Thursday, July 29

Playhouse Disney Canada - Review and Giveaway

Giveaway open to Canadians.



I love television. There, I said it. I also allow my girls to watch TV...almost every day! Of course, I always sit right beside them, watching intently and discussing the storylines. I would never, ever use their TV time to get my own work done, or to have a moment of peace. (My fingers are crossed right now, by the way.)

In all honestly, their TV time is (usually) less than an hour, and since I can't always be right beside them analyzing the shows, I choose the channels and programs in advance...and keep the remote out of reach! I am quite picky about what they watch, and for that reason I was excited to be chosen as part of the Playhouse Disney Canada blog tour through Mom Central.

I trust Disney to provide age-appropriate, entertaining programming for my girls. Of course, my daughters could name many classic Disney characters before even seeing them on TV (Mickey and friends, Pooh and Tigger), since they were exposed to them in books or on merchandise. They have some new Playhouse Disney favourites as well, like Handy Manny and Special Agent Oso. When asked who they like the best, Frannie's response is "Mickey Mouse", and Maggie's is "Winnie Pooh"...so there's something to be said for the classics! My girls are also thrilled to see other well-loved friends, like Strawberry Shortcake and Care Bears, showing up in the Playhouse Disney lineup. Plus, I feel like I can justify a bit of TV time when I see valuable aspects to the programming, such as music, numbers, colours, etc.

Another great resource you might want to check out is the Playhouse Disney website, where you can find games, activities, parent information and their programming schedule.

Playhouse Disney Canada is offering a fantastic prize pack for one lucky This Mom Loves reader. Included in the pack: a Playhouse Disney DVD with five full episodes (you could sit and watch too, like a good mom, or get a whole lot of work done!), stickers, crayons and a colouring magnet, and a magnetic pen. (I love the pen...it's now stuck to the fridge, so we will never be penless again. There's nothing like signing important forms in crayon...but I digress.)

To enter, simply visit the Playhouse Disney Canada website, and come back and leave a comment letting me know who your child's (or your!) favourite Playhouse Disney character is. Be sure to leave your email address (if it's not on your profile) so I can contact you if you win!

For additional entries (after the mandatory entry has been completed), leave a separate comment letting me know that:
  • you follow This Mom Loves publicly through Google Friend Connect
  • you subcribe to This Mom Loves through email (make sure your subscription is activated)
  • you follow @thismomloves on Twitter, and tweet about this giveaway (feel free to retweet mine)
  • you like Playhouse Disney Canada on Facebook
This contest is open to Canadians, and ends on Monday, August 16th at 11:59 p.m. Eastern. Good luck, and don't forget to check out my sidebar for other great giveaways running right now!

Oh, and just so you know, you are encouraged to enter this contest multiple times (i.e. on different blogs participating in the blog tour), but you will only be able to win one Prize Pack!

Disclaimer: I am participating in the Playhouse Disney Blog Tour through Mom Central. I received a Playhouse Disney prize pack and a thank you gift card to facilitate this post. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Perfect Parties Theme Two: The Pajama Party!

Thanks to my friend Krista, I have another fantastic party plan to share: The Pajama Party. Sure, you've heard of this idea before, but I am positive there are some details in here that you may not have thought of.

While you could certainly do a traditional sleepover, and go with more of a nighttime theme, Krista's daughter had a morning birthday party, complete with a Scooby Doo/morning cartoons emphasis. Here's how she did it:

Invitations:
  • instruct the guests to come in their p.j.'s and bring their favourite pillow and blanket
(Family Fun gives neat directions for making a pillowcase invitation)

Food:
  • pancake breakfast, complete with toppings; milk, juice
Activities:
  • musical pillows (just like musical chairs, with Mr. Sandman, the Lion Sleeps Tonight and the Scooby Doo theme as the music)
  • circle time with a Scooby Doo story
  • hot Scooby Doo (i.e. hot potato with a Scooby Doo toy)
  • Scooby Doo mystery taken from the internet, which involved realizing that the cake was "missing", and having the kids go around the house in a group to find clues (each stop had a treat, and all kids got one by the end), with Scooby Doo music playing in the background
The cake:

I think this idea is so fantastic! She took a photo of her daughter's bed:


and replicated it on a cake (which she made and decorated herself, by the way)




Loot bags:

  • a pillowcase fillied with Scooby Doo fruit snacks, an individual cereal box, juice box, addition/subtraction cards, a bedtime story, and a hairbrush
Congratulations on another creative masterpiece, Krista!

Other p.j. party ideas I found online include:

Activities:
  • pillowcase hop (like sack race)
  • relay - put on robe, slippers, grab teddy, run back lie down and snore three times
  • freeze dance (lie down and snore when the music stops)
  • pillow or pillowcase decorating
Loot bags (these items could also be game prizes):
  • glow-in-the-dark items (e.g. bracelet)
  • nightlight
  • flashlights
  • mini teddy bears (candy or toy)
If you've seen or used other pajama party ideas, please leave a comment below!

Tuesday, July 27

Stuck On You Personalized Backpack and Tags - Review and Giveaway

Giveaway open to Canadians

Let's get one thing straight: school is NOT just around the corner. I say this for two reasons:

1. I am a teacher. Enough said. (Although ironically, spending my days with two kids seems to tire me out more than spending my days with twenty!)

2. My daughter will start school this year, which is a turning point in her little life. I still need the next six weeks to process it all!

However, I am a planner by nature, (as well as a shopper!) so I agree that it's never too early to start purchasing back-to-school items, and Stuck On You Canada is a great place to start! When I was contacted about the possibility of a Stuck on You review and giveaway here at This Mom Loves, I was thrilled!

I recently received an adorable personalized backpack for Frannie, with her name and my choice of design from their new Designer Collection. I went for the pink bag with cupcakes...and judging from Frannie's huge eyes when she saw it, I made the right choice! The quality is excellent, and it has several different functional compartments.

Stuck On You is also your one-stop-shopping destination for iron-on clothing tattoos, which I also received, and which will be going on several of Frannie's items of clothing before September! Never lose items to the abyss that is the school lost and found again! I also love their stick-on dots and rectangles (Frannie got some in the Cupcake design) which I'll be putting on her water bottles and reusable lunch containers. I also want to order some Shoe Dots to put inside her school shoes. She's a bright little thing, but faced with a lineup of Barbie shoes, it's pretty hard to tell whose are whose.


As a teacher, I would also highly recommend the Stuck On You "Tools 4 School pack", with personalized pencil case, markers, coloured and HB pencils, sharpener, ruler, eraser and stickers (shown above, available in different designs). These are all essential classroom items, and believe me, having your child's name on everything is sooo helpful.

They also sell personalized shirts, pyjama sets, height charts, wall art...the list is endless.

"Enough!" you're thinking. "You promised a giveaway! What can I win?"

Here it is: one lucky This Mom Loves reader will win a personalized backpack (your choice of design) and bag tag, both with your child's name on them. (Well, I guess you could put your own name on them, but your little guy might be jealous when you head off to work with your cool "Traffic Jam" or "Jungle Animals" backpack. And you might get some weird looks at the office.)

 The total value of this prize is $59!


Mandatory entry: simply visit the Stuck On You Canada website, and leave a comment here letting me know your favourite design from their new Designer Collection. Be sure to leave your email address (if it's not on your profile) so I can contact you if you win!

For additional entries, leave a separate comment (after completing the mandatory entry) letting me know that:
  • you follow This Mom Loves publicly through Google Friend Connect (be sure to specify if you're a new follower, so I can pop by and return the favour)
  • you follow @thismomloves on Twitter, and tweet about this giveaway (feel free to retweet mine)
  • you subscribe to This Mom Loves through email (make sure you have an activated subscription)
This contest is open to Canadians, and ends on Friday, August 13th at 11:59 p.m. Eastern time. Good luck, and happy back-to-school shopping! Don't forget to check out my sidebar for other great giveaways running right now!

P.S. Although this giveaway is only for my fellow Canadians, Stuck On You is available in many different countries, so you can go ahead and start shopping!

Disclaimer: I was provided with the above-named products for review purposes. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Winner - CSN Giveaway!

Wow - this giveaway was a hit! There were 165 entries, and the number chosen by random number generation at random.org is...number 74!
Congratulations to the winner, Marlene from Calgary, AB.
Happy shopping!

Monday, July 26

Make Meals More Fun With The Lunch Punch!

I love this product! Created by an Australian mother of three, The Lunch Punch cuts off crust and turns bread, sandwiches, etc. into fun edible shapes. It minimizes waste by using most of the bread (and their site suggests keeping the crusts to use for meatloafs, feed animals, etc.)

I received two sets of The Lunch Punch for my little crust-boycotters to review: the Match and Munch puzzle shapes:

 and the Critter Cutters:



The Lunch Punch is thicker than a regular cookie cutter, so it can go through a whole sandwich. (You can still use them to make cookies, too!)

I have used them on my girls' toast and sandwiches several times, and they just love them. They can hardly decide which shape they want when I give them the option. The funny thing is, it took them a while to trust that the crusts were indeed cut off...they kept leaving the outside borders, thinking that they couldn't possibly be part of the bread! Now they get the hang of it, though.

You can check out their Lunch Punch website for more information, including some brand-new products:

Vrrrm! transportation shapes:



and Sandwishes:

Coming soon, they even have Landwich continent shapes!

Each set of four costs around $15, with some of the profits going to charities. Although I'm not always in favour of "putting on a show for the kids", toast and sandwiches are quite common around our house, and it doesn't hurt to jazz them up and give the girls a bit more motivation to eat them.

If you're interested in making a purchase, go here to find out how to order Lunch Punch shapes in different countries.

The Lunch Punch is a hit around our house, and will certainly spice up Frannie's school lunches! She'll be the envy of her Junior Kindergarten class!

Disclaimer: I was provided with the above-mentioned products for review purposes. Opinions are, as always, my own.

P.S. On a completely unrelated note, thanks to Kingston Girl for your kind words, and good luck with your Build a Better Blog Challenge! (If you haven't visited her yet, you should!)

Friday, July 23

Take Your Family To Mont Tremblant

You should definitely not take your family to Mont Tremblant. Well, unless you love beautiful scenery and a relaxing atmosphere. Tons of activities for kids and grownups alike. Oh, and great accommodations and fabulous food. I guess if you're in to all of that, you could maybe consider visiting.

My mom retired from teaching this year, and we decided we would take a family trip to celebrate. After weeks of deliberation (in province or out? bring kids or no? weekend or week?) we finally settled on Mont Tremblant, Quebec, a place none of us had ever been. This is a town known primarily for its winter ski scene, but a summer trip can also be fantastic, as we learned.

The photos tell the story better than I ever could:

Here is the gorgeous Cap Tremblant residence where we stayed. Mom and Dad had a one-bedroom unit, and we shared a three-bedroom unit with my brother's family. Check it out - and for less than $200 per family each night. (Warning: the units are NOT air-conditioned, and we went during one of the hottest weeks of the year. Probably the only negative I can think of.)





This was the view from the back:


And for the kids...and kids at heart! (There were actually several different pools, including an adult geyser pool, and several hot tubs - my favourite!)



Our residence was a short drive (or shuttle ride) from the actual village of Mont Tremblant. There are other (more expensive and noisier) accommodations right inside the picturesque little village, if you'd rather be closer:


While in the pedestrian village, we did a bit of shopping (some of my favourites included a year-round Christmas store, Roots, and a candy shop), had lunch (just at Casey's, but there are several options) and took the kids on superfun alpine luge rides. (See photo of Daddy and Frannie.) I even did it too, although I have to admit I was a bit brake-happy.


You can also take free gondola rides over the village, or longer, enclosed rides over to the Casino. For an extra price, there's a kids' splash pad, bungee trampolining and rock wall. You could also pay to ride the Panoramic Gondola to the top of the mountain, where you can disembark and check out the view, hike, or even enjoy brunch!



Even if you're saving your pennies, just walking through the village was beautiful:



I can't review many restaurants, but I can tell you about my sister-in-law's cooking! We actually didn't eat out often, as my brother's wife LOVES to cook, so she looked after most of the meals. There is, however, a wide assortment of food options, both the child-friendly and the high-class.

Dad and I stayed with the kids one evening while the other adults went to the Casino (not really my cup of tea) and the men looked after the little ones when Mom, Ashleigh and I went for massages, which I thought would be a great retirement gift for Mom after so many years of hard work!

Except for the fact that Maggie decided this was the best time to demonstrate to us that she suffers from motion sickness (on the six hour car ride), it was a fantastic trip, and the best part was the time spent together. My girls love to play with my brother's two kids, and the grownups enjoyed time together in the evenings after the kids went to bed, which we never have. We taught my parents a couple of new card games, and my board-game loathing father even played "Battle of the Sexes" with us!

We timed this trip so I could pop in at a friend's baby shower near Montreal on the way home, and that's how we wrapped up our adventure!

Now, if your family is in to skiing, you might prefer to look in to a (more costly?) winter getaway instead, but as far as the ten of us were concerned, our four days in Mont Tremblant were all we could have asked for, and a great value as well.

If you're looking for ideas for travel in Ontario, check out:
Our Family Trip to Toronto
Our Family Trip to London

Wednesday, July 21

Read It: The Secret Life of Bees

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd is a few years old (written in 2003), but I just read it for the first time and I was blown away. It's the kind of book-reading experience where you want to keep sneaking away to devour just another few pages.



This novel was our latest book club selection, and tells the story of Lily Owens, a young girl in South Carolina in 1964. She has fuzzy memories of her mother's death years earlier, and suffers varying degrees of abuse from her father. Events cause Lily and her black nanny to escape town, and they head for Tiburon, where they are taken in by May, June and August Boatwright, three black beekeeping sisters who just happen to hold answers to Lily's deepest questions.

I honestly couldn't put this book down, as the story was so compelling and the writing so beautiful. I had already seen the movie, and I usually don't enjoy a book as much if I've seen the movie first, but some of the plot details were fuzzy in my mind, so there were still times I was surprised. I had Dakota Fanning's voice narrating the story in my head, but that's okay.



Some other reviews say it even better than I could:

"It's as if Kidd loaded up a take-home plate with treats, and you said 'Oh, I couldn't', and then scarfed it down in the car on the way home." - Entertainment Weekly

"You'll want to tear through the pages. Restrain yourself. The beautiful language and seamless unfolding of this well-written story deserve more. [It] merits sweet time and savoring." - Southern Living

If you're looking for some terrific summer reading, look no further.

Monday, July 19

What To Give a New Mom

When Frannie was born, one of the most special gifts we received was something that wasn't even for her. My friend Anne visited us in the hospital and dropped off a gift bag full of little wrapped items. She explained (or I think wrote in the card) that the gift was for the Mommy (me!) and my instructions were to open one gift each day until they were gone.

I'm a rule-following kind of girl, so instead of tearing everything open, I actually followed the directions, and each morning, no matter how bleary-eyed, I would detour into the walk-in closet where I kept that bag and pull out another item. On those surreal days when I felt like I had a tiny, strange animal attached to my body, it gave me a sense of self to know that there was a little treat waiting just for me.

I can remember magazines, edible goodies, a scented candle, and "sleepy-time bath salts"...which I finally finished just a few months ago. Every time I used them the aroma took me back to those newborn mommy days.

Anne was generous enough to give a gift to Frannie too, but her gift for me has certainly left a lasting impact. That's why I followed suit when my cousin Kerry recently had her first child, an adorable little boy (if you can call 10 lbs 13 oz little!)  Here's what I put in her package:

  • a set of colourful pens
  • a little blue lined notebook
  • a package of candies
  • a tube of Lansinoh cream for nipples (this is a MUST for nursing moms)
  • a hair accessory
  • some 'milk' moisturizer
  • a parenting magazine
  • lip balm
  • hand sanitizer
  • "A Cup of Comfort For New Mothers" book
Each item was wrapped, and not shown here because I went environmentally-friendly and used bits and pieces of leftover wrapping paper. It wasn't about an attractive presentation, it was about honouring a new mommy!

Anyway, Kerry loved it, and if she kept on track, all items are now open and hopefully being enjoyed.

Just wanted to share that idea with all of you!

Friday, July 16

Head Snugglers: No More Slumping!

When I was approached about reviewing the Head Snuggler, I was intrigued. It's such an original idea: a product to keep little ones' heads from slumping over when sleeping in a carseat or stroller, but I had several questions...plus I wasn't sure what my girls would think of it!

My sleepy little slumper

As I waited for my Head Snuggler to arrive, I checked out their website, where many of my questions were answered. Yes, it's safe (and there are expert opinions to prove it), and it can be used for children of any age, from an infant seat right through to older kids (it goes over the vehicle's headrest).

I received a chocolate mesh design to try out (there are other colours available), and waited for a long road trip in order to put it to the test. Frannie rarely falls asleep in the car anymore, and we avoid travelling at Maggie's naptime, but the 6 hour trek to Mont-Tremblant was the ticket.

The Snuggler fit over her carseat easily (I had to thread the top strap through a hole in the cotton/spandex fabric), and then I just waited for her to fall asleep. Once she did, I reached back (my husband was driving!) and attempted to pull it down. She woke up and protested. (Remember, she's two.) At one point, half-drowsy, she agreed to it, and even pulled it down over her eyes for a bit, and then promptly pulled it back up. The website suggests that it will take some time for a child to get used to a Snuggler, and I think that's certainly true in Maggie's case.

That said, I think the Head Snuggler is a fantastic, creative idea which solves an age-old parenting problem, and that it's best started on a smaller baby who will adapt, or an older child who gets the idea. It would be a perfect gift for a new mom, or for one of those moms who already has everything. At $20, the price is also right.

Interested? Well, you could win a Head Snuggler of your own, and more! Follow this link to enter the Biggest Slumper contest, and you could win a Travel Prize Pack worth $250! It includes a $100 gas card, 2 Head Snugglers, a $20 Bugalug gift certificate, The Little Black Book For Busy Families 2010, a nutrition book, a stainless steel baby bottle, a bearview mirror and assorted travel games! There are also 10 individual Head Snugglers to be won. All you have to do to enter is snap a shot of your little slumper, and upload it to the site. The contest ends August 3rd, and entries are low, so it's worth the effort.

What will they think of next?

Thursday, July 15

Kids' Books About Canada Winner!

Congratulations to Maria B. of Vancouver BC who has won four great Scholastic titles:
  • You Can't Do That In Canada!
  • Crazy Canadian Trivia
  • Go Green, Canada!
  • 101 Canadian Jokes


Maria's comment was # 27 out of 62 entries, and her number was chosen through random number generation. She said "I love the diversity in Canada!"

Enjoy the books, Maria! Another great Scholastic giveaway coming up next month!

Wednesday, July 14

Laurie Gelman: My Exclusive Momterview

I was very excited recently to have the opportunity to speak with fellow Canadian and former host of The Mom Show, Laurie Gelman. Laurie has two daughters, nine year old Jamie and 5 year old Misha, with her husband Michael Gelman, executive producer of Live With Regis and Kelly. She chatted with me from her family's home in New York City.



This Mom: What's happening for you with work these days?

Laurie Gelman: I'm working for Babycenter.com here in the US, doing their TV appearances, so for example if they pitch a segment to The Today Show, I would go on. I'm going to start blogging for them as well. It's only a part-time job, but I'm happy to be at home with more time to focus on the girls. I got to be the class mom this year, and I could write a book about that!

TM: We don't have class moms anymore. What was your job description?

LG: Organizing the class parties, collecting money for various things, getting the teacher's gift. It's a time suck like you wouldn't believe, but it really gets you into the classroom! {Note to self: I need to suggest the reinstatement of class moms in my school.}

TM: Your husband has a very busy job as well - do the two of you talk shop much at home, or are you able to leave it at the door?

LG: Well, I actually stopped watching the show {Live With Regis and Kelly} a while ago, because I'm just not home at that time of day. We TiVo it, but it's really not part of my day unless he asks me to watch for a particular reason. So when he gets home I'll ask him who was on the show that day, and sometimes he forgets because he's already moved on to planning tomorrow's show!

TM: And what about your work-talk?

LG: Oh, well, he's always full of advice for me and my career! It's actually funny because I've done a few demo segments on the show, and we'll be doing a run-through of, say, a fashion show, and I'll be sitting there quiet. He'll ask why I'm not talking, and I'll say, "Oh, I'm running through what I'll say in my head, I want to be fresh for the show," and he'll say "No, this is my show and I want to know what you're going to say!" So in those moments, he's my producer and not my husband!


Michael, Jamie, Misha and Laurie

TM: I read somewhere that Regis actually played a role in getting you two together. Is that right?

LG: Oh, he likes to say he did. I met the two of them at the same time, when they were down in Miami and I was interviewing Regis, so he was there when we met. You should have heard his speech at our wedding: how he saw the connection, and just knew...and then seven short years later we got engaged!

TM: You grew up in Canada...now that you live in New York, are there things you miss about your home country?

LG: I miss the candies. You can't get Crunchie bars here, or Smarties. {No Smarties? I struggle to listen to the rest of what she has to say, as I try to wrap my mind around a country without Smarties.} Canada has a really special cultural feel. When I get off the plane and head out on the QEW, I just get a feeling like "I'm home". It is such a nice place to live.

TM: I recently did a post on the importance of raising children with a religious faith. You've spoken openly before about converting to Judaism for Michael. Could you tell me a bit about that?

LG: I really wanted us to have a united front, which to me meant taking his name, and agreeing on how to raise the kids. We agreed they should be Jewish, so I made the jump. I think it gives them a strong sense of family when we're all united this way. It plays the biggest role around the holidays, but the Jewish faith is rooted in cultural things; it's not just a religion, so you live the Jewish life every day, even if you only go to Synagogue on holidays. The prevailing sentiment is that you should leave a place better than you found it.

TM: Would it have been a dealbreaker for Michael if you didn't convert?

LG: Well, he intimated that it was a dealbreaker, but that wasn't until five years in to our relationship, so I don't know. He is a man who asks for so little and gives so much, so when he asked me to do this, and I knew it was important to him, I couldn't say no.


Misha and Jamie Gelman

TM: You live with your family in Manhattan...which is one of my dream trip destinations. Just for future reference, where are the places you think tourists must go when they're in New York City?

LG: Well, you have to take a run around the reservoir in Central Park. It is one of the most invigorating and beautiful things to do. Walk down 5th Avenue to Rockefeller Centre...oh, and come during the Christmas season...the way they light everything is just magical.

TM: {Do I tell her my winter-visit fear? As a fellow Canadian, will she judge me? I decide to go for it.} I've always heard Christmas is a great time to visit, but I absolutely hate the cold! Shouldn't I come during the summer, so I can really take advantage of all of the sights?

LG: No, you really should come in the winter, and it's actually not that cold! Not as cold as you're thinking...only 40 degrees {believe it or not, I had to Google this conversion - it's about 4 degrees Celsius - might be bearable}, and you really have to skate in Wollman Rink in Central Park. It's amazing the way you can see the skyline while you're skating. And take your kids to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular!

TM: Many of my Canadian readers know you from your five season run as cohost of The Mom Show. What was the best thing about doing the show?

LG: More than anything else it made me realize that I wasn't alone in my dysfunction as a mother. Everyone has the same worries, fears and inadequacies. When Jamie was born, I really thought I was going bananas because I had visions of horrible things happening to her. Then I realized that most mothers have those thoughts, and feel like they are bad employees when they're raising their kids, or that they're not paying enough attention to their husbands, or whatever. The show was really a way to make yourself feel better.

TM: What was the worst thing about it?

LG: Being away from my family three days a week! Misha was only a year old when I started, but eventually we trimmed things down so there was only 30 days of shooting in a year. We'd start Monday morning, and I'd leave by noon at Wednesday and be home in time to put the girls in bed, and I only had to do it for ten weeks.

Laurie with Mom Show cohost Catherine Marion

TM: Do you think you'd be doing anything differently in your career right now if you hadn't become a mom?

LG: I'd probably still be covering entertainment! The reason I left The Early Show is because I realized my heart just wasn't in it. I was sitting there interviewing Jude Law, and I was thinking about whether I'd left enough breast milk for Jamie...and then I realized that Jude had stopped talking, I didn't know for how long, and I had no idea what he'd said. Fortunately The Mom Show offer came soon after that!

TM: What do you like to do when you have time to yourself?

LG: Read! I love to read any kind of fiction, historical, whatever. Right now I'm working on the third book in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series.

TM: What about couple time?

LG: We're really an active family, we play tennis, we ski. We love wine, so we'll do wine tastings, and we're both gourmands, so we enjoy a nice dinner out.

TM: When it comes to products, how would you finish the sentence: "This Mom Loves...."

LG: This Mom Loves the ice green tea at Starbucks, venti with three pumps of classic! I love chocolate, but who doesn't? I love Clarins Beauty Flash Balm, Jergen's self-tanner, the foam kind that dries in a minute....my splurge is Cle de Peau undereye cover. For the kids, Target is my one-stop shopping. I like Butter sweatshirts for the girls....and Amy's Organic Pizza.

TM: Anything else you'd like my readers to know?

LG: Just that even though I married an American and live here now, I still do love my country and hope to one day move back!

TM: Is Michael aware of this?

LG: Oh, he loves Canada! When he was younger he once wanted to buy land in B.C., so I wouldn't be surprised! Stranger things have happened!

TM: Thanks, Laurie!

Monday, July 12

Angelface Winner!

And the winner of the $50 Angelface Prints gift certificate is....

Krista S. of Peterborough, ON! She was comment #16 out of 84 entries, and her number was chosen through random number generation.



Krista said:

"I love the idea of personalized photo cards for any occasion, and thought the Peace on Earth Christmas card was very nice too! I really like how they offer templates to choose from or that they will work with you to design your own!"

Congratulations, Krista!

Don't forget to enter to win a $60 gift card from CSN Stores, and my Canadian readers have a couple of days left to enter to win Scholastic kids' books about Canada (low entries for this one!)

Perfect Parties: Testosterone Edition

I admit it: with two girls, my parties are a little skewed toward the feminine. The party ideas I'm stealing borrowing from my friend (also mom to two daughters) may seem a bit girly as well. I promise that some of her future themes will be adaptable for boys, but until then, my friend Trina thought I should share a few tidbits from her ultra-boy party:

"Well, moms of boys are crazy party planners as well, you know! Check out the army cake that went with the camo balloons, tablecloth, napkins, banner, plates, etc. Every little monkey got a camo hard hat with a tube of M and M's taped to the top as their head lamps. We did a 'mission' with clues along the way leading to a prize. Also a little 'spin the canteen' to organize the present opening. Loot bags were a camo balloon tied to a box of Smarties (rations). Just some ideas for those of us who would be killed for organizing a 'perfect polka dot party'"!



Thanks, Trina...and what an amazing job you did on that cake! I think you should continue to be my mom-of-boys reporter!

Sunday, July 11

CSN $60 Giveaway!

Giveaway open to Canada and US.

I have such an original giveaway today! I was contacted by the terrific online company CSN Stores (I'm pretty sure I was the only blogger they contacted - very exclusive!) with the possibility of doing a gift card giveaway for This Mom Love readers. I know, you've never heard of them before, or seen them on any other blog, but trust me...they're big!

No, I am not delusional, and yes, I read other blogs...but I drew you in with my sarcasm, didn't I?

CSN is indeed on a big promotional blitz, but I wasn't going to let that keep you from a terrific prize opportunity! Plus, since you have chances to win their gift cards elsewhere, just think of the shopping you could do with multiple wins!

In case you haven't seen their wide variety of products featured on other blogs, CSN sells everything from big ticket items like dining room furniture and appliances to everyday family items like diaper bags and toys. Their site boasts over 200 different online stores...that's a lot of selection!

What would I choose? Well, if I were shopping for the girls, I'd buy them something educational of course...or my $60 could get each of them a Barbie Sing n' Style Head (which is what they'd really want).



But I'd be more tempted to shop for myself, and put the money towards a new comforter set for the bed: (I know, I know...although I love this one, the light stripes just aren't practical for at least a few more years...)



Here's the best part: no jumping through hoops in order to enter! If you'd like to be eligible to win a $60 gift card for CSN Stores, to be spent on anything you wish, just leave a comment below asking to be entered! That's it!
For bonus entries leave an additional comment letting me know that:
  • you follow This Mom Loves publicly through Google Friend Connect, and/or
  • you subscribe to This Mom Loves through email (make sure your subscription is activated) and/or
  • you follow @thismomloves on Twitter, and tweet about this giveaway
This contest is open to residents of Canada and the US, and will end at midnight on Monday, July 26th.  Please note that there may be shipping charges or international fees on some products.

Good luck, and happy browsing!

Disclaimer: CSN is providing a $60 gift card for the winner of this giveaway. I was not compensated for this post. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Friday, July 9

Perfect Parties Theme One: The Polka Dot Party!

I told you I would twist my friend Krista's arm into sharing her kids' party-planning expertise!

To start with, she let me look through her daughters' birthday books: each girl has a beautiful photo album with memories starting with the first birthday and progressing onward. Her big girl has celebrated six times, while her baby will be four this fall. There are lines for writing notes beside each photo, and that's where Krista records special details: the decorations, the gifts, the games, the loot bags. A special memento for her girls, and a handy resource for her blogger friend!

Though Krista has done a few licensed-character-style parties, several of her themes are her own creative inventions, and today I am starting with one that I love: the polka dot party.




First of all, scour the stores and find any polka dot items you can to incorporate into your party. "It's the silly details that make it fun for the kids," says Krista. Her problem is that she often comes up with a brilliant brainwave, and then has trouble finding merchandise. My suggestion? Tour the stores first, and choose a theme that will be easy to coordinate. Is that cheating?

If your heart is set on this fun polka dot idea, here's how to follow Krista:

The invitations: purchase if you can, make if you want to, but ensure they are spotted (you can even have some round confetti fall out when opened!) and instruct your guests to come in polka dots. I even made a contribution here - Krista's little girl borrowed a polka dot dress from Frannie in order to match her older sister!

The decorations: Balloons work well for this one, and coloured dots cut out and hung/mounted wherever possible. Krista used small, medium and large bristol board circles stuck to the wall with easy-to-remove painter's tape (another of her little secrets). She also cut square napkins into circles so they would match the theme. (Coworkers who overheard her divulging this tidbit were quite amused!)

The activities: Twister, of course, with the theme song from "The Polka Dot Door" playing in the background. Also, hula hoops, and a game involving tossing bean bags in to the hoops. Orange, red and yellow balls spotting the yard for kids to play with (because, oh yeah, each of Krista's themes is also colour-coordinated!), and connect-the-dots pictures. (I was thinking checkers or Connect 4 might also be good, but then I realized red and black don't fit with the colour selection! For a Kate party, that would be a ok. Not for a Krista party!)



The food: M and M's for game prizes, Yogos, orange and red mini rice cakes, and  "spotted"  (pepperoni) pizza



The cake: homemade rainbow dots minicakes, iced and decorated with more polka dots. And yes, she even found spotted cupcake wrappers.


Picture from polkadotbirthday.com - not Krista's cake

The loot bags: These, of course, must also match the theme. For this party, Krista started with reusable containers covered in dots, and filled them with Smarties, Yogos, a CD, a polka-dot toothbrush, a pot of lip gloss and bubbles.



Impressed? I was! For more polka dot party ideas visit:

Martha Stewart
Polka-Dot Birthday
Kids Birthday Party Guide

If you've ever thrown or been to a polka dot party, I'd love if you could add your own ideas below in the comments. Thanks again, Krista, and stay tuned next week for another great party theme!

Wednesday, July 7

A Winner and A Reminder!

Congratulations to the winner of the $25 Bugalug Baby gift certificate.....

Helpful Housewife, Leslie B. of Missouri!

She was # 27 of  123 valid entries, and her number was chosen through random number generation. Have fun shopping!

Just a reminder that there are only a few days left to enter to win a $50 gift certificate for Angelface Prints. There are low entries for this amazing giveaway, which could get you custom-designed greeting cards (birthday, invitation, thank you, announcement) or personalized name art for your child's room. If you haven't already, click on over and enter that one!

http://thismomloves.blogspot.com/2010/06/angelface-prints-review-and-50-giveaway.html



Have a great day, everyone!

No More Water Bottles...Check Out Otterbottles!

I'm officially a convert. My plastic water bottles are out, and my stainless steel Otterbottle is in.

I was pregnant with Maggie when the whole BPA panic started. Reluctant to throw out Frannie's tried-and-true plastic baby bottles, I did a lot of research to see what all the fuss was about, and found enough data to make me cough up the cost of a whole new set of BPA-free bottles and sippy cups. So, check, the kids were taken care of. How about the adults?

Lately I've been toting around reusable plastic water bottles, which are BPA-free. I've also been feeling proud of myself for filling them with tap water and therefore doing my part to save the environment. However, they're not exactly...attractive.

Enter the Otterbottle, brainwave of a Canadian mom just like me. I was sent a 750 ml bottle (they also come in 900 and 500 ml) in the Cherry Blossoms design shown below:



This bottle came to school with me every day after I received it. I got many compliments, and was impressed by the quality: no leaks or spills, and no funny taste. I also like the confidence of knowing it's 100% stainless steel, and that it's Canadian. When purchasing an Otterbottle, you're also supporting the David Suzuki foundation, which receives 3 percent of the proceeds, and all materials used are recycled. Plus, the prices are also very reasonable, around $20 depending on which size you choose.

Why "Otterbottle"? Founder Shannon Andrukow was looking for a name that represented something pure, healthy and Canadian...the otter, of course! Plus, it's a name you won't forget.

As for the style, there are many designs to choose from, so you should check out the Otterbottle website to see what appeals to you. (They are also sold in more than 40 stores across Canada.) Reusable water bottles make a terrific gift, and are also a nice back-to-school idea, whether you have a little one starting school for the first time, or a big kid heading off to college or university. (I know I allow my students to keep water bottles on their desks to sip from as necessary. There's research out there to support that too - and Otterbottles look much cooler than the less-friendly-came-out-of-the-24-pack plastic ones.)

The website also offers Enviro Habits, and BPA and Water Bottle facts like this one:

"The UN estimates that it would cost about $30 billion to provide everyone in the world with clean drinking water. Last year, $100 billion was spent on bottled water worldwide." Hmm.




I have to admit that I have a long way to go in terms of making my environmental contribution, but when being eco-friendly looks this good, how can I refuse?

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free Otterbottle, as described above, for review purposes. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Monday, July 5

To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First

Here's what's next on my must-read list: To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First by David Code. The title alone sells me on the book, as this is a philosophy I firmly believe in.



Code was interviewed in the July issue of Today's Parent magazine, and asserted that he thinks parents today pay too much attention to our kids (really!) and that some try to 'escape' their marriage by focusing solely on the children instead. So true!
One area where I feel my husband and I are quite diligent is making time for "us". We think it's important to, as Code puts it, "feed and water that relationship on a regular basis". Who can argue with the fact that a stable marriage has a positive effect on the children? And it certainly doesn't always come easy; it takes a concerted effort to work on it.

I've met moms before who brag that they've never left their children (who may be a few years old!) with anyone else. I think they are expecting glory and praise, but I have to stifle my first reaction, which is always "I'm so sorry to hear that!"

I'm sure Frannie was only a few weeks old when we enjoyed our first quick dinner out, and only four months old when a teenager kept her so we could clean out my husband's new classroom for a couple of hours. (Not exactly romantic, but time together nonetheless!) We're fortunate that we can afford babysitters, and we go out at least once or twice a month without the kids. Sometimes it's some sort of social obligation, like a wedding or work party, but more often it's a date-standard like a movie. Either way, it's some time away from our responsibilities. While the girls were infants it was more difficult, especially when breastfeeding a lot and sleeping a little, but we managed to get through on the 'banked' time we had previously invested.

We only go away overnight a couple of times a year, but that's more than many parents, and of course only happens because we're lucky enough to have Grandma and Grandpa who are able to keep the girls. Next on our list is to take an actual week away for the first time since our honeymoon (I'd like someplace touristy, but my husband's insisting on rest and relaxation somewhere south) but that's just not in the budget this year.

Code stresses though that it's the little things that are the most important: everyone can't do the whirlwind trips to Paris, and it's the small, regular habits that make the biggest difference, like sitting on the deck and enjoying a glass of wine after the kids have gone to bed, or even while they watch a video or just play quietly in their rooms. Kids learn independence and problem-solving when they have to entertain themselves.

We often take advantage of afternoon nap time, and get a sitter or just enjoy a movie rental while the girls sleep. (Well, Maggie sleeps, and Frannie plays in her room.) That way we're not losing out on valuable family-time, because the alternative would be doing chores or schoolwork while the girls have their downtime...tasks which sometimes need to be firmly placed on the backburner. (This is very hard for me! If I haven't crossed five things off my list, I don't consider naptime productive. Maybe I need to write down couple-time, so I have the satisfaction of crossing it off!)

A goal that my husband I need to strive for is to talk less about work during our time together, which will be easier over the summer holidays, but is a challenge during the year. We are both in education, so when we're not talking about our own children, we're sharing stories about our staffs and students and catching up on each other's work lives.

Now, let's be clear: we love our kids, are thrilled to be parents, and enjoy spending time with our beautiful daughters. But not every waking minute of every single day. I truly believe it's healthier for our kids when we have some time together, and for that reason I'll be reading "To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First" this summer.

Then there's alone time for mommy...a whole other topic, and fodder for a future post here at This Mom Loves!

How do you and your partner make time to be together? Do you get enough? Do you even see it as a priority when your children are young, or do you disagree with me (and the author) completely? Share your thoughts!

Friday, July 2

Happy Birthday To Me!

Yes, it's true, I am another year older. I officially turn thirty (mumble) at 6 p.m. tonight. My doctor's wife was thrilled when I arrived, as it was a Saturday and they had dinner reservations. Believe it or not he's still my family doctor!

So what did you get me?



It's okay, don't worry, I'm not upset that you forgot. In fact, to make things easy for you, I've compiled a wish list, and granting one will take you only a few seconds...plus, they're all free!

It would truly make my day if you would:
  • sign up to receive This Mom Loves through email
  • follow This Mom Loves through Google Friend Connect
  • send my link to someone else (or a few people) who might enjoy the blog
  • enter one of the three great giveaways I have on right now
  • leave me a comment, on this post or any other
Any of these gifts would honestly make me happy! Bloggers are an easy to please bunch!

Oh, and I'll fill you in on my birthday festivities later. I've managed to stretch things out from the 1st to the 4th - might as well make it last!

P.S. My email address gives my age away, as long as you can crack the code. No, I'm not 77.