Friday, November 29

Family Fun in Montreal

As the daughter of a French teacher/die-hard Habs fan, trips to Montreal were a family tradition growing up, and my brother and I have tons of memories of the hotels, restaurants and of course hockey games that made up our childhood visits. This past weekend, we went back as one big (well, there are ten of us, including spouses and kids) happy family to share the tradition with our own children.

We loaded up our immediate family and left after school on Friday, with very smooth driving right into downtown Montreal (about five hours of driving time, plus a stop for dinner). We stayed at Square Phillips, a very central location where each family had their own mini suite, complete with kitchenette. To be honest, the suites are probably even better for families who actually intend to cook food during their stay (that would never be me, plus breakfast is included in the cost of the room) but it was certainly handy to have a fridge.

I had the best intentions of exposing my children to educational Montreal attractions like the Biodome or the Montreal Science Centre, but we decided to take a less scheduled approach to the weekend, and instead do some wandering. Saturday morning found us strolling (me: walking briskly) the streets of Old Montreal, and while I stopped long enough to take a cute photo of the girls with their cousin in front of Notre Dame, it was chilly so we moved pretty fast!

When I interviewed Montreal native Jessica Mulroney and asked about Montreal destinations for kids, she had suggested taking them to the Old Port, adding: "but I would make that trip in the summer, otherwise the only thing that you will remember from that trip will be the COLD!" So it was a no-go for this weekend. (If we do go back in the summer, I'll also be looking at La Ronde amusement park.)

On the way back, we stopped at a drug store and I picked up a couple of French magazines, hoping to get some journalistic inspiration (or maybe some ideas for future pitches/stories) from my francophone counterparts.

After lunch (we ordered delivery for both that meal and dinner) the ladies left the kids at the hotel with dads/Grandpa, and spent the afternoon shopping: a couple of sweaters from Simons and my big purchase, a statement coat. I had seen it on the Marilyn Denis show, and when I learned it was from French Connection, I called the Montreal location and asked if they could hold on to it for me until Saturday, which they kindly did.

I ended my shopping spree at the Clinique counter at the Bay, where a lovely salesgirl helped me choose the right foundation for my ghostly Irish skin. "You're pretty fair, so let's start with number three...huh, too dark. Number two You're really pale! I guess it's number one!" She also talked me into a primer, and since if I spent a little bit more I could save $10, I also bought a small boxed set with mascara, eyeliner and makeup remover. (After LASIK, I threw out all my old eye makeup so I could make sure to start fresh and not jeopardize anything with my newfound eyesight!)

The highlight of the whole weekend was, of course, the Canadiens game. They were hosting Pittsburgh, my brother's favourite team, and his son was decked out in a Penguins jersey while Frannie - attending her first NHL game ever- was sporting her Habs sweater.

I know I like to call myself a writer, but I truly do not have the words to convey the feeling of a Montreal Canadiens home game. There actually seems to be something in the air, and if I try to describe it, I'll either sound sound cheesy, get it wrong, or both. It was incredible. Oh, and the Habs won, bien sûr.

We'll definitely take the kids back for a summer visit...too bad I can't convince the Canadiens to play in July!

Wednesday, November 27

Designer Jillian Harris: The "Charlie Ford Vintage" Interview

Sure, you may have first seen Jillian Harris on The Bachelor or The Bachelorette (and been intrigued by her theory about a guy's personality being linked to his favourite hot dog condiments), but this Canadian designer is way more than "former reality show contestant".

In addition to running her own firm, Jillian is the resident designer on Love It Or List It: Vancouver, plus she has a pretty fantastic website ( where she blogs about not only décor, but also fashion, food and life in general.

As if this weren't enough, Jillian recently launched a brand-new business with cousin Tori Wesszer and friend Alyssa Dennis called Charlie Ford Vintage, where the ladies work together to find and curate unique vintage and antique pieces and organize them all in one accessible and attractive online location for shoppers to discover and purchase.

As her popularity as a TV personality grew, Jillian was asked more and more "Where did you get that vintage piece?" She wanted to have a place to direct her fans, and so Charlie Ford was born. (First the baby - not hers - then the business. Huh? Read on for details!)

Why vintage, and can you pinpoint the conception of Charlie Ford to a particular moment? {This Mom's note: the company is named after her cousin Tori's son - I'm glad Jillian realized I was talking about the conception of the business, and not the child - that would be a bit too personal for this blog!}

I think it all comes down to, why NOT vintage? New things are always great but there’s so much life left in old pieces, too! Tori, Alyssa and myself  have loved old things since we were little girls. My mom owned a little antique shop where she let me help out with the merchandising as a kid, and it stuck! Last October, Tori and I were on one of our antique picking trips, and we came across these awesome old ammo boxes. We threw around the idea of recreating them to sell on my website, but quickly realized that the reason we loved them was that they had lived this amazing life and had a story to tell, which you just don’t get with new pieces. From there, we quickly came up with the e-commerce concept of Charlie Ford Vintage, and the rest is history!

What is your day-to-day role with Charlie Ford?

Haha, how about resident stress-case and over-reacher?? No, in all seriousness, I absolutely love my role as Creative Director, but it’s hard to nail down exactly what my job description is because I really do cover it all. I oversee all the items we choose, help stage and photograph them, then put them up on the site. I also manage all of our support staff, write blog posts, handle media appearances, run the social media accounts…you get the idea. It’s exhausting but incredibly rewarding.

What are the best three adjectives you can think of to describe Charlie Ford to those who haven't yet heard of it?

Accessible, informative, chic.

{This Mom's note: I have to agree with those adjectives, though I would also throw in "highly addictive". In the process of researching for this interview, I may have browsed the Charlie Ford collection just a little bit. And purchased a ring. That looks something like the one in the photograph below. I also love how the items are clearly categorized - art, furniture, jewelry, etc., you can refine your search by price or see new items first, and there are even "basement" items on sale!}

I read in another interview that you've turned down opportunities because they don't fit with your brand. I know you're not going to want to name names, but what sorts of things don't jive with who/what you want "Jillian Harris" to be?

Well, for one thing, I really don’t like it when I’m asked to appear like something I’m not. I am definitely my own person, so whomever I’m working with needs to embrace my quirks or it’s a no-go. For instance, before I officially accepted my role on Love It or List It Vancouver, I made it very clear that I didn’t want to fight with Todd on-camera. While we’re obviously rivals on the show, we’re also super good friends, and I wanted to be able to joke around without coming across as mean.

Obviously, it’s also very important to me that the designs I work on align with my tastes and how I’ve built my reputation as a designer. I will never create a home that’s cold or impersonal – it has to give people the warm and fuzzies or I’m not into it!

How do you think your career would be different today if you hadn't had the experience of The Bachelor/Bachelorette?

I have no clue how my career would have turned out without The Bachelor and Bachelorette, but I do know that that I have absolutely no regrets (except for maybe those hut tub scenes – sorry mom!) I was so incredibly lucky because people responded to me really positively and I was put on the map, so to speak. I worked really, really hard to get where I am today and I’m incredibly proud of everything I’ve accomplished. It’s really a privilege to be able to do what I do day in and day out – I am totally aware of that.

Do you still keep in touch with anyone from past seasons?

Not very many, unfortunately, but there are a handful of people I still keep in touch with, including Molly and Jason Mesnick (yes, the Jason that broke my heart once-upon-a-time!) I actually designed the nursery for their new baby girl, which was such a pleasure to do. They’re incredibly sweet people and I’m glad we've all remained friends over the years.

From what I understand, this former "Bachelorette" has now found love. We want to know about Justin (and not least of all, what he puts on his hot dogs!)

I have, and I feel so, so blessed!! Justin is such an amazing guy, I’ve waited a long time for him but it’s worth it. He’s sweet and funny, and reminds me that I need to take time for myself, which is something I often forget. He’s a great communicator and helps bring that out in me as well. As for the hotdogs, he’s a ketchup and mustard kinda guy.

What are three things you still have left on your career bucket list?

Honestly, if I can get Charlie Ford Vintage to a place where it supports me and my family, that would be it. I’ve done so many things throughout my career, and that time is coming where I’ll be ready to slow down and smell the roses. is my baby and it’s what I love to do…now it just needs to pay the bills!

Three things from your personal bucket list?

It’s hard to keep it down to just three! Definitely a couple of kids, more travel (can’t get enough!) and finishing the reno on my house in Kelowna.
Since I seem to be in list mode, three things on your Christmas list?

GREAT question, and this time I’m not going to bother to keep it down to three things! We have some amazing pieces up on that I would be ecstatic to find under my tree:

·        I’m a sucker for jewellery, especially baubles that I can stack. This Birks Gold Wash Bracelet is an amazing pre-loved piece at only $85. A total steal!

·        Trophies are super hot home décor items right now. This one from the 1930s is from a goat show – how cool is that??

·        I’m obsessed with vintage glassware, especially pieces with a ton of personality. This Schweppes seltzer bottle from the 1930s is the perfect addition to any home bar.

·        As you know, I love unexpected accessories that add personality and a sense of intrigue to a space. This industrial table fan from the 1920s would be super funky addition to a den or dining room.

·        Old photography is so amazing because it offers a literal glimpse at a time long ago. This photo of the “Victoria Rifles,” the 24th Battalion of the 5th Canadian Infantry Brigade, dates back to 1914 and is an incredible piece of Canadian history. Perfect for a funky gallery wall!

Finally, because I'm an Irish girl and enjoyed reading about your travels on your site - what's the number one attraction that I can't miss if I ever make it to Ireland (you should know that I'm NOT a beer drinker)?

Oooh this question is a bit of a toughie because we visited SO many amazing places in Ireland, even though we were only there for a few days! For natural attractions, the Cliffs of Moher are an absolute must-see. Talk about an epic view! St. Peter’s Cathedral and Dublin Castle are incredible as well (you know me and my love of history!). And I know you’re not into beer, but if you visit the Land of the Leprechauns and DON’T go to the Guinness brewery, you’re missing out!


Thanks for sharing with us, Jillian!

Now, dear readers...if you want $10 off your first purchase at Charlie Ford, please let me know (leave a comment with your e-mail address, or send it to me at katewinn77 at yahoo dot ca). If I "invite a friend" and you make a purchase, I get a discount too, so we both win! And believe me, we will have no problem finding items to buy, though keep in mind that these pieces sell quickly, and once something's gone, it's gone for good - don't wait!


Jillian Harris on Twitter:
Charlie Ford on Twitter:
Love It Or List It Vancouver on Twitter:
This Mom Loves on Twitter (just making sure you're paying attention!)

Tuesday, November 26

Holiday Gifts For Caregivers: Special Guest Post

Today I'm welcoming Katie Bugbee from, here to share her thoughts on holiday gifts for some of the most important people in our children's lives! (You may also want to flash back to my post called "What Teachers Really Want For Christmas".)

What Gifts Should You Give Your Child's Caregivers?

'Tis the season to spend, spend, spend. And in the effort to make this the best day (or 8 nights) ever for our own kids – there are some other VIPs to shower with love – the ones who care for our kids on a daily basis: the daycare center workers, in-home daycare owners, preschool teachers, babysitters and nannies who make our lives work. And who love our kids!

But what do you give someone who devotes her days (and possibly nights) to taking care of our little ones – so that we can run our families, our businesses, and have a little fun with our SOs?

This guide should help you budget and plan for what to give each care provider in your life.

Day Care Center Employee: I'm not sure how much you know about each employee working in your child's daycare. Often there's a teacher, a co-teacher and then classroom helpers. Giving to each person can seem overwhelming. However, you should give something. I know families who have given homemade food to the whole center. And then given gift cards to each person. But don't just give food. Giving a Target card or Amex Gift Card would help these caregivers do their own holiday gifting. I'd give a bit more to the teachers than to the assistants, but still give to everyone who helps your child. It will be very much appreciated.

In-home Care Owner: Something sweet or sentimental could be very nice. You are in her home each day, but may not know this person enough to add to her décor. An Edible Arrangement or food item is a nice idea, or a gift certificate to help her add supplies to her business.

In-home Care Employee: Similar to the day care center employees, give gift cards to help with their own holiday bills.

Preschool Teachers: I'm told teachers love getting gift cards for classroom supplies. So when in doubt, head to a local book shop, arts + crafts place or grocery store where they can buy snacks. But if thinking about just them, go for a certificate to a spa or local lunch spot. Since parents tend to be in close communication during the preschool years (email lists tend to be disclosed), someone can organize a group gift so the value is more significant.

Elementary School Teachers: I actually love these gift ideas, especially the clever t-shirts. But let's face it, teachers have a lot of mugs and knick-knacks. What they could really use is a gift card for coffee or to a local spot for them to get lunch, dinner or drinks with friends after work. But packing it up with a funny mug, thoughtful book or beautiful orchid is a nice touch.

Babysitters: Depending on how often your sitter helps you, this amount will range. If this is a regular sitter, who helps a few hours a week, give an average week's pay as a tip. If it's a date-night sitter who always seems to make herself available to help you and SO get some alone time, give an average night's pay as a tip.

Nannies: Just like sitters, nannies expect to receive a tip at the holidays. It's what your neighbors are doing. It's what they hear about from nanny-friends at the playground. The average tip is 1-2 weeks' pay. You can also add a nice, thoughtful gift from the kids (with the gift receipt).

What other gift ideas have you used for the caregivers in your life?

Katie Bugbee is the senior managing editor and resident parenting expert at

{Just a note from This Mom - we buy Christmas gifts for all of our girls' teachers - homeroom, Music, Integrated Literacy, etc., and they're all getting gift cards except for Frannie's homeroom teacher, since she's a close friend and when I saw a deal on chandelier statement necklaces I thought of her. I actually let her choose her colour - there goes the surprise! Our before-and-after provider and evening sitters are getting cash bonuses because, well, who wouldn't want money?}

Friday, November 22

My LASIK Experience

LASIK is a medical miracle. At least I'm still hoping it's going to be...

A few weeks ago I shared info on my LASIK consult and plans to proceed with the surgery. Last Friday, it actually happened. Please be aware that all of the information I share here is based on my experience at the LASIK MD clinic in North York, and might not necessarily be the same at other clinics offering the LASIK service (mine was Advanced Custom Wavefront LASIK - a treatment necessary because of my high presciption and large pupils).

I took my contacts out a week in advance. 24 hours is the requirement, but when I had my consult the tech mentioned something about my left cornea, which he thought would go back to normal after removing my lenses for a few days. If not, the surgery might need to be postponed or cancelled, so I wasn't taking any chances. So, I had to wear my glasses for 6 full days, which totally drove me crazy at first, though I did kind of start to get used to it.

Mom and Dad drove me to North York the morning of my procedure (yes, I'm 36 and went with my mommy and daddy, is that a problem?) We arrived early, at about 9:30 and I began filling out paperwork. Then the waiting began. Oh, the waiting. Between paperwork and surgery there was a 15 minute pre-op exam, and another 15 minute meeting with the counselor to go over questions, paperwork and payment - 30 minutes of action which took place over FOUR HOURS, until I was finally called into surgery. I kept thinking I was going to be next, and would be disappointed when someone else's name was called, but eventually, I made it in!

The surgeon introduced himself and asked if I had any questions. Really, by that point, I just wanted to get things moving. I was asked to put on a hairnet-type medical cap, and to lie down on the operating table. Numbing drops were put in my eyes. (Warning: if you get squeamish or don't really want to know the details - especially if you're contemplating the procedure and think too much information might freak you out - skip the next paragraph.)

Next, my left eye was covered and the action happened on my right eye. It was taped open, and I could tell that something was inserted to hold it that way. (Ladies, it sort of reminded me of when another type of medical professional inserts a device to open something up. Sorry.) The surgeon asked the assistant to "apply suction", and I could feel that on my eye, as the vision went temporarily dark. I was then asked to look at a coloured light, and I did my best to do so as things kept changing. I felt absolutely nothing during the laser part of the procedure, when basically a flap is made in the cornea, which is then pulled back so corneal tissue can be removed to improve the vision, and then the flap is replaced. I felt like I could tell visually when the flap came back, but maybe it was just my imagination. Each eye takes less than a minute to do (I said the rosary, as per my mother's suggestion, while making good use of the squeezeballs I was provided with in the OR). Then we were onto the left eye.

While I didn't time it, I'll bet I was reclined on the table for less than 5 minutes in total. I was asked to open my eyes, and nothing hurt - just felt a little bit scratchy - and the surgeon did a quick exam. I was then escorted out to the lounge area for (oh yay) another waiting period. An assistant came by occasionally with drops, and then my eyes were taped shut for the last 20 minutes or so of my stay, to help the flaps begin to heal. My parents returned, and after almost 6 hours in the clinic, it was finally time to go!

I was provided with a prescription for the drops I would need (purchasing them on-site is also an option, and if you have benefits you can send in the receipt). There were two sets (in addition to two sets of over-the-counter drops), and I was warned that one may leave an aftertaste in my throat...and it sure did. (Seriously, eye drops leaving an aftertaste. Still trying to figure out the physiology of that one. Also really makes you wonder about how chemicals applied to one area of the body - hair, nails - can actually travel to other areas. But I digress.)

A next-day followup appointment is mandatory, and while I decided not to bother spending the night, and instead drive  back the next morning, there were moments when I regretted that choice. In particular, an hour stuck in traffic on the 401 when I know I uttered the phrase "this had better be worth it".

I wasn't in pain, per se, but a lot of discomfort. My eyes were very watery, with heavy lids, and every time I tried to open them the light seemed way too bright. Patients are provided with fairly unattractive sunglasses, but even with them on I was still sensitive to daylight, and tried to keep my eyes down in the car, which I'm sure led to some carsickness, which led to putting the window down, which led to chills...I felt like I had the flu, but please be clear that it was not directly related to the surgery, but the fact that I should have just gone immediately to a hotel where I could have slept. According to the times I was given on my "drops" schedule, I had to put some in at various intervals during the drive, which also wasn't easy, but the lubricating drops really did help with the discomfort. My left eye bothered me more than my right, and I know the my vision prescription for that eye has always been stronger, so maybe it required a bit more work. It was also "bruised" (bright red spots) by the suction, so maybe that made it more sensitive as well.

By the time the sun went down and traffic cleared, I felt tons better. We picked up some drive-thru (I was finally having lunch at 6:00 pm) and I joined back in the conversation.

Considering my procedure took place at 2:00, the fact that I felt back to normal by the time I got home is pretty impressive. Oh, and then there's the whole vision bedtime, I felt like I was wearing my contacts, my vision was that good. The hardest part was the fact that I wasn't supposed to read, watch TV or use any devices that night...which really threw off my normal Friday evening routine!

The drive back to North York for my checkup the next morning went smoothly. My right eye was almost 20/20, with my left eye a bit farther behind, but everything was on track. I dropped my glasses off in the donation bin, scheduled my one week checkup for the Whitby location, and headed home.

Since about day three post-op, my right eye has become blurrier, and the regression concerned me, but a quick call to LASIK and I was comforted by the knowledge that that's a very common occurrence, and the "final results" won't be apparent until 1 to 2 weeks after the surgery.

Last night I had my one week checkup (well, it's been six days but I'm heading out of town tonight - a whole other blog post) and was told that what I'm experiencing is very common. Basically because my prescription was so high, lots of tissue had to be removed from the cornea, so when the flap was replaced, a gap was left in between. Because of this, it may take longer for the flap to fully smooth out over the cornea, and the technician could see some tiny folds and cracks that will take time to disappear (he believes that they will, but I do have a lifetime guarantee on the procedure, including "touch ups" if necessary, I just hope it doesn't come to that).

While trusting that the right eye will get back up to speed, I am pretty confident that the experience will be totally worth it. As someone who has worn contacts for almost every waking hour of every day, I often just think I still have them in, until I stop and register that no, I'm actually seeing that well with nothing in my eyes. People who wear glasses would notice even more of a lifestyle change, though it was a big deal to throw away my contact lens cases and solutions and give my glasses cleaner to my Dad! I'm all about simplifying and streamlining. (Packing for this weekend's trip was that much easier, especially since glasses and contacts solutions always have to be packed right before departure, and can't just be thrown in the suitcase days in advance when I pack everything else.)

Please feel free to ask if you have any questions. I would never have done it without the testimony of my mom,  brother and sister-in-law, so getting firsthand information from someone really makes a difference with the decision making process and stress level.

Tuesday, November 19

My New Blog Design Revealed! (Merry Early Christmas To Me!)

So...notice something a bit different?

If you're reading this directly on the blog, hopefully you can see that This Mom Loves has an entirely new look!

Thanks to the amazingly talented Kassie from The Cutest Blog on the Block, I've undergone a complete redesign and I absolutely adore it. I also should say thanks to my hubby for the early Christmas gift!

Me: Do you want to give me a blog redesign for Christmas? That way you won't have to shop.

Him: (Do I really need to tell you what his answer was? Though I'm pretty sure there's one more little parcel coming on December 25th.)

So...if you're reading this through email or elsewhere, please humour me and come on over to check out the new look (you can just click on the title of the email, or this link:

When you check out the new and improved This Mom Loves, you'll see that Kassie has given me a totally fresh look: a header, background, sidebar icons, new fonts, a button and even a cute little favicon that you might be able to see beside the address bar in your browser.

I am so glad that I went with The Cutest Blog On The Block (not a freebie, by the way, I paid in full...or should I say, hubby did!): there was no wait time at all, the process was very straightforward, and Kassie replied to most of my emails within minutes. She made all the tweaks and changes I asked for, and while I don't think I was too difficult to deal with, I was picky about certain things - for example, while lower case letters may be trendy, I couldn't handle having my name and titles not begin with capitals! Maybe it's a teacher thing!

I also deleted some of my old sidebar gadgets for a more streamlined look, so please take a peek there, too. At the top you'll see all of the ways you can connect with me (Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook or through e-mail), followed by a little welcome message, and farther down you can check out the list of all of the celeb Momterviews I've done, my published articles (Today's Parent, Parents Canada, Professionally Speaking, etc.), my blog archive (just in case you're dying to know what I was writing about in, say, June of 2010), and labels, so you can search by subject.

After three and a half years with the old look I figured it was time to freshen things up, and Kassie certainly did that. I am a bit sad to replace the cute little cartoon image of me reading to the girls, but I'll always treasure that picture. I'm actually thinking it might look good framed in my office!

Now you know I want to hear your thoughts (especially positive ones!), so please, leave me a note and let me know what you think!

Hallmark Christmas 2013: Win an Interactive Storybook!

I always love when my Hallmark Press Pause boxes arrive on my doorstep, and this Christmas package was no exception. (My decorations are already up, of course, but I can always add more!) Read on for details, and a chance to win one of my favourite items!

Here's what I found inside my care package:

Santa: Be In The Story book, Pics 'n' Props Christmas Fun Kit, Yule-K-Lele, Totally Ticklist Goofy, 'Let It Snowmen' 5 Piece Ornament Set, 'Blink Along' Musical Scarf and an assortment of holiday greeting cards

More details on my top three favourites:

Pics 'n' Props Christmas Fun Kit

I love how these props can all be used for photo ops and celebrations - perhaps as part of your Christmas card photo?

Santa and the Christmas Eve Flight: Be Part of The Story

Hallmark has come out with tons of great books, and 'm particularly a fan of their recordable books, where kids can hear beloved adults reading to them even when they can't be there. This one's a bit different: when highlighted lines in the book are read aloud, Santa replies with a question for your child. Once he/she answers, Santa responds back, and the story continues. Very fun and interactive, and a great way to motivate little ones to enjoy books! (Psst - this is the prize I'm giving away!)


So much fun for kids and parties, this "instrument" plays six holiday songs and as you strum faster, the song speeds up with you. Do you think I'll actually be able to convince anyone that I'm musical? My students *might* fall for it...

Want to win a Santa and the Christmas Eve Flight: Be Part of the Story book? All you have to do is leave a comment below, making sure there's a way for me to contact you if you're the winner. This contest will have a quick turnaround so the winner gets time to enjoy the prize before Christmas, so the draw will be made on Tuesday, November 26th at 11:59 p.m. Eastern.

Good luck!

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

Thursday, November 14

Getting To 50/50: Book Explores Working Families, Marriage and Parenting

"The most important career decision you make is whom you marry." Discuss.

This gem of a quote, among many others, is found in the book Getting To 50/50: How Working Parents Can Have It All by Sharon Meers and Joanna Strober. The book not only argues that women can successfully work outside the home as wives and parents, but offers blueprints for making it happen, whether you're still at the pre-marriage or pre-baby phase, negotiating a return to work, or right in the kids-and-job trenches.

I was jarred by a scene on Grey's Anatomy a couple of weeks ago when Cristina shuts Meredith out of a surgery, and explains after that it's because Meredith's focus has changed as a mother. She's no longer doing as much research or logging as many surgical hours, and therefore isn't as qualified as she could be. (Cristina also points out that there are other mothers who make it work, but they handle parenthood differently.)

Judging by my own reaction to the show, obviously this is still a hot-button issue for many women. "Getting To 50/50" does not for a minute negate the valid choice made by women who leave the work force and stay at home, however it does question the definition of "wanting to" stay home, taking an.interesting look at whether "wanting to" really means that the woman truly didn't wish to remain employed, or if the choice stemmed from the knowledge (stated or implied) that her partner and/or employer would not be able to help make it happen. While one could argue that the onus doesn't need to be placed on the employer, it seems fair that if the father of your children is truly your "partner", he does have an obligation here. ("Women Don't Quit Because They Want To" is the title of an entire section)

The book also debunks many myths, widely believed by some parents, which put undue pressure and guilt on a woman to stay home when perhaps she would prefer to continue working, and readers can take away some good responses to use with their partner (or parent, or any judgmental person) who has concerns or spouts inaccurate research: "Actually, honey, studies have shown that children in daycare fare just as well in all areas as those who stay home with a parent," might be good for starters.

Sheryl Sandberg wrote the forward to "Getting To 50/50", which she says she "devoured", as I did her book "Lean In" - in fact, I went on a blitz last year at school where I started several conversations and emails with my principal with the phrase "So, I'm leaning in right now...."

In terms of my personal experience, it's a bit different here in Canada when we get 12 months of maternity/parental leave, so by the time I returned to work (there was never a question that I would) my girls were eating solid foods and sleeping through the night, which is such a luxury for working parents. I could really relate to this quote from "Getting To 50/50":  “'I wish you could show younger women just how good things look once you make it up the steep incline,' a female entrepreneur told us. 'When they’re halfway up the hill, all they see is a tough slog and they don’t realize how much easier it gets once you gain some altitude. The hill flattens out and you’ve got a great view.'” At 5 and 7 my girls are so independent (this year's goal - achieved - was to get them packing their own lunches at night) - and while new time commitments (homework, extracurricular activities) arise as kids grow, they just don't come with the same physical demands as being sleep-deprived, and the current challenges don't have have the same impact on my work the next day.

"Getting To 50/50" shares tons of research, both hard data and anecdotal stories, and keeps the right balance of entertainment and education (it's not light and fluffy, but it's also not a textbook. Though it would be a great addition to many a syllabus). Over 1100 moms were interviewed, which means a range of perspectives are presented. Other tidbits of learning I gained from the book (or learned about myself while reading):

  • Couples who split breadwinner/housework roles have a divorce rate 51% below the average
  • "If you want your husband’s company in the odyssey of child rearing, you have to value his parenting views as much as your own." This means that I have to accept that all of the play and silliness my husband engages in with our girls is just as important as the task-master parenting duties I take on. (We do cross into each other's zones sometimes.) I also have to relax about things being done a certain way if I want my husband to feel fully comfortable with parenting duties...still a work in progress after almost 8 years.
  • "Success Does Not Require 24/7". Enough said? If not, there's a whole chapter on it. 
  • Having it all might mean changing your definition of "all". I love my family and my job(s), and to stay sane I have abandoned the notions of nightly homecooked meals and yearly homemade Halloween costumes. Though it took a while, I also got my husband onto the idea of "outsourcing", which recently included hiring someone to look after some fall yardwork.

I've written before about my mom and how she inspires me to have it all. She took a few years off from teaching when we were young, and while my brother and I were kept completely oblivious to the fact that she was going stir-crazy at home (especially once we were both full-time in school), I will never forget the expression on her face, light in her eyes and tone of her voice when she went to the kitchen phone to take the superintendent's call offering her a classroom again. "Are you serious?" was her excited reply, and whether I processed it or not then, I knew very well that my mother loved us AND loved her work, something that has certainly molded my whole idea of being a working parent. (Even in her retirement, she's still tutoring and volunteering in schools.)

Some final introspection: while education is a very female-friendly field of work, I have to admit that I do feel like one of the reasons I haven't pursued "advancement" in my career (by which I mean going into Vice Principal/Principalship) is because I don't think I could take on that sort of change - or even complete the qualifications I would need to get first - and still keep my home running the way I want it to. Sure, the fact that my husband recently began a new role as Vice Principal has something to do with that, but I know I would have his support if I decided I wanted to head down that path. I also haven't quite decided if it's a job that I would want anyway, as I don't think I would be able to make that jump and still keep up with my writing career, so I try to consider of all of the opportunities that come with my freelance/blogging work as "advancement", and a supplement to my very rewarding role as a classroom teacher. This book got me thinking about what I really want when it comes to my career/family balance, and I've been reflecting more on the decisions I've made, and will have to make in the future.

"Getting To 50/50" is an absolutely fascinating read no matter your perspective, but I would recommend it especially if you are finding the 50/50 goal desirable but elusive and want to learn more.

If you'd like to win your own copy of "Getting To 50/50", simply leave a comment below and make sure there's a way for me to contact you if you are the winner! (Giveaway ends Thursday, November 28th at 11:59 pm.)

Monday, November 11

Las Vegas Part II: Shania Twain - Still The One

Click here to catch up on Las Vegas Part I: Tim McGraw/Faith Hill Soul2Soul.

Our second morning in Vegas found us shopping again! This time we tried out the Las Vegas Premium Outlets (North - there's also a South) which was about a ten minute cab ride. (Buses are a popular option, but since we were splitting rides four ways, we splurged for a few taxis and didn't bother to figure out the public transit system).

I didn't do a lot of shopping there, other than new sweatpants and hoodie from Gap (which will do double duty as treadmill wear and pyjamas...the first thing I do when I get in the door after school is put on a sweatsuit and pull my hair into a ponytail!) There was a Kate Spade outlet as well, with 50% off tons of bags...too bad I splurged at her store in the mall the day before!

Next on the agenda was the Titanic Artifact Museum at the Luxor Hotel. We found a coupon in our hotel brochure to get $10 off the $32 admission, and it was definitely worth what we paid to see so much history: over 250 authentic artifacts from the wreck site of the Titanic, plus extensive recreations of some of the most famous rooms on the ship (you can see us below, on the grand staircase!)

That night, we decided we couldn't leave Vegas without trying one of the buffets, so after a bit of research we headed for the Bacchanal at Caesar's Palace (convenient since our show for that night was located in the same Casino). The Bacchanal has been voted the #1 buffet in Vegas by various different outlets, and it definitely lived up to its reputation...though I'm not sure that it's possible for me to consume $50 worth of food in one sitting. The prime rib (traditionally my favourite anywhere I go) was fantastic, and it's always fun for a picky eater like me to be able to try small portions of different foods. Oh, and who am I kidding about the fifty bucks...I think my dessert plates (yes, that's plural) alone would total more than that!

So...what show did we see that night? Well, as I've said before, we're Canadian and from the country...which means of course we couldn't miss our girl, Shania!

I enjoyed seeing some of Shania's most famous outfits on display

We were two for two with another great concert that night. While the Colosseum is a fairly large venue, Shania still made some trips out into the audience, shaking hands, accepting hugs, and signing books (as she did for my SIL - see photo below!) She also invited selected audience members onstage for a campfire/singalong late in the show. (One lucky invitee proudly showed her the "Shania's autograph tattoo" on his arm, to which she replied "Oh...I wonder what your mother thinks of that!")

Our seats were fantastic (the front of the second section), but just as with the concert the night before, I was trying to be a good girl and follow the no-photos rules (they seemed much stricter about that at this venue) - though we did notice Shania's hubby Fred out in the aisles capturing some moments with his camera!

"Still The One" is a big production (the difference between Tim/Faith and Shania reminds me very much of the distinction between Garth Brooks/Céline Dion two years ago) as this show includes more set and costume changes, backup singers (including her sister Carrie Ann), dancers, screens and special effects. She played all of her biggest hits plus a song she wrote more recently, and we were able to sing along with pretty much everything. The ticket price was definitely money well-spent.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped to check out the beautiful fountain show at the Bellagio, and while we had intended to grab a cab somewhere along the line, we ended up enjoying our last stroll up the Strip to our hotel, where our heads were pretty quick to hit the pillows.

While I had expected it to be a whirlwind of a trip (and we did accomplish an awful lot), a long weekend is more than enough to get a great taste of Vegas, and I'm glad we went down with show tickets booked, but lots of room to go with the flow and not be rushing from one event or location to the next.

If anyone has any questions, please feel free to leave them here, or contact me directly - I'm always happy to help with trip planning!

Friday, November 8

Must-Read Books For Grownups and Kids

Here are the latest titles I'm recommending (and in case you're new here, if I don't like a book I read - whether I've purchased it or received it from a publisher for review - it doesn't make the cut. This blog is about the things I love!)

The Empty Room by Lauren B. Davis

This fictional work follows a day in the life of an alcoholic, with frequent glimpses back into her past. Every time I put it down I couldn't wait to pick it back up again. The way I worded it on Twitter was that I can't relate to alcoholism, but I certainly feel like I have a far better understanding of it now, after reading this book. Plus, Davis is a Canadian-born writer (award-winning, in case that matters to you).

How To Be An Everyday Philanthropist by Nicole Bouchard Boles 

This book for adults has tons of fantastic philanthropic ideas, and only a small section of them involving your cash. It's divided into sections such as "Use Your Body", "Use Your Family", "Use Your Time", "Use Your Trash", etc.

There are many tips in here that my family and I already do, but I picked up some new gems, such as writing letters to ill children. The book is American, but I'd love to find out if there is a system for doing this in Canada. I also decided that I need to start giving blood again - before I had kids I donated blood at least 20 times, and then just stopped and never got back into it, so I have the next local clinic date written in my calendar. Tons of ideas to suit a range of ages, talents, and incomes.

Talk With Your Kids by Michael Parker, M. Ed.

The format of this book is amazing: a great introduction, followed by 109 topics, about 2 pages each, with ready-to-use questions to spark discussions with your children (or students). My "kids" (home and school) are too young, as it's recommended for ages 10-15 but will definitely be holding on to it to use with my daughters or if I ever teach an older grade. Topics include: Music Downloads, Sports, What Is Cheating At School?, Is It Ever Okay To Lie?, Should We Cage Animals?, Housework, Online Etiquette, Making Promises...the list goes on. I can't wait to use the book as a springboard for talking about some of these sensitive and/or controversial topics at home.

David and Goliath: The Brick Bible For Kids  by Brendan Powell Smith

"Brick" means Lego (I'm assuming the author couldn't use the trademarked word) and this book is full of Lego-built illustrations depicting the David and Goliath Bible story. My students loved this book, and the boys especially are eager to reread (and get a closer look at the pictures). It does mention the cutting-off-of-the-head, which some parents may not be comfortable with, but if your child is already familiar with the Old Testament, that detail will be nothing new. The author has also recreated Noah's Ark and The Christmas Story in the same way...I'd love to add those books to my classroom library as well!

What's Bugging Nurse Penny? A Story About Lice by Catherine Stier, Illustrated by Suzanne Beaky

While I will not delve into personal stories about lice at the present moment (I may get there someday), young kids need to know about lice: how it's transmitted (in order to prevent it) and that it has nothing to do with their cleanliness. (Parents need to know this too - and here are so many misconceptions and so much misinformation out there as well...not that I've done a lot of research on it or anything. I've just...heard from a friend.)

This book covers the facts in an entertaining way, and my students really enjoyed listening to the story and asking questions afterwards.

Disclosure: I was provided with some of the above books for review purposes. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Tuesday, November 5

Las Vegas Part I: Tim McGraw/Faith Hill Soul2Soul

After two months of excited planning, my husband's three sisters and I finally made it to Las Vegas!

We turned it into a long weekend, flying out of Toronto on the Friday night and back on the Monday afternoon (I would like to make it very clear to the Ontario taxpayers - especially those whose children I teach - that I requested an UNPAID day off from work).

The dates were picked based on the shows we wanted to see (you can take the girls out of the country, but...) and other than that, we decided to just go with the flow once we arrived.

My Dad chauffeured us to the airport, and with check-in kiosks available and only carry on luggage, the whole process was smooth sailing. Upon our arrival in Vegas, we cabbed it to our hotel - we chose the Excalibur, based more on the fact that it was the most reasonable Strip hotel we could find with an Expedia package than anything else - and went to bed right away, since 11 pm Vegas time felt like 2 am to us. (And if you know me, you know that 2 am is WAY past my bedtime. Even in Vegas!)


On Saturday, we headed up the Strip (the Excalibur is at the south end of the action, so we headed north) and ate at the Hard Rock Café (isn't it a rule that tourists must enjoy the Hard Rock in every city?) At $8.95, their farmers' breakfast was reasonably priced and filling enough to call "brunch".

Once we were fueled up and energized, we were ready to shop. While Vegas has unlimited options for those with unlimited budgets, the closest thing to a back-home "mall" is the Fashion Show Mall, where we spent several hours both browsing and buying. (Keeping in mind that we didn't bring any checked luggage. Two of my SIL's were clever enough to bring empty backpacks as their second carry on item, to fill with their Vegas shopping finds!)

My purchases?

A Kate Spade 2014 planner: (Yes, I still insist on planning on paper, and I love that it includes the fall of 2013 so I can start using it now)

and a small Kate Spade purse: (I've been looking for a little cross-body item that I can use when I don't want to lug around a big purse, and I love how it came with a snap-off strap so it can be used as a clutch as well)

I didn't want to go crazy with souvenirs for my girls, so I just went to Build-A-Bear and picked up a Las Vegas tee and a pair of undies for each girl's bear.

As we continued up the Strip, look who we ran into:

There's so much to see on Las Vegas Blvd, and you don't even have to enter the hotels/casinos to appreciate what they have to offer:

We stopped by the Venetian to pick up our Tim McGraw/Faith Hill Soul2Soul show shirts. There's nothing like some merchandise to get you in the mood for a performance!

After freshening up back at the hotel, we returned to the Venetian for a casual dinner at the Grand Lux Café (fettuccine alfredo and Hershey cheesecake...yum! Oh, and Diet Coke. Sorry to disappoint.) We also took a stroll through the gorgeous promenade area along the indoor "canal", where you can easily be fooled into believing that you're taking a leisurely outdoor walk in Venice (you can even pay for the gondola rides).

Okay. Soul2Soul time. Now I have to attempt to put the concert into words. I'd like to think I'm a fairly cool customer when it comes to stars. I've done many celebrity interviews, and haven't yet turned into a giggling idiot. Nor am I any sort of crazy Tim and Faith fan - I have a couple of their old CDs, and our wedding dance was to Faith's "Breathe", but whatever. They're talented, they're attractive, no big deal.

Yeah, this show was a big deal. The Venetian Theatre is an intimate setting to begin with, seating 1815 visitors (similar to the capacity of the Encore Theatre at the Wynn, where my husband and I saw Garth Brooks perform two years ago).

The opening was amazing: the singers entered from the sides of the theatre and crossed in the aisle right in front of our seats, shaking hands and saying hello while they sang their first song, before proceeding up the side aisles to the stage.

The thing is, when Tim McGraw shakes your hand in the middle of a performance, one can forget for a moment that one is a 36 year old professional woman and a married mother of two. (Over dinner, one SIL had remarked "Tim is really talented and everything, but I've never found him that attractive." An hour later, when asked if she stood by that opinion, her story changed significantly. I would tell you what she said, but it wouldn't be appropriate in print.)

"Intimate" is definitely the word for the show, not only because of the sparks between the husband and wife, but also the contact and interaction with the crowd. It was the best concert atmosphere I've ever seen (and Garth has held that title for the past two years).

I didn't think things could get any better than the opening act, but I loved almost everything about the show. The music was fantastic: each artist performed some of their solo hits (classics and more recent tunes) and of course most of their duets. While "It's Your Love" is a great song (I always loved the video for that one, starring a very pregnant Faith), my favourite was "Like We Never Loved At All."

The venue makes it clear that taking pictures is prohibited (and I totally get that there should be no videos of a show like this) but when Tim came right out and said "This bow tie is driving me crazy, so take all the pictures you want now, because this shit's coming off soon!" my camera was out and ready. (I wished I hadn't been such a rule-follower and had it ready at the start of the show. I know the girls behind us were taking pictures then, so if anyone out there has shots of us shaking the performers' hands, please let me know!)

(Side note: Tim said he wore the tux to emulate George Clooney and impress Faith, who responded appropriately that he's even better looking than George.)

The second time Tim made the rounds of the theatre, I managed to get these shots, again right in front of where we were sitting (the centre section of row AA is the best spot, if you're thinking of buying tickets):

The couple did some off-the-cuff (or rehearsed but appearing to be off-the-cuff) chatting while on stage, and in fact, I would have liked for them to have talked a bit more (that's the only thing I would say I preferred about Garth's) as I am genuinely interested in getting to know the performers better and hearing the stories behind the songs and even their lives in general. (Though I'm sure there are some music fans out there who just want to hear songs, so I realize it's a delicate balance.)

After the show, my adrenaline was high, and it took a while to come back down... but of course my bedtime beckoned again (darn time zone difference)!

We were off to a terrific start in Vegas...stay tuned for Part II!

Friday, November 1

School Roundup: October 2013

It's been a busy month in the Grade 3 class, and at our school! Some highlights from October:

Cross Country

I usually hit the ground running (literally) at the start of the year, coaching our school's Cross Country team. We started the month of October taking our team of 85 students to our Family of Schools meet...where we placed first! This is a big deal for us, as we are a small rural school and very rarely get the gold at sporting events, so we were pretty pumped. This was Frannie's first year participating, and she brought home a silver medal.

Science: Grassy Guys

The Grade 3 Science curriculum in Ontario includes a study of Growth and Changes in Plants, but rather than a more simple bean-seed-in-a-cup experiment, I like to use an idea I found in an old book (What Shall I Grow?) where the kids plant grass seeds in an old sock, and decorate the face with buttons to create their own "Grassy Guy". They love to see the "hair" grow in, and to trim it and give their guy some style.

This poor guy is just starting to sprout some hair!

Writing: Procedural and Descriptive

We are very lucky to currently have a class set of laptops in the room right now, thanks to a pilot project I applied for last year, and the kids use them for almost all of their writing projects.

For procedural writing this month, they were assigned a paragraph giving instructions on how to get ready for school in the morning.

For a descriptive writing piece, students brought in a photo of a recent Halloween costume, and tried to describe it using as many senses as possible. This makes for a great hall display as passers-by are drawn in by the photographs. I also like to have writing pieces up during times of the year when parents will be in (we have progress report interviews in a couple of weeks) so parents can get a clear sense of how their child's writing compares to their peers. It's often difficult to tell whether your child is ahead, behind, or right where he/she should be without anything to compare their work to.


I'm currently reading "James and the Giant Peach" by Roald Dahl. The kids just love his work, and this one brings back memories as I used it in one of my very first ConEd teaching placements. (Available at Chapters.)

Art: Frankenstein Monsters

Another Pinterest find, the kids love this cut-paper task, perfectly timed to go up in the hall the week before Halloween.

Original pin:

Flying Through Space Art

Yes, found on Pinterest, for this one the kids trace their hands and feet, and then add in the other body parts, trying to make it look like they are in a seated position flying (or perhaps floating would be a better word) through space.

Original pin:

Food Drive/Staff Dodgeball Game

Right before Thanksgiving, my Leaders Today group organized a staff vs staff dodgeball game, and students had to bring in non-perishable food items in order to gain admission. We collected almost 250 items for our local Food Bank, which was a lovely way to head in to the Thanksgiving weekend. (And the dodgeball game was a blast...I only wish someone had taken photos that I could share with you...and you would not believe how sore I was afterwards!)


To wrap up the month, a look at Mrs. Winn's Halloween costume (the only "rated G" Wonder Woman attire I could find!):

Have a great November, everyone!

*** Please note, when any student's work is identifiable I do ask permission from the parents to show it here. ***