Monday, April 30

Books For Moms (That You'll Want To Read)

Some of my readers eagerly anticipate my book recommendations, and rush to the bookstore or library right away. Others have informed me that book reviews for mothers are a waste, because who has time to read?

Well, today's suggestions aren't huge tomes of fiction. Rather, they're all worthwhile non-fiction selections which you may actually find as valuable as I do. Give me a chance here!

Toronto Fun Places by Nathalie Prézeau

This family-tested guide to year-round fun in the GTA and Southern Ontario outlines hundreds of outings you could take with your family, including:
  • All the things to do within a 10 minute walk of every subway station in Toronto (I think that would be a great adventure with my girls some summer day)
  • Tips, nearby attractions, driving time, age recommendations, etc.
The book is divided into sections (including Amusement Corner, Farms, Holiday Outings, Museums, Sports and Water Fun) and the tips given for each attraction are very helpful to parents. If you live anywhere near the GTA, put this one on your Mother's Day list. You can also check out the website.

celebraTORI by Tori Spelling

I'm sorry, but I really enjoy Tori Spelling's books. I always like to think that I'm privy to behind-the-scenes Hollywood info, and in this case, Tori shares her party-planning secrets. There are tons of photos (of the lavish parties thrown by her mother when she was a child, as well as many of the recent fêtes Tori has hosted), funny stories, and some tips that are actually helpful to middle-class party throwers as well. Sections include Essentials, Getting Started, Décor, Flowers, Food and Drink, and The Dessert Table.

I read through it in a night (not spending too long on the recipes, of course) and I'll be keeping it as a reference. If you enjoy entertaining, and want some creative, budget-friendly ideas cool enough for L.A., this one's for you.

For My Children: A Mother's Journal of Memories, Wishes and Wisdom by Dionna Ford

This beautifully designed and illustrated book is full of creative prompts that will spark Mom's recollections so she can record them for her children. Full of questions for Mom to answer (List some of the things you have learned from your children, What moments have made you most proud of your child?, Who makes you laugh and what do you laugh about?) when complete, this will be an irreplaceable memento.

I once gave my Grandma a similar book for Christmas, and the next year she returned it to me complete. I will always treasure the thoughts she shared, which I can now pass on to my girls.

This won't be a quick project, and I expect it will take my daughters' entire childhoods for me to attempt to fill every page (Maggie's "baby book" is still under construction), but I am certain they will treasure it when it's finished.

What Would Michelle Do? A Modern-Day Guide To Living With Substance and Style by Allison Samuels

This one is an interesting mix of self-help and biography. Interspersed with facts and anecdotes about the life of Michelle Obama, the book aims to help young women find their place, and navigate the difficult terrains of home, work, friends and relationships.

A very American concept (I don't think we'll be seeing a "What Would Laureen Do?" book anytime soon...probably because half of you are now asking "Who's Laureen?"), I was still interested in learning more about the First Lady, who seems like a very grounded wife and mother. I felt a little old for some of the sections (e.g. since I'm already in my dream job - minus report cards and winter yard duty - I just skimmed some of the employment-related tips) but enjoyed reading about Michelle's style and parenting. While some of the advice is very indirect ("Here are five films that Michelle surely would approve of...") other tidbits are from celebs, family members and other direct sources who are closely acquainted with the famous First Lady. I paid particular attention to some of the quotes from Michelle herself which really resonated with me:

"For me, fashion is fun, and it's supposed to help you feel good about yourself. I think that's what all women should focus on: what makes them happy, feeling comfortable and beautiful. I wear what I love. Sometimes people love it, sometimes they don't. I'm fine with it."

"I have freed myself to put me on the priority list and say yes, I can make choices that make me happy."

"You do what you have to do for your children to have the lives you want them to have. It's difficult and sometimes you have no idea how you will get it all done, but you do. You may have to lean on a lot of people along the way but you'll get it done."


I know, I have no time to read, much less tackle Toronto's subway stations, throw a party, fill in a journal, or worry about following in the footsteps of a First Lady. But if you had to pick?

Friday, April 27

"Shame on Jane" RemindeRings Challenge!

RemindeRings from Shame on Jane are the latest way to express yourself, and remind yourself of what's important...or maybe just fun! They come in sterling silver or gold dipped styles, and are approximately $40 each.

I'm past the point of needing some of the reminders (wedding related ones like "Remember the groom", baby related ones like "Feed...sleep...repeat") but I still have lots of favourites: "Make a reservation", "Get a babysitter", "Mani/Pedi" , and "Sleep in"! (As an aside, I first tried to check it out the selections on my lunch hour, but our Web Filter thought I was trying to look at porn. Nice. Guess it's the name.)

Friends RemindeRing Set

You can now enter the Shame on Jane Mother’s Day Contest where they are looking for the “next great message” to add to their RemindeRing collection. Click below to enter!

Enter the ShameOnJane Mother's Day Contest and Win a $200 Shopping Spree!

The person who comes up with the winning message will snag a $200 shopping spree on and the ring with their winning message. Second and third place winners will receive a $50 gift certificate for a little retail therapy.

The contest has already begun and will run through May 11th. The winner will be announced on Mother’s Day.

And guess what? I get to be on the panel of judges! I can't wait to see all of the creative entries and have my say. Good luck!

Thursday, April 26

This Mom Goes Blonde!

Maybe it's Spring fever (you know, because late April snow does that to people) but I decided it was time for a change. Goodbye natural dark brown locks, hello blonde.

I've done the highlights thing before, and as anyone who has done the same knows, as you continue to get them done over and over your hair gets lighter and lighter. But I wouldn't say I've ever been completely blonde.

I heard that someone I knew from my "hometown" was an expert with colour, so I made an appointment and one Thursday afternoon I left school right behind the buses to head for my makeover.

The BEFORE shot
(since I have nothing better to do after school than sit at my desk and play with my webcam)

When I told J. (I'll safeguard her privacy here, but if any locals want her contact info, please let me know) what I was there for, she was very supportive. She warned me that it might take a few visits to achieve a true blonde (like she is currently sporting on her naturally dark hair) but she was up for the challenge. She recommended not doing an all-over colour (too fake and harsh) but to go the highlights route. I told her that I didn't just want a few highlights though, I wanted to go really blonde...and she obliged. Let me tell you, it takes a LONG time to get a full set of foils put in, and then to wait for them to set. (She also used toner after, which no one else who's ever given me highlights has done.)

When I was finally rinsed, J. did a quick trim and started to dry my hair, and we both could tell that it was still very goldy-orange on top. It wasn't as light as I had hoped, but I had been warned that true blonde was impossible to achieve in one sitting, so I wasn't going to complain.

"Are you in a hurry?" she asked me. Hubby was at home looking after the kids' dinner, baths and the packing of lunches/schoolbags, so was I in a hurry? Uh, no. So we went for a second set of foils on top, to try to lighten up the stubborn colour.

While I still ended up as little more gold on top than I would have liked (the underside of my hair actually turned out just right,so I'll probably wear lots of ponytails for a while) I was very pleased with the results.

The AFTER shot

One of J.'s colleagues came over and exclaimed "You look like a totally different person!" which J. and I both took as a compliment. However, as many more people have given me the same reaction, it has led to a couple of 3 a.m. awakenings with me wondering why is it that I want to look like a different person? What was wrong with me before? What sort of example am I setting for my students, and my own daughters (who want to know when I'm going to change my yellow hair back)? Yes, I know, I think too much. It's only hair.

I will say that I know I look better as a brunette, and clearly this colour doesn't look "natural". (Nor will I pay to keep this up for years at a time. Not cheap.) However, I think after one more sitting, I will have achieved my desired shade, and it will be fun to explore this "totally different person" for the summer. I also picked up John Frieda's "Go Blonder" shampoo and conditioner (also not cheap at $12 each) because the reviews I read were fantastic, so I've been using it daily and I swear it works.

So there you have it...This Mom goes blonde!

Tuesday, April 24

Weekend Update With This Mom

As I continue with my New Year's resolution to open up more to my readers, here's a glimpse at what last weekend looked like:

  • Quick trip to Shopper's Drug Mart for "Go Blonder" shampoo and conditioner. Yes, for me, now a blonde. I'll post about that one later, with before and after shots.
  • Neighbourhood clean-up in honour of Earth Day. Our road seems to get cleaner each year. Or maybe this year's pick-up seemed easier since it was the first time we brought along our slave labour (i.e. the girls). Will the novelty of picking up beer cans ever wear off? Don't answer that.

  • Weekend getaway in beautiful Kingston, Ontario.
  • Stayed at the fantastic Marriott Residence Inn for the first time, with kitchenettes right in the room and free daily breakfast. Only improvement would be if the pull-out couch area was somehow separated from the bed. You know how I hate being able to hear my children during the night.
  • Dinner at Lone Star. Kids loved being given "play dough" to occupy them until the food arrived (not to mention the free nachos). They split a kids' meal and still didn't finish it.
  • Girls were thrilled to spend time with their beloved former babysitter who went to dinner with us and watched them at hotel while we were at the movies.
  • Saw "The Hunger Games". Had been a holdout, not reading the book until last month, but enjoyed both.
  • Kids asleep when we returned; bonus for babysitter.


  • Home by 1 p.m. in order for Frannie to attend classmate's birthday party. (Sent regrets for another classmate's Saturday party. My six year old's social life is far more active than mine.)
  • Enjoyed our own version of "meals on wheels" provided by my mother in honour of a family member's birthday.
  • Started watching Twilight movies on DVD. (My brother wondered if I am trying to recapture my youth with the whole Hunger Games/Twilight weekend theme. I think being blonde is changing my personality.) Still holding out on reading the Twilight books. The vampire thing just doesn't do it for me.

  • Early to bed as usual, ready to hit the yard...running on Monday morning.
See, now don't you feel like you know me so much better?

Thursday, April 19

The Queen of Green Wants You To Break Up With Your Household Cleaners!

I received this press release from the David Suzuki foundation, and I just had to share it:


Are you in an unhealthy relationship with your household cleaner? That’s the question the David Suzuki Foundation’s Queen of Green is asking Canadians this spring.

Starting April 10th, our month-long Spring Break-Up challenge will educate Canadians about the products they use in their homes and around their children (despite their potential hazardous health and environmental side effects) and empower them to make better choices. Sharing and participating in this campaign will offer opportunities to save money and win prizes from green retailers, and to have a lot of fun along the way.

Why household cleaners?

There is increasing evidence that many brand name cleaning products— the products we use to keep ourselves and our children clean and healthy—contain toxic chemicals. These chemicals have suspected links to environmental and chronic health problems, such as cancer, reproductive disorders, asthma and severe allergies.

“The good news is that we don’t need to choose between healthy and clean,” says Lindsay Coulter, the David Suzuki Foundation’s Queen of Green. “There are simpler, cheaper ways to clean our homes that are healthier for us and for the environment.”


Each week of the challenge, the Queen of Green will help consumers examine their relationship with their household cleaners. Tackling some of the key barriers that keep us in loyal (even unhealthy) relationships with our favourite brands, the challenge will provide engaging and interactive content, and share-able moments, such as a Tips and Tricks wallet card, a video, and a customizable break-up letter aimed at popular brands. There will also be multiple opportunities to win prizes, and engage with other consumers throughout the month.

As part of the campaign, the Foundation is asking Canadians to complete a survey on household cleaners and advocate for legislative change to increase transparency in product labeling. Surprisingly, there are no requirements for manufacturers to disclose all ingredients or warn consumers about potential chronic health and environmental hazards associated with their products. The national survey will also help the Foundation learn more about the home cleaning products used by Canadians and the information that is, and is not, available on product labels.

"The results will help us push for safer products and better labelling of ingredients found in home cleaning products,” says Lisa Gue, environmental health policy analyst with the David Suzuki Foundation. “We clean to keep our homes healthy but some of the ingredients in these products are a threat to our health and the environment."


I know I should take on this challenge. I don't "over clean" (despite being a complete neat freak when it comes to clutter, I'm not paranoid about germs) but I'm quite certain the products I use (which lean towards "extra strength" whenever possible) are not good for me our my family.

I checked out the website and many of the tips, which are great. While I'm just not ready to jump into making my own laundry detergent quite yet, I was interested in several of the other Green Cleaning Recipes, which also include an all-purpose spray, stainless steel cleaner, and glass and mirror cleaner. All make-it-yourself products are versatile, affordable, and eco-friendly (many made with food-grade ingredients!). As a goal this Earth Day, I vow to try out one of these recipes. If the product cleans just as well, I'll convert.

Visit and see what you think. You can also be entered into a draw for some great prizes (including a $300 Rona gift certificate) for taking actions along the way. Are you up for the challenge?

Monday, April 16

It's Raining Cash! $550 G!veaway

Giveaway open worldwide!

I am excited to be participating in a great giveaway, where you can win $550 cash via PayPal! It's a Rafflecopter contest being hosted by many different bloggers. You can enter once if you want, or many times if you're interested in completing the tasks (following on Twitter, etc.)

I'd love to hear people's opinions on Rafflecopter giveaways, from the point of view of bloggers or entrants. I've never hosted one by myself yet, and I'm not sure if Rafflecopter really has any advantages over the Google Docs system I'm currently using. Please leave a comment if you have an opinion!

$550 It's Raining Cash Giveaway

Welcome to the $550 It's Raining Cash Giveaway hosted by Giveaway Promote.

We've joined a fantastic group of bloggers together to give away $550 in cash via PayPal to one lucky person. Just complete the tasks below to earn entries into this giveaway. One winner will be chosen at random from all valid entries.

Bloggers, join us in an upcoming giveaway event! Sign up and we'll keep you posted about future group events, like this one, hosted by Giveaway Promote. If you'd also like to hear about all other events currently open for blogger sign-ups, subscribe to Giveaway Promote's weekly group giveaway events and hops newsletter.

This giveaway is open worldwide.
It will end at 11:59pm EST on April 29th, 2012.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Thursday, April 12

Is Your Child Ready For Kindergarten? (Are You?) Part 2

It's hard to believe that I first posted about this two years ago, when preparing to send our firstborn off to Kindergarten. Now our baby is registered for September, and I find myself asking the same questions again.

This time it's different though, because next fall our school begins the all-day, every day Kindergarten program. Frannie has spent alternating days at daycare with her aunt (and usually four other children, mostly family). Maggie, though, will be thrown right in to full-time Kindergarten, which at our school could look like two adults with up to 30-some students.

While I truly support the majority of our Ministry of Education's decisions (and not just because I'm on the payroll) I don't think the full-time Kindergarten was created for children who have the option of family daycare, which for Maggie next year could be a 1:3 or 1:2 ratio, where there is circle time, stories, crafts, and just as much "play" as any play-based learning program could provide. I think what I also love about our girls' daycare situation is that our provider puts emphasis (just the right amount, in my opinion) on early literacy and numeracy as well. Judging by the reading skills of her "clientele" (her children, my nephews and my daughter) whatever she's doing is working. (Not to give her all the credit; the kids attend our school, where the staff, may I say, is stellar as well!)

Frannie's kindergarten teacher has been wonderful, and by all accounts she will be the one delivering the new full-time program to Maggie next year, partnered with an Early Childhood Educator. I have no doubts at all that they will do a fantastic job implementing the new program. I'm just a bit sad that Maggie will miss the very small-group, home-based family care that Frannie has enjoyed on alternating days for the past two years.

And let's be honest: I'm also not looking forward to packing two lunches every single day!

When we went through this two years ago, I spoke to parents and a veteran kindergarten teacher and got tons of tips about preparing your child to start school. My post, Is Your Child Ready For Kindergarten? (Are You?) covers Play, Reading, Numeracy, Physical Skills and Self-Regulation, with suggestions and insider info. Check it out, even if just for the amazing quote from the kindergarten teacher that you can find at the end of the post.

Monday, April 9

I'm Not Selfish and Lazy...I'm Just a French Mom!

Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting
by Pamela Druckerman

So, there's not a drop of French in my Irish green blood (though clearly I'm not Irish enough since I don't drink and I only have two kids) but I've always been a Francophile. They were one of our founding peoples, after all, and I followed in my Dad's footsteps by majoring in French at University, and teaching Core French for the first few years of my career.

That's why my interest was piqued when my Mom mentioned to me that she had seen publicity for a book about French parenting that reminded her a lot of my style. (I think this stems from the fact that I get frustrated when I am telling her a story and my children interrupt, wanting her attention...and she allows it! I think they should have to be patient while the adults are speaking. However, my father says I had my turn 30 years ago when I was the kid who got her attention and he had to wait.)

I'm going to quote Pamela Druckerman's "Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting" so much that I am probably pushing the boundaries of copyright, but it's all in the name of enthusing over the content (which I found extremely witty and well-written). Never before have I used this many sticky notes on a book, especially for the purposes of a blog review, but so many things hit home for me (and not always because they reflected my style).

The comparisons being made in the book are between French and American parents, and while we often extol the ways we are different from our neighbours to the south, generally speaking the "American" profile Druckerman shares applies to a lot of the "Canadian" parents and children I know.

Pamela Druckerman

I've split the quotations/references (pink) into categories, with my own opinions mixed in. See which nationality best fits your parenting style.


"...the French have managed to be involved without becoming obsessive. They assume that even good parents aren't at the constant service of their children, and that there's no need to feel guilty about this." (p. 7)

What? Aren't all mothers "supposed to" feel guilty? I've actually had fleeting moments of feeling guilty because I don't innately feel guilty (about having a job, using babysitters, etc.)

"French mothers don't valorize this guilt. To the contrary, they consider it unhealthy and unpleasant, and they try to banish it." (p. 146)

"I've never seen a French mother climb a jungle gym, go down a slide with her child, or sit on a seesaw" and for the most part  "French parents park themselves on the perimeter of the playground or the sandbox and chat with one another." (p. 129) 

Now, I don't want to promote some extreme goal of never playing with one's children. However, I refuse to be my daughters' dusk-til-dawn entertainment. If I'm on a "playdate", I like to chat with the other mom(s), not spend the entire time in a multi-generational Littlest Pet Shop escapade.

Despite the fact that apparently my mother has always thought that what children have to say is worth interrupting adult conversation (of course it was, when I was the child, but not now when I'm the adult attempting to converse!) my brother and I were actually raised to entertain ourselves. Let me be clear: we spent tons and tons of time with our parents: taking trips, running errands, baking, or just hanging out in the living room, the kids playing as the adults read or did work. We got help with homework, putting a too-tight dress on Barbie, or following a tricky step in Lego construction. However, our parents weren't usually part of the play. While some may think it's selfish or unnatural (Wouldn't you prefer to play princesses than get your report cards finished/laundry done/blog? Uh, actually, no) I think it benefits the children as much as the parents. I repeat, I'm not saying never. I just think I "play" with my kids less than typical American moms do.

French parents also don't overschedule their children (or therefore, themselves). Kids are usually involved in some lessons or activities, but the reigning philosophy is that sometimes they just have to play. (And sometimes parents have their own things to do that aren't conducive to six hours per week, per child, of hockey.) There were four weeks last Spring when Frannie's stepdance, soccer and swimming all overlapped (for only a combined total of 1 hour and 45 minutes per week) but I still felt like a crazy (not to mention hypocritical) helicopter mom. We are extremely lucky that my parents have taken the girls to swimming lessons and public skating times during the workday, which takes the pressure off us. If we had to work it into our schedules, some of our girls' activities just wouldn't be happening.


"In France, giving birth without an epidural isn't called 'natural' childbirth. It's called 'giving birth without an epidural'". (Depending on the hospital, anywhere from 87 to 99% of French women have epidurals.)

"In France, the way you give birth doesn't situate you within a value system or define the sort of parent you'll be. It is, for the most part, a way of getting your baby safely from your uterus into your arms." (p. 30)

I had epidurals with both births. "Would you like to try soaking in the bath for a while instead?" "No thanks. Drugs please. Now."


Referring to Americans: "We all know that our breastfeeding 'number' is a concrete way to compete with one another. A mother's score is reduced if she mixes in formula, relies too heavily on a breast-milk pump, or actually breast-feeds for too long (at which point she starts to seem like a crazed hippie)."

Apparently in France this is not at all the case. Fewer moms breast-feed (which I'm not saying is a good thing; they seem eerily nonchalant about health-related research) and very few judge other mothers on this all-important-in-America "number" (which I am saying is a good thing. A very good thing.)


The majority of French parents recognize the importance of not jumping on your sleeping baby at the first sign of fussing. (p. 45) Druckerman refers to this wait time as "la pause". Parents who do this seem to have better sleepers than those who respond at the first whimper. (This is not the same as crying it out, which is a whole other issue).

"(French parents) don't view being up half the night with an eight month old as a sign of parental commitment. They view it as a sign that the child has a sleep problem and the family is wildly out of balance." (p. 49)

"For the French, teaching a small baby to sleep isn't a self-serving strategy for lazy parents. It's a crucial first lesson for children in self-reliance and enjoying one's own company." (p. 51)

Frannie slept in our room for a total of one night, in the middle of which we decided that hearing her sigh every few minutes was not good for our sleep, and therefore our physical and mental health. She then moved to the nursery right across the hall, a path followed by her sister 26 months later. Oh, and I've written lots before about sleep training, but in case you're new, I'm in favour of it.

DISCIPLINE (appropriately called "Éducation")

Druckerman writes about the French use of "les gros yeux" ("the big eyes") to convey disapproval.

I burst out laughing when I read this, as I inherited "the Leahy look" from my mother, patented when she began her teaching career. The big eyes are always guaranteed to stop a student in his or her tracks. The technique seems to be slightly less effective with my own offspring.


Now before you think I am just some rabid fan of the entire French way, I have to admit right now there are a number of tenets Druckerman speaks of that I don't always follow:


"It's hard for me to imagine a world in which moms don't walk around with baggies of Goldfish and Cheerios in their purses to patch over the inevitable moments of angst."  (p. 64)   French kids eat regularly at 8, 12, 4, and 8...with no other snacks in between.

Yes, I am certainly guilty of being an active supporter of the snack-as-prevention/solution/distraction trick. We rarely make the drive to church without handing over a cheese string for the ride, just to ensure a somewhat peaceful service (although once the kids were off milk we made it clear to them that they would not be eating in church. And of course, once they make their First Communion, eating within an hour before receiving the Eucharist won't be allowed.)

"The reigning view in America seems to be that kids have finicky, limited palates, and that adults who venture beyond grilled cheese do so at their peril." (p. 198)

So, I fit right in with the Yanks here because I am one (North) American with a finicky, limited palate, and unfortunately I'm raising one of my daughters to be the same. We all eat the same meal, but whichever portions of it we choose. There's no short-order cook stuff going on chez Winn, but we never force the kids to eat. I need to take lessons from the French (and parenting/nutrition experts of other nationalities, including American and Canadian) about repeatedly offering a variety of foods. I know I'm not consistent about offering things I don't like, because I assume the girls won't like them either.


According to Druckerman, French moms arrive at the playground "fully coiffed and perfumed" in "high-heeled boots and skinny jeans"  (p. 118)

Yeah, not so much.


My "next step" (sorry for the teacher jargon) after reading this book has to do with my girls' manners (which generally I think are pretty good. One of Maggie's first words was "Pardum?" and I find it so cute that I still haven't explicitly corrected her...and she'll be four next month).

What I would like to work on is the French emphasis of having children greet adults with hello and goodbye, using their names (Mr./Mrs./Ms.when appropriate) and making eye contact. It's always impressive to come across a child in the hall who says hello without prompting, and even more impressive when they are confident enough (I don't think it's an issue of being polite, but being well-practised) to reciprocate your questions: "Fine thanks, how are you?", "My weekend was great, thanks. Yours?" I was a fairly articulate kid but I don't think I ever had the confidence to do that.


As a total sidebar, I even learned a bit of French while reading the book: I never knew that twins are not referred to as identical and fraternal, rather "vrai" or "faux" ("true" or "false"!)


Now does everyone agree with what Druckerman refers to as "the wisdom of French parenting"? Of course not. Some claim that she presents too rosy a view of what happens in France; for example that the "discipline" is often heavier-handed than Druckerman portrays, and I certainly don't want to embrace that as my style. Our house is certainly affectionate, with no shortage of kisses, hugs and cuddles...but there had better be a darn good reason if you need them at 2 a.m.

You can check out some of the rebuttals here:

Bringing Up Bebe? No Thanks, I'd Rather Raise a Billionaire Erika Brown Ekiel

Are the French Really Better Parents? A Different View From France by Paige Bradley Frost

Well-known mom blogger Jen Singer, created this video response, but I disagree with her interpretation of the book that the French parent using "fear", or that Druckerman finds the French definitively "better"; it's just that they seem to have a style which differs from Americans and British, and if you want your kid to sleep, eat and behave better, you may be interested in some of their "wisdom". (And I never "feared" my parents, per se, but I certainly feared their disapproval or the natural consequences that I might face for infractions...and if that parenting style trains kids to grow up with respect, I'm all for it.)

To end on a personal note, I am actually very touched that my mother knows me well enough to understand my parenting style and recognize shades of it in this book. Reflecting on all of this four days after my father-in-law's funeral actually got me very nostalgic and teary. (To neutralize any sympathy you're feeling right now, you should know that I went through this emotional breakdown while lounging poolside in Mexico.)

So...thoughts? Are you an American Mom or a French Mom?

Thursday, April 5

Hallmark's Hot Products for Spring and Summer!

As a member of the Hallmark Press Pause Panel, I am treated to seasonal boxes of their hottest goodies to sample and review. Last week I received the latest shipment, and found all sorts of great gift ideas inside.

My favourites:

Squawkin' Egg Droppin' Hen

Mama Hen squawks and lays her eggs as she sings and dances. (You'll recognize the tune for "Squawk! There It Is!") My girls absolutely love this one, and have entertained younger cousins with it as well. If you're looking for a last-minute Easter gift for a little one, check it out. The toy coordinates with The Egg-cellent Mama Hen Book ($9.99, also from Hallmark). MSRP for the Hen is $30.95, but you can get it for $15.95 with the purchase of three cards.

Nugget the Dog Story Buddy with Nugget's First Day of School Storybook

I have mentioned many times how I adore Hallmark's interactive storybooks. Because of the subject matter of this one, I think I'll give to to Maggie this summer before she (sniff, sniff) starts school. These stories are great because the toys (cuddly and cute on their own) come to life and respond when they hear certain phrases from the books. Once the kids learn the "magic words" they can use them on their own to play with the animal. (MSRP $29.95)

Stationery Towers

You can't go wrong with pretty pens and paper. This stationery is suggested as a Mother's Day gift, but it could have plenty of uses, like an end-of-year teacher gift, or hey, even to go with a goodbye gift for a coworker! (Surprise, Mary!)  (MSRP $12.95, free with any $25.00 Hallmark purchase - with coupon)

Gear Shaped Frames

This assortment of gear-shaped frames are fun to stack an move on a desk or bookcase. With interior colours of blue, red and green, Hallmark thinks these frames "will get Dad's motor running"! I think I'll hide these ones away for Father's Day. (Don't worry, hubby rarely reads this blog!) They also have cute "Dad and Grandpa's Roles" photo books that would make neat Father's Day gifts.


And of course, Hallmark is your go-to spot when you need a card for a special occasion...or even a non-occasion. Try not to freak out, but coming in May...Justin Bieber Greeting Cards! (Insert girlish squeal here).

Happy Easter, everyone!

Disclosure: I received the above-named items (and a few others) for review purposes as part of my role on the Hallmark Press Pause Panel. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Tuesday, April 3

Clutter Control #5: Organize Your Jewelry

Okay, ladies (gentlemen? anyone?): we're back in clutter-control mode, and this time we're tackling our jewelry. Until recently, my stash has been somewhat organized. I had an old blue organizer that was designed to both hang (I had it on my closer door), and fold up for travel purposes (which I never did with it). I was never happy with how the compartments were divided, the bottom section buckled under the weight and there wasn't room for some of the longer, chunkier necklaces which just ended up hanging piled on my closet doorknob. I was also keeping a lot of pieces unnecessarily.


I had done many internet searches for a new system, but short of solid wood jewelry dressers, nothing appealed.

Then one day I was browsing in the Green Earth, and lo and behold I found a beautiful "Little Black Dress" Jewelry Organizer by Umbra for $24.99. This two-sided organizer hangs on a rod or hook to maximize space and swivels so you can see your jewelry collection easily, with clear pockets on one side and hanging loops on the other. I'm usually very much a "hide the junk" kind of gal, but I also know that if I keep jewelry stored away in boxes or drawers I just won't use it. This way it's hidden in a closet, but still visible to me when I need to accessorize.

I handed over my debit card, and decided that was the day to switch systems.
Ready to get started?

As always, my first piece of advice would be to dump everything out on a flat surface, and then purge! I know this is easier said that done, but if you're going to keep everything, then all you're doing is shifting from one storage system to another.

Now, there is an issue I need to address here, which is: Sentimental Items. If you've kept every piece of artwork your little darlings have ever created, I'm talking to you. If a particular macaroni necklace or string bracelet is deeply valuable to you (perhaps your first Mother's Day gift) then by all means hang on to it. But seriously, pitch the junk. Many items of beadwork have found their way into my classroom treasurebox, and the paper/cardboard "gems" have been duly recycled. If it's something that you wouldn't actually be caught dead sporting, maybe you want to find a way to display it, or put it away with other mementos so it's not taking up valuable jewelry real estate. Same with things that you're "saving for a daughter/granddaughter" - store them in a safe spot, not with your regular jewelry.

Things get easier from here. If it's broken or tarnished and worth less than...well, set your own dollar value here...throw it out. Only serious bling is worth repairing, and I'm not going to polish my $2.99 bargain earrings. (Speaking of extremely valuable stuff, make sure you have an extra insurance rider on your really big-ticket items. I used to type these up when I worked for an insurance company, which gave me an important early understanding of cut, clarity, colour and carats!)

I have containers of gold and silver cleaners (one from a local jewelry store and one from Zellers), and I soak things (usually just my four main rings) when they need a good polish. I also throw in less valuable silver stuff and if it scrubs easily, it's a keeper.

Out of style bangles? It's your call what to do with them. My students have been the lucky winners of outmoded goodies with no hygenic concerns (bracelets, rings, watches) but I have held on to a few just in case I need to go retro for a party or a school theme day.

Next put like items together. Can you downsize from there? I realized I had two almost identical cheap black necklaces, so one found a new home.

Time to store and/or display. Generally speaking I kept earrings with earrings, etc., except in a few cases of matching sets (e.g. silver Celtic earrings and charm/chain that a student gave me) which I stored together.

If you don't want to be a total copycat and buy the Little Black Dress Organizer, there are lots of other options:
  • drawers with small organizers (from expensive to dollar store - e.g. ice cube trays) to sort like items
  • pretty display options like "trees" (not nearly efficient enough for me as they don't hold much)

  • DYI ideas like chickenwire attached to an old frame (spray paint to suit)
  • hooks (metal, suction, 3M removable Command hooks) attached to almost anything (walls, shelves, mirrors)
  • tool/tackle boxes (my system of choice as a teenager)
  • corkboards

As always, I love to hear from readers who are following the Clutter Control series, and I'd be glad to show your "before and afters" or link to related posts.