Saturday, March 28

Lauren Holly: The Momterview

With a huge range of film (Any Given Sunday, Dumb and Dumber) and television (Picket Fences, NCIS) roles to her credit, actress Lauren Holly has enjoyed an extremely successful and varied career to date.

A busy single mom who has made Toronto home with her three boys Azer (13, short for Alexander), Henry (12) and George (11), she currently stars on CTV's Motive, and has recently partnered with Le Chateau for a fashion collection appropriately named Lauren's Closet.

Lauren recently took the time to chat with me for This Mom Loves and SavvyMom.ca, opening up about not only her work, but parenting in the age of social media and video games as well as aging in Hollywood.

While researching for our interview, the first website I came across labelled you as an American Canadian. Is that how you would identify yourself now?

Yeah, I think that's pretty good! I'm not a Canadian citizen but I'm a permanent resident and I've definitely made Canada my home. But I'm red, white and blue USA too!

{Note: when spelling Azer's name for me, Lauren pronounced the letter "zee", which I told her means she's definitely still more American than Canadian. Though many of my Canadian students do the same thing!}

Why did you choose Toronto for you and your sons?

To be honest, I was living in Los Angeles and I was on NCIS, and I did not want to raise the boys in L.A. I don't know that it's the best place for me to raise kids. I wanted them to have a different upbringing, but I wanted to keep working. I picked Toronto kind of by a fluke, because I grew up in upstate New York about two hours away, I have family there, and I thought okay, it's close to my family, and it's a city where lots happens. I didn't want it to be Manhattan because of things that had happened with 9/11, so I thought I'm just going to try it and see, and I ended up loving it.



Photo Max Abadian/Le Chateau


You've joined with Le Chateau for a gorgeous clothing collection called Lauren's Closet. Could you explain how that partnership came about?

Such a fluke and it was so great! I was cast in a movie called After the Ball, and Le Chateau was designing the wardrobe. Having not lived here for very long, I wasn't completely aware of Le Chateau, and when I went to my first fitting, I loved the way the clothes were fitting me. I became aware of the brand, and I got close to the owners of the company through the making of the movie, and I used to tease them and say "You should rename yourselves Lauren's Closet because I'm spending all my money!" It just sort of happened. I think it was because they loved the way I discovered them as an adult woman, and I think there were things about me that they felt were representative of their brand and what they wanted to get out there. It's been great. I'm really excited about my spring collection that's out now.



Photo Max Abadian/Le Chateau


I love when you join the ladies on THE SOCIAL {Lauren will be back co-hosting in April} because you're able to dish about the celebrity lifestyle without actually throwing anyone under the bus.

I'd never want to do that, it's bad karma!

For sure! What do you think our readers might be interested or surprised to learn about Hollywood and celebrity life? 

I think the truth is that Hollywood tends to be like high school. There are the cool kids and all those different classes and even the bullies. The Hollywood star system is a little like a high school!



Lauren surprises Traci, Cynthia, Lainey and Melissa with handbags from Lauren's Closet.


You're on the CTV show Motive {a crime drama where the victim and killer are revealed moments into each episode; she plays Medical Examiner Dr. Betty Rogers} which films in Vancouver. Do you have a certain schedule for flying in and out to be on set? 

From September to February my life is a little bit ridiculous! An episode takes either seven or eight business days to film. Of those eight business days, I typically am busy four of them. I have a travel day, two shooting days, and a travel day. Usually two nights I'm gone, sometimes three nights, and then I'm home for four. I wanted to disrupt my boys as little as possible, so I go back and forth. The deal with my boys is that during the season each of them comes with me once alone, and we do one trip where all three come with me at once. It works out pretty well, actually. I have a tremendous manny - yes, I have a male nanny for the boys, and he's awesome, and he stays at the house when I travel, and the boys seem to think it's kind of fun because I'm here, but then they get a couple of nights when it's "guy night". The only frustrating thing is that trying to schedule things is a joke because I never know which days I'm going, every episode it changes, so that's hard to do, but their teachers have been super understanding and get that if I happen to be away on a parent/teacher night they'll make alternate arrangements.



Photo Max Abadian/Le Chateau


You've done so much on the big screen and the small screen. At this point in your career, do you have a preference? 

People ask me that, and I really don't. There are so many pros and cons to the two of them. With the small screen, if you're on a show that's successful and it stays on, it really becomes like a second family. You work together so much and get so close to your cast and crew, it's almost like home. It becomes very easy. But then again to do a movie is really fun because you get to go and play a character for a short period of time, and maybe you don't love playing that character, but it's great for that small amount of time. They really both have positives and negatives. 

A fan on Twitter, Franzi, wants to know what character you've played that has influenced your life the most.

I have two of them, for two different reasons. One is that in Picket Fences I played a character named Max. That influenced my professional life the most because I realized fully the relationship between the writer and the actor. That was an amazing experience because David E. Kelley wrote for me. He saw things that I could do, and then he would write those things for me, what I did well. It was really an incredible experience for me as an actor, and really fun. 

Personally, I'd say probably when I did Dragon and played Linda Lee. That affected me spiritually. It was an emotional experience for me. My younger brother died suddenly right before we began filming, and so they postponed and waited for me to get it together, and when I was in Asia it was very healing. My co-star, Jason Scott Lee, was really a healing person. It's hard to explain, but he opened my eyes to all of that, and it was really something to be in Asia going through my grieving process. That affected me a lot, and getting close to the Lee family, and having the horrible tragedy with Brandon Lee. It was just a very emotional and enlightening experience, that movie.




Lauren and her boys; photo by Babak


I know this next question gets asked a lot, but I really am curious about your perspective on women and aging in Hollywood.

Listen, it's difficult. But it's differently difficult for me living in Canada because the Canadian mentality is different than the L.A. mentality. It's so competitive, your physical body, in Los Angeles, and I don't really feel the same pressures living here which I very much appreciate. It's funny because I'm working so much right now, more than I did five years ago, which is kind of interesting to me. I feel like there's this little space you go through where you're a little too young to play the full-on mother of adult children, or whatever, and you go through these phases. My biggest problem about aging is matching what's going on in my head with what's going on on the outside! That's really my struggle. Inside, I feel like I'm 20, and I see my reflection and think "What the hell? Who is that?" or I don't understand why I would be cast a certain way or opposite a certain person and then I see myself and I realize "Oh yeah, I guess that does work", so I don't know when that gets married. That's what the bigger struggle is.

Your boys are 13, 12 and 11. Do you think being a teen or tween is harder now than it used to be?

One hundred percent. The struggles I have! First of all you have things like social media. I'm thankful I have boys, I think it might be easier for boys than it is for girls as it's not as important to them, but even so my oldest one goes through phases where there are different bands he likes, or symbols, and he wants to post pictures on Instagram. I'm thinking it looks really harsh, and you can't do that because these things that you put out there aren't just for right now, when you're in eighth grade and think it's really fun for a month, but when you're 48 and you're up for a big promotion...

That's what's frightening. I was able to go through and make my own mistakes totally in private, in my small town with my 10 friends knowing, and it's completely different now. That's kind of hard for them to understand, that there's a bigger picture. Also, all of the things that being online opens up. I hate the fact that they're so much more knowledgeable about sex, about violence, all that stuff than I was at their age. They've all seen images and I think it's such a shame. I've tried to be as protective as possible, but at some point it's just too easy for them to have access, or to have a friend with access, and I hate that. When it comes to sex, I think it's the unknown that made it more special, so I worry about that a little bit. I feel like parents now, we're the first parents to go through this, and it's going to be interesting to see how it all plays out. It's going to be hard.

Then the next thing is the video games! It's the biggest fight in my house. It's an absolute constant thing. Number one, they all want to play games that are rated M, they all have violence, guns, whatever, I can't stand them. In my house, my boys claim that I'm the only mother in the world who doesn't allow these games. They get so addicted to them, and I see complete behaviour changes. I've tried to do the thing where during the school week, there's none, and on the weekends, you have this limited amount of time. Also, living in Canada, we go through a lot of days when it's not nice to play outside. Who wants to go play in grey, cold slush? There's nothing to do, so they want the games. Even their schoolwork now is done on various "clouds" electronically, and I think they're doing their homework but then they click over and they're on a game, and you can't tell unless you're sitting right next to them. I just know that a lot of moms are like me, and this is what we talk about. Unless you're sheltered and live on some island where all the kids have the exact same rules, nothing matters when they leave the house. It's very difficult.

{I shared with Lauren that I already worry about this with my girls, who are nine and seven, and she warned me that "It's just going to get worse and worse. Wait until they're 12 and 10!"  Gee, thanks! I guess that's what I get for going off script!}




Photo Max Abadian/Le Chateau


What do you think is your biggest strength as a mom?

I think that I'm good at talking to them. Conversation is big in my house, and I learn a lot about them and I feel like from the fact that I talk so much to them, they feel they can come to me about stuff. I'm hoping that continues. Even with my oldest, his friends are starting to call me, which has been very gratifying. They have my cell phone number, and they call me to check in, and say "What are you guys doing this weekend? Can I see Azer?" and I like that it's open and not unusual.

How would you finish the sentence "This Mom Loves"...?

I love cuddling with my boys. I love cozy blankets, big couch, watching a movie. Sometimes it gets me through the week!

Thanks for the chat, Lauren! You can catch Lauren on CTV's Motive, follow her on Twitter, or check out her website to learn more.



Thursday, March 26

Motivate Your Child In School (a.k.a Since I Don't Have Enough Jobs...)

I'm excited to share that I was recently asked to become a blogger for Oxford Learning, where I'll be writing monthly education-related posts for parents.

My first article discusses ways that you can help, at home, to motivate your child academically. Some of them might surprise you!

You can find the full post here: http://www.oxfordlearning.com/2015/03/24/how-to-motivate-kids-in-school/

As always, I love to hear (read) your feedback!


Wednesday, March 25

Spring Cleaning - Teach Kids To Declutter! My CHEX Daily Segment

Last night on CHEX Daily, I chatted with hosts Teresa Kaszuba and Mike Judson about what kids can learn from spring cleaning (responsibility, organization, social justice/generosity, etc.) I share what chores my girls do, and how I am teaching them to declutter their own belongings. I even managed to work in a reference to The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, one of my favourite books ever - no matter what my book club says!

I'm at the 30:28 mark, and if you can't see the embedded video you can find it here: https://youtu.be/JKvtKkuOJso?t=30m28s





A few things we didn't have time for:

-Kids can be motivated by the thought of making money. While donating is wonderful, some items can be set aside for a yard sale, and larger items can be sold on Kijiji under your supervision. (Also a great lesson about Internet safety!)

-The one-in-one-out rule can work from toddlers to teens. No new toy/game/pair of jeans until you can find (at least) one to donate.

-Once items are purged, bins and labels are an organizer's best friends. I like the idea of putting photos (e.g., of Lego, Barbies, cars) on the bins so pre-readers know where everything goes too!

Feel free to leave other suggestions or links to kids' spring cleaning posts below. I'm always on the hunt for new ideas!


Friday, March 20

Family Fun In Kingston: Delta Waterfront, Megalos, Crockadoodle and More!

My husband and I are proud graduates of the Queen's University Faculty of Education (the Trent/Queen's Concurrent program), so what better place to take the girls for a mini-break than the beautiful city of Kingston, Ontario?

We started our visit with some creative fun at Crockadoodle. The girls each chose an item of pottery from the huge selection shown below (a cupcake box for Maggie and a dog for Frannie) and very carefully painted it with their selected colours. Items are marked on the bottom with prices (for example, the cupcake was $22), which include the paint, glaze and kiln process.







Owner Lisa Ustel filled us in on how busy her Crockadoodle location has been since opening before Christmas, and this March Break day was certainly no exception. Not just for kids (though a great birthday party destination), the pottery painting process is very popular with adults too, and her weekly ladies' nights are sold out far in advance.

A few careful coats of paint later (with lots of support from Theresa and other helpful employees), the girls had their creations ready to go:





We left the items behind to be glazed and then placed in the large kiln to be heated  - to over 1800 degrees F - overnight. Since there is a turnaround of a couple of days (the only downside of the whole experience), Lisa kindly agreed to ship our items to us, but tourists should make sure to visit Crockadoodle at the beginning of their trip to have creations ready by the end!




When the final products arrive, I'll be sure to update this post with an "after" photo!

Next, we were off to our hotel, the gorgeous Delta Kingston Waterfront. The downtown location is very convenient (and if spring didn't feel like winter we really could have walked everywhere). Covered parking was steps from the lobby door, and as soon as we walked inside we were impressed with the clean, modern look.




The girls are posing dutifully for this photo, pretending that they weren't just fighting over who got to push the elevator button. They roll their own suitcases, which of course they pack and unpack themselves, too. Though that did mean Maggie came without pajamas...




The room was also modern and sleek, with just enough space for our family of four.




The view from our window (Kingston is located where the St. Lawrence River meets Lake Ontario)




Even the hotel toiletries made me happy, with their inspirational names and messages.




You may be wondering why I am showing this small closet. Well, dear reader, it's to share with you that somehow my daughters managed to turn the space into a private change room. You gotta love kids.





Once we had unpacked, the agenda called for some fun (kids) and relaxation (me) at the top-floor pool and hot tub. (Loyal readers know which one I actually spent time in.) We arrived at a quiet time, prompting Frannie to announce "They must want a really good review from you, Mom! We have our own private pool and hot tub!"




The incredible view from the pool window:




This is my idea of a relaxing March Break - lounging by the pool with all the latest magazines on Next Issue. (Delta offers free wifi - a much-appreciated perk!)




For dinner, we headed up Princess Street to Megalos, a favourite for my husband and me, but a first-time visit for the girls. It's warm, inviting and private (lots of cozy booths), and while it's welcoming to families, it has a classy feel, perfect for grownup meals as well.





The kids' menu offers the standard fare you would expect, but also healthier options like a stir-fry and a chicken breast meal. All four of us were thrilled with our food (pasta for the girls, pizza for my husband and fish and chips for me) and the portions were large enough that we left with some take-out containers to stash in our hotel room fridge. Other "adult" selections on the menu include pastas like Shrimp Florentine, Lobster Ravioli and Vegetarian Gnocchi, chicken dishes, stir-fry, salmon, steak, burgers and sandwiches. They also do lunch, weekend breakfast and special occasions/large parties.




It took a while to discuss the merits of linguine over penne, but eventually Maggie made her choice!




While we did have leftovers, we managed to find some room to share this delicious chocolate concoction, the perfect way to end any meal!




The service at Megalos was excellent, and combined with the delicious food and warm atmosphere (they call it "upscale casual, yet family-friendly"), it gets a very high recommendation from not only me but the (picky) girls and (even more discerning*?) Daddy. (*Update: I originally used the word "pickier", but it's not to say that he is unduly selective about what he eats - like his wife is - but that he appreciates good food and ambiance and would never give a good review if he didn't mean it!)

Walking on Princess Street after dinner, I snapped this shot of the girls outside Gap. The reason? When we first found out we were expecting Frannie, and hadn't yet told anyone, we took a trip to Kingston and at Gap I bought my baby-to-be her first gift: a little unisex white onesie with a cow and the word "Moo" on it. (Appropriate for country folk like us.) The onesie is now in her box of mementos, and every time I go by this Gap the memory rushes back.




Another downtown Kingston purchase that has been saved for the sake of sentimentality is a pair of "I got a job!" jeans, flares with detailed bottoms, picked up at a boutique on the February day I found out I had been hired with our school board for the following year. As a student, I had never spent so much (around $80) on one item of clothing!

I had hoped to take a picture of another landmark, the downtown Indigo store, but I learned that it closed a couple of years ago. It was there, on a trip almost seven years ago, that I decided I really was going to give the freelance writing thing a go, and I bought all of the parenting magazines I could find in order to immerse myself in that world. The rest is history.

Speaking of history, we took a few minutes to drive by the Faculty of Education, and answered the girls' many questions about our university days!




After dinner we headed back to the pool at the Delta Waterfront, where I ended up meeting someone I haven't seen since high school! (Small world, right?) Her two girls are around the same ages as mine, and they all had a good play together in the pool while my former schoolmate and I caught up. (For those who want to be a little more active during your hotel stay, Delta also offers a fitness room with elliptical machines, treadmills, bikes and free weights.)

At bedtime, we all took advantage of the luxury of watching TV in bed (something none of us can do at home) and as tired as the girls must have been, they insisted on watching the entire 10 p.m. episode of Love It Or List It. (Spoiler: They listed it.)

No matter what time my beautiful daughters go to bed, their little biological clocks wake them up by 7 a.m. every day, so we were off to an early start. After a smooth and speedy checkout from Delta and great breakfast at Peter's Place (a diner-style restaurant right at the bottom of Princess Street) we visited the Museum of Health Care, where the girls learned a lot in a short period of time. I'm pretty sure Frannie will never forget that in the 1800's, doctors might drink a patient's urine in order to come up with a diagnosis. Ew!



An iron lung



The girls were invited to sit in on a free educational March Break program, where they were talking about the very important topic of being active. Admission to the museum is by donation, and there are tons of great activities and events for kids, so Kingston locals and visitors should be sure to check it out!




Kingston is an amazing city to visit, for couples or families, and we didn't even come at the best time of year. When the weather warms up, there is so much to see and do downtown Kingston and beyond. Next time, we'd like to check out Canada's Penitentiary Museum - lots of learning to be done there - and take in all of the fantastic shopping opportunities.

If you live in or are familiar with Kingston, I'd love to hear your ideas for other family activities we may have missed in this beautiful city. For others, I'm always happy to answer any questions you might have about our travel adventures.

Disclosure: We were provided with free accommodations at Delta, pottery painting at Crockadoodle, and meal at Megalos for review purposes. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Monday, March 16

Kate's Picks: Books, TV and Movies

I've been doing a lot of mini-reviews on social media lately (which is why, if you have accounts, you might want to follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram) but today I'm offering a quick recap. In keeping with the title of my blog, I'm sharing what I actually liked...no sense harping on the negative, right?

BOOKS



The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (loved it)
Us by David Nicholls
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (designated young adult, which I am not, but I devoured it)
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (WWII theme)
All My Puny Sorrows - Miriam Toews (heavy themes)
Funny Girl by Nick Hornby (not as funny as I thought, was expecting Brit-chick-list - Bridget Jones, Shopaholic, but still a good read)

TELEVISION



No, I don't have Netflix. We have our good ol' Bell PVR, and there's still some great entertainment to be had there.

Secrets and Lies (new; Ryan Phillippe, KaDee Strickland, Juliette Lewis)
The Following (new season just started; Kevin Bacon)
Scandal
Nashville
Blue Bloods
Stalker
19-2
Grey's Anatomy (because I'm sticking it out until the end)
House of Cards (I bought the first seasons from iTunes)

As you can see, I lean towards a certain genre. The only comedy currently on my PVR is Modern Family. I'd love some other recommendations!

MOVIES

Often it's pay-per-view, but I do love to go the movie theatre, and I'm usually there a couple of times a month. My recos:



Cinderella (absolutely wonderful, for all ages)
The Theory of Everything (I know it's a true story so they couldn't change the facts, but there was one plot point I didn't really like)
The Captive (abysmal reviews but we actually really liked it)
Gone Girl
Still Alice (have tissues handy)
St. Vincent
American Sniper (yes, they used a doll for a baby. Get over it!)
The Judge


Have I missed anything really good in any of these categories? I always love to hear what others are reading/watching and enjoying so please let me know!


Wednesday, March 11

Fun and Educational March Break Activities

Last night on CHEX Daily I chatted with hosts Teresa Kaszuba and Mike Judson about fun and educational March Break activities for kids and families. While some specific suggestions are local, you don't have to live in Peterborough (or even Canada) to make use of most of the ideas. Plus, chances are, if our mall has kids' events taking place, yours does too - it's only a Google search away!




Whether you're looking for something to do with the kids (free and fee), or you're working during the break and need childcare options, there's something for you here!

I'm at the 30:20 mark, and if you can't see the embedded video you can find it here:





Video courtesy CHEX Daily


Something I didn't mention was that traveling also gives your kids a great chance not only to learn new things on the trip but to practise their skills. "Are we there yet?" can be eliminated when children use timers or clocks with the arrival time in mind, and eating out provides opportunities for older kids to estimate the total cost of the meal, or for little ones to sort coins into piles while waiting for their food!

The most important thing is for kids to slow down and enjoy their time away from school. (And maybe the teachers too?)




Links for more information:

Peterborough Public Library

Canadian Canoe Museum 

Peterborough Museum and Archives 

Art Gallery of Peterborough 

Cineplex Family Favourites 

Lansdowne Place

Michaels 

Home Depot 


Tuesday, March 3

An Interview With Cate Blanchett: Cinderella's Evil Stepmother

A star of stage and screen, Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett turns evil in her latest role as the stepmother in Walt Disney's highly anticipated new film, Cinderella.

It may be a sign that I'm in denial about aging when I could still envision Cate as the princess, not the stepmother! However, she certainly is a busy mom in real life, with three sons (Dashiell - 13, Roman - 10 and Ignatius - 6) with husband Andrew Upton. *UPDATE 3/6/15: Cate and her husband have adopted a baby girl, Edith Vivian Patricia*

Read on for Cate's thoughts on the new film. While I would love to say this is an exclusive interview (maybe next time!) in the interests of full disclosure you must know that it was shared with me by Walt Disney Studios Canada - but it's still fun to get the perspective of this famous mom!

***********

Tell us what drew you to the project.

I love fairy tales, and “Cinderella” in particular, because they deal with complex issues that face children. So many stories that children are told now make them feel like they are heroes who can overcome anything and that the world is a perfect place. The timeless fairy tales, like “Cinderella,” tell us that the world can be a nasty place and require a good deal of courage and resilience to survive. This is a story where kindness is a super power, which is something Ken Branagh and I talked about early on that I found really exciting. Plus, I have three boys so I’m aware of all the films out there that have male superheroes at the fore, so I was thrilled to be part of the telling of a female-centric story.


How was it playing such an evil character like the stepmother?

A.                  I loved it. Like a friend of mine once said, ‘At a dinner party I’d rather be sitting
next to Lady Tremaine,’ so it was great fun to inhabit such a colorful role like this. But Ken Branagh decided early on not to go for high camp, which you can absolutely do in a fairy tale, and to find the core of truth to the character instead, so it was quite a balancing act. No one is purely evil…everyone’s got a motivation. The stepmother is what happens when good is perverted: it often turns wicked. I was interested in exploring what makes someone wicked. Through little vignettes in the film, you get a glimpse that this is a woman who has tried to start her life again, and becomes intensely jealous of the deep affection that her new husband has for his daughter, Cinderella. She’s not as beautiful and not as kind and as good as Cinderella.  When Cinderella’s father dies, the financial pressures, the panic and the jealousy grow…that is what makes her wicked.



All photos courtesy Walt Disney Studios Canada

How did you come up with the look of the character?

A.                  Costume designer Sandy Powell and I drew inspiration from images taken in the
1940s of screen legends like Marlene Dietrich and Joan Crawford – women that we still admire today – who had a tremendous sense of danger and mystery about them, especially the dramatic way they were lit.


Tell us about Lily James’ performance as Cinderella.

Lily is a blithe spirit…she glows, and I think she is absolutely perfect for the role.
She is like a breath of fresh air and is totally unaffected. And there’s a generosity of spirit to her as a performer, which is really rare and which requires incredible discipline, focus and depth.




How was it working with Holliday Grainger as Anastasia and Sophie McShera as Drisella?

Sophie has such exquisite natural comic timing, and both she and Holliday are so unaffected, so they found a way of playing the sisters that was totally believable. You genuinely believe that they felt they were both the brightest button and the most beautiful girls in the room. But, they didn’t over play it, despite how they were dressed, because they could have easily camped it up.  They were fantastic. They found the balance immediately, and they were so sweet and so funny.


Tell us about Kenneth Branagh.  Did his acting background have an effect on his directing style?

Ken was able to find the tone of the film, at once sweet and delightful, but also sinister. He was able to harness both the domestic and the grand moments between the characters. He’s got a wonderful sense of rhythm as a director, so we knew we were in safe hands. Being such a great actor, he’s very good at using the rehearsal time in the morning. He’s able to incorporate everyone’s process, and make it feel like a collective effort.



 At the film's Hollywood premiere

Tell us about the look of the film.

Well, everything about the film exceeded my expectations. The production was 
blessed to have people like Ken Branagh, Sandy Powell and production designer Dante Ferretti collaborating to create the extraordinary visuals of a storybook world you’ll see on screen. The world they have created is a bit David Lynch in the sense that you’ve still got the old telephones but within a modern setting so you don’t quite know where you are. But the story of “Cinderella” is timeless in the best possible sense. The first time I walked onto the set of the ballroom I had to pick my jaw up off the floor...it was like an MGM Technicolor moment, and in terms of cinema I felt like I was transported back in time. When Cinderella and the Prince took to the floor to dance, it was profoundly moving.


What do you hope audiences take away from “Cinderella”?

I think we’re used to seeing fairy tales told in animated form that allow us to sort

of guffaw and laugh at these characters from a distance. But when you see Cinderella in the flesh, you're really brought back to the actual human cost (that is often personified in fairytales via fictitious characters like the big, bad wolf or the wicked stepmother). And I think audiences are going to genuinely be rooting for her.  We all know the story of “Cinderella.” We all know the story of “Hamlet.” But we go and see “Hamlet” over and over because the best productions make us think maybe this time he will kill Claudius. And with this “Cinderella” people are going to feel the same way and will be surprised by a lot of scenes because they are so true, and therefore truly funny and truly tragic as well. Audiences are going to feel like they’re being told the story of “Cinderella” for the first time.”

**********

My daughter celebrates her 9th birthday just days before the movie's release date, and she has eagerly agreed to forgo a party in order to take a friend to see Cinderella. She's been counting down the days for weeks! The film opens in theatres on March 13th. See you there!


Friday, February 27

The Highlight of My Week (or All About My Class Reading Program)

Bear with me here, but I get pretty excited when it comes to reading. This week, I assessed most of my students on their reading levels (with help from my awesome Trent University Teacher Candidate), and I was absolutely thrilled to see the progress they’ve made. (I’m sure I’m supposed to maintain a neutral expression as they read, but if any child looked up he or she would have seen the silly grin on my face!)

Our school board uses the PM Benchmark program, and what happens is that I sit with the child, give them an introduction to the story, and they read it to me. I keep a running record of their errors, which can be helpful when figuring out if they’re substituting words that look the same (hat/hot), or mean the same (hat/cap), and what words they’re still having trouble with. Then the child retells the story to me and orally answers a few pre-set reading comprehension questions. Their percentage of accuracy, combined with their comprehension, tells me what level they have reached in the program.




Some ideas I incorporate in my class to support reading (this list is by all means not exhaustive; just a few highlights):

Self-selected reading: For 20 minutes a day, every day, the students are allowed to find a cozy spot in the room to silently read material of their choosing. In September we have to do a lot of work on how to choose a just-right book, so that the time they spend reading each day can really help “grow their brains”. Regularly choosing books that are too challenging, or way too easy, won’t be beneficial for them.  I truly believe that the best way to improve reading is to read. Crazy, I know, but compared to worksheets and drills out of context, reading material that they’re interested in is so motivational and authentic. For children who really struggle, especially those with learning disabilities, there are some great direct instruction (rote drill) type programs that are very successful (our school board uses Empower, which is taught to small groups by the Special Education Resource Teacher), but I always want to combine that with high-interest books as well. 






The kids love to read somewhere other than their desks!


An extensive classroom library: We do visit the school library once a week, but in the classroom there are hundreds of books students can access as often as necessary. Bins are labelled by genre or book series. I never label based on reading level, which some educators might disagree with, but I also provide each student with a handful of leveled books from our school “book room” to keep in their desks to supplement their own choices, so they always have material they can handle. Points earned from Scholastic book orders really help to build the library, as well as donations from families and thrift shop finds. I allow students to borrow books with no sign-out system, and to take books home at will. I trust the families, and if a couple of books go missing along the way by accident it’s still totally worth it. (I’ve had many books returned months and even years later, when families discover them at home!)




 “Featured Book” rack: This is where I place books we’ve read in class (it can be very helpful for kids to reread books that they’ve heard as read-alouds) and titles that go along with a subject of study (e.g. Black History Month, liquids and solids).

Grade 8 buddies: Once a week for half an hour we meet up with our buddies from the Grade 8 room. Sometimes I visit the older classroom first to talk about what strategy/skill  the Grade 2/3s are working on, and some days there’s a writing component or I even switch it up and have them work 1 to 1 on a math task, but usually it’s another solid chunk of reading time.

After school program: In January, I set up weekly after school program where a few of my students stay for an hour and read with local high school students looking to earn their volunteer requirements. I can really see the difference it’s making for those kids.

At-home-reading:  No rules, no reading logs. (I'm a parent; I get it!) I find students a short book, at the right level, from the book room, make a note in my binder, and send it home. When the student can read it fluently (sometimes this is the next day, sometimes weeks later), it gets returned and exchanged for a new one. That’s it.

Before I wrap up, I want to make sure I’m clear that there’s a whole lot more to reading than the scores: I can see the kids’ interest levels have shot up, parents tell me they’re reading more at home (and more willingly), the students can show their comprehension and share their thoughts about reading material much more adeptly, they say "YES!" when I announce they have extra time to read – but there’s also something to be said for cold, hard data, and seeing those numbers go up really does give me a thrill. (By the way, I don’t share the actual levels with the students, we just talk about their progress in descriptive terms, but I do update parents with notes in the planners.)

A grandmother of one of my students stopped me after Mass on the weekend to tell me how impressed she is with the gains her grandson has made. While teaching kids to read is most definitely “my job”, it’s certainly nice to get that acknowledgment. I’m also very aware that the progress happens much more quickly when there’s support at home as well, so I’m definitely not doing it alone!

So there you have it – the highlight of my week! It might help the kids too that their teacher is a voracious reader. On tap for the weekend: catching up on my favourite magazines on Next Issue, and reading Funny Girl by Nick Hornby. Can’t wait!