Sunday, November 23

Hallmark's New Northpole Collection - with GIVEAWAY!

I'm always excited to find a box from Hallmark on my front steps, and the latest delivery did not disappoint. Inside I found a selection of Northpole goodies, all the way from the enchanted city!

My favourites: all of these fun supplies for North Pole-inspired baking! Shown below are Bake Like an Elf Kit with recipe cards, Cookie Wonder Wheel Rolling Cookie Cutter, Northpole Sprinkle Bell, Northpole Cookie Flipper and Spatula and Northpole Big Elf Apron for Adults (it reads "Cookie Maker"; there's also a children's version available reading "Cookie Taster"). Isn't baking even more fun with Christmas-themed supplies?

I had a lot of questions about this Northpole Communicator ($29.95) designed to help you stay connected to Santa and his Northpole friends from December 1st through Christmas, but the special envelope in the box "for big people only" makes it clear(er). My girls are SO excited to get started with it.

Northpole Dance Like an Elf ($19.95) has already been used for some festive Daily Physical Activity in my classroom, as instructions are called out like "Stir the hot chocolate!", "Build a snowman!" and "Ski down the mountain!" It's a fun way to get kids moving when you're indoors.

Shown below: a little polar bear friend with snowglobe, Find Me Santa! Snowflake Christmas Decoration with Light ($9.95, cute for any child, but particularly meaningful for children who may be travelling at Christmas and worried about being found) and Northpole Cozy Nesting Bowls ($9.95, a perfect hostess gift)

Rooftop Drop Game ($9.95, set up this cardboard rooftop and take turns tossing the beanbag- shaped gifts down the chimney, just like Santa might! A cute game for kids, but I could also see it being used "with a twist" for grownup gatherings. I was going to offer it as a prize in my class, but perhaps I should save it for our staff parties!)

As always, Hallmark has you covered, and they're even giving away one "Northpole - Dance Like an Elf" (my students LOVE it!) to a lucky Canadian This Mom Loves reader! All you have to do to enter is leave a comment below letting me know what your favourite Christmas song is (and make sure there's a way for me to contact you). For extra entries, you can also leave additional comments to let me know you follow me on Facebook, Twitter or (NEW!) Instagram or receive my emails (please leave your username for verification).

This giveaway will be open until Monday December 1st at 11:59 p.m. Eastern, after which time a winner will be chosen through random number generation. Good luck!

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

Friday, November 21

My Christmas Decor: A Photo Tour

Today I'm giving you a little tour of my home, all decorated for Christmas (except for the tree, which isn't up yet). A lot of credit this year goes to my creative mother, who came to help me shake things up . We've been in our house 11 years now, and I've been stuck in a bit of a rut in terms of putting the same items in the same places at Christmastime every year. Mom brought a new eye (and a a few new accessories) and Chez Winn is festive and ready for the holidays!

Before I get started, if any of you happen to post about Christmas decorating, I'd love for you to leave a link in the comments, so we can all check it out for even more ideas!

Now, one important note to my dear readers:

I am not a photographer (I have too many other jobs).

I am hoping that you can appreciate (and hopefully get some ideas and inspiration from) my home, through my simple point-and-shoot photography and natural lighting. When I had a mini panic attack and thought "I should iron those bathroom towels for the blog photo!" I realized it was time to put the camera down and give my head a shake. Today I'm sharing what my house *really* looks like, unedited and unfiltered.


Pretty cute for a DIY!

Had to watch video tutorial in order to open my Bath and Body Works hand soap.

Wednesday, November 19

Help Your Kids Get Organized - My CHEX Daily Segment

I love to organize, and I expect organization from my students as well as from my daughters (they're all getting there). Having a (flexible) routine and an assigned place for everything makes life run so much more smoothly, especially at home with kids.

That's why this topic seemed very fitting for my latest "Teacher, Teacher!" segment on CHEX Daily, where I discussed tips with hosts Teresa Kaszuba and Mike Judson for helping your child get organized.

I really found that using rewards with my girls helped to get them in routine initially. I know rewards can get a bad rap sometimes, and that in many situations you want kids' motivation to be intrinsic, but if they don't yet see the value of something (a perfect example is using the potty) then rewards can help get the right habits established, and can be weaned off when the child is ready. I have never seen a school-aged child ask for a Smartie after using the washroom, so clearly the intrinsic motivation takes over at some point. When my daughters had their charts (get dressed, eat breakfast, brush hair, brush teeth, etc.) they would checkmark every task that they completed without reminders, and if they got a set number of checkmarks (not all) they earned their bedtime show. (Screen time works at our house, and my kids are well-rounded so I won't apologize for it.) I also try to highlight for kids how being organized is beneficial ("Because your laundry is away and your rooms are tidy, we get to leave for Grandma's early!", or at school "Because your materials were ready, we got the assignment done so quickly that we have time to play a game now.")

I also firmly believe in having a place for everything, including toys and clothes, so kids are able to organize on their own (once it has been modeled for them, which is an important part of the process). I started my girls with hanging closet organizers, and I would put complete outfits (top, bottoms, underwear, socks) in each cubby, and they could pick their own outfits each day. Then I took away the underwear and socks, because they knew how to get those out of their dressers themselves. The final step was designating drawers for tops and bottoms, and the girls started matching their own outfits. (This was hard for me, I will admit!) Now when the laundry is folded, they take all of their own stuff and put it away exactly where it belongs. They haven't taken to laying out their outfits the night before like I do, but fortunately they don't agonize over style too much yet. (Nor do they really care about matching...)

Having everything packed up in the evenings (agendas, homework, lunches in fridge) can make mornings much smoother too. Our girls make their lunches right after school, and this has become so routine for them that it seems odd when we deviate from the schedule for some reason. (Usually at this time I'm sorting the mail over the recycling bin - only touch items once! - and then signing the planners.)

When it comes to school items, if your child has an agenda or planner, it can really help to put a binder clip in to hold the right page for the week. Often parents/kids will keep the planner open to the current week, but the exposed pages inevitably end up wet, ripped or stained, so it's much better to keep the book closed. Slipping it into a large ziploc bag can help as well. Make it your child's job to put the agenda back in their bag so they are always responsible for it.

We also do "weekly cleanouts" at our house, where the girls dump out all backpack contents and file/dispose as necessary, and do the same with their bedrooms. I've even been known to instruct the kids to "get ready for inspection!" At this time of year, they're motivated to clean out toys and books for donation, because they need to "make room" before they can write their Christmas lists.

Now before I wrap up, just to make sure we're clear: I'm not anywhere close to being "perfectly" organized (I choose to use the term "efficiently organized") and I have rough moments like all parents. My MO seems to be yelling idle morning-rush threats, like last week's "If you aren't in the car in one minute, you won't like the consequences!" Not sure what the consequences were going to be, but fortunately I didn't have to decide. When sharing tips like this I think it's important to keep it real, as I'm highlighting my best practices, but not for a moment claiming that this is how things work in our home 24/7!

Finally, please feel free to leave a comment and share any organizational tips that work in your home, as I'd love to hear them! Next time we'll be delving deeper into the homework routine!

Monday, November 17

"Yes Please" by Amy Poehler: My Mini-Review

I love Amy Poehler's comedy, and I couldn't wait for a library copy of her new book so I picked it up at Chapters (hey, it was 40% off!)

"Yes Please" kept me interested and turning the pages, and I read it over two days. I always love celeb memoirs, as I feel like I'm spending that time sitting in a room with someone I "know" (in this case from movies and TV).

The nosy part of me was disappointed that Amy didn't share more about her marriage to and divorce from actor Will Arnett, but I do have to admire her for only making positive references to the father of her sons.

While I think she may have been a little wild to be my friend earlier in life (she includes "Obligatory Drug Stories") I certainly got a lot of laughs from her memories, and appreciated the inside look into the world of comedy.

Some of my favourite lines:

"Decide what your currency is early. Let go of what you will never have. People who do this are happier and sexier."

"I think middle age begins once you start looking forward to eating dinner before six thirty..." (which for me means I went over the hill at 25).

"As the old saying goes, 'Don't ask for permission to sit on George Clooney's lap, beg for forgiveness once you do.'"

"I learned that how a person treats their waitress is a great indication of their character."

Pick up your copy today...or ask to borrow mine; I'm done with it!

Saturday, November 15

I'm Finally On Instagram!

This post will be short and sweet, dear readers: I finally joined Instagram!

As a blogger who wants to continue to have a social media presence (as well as a teacher and parent who wants to keep up to date with what the kids are doing) I thought it was about time. I also can see a huge difference in the amount of interaction Instagram posts get, compared to when they're posted simultaneously on Twitter. It seems people are much more "like happy" on Instagram, and I will try to follow suit.

Speaking of following, you can find me here:

And unless there's a compelling reason not to (e.g. porn, vegetables), I'll be happy to follow you back.

My very first post was this Throwback Thursday pic of my girls, one of my favourites:

Thanks, everyone!

Friday, November 14

Flashback: Mom's Christmas Décor Photo Tour, 2013

It was late in the season last year when I shared with you a post showing my Mom's Christmas decorations, so I thought I would repost it now to inspire those of you getting a start on your own decorating.

Lucky for me, my mom was willing to take a day to help me with my own seasonal styling this year, which I am thrilled to be sharing with you next week (once the finishing touches and photography are finished)!

For now, a December 2013 flashback.


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.