Friday, November 20

My Favourites from Hallmark Christmas 2015

It's the most wonderful time of the year! (I mean, other than the cold and stuff.)

I always know holidays are approaching when I find a Hallmark box waiting on my doorstep...and I can bribe the girls to do just about anything with the promise of "box-opening" later that day.

As always, we found some wonderful gems inside. Here are my favourites!

itty bittys Nativity Set ($39.95)

I love this one because as they say, He IS the reason for the season. This gives little ones the chance to play with Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the angel without breaking the fancier sets that might be displayed at home. I passed this along to a family with younger kids than ours, and the first night my friend was concerned to hear her five-year-old son exclaim "Jesus!" in the other room...until she remembered the new toys!

Time For Cookies Snowman Techo Plush with sound and motion ($17.95 with 3 Hallmark cards, or $32.95)

My girls can't get enough of these sound-and-motion plush toys, but since our collection is pretty full, this one became a coveted classroom prize last week. The characters sing a cookie-themed version of "Deck the Halls" and sway to the music.

Disney Frozen: Will Anna and Elsa Miss the Ball? Puzzle Book ($12.95)

For the Frozen lover in your life who just can't 'Let it Go' (sorry, I couldn't resist!), Hallmark has a hardcover story and 24 piece puzzle. You know how I take things to school to use as prizes when our family doesn't need them? Yeah, my daughter's name was drawn to win this one!

Holiday Boxed Cards ($9.99 - $19.99)

You may have heard that Hallmark sells cards? While I often share the wealth from my Hallmark care packages, boxed cards are something that I always keep. These nutcracker and Canadian-themed cards are beautiful, and I can't wait to use them!

Keepsake Kids My First Tree ($29.95)

Felt fabric with large buttons, and a variety of ornaments available for $7.95 each. (I'll be giving away one of these very soon!)

Nordic Clipboard Bundle ($14.95) and Guest Towel and Basket Set ($16.95)

Perfect hostess gifts! The bundle includes a clipboard, 60-sheet notepad, 2 magnets and a pencil, and the towel set includes a wire basket with 16 designed paper guest towels.

In other exciting Hallmark news:

From November 12th until December 13th, consumers can enter for a chance to WIN 1 of 4 prizes. The grand prize is a $2,000 Disney gift card, plus a $500 Disney prize pack! The gift card can be used at almost anything Disney, including Disney resort stays!  Consumers also have the chance to win 1 of 3 $250 Disney prize packs.

Enter daily to increase your odds!

Disclosure: The above products were provided to me by Hallmark for review purposes. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Tuesday, November 17

Samsung Tab S Giveaway and Solve for Tomorrow STEM Challenge


Okay, dear readers: I have a fantastic giveaway for you! Samsung is offering one lucky This Mom Loves reader a Samsung Tab S tablet (worth $399.99) as part of their mission to spread the word about the Samsung Canada National Education Challenge!

Whether you're a teacher or a parent, I'm sure you're well aware of the importance of STEM (more on that below), and Samsung's new challenge gives students in Grades 6-12 the opportunity to identify a challenge and use STEM to help solve it...with the chance to win some amazing grant money for their schools! This is definitely a project worth sharing.

Here are some more details about the Challenge:

Taking a passion for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) outside of the classroom and into the community was never this much fun for students! Samsung Electronics Canada today announced the launch of the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Challenge, a national educational contest designed to inspire Canadian students to get closer to the real-world possibilities of STEM by applying them to help better their communities. Students in Grades 6 to 12 will be asked to identify an existing challenge or issue they are passionate about in their town, city or neighbourhood, and use STEM to help solve it.

Finalist schools will share in $500,000 in Samsung classroom technology grants. Solve for Tomorrow Challenge partners include Canadian YouTube stars Mitch Moffit and Greg Brown of AsapSCIENCE. With a passion for science and education, Mitch and Greg started AsapSCIENCE as a community for people to learn and be entertained through a unique online educational content that highlights the neatest aspects of science. Mitch and Greg will visit two grand prize winning schools and their communities to learn about their winning student projects and feature them in an AsapTHOUGHT video. They’ll also host a special and unique STEM lab experience at the winning schools.

“Samsung is committed to supporting schools when it comes to classroom technology, support and research, and we know STEM is critical for 21st century learning skills and the careers of tomorrow,” said Mark Childs, CMO at Samsung Electronics Canada. “In collaboration with our partners in education, through the Solve for Tomorrow Challenge we’re introducing a totally new and engaging challenge where Canadian students will be able to learn about STEM topics, work together as a team, have fun, and help their communities, all while working to win some very cool experiences and technology products for their school.”

Along with AsapSCIENCE, the Solve for Tomorrow Challenge is supported by The Learning Partnership, a national non-profit organization dedicated to advancing public education in Canada, and Let’s Talk Science, a charitable organization which looks to create and deliver unique learning programs and services that engage youth and educators in STEM subjects.

To enter to win the Samsung Tab S I have up for grabs, all you have to do is help spread the word about the Samsung Canada National Education Challenge on social media!


First, do one or both of the following:

Share the following tweet on Twitter, then paste a link to your tweet in the form below:

Win a Tab S from @SamsungCanada @ThisMomLoves and learn about #SamsungSolve here:


Share the following post on Facebook (you will have to type in the tags - not copy and paste - for Samsung Canada and This Mom Loves to make them work properly), then paste a link to your post in the form below:

Win a Tab S from @SamsungCanada @This-Mom-Loves and learn about #SamsungSolve here:

Once you have completed one or both of the mandatory sharing entries above, you get bonus entries for:

*Following This Mom Loves on Twitter
*Following This Mom Loves on Instagram
*Liking This Mom Loves on Facebook

You have a total of five chances to win this incredible prize - and how great would a Tab S look under your Christmas tree?

Contest ends on Monday, November 30th 2015 at 11:50 p.m. Eastern. Good luck!

Monday, November 16

What I Love About the Cineplex UltraAVX

Cineplex is my happy place. It's right up there on the list behind my home, my parents' home and my classroom as one of my very favourite places to be. I love the atmosphere, I love the food, and I love losing myself in a good movie. Yes, I could wait and watch any movie at home (and I do that a lot too) but at least a couple of times a month I head to the cinema - most of the time Galaxy Cinemas in Peterborough, where a brand-new UltraAVX (Audio Visual Experience) theatre was just opened.

I was thrilled to have the chance to watch the new James Bond movie, Spectre, in UltraAVX this past weekend, and I was not disappointed. (My only other experience in this type of theatre was the latest Mission Impossible premiere at the Scotiabank Theatre in Toronto in the summer. You know, where I saw Tom Cruise.)

The highlights of the UltraAVX:

  • Even better sound
  • Massive screen 
  • Comfy rocker seats with tons of leg room (I could cross and uncross my Amazon legs without knocking the seat in front of me - a perk as far as I'm concerned!)
  • Reserved seating: this one is a biggie. As my usual movie companions would tell you (with a sigh), I kind of have a thing about getting to the theatre early. This was made worse by the the Bridesmaids fiasco of 2011, where my colleagues and I ended up in the front row...and I felt sick the entire time (and that wasn't even an action film!) With UltraAVX, you can choose your seats, which means if you buy online, you have guaranteed seating and can show up last minute with no issue - which is a big deal for me.

The downside:

An extra three bucks in ticket price. That's pretty much it. And it's well worth it for the reasons listed above...though perhaps not for every movie. Spectre was fantastic on the larger screen and with the enhanced sound, but for rom coms, I'll probably stick with the regular theatres...though if I'm going with any friend who has a tendency to run late, it might be worth $3 to ensure our seats for any film!

If you're looking for details about Spectre, it was exactly what I expected. I love Daniel Craig as James Bond (though based on recent interviews I'm not sure if Daniel Craig loves Daniel Craig as James Bond), there were some returning faces along with new ones, incredible around-the-world settings, something that passed for a love story, and of course a great theme song performed by Sam Smith...definitely a movie made for the big screen.

Thanks to Cineplex for giving me the chance to check out this new theatre!

Disclosure: I was provided with two free Cineplex passes for review purposes. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Friday, November 6

"Our Turn" by Kirstine Stewart

Lately most of my book recommendations have been shared as short items in my monthly "Favourite Things" posts, and not as full posts on their own, but when I reached the end of Kirstine Stewart's Our Turn and realized how many pages I had dog-eared, I knew it was worth some extra attention here on the blog.

My friend Sarah Newcomb (from Sleeping is For Losers) and I were excited to attend Canadian Living's evening with Kirstine Stewart (now the VP of Media for Twitter) last week (yes, I'm a sucker for events with "VIP" in the title), and as part of our amazing swag we received a signed copy of Our Turn. (Um, yes, I just used three sets of parentheses in one sentence. I have a problem!)

I cracked the book open as soon as I could, and while there's lots of reading material out there now about women and leadership, there were many new gems in Stewart's book.

For me, with a career in education, I feel like the sexism that's seen in other sectors isn't quite as apparent. Even when it comes to advancement, our current Director of Education is a woman, as are five of our Board's six Superintendents. I have worked for strong women as well as strong men, and I don't feel that my gender would be a detriment, should I decide to pursue higher positions of leadership.

While I don't currently feel as compelled by the work associated with the jobs higher up the educational ladder as I do with the front line work in the classroom, I love Stewart's point about being a leader anywhere:

"But what's truer today than ever before is that the dispersal of power within business" (and, I would add, education) "means you don't have to be the boss to be a leader...A career worth having is not about collecting titles, but about the experience you get along the way."

The only thing I would say I didn't like about the book (which is strictly personal opinion) is that I wanted even more of Kirstine's own stories. I totally understand that research is helpful to back opinion, especially in a book like this, but since I'm much more interested in personal narrative than data, I skimmed over some of the "According to a 2008 study..." tidbits. However, I soaked up every word of sentences that opened like "When I arrived at Alliance Atlantis..." (Throughout Stewart's career in television, she made household names of talented folk like Debbie Travis and Sarah Richardson, which I found fascinating.)

Some of my other favourite words of wisdom from Kirstine Stewart in Our Turn:


"Leading involves the ability to inspire others to contribute," (so true in education) "but to do that, I think first you have to be inspired yourself."


"The first thing a leader" (teacher? principal?) "needs is the trust, respect and support of her team, because trust encourages constructive criticism, disagreement and healthy debate. And though trust and respect is a two-way street built between leader and team, it's up to leaders to set the example."


Stewart added "collaboration, trust and communicating with co-workers" as performance indicators in executive senior staff reviews (no one could earn a bonus if they didn't pass that test) and feels these soft skills "should be considered part of any performance review."


"To me, that's how we need to lead today: being there at the top to clearly express the aims, set goals and expectations, ensure people have what they need to get to work, and then get out of the way so they can get the job done." (Somewhat like being a teacher, perhaps?)


"If you never fail, it means you are never trying anything new."


"When people, usually women, ask about my professional achievements, I can honestly say they have had more to do with taking chances than setting a career goal...I am anti five-year plan because in my experience the best things do not flow from making  plan and sticking to it."


"Why would I give more weight to the negative comments than those that were supportive?...Use the positive support around you to build the resilience you need to deal with the negative." (Who doesn't need to remember that?)


I actually tweeted the author to ask her if she had a tip for primary teachers, trying to raise little leaders. Here's what she replied:

Finally, I love how the writer and researcher who helped Stewart with Our Turn made it, by name, into the acknowledgements section at the end of the book, which affirms that we don't need to be ashamed to say that we all have help. "I pride myself on the ability to build great teams," she points out. That's leadership.

Wednesday, November 4

Ace Your Parent/Teacher Interview: My Today's Parent Article

'Tis the season for parent/teacher interviews, and in the latest issue of Today's Parent you can find my article about how to ace yours!

You can read the Parent/Teacher interviews article online here as well, but it doesn't do justice to the amazing work of the Today's Parent art team, who turned my list of tips (which incorporated ideas from other teachers as well) into a neat report card:

I'm looking forward to chatting with my students' parents very soon!

Thanks as always to the amazing editors at Today's Parent - and did you know they just hit the mega-milestone of 1 million Twitter followers?

Sunday, November 1

Kate's Favourite Things - November 2015

Happy November! Time to share my latest faves!


Clearly I OD'd on nonfiction this month, starting with:

Primates of Park Avenue by Wednesday Martin. While I expected this to be light chick-nonfic, there was actually a lot of real anthropological analysis of the moms of Manhattan's Upper East Side, with great anecdotes and experiences shared by the author, who moved into the habitat of these women. Just when I thought it was winding down, Martin threw me for a loop at the end with a very honest and vulnerable personal story.

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling. I love celeb memoirs, and Kaling has a refreshing way of being self-deprecating and humble while also being confident and imparting a message of hard work winning out. Plus she's totally freaking funny.

Michelle Obama - A Life by Peter Slevin. When reading about a celebrity, starting chronologically with the story of her grandparents does little to hook me. I want to know about the main character, and this was one of those cases where I skimmed the first few chapters until arriving at Michelle's own story (though I totally see the impact of her ancestors in her life, and assume that someday my biographer will want to dwell deeply into my grandparental influences as well).

The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn: This one's pretty academic and a bit heavy (we're talking 30 pages of footnotes) but an important read for educators and really for parents too. The main point: the author argues that there isn't any acceptable research (he analyzes tons of it) to suggest that homework, especially in the young grades, improves academic achievement or any other skills. While I agree that homework should not be assigned just for the sake of it (and that definitely should not be done in primary) there are some situations where it's appropriate, and I think the key is to base it on the individual learners. Since I know homework can be a struggle for parents at home, it's actually the topic I'll be discussing on The Social this month on the 27th!


The Intern: I was distracted by how much Robert DeNiro, in this character, looks like my father, but I did enjoy the story and I always love Anne Hathaway. I just wish that "trouble-in-the-marriage-because-of-woman's-successful-career" wasn't such a prevalent theme in the media.

See what I mean?

My Dad

Robert DeNiro

Sicario: It's pretty heavy (by which I mean intense and slightly disturbing), but this movie shows the amazing range of Emily Blunt - from The Devil Wears Prada to Into the Woods to this, as an FBI agent on a special task force on the war against drugs.

Jem and the Holograms: When sharing movies or books with my students, I often check the age recommendations on Common Sense Media. Since they tend to be fairly conservative, I know I'm safe with what they tell me. They suggest that the Jem movie is for ages 9 and up, so I felt confident taking my 7 and  9 year old daughters. They're real music lovers and performers, so they enjoyed the story, and it sparked a good conversation about the desirability and dangers of internet fame. And (spoiler alert) kids might as well learn early that most movies end with the girl kissing the boy. Even if they find it yucky right now.


While I don't make political comments on my blog, I was thrilled by the *huge* traffic boost I received here after the federal election on my past Momterview with Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau. (It also helped that the Huffington Post linked to my interview, too!) Whether or not you agree with everything Justin, his wife and his party stand for, I hope you can agree that learning more about our new "first lady" is still interesting.


I receive a lot of press releases, and while I'm not always able to write a whole blog post about each one, here are a few worthwhile news items.

*November is Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Month. The Canadian Digestive Health Foundation, in collaboration with Robbie’s Rainbow, has created a new, free resource to help teachers deal with students who have Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis - the two main types of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). The comprehensive resource, called Blackboards and Bathrooms, offers teachers a quick and easy way to learn all the key facts and issues surrounding IBD.

*Nasal spray flu vaccine available in OntarioThe new nasal spray flu vaccine and new injection flu vaccine, which are made to protect against four flu viruses instead of three, will be available for children and youth at health care providers’ offices, local public health units and—for children aged five years and older—participating pharmacies. Note:

  • The injectable flu vaccine is for kids 6 months to 17, the nasal spray is available for kids 2 to 17. For kids under five, health care providers’ offices and local public health units will continue to be the places to go for flu vaccines, including for these new products
  • The flu can be serious for children, especially for those under five years of age.Ten to 20 per cent of Canadians get sick with the flu every year. It is estimated that 12,200 people are hospitalized and about 3,500 die.

*Applebee's is offering active duty Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans a free meal on Remembrance Day (November 11th).

*Lainey Lui (from The Social, eTalk and LaineyGossip) has partnered with Saint Elizabeth Health Care to launch Elizz, a new caregiver support service - something to check out if you are one of the more than eight million caregivers across the country.


Have a wonderful November, everyone! Time to go get out my Christmas decorations!

Wednesday, October 28

Teaching Social/World Issues With Children's Books: My CHEX Daily Segment and Book Lists

Last night on CHEX Daily I chatted with hosts Teresa Kaszuba and Mike Judson about using children's books to explore social and world issues with kids. The titles I brought tackle subjects like bullying, learning disabilities, race, homelessness, natural resources, poverty, war and education.

I'm at the 28:32 mark (and I come back after the commercial break), and if you can't see the embedded video you can find it here. In the second segment, we're joined by one of my PVNC colleagues, Jon Ross, who brings the secondary perspective to our conversation.

Here are the books I mentioned on the show:

Oliver Button Is a Sissy by Tomie de Paola
Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
You're Mean, Lily Jean by Frieda Wishinsky
Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting
The Other Side - Jacqueline Woodson

One Well: The Story of Water on Earth by Rochelle Strauss
I Am Malala (Young Readers Edition) by Malala Yousafzai
Running Shoes by Frederick Lipp
Every Human Has Rights
The Librarian of Basra: A True Story From Iraq by Jeanette Winter

I'd love to know if any parents or teachers out there have other books to recommend!

Thursday, October 15

Out of the September Haze

It's October 15th, and I think I'm finally coming out of the September haze. (I'm blaming the delay on the late Labour Day.)

The start of the school year always takes its toll on me. While I thrive on routine, getting both a household and a classroom back on board isn't always easy (I'll spare you the details). My contribution to school sports is to coach the Cross Country team each year, which I love, but it gets off to a quick start once the school year begins, a commitment of both time and emotional energy. For the past few years I've also helped out with the Student Government, which hits the ground running with a Terry Fox fundraiser and Thanksgiving food drive, but thankfully we have a new teacher on staff who was enthusiastic about taking that on, giving me more breathing room as the year began.

First Day of School

Every September there are new teaching challenges (as there should be) and this year the Grade 7/8 teacher and I decided to do a subject swap for our areas of interest and expertise: he's teaching Science to my 2/3s (our baby chicks will hatch next week!), and I'm teaching Writing in his class, which I absolutely love. My intermediate experience in the past has been four years of Core French and three years of working with gifted students, so this is very different but a lot of fun (though a lot of work, too). The fact that I taught most of the kids back when they were in Grade 3 makes things even more interesting!

Another challenge this year is having my younger daughter in my class. I know, I know - I said I'd never do it. However, I also say that parents need to trust the school when their child is given a placement, and I have to practice what I preach. Other than a tiny glimmer of attitude the first week of school, so far it's working out fine. My biggest issue is that I find it redundant to sign her agenda every night as her mom, so it sits out on the counter until her father gets around to reading and signing it, and you know I have issues with counter clutter. In the big picture, this is probably not a big deal. While I assumed my daughter would want space from me in the evenings, she's actually more affectionate (and occasionally even clingy) than ever. My mom's theory is that after sharing my attention with a classroom of other children all day, she's anxious to have me to herself for a while one we get home.

I worry a bit about what others may think of me teaching my own child, but I know she won't be given any preferential treatment, and in fact I have to make sure I don't go too far the other way (not choosing her for something just because I don't want it to seem like I'm playing favourites). As my nieces and nephew who have gone before her would tell you, I'm just as hard on family as I am on other people's kids, partly because I love them so much.

Whenever I do that mom thing of worrying about whether anyone else is judging me - "How do you do it all?" can be (mis)interpreted as "Which part are you screwing up?" - I remind myself that not many employed moms actually spend their days in the same buildings as their children (not to mention this year in the same room as one) which means I'm automatically there for Merit Awards, assemblies, special events, coaching them on a team - what a beautiful bonus. (What I was actually doing there was reminding you of that, in case you're one of the Judgy Judgersons. Which would actually surprise me because my readers are awesome.) With so much quantity and quality time with my girls, I feel no guilt about work, hobbies, date nights or girls' nights. Just the odd twinge that maybe someone else thinks I should.

I told myself before school started, as I wrapped up the summer with some fun posts (a list of my Favourite Things; interviews with Scott McGillivray, Sangita Patel, Farah Nasser and Alan Carter; details on my debut at The Social) that I was really going to have to prioritize my time and try to avoid my usual September sickness. Blogging, freelance writing and TV efforts right now are limited and focused solely on educational topics (except for the occasional celebrity interview, which I just can't turn down!) because it makes me feel like my priorities are in line. I thrive when I feel that my house is in order, not only figuratively but literally, and that takes time and energy too. (I've been doing more microblogging lately though, so you can always get updates on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.)

It's not like my outside pursuits have come to a grinding halt. As you'll soon hear more about, I have a new article in the latest issue of Today's Parent magazine, another coming soon in Parents Canada, a CHEX Daily appearance later this month and my next segment on The Social taking place Friday, November 6th. (Update: Date has been changed to Friday, November 27th.) Lots to look forward to!

While I didn't manage to escape illness this fall (I'm coming out the other side of a three week cold/flu/sinus issue and went a whole week without stepping foot on the treadmill), Thanksgiving weekend was exactly what I needed to recharge. Days full of family, food and relaxation (a movie with my sisters-in-law, three family dinners, lots of time on the couch, a few soaks in the hot tub, a gorgeous walk to the Trestle Bridge - pic above) helped me get back on track - even if I did sneak in a bit of work on progress reports too. You'll never take the list-crosser-offer out of this girl...I just need to make sure the list is full of the things that are really important.