Tuesday, December 31

The Happiness Project: January

I love nonfiction, and Gretchen Rubin's "The Happiness Project" is one of my all-time faves. It recounts her year-long journey to become happier, with month-by-month goals, and every time I read it, I feel like I'm visiting with a friend.

I chose this book for our book club's next selection, and have threatened my fellow members that I won't even set a date for our meeting until they have all actually read the book! (Because *occasionally* it happens that everyone hasn't read the book. Which usually isn't a big deal, because *occasionally* we actually discuss the selected title.)

This book isn't a quick-fix, and not meant for those dealing with serious issues like clinical depression, but instead it's the story of one woman's journey to get even happier. And while some may see that as a selfish or trivial goal, I know that my happiness has a direct impact on that of my husband and children, not to mention my coworkers and the students in my class. The author also makes it clear that it's not reasonable to expect blissful happiness 24/7, but just think: if you can take yourself from 50% of the time to 75% of the time, imagine the difference that could make in your life.

While I've read the book several times, I thought this year I'd try to follow along with the monthly goals, and see how my journey compares, and how I can gain more happiness in my life, not just for my own sake, but for the benefit of the others in my life as well.

January: Boost Energy (Vitality)

Gretchen's goals were:

  • Get to sleep earlier. This is certainly one I don't have to worry about, as it has been a huge priority for my entire adult life to get my sleep. On work nights, I'm in bed between 9 and 10 and the alarm goes off at 6, which seems to work for me. On weekends, I adjust accordingly. I fully believe that getting sleep has a huge impact on mood, productivity and overall health so it's a very worthwhile goal.
  • Exercise better. Again, I find this plays a role in my stress level, and I attribute some of the calm I experienced this past fall with the fact that I was getting on the treadmill regularly. For me, that means 30 means of  brisk walking, 4 or 5 times per week. Since weight loss isn't a goal for me, this meets my needs. Plus, I'm able to watch TV, read magazines or even use my treadmill desk to do a bit of web-surfing while I walk. While that might seem counter-intuitive for stress reduction, there are nights when I wouldn't be getting on the treadmill at all without the opportunity to respond to emails or edit an article at the same time.
  • Toss, restore, organize. Amen! Gretchen needed a lot more help with this than I do. I swear, I get a high from organizing and getting rid of things. My house is pretty much as pared-down as it can be (considering that I don't throw out any of my daughter's belongings without their permission. Ish.) In this chapter, Gretchen writes of the joy that comes from an empty shelf, and I find the same feeling from having an empty drawer in my dresser or vanity. So much promise, and definitive proof that that I don't have too much stuff.

  • Tackle a nagging task: for Gretchen, this included getting a light fixed and going for a skin-cancer check. For me, it was getting the bedroom carpets cleaned on the holidays. I've been hesitant to go anything with the girls' rooms, as I couldn't decide whether to upgrade to hardwood or wait a few years, and then we wanted to get them blackout blinds and I thought we should wait until we redecorate to make sure everything goes together...so nothing was getting done. Committing to cleaning the carpets and living with them for a few more years is a start. I think for the girls' spring birthdays we'll let them select new bedding and paint colours, and they'll be all set to sleep in with new blinds by summertime!
  • Act more energetic. Huh? Well, it's true...sometimes you have to fake it til you make it. And I don't want to be that annoying person complaining every day about how tired I am. (Again: if you're dealing with a medical issue and have chronic fatigue, I'm not talking about you.) There's a big difference between "my child threw up six times last night so I haven't slept" (which definitely gets my sympathy) and "I'm so tired!" repeated on an hourly loop, on a daily basis. Get to bed! 

Something Gretchen didn't include that I want to try is drinking more water. I've read that dehydration can cause you to feel sluggish, and I usually just drink at mealtimes. I'm going to make more of an effort to get that H20 into my body. How can it hurt? (There's a staff washroom right around the corner from my classroom and the teacher next door doesn't mind covering for me, so I'm good there.) I'm also trying to remember to take my multivitamin every single night. Lord knows I need it, as my diet lacks several important vitamins.

What resolutions can you make this month to help restore your energy, and boost your happiness?

Friday, December 27

Looking For Input: Disciplining 9-11 year olds

Do you have a child between the ages of 9 and 11? I'd love to get some input for an article I'm working on about disciplining kids in this age group.

What "little kid" discipline techniques don't work anymore?
What behaviour issues begin to crop up at this age?
What strategies work well now?
Do you go with reward or punishment or a combination of both?
What motivates your child (e.g. having technology taken away, grounding, promises to have a special outing/purchase something, etc.)

If you have a response in mind for even one of these questions, I'd be thrilled for you to share it (you don't have to reply to everything, and I don't use real names without permission!) I love getting feedback from people I know, but it's also really important to get a range of viewpoints from moms and dads all over the country, so please don't think that your input doesn't matter - it does!

You can leave a comment below or e-mail me directly at katewinn77 at yahoo dot ca.

Thanks in advance for helping me with my holiday homework!

Thursday, December 19

Trista Sutter: The "Happily Ever After" Momterview

As the original Bachelorette, Trista Sutter found love on reality television with Colorado firefighter Ryan Sutter. Still happily married after ten years, this mom of two (son Max is 6, daughter Blakesley is 4) has recently published a book, "Happily Ever After: The Life-Changing Power of a Grateful Heart". It isn't a memoir (though she does share lots of the details we want to know about marriage, parenthood and her TV experiences) but instead a reminder about how important it is to be grateful, incorporating research and her own gratitude stories, as well as those of her friends, family and even strangers.

"Expressing your gratitude isn't an extra," Trista writes. "It's everything."

As part of the usual press circuit (start with Robin Roberts on Good Morning America, next co-host The View, then talk to Kate Winn at This Mom Loves), new author Trista kindly agreed to answer some questions for me and my readers.

Photo by Morgan Matters Photography

This Mom: You have so many fans out there who would have been interested in anything you wanted to write. Why did you choose the topic of gratitude?  

Trista Sutter: I really want it to be something meaningful.  I didn't want to write something, just to have my face on the cover of a book, but for the stories included to be authentic to who I am and to touch readers in a moving way.  Every night on social media, I post my #favepartofday as a way to focus on the positive and reflect on the good things, especially if it was a bad day.  It started from there and then ended up taking shape through the stories of others who have inspired me, as well as the research that I found (and have included) from the world of Positive Psychology.  

TM: What tricks do you have for pulling yourself out of a slump if you’re having a not-so-grateful day? 

TS: I try to take a time-out, breathe, and let myself be frustrated or sad or anxious, but then pick myself up and focus on one of the things I'm most grateful for.  That usually ends up being my kids, but for those who aren't parents, it can be anything...the fact that you ARE breathing, or that you have the capability to feel, or that you are healthy and have a roof over your head.  If you allow yourself to experience the rough spots, give yourself grace, and focus on picking yourself up and heading in a positive direction, sometimes that's all you can do.  

TM: Happy tenth anniversary! What made you decide to renew your vows, and to do it on national television? (Trista and Ryan celebrated their anniversary on December 6th, renewing their vows in a December 14th ceremony which will air on ABC  January 19th.) 

TS: Thank you!  We wanted to celebrate this milestone and be able to incorporate our children into an official ceremony focused on our love. Because we met and married on television, we also wanted to share it not only with our immediate family and closest friends, but with the fans who have been so supportive over the years.  

TM: Why do you think you and Ryan have been able to make it, when most of The Bachelor/Bachelorette couples have not?  

TS: I can't speak to the other couples, but I can tell you a few of the reasons that I think Ryan and I have been able to make it to 10 years...respect, friendship, love, commitment, trust, honesty, effort, communication, moving to Colorado, keeping each other and our family as a top priority, forgiveness, fun, values, and a very strong support system.  

TM: What are your tips for keeping a marriage strong?  

TS: Make sure to keep your relationship as a top priority.  Make time with each other.  Put as much time and effort into your relationship as your career and your hobbies, stay committed and grateful, and your marriage will stay strong.

TM: I get the strong impression from the book that you have no plans to return to physical therapy, but you do hint that you may not yet have found your “final professional path”. What do you think will be next in terms of work? 

TS: Physical therapy is definitely something that was in my past, mostly because my mommy brain has removed everything I knew from my memory!  In talking about my final professional path, I'm not sure, but I absolutely LOVE where I am right now and could see continuing on in the literary world as a children's author...at least that's a hope!

TM: How would you complete the sentence "This Mom Loves..."?

TS: This Mom Loves with a grateful heart.  

Thanks so much, Trista! "Happily Ever After" is available in stores and online now (you know your hubby hasn't shopped yet; put this on your list!), and you can follow Trista on Twitter (and learn her favourite part of every day) here: https://twitter.com/tristasutter.

Bachelor/Bachelorette fans may also be interested in my recent interview with Jillian Harris, too!

Monday, December 16

Mom's Christmas Decor: A Photo Tour

Christmas is my holiday because of my mom. For as long as I can remember, she has made it special with tunes playing (Kenny Rogers/Dolly Parton and Roger Whittaker), treats mixing (Sweet Marie bars and butterscotch marshmallow squares), fire burning (okay, Dad gets credit for that one) and fun wrapping (there were always codes on my brother's and my gifts under the tree, so we didn't know whose were whose until we cracked the code!)

One of the best parts of Christmas at my parents' house has always been the decorating. While her styles and budget have varied over the years, she manages to put a bit of Christmas in every room of the house without every going too far, and changes things up every year. (Whereas I could pretty much decorate my house in my sleep, since everything seems to go in the same place.) Plus, her arrangements are not pre-made and purchased; she just somehow has an eye for putting things together...way better than I do. (We teach the students about learning styles, and while I score pretty high for Verbal/Linguistic, my Visual/Spatial skills are...well...they aren't.)

We went to visit this past weekend, and as soon as I stepped inside, I was overwhelmed with a wonderful festive feeling, and grabbed my Dad's camera in order to give you a bit of a tour. The lighting helped set the mood, of course, which isn't visible in the photos, but hopefully you still get the idea.

(She paid $1 each for the urns, and filled them herself)

I guess this is where I get my love for a blue and silver tree from.

The well-loved nativity set. Every Christmas Eve, the youngest person present places Baby Jesus in the manger, a tradition I use in my classroom as well.

She won this tree in a draw, covered in blue and pink - perfect to display the yearly photo ornaments of her grandson and three granddaughters!

Thanks, Mom, for letting me share these photos...and for making Christmas so special for us every year. Now that I'm a mother too, you inspire me to do the same for my girls, so that they will grow up with the same feelings of warmth, joy, peace and love that you gave us.

Thursday, December 12

Christmas Craft Morning

On Wednesday morning, six moms bravely descended upon my classroom to assist with the Grade 3 Christmas Craft morning.

Here's what we accomplished (with my new Mariah Carey "Merry Christmas" CD playing in the background - my first teacher gift of the year -  and the Holiday Yule Log video playing on the SmartBoard. I have to set the scene for you!)

The hot-ticket station was definitely the Your Fresh Market Gingerbread cookie-pop/gingerbread kids assembly station, with the kits kindly provided by Walmart ($6 per kit available at Walmart for the holiday season).  The students loved being able to put together their peanut-free treats and decorate them as they wished (bonus: there are some extras for my girls at home, too).

One of my favourite activities is the lightbulb penguin ornament. I originally found this on Pinterest, though the link is broken now, it was from etsy.com:

(Last year I asked parents to send in used lightbulbs. This year I was less environmentally friendly - sorry! - and purchased them at the dollar store. At 50 cents a bulb it was a great deal.)

Here are a couple of samples from my class:

Our third station was another ornament-making task. A parent from the school sent in a huge bag full of these cardboard discs (they may look edible in the photo but trust me, you don't want to take a bite):

I tried to come up with a craft where I could use them (because sometimes I try to think green and reuse!), and I decided to have the kids cut wrapping paper to cover both sides of the discs, and then attach the mini stickers we receive from the school photo company (not shown) which include a small picture of the student, their name, and the year. We hole-punched the top and looped ribbon through, and voila - a cute keepsake for the tree.

At the final centre, kids had the opportunity to use leftover foam pieces which I've collected over the last few years to make Christmas cards for friends and family members:

Thanks again to Walmart for supplying the cookie kits, and to the moms who gave their mornings to come and help out (I'm hoping my tray of Keurig selections will keep them coming back!) My students are pretty bright and independent, but for tasks like this, the more help the better - plus students this age love to have an adult from home come and spend time in their classroom.

Let the countdown continue!

Tuesday, December 10

Adventures In Freelance Writing: Volume I (My Top 5 Tips)

Preface: My "adventures in freelance writing" posts are intended to be "self help" for those aspiring writers who may be less experienced that I am, but will likely fit more into the "humour" genre for those pros who have been around the (writer's) block a lot more often. Feel free to chuckle at my many faux pas!


From a very early age, I knew that teaching was going to be in my future, but I have always loved writing too. Stories, letters, diary entries...when I wasn't reading, I was writing. At the age of nine, I was already considering being a professional author, but it was a long time before I actually did anything to make that dream come true.

It was October of 2008, and I was on mat leave with my second daughter. She was a few months old, napping on schedule and sleeping through the night, leaving me with a bit of extra time and the desire to pursue some mental stimulation (and supplementary income) while at home. I decided the time was right to put out some feelers about freelance work. As an avid magazine reader, I was very excited about the idea of contributing to the publications that I loved so much, so I got to work. I can vividly remember being away for a weekend in Kingston with hubby, and poring over the magazine racks at Indigo on Princess Street, arming myself with resources. I also checking out library books on freelance writing for magazines and read articles online, wanting to be as prepared as possible.

I figured I had some pretty good ideas, so I started pitching the general email address, e.g. submissions@greatmagazine.ca at different magazines (mostly parenting), waiting for the replies to come rolling in. And waiting. And waiting. I received very few replies, and the ones that did come through were clearly form letters. So discouraging!

The funny thing is that very soon, within weeks of starting to pitch, I actually got a bite - within less than an hour - from a national editor who was wanting to assign an article on the topic I pitched, but with a different angle, and would I be interested? Would I! Over the next couple of weeks I spent as much time as possible drafting, researching, interviewing and revising, and proudly submitted my article. The thing is (rookie mistake alert!), apparently I was supposed to wait for a contract and assignment details before beginning. Of course I was humiliated enough to stew over it for a few weeks, my cheeks hot every time I thought about it, but the paperwork was forthcoming and I completely rewrote the piece to actually meet the criteria assigned. This was October, and I wasn't told which issue my work would be in, so I frantically checked each one...until my article finally appeared in May. My first national byline!

In the meantime, I had contacted the editor of a local parenting magazine who was very interested in my work, and I began writing for them on a steady basis. They were open to having me pitch my own ideas, though for some issues they gave suggestions or options which was fantastic.The pay was considerably less than national magazines (as in, about 10-20% of what the biggies pay), but with lots of editorial freedom, which is so important. I did this for a long time, writing over a dozen articles.

In the midst of all this local writing, I pitched an idea to a smaller national magazine, and the editor phoned me (one of only two times in 3 years that I have ever spoken with an editor over the phone) and offered me a one-page, point-form piece on different ways to get rid of "stuff" (yard sale, Kijiji, etc.). It paid $200, which was a nice chunk for a small article, plus it gave me another tear-sheet for my growing portfolio (a pretty binder filled with sheet protectors - quite simple).

I also heard from the editor of a large American magazine, who had kept a snail-mail pitch on file and was now interested. I replied eagerly...and heard nothing. So I followed up again...nothing. Weeks later she told me that they didn't currently have room, but still liked the idea, so I should follow up again in a couple of months, which of course I did, and...nothing. I gave up hope eventually, but I think it's important to share stories like this here, so that hopeful writers realize how common these sorts of false starts are.

In January of 2010 I launched my blog, which gave me a creative outlet and a place to link up to all of my published work, but it would be a while before any paid writing opportunities were available in my role as a blogger.

With all of the busy-ness of being a Mom, working as a full-time teacher and maintaining a blog, my pitching efforts subsided, and I can see in my e-mail files that that my last pitch for that time period was sent on August 3, 2010. It was time for a break!

The top five things I learned from my first year and a half in the freelance writing trenches:

1. Big magazines may pay bigger, but if you don't write anywhere you don't earn anything. You have to start somewhere (even though I had a one-shot big start, and then backtracked for a while). Build up a portfolio, and try a few different publications (so you can drop more than one magazine name into your query letters).

2. For me, pitching to American magazines was a waste of time. (Especially since at that time, some of them still wanted snail mail pitches with SASE for replies! I just came across a few of my SASE's from back then in the filing cabinet!) Maybe you've got the perfect idea for an international magazine and they'll snatch it up...but it's a much bigger pond.

3. While some experts advise against "multiple submissions" (sending the same pitch to more than one publication at a time) I think newbies should go for it since, let's be honest, the odds of anyone grabbing it are slim. Send it to a dozen (or more) places, and have your next idea ready to go. Make sure to track this information in some sort of chart or spreadsheet with the name of the publication, date sent, and response. 

4. I did have the disappointing experience of being asked for a certain number of words by a magazine, and then having my piece cut to half that length and only being paid for the words printed (which may have been in the fine print of my contract). It was disappointing, because I didn't even know until the article came out that it was being cut, and was expecting a paycheque based on the words submitted. Every other time I have submitted an article to a magazine I have been paid based on the number of words assigned and submitted (or the flat fee agreed-upon in advance), so my point is: read contracts carefully (and if there isn't a formal contract, get all the details in writing - email is fine as long as you keep it!)

5. Before I began writing, I don't recall ever going for a job interview where I did not get the position. Getting used to rejection is a BIG part of freelance work.


Next up, in Adventures In Freelance Writing: Volume II - my revitalized writing career, how I broke into the national market, and my almost-interview with a superstar!

Friday, December 6

Want To Sleep Better? Tylenol's Sleep-Centre.ca Can Help

So, how'd you sleep last night?

If your answer is "Oh, it was a full eight hours, uninterrupted, and I woke up this morning feeling fantastic!" then you don't need to the read the rest of this post. But please leave a comment and share your secret!

For the rest of us, a good night's sleep can be quite elusive.

I've written before about the fact that, since university, I've pretty much been an early-to-bed, early-to-rise kind of gal (which sleep experts say is a good thing) but though I'm spending the time in bed, that doesn't mean I'm actually sleeping. (Now, now, that's not what I mean!)

First of all, I'm a light sleeper (apparently I always have been), and once I'm awake the struggle to recapture the zzzz's starts again, which was terrible when my girls were babies. I would get up, tend to my little one, get her back to sleep, and then stare at the ceiling for an hour before I could join her in slumberland. Now there are far fewer night interruptions (though last week there was a "Mommy! I dreamed about a witch and now I'm scared!" 2 a.m. call. (I suggested happier thoughts: the upcoming PJ day at daycare, a visit with Grandma, starting the Advent calendar) and in the morning she ran into my room and said "Thanks for the tips! They worked!"

Can you believe my seven year old loves to wear this to bed?

The biggest problem for me is that I regularly have difficulty falling asleep. Hubby will be sawing logs beside me, and I will be wishing that blessed sleep would come to me too. I know I have trouble clearing my mind (with two plus twenty-one kids to worry about), and list making helps with that, but sometimes I'm truly not stressed about anything, I'm exhausted and still nothing. Deep breathing with some sort of mantra seems to work best (counting is distracting for me, and music with lyrics is awful too).

(On a related note: I was recently reading "Sarah Plain and Tall" to my students, and there was a part in the novel where a character went to bring in livestock before a storm, and she "counted the sheep". I remarked to the class "Wow - and she didn't even fall asleep!" Nothing. Blank stares. Come on, that was funny, right?)

I'm always searching for tips for a better night's sleep, so I was excited to check out Tylenol's new Sleep-Centre.ca website, which offers fun animated videos and tons of facts and suggestions with an ultimate goal of helping you sleep well.

How To Fall Asleep: A video about light-sleeping "Jen":

From the site, I learned that I already do some things well:

  • Avoiding caffeine (which for me means Diet Coke) in the evenings (when I was pregnant I found I couldn't drink it at all - I swear even a lunchtime Diet Coke impacted my night's sleep)
  • Keeping the bedroom dark: last summer we invested in blackout drapes for the bedroom window and it made a huge difference (this summer the girls are getting them too!)
  • Exercising: since school started, I have managed to get on the treadmill almost every day after work, and I'm sure that helps
  • Maintaining a bedtime routine: I have to say though, since LASIK, I no longer have to take my contacts out at night (which Gretchen Rubin, author of "The Happiness Project" so adeptly compares to putting the cover over the birdcage at night) but other little rituals still get the brain and body ready for bed. This works for kids too: when the girls were babies, there was a particular classical song I would play as I walked them around the nursery before putting them down at night, and as soon as they heard the first notes they would begin to fuss, knowing what was coming, but then quickly settle and not make a peep when set down.
  • Keeping work out of the bedroom: I never do school work or write in bed

A quick snapshot of my sleep sanctuary

Suggestions from the site on how I could get an even better night's sleep:

  • Trying a white noise machine/app 
  • Avoiding electronics right before bed: I always give my phone a last look, and though I rarely find anything stressful, I know even the light can have an impact
  • Reading a book: I love to read before going to sleep, but hubby usually wants the light out - so perhaps a small reading light or an e-reader would be a good idea! (Lately I've been catching up on the first two seasons of "Scandal" on my laptop before I go to sleep, which I'm sure is not a slumber-friendly activity!) 

To be honest, I really can't complain too much about the sleep I get, and I rarely walk around feeling tried in a sleepy way (though sometimes physically drained from the day's tasks). However, I firmly believe in the power of sleep (supposedly it helps with everything from weight loss to immunity to athletic performance) and it's always a high priority for me.

Check out the Tylenol/Sleep-Centre.ca site for more education about sleep cycles, great articles like Eat Right For a Good Night's Sleep and How To Overcome Sleep Jet Lag (wish I'd read that one before Vegas!) as well as a list of great gadgets, apps and sleep aids (sure, Tylenol Nighttime is one of them - find a $4 off coupon for Tylenol Nighttime here -  but there are tons of other fantastic ideas too).

Disclosure: This post was generously sponsored by Tylenol Nighttime, but the opinions and images are my own. For more information, visit:


Wednesday, December 4

NOVICA Fair Trade Artisans - Win a $150 Gift Certificate!!!

Perhaps you've already heard of NOVICA, one of the leading fair trade artisan websites, but I was just introduced to this gem of a site a couple of weeks ago.

NOVICA works with National Geographic to give talented artisans around the world a place to express their artistic talents and provide access to the world market, and they have thousands of top fair trade corporate gifts, accessories, jewelry and home decor items on their website.

Shopping categories include jewelry, fashion, home decor, paintings, unique gifts...they even have a wedding collection! You can choose by the region you want to support (Brazil, India, Mexico, West Africa, etc.) and with over 30,000 handmade treasures to choose from, you're sure to find something for everyone. (Don't miss their "Daily Deal" on the homepage as well!)

What I love about NOVICA is knowing that my purchase can make an impact on someone who truly needs it...it's feel-good shopping!

I browsed the site to see what ideas I could come up with for the members of my household:

For Seven Year Old Frannie:

For Five Year Old Maggie:

For my husband (he likes to have greeting cards on hand for staff/school community, and he and would appreciate knowing that there was a story behind these ones):

For me!

Tree of Knowledge bookends:

And...not sure why i'm on a tree theme but...

It's not too late to shop for Christmas! Shipping usually takes 2-3 weeks, but look for the green bow symbol beside certain items guaranteeing arrival before Christmas. You may want to consider some of the following categories:

NOVICA has generously provided a $150 gift certificate for one lucky This Mom Loves reader! All you have to do to enter is fill out the Rafflecopter form below (I keep experimenting with different methods of entry and Rafflecopter seems to work well.) Extra entries for leaving a comment about NOVICA, or following This Mom Loves on Twitter, Facebook, or through e-mail.

The contest will end on Thursday, December 19th at midnight Eastern time...good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway