Friday, July 18, 2014

Tips for Starting Your Kids on Instagram

With a mom addicted to (working in) social media and growing up in a new social world, it was only a matter of time before the kids wanted to have an account on one of the social networks. We will all reach this point.  It's now just part of parenting in a digital world.  The kids are tweeting, posting, sharing, liking and commenting more than ever before and it's really more of a reality than a choice for many parents.  

We've always documented our family through photos, and you all know I'm the Queen of Selfies, so it just made sense that our kids started their journey on social media with Instagram.  My boys really love to take photos and make videos of their favourite foods, fun places we go to and even goofy faces they make, so I decided to get them an account on Instagram. I don't think that Facebook and Twitter are really even on their radar. They're not the place for kids and tweens like before and much harder to monitor as a parent, so Instagram was my comfort zone.  Being on Instagram allows them to share their photos in an environment that I feel is safe and where I can monitor them (and their friends) closely.  

Deciding to let both of our boys have accounts at age 6 and 10 was not a decision we took lightly.  In our house, it's considered a privilege that comes with responsibilityGetting on Instagram came with rules and restrictions and served as a great first step towards more independence online.  I was in a position to watch them and advise them on etiquette, rules and even appropriateness- a good lesson to learn when starting on social.   

Here are my Top 10 Tips for Starting your Kids on Instagram:
  1. Set the account to private so that new followers must be approved by you. This is a great tool to keep control of the account.
  2. Lay down the rules for the kids.  Talk to your child about online etiquette like acceptable and appropriate language, types of photos they are allowed to post and rules for following others. Set the rules for the "celebrities" that they can follow. In our house, we have some simple rules; I must approve all followers and people they follow, language has to be respectful and no entering or running contests where they have to judge or rate their friends.
  3. Watch your child daily. Monitor their photos, status and comments on photos. Let them know that you will be checking in on the posts from time to time.
  4. Use every opportunity as a teachable moment for both of you.  If your child posts a status that isn't appropriate, ask your child to remove it but also explain why.   Ty once posted a photo of his grumpy face and posted "Mondays make me want to kill someone".  When I saw it, I first asked him what he thought others might think about this, then when he saw the message he was conveying, he agreed to delete it and post the same great silly photo with "I hate Monday mornings" as his status. He learned an important lesson.  Jayden needs to practice his spelling and writing, so my rule with him is that he has to type at least one sentence with each photo.  It encourages him to practice in a fun environment!
  5. Get BOTH parents and even grandparents on Instagram for some family sharing! My own mom has been resisting any social network for years.  All that changed when I created an account for her on Instagram.  All of a sudden she started engaging with her grandsons, their friends and my friends and it's been tons of fun to share this with her while she is over an hour away.  It's a great opportunity for grandparents who live out of town, to connect with grandkids in a digital way.
  6. Set screen time rules. Kids (and grown ups) can get obsessed with the likes and comments. You might want to set time aside for Instagram or only allow it on the weekends. In our house, the line is "go play with REAL friends, not Instagram friends".
  7. Follow your kid's friends.  Get to know their interests, activities, personalities and let them know you're watching.  I know you might get some resistance, but it's a good idea. 
  8. Watch for behaviour that could be concerning.  Are they upset when no one 'likes' their photos? Do they check it too often to see who made a new comment?  If yes, then it's a great time to chat about the importance of keeping a healthy perspective on what "likes" and "comments" really mean and how it can impact self esteem. This will be a life-long skill that can never be too early to learn.
  9. Be careful about online voting on photos. I've seen a few of my kid's friends posting a collage asking followers to vote for who should be taken off the photo or who is the best friend. This can't feel good for the kids voted off and can lead to bullying or teasing online or in real life. Be aware of these types of posts and have a chat with your child about how this might feel to be excluded.
  10. If you notice a child who is doing something inappropriate, talk to their parent. Maybe those parents aren't on Instagram and really don't understand how it works- there are many parents who might not even know they have an account!  My feeling is, tell would want to know, right?

Are your kids on social media?  What are YOUR rules or tips for other parents?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

5 Ways to Enjoy #PROTINIS with your Family- Plus Giveaway!

Heading back to work outside of the house has come with more than a few adjustments; dressing for the office instead of wearing pajamas, getting up earlier to get the family ready to head out the door and even packing a lunch for the first time in 7 years!  

I don't take a lunch hour at my new job, since I'm working 9-3 so I needed a healthy way to curb my cravings while sitting at my desk.  Packing PROTINIS™ for the office is my new favourite thing about going to work!  Not only is it a fast way to pack your lunch, since they come in small packable containers, they are also versatile and the perfect complete protein snack to keep hunger away until dinner.

Here are 5 ways we have been enjoying our PROTINIS™
1.  Grab a PROTINIS Oven Roasted Chicken and Superfruit and snack at your desk (no fork required)!
2.  Put Sweet Thai Chili Chicken on crackers for protein with some crunch (this one has kick!)!
3.  Make a quick wrap for you or the kids with a tortilla wrap, some hummus and Oven Roasted Chicken PROTINIS (we loved these for busy soccer nights!)

4.  Pack a salad with dressing on the side and top it with Honey Garlic Chicken when you get hungry at lunchtime or anytime!
5.  Serve Mild Salsa Chicken on top of shredded cheese nachos or in quesadillas for added protein after a busy day at work or camp!
Are you a snacker?  I sure am...and so are my growing boys! PROTINIS™ are the completely packed protein snack. That’s why they’re the Official Snack of Everything. Mouthwatering bites of chicken or combinations of chicken and dried fruit (low carbs), they’re an excellent source of complete protein ANYTIME, ANYWHERE!

PROTINIS™ snacks are available in eight flavours including Oven Roasted Chicken, Sweet Thai Chili Chicken, Mild Salsa Chicken, Honey Garlic Chicken, Oven Roasted Chicken and Cranberry, Oven Roasted Chicken and Superfruit, Oven Roasted Chicken and Mango, and Oven Roasted Chicken and Apple. They are available at major grocery stores across Canada and retail for approximately $4.99. Each retail pack comes with two PROTINIS™ snacks. 

Follow Maple Leaf Foods on Facebook and Twitter to learn more about new innovations in snacking and watch the #PROTINIS hashtags for more giveaways!

Want to Try PROTINIS™ for yourself?

Grab your $2 off coupon here and 
Enter to Win 5 PROTINIS™ Free Product Coupons 
(two per pack, $25 value).* 

*Please note contest is only open in Canada, excluding Quebec.  
Coupons will be mailed directly to winners.

Disclaimer: I was excited to try new PROTINIS snacks and was compensated for my honest opinion.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

My First Day in a Nutshell

So here's my first day at CTN in a nutshell:

There's a new Tim Hortons on my 5 minute drive to work! 

My new boss and two team members met me at the top of the stairs to yell "Welcome” (like it was a surprise party). 

My desk area was decorated with 'Yay ,welcome Heather' signs. 

Three of Zack’s amazing therapists are a few desks away…one has a photo of him. 

The washroom is across from my desk and I’m drinking lots of water- so that’s going to be perfect. 

Two thoughtful friends sent me a lovely plant that I hope will survive. 

I ate the lunch that my amazing Paul packed for me. 

I tucked in a shirt for the first time in forever and got to wear BIG girl shoes. 

I set up my desk using the amazing stuff the kids picked out just for me (yay for breath mints, Mio and a new purple notebook). 

I have placed photos of my incredible family all around me, including a framed one of Zack and me. 

I chatted around the 'water cooler', started straight to work on some ideas to build a great mentor program for parents of kids with special needs and I even got my own phone extension! 

Still wonder if Zackie sent this just for me? I don't. 

Can't wait for tomorrow. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Sticking to our Summer Bucket List Budget with #CAARewards

I'm going to be honest and say that money has been tight since we are down to only one income, so we've had to get really creative with how we spend our money and how we choose to entertain the kids this summer! 

We used our CAA Membership a couple of years ago to plan trips, save on gas and even get discounts when we traveled to the U.S. for hotels and at Sesame Place (15% off admission!), but now my membership has even more value by helping me save on shopping and summer entertainment for the kids.  

Here are our ideas to save on family fun from our Hamilton Summer Bucket List:

1.  Movie Tickets- The boys are really excited for a family movie night to see 'How to Train Your Dragon 2', so we just bought our Cineplex tickets online and saved 24% off the ticket prices!  Quick and simple on the online store, we ordered the Two Adults and Two Child "Night Out" packages and should receive them in the mail next week!

2.  Ontario Science Centre- The kids and I LOVED the new 'Science of Rock and Roll' exhibit, so they picked another visit to the Science Centre for a summer excursion.  Using our CAA Membership, we get 10% off general admission/ OMNIMAX® theatre vouchers! 

3.  African Lion Safari- We've been once to this magical place and I swear that after seeing "Blended" with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, I'm even more desperate to actually get to Africa!  Since that's not exactly in our Summer Bucket List Budget, we are taking the kids to African Lion Safari!  We can save 10% off the gate admission to see these incredible animals up close!

4.  Toronto Zoo- We used to have a pass to the Zoo, but now have a pass to Canada's Wonderland, so we really miss seeing the animals and we've never seen the new Pandas!  With our CAA membership, we can also save 10% at the gate!

It's a great time to join CAA and see all that they have to offer for your own family fun this summer (for all member benefits, check out the rewards)!  You can easily save the value of the cost of your membership just this summer alone and I'm already thinking about the Back-to-School shopping discounts!  

Connect with CAA South Central Ontario on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram.

Disclosure: I’m participating in the CAA South Central Ontario Spot the Partner program with SJ Consulting. All opinions are 100% my own.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A School Year in Review- The words learned, no red cards, time with Daddy and texting with girls

As we begin the summer and end another school year, I've been reflecting on just what has gone on over the past year and all the lessons learned, definitions of words taught and memories made in our family.  

I decided to come up with a list of all that transpired during this crazy year of serious ups and downs, from September to June.

1.  Jayden started Grade One every day, all day.  This is a huge step and we both took some time to get used to not being together on the alternate days.  I still miss our time together.

2.  What a shift in our working roles at home!  I started working everyday at momstown, from home, and Paul was laid off.  Okay, so we didn't really take FULL advantage of an empty house everyday, but we did have a few lunches and it was just nice to have him around!  Paul was home for homework, helped with laundry and the morning routine and volunteered 3 times for Scientist in the School (Jayden picked Daddy over me!).  While looking for his next role has been challenging, we are so blessed that he's had amazing time with the us all school year! 

3.  We celebrated another birthday without Zack It was really after that milestone that Jayden began to cry and grieve over Zack.  He told us that Zack was coming to talk to him...often.  Getting him some help at school with a social worker offered a bit of help, but we are still finding ways to help bring him comfort when he's just so sad.

4.  Jayden started hockey- a really exciting first for our family.  We were so proud to attend his games and cheer him on with the cow bell.  It got even better when Ty decided he wanted to play too and now we look forward to having both boys in house league next year!

5.  Ty heard a word on the school yard and came to ask me what the word "Rape" meantAfter a few meetings and emails to the Principal, the class learned that this was no joke.  I also had to explain what a c*cksucker, di!do and p^ssy were to my 10 year old.  Thanks boys in Grade 5 with older brothers!  I always want to be the one that Ty can come to, so of course, I answered all of his questions with complete honesty...even when it's really hard or makes me giggle.

6.  We started a "green" and "red" card system for Jayden's behaviour at school As the school year progressed, there were warning signs that perhaps he has a learning difficulty that we need to address.  We are moving forward with some testing and assessments for Jayden, next year thanks to some great teachers and staff who love and care for our creative and sweet boy...and super cool dude. 

7.  It was a tough spring as a longtime friend and I stopped talking to "take a break" from each other and really look at our friendship.  This hit me really hard during a time I was feeling really low and resulted in several sleepless nights staying up sobbing.  I have hope that with time, we can heal our friendship and be in each other's lives again.  I miss her and her family.

8.  My sweet, gorgeous and amazing Ty has gone through a transformation.  He not only got braces (on the top for now) but also has matured into an entirely different body.  Once shy to even go swimming without a top and very aware of his weight, he is now taller, leaner, and more confident than ever.  I'm so proud of his great choices in healthy snacks, interest in staying active and maturity in the way he carries his "new" body.  It might just be a coincidence, but Ty also realized that some of the boys in his class have "girlfriends" and decided that he might finally be honest with a special friend who has always had his least they've started texting.

I'm approaching this summer, not with a "bucket list" per se but with a feeling that our luck just might be changing.  Maybe things are becoming what they are meant to be.  With my new opportunity at CTN outside of the house, a chance to continue writing about my family on this site, some amazing consulting roles for Paul on the horizon, new found confidence in Ty and a plan for our Jayden for the fall....I know that this summer of change is just what we need to move passed the challenges of this past year.

Bring it on!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

How to Host a Waterfight to celebrate Summer and Enter to Win a Nerf Supersoaker

We have an end of the school year tradition around here- it started back in 2012 when Ty surprised us by creating an invitation on the computer and handing it out to his entire class of 25 kids!  We were so impressed by his initiative and marketing skills, that we decided to embrace this fun way to celebrate the end of the school year again last year too!

Fast forward to our 3rd Annual Water Fight and we reached out to our friends at Nerf who were more than happy to send us some of the new Nerf Super Soakers to test and give away as a prize!  Of course, I wanted to try the new "Hunger Games"-inspired Rebelle Dolphina Bow of super soakers! We also got the new Barrage.

The arsenal was ready for this year's fight
I love that now Ty and two great friends from our street create this annual event with very little help from me.  Sure I'm the one at the grocery store but they did the entire planning, invitations and even handed their parents the list of "to-dos".  I really tried to step back this year and help when I was asked.  Ty is so incredibly excited and proud to create this water fight every year, that it's a pleasure to watch him learn how to host a party and celebrate its success!

Here are some tips for an end of the year water fight party or even an end of the summer party:
  • Plan it for the last day of school for the best turn out.  Our school is let out at 11:30 on the last day, so kids are ready to have some fun and parents love that they have something planned for the rest of the day!
  • Get the kids to create the invitation.  Remind them of the important parts to include; date, time, what to bring, location, rsvp information, rain date, but let them run with it.  
  • Keep the numbers between 20-25 kids 
  • Consider one section for older kids and one for younger kids
  • Schedule about 2-3 hours for the water fight and lunch/snacking
  • Provide the main lunch (we just make hotdogs) and drinks, ask guests to bring one snack or treat for the party to supply the munchies! 
  • Ask a few parents to stay or ask neighbours to provide some supervision during the party- if parents are dropping their kids, ask for a phone number in case you need to reach them
  • Keep the kids to one central area and explain the rules of where they are allowed to go
  • Have buckets of water for refilling stations
  • Provide lots of water and sunscreen for a really hot day
  • Make a fun summer playlist and blast your favourite tunes
  • Come up with some games, if the kids are slow to get involved...we played "Capture the Flag, Water Edition" and the kids had a blast!
  • Buy a prizes for a raffle!
The kids really loved the new Barrage water guns because they were really easy to load and held tons of water!  They had a great pumping action that the younger kids found simple to manipulate.  Our winner didn't have a super soaker at his house, so he was THRILLED to win the prize!

The girls absolutely LOVED the new Rebelle Dolphina Bow super soakers.  They needed to be refilled a bit more often, but they loved how they squirted the water from the cross bow.  The two hosts got to keep one and their older sister actually won one during our raffle!  We know that this new, really reasonably priced line will be a huge hit this summer!

Armed and Ready to start (notice Jayden photobombing!)


If you'd like to Win your choice of a Nerf Barrage or Rebelle Dolphina Bow, 

Enter your name, email (or twitter handle) below in the comments and tell me what your end of the school year tradition is! 

Contest ends July 31st, 2014.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

My Big Change and a Chance to Make a Difference

Change is difficult and when you've had a life of change that wasn't your choice, it's even harder to accept that some change can be good.

Well, my life is about to change in the most amazing way.  A way that I could have never predicted or imagined. After almost 2 rewarding years working at home with momstown as their online editor and working with the most incredible team of amazing women led by Ann-Marie Burton, I'm moving on to pursue an opportunity OUTSIDE of the home, during school hours, as the Program Coordinator at The Children's Treatment Network of Simcoe York (CTN).  As the Family Resource Program Coordinator, I will have the privilege of researching, creating the strategy and working with parent advisors to implement a comprehensive peer mentor program to support parents of children who have multiple special needs. It's a program that I whole-heartedly believe in and one that I would have appreciated as a special needs parent.  

Here's my official announcement;

CTN, whose office is 5 minutes up the street, is a network that coordinates a "single plan of care" for kids requiring many different therapies and resources because of their complex needs.  The Network provides comprehensive, coordinated care and services to kids with complex physical, developmental and communications needs who live in Simcoe County or York Region.  I'm so happy to be working with so many women that I know and respect (like my friend Anchel who writes for Today's Parent).

It's where Zack and I went weekly for several of his therapies with speech pathologists, PT, OT, AVT, feeding specialists and dietitians. 

It's a place where we could walk through the front doors and feel instantly connected to a community that shared our experience. 

It's a place where our family has always been embraced and where I've always found great comfort after Zack's death.   .  

It's now a place I will go to every day to work for their families because now my passion to make a difference has truly been realized in this new role.  

Not only is the role so incredibly perfect for me, but there are also so many memories in the building that I will now call my office.

Some of my best memories of Zack are when he sat for the first time in their Snoozlen Sensory Room during AVT with his Speech Therapist, Michele.

Or when we would hang out in the state of the art gym where Zack walked the parallel bars during PT to get to Jayden, found his love for jumping on a trampoline and even pulled himself to standing to get Elmo.  All of these visits led to Zack learning to walk just before he died- getting the right therapy helped make that happen.

It was where Zack said "bababa" when he wanted more bubbles from Erin in the Speech Therapy rooms and would often have his lunch at that same table.  He even said "mama" in this video....can you see the impact that CTN has on families? 

Since Zackie was born, I have taken every opportunity to get more involved as a volunteer and even as an unofficial peer mentor at CTN. In 2010, I was thrilled to help plan and even cut the ribbon with Zack, Lisa, Sherry and Ashley at the CTN Information Fair for parents of children with multiple special needs and I've been serving on their Social Media Committee for two years, helping to grow engagement on their Facebook Page

My life is about to change and I'm excited to embrace all that this new challenging and rewarding job has to offer.  I'm eager to meet the families and find out what they need and then use my experience and skills to create a plan that helps get  them the support they deserve.  I'm inspired to start a new and different career path that will allow me to make a difference and feel fulfilled in ways that will remind me so much of life with my sweet Zack.  I'm truly blessed to have this opportunity.

I can't help but think that an angel had a hand in making this happen.  Don't you agree?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Easy Macaroni Salad for Summer BBQ Season

I was totally in the mood for macaroni salad the other night, so of course, I went to Pinterest to find the one like my MIL used to make.  All of the recipes had pickle juice or relish and dijon mustard that I knew the kids would hate, so I created my own (with the veggies the kids will eat) and it was delish!

Here's my Easy Peasy Classic Macaroni Recipe!

1 box of Smart Macaroni Pasta
3 tablespoons of Miracle Whip Lite (add more if you like it creamier)
1 teaspoon of paprika
1 teaspoon of salt, pepper and sugar
bite size carrots, red pepper, celery
1/4 cup of corn
1/4 cup of edamame (shelled)

1. Make pasta al dente and set aside.
2.  In another bowl, mix Miracle Whip and seasonings.  Add more Miracle Whip or seasonings based on your preference. We didn't want it too wet or creamy.
3.  Cut your fresh veggies (add others if you like; peas, other peppers, tomatoes, etc.)
4.  Cook frozen corn and frozen edamame in the microwave (put them together in a microwaveable bowl and heat for 2 min.)
5.  Toss everything together, coating it all and adding more Miracle Whip if needed.  
6.  Let it sit for at least 2 hours.  

Enjoy this summer staple with your fave BBQ meat!

Monday, June 23, 2014

How to Host an 'Orange is the New Black' Girl's Night In Party

I had such a great time at the Netflix StreamTeam Advance Screening of the Orange is the New Black: Season Two that I wanted to throw my own OITNB party with some of my great girlfriends! We were all 'allowed' to watch up to episode 3 of the second season before our party, so that we could watch episode 4 and 5 together.  In perfect "Heather throws a party" style, I had some fun themed drinks, decorations and swag for the girls.  We laughed through episodes 4 & 5 and actually converted two neighbours into OITNB watchers by the end of the night (it might have been the screwdrivers)!  We will definitely have another viewing night in a few weeks to watch another two episodes together, but for now I'm going to pace myself through the rest of the OITNB Second Season.  
Netflix #streamteam screening night

Here are my tips for hosting your own Netflix "Girl's Night In" Orange is the New Black Party;
  • Decorate with oranges, spoons, Cup of Noodles, hot peppers, orange and black table cloths, rubber chickens, dandelions and even raid your tool box for some screwdrivers (if you want to push the limits fake rats or cockroaches too!)
  • Serve Classic Screwdrivers (orange juice and vodka) or try this Black Martini
  • Ask your girlfriends to take this fun online quiz to find out which OITNB character they are!
  • Put some photos around the room from the show (I had a "Welcome to Litchfield" sign on my front door)
  • Ask guests to wear something that reminds them of the show or dress in orange like a few of my friends did.
  • Make Maxi Pad flipflops for your guests (I wore mine all night)
    • How to make them:  take one pad for the insole and then make one strap across, using a second pad.  Be sure to leave on the plastic that covers the sticky part or you will be sticking to the floor!)

  • Buy plastic cafeteria trays at the dollar store or party store- label them with a character's name using Scotch masking tape in orange
  • Label the wine glasses with orange Scotch masking tape and a character name.
  • Let the girls take home their tray, a bag of oranges, box of maxi pads or have a draw for a prize (thanks to Netflix for a book and chicken as our prize).

Since I'm coming to the end of the OITNB second season, I have to start on another series.  First up is "Suits" then "Call the Midwife". Here's your Summer TV Show Must-Watch list on Netflix!  What are you watching this summer?

  1. Orange is the New Black
  2. Suits
  3. Pretty Little Liars
  4. Sherlock
  5. Breaking Bad
  6. Friday Night Lights
  7. Weeds
  8. Call the Midwife
  9. Freaks and Geeks
  10. Shameless
  11. Lilyhammer
  12. Wallander 
Disclosure: Yay! I am part of the Netflix stream team (#StreamTeam) and have received product and a subscription to Netflix in exchange for writing monthly posts.  Already a huge Netflix fan, this is a pretty sweet deal!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Shopping made easier with Interac Flash

The other night I was treated to an incredible meal at Ruby WatchCo, the restaurant of Chef Lynn Crawford, by the team at InteracI'm already a huge fan of using Interac for the convenience of paying without cash as well as Interac e-transfers, so I was really interested in learning more about how I could "Pay in a Flash" with the new Flash technology.  

Paul and I NEVER have cash in our wallets.  We often have to borrow money from the kid's wallets when the school needs cash for a field trip (schools need to accept email transfers, don't you think?).  When we go out to run errands, even to the local DQ or convenience store after school, we take our Interac cards.  It's just the way we track our expenses in our family and ultimately how I can check up on Paul's spending!  My credit card has a "Pay Pass" contactless system, but I just don't want to spend on credit, especially for amounts under $100.  I'm really happy that this technology has now come to Interac and is now available at a few banks and retailers in Canada (Tim Hortons, McDonalds, The Beer Store, HMV, Winners to name a few).

I'm really comfortable paying online, doing Interac e-transfers and using new banking technology, but that's not the case with some members of my family who still write cheques to each other!  At the evening's event, we got to ask questions about security.  The team at Interac has really thought of everything when it comes to making sure that Flash users are protected. 

Interac Flash, the contactless enhancement of Interac® Debit, is Canada’s first and only contactless debit payment solution. It has all the benefits of Interac Debit but allows cardholders to pay for smaller purchases, using their own money, faster than ever before by simply choosing to hold their card in front of a contactless point-of-sale reader that supports Interac Flash. 

I really love that for small purchases (under $100 and cumulative purchases up to $200), I can just FLASH and go (I can't wait to ask my grocer if I can "Flash" him)!  When I've reached my daily limit or the purchase is just over $100, I'll have to enter my PIN to complete the transaction.  I also love this as a past retailer- just think of how much faster and more efficient the check out experience could be!

Check out more about this new technology online or ask your bank about when they we will be equipped with the new Interac Flash.  

Disclosure:  I was really interested in learning about the latest in Interac technology and accepted compensation for my post.  The stories and opinions are my own.