a tiny 4-year-old! And even if a parent is totally new to tools, we designed the illustrated instructions to be kid-friendly and to assist parents with loads of tips and helpful hints. So whether your kids want to make a soccer net, a chalkboard, a lap desk or any of our other 20 Family Fun projects, this will be the best summer ever for building cool stuff!

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

So there you have it! Check out the Family Fun Projects, and let the construction begin!


Monday, July 23

Our Backyard Reno (Pool and Deck) Phase Two!

Well, a lot has happened since I last updated you on our backyard situation.

Just to recap, in Phase One we prepped the backyard and installed a 15 x 30 aboveground pool.

Here's a quick tour of the Phase Two results:

We extended our existing deck (you can see the two different tones of wood) and put up a new 12 x 12 gazebo (Home Depot):







Built a deck all the way around the pool (yes, basically we were trying to fake the look of an in-ground pool without the price):






Picked up some new chairs and a storage box at Canadian Tire for pool toys and towels (until the pool house is built):




Put steps in, which came with arms to attach to the deck to keep the whole unit in place (upgrading to larger, wedding-cake-tiered style steps may happen in the future):




Used two black gates to make a nice open double entrance (an idea copied from some neighbours, who were kind enough to let us come over and check out their gate - thanks, Lana and Jeremy!)




Used a framed lattice idea to close in underneath the deck:




And my favourite addition...the hot tub!





Turned the existing railing in front of the hot tub into a gate which swings open and closed:





Started thinking about little details: check out this plant stand, snatched up by my mom at Value Village for $9.99. She gave it a coat of spray paint and voila, a place to keep sunscreen and bug spray.




She also picked up the wicker table at another Value Village location ($12.99) and did the same.






So far, this corner is my favourite spot for lounging, with a view of the countryside:




Phase Three:

Future location of pool house (I know, you were wondering about the odd-looking railing, but thought it would be rude to ask, right?) That will give us a place for visitors to change, as well as storage for pool and hot tub chemicals and large pool items like lounges.





Next steps:
  • Consider some sort of screen or apparatus to hide the ugly pump and heater
  • Pick up some cushions and more accessories to add shots of colour to the monochrome brown thing I have going on (right now I'm liking the red accents)
  • Wall decor - a clock or thermometer? Or just something decorative?
  • Plants - it's so late in the season that I might give up on that angle for now...but next Spring we'll seriously need some shots of natural life across the deck.
And that's it...and that's where you'll find me for the rest of the summer! Sure, I may be planning lessons and prepping classroom materials, but at least it will be poolside!

Saturday, July 21

KIDZ BOP 22: The Family-Friendly Musical Fun Continues!

A few months ago, I filled you in on KIDZ BOP 21, a CD with today's biggest hits cleaned up and sung by kids, for kids. I used it in my classroom (during art, snack, gym) and in the car with my daughters.




Now KIDZ BOP is back with number 22, featuring some of the songs you just might be loving this summer:




School is out, so I haven't been able to share the latest edition with my students yet, but my six year old Frannie has been listening to the CD constantly.

It actually created a great discussion point just this morning. When listening to the real radio in the car, "Glad You Came" by The Wanted came on, with the lines "Hand you another drink/Drink it if you can". Frannie immediately asked me why those lines were changed on her CD (to the slightly confusing "Hand you another dance/Dance it if you can") so I answered her truthfully, talking about the fact that "a drink" often refers to alcohol, which is just for grownups.

(Thanks to LMFAO, we've also had many a discussion about the fact that "sexy" is an adult word, not to be used by children!)

I am a huge fan of the KIDZ BOP line of CD's. Pick up KIDZ BOP 22 for your KIDZ today!

Tuesday, July 17

My Laundry Room Facelift: Before and After

During the school year, I tend to make a lengthy summer "to do" list...and this year, "Update Laundry Room" was pretty high up there. In addition to its laundry purpose, the room also functions as a mudroom, and is the entrance we use on a daily basis.

I wasn't looking to replace the washer and dryer, which fit perfectly and are still functional (knock on wood!) However it was time for a new laundry tub (ours was pretty disgusting), a fresh paint colour, and some new lighting and accessories.

Check out the before-and-afters:

I took a shot of the inside of this contractor-grade tub, but I am refusing to share it. It was the "wash out the paint brushes and dump the mop bucket" spot, and after nine years it has the stains to prove it. And let's be honest, even when clean it still wasn't exactly an attractive addition to the room.

Before:



After:
I picked up this replacement at Home Depot: stainless steel sink, gooseneck faucet and white cabinet. It's a big improvement, and also adds storage (the wastebasket can now be hidden underneath the sink).




When we built the house nine years ago, we were allowed to choose four different paint colours. One was this yellow (or, to be more specific, "Provence Cream"). Of the four rooms we used it in, only Maggie's now remains the original colour (but I actually still like the yellow for her).

Before:



After:

I went with Dulux "Wood Smoke", and I'm very pleased.




Before:



After:



Note the coat rack with four hooks. With both girls heading to school full-time in September (crazy, right?) each girl will have two designated hooks: one for the bag, and one for the coat.

I'm still searching for a replacement mirror, which will go above the coat rack. I mean come on,  what woman wants to go out the door without one final glance?

Until now, I had a strange assortment of rugs and mats in the room (obviously purchased during my yellow and blue phase). Basically, I wanted protection for the floor without putting anything over the heat register. But then my father pointed out "You could get a larger rug and just cut a hole for the register..." Duh!
Before:



After:

The hole for the register has not yet been cut, but here is the new area rug, also a Home Depot purchase:




The only snag with the rug was that it was advertised as "black"...and looked blacker on the website than it did when it arrived (though it looks pretty black in this photo). But I still liked it. So the blackish-grey paint colour I had chosen for the walls had to be switched in favour of a grey with more of a brown base. But it all worked out. People, if my biggest problem in life is black-grey vs. brown-grey, I don't think I have much to complain about.

Of course the room was originally finished off with a contractor-grade lighting fixture (you might refer to it in terms of its resemblance to a part of the female anatomy, but I would never be so crass here at This Mom Loves):

Before:



After:
This time I headed to Canadian Tire and picked up a pretty chandelier. Some (husbands) may question the necessity of a chandelier in the mudroom. I say, why not?




And to finish things off, my mom printed me a cute laundry room sign, which I framed and placed prominently over the new sink. (You come to This Mom Loves for the fantastic photography, don't you?)





So, there you have it...and I have one more thing crossed off my summer list! Next up...I'll be filling you in on Phase Two of our pool and deck renovation!

Tuesday, July 10

My Wardrobe Makeover From Personal Stylist "Practical Fashionista"

As you may recall, I've been eagerly anticipating my personal stylist house call from Lisa McLatchie, Practical Fashionista. Well, dear readers, that day finally arrived!

I'm sure you're wondering why I, small-town Ontario fashion plate that I am (yes, I'm kidding), would seek the assistance of a personal stylist. I mean, I dress pretty well. I live and teach in a rural area where sporting designer pieces and cutting-edge trends isn't exactly essential, and dressing on a budget is completely acceptable. But while I think I can put together some decent looks, what I was really looking for was the extra little bit of confidence that comes with knowing I have a professional seal of approval.


Lisa did not disappoint... she was amazing! Of course she showed up looking stylish herself, right down to her toes (I am totally going to copy her mint green pedi this week) and we got to work. Every Wardrobe Makeover from the Practical Fashionista includes a hardcover copy of In Style's "The New Secrets of Style" (valued at $34.95), which she flipped through quickly to get me acquainted.


After that, it was all about me, and Lisa seemed totally willing to tailor the session to what I needed. She clearly had read through the Style Inventory I filled out for her, referencing some of the information (e.g. Jennifer Garner is a style icon for me; classic and not too trendy). Lisa also noted that body image didn't seem to be too much of a focus for me, but if it had been, she would have been prepared to address that concern.

My goals for the makeover were:

1. Purging!
2. Mixing and matching pieces I already have to create new looks
3. Creating a shopping list for Fall

Before Lisa's arrival, I went through my entire Fall/Winter wardrobe and sorted it into three piles on my bedroom floor:

KEEP:

Some newer items, or just favourites that I knew I wouldn't want to part with even if advised by a professional



MAYBE:

All of the items I was unsure about and wanted Lisa to critique. Yes, I really needed someone to tell me that shoes which have gathered layers of dust are probably ready to go.




DONATE:

The pieces that even I could see were ready to go, like some "fitted" items that seem to get more and more fitted every year, and the bridesmaid's dress I wore when nursing a fifteen day old baby. Short of surgical intervention, I will never again be able to fill out the top of that one.




Here's a shot of Lisa, busy assessing my wardrobe:



First, we went through and purged. I made it clear to Lisa that my feelings wouldn't be hurt by her critique, and I really wanted her honest opinion, which I believe she gave. The kind expression she used a few times was "that piece speaks to a certain time period" (e.g. the tartan skirt I purchased when I began teaching 12 years ago!)

What else needed to go?
  • pieces that looked worn, which I hadn't even realized
  • chunky heeled shoes. While Lisa said toe shape is a personal preference (my square toed boots are fine), it's the big thick heels that look dated on footwear
  • coloured cords
  • legwarmers: my dear readers may have voted in favour of the legwarmer look I tested out (in the privacy of my own home) a few months ago, but Lisa feels they're reserved for the 20's and under age bracket. (As much as it may surprise you to hear this, yes, I am actually out of my 20's!)

The final "Donate" pile (which filled two garbage bags):






On to goal #2: working with what I have to make new outfits and combinations.

First up was this beautiful jacket, handed on to me by a friend with the backhanded compliment of "It doesn't fit my chest, but it would fit you!" But what to wear with it? Lisa recommended I pick up a tank with some metallic threads through it to go underneath, and pair it with jeans or my cream/beige dress pants.


Can I wear animal print leggings? Yes I can! This outfit needs slight tweaking as the hood and turtleneck are too much together, but would work if one of the pieces was switched out for something similar. (Oh yes, dear coworkers, you will be seeing me in animal print this Fall!)


Lisa also encouraged me to try colour combos I hadn't thought of, such as the purple tank underneath the green sweater. She advises against being too matchy-matchy, for example when searching for a top to go with a floral skirt, I don't have to perfectly match one of the skirt's colours, which I usually attempt to do.


Lisa's tips for adding some punch to one of my go-to dresses: 
Throw on a scarf, and swap out the belt that came with it for something less expected.


Another question: how to wear the gorgeous Pashmina my parents brought me back from Italy? Lisa's outfit suggestion:


My third and final goal was to have a clear shopping list of items for Fall. I'm sick of pulling on dress pants and sweaters every day, which feels so predictable and a bit old-lady. I was looking for more layering and fun elements that would spice things up a bit, and I avidly jotted down every suggestion Lisa made as we worked.

But in terms of a shopping list, Lisa took things one giant step further. Within 24 hours of our session I received fantastic collages of outfits that she had built just for me, working with basic black, brown and grey dress pants as a foundation and polishing them up with colourful blouses, versatile jackets and accessories. I absolutely love these looks, and will have them in hand when I venture out shopping for back-to-school. Normally I stay away from short sleeves because I'm always cold, but I haven't given enough thought to amping up the style factor with blazers, shrugs, etc. I'll also be looking at colours I usually shy away from, like yellow and orange.

Take a peek:







I really appreciated the fact that her work didn't end when she left my house. Even after I received her outfit collages, I emailed her back to ask if she had an image of the denim shirt she had recommended a few times to go with my tweed skirt, or even with leggings and a longer sweater when the weather cools. She quickly sent this back, which will also help with my shopping expedition.



Rounding out my list of look-fors: a denim skirt, new black ballet flats (to replace my worn ones) as well as a pair in a dark metallic finish, and nude shoes, which I know have been "in" for a while but I've never purchased any. I like that I'm shopping for pieces to pull together everything I have, not just looking for completely new outfits.

The cost of a Wardrobe Makeover with Lisa is $250, which covers several hours of her time and expertise (two hours in your home with you) and while the cost may be prohibitive for some, those with working with larger budgets should keep in mind that you probably have well over $250 worth of clothing you don't wear (and should never have bought!) and that she can keep you from making that same costly mistake over and over!

Now I'm working my way through the In Style book, and internalizing great tidbits like "Wear short with long, or long with short". (I think sometimes I'm guilty of the sloppy "long with long" look.)

I would definitely recommend the Practical Fashionista, who's based in the GTA. I think what I appreciated most was that everything was tailored to me: my needs, my style, and what I hoped to get out of the session. It wasn't a cookie cutter system I had to fit into. She could totally go with the flow and help me to achieve my goals...which I did!

Lisa offers many other services, including personal shopping and group shopping tours, and has gift cards too! You can also check out the Practical Fashionista blog for tons of free style tips and tricks.

Disclosure: I was provided with a wardrobe makeover for the purposes of reviewing Practical Fashionista's services. Opinions are, as always, my own.