Friday, October 24, 2014

Behind the Scenes at Target Canada as their VIP Mom

No words could really explain the whirlwind of amazing adventures that Kathryn and I experienced this past week.  Having been named Target Canada's VIP Mom for World Mastercard Canada Fashion Week came with more privileges and pampering than I could have ever dreamed and a chance to escape reality for just a few days!  

Our adventure started off with the incredible team of Laura and Jen from Target Does it Again, who took us to our local Target location to shop for our outfits to wear to the #TargetStyle runway show.  Followed by a videographer (eek), we had the experience of a lifetime to have Jen and Lauren not only pick our looks for the show, but help me use my Target REDCard to buy two more outfits that I just had to have. Finding the confidence to try on clothes I never would have picked on my own and really learning to dress head to toe within a budget was an experience I will never forget. The chance to feel beautiful and confident in each outfit...was priceless.
 

On Tuesday, we checked into The Ritz Carlton and then had industry leaders Matthew and Diana create our hair and make up looks in ways we had only imagined. Getting dressed into our final outfits, and "modeling" for the photographers was how our night continued, before the actual show.  With front row seats, we got to see all that Target had in store with hot looks for the upcoming cold season in Canada. With quilting, plaid, the season's must-have booties, leopard prints and faux fur making a huge impact on the red carpet, I found myself making my next shopping list! When the show was over, our giggling continued as Kathryn and I made our way back to the hotel for a chance to discuss the amazingness of the experience that Target had worked so hard to provide for us. It was a chance to talk about how our voices were important to Target and how truly transparent they have been in discussing their inventory challenges and the fact that it is their TOP priority for the future.

The talk continued after the article in Marketing Magazine was published about the buzz Target Canada created at Fashion Week. The buzz was not only about the 360 Twitter Vine videos at their runway show, but also the approach to include a somewhat skeptical but hopeful VIP Mom (me!) who could offer readers and shoppers a glimpse behind the scenes to learn more about what this new-ish Canadian retailer was doing to address concerns voiced by their customers. This refreshingly transparent approach is what has already endeared this brand to me and will no doubt keep me shopping for years to come. Check this out....my memories from the week I will never forget.


And remember my original tweet to the Canadian retailer?  The one about those empty shelves? During one of my visits back to Target this week (to get that leopard cardigan I saw on the runway that will be 10% off this weekend), I wanted to walk back to that infamous sock aisle that got me worried last Spring.  Is Target Canada really making an effort to fill the shelves and win customers like me, back?  As I rounded the corner, I crossed my fingers and looked down the wall. It was COMPLETELY FULL.  Keep it up, Target! You've earned one more loyal customer in me.  Thanks for bringing me along for this incredibly memorable ride.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Lesson for Our Family

What a year it's been!  Who am I kidding...we've had terrible, horrible, no good, very bad YEARS in our family.  Days that turned into months, months that turned into years.

This past Saturday was an amazing, memorable family day for us. Our delicious sushi lunch was a great chance to slow down and catch up about how great things have been going for each of us.  It was a time to celebrate after a tough year of unemployment, tight finances, lost friendships, school struggles for Jayden and our continued grief. Around the table we each took turns to be "celebrated" as we started with congratulating Ty on his TWO A+ marks this week and his performance at his morning hockey game (he's playing for the first time this year!).  We clinked our glasses to "cheers" Jayden for recently making the Rep Soccer League after trying so hard last month!  We talked about my amazing opportunity and chance to be pampered by Target Canada this week and we got to share some exciting news with our boys about TWO new contracts for Paul. Quickly building his own successful consulting firm "Talent Clicks", means that Paul is back to full-time status (and then some!) and long work days. 

Could our luck be changing? Could the road ahead be just a bit easier and kinder to our family, our marriage, our finances and our lives? It appears that this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year was maybe going to end well after all.

After we had lunch we took the kids to see the Alexander movie and as we walked outside, Paul grabbed us all for a family hug and as we looked at each other, he said, "maybe our Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year is ending guys. But no matter how bad it's gotten, we've gone through it together and we're going to be okay.  We will always we be going through the tough and the good times together as a family. 


How very true that has been and always will be.


Could THIS be our movie poster?



Sunday, October 19, 2014

I'm Target's VIP Mom for World Mastercard Fashion Week

The secret is out!  If you can believe it, this amazing adventure started with a simple critique on Twitter, to Target Canada.  Something along the lines of..."More empty shelves at @TargetCanada, I have faith that you will figure this out soon #hopeful".  Target loved that I had faith in them and took this as a challenge to make me their VIP Mom and show me and so many others that they are working hard to get their inventory right, in Canada!   They are determined to listen to customers (what an novel concept, right?) and create an environment where there is something for everyone!
In order to give me the best store experience, so that I can see all that Target has to offer, later this afternoon, my bestie Kathryn (@dogpaddling) and I will be picked up and taken shopping!

Our Stylists for today (yes, we have stylists!) are none other than Jen Coleman and Laura Wiertzema from Target Does it Again. They have a HUGE following of over 347,000 on Instagram and have dedicated their blog and Tumblr to showing us that Target truly does have everything!  Can you believe that THESE women will be helping to get US dressed? Follow our adventures and help by voting on our outfits #TargetStyle!

Target Does It Again

IT GETS BETTER......It doesn't end with a fabulous shopping experience, where I hope to learn how to wear an infinity scarf!  On Tuesday afternoon, Kathryn and I will be checking into the Ritz-Carlton and enjoying hair and makeup for the Target Runway Show that evening.  Before the show, we will also be backstage posting photos to Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to give you all a look at what's in store at Target's this season!  

I can't do this without sharing some of this awesomeness with you and YOUR bestie....so, 

I have 12 tickets to the 
World Mastercard Fashion Week Wrap Up Event on Saturday, October 25th from 1pm-4pm!  

Event Image
Fashion Saturday presented by BMO will return for another season on Saturday, October 25 and will offer the public an inside look at Canada’s leading fashion week.

Hosted by actor and host Lauren Collins (session one) and Cityline host Tracy Moore (sessions two and three) guests will enjoy a special Spring/Summer 2015 highlights fashion show featuring top Canadian designers, followed by a trends presentation with style expert Afiya Francisco, Maybelline’s Grace Lee and Redken’s Cindy Duplantis.

Attendees will also be able to shop the designer pop-up market, experience the Fashion Environment, participate in hair and makeup installations, sample VIP-style food and drinks and much more.

How to win:
Six winners will be selected and be able to take a friend to this incredible event that summarizes all the shows from the week.   
We will be selecting from those of you who COMMENT, RETWEET and MENTION the hashtag #TargetStyle along this crazy journey today and Tuesday!
Winners will be announced Wednesday morning and tickets will rushed to you 
(note: there is no travel included).  


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Mini Chocolate Chip Pancake Muffin Dippers

I was inspired by a baked pancake muffin photo that I saw on Facebook and realized that as much as the kids LOVE pancakes, we just don't have time for them on busy school mornings. 

Using a one-ingredient pancake mix (yup, out of the box), we made these amazing mini chocolate chip pancake muffins this morning with all the toppings that the boys love. These muffins can be made so quickly (while I'm boiling water for my tea) and the kids can actually get started preparing on their own!  Best is the easy clean up so we can all run out the door.  I also will try to freeze these, for a fast breakfast on the run. 




Ingredients:

pancake mix
water
chocolate chips or blueberries
mini muffin tins or regular muffin tins
non-stick spray
syrup
hungry kids

Directions:

1.  Preheat your oven to 350. Spray muffin tins with non-stick spray.  Do not use liners!

2.  Prepare your pancake mix.  I used about 3 cups of dry mix and added the appropriate amount of water.

3.  Pour in pancake batter to fill about 3/4 of each cup.

4.  Top with chocolate chips or blueberries.  Use a fork or skewer to poke them into the batter, so they bake inside the pancake muffin.  (We also tried two with cinnamon on top which would be yummy with raisins inside!)


5.  Bake mini muffins for 15 minutes and large muffins about 20 minutes.

6.  Serve with a little bowl of syrup for dipping!

What ingredients would you try besides blueberries and chocolate chips?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Back in the Driver's Seat

For the past several years, I have felt as though the roads I've taken in life, have been chosen for me.  There has been no choice when it came to choosing the direction, no input on where I was headed and surely no decision on how it would end.  There have been so many times when my LIFE has taken me on an unexpected journey to uncharted paths with overwhelming detours. It's hard to imagine that with so many hills and valleys along the way, there was also the most inspiring and beautiful scenery with which my life has been shaped.  
 
Finally, I feel like I'm back in the driver's seat and in control of where I'm headed and how I'm going to get there!  What an exciting time to have made a new career change to an entirely new field, take a leap of faith and most importantly believe in myself and my value!  Being on this new path is not only empowering but motivating me to do more and be more than ever! 

Real life is not a game, but now you can have some more fun and adventure pretending it is! You can enjoy the nostalgia of my all-time favourite board game, now online with incredible chances to win prizes from CAA South Central Ontario!  You even get to create your own character, like my cute “TJMomy” (ran out of characters)!
Check out my CAA GAME OF LIFE character!
• The more you play, the more chances you have to win! Each time you visit the website, you’ll have the opportunity to win awesome, spectacular instant prizes PLUS get an entry into the grand prize draw, an incredible dream vacation!
• Get extra entries when you share with your friends on social media and invite them to play too (use the hashtag #CAAGOL).
• Earn even more bonus entries through winning mini games and redeeming GAME OF LIFE dollars (G.O.L.D).

THE GAME OF LIFE - CAA Edition is back for its 4th year and even non-members in South Central Ontario can enter for their chance to win over 2,600 instant prizes and an incredible dream vacation!  Be sure to enter daily from September 29th to November 23rd and share your entries on social media to earn bonus entries.  Remember, the more you play, the better chance your chances to win!


https://www.caagol.com/?utm_source=HeH&utm_medium=Link&utm_campaign=GOL-Blogger

How to Enter:
• Visit the website from September 29th, 2014 to November 23rd, 2014.

Want to hear about the INCREDIBLE Prizes?  Of course you do!

Over $35,000 in instant prizes are available to be won, plus 3 Grand Prize options to choose from!
1. Florida Family Fun: 8-day trip for 4 people to Orlando theme parks (I'd pick this one!)
2. Northern European Cruise: 7-night Norwegian escape for 2 people with Holland America Line
3. Signature Argentina 2-person: 13-day tour of the best of Argentina (Buenos Aires, El Calafate & Mendoza)

Other prizes include: Petro-Canada™ Gift Card; Petro-Canada™ Preferred Price Card ($0.10 off per litre); Petro-Canada™ Car Wash Card; Payless ShoeSource Gift Card; East Side Mario’s Gift Card; Cineplex Entertainment – Adult Admit One Ticket; Husky Energy Gift Card; Options Gift Card; Dulux Paints Gift Certificate; Kernels Popcorn Gift Card; LensCrafters Gift Certificate; Teleflora Promo Codes; Starwood Pre-Paid MasterCard; Best Western Travel Card; Walmart Gift Card; Sephora Gift Card; The Body Shop Gift Card; Tiger Direct Gift Card.

Join the Conversation and Stay Connected!

Follow @caasco and the hashtag: #CAAGOL and be sure to like them on Facebook so 
that you can learn more about prizes and upcoming Twitter Parties!


In addition to being the MOST trusted name in roadside assistance (including pulling
me out of a ditch when I was pregnant), CAA Membership also offers insurance, travel
packages, and exclusive access to savings and rewards at your favourite retailers
(including PayLess, Sephora and Banana Republic)!  


I'm a proud CAA South Central Ontario Member and Ambassador! This contest is open to CAA Members and non-members who are residents of South Central Ontario. Complete rules and regulations are available at www.caagol.com. HASBRO and its logo and THE GAME OF LIFE are trademarks of Hasbro and are used with permission.©2014 Hasbro. All Rights Reserved. ®CAA and CAA logo trademarks owned by, and use is granted by, the Canadian Automobile Association.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Making Thanksgiving Memorable with Crafts, Cupcakes and Charity

The leaves are changing, our fall jackets are out of the closet and my favourite time of year is approaching.  I love the crisp air, apple picking, tall black boots and celebrating all that we are thankful for at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Despite our loss, I find that we work hard to find things that we are still thankful for each year.  

Thankful for our boys, thankful for our beautiful marriage, thankful for our memories, thankful for new job opportunities, thankful that we find time to laugh and mostly thankful for the support of family and dear friends.

This weekend is about celebrating all of that and more, so in honour of Thanksgiving, the boys and I wanted to do some cute crafts, decorate some cupcakes and share our favourite ways to give back.

Here are the ways that WE will be making new memories this year.


Easy Thanksgiving Toilet Roll Napkin Rings
I've been saving toilet rolls for just this type of craft for over a month!  When we knew we were hosting Thanksgiving with friends and family this weekend, I wanted to create a special name card and decided to use some leaf shapes we had in our craft bin! The boys and I had a blast working on this quick and easy craft!


Supplies you need:
Leaf shapes
Sharpie marker
Glue
Scissors
Toilet rolls cut in three

Steps:
Use pre-cut foam leaf shapes from craft stores or use this template to trace and cut your own from foam or construction paper.

Write your guest's names on each leaf.

Glue the toilet roll (one third) to the back of each leaf and let them dry.

Add your napkins through the hole and decorate your own Thanksgiving table.


Cute Turkey Cupcakes
We were going to make a pumpkin pie, but realized the kids just don't like it.  Instead of buying cupcakes this year, I found these adorable ones on Pinterest. We went to the Bulk Barn to get the specific supplies and had so much fun making candy turkeys to have for dessert at Thanksgiving dinner.



Ingredients you need:
Cupcake mix (or be brave and make your own from scratch!)
Chocolate icing
Candy Corn (Bulk Barn)
Orange icing tube with flower tip
Candy eyes (Bulk Barn)

Steps:
Make your chocolate cupcakes and let them cool overnight.

Ice the cupcakes with room temperature chocolate icing.

Add a large orange "flower" for the face, top with two candy eyes and a candy corn for the beak.

Add two staggered rows of candy corn for the feathers on the opposite side of the cupcake.  

Let them cool in the fridge before serving.

The Global Soap Project5 Ways to Give Back at Thanksgiving
In our family, it's also important that we give back to our community and to those who aren't blessed with the abundance that we have.  I was fortunate to hear more about the Derek's Global Soap Project and Unicef's new initiative at Blissdom Canada last weekend.  Here are our new favourite ways to help those in need;

1.  A gift of $25 can provide a year’s supply of soap and hygiene education to seven people through the Global Soap Project.
2.  "Unbox Possiblilities" through Unicef for kids around the globe with a donation of as little as $9 to buy a much needed bed net.
3.  Donate to your local food bank (most grocery stores have a filled bags for about $10 to make it easy).
4.  Visit the Plan Canada site to donate $15 for fruit tree or $17 for a baby chick.
5.  Support your local children's hospital like SickKids.

Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours!

Check out my fave Halloween DIY Crafts and family-friendly movies!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Making a Connection through Loss

It started in my inbox with my monthly Grief Watch Newsletter arriving late yesterday afternoon. I scrolled down to find a quote that truly spoke to the way I feel as a bereaved mother. 
The way I feel every day.  
The silent pain and sadness that I hold in my heart, while I work, while I'm alone, while I'm with my boys, and even while I smile and laugh...it's never gone.


After reading the quote, my first thought was about Jennifer White.  Jennifer is a mother who I was fortunate to meet this past weekend at Blissdom Canada, to not only hear about losing her sweet Princess Olivia so suddenly, but also to learn about how she too felt that by giving back she was able to honour her daughter and help others just as I had with Zack's Dream Room. Listening to her speak to emotions that are so similar to my own and as raw as the day we lost, Zack, was heartbreaking. As she spoke, my eyes filled with tears, memories rushed back and my stomach was churning as I held back sobs. When it was over, I just had to meet her, hug her and tell her that I understood. After a brief meeting in the room where she spoke, we were able to have some time together just before she left. Taking the time to share sweet memories of our children, laughing at the things they loved, discussing the impact of our loss on the siblings left behind and how we get up each and every morning to face another day without our angels.

Credit: Anna Epp Photography
I wanted to share the quote that I had found, with Jennifer, so I posted it on Facebook and ask our mutual friend, Shannon, to share it with her and let her know I was thinking of her.

And you know what happened?  I received a friend request from Jennifer and we connected online.

For me, THIS is the power of creating an event where all things personal are celebrated and where women (and men) are free to share emotions openly, grieve together and even connect on a profound level. A connection that extends beyond a weekend in person to a relationship that can continue online.

I've just made ONE more connection that might change my life, allow me grieve and help me feel understood and less alone. 

THIS is my Bliss.

Easy DIY Halloween Crafts and Kid-Friendly Halloween Movies

My house is buzzing with talk of this year's epic Halloween costumes and Paul and I are working hard to steer the boys away from the Grim Reaper and Zombie looks that they are attracted to and challenge their creativity like WE did as kids!  Remember when you checked your parent's closet for a cool and retro Halloween costume or actually MADE one from a sheet?  Ahhh...the good old days!

Last Halloween, it was around this time when I was seriously bitten by the craft bug.  I was saving up my toilet rolls, cleaning and storing all mason jars and dreaming of what Halloween crafts I could turn them into!  Surprisingly, it was not only easy but really exciting to make our own decor (not to mention cost effective) and the boys had fun looking up craft ideas online to help inspire our projects! 

Here are some of my favourite Halloween DIY crafts to make with your kids this year!  Click on the links for full instructions over on momstown.ca.

1.  Mason Jar Frankenstein: A little green and black duct tape and you can make this fun and creepy Frankenstein decoration for a mantle or centrepiece!


2. Toilet Roll Frankenstein: Throwing away a perfectly good empty toilet roll is a punishable crime in my house- just look at the cute Frankenstein we made!  Not only a cute decoration, but a fun puppet!



3.  Mason Jar Ghost:  Using paper towel, googly eyes and Mod Podge, I loved these little candle holders we made!



If you are celebrating with a Halloween Party or just want to make some spooky cupcakes, black and orange "Monster Munch" popcorn and host a family movie night, here are our family's kid-friendly Top 10 Halloween-ish movies on Netflix; 


 What's your favourite way to celebrate Halloween with your kids?
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!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Screen Time Tips

We are off to a great start this year for school since both boys have THE best teachers in the school! All except for a horrible incident, we are enjoying the new school year and getting back in the daily grind of early mornings, packing lunches (grrrr), homework routines and busy weekends in the ice rink.  

Off to a great start this year!
One issue we wanted to keep in check was TV and electronic (video game) time. Keeping screen time to a minimum is tough as the days get longer, the kids need to unwind and relax after school and the weather starts to get chilly, so we have started to institute some clear rules to keep a great balance in our house. Starting back to school meant a shift in so many of our routines, so adding a few new rules about this, was easy on all of us!

Here are some of our new Back to School Screen Time Rules;

1.  No TV in the mornings.  
Mornings are a rush and the kids weren't focusing on their tasks, so we decided that TV was one more distraction we didn't need. The kids don't seem to miss it at all and in fact, we are less rushed, have a chance to chat about what we're looking forward to for the day and we aren't panicked to make the bus at 8:10!

2.  Set the example.
Paul used to love to watch the sports updates each mornings or turn on the game after work.  It was so automatic.  Now we set the PVR if it's an important game and limit our own TV time for after the kids are in bed!  It's a great time to start a new series like "Call the Midwife" or watch newly released films like "12 Years a Slave" on Netflix!

3.  Homework first.
Right after school the boys get a snack and I empty their lunch bags (yuck).  Right away, we keep the momentum of learning, by getting right into homework.  Heading into the 5th week of school, I'm pleased to say that most nights, it's not a battle, but an expected part of the day. They know that free time starts AFTER their homework is completed.

4.  Setting reading times.
As important as limited screen time is setting reading times. Ty could read all day, but Jayden needs a little push. Knowing that he has to read at least 10 minutes is now becoming a part of our day. 

5.  Enjoy the screens together.
The boys LOVE it if I can play their video games with them, watch their favourite TV shows or have a family movie night! Everyone needs a little downtime, so grabbing a blanket and watching a show with my favourite people is a perfect way to end the day!

6. Keep weekends flexible.
We have a crazy weekend schedule with both boys in hockey, so with all the ice time and exercise, weekends are a time to be flexible on screen time.  If we notice they have been on their devices or watching TV too much, we might choose to limit it, but mostly weekends are for everyone to do the things they love!

7.  Get each kid their own Netflix profile.
No more fighting over what they each want to watch and also the guarantee that the show they were each watching can be started in the EXACT same spot, is the perfect way to enjoy Netflix. When bedtime hits, they can stop their show and know that it will be ready for them after homework the next day.  Tip:  Be sure to add it as a "kids" account to limited what they have access to!

With the start of a new school year, there are also lots of opportunities for learning, here are some examples for the Big Kids in your house!

Have a great school year! 
 
      


     
7. Turbo
8. Shrek


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! 

Friday, September 26, 2014

When your child is the target of racism at school

It happened.  I was hopeful that it wouldn't but realistic enough to know that one day, my boys would be told by someone that they couldn't do something because they were black. Even in our beautiful multicultural school and community, racism exists and my son was a target.

The other day in class, Jayden's friends were playing "brothers" (no clue what that is and neither did he) and two of his friends said of course he could play with them, while the fourth kid told him that he couldn't play "because he was black". Without a call from the teacher, I only had Jayden's story to go on, but I wrote her a note to ask for more information.  Her message back was that "it was being monitored" and she had discussed it with the boys.  Was that enough?  Had the other parents been called?  I was pretty sure they weren't.  Was this a classroom issue or one that both parents should have been privy to?  If I were that little boy's parents, I would be VERY interested in the chance to make sure my son was given the opportunity to learn a valuable lesson in equality. It seemed like this issue was not treated with the seriousness that I felt it should be.

photo credit: Presstv.ir

Race, colour, difference and even prejudice are topics in our house and it's amazing how instantly, my sweet seven year old knew that what his friend said, was racism. He told his friend it was wrong to say that and it hurt his feelings.  I'm so proud that he stood up for himself and that he worked to solve the issue with his friend, but would any real changes have been made in the classroom?

Jayden knows what racism means, we've talked about it often.  We have visited the place where Martin Luther King said his 'I Have a Dream" speech. The one where the vision of black and white kids playing together WAS the dream.  The vision of a better world, where kids looked beyond colour.  We've seen photos of white and "coloured" water fountains and we celebrate Black History Month where we can talk about civil rights, how far the world has come and how far it obviously still needs to go. We often talk about what racism truly means. If someone mentions that you have brown skin, that's okay, because for kids it's like noticing blond hair and blue eyes.  But if that colour of hair, eyes or skin means you don't get to do something, get left out or you are treated differently, that's racism.  It's fairly simple and our kids are so clear about how they want to be treated. On that day in the class room, Jayden was not treated fairly, solely based on the colour of his beautiful skin.

We struggle with identity in our house. Our boys are brown a beautiful blend of their parents but are they white?  Black?  Being biracial, actually means that you are seen as black in the world- that's the truth. When you aren't white, you are black.  Just look at Obama.  The first "black" president, even though he is also of mixed race.

Our world often makes no sense to me and to our boys, sometimes.  But we try to create an environment where our kids can be honest, talk about race openly, embrace and celebrate it. I can only hope that Jayden's new teacher can also see this opportunity as a chance to talk about diversity, different types of families, seeing people for who they are and not their skin colour and ultimately encourage acceptance and inclusion for all the kids.