Monday, October 29

Girls' Night Out at Mandarin Chinese Buffet

It may surprise my loyal readers to hear this, but while I love to eat out, I have not actually been to every chain restaurant in Ontario.

In fact, Saturday night was my first trip to the famous Mandarin Chinese buffet. Another secret? As a picky eater, I'm not even a huge Chinese food lover...but I did not go away disappointed.

When we arrived for our girls' night out, the first thing I noticed was that parking was overflowing from the huge lot onto the street. Obviously it's a popular place...and thank goodness we had reservations! We were given a very warm greeting, a quick tour of the buffet, and then we were shown to our table in room F (the rooms are named so you can find your way). This location is 18,000 square feet, yet the dining rooms still feel intimate. (Ours had a neat fish tank separating from neighbouring room; other rooms have special themes).

We were offered drinks, and while of course I surprised no one with my choice of Diet Coke, one of the ladies had a glass of wine, and three others tried out the Mojito Wildberry, which received very positive reviews (the fresh mint garnish was particularly noted).




Then it was time to load up on food. Wow. I have honestly never seen such a selection at a buffet (well, maybe except for the Wynn Hotel and Casino in Vegas). And let me assure you, if you've been passing by Mandarin because you have a member of your family/group of friends/coworkers who doesn't like Chinese food, they will do fine here. I managed to fill three plates, and that's before I went for dessert.




I appreciate how every item is labelled, not only for someone picky like me, but also for the many who have dietary restrictions or allergies and don't want to risk taking a mystery item. (Though the food has not been analyzed for allergens or nutritional content and caution still needs to be exercised, it's at least helpful to know the name of each item.)

There were stations for soups, salads, vegetables, meats, and of course all of the traditional Chinese dishes you would expect from Mandarin. My favourite? The prime rib. Two words: Yum my.




The service was excellent. Water glasses were filled before they were even empty, and plates were cleared away just as soon we finished with them. As a blogger, I am sometimes unsure if special attention like this is attributed to the fact that the staff know I'll be reviewing the place, but it was obviously happening all over the restaurant, and my friends who had been there before confirmed that it is the norm.




Some feedback from the gals who were with me:
  • "They made sure our water was full- which is important for me. I hate it when I need a drink and you can't get the wait staff's attention to fill your glass."
  • "They make a mean mango salad. In fact the salad bar was pretty impressive."
  • "Their mixed veggies (not sure the official name was) were nicely done. They were al dente, just the right amount of crisp."
  • "I think I really like the wide range of choices best. Some may think the Mandarin only serves Chinese food, however, they have a varied selection of food that aims to satisfy any appetite."
  • "It is family friendly and the staff provide prompt service as they anticipate your every need."
  • "It is refreshing to find a restaurant that can feed every member of your family, offering great choices and unlimited amounts of your favourite food."
  • "I really enjoyed the garlic shrimp and the salmon, and the chocolate mousse cake was also very light and creamy. I would definitely recommend it!"
And the negative? We're grasping at straws here, but one friend found the chicken balls "doughy". Gasp!

To top the meal off, we were presented with hot hand towels and individual fortune cookies. A staff member agreed to take our photo, and then offered to print us each a copy...which he presented in little magnetic Mandarin frames:




As we cracked open the fortune cookies, one of our group informed the rest that when reading your fortune, you need to add "...under the sheets" to give it an element of humour (or truth?) Hence, here are some of our fortunes:

"A danger foreseen is half avoided...under the sheets."

"Fearless courage is the foundation of victory...under the sheets."

"Happiness is a journey, not a destination...under the sheets."

And mine:

"The best year-round temperature is a warm heart and a cool head...under the sheets." I'll let you know how that goes. (No, I won't.)

I would absolutely recommend Mandarin for a girls' night, but I will be back with my family as well. The prices for kids are very reasonable (kids 5-12 are half price, 4 and under are only $2 for sharing), and there are more than enough options for my daughters' palates. After our all-inclusive March Break trip, I know kids love the novelty of buffets, and I can see mine finding the atmosphere neat as well.

Disclosure: Although this post was generously sponsored by Mandarin, opinions are, as always, my own.

Friday, October 26

Hearts For Hearts Girls: Dolls For a Cause

So I know I said we're cutting back on "stuff" for the girls this Christmas, but I don't think either one of them is ready to celebrate the holiday without a new doll...and these ones actually help support a good cause too!

Hearts For Hearts Girls: You can empower girls to change the world with this charitable doll line from Playmates Toys featuring six authentically dressed dolls from India, Belarus, Laos, Mexico, Ethiopa and the U.S. A portion of each sale goes to World Vision Canada.

Right now, there are six Hearts For Hearts Girls dolls: Lilian (Belarus), Rahel (Ethiopia), Nahji (India), Tipi (Laos), Consuelo (Mexico), and Dell (United States). Each of them has an important story to tell about life in her country, inspired by real girls who are strong, smart, courageous, and determined to rise above challenging circumstances. (My girls will be receiving Lilian and Consuelo for Christmas. While I don't think we'll be in Belarus any time soon, the Mexican doll is very appropriate after our March Break trip last year).







When you buy a doll, Hearts For Hearts Girls donates part of the purchase price through their charitable partner, World Vision, to programs that support girls in that country. Whether it’s malaria nets in Africa, schoolbooks in Asia, or food supplies in the US, these programs help girls to thrive and succeed.

And as with most toys these days, each Hearts For Hearts Doll also comes with a special product code for online fun. Once you enter that code and create a user name on the hearts4heartsgirls.com website, you can enjoy all of the online content (like reading the diary of each girl) and activities—for free!

Each doll comes with a friendship bracelet, comb and storybook. I have a feeling these are going to be a huge hit around our place Christmas morning!  

Disclosure: I was provided with two Heart To Heart Girl dolls for review purposes. Opinions are, always, my own.

Tuesday, October 23

Blissdom Canada 2012: An Introvert Goes To A Conference

Many people attend Blissdom for the famous Costumes and Karaoke party.

I attended in spite of it.

When Blissdom was taking place last Fall, I followed the Twitter stream and read the blog posts, feeling like I had really missed out on a great opportunity to make connections and learn more about the art and business of blogging. So as soon as registration opened for Blissdom 2012, I jumped all over it.

But then I started getting nervous. While I'm certainly comfortable socializing with "my people" (family, staff, close friends) I'm not so confident with strangers. I started worrying about the Costume party, the meet-and-greets, the meals and round table sessions where speaking to others is kind of essential. Would everyone else know each other? Was I crazy to sign up?

Then I had an epiphany. I was paying for this conference, so I should get exactly what I wanted out of it. I vowed that I would push my limits enough to feel like I had "grown", but not put myself in any situations which would stress me out. And that's exactly what I did.



I know many gals had a great time at Friday night's Road Rally, but I got a good night's sleep at home, ready to head into the big city the next morning.

My fears began to dissipate during the welcome message, when it was made clear that "Everyone is welcome here. No cliquiness, none of that. Not allowed."

Saturday's microsessions were the part I was looking forward to the most. Picture a ballroom with 500 women (and a few men), 41 round tables, each one with a session leader and a specific topic, and did I mention the sessions were first-come, first served? That part was a little crazy, and I know many ladies strategized where they would eat breakfast in order to be at or close to the first table they wanted!

Here's what I took away from my sessions:

Bookkeeping for Canadian Bloggers (Brian Kent-Baas)
  • Yes, products, gift cards, etc. received through the blog are considered income
  • But:, the expenses a blogger can write off are vast: a percentage of home expenses, such as heat, hydro, property taxes, etc.; a percentage of business travel and meals; products and services that have been purchased and then reviewed on the blog; the list goes on
Creating the Perfect Pitch (Jen Reynolds, Editor-in-Chief of Canadian Family magazine)
  • I was excited just to be sitting at the same table as Jen, and of course I said little and just took it all in
  • She made a great point about how the magazine's website looks for "evergreen" article topics, but the print issue doesn't want "evergreen", they want things that are more timely. I know that with such a long lead time (pitches coming in now should be geared to Spring topics) it's not like you can cover breaking news, but the subjects still need to feel fresh
  • Most articles in her magazine are 650 words, and are seen by many sets of eyes before print
  • She receives 50-60 pitches per day, and can't possibly respond to them all
How To Price and Value Your Services (Rebecca Brown)
  • I'm beyond working for free, so this topic was of particular interest to me
  • Rebecca's handout was full of gems like "Pricing is both an art and a science", and some case study information which showed me what another site with the same traffic as mine should charge for ad space and sponsored posts.
  • She also suggested contacting small, local businesses when selling ad space
Sessions which I didn't get to, but would have loved to check out: "Media Training" (with Alison Burke of Impressions PR), and "How To Establish Yourself as an Expert" (with food maven Theresa Albert. Clearly our areas of expertise are very different.)

The afternoon featured several guest speakers, such as:

Jian Ghomeshi: broadcast host, musician, writer and producer


  • The best tidbit I took away from Jian (who shared hilarious excerpts from his memoir, 1982): He said that when he started doing interviews, he had to decide whether he was going to follow in the style of Larry King (the "everyman" who doesn't prepare in advance for his conversations) or Barbara Walters (who prepares meticulously, reading the books, watching the movies and conducting extensive research on her subjects). I liked hearing about this, as I consider myself an "interviewer" as well (with over a dozen celebrity Momterviews to my credit) and I, like Jian, have chosen the Barbara Walters approach. I agree with him that the other person is going to open up more and take things to another level when they know that you've come prepared.

Susan Cain: author of "Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can't Stop Talking"



  • My mom raved about this book when it first came out, and I'm excited to see this focus on introverts (I'm especially interested in how it relates to education - as we continue to force our littlest introverts to do more and more group work and 'collaborative learning')
  • Though she didn't delve too deeply into this point during her presentation, Susan's bio in the conference program also mentioned "the phenomenon of the social media extrovert but real life introvert, and what it means to be both personality types when we engage both online and in real life." I am WAY different online than in person. I can't even imagine how many fewer opportunities I would have had through the blog if they had required cold calls or visits instead of risk-taking emails (which are far easier for me).
The next big highlight was Sunday morning, when Blissdom attendees participated in various excursions, which were selected through another first-come, first-served process, this time online (thanks to my cousin Kerry for handling my registration, since I was on a field trip with my students at the moment of sign-up!)

My destination?

Behind the Scenes Television Excursion on the set of The Marilyn Denis Show

Hosted by Maureen Dennis and Alison Burke, with special guests Michelle Crespi, Executive Producer of the show, and Steve Ladurantaye, Media reporter for The Globe and Mail, this was a jam-packed two hours full of tips for pitching to a wide range of media.

Being on the set wasn't new to me, as in 2011 I went behind-the-scenes at the show and even sat down for an interview with Marilyn, but this was an entirely different experience.
  • Michelle pointed out that for The Marilyn Denis Show, she's looking for "unique things that girlfriends share with each other", and that you don't need the word "Pitch" in your subject. Just go straight to the headline.
  • We even had the opportunity to work in a group to present a pitch and a segment and receive feedback from the panel. Very valuable! Thanks to these four for giving up their Sunday mornings to educate us.
When the session ended, it was back in the car and homeward bound...but my mind was absolutely spinning, and still is. You should see the lists that have come out of this!

I know other Blissdom attendees may say that I missed out by skipping some of the conference events, but if it was all a required package deal, I probably wouldn't have gone at all...and would really have missed out on so much!

The point I want to make is that Blissdom can be great for everyone, if you make it what you want it to be. I'm already looking ahead to Blissdom 2013!

Friday, October 19

Sears Club Points: Earn Rewards While You Shop!

With many store credit/loyalty cards, you can earn points but they're shrouded in red tape, with limitations on how to redeem or what you can redeem for (e.g. special catalogues). You quickly learn that the point value is minimal, especially considering the effort you have to take to get your rewards.

How is Sears different? As a loyal Sears Cardholder since 2000 (it even says so on my card!) I've been collecting points for a long time...but never think to spend them! (Sears Mastercard holders earn points too.) A recent Mom Central campaign gave me the opportunity to spend some bonus Sears Club points in order to share the process with you.

The first thing you need to know: you can use Sears points for ANYTHING! Whether you like the bricks-and-mortar shopping experience or you prefer to make purchases from the comfort of your own home, you earn points either way, and can spend them in store or online. If you're feeling generous, they can even be donated to charity.

To test out the process, I immediately grabbed my Christmas shopping list and started searching the website. My first purchase was a watch for my daughter Frannie (the Timex Kids Time Teacher watch), a 'teachable' analog version with labelled hour and minute hands, etc. but a nice girly look.



All I had to to to use the points was click in a certain spot during the online checkout process. The only extra step is that Sears Card Holders still need to enter their Sears Card number, and their account will be charged, and then reimbursed after the points payment is processed. (Since you have to have a Sears Card to earn points, this shouldn't be too inconvenient.)

When I order items online or over the phone, they are usually at my local Sears pickup location (which is much closer than my nearest Sears store) within three or four days, which is very convenient.

My next plan of action was to have the girls go through the iconic Sears Christmas Wish Book to complete their lists and give me some more ideas. As I waited for the catalogue to arrive, I pondered other possibilities. I could go in-store, visit a makeup counter for a free consultation, and pick up some new eye and lip colours. Perhaps I could put it towards some Christmas decor (as I typed that I remembered that we got rid of our old tree after the holidays last year, and we'll be looking for a new one) or some winter clothes for ever-growing Frannie.

As I've already pointed out, Sears Points can be redeemed for virtually anything in Sears stores or online. Tools, shoes, housewares (I'm sure some people out there get excited at the idea of a new blender or grill), toys, furnishings, etc.

But a sale catalogue arrived in my mailbox before I could get to the store, and as I flipped through I saw a new comforter set that I absolutely fell in love with, the Madison Park Highgate 7 Piece Comforter Set. (They had me at "hotel sleek".)

Madison Park 'Highgate' 7-pc. Comforter Set


By the time the Wish Book arrived my points were already spent...but I continue to add to the list for future purchases and points redemption!

I rarely use charge cards for any purchases, but I really need to start using my Sears Card more often (knowing I can pay it off in full when the bill arrives) just so I can accumulate the points. Really, why say no to getting something for nothing?

The only other caveat I can mention is that points do expire for regular Sears Cards (not Sears MasterCards) after two years, but keep in mind if you don't want to use them on 'stuff', they can even be traded for Petro Points (if you don't have to pay for gas I'm very jealous!)

Disclosure – I am participating in the Sears Club Points program by Mom Central Canada. I received compensation for my participation in this campaign. The opinions on this blog are my own.

Wednesday, October 17

Wednesday Words on Giving

"Give and it will be given to you. A good measure...will be poured into your lap."


Luke 6:38

No, you might not get back as many Halloween goodies as you give out, but there's definite merit to those Gospel words. What I often need to remind myself of is that you aren't always going to receive from the same person to whom you gave. Give your time, give your money, give your talent, give your love...whatever you can afford, put it out there. And you will receive.



Monday, October 15

Gifts For Girls: My Kids' Best-Loved Toys

Let me begin by saying this post is not sponsored in any way, shape or form. The goodies I'm going to mention were gifts for our girls, either purchased by us or family members (or perhaps created in Santa's workshop). What they all have in common: their incredible value, in terms of time the girls have spent enjoying them.

With holiday season approaching, there are lots of great gift ideas out there, and while some may seem perfect at first glance, they just don't pan out. Maybe they're impractical, or breakable, require too many batteries, or just seem like a better idea to the adults than the kids. (Or appear much more fun in the commercial than in real life!)

My daughters are now 4 and 6, and while every little girl is of course different, I can share my experience and tell you what items they have actually loved: they were thrilled to receive them and have played with them more than enough to get our money's worth.

Play Kitchen




My daughters have spend hundreds of hours (easily over a thousand hours combined) playing with this. Frannie received it for Christmas when she was two. It was a garage sale item from a teaching friend whose daughter had long outgrown it. While in good condition, it was clearly not new, but no one cared.

It came with the dishes, fake food, and shopping cart/basket which have been essential for the fun. Toddlers love pushing the cart around, and cousins even older than my girls still enjoy "doing the dishes". (Wouldn't it be nice if that lasted!)

While it does take up a bit of space, newer and trendier designs (faux or real wood, stainless steel looking appliances) are available which may be more pleasing to the eye.

Barbie House (ours isn't actually Barbie brand)





Again, we're talking hundreds of hours of play. The girls have received many brand-new dolls for various occasions, but also have a bin full of dolls, clothes, accessories, furniture handed down from me, and some from my aunt before me. They received the house three years ago and has been a hit (almost) ever since.

I can't even imagine the hours upon hours it must have taken Santa to assemble this item, but I have to tell you that he made a bit of a mistake when he set it up for Christmas morning. The house was strategically located in the family room with the included furniture placed carefully in the rooms of the home. Where he went wrong was by putting some of Frannie's dolls in the house to add to the display. This confused her greatly, as her focus went straight to the dolls, and she couldn't understand why Santa was giving her dolls she already had. (We have great video footage of her confusion.) Once that was cleared up, it was all good from there.

Other Dolls and Houses 

Really, the girls have loved any and all figurines, especially when there's some sort of house (Strawberry Shortcake, etc.) or car (they have some great remote control vehicles for both the Strawberry gang and My Little Ponies). As you can see in the photo below, I love the Ziploc bag system for keeping dolls, clothing, accessories, small furniture, etc. together, which also keeps things easily portable for taking on road trips, to Grandma's, etc. (Or - poor Frannie's teacher - school.)




Because I hate clutter, when people ask for gift ideas for my kids, I always suggest that they add to collections they already have (like another Barbie or Strawberry Shortcake character instead of a new theme).

Little People Stuff

My six year old is just starting to grow out of these gems, but we have the castle and house with the accompanying people and accessories, and these have been very well-loved. They're also nice to keep for younger visitors. When we were kids, we had the original Fisher Price castle, which is still kicking around now for children who visit my parents. (Its claim to fame is that a mouse once fell down the trapdoor into the dungeon, and you can still see where it chewed the front grate to get out!)

We also have the Fisher Price Little People Nativity Set (Frannie's gift from her grandparents when she knocked her front teeth out at 19 months of age) which is kept in storage with all of our holiday decor, and surprises them every November when I pull it out again. Oooh, that time is coming soon!




Puzzles

Frannie hit them earlier than Maggie, but from wooden puzzles right through to a 100 piece Star Wars version, these have been very popular. I suggest you pick characters they're into (or presumably will be into soon). I also find that offering to do a puzzle "with" them (placing the occasional piece while I read a magazine on the side) is a great motivator to get them going. (I'm not a terrible Mom, really, but sometimes I just don't want to "play".)




Little Tables and Chairs

We have a Winnie the Pooh set in our downstairs family room, and a little white IKEA set which started in Frannie's room and is now in Maggie's. These tables have been used for countless tea parties, snack times, crafts, colouring, forts, or as the base for a doll house.




Musical Instruments

From a tambourine with a bank logo on it to toy guitar and keyboard (kids can play their own music or push buttons to play prerecorded tunes), musical instruments are a huge hit at our house. Last year the girls even got battery operated microphones on stands which have already seen lots of love.




Hopefully some of these suggestions can help you with your holiday shopping. Anyone out there with older girls who can give me some ideas for the future? This year we're cutting back on "stuff" as much as possible in favour of things like tickets and "experience" gifts, but they still need to have something to unwrap under the tree! They're little girls, after all!

Friday, October 12

Be Ready with the New Vicks AgeSmart Family Thermometer

Believe it or not, we haven't owned a family thermometer in over two years, when our last one broke and we never bothered to replace it. So the timing was perfect when Vicks asked me to try out their new AgeSmartTM Family Thermometer.

Digital is definitely the way to go now, but with our last thermometer, I would take the temperature of one of my daughters and then flip through random parenting books, trying to find the chart that tells me how high is too high. Unfortunately my American books would give me unhelpful Fahrenheit numbers, which I would then have to convert to compare to my Celsius thermometer reading.



Enter the new Vicks AgeSmartTM Family Thermometer. Clinically proven accurate, it is the first age-adjustable thermometer (you click to indicate whether the 'patient' is under 3 months, 3-36 months, or over 36 months), using medical guidelines to interpret temperatures. The thermometer features color-coded readings (as you could probably figure out, green means you're OK, yellow is mild fever and red is high fever, using the patient's age as a guideline). It takes fast 8 second readings and has a memory system to track the last readings. It also shows the temp in Celsius and Fahrenheit, and is water resistant for easy cleaning. (Always important when dealing with germs, but particularly because this thermometer can be used for oral, auxiliary or rectal temps.)

Fortunately there has been no illness in our home since I received the AgeSmartTM Family Thermometer, but we tried it out anyway! My four and six year olds were more than willing to hold the thermometer under their tongue for the required amount of time (the end of which is indicated with a beep), with the reward of reading the number and checking out the colour code. (An actual sick patient might not be quite as accommodating!)

With a suggested retail price of $19.99 - $21.99, it's a very reasonable purchase too.

With chilly temperatures approaching, be ready for the possibility of illness in your family and pick up the new Vicks AgeSmartTM Family Thermometer.

Disclosure: I was provided with a thermometer for review purposes. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Wednesday, October 10

Lower Your Bills Just By...Asking?

Some bills are non-negotiable (heat, electrical) and if you want to save money, it's up to you to adjust your usage accordingly. However, as I have recently learned, some bills are up for very worthwhile discussion.

I called Bell to ask how I could lower my monthly costs. I already know that my BlackBerry plan is amazing, as I made sure to drive a hard bargain when I got it just over a year ago, so I wasn't even going to go there.





So I started by asking if I could speak to someone about lowering my home phone costs. Long story short, the agent was able to save me $6 per month by switching me to a different plan, and $5 by lowering my monthly long distance minutes allotment from 1000 to 500. (Our records showed we usually use between 100-200 minutes, so we didn't really lose anything.) 11 bucks might not sound like much, but spread over the year that's $132 saved. (I'm sure you had already calculated that in your head.)

Next, we moved on to our ExpressVu satellite. (I was transferred to a Customer Loyalty agent for this conversation.) We were paying $20 per month to rent our HD PVR. While HD is certainly an upgrade, I couldn't live (contentedly) without PVR now. But guess what? For some reason, they were able to waive that fee, and we now own the receiver. (I'm sure it's an old model now, but who cares?) The agent was also able to find a way to save us some money on our programming package each month (without eliminating any channels).

Altogether, half an hour on the phone is going to save us over $40 per month, and about $500 per year. That's significant.

Now, I also tried our Internet provider (when we went high-speed Bell wasn't able to serve our area, so we have Xplornet), but without having a record of what our monthly data usage is (apparently the company doesn't keep track) there's no way to know whether we can downgrade to a cheaper package or not without being penalized for extra usage, and they weren't up for offering any discounts.

But hey...you'll never know until you try! I'd love to hear any other success (or lack of) stories, so feel free to comment. This Mom Loves saving money, and I'm sure that you do too!

Monday, October 8

Paint the Town Red This Halloween With Nestlé

Forget about tacking on the "Disclosure" at the end of this post: I'm going to be upfront and tell you that Nestlé sent me a box of their assorted snack size bars as an incentive to share the information below with you.

While I will work for chocolate (it it weren't for my blogging ethics, a box of Nestlé would probably be enough to convince me to write about pretty much anything) when it comes to the safety of children, I require no bribery to spread the message. (Though I am slowly - okay, quickly - making my way through the delicious contents of the red box. Okay, fine, it's all gone.)






*******

Halloween is an exciting time for children to let their creativity run wild and live out their dreams of being (or at least looking like!) an astronaut, princess or superhero, for just one day.

It’s also a time for communities to connect and parents to indulge their kids – and themselves – with their favourite treats. After all, who can honestly say they haven’t dipped into a few bite-sized chocolate bars on or leading up to October 31st?

For years, the Nestlé Assorted red box filled with Kit Kat, Aero, Smarties and Coffee Crisp has been the go-to favourite for trick-or-treaters because it provides a delicious variety of everyone’s favourite brands. But did you know these leading snack size bars are made in a peanut-free factory too?

According to Anaphylaxis Canada, peanut allergy affects about two in 100 children and half of Canadians know someone with a serious food allergy (www.anaphylaxis.ca). It’s easy to make Halloween safer for everyone involved - including kids and their family and friends - by making the right choices.

This year, Nestlé is asking Canadians to Paint the Town Red by purchasing Nestlé’s Assorted snack size bars in the iconic red box, place the box in their window, and visit YummyMummyClub.ca to make their pledge that they will provide peanut-free treats made in a peanut free facility this Halloween.

All individual pledges will be entered into a contest to win a supply of Nestlé Assorted snack size bars made in a peanut-free facility for their street for Halloween (up to 50 households).

“As a parent of a child with severe peanut allergies, a program like this really alleviates some of the fear I have every year as I comb through my kids’ treats they recieve from door to door trick-or-treating,” says Erica Ehm, founder of YummyMummyClub.ca. “If everyone gets involved and chooses a Nestlé Assorted snack size box this October, we can really make Halloween fun, delicious AND safer for all.”

************  

So please - think of those children for whom peanuts are a life-and-death issue, and hand out peanut-free candy this Halloween.

Friday, October 5

KIDZ BOP Halloween Hits!

You already know I'm a fan of KIDZ Bop (versions of the songs we love, cleaned up and sung by kids, for kids).

This Halloween season, the fun continues with KIDZ Bop Halloween, featuring many "monster" hits!




I can't wait to use this for October gym lessons, and have it on in the class as we work on Halloween activities. It even comes with spooky party sounds!




I doubt my six and four year old daughters would recognize many of the titles, but if past experience is any indication, this KIDZ Bop CD will soon become a favourite in our house (and car) as well!

Available now where CDs are sold!

Disclosure: I received a copy of the CD for review purposes. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Wednesday, October 3

What Counts As Swearing?

My husband and I have been disagreeing lately over whether or not our girls should be permitted to use the word "heck". While hubby concedes that it's not actually a swear word, he feels it's still inappropriate and not "ladylike" enough for our six and four year olds.

When the word came up in a read-aloud I was doing at school, I asked the students if they were allowed to use "heck", and most said yes. (You can always count on Roald Dahl titles to provide teachable moments. "While this author thinks it's funny to use the word fat/stupid/heck, we know that it's not appopriate for us to do so, right? Right.")



What counts as swearing? How picky should we be? Maggie has brought home "What the heck?" and "Holy crap!" since she began kindergarten last month. I allow the former, but not the latter.

There are also the "I-didn't-really-say-it" partial expressions that children at school love to employ, like "Holy -!" and "Son of a -!". I know one student who is partial to saying (word for word, as he censors himself) "What the BEEP?"

This of course is different from innocent fouls, like when my learning-to-talk nephew received a new watch, and wasn't able to pronounce things quite perfectly when encouraging others to look at his clock. Though I don't think his parents can plead innocence regarding the time he commented, as he noticed a car turning but didn't understand it had an advanced green, "Look at this stupid bastard turning left on a red!" (He was four.)

I encourage the kids to use proper names for parts of the anatomy, but I sometimes turn a deaf ear when they are playing together and using silly expressions like "poopy bum". Kids have to have some fun,  especially if I can pretend I didn't even hear them. However, I certainly don't want them to refer to anyone's "poopy bum" when greeting Monsignor Mike on Sundays. A lot has to do with the context.

To date (and this is subject to change) I have yet to hear the f-word from either girl (let me know if you have!), and I would wager that they have never heard it in our home. (I'm not saying I've never SAID it, just that they've never HEARD it.) That seems like the worst one to me, but really I suppose it's the Lord's-name-in-vain ones that we should be most concerned about.

That said, I am often heard exclaiming (in adult company) "Oh my God!" about matters that certainly aren't worthwhile of the Lord's consideration, and in those cases I don't feel that I'm "swearing". However, I wouldn't allow my daughters or students to use that expression.

What's allowable in your house? Do you have to watch what you say in front of the kids, or do you always keep your language clean? Are there different rules for different circumstances? I'd love to know what you think!

Monday, October 1

Halloween From Hallmark: Scary, Fun and Educational!

As a clutter-phobe, you'd think I would avoid accumulating more holiday-themed decor, but cheesy seasonal decorations are a bit of a weakness of mine, especially with young daughters and students who deserve some inspiration to get into the spirit!

My autumn/Thanksgiving decor made its appearance on Labour Day, and I'll be pulling out my Halloween bin on the first of October. (And putting everything away before midnight on the 31st, which is where my neat-freakiness kicks in.)

Hallmark recently sent me some Halloween goodies to check out, thanks to my role on their Press Pause Panel. Here are my faves:

Door Decor Witch's Hat ($19.95)



A motion-activated item, as unsuspecting kids (and adults!) draw near, an evil witch's face appears and cackling sound plays. So hard to decide whether this would be a bigger hit in my home or my classroom!

Ghostly Singing Duo ($15.95 with the purchase of 3 cards)




Push a button to hear the plush ghost sing a parody of "The Addams Family" theme song. My four year old's mouth dropped when she first saw this one in action, and she will surely have the batteries worn out well before the big day actually arrives.

Trick and Treat's Book of Frightfully Fun Halloween Activities ($4.95)



Reasonably priced for an activity book (it would keep my six year old busy for several hours), you can get your kids in the mood (or keep the fun going after Halloween) with colouring pages, mazes, connect-the-dots and all kinds of playfully spooky activities. (If only the neighbourhood children would find this an acceptable alternative to candy, I would be putting this on their loot bags!)

Disclosure: I received the above items for review from Hallmark for review purposes. Opinions are, as always, my own.