Tuesday, December 22

A Thank You Letter To My Mom at Christmastime

Dear Mom,

Thank you for being the architect of my Christmas experience.

While I believe I had a child-appropriate appreciation of you at the time, now that I'm a mom, I see even more clearly just how much love and effort you put into our Christmases past...and what a lasting effect that has had.

Every year, our already warm and creative childhood home went into overdrive with carefully-placed decorations (including the yearly ornament we each received to add to the tree), delicious baking, and fun music (Dolly Parton's/Kenny Rogers' and Roger Whittaker's Christmas songs still have a huge nostalgic effect on me, even if your cassette tapes were long ago rendered useless).  In 1989, after losing your own father mere months before, you still somehow produced a joy-filled holiday, with no tradition forgotten.

Tradition is so incredibly important to kids, and whether it was new pajamas on Christmas Eve or leaving our stockings outside our bedroom doors for Santa to fill (even if I now realize that bought you some extra sleep while we looked through our goodies in silence), my brother and I counted on those yearly rituals to make the holiday so special.

{Just to be clear, Dad played a big part in traditions as well of course: making Grandma Leahy's fudge (the sweetest treat you will ever taste in your life) and reading us The Night Before Christmas - and is deserving of innumerable thank you letters for his influences on us - but we all know who was in charge of Christmas!}

You weren't parents who bought us toys randomly throughout the year, but we were certainly spoiled at Christmastime, by Santa and by you. I can remember poring over the Sears Wish Book, listing the small, medium and large items that I hoped to find (not wrapped, of course) under the tree - sticking to Santa's total limit of  $50. Every year there was a Barbie to add to my collection...and you can find each one being enjoyed in my home still. (Not by me, though I certainly enjoy my children playing imaginative, interactive games that keep them out of my hair.)

Once I had a child of my own, I realized that - over a period of a few years - a seismic holiday shift had taken place. No longer was my Christmas joy someone else's responsibility, but that (beautiful) burden of creating the holiday for someone was now on my own shoulders...and I don't know how I would be doing it successfully without your example.

Many of my childhood traditions are now part of my daughters' Christmas experience, like the secret codes you put on our wrapped gifts so we wouldn't know whose was whose until Christmas Day...unless of course we cracked the code. I remember "Marvelous" and "Fantastic" (the former for my brother and the latter for me...readers, can you figure that one out?) and other codes relating to our interests and ages. My daughters are currently stumped by the "310" and "530" tags under our tree! (Note: as I edited this post - on the treadmill - they came running over to me to announce they had successfully cracked the code!)

When it comes to wrapping, you were great at disguising gifts, though there was one not-so-positive experience when we were intrigued by the rattling sound inside our small, matching packages. We wanted to save them for last on Christmas morning, predicting something very cool and noteworthy, but fortunately you suggested otherwise...which we appreciated, as who wants to save a box of vitamins for the end??? My own girls' gifts are cleverly concealed under the tree now, and as they get older, I know I'll have to get even more creative for their prying eyes and eager hands!

Even though Ed and I are married now with our own kids and the torch has been passed, you continue to make the holiday so special for your children, children-in-law and grandkids. I've been at Christmas Eve Mass at the same church every year of my life, and I love how our immediate family gathers to enjoy a meal afterwards. (There are Sweet Marie bars this year, right?)

Of course the presents are fun too, not only for the kids but the adults as well. Though I know it's difficult to find original ideas, you always seem to come up with something we haven't seen before: texting gloves, a new board game. I didn't even know I wanted a goat (for World Vision) until you got us one! (On a related note, your volunteer work and charitable contributions model for us how to keep celebrating Christ all year long.)

This Christmas Eve when I go to bed, instead of sugarplums I'll have momentary doubts running through my head (Was that the Barbie she wanted? I did remember the tag on that last gift, right? Will Santa leave too many crumbs on my kitchen table? Did we buy bacon???) but if I am anything like my mother, I should sleep easy knowing that Christmas will be wonderful for my children once again...just as it always was for me.

(P.S. As much as I'd love to share a childhood Christmas picture with my mom, of course I can't find one: she was always behind the camera, of course!)

Monday, December 21

Disney On Ice Presents: Dare To Dream

Today we had a family adventure in the big city, where we saw Disney On Ice Presents: Dare To Dream at the Rogers Centre - courtesy of Disney Junior Canada.

If your kids are Disney Princess lovers like mine, they won't be disappointed by these on-ice musical retellings of Snow White, Cinderella, Rapunzel and more.

Here's how Disney describes Dare To Dream:

Classic meets contemporary in Disney On Ice presents Dare to Dream! Join your favourite Disney Princesses in a celebration of 75 years of Disney Princess stories, including two-modern day princesses, Rapunzel and Tiana; the always elegant Cinderella; and the princess who started it all, Snow White. Laugh at Disney’s hilarious hair-raising escapade, Tangled, as Rapunzel; her unlikely companion, Flynn; and Maximus, the Captain of the Guard’s determined horse; embark on an uproarious journey that takes adventure to new lengths! Travel to the enchanted forest with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as Snow White escapes from the Evil Queen in her search for her one true love. Watch as fanciful dreams become reality as Cinderella meets her Prince Charming, with a glass slipper fit for an unforgettable fantasy come true. And boogie to the beat of the bayou in a magical, musical journey that celebrates the story of The Princess and the Frog with Princess Tiana and Prince Naveen. All your favourite princesses take to the ice in a spectacular finale at the ultimate Disney Princess event of a lifetime! Experience the beauty, sparkle, and spirit when Disney On Ice presents Dare to Dream comes to your hometown!

When we first announced the surprise outing to the girls, my husband thought our nine-year-old was a bit less authentic in her joy than her younger sister (as she is starting to outgrow the princess phase) but as soon as the lights came up at the end she turned to me and said, "Well, that was fantastic!" Her sister's assessment: "That was so awesome!"

While I was disappointed not to see my favourite princess highlighted (Belle, of course: a brunette, French bookworm and Daddy's girl), my older daughter and her seven-year-old sister both picked Rapunzel as their highlight of the show.

Dare To Dream runs through December 27th in Toronto (I hope my four blog winners have fun with their guests on closing day!), and Disney On Ice can be seen in 2016 in Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec, London and Hamilton.

Thanks again to Disney Junior Canada for giving us this opportunity!

Disclosure: We were provided with free tickets to the show. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Thursday, December 10

Your Kids Can Code! Microsoft's #CodeGeneration Campaign

Kids love coding. Really, they do. We hear so much about technology and job prospects (did you know by 2019, the project skills gap in the Canadian IT sector is expected to be 182,000 jobs, and youth unemployment in Canada is at an all-time high? Makes that field pretty tempting...) but it's also important to emphasize how many children (and adults) actually love these activities. Whether our children end up employed in IT or not, coding is a fun way to explore the possibility.

This past summer I did an online training program for teachers through Code.org, and showed my girls the activities. They were hooked...and you and your kids might be too! (If they're hesitant, you'll probably have them at "Minecraft".) My grade 3 students had the opportunity to do some coding with the principal one day as well, and raved about it afterwards.

To celebrate Computer Science Education Week (happening through Sunday December 13th), Microsoft Canada has launched the #CodeGeneration campaign, encouraging students to learn to code.

With free online coding challenges, in-store "Hour of Code" sessions and a partnership with Code.org offering students and educators a Minecraft coding tutorial, Microsoft wants to show students that anyone can learn to code, and the power to create technology is at our fingertips.

If you've never heard of "Hour of Code", it's a global movement launched by Code.org and supported by Microsoft, reaching tens of millions of students in over 180 countries - students as young as four years old can get involved.

#CodeGeneration will wrap up Computer Science Education Week with a bang on Sunday, December 13th by hosting "Hour of Code" Minecraft-themed coding workshops for teens in Microsoft stores nationwide.

If your teen is interested in one of the Microsoft Hour of Code sessions, here are the details:

  • Who – Students between the ages of 13 and 18
  • What – In-store “Hour of Code” sessions
  • When – Sunday, December 13 2015 (all local time zones)
    • Session 1: 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
    • Session 2: 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.
    • Session 3: 3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.      
  • Where – Microsoft Stores nationwide:
    • Calgary, Chinook Centre
    • Edmonton, West Edmonton Mall     
    • Burnaby, Metropolis at Metrotown 
    • Vancouver, Pacific Centre
    • Mississauga, Square One Shopping Centre    
    • Toronto, Eaton Centre
    • Toronto, Yorkdale Shopping Centre

Kids (and parents, and teachers) can get involved from home too...be sure to check out Code.org and get started!

Disclosure: This post was generously sponsored by Microsoft. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Wednesday, December 9

How To Inspire Your Budding Writer - Parents Canada/CHEX Daily

Last night I was back on CHEX Daily chatting with hosts Teresa Kaszuba and Renee Rodgers about tips to inspire your little writers at home (taken from my latest article for ParentsCanada magazine, Encourage Your Budding Writer).

As I'm sure you can imagine, I think writing skills are so important for kids, and I really believe they can have fun doing it. Lots of free writing time, where they can explore the genres and topics that interest them, is really important, as well as gentle corrections and guidance. See the article and segment for more info, as well as some Christmas gift ideas!

Tuesday, December 1

Kate's Favourite Things - December 2015

One of my favourite months of the year has arrived, and with it, my latest batch of recommendations!


Our Brand Is Crisis: The story: there's a presidential election coming in Bolivia, and two of the contenders have brought in American consultants (and former competitors) to help with their campaigns. As an actress, Sandra Bullock can really do no wrong in my mind, and I found it interesting that this role was originally written for a man, and changed to bring in Sandra. A caveat: you have to have at least a passing interest in politics to enjoy this.

Spectre: I watched this film in our local cinema's brand-new AVX theatre (which was awesome), and you can find more details here.


Wonder by R.J. Palacio: This is about a ten year old boy with a facial deformity, told from different perspectives. I considered reading this to my class (I'd be fine with my seven year old hearing it) except for a couple of references to suicide, which I would have to reword for Grade 2/3s. If your kids (or students) are a bit older than that, this is definitely a powerful book to share.

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll: This is one of those twisty-turny-suspense books that you often find me recommending. If you're a Gone Girl or Girl on the Train-lover, check it out.

Blue Bloods Cookbook by Bridget Moynahan and Wendy Howard Goldberg with Chris Peterson: If you've ever watched this show  (which I have - every single week!) you know that each episode would not be complete without the weekly family di)nner scene. Bridget Moynahan, one of the stars of the show (and one of my favourite actresses collaborated with Wendy Howard Goldberg, the wife of the executive producer, to create a Blue Bloods-themed cookbook. Filled with classic Irish and Italian recipes, beautiful photography, complete menu ideas (e.g. St. Paddy's Day, Easter) and behind-the-scenes notes, this is a great choice for the cook on your Christmas list. I even plan to try some of the recipes! (Apparently star Tom Selleck and I have a lot in common - he's not a veggie fan either! (Note: I received a copy of this book free for review.)

Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes: This book is a visit with a very honest, vulnerable, girlfriend who happens to be the writing queen of Thursday nights. All it took was a comment from her sister ("You never say yes to anything!") to inspire her to do exactly that for a whole year. And you know, if you're going to drop names in your book, one might as well be Kerry Washington.

The Night Before Christmas: A Brick Story by Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Amanda Brack: The traditional story brings back wonderful memories for me, as my Dad used to read it to my brother and me every Christmas Eve before we went to bed. Instead of the classic illustrations though, Brack has done these with Lego, making it very appealing for kids. I even found myself drawn in to the detailed scenes. If you're looking to add to your Christmas book collection, this is a great choice. (Note: I received a copy of this book free for review.)


The Shoebox Project: 

What about helping a local woman who could use a boost?

This holiday season, Canadian charity The Shoebox Project for Shelterssupported by Dream, once again encourages Canadians to think inside the box with the 2015 holiday campaign: It’s What’s Inside That Counts. Since 2011, The Shoebox Project, one of Canada’s fastest growing charitable organizations, has assembled and delivered thousands of special Shoeboxes in over 72 communities across the country to women who are experiencing challenging times during the holiday season. 

The Shoeboxes are filled with both basic necessities including shampoo, toothpaste, socks, and gift cards, and little luxuries such as make-up, nail polish, and skin care products to help these women feel confident and special during trying times. The approximate total value of the products should be $50. (No time to shop, assemble and deliver? Baskits will do it for you!)

The donated gifts have been caringly crafted and assembled by Canadians from Victoria, BC to St. John’s, NL, and are brimming with an assortment of personalized items designed to help women feel valued and cared for by their community.

From a small initiative started in the homes of sisters-in-law Caroline Mulroney Lapham, Jessica Mulroney, Vanessa Mulroney, and Katy Mulroney, The Shoebox Project has flourished into over 30 chapters across Canada and the U.S. Click here to find a Shoebox Project drop-off location near you.


Sick Kids Get Better Gifts:

For the person on your list who has it all!

A Get Better Gift is a way to give friends and family meaningful gifts, while also giving to The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), supporting the patients, families and work of the Hospital.

These gifts have been well received by many people, including some very thankful sick children and their families:

·         Holiday Cooking and Baking Supplies: Cooking and Baking lets children find comfort while creating their holiday treats with the love and support of their family and friends, $20.

·         Stocking Surprise: For children, there are few things as exciting as waking up to a holiday stocking filled with surprises, $30.

·         *NEW GIFT* Water Therapy: Pool time is naturally therapeutic for kids of all ages. Water therapy also allows for easier movement to exercise after treatments and during rehabilitation, $40.

·         Holiday Meal for a Family: For our young patients, most family meals take place at their bedside during their hospital stay. This gift lets a family enjoy a holiday meal together – and a break from hospital routines, $45.

Visit their new website at GetBetterGifts.ca for a full list of gift ideas at a range of price points.