Friday, May 29

Our Basement Family Room - The Big Reveal!

Yes, we used to have a beautiful red family room. After several coats of primer and paint and some new leather furniture, I found out I was pregnant (this was 10 years ago) and suddenly the room smelled so terrible to me that I didn't get to use it for several weeks! It took so much effort to get our room red that we swore we wouldn't be repainting it for a while...but one decade is my cutoff for living with the same wall colour.

Today I'm sharing my newly-redecorated family room, as well as a few tidbits about decorating choices and accessories. First off, the paint is Charcoal Slate by Dulux, and I love it. The carpet is a fresh Berber, similar to what we had before, but with more of a dark-flecked pattern to it. (I know, I know - my husband told me when we built the house 12 years ago that I wouldn't want a light carpet, but I insisted!)

Here's a shot of the main part of the room (and no, it's not even staged for your benefit - I have issues with clutter).

If you look off to the right, you can see the my very favourite accessory: our new canvas from Posterjack. I've received promotions from them in the past, but the timing was never quite right to feature them on the blog. When looking for something personalized for our new room, I realized a photo on canvas would be the perfect thing! Posterjack was kind enough to provide me with a code for a 20 x 28 canvas, so I went to their site, uploaded my photo, chose the edging (there are three different options), and that was it! It takes a few days to process and a few more to ship, and then our new piece of art was at our door:

Isn't it beautiful? My husband took this shot of the girls on his phone Thanksgiving weekend 2013 when we took them for a walk on a trail near our home. It was totally spontaneous, and we thought it was so sweet the way they had their arms around each other as they walked (with my childhood Cabbage Patch Doll peeking out from Frannie's arms - hello, Marcelle Iona...or, more accurately, Marcelle Iona Robin Amelia Tracy Theresa Anne Jennifer Leona Leahy. I didn't want to leave anyone out!)

I was very impressed with Posterjack's service and the quality of the canvas...and I think it's super special to have such a personalized piece of art on the wall. (It doesn't hurt that it's right beside the treadmill, for extra inspiration.)

My Uncle Bernard drew this picture of my late Grandpa Leahy, based on a photograph. I thought it was a neat mix to put it on the same shelf as these punctuation symbols from Bouclair.

I'm going through a grey-and-yellow-accents thing (as you know, if you saw my bathroom reno
and these cushions from Bouclair fit the bill perfectly.

A few shots of yellow, like these candle holders from Bouclair, brighten up the very neutral space.

I love this piece of art (Bouclair) not only because it's different, but also because it shares lines of scripture from one of the readings we had at our wedding.

My favourite place to be, in the whole house, is sitting in front of the fireplace. We kept the mirror we had above the mantel, as well as the candle holders and silver "stick stuff" (proper term, anyone?), and subbed in some more pops of yellow.

We always end up watching TV under the blankets, so it was my goal to find some to match the new colour scheme, so I wouldn't feel the obsessive need to fold them up and hide them away after every use. I got these two for $26 at JYSK - you get what you pay for, and the stitching isn't going to last forever, but they go with the new look, and birds are very in right now.

Have I ever told you how much I love my treadmill desk? I do so much blogging, social media work and reading while walking, and as a productivity-junkie, it really motivates me to be able to get things done while I'm exercising. (The treadmill also directly faces the TV - I get caught up on my PVR while I walk as well.) You can see Maggie down in the corner of this photo - under orders to tidy up the play corner so it could be photographed!

I finally found the perfect table tray at Home Outfitters. "Some people" can't understand why the remotes and tissue box can't just sit directly on the table, but it seems a lot more streamlined to me when they're corralled inside one accessory! And yes, I did write "yellow Kleenex box" on the grocery list.

Another pop of yellow at the bottom of the stairs (canvas from Bouclair)

Previously, the girls had a huge number of toy bins in the back half of the room. After the renovation, we decided that they could keep one thing out at a time, and right now it's the dolls, and they have a cute little corner set up for playing. (I find that Maggie is very into Barbies these days, and she's also at an age where she loves to be near me, so this is perfect, nice and close to the treadmill.) It seems like only yesterday she was strapped into her baby swing, watching me walk!

A few parting shots:

Disclosure: I was provided with the photo canvas from Posterjack for review purposes. Everything else was purchased with cold, hard cash. Okay, fine, Visa. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Tuesday, May 26

Rocky Mountain Reno: Trista and Ryan Sutter's New HGTV Show

{Warning to my Canadian friends: I hate to disappoint you, but Rocky Mountain Reno is not airing in Canada...yet!}

When Trista Sutter emailed me and asked if I'd be interested in sharing the details of her new HGTV pilot, Rocky Mountain Reno (premiering Sunday May 31st) I had to say yes! 

She and hubby Ryan (yes, they're one of the Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise couples who really seems to be living happily ever after) are taking the opportunity to show why they love Colorado so much and helping families find and renovate their idyllic mountain homes in the process.

Trista promises lots of banter between a couple married for 11 years (when my husband of 14 years and I renovate together I wouldn't exactly call our conversation "banter", so let's hope they keep it clean!) as well as cameos from son Max and daughter Blakesley.

With Trista's love of interior design coupled with Ryan’s background in architecture and building, they bring a lot of expertise to the show, and I personally find the two of them just so darn likable - making them perfect HGTV stars, just like our Canadian faves such as Drew and Jonathan Scott, Sarah Richardson, and another former Bachelorette Jillian Harris.

The Rocky Mountain Reno pilot is airing Sunday, May 31st on HGTV (check your local listings for times). 

I couldn't let Trista get away without asking for her take on Bachelorette Kaitlyn's season so far, and here's what she had to say: 

"I try to be supportive of all Bachelorettes since I was in their shoes (a VERY long time ago!), but I don’t have to try very hard with Kaitlyn. I love her!!   I LOVE that she is a combination of beauty, brains, humor, charisma, and spunk!  She is fully committing to the process and I just hope that her commitment proves successful at the end and she finds her way to a happy ending!"

If you missed it, you can find my Happily Ever After momterview with Trista Sutter here

Monday, May 25

Adventures in Freelance Writing Volume V: Editors Share Pitching Tips

This post is dedicated to Tracy Chappell (1973-2015), the late senior editor of Today's Parent. It seems fitting as Tracy accepted several of my pitches - though admittedly not all! She was a very supportive editor, and I was lucky to have worked with her. It's hard to imagine the loss of a mother with girls the same ages as mine, and I join the Today's Parent team, along with her family and friends, in mourning her passing. 


One of the biggest questions freelancers have is how to perfect the art of the pitch. While every editor is different, I thought it would be informative - and fun - to ask a few of my favourite editors for their best gem of advice for writers trying to break into their publications.

Here are their thoughtful contributions, in their own words:

Sandra Martin
Multiplatform Editorial Director, Canadian Living

A mistake that I see rookies and longtime pro writers make over and over is to pitch a story that's been covered by the magazine within the past year. Take some time and read a year's worth of back issues (this is literally one of the first things you're taught in journalism school). It could be that a story merits updating with new information the freelancer has access to; if that's the case, then include that in your pitch, along with why the update is merited.


Karine Ewart
Editor-in-Chief, Chatelaine

My number one recommendation for all freelancers is, if they are new to the publication they are pitching, contact someone closer to the bottom of the masthead. Going straight to the EIC may not be the most efficient way of getting your pitch the attention it deserves. Look for an assistant or associate editor to reach out to, as they are interested in growing their roster of fabulous writers, too. Finally, face-to-face meetings are much more effective than emails or random phone calls; take a junior editor out for a coffee and they will be much more willing to listen to you.


Sasha Emmons
Editor-in-Chief, Today's Parent

The most important thing I look for — and I rarely see — is to build a case for your pitch using digital metrics. Even for a story that originates in print, you can show there’s an audience for it by using analytics from free tools like Buzzsumo, Google Trends, and the Google Adwords Keyword Tool. So, for instance, if you can show that searches for “ADHD" spike at a certain time of year, or that searches for “ADHD medication” are on the rise, you’re proving that there’s an audience for your story. Add in a unique POV, and you’ve got an assignment!


Janice Biehn
Editor-in-Chief, Parents Canada

  • Do as much research as you can to determine whether the publication has recently covered the same topic
  • I get a lot of pitches from bloggers. If you are a blogger, be sure to demonstrate that you understand the difference between a blog post and a piece of reporting and that you will do the reporting required for a magazine article
  • If you are sending a link to writing samples, send the actual links, not a link to your website or blog. We don’t have time to parse through and look for your writing samples. We are also very lazy that way. : )


Sydney Loney
Health Director, Chatelaine
Editor-in-Chief, Canadian Health and Lifestyle

I get so many pitches and often they start with long, rambling paragraphs that talk around the idea, or explain at length who the writer is. No one has time to read those kinds of pitches anymore. So, my advice is to "think sales." Basically, your job as a freelancer is to sell your idea to an editor – and if you can't write your idea in a quick and compelling single sentence (the elevator sales pitch), then you don't have a story. So, lead with that and then quickly and smartly substantiate your idea to show both that you've done your research (i.e. that you know the editor, the magazine, the audience and why your story is timely) and that you have a solid plan for executing the story.


Amy Bielby
Managing Editor, Parents Canada

1: Get the name of the magazine right!!! We get so many pitches for Today’s Parent or Canadian Family—and that drives me nuts. I usually won’t respond.

2: In school, I learned how to write queries and they were quite long—typically a page in Word. Don’t do that. I like short, to-the-point queries. If you are pitching a 500-word article, the pitch itself should NOT be 500 words. Get to the point. Describe the main points of the article, the sources you have in mind, and in which section of the magazine it would appear.

3: Don’t suggest a column or a series of articles. Do you know how hard it is to land a column? And most magazines do not have the room for a regular column.


Thanks so much for taking the time to share, ladies - and I hope your inboxes show the results!

Random observation: my husband always tells me that I need to smile with my teeth more on TV and in photos...and I noticed all of these ladies use gorgeous teeth-smile shots on social media. Not at all related to pitching, but no post of mine would be complete without one of my deep thoughts.

You can catch up on the entire Adventures in Freelancing series here:

Thursday, May 21

My Faves From the Today's Parent List of Top 100 Canadian Kids' Books of All Time

When Today's Parent recently released a list of the Top 100 Canadian Kids' Books of All Time, (based on expert input from coast to coast) I thought it was a great great that I decided to chat about it with CHEX Daily hosts Teresa Kaszuba and Mike Judson in my latest Teacher, Teacher appearance.

In this segment, I share some of my favourite picks from the list at various age levels (the folks at Today's Parent have conveniently colour-coded the list by age group).

Remember, providing your kids with great literature doesn't have to break the bank. Your public library will have most of these titles (I love to search the online catalogue and put books on hold if they're not currently on the shelf) and your child's school librarian would be thrilled to help you out. Pick your must-reads and send a note to school with your child - free backpack delivery included!

Image courtesy of Today's Parent

The books I showed on-air were:

The Paper Bag Princess - Robert Munsch
The Party - Barbara Reid
Something From Nothing - Phoebe Gilman
The Hockey Sweater - Roch Carrier
Owls in the Family - Farley Mowat
This Can't Be Happening at Macdonald Hall - Gordon Korman
Elijah of Buxton - Christopher Paul Curtis
The Breadwinner - Deborah Ellis
Silverwing - Kenneth Oppel

(Oh, and for those of you who have already asked: my nails are "Gilded Leopard" Jamberry wraps!)

By the way, if you're a new CHEX Daily viewer thinking perhaps I was a little diggy with host Mike Judson near the end, you should know that in almost every one of my segments he manages to mention how much he hated school as a I really was happy to hear there was a book he liked. Off-air he clarified with me that he has always loved to read - as long as no one told him he had to!

If you don't have a copy of the June issue of Today's Parent, you can click here for a printable version of the full list, and don't miss the Chapters Indigo giveaway where you can win ALL 100 books! (Contest ends 6/12/15.)

I tried to think of a classic book missing from the list and I couldn't do it...can you?

Monday, May 18

Little Live Pets - When Your Mom Is Too Mean To Get You a Real One

Yes, I'm a mean horrible mother who won't allow her daughters to have pets.

Not real ones, anyway.

I thought perhaps I could make up for it in part when I had the opportunity to review Little Live Pets. My rule for the girls now is that if they want to receive products or services through the blog, they have to be willing to do the legwork and come up with the reviews. They happily agreed!

The day their items arrived, I picked them up from the post office before school (the woman who runs the post office was quite amused by the chirping coming from the box), and the girls eagerly met me in my classroom to tear into them. Can you tell they were a little bit excited?

After a couple of weeks, here's their feedback.

"Frannie", my nine-year old:

"I got the Tweet Talking owl and baby - Graceling Family ($26.99 at Toys r Us). I named the mom Elizabeth and the baby Violet and I like them because the mom can feed the baby, they sleep every half an hour and the baby sounds like it's snoring and you can record the mommy owl's voice. I just wished the owls came with a cage so I made my own out of a clementines crate!"

Here are the facts on Frannie's new toy(s):
  • 55 Owl and Baby Bird calls, with many popular songs
  • Mother Owl feeds her baby
  • Mother Owl records your voice and says it back
  • Place the baby in your palm and it will HOOT happy songs
"Maggie", my almost-seven-year old:

"I got the Bird with Cage - Singalong Sammy ($26.99 at Toys r Us). I like it because you can record your voice. It came with a cage. It's OSUME!" (You know what she meant, right? Sometimes I find invented spelling too cute to correct.)

The facts on Maggie's toy:
  • 30 New bird calls. All new songs. The more you pet, the more I SING
  • Display and take me with you
  • Includes: 1 Bird 1 Cage 1 Instruction booklet

The bottom line for me is: once they're out of the packaging they're small plastic toys, but they are pretty neat in the way they make noise and interact, and the price is very reasonable considering the hours of enjoyment they've already provided.

Maggie is reading over my shoulder and just said "tell them at the end that Maggie and Frannie really love them". So I'll wrap up there!

For more information, check out the Little Live Pets website (which includes product details, instruction manuals and helpful videos.

Disclosure: We were provided with the above toys for review purposes. Opinions are, as always, our own.

Thursday, May 14

Hair Donation Day 2015 - Amazing Girls & Generous Sponsors!

As you may remember, last year our school held our first ever Wigs For Kids assembly, where several students (including my two daughers) and one teacher (yep, me!) donated their hair. As soon as the event ended, I had girls lining up to participate for 2015...and this year's initiative was another success!

Here's one last shot of the excited girls with their long locks (be assured I have parent permission to share):

With their pigtails ready for cutting:

We had one amazing mom donate as well, and her daughter (also participating) had the honour of cutting her mom's hair.

And the awesome "after":

A HUGE thanks goes out to the amazing sponsors who donated their products to make gift bags for the girls. There's no doubt it's the children with medical hair loss who are the really brave ones, but for these young students to voluntarily donate their ponytails is still pretty special in my books, and I was so happy to be able to surprise them with some goodies...and they were thrilled!

Thanks to...

McDonald's Canada (generous gift card)

OURS by Cheryl Hickey (Head To Toe Wash and 2-in-1 Conditioner) I knew Cheryl would be happy to help out, since she and I are such great friends now! Okay fine, she let me spend one day with her behind the scenes at ET Canada but it was very special!

Quaker (cookies and granola bars)

Splat  (wash-out hair colour)

Jamberry Nails (nail wraps provided by Jamberry consultant Lindsey Frater - I am totally a Jamberry convert)

Shout! Factory (My Little Pony and Littlest Pet Shop DVDs)

Arm and Hammer (Super Mario - Princess Peach Spinbrushes)

Also, in case you weren't aware, First Choice Haircutters will cut (or repair amateur cuts done at assemblies like ours) for free when hair is being donated to charity. I'm pretty sure several of our students were headed there later in the day!

Thanks as well to Caley and Kevin of CHEX Daily who came out and gave some media love to our event! (Yes, the same CHEX Daily I visit biweekly for Teacher, Teacher segments.)

Considering we have approximately 85 girls registered at our school, the fact that 15 have already donated their hair over two years is pretty fantastic. I'm so proud of them! So...who's up for 2016?