Monday, September 1, 2014

Help us Reach our Goal for SickKids for our Zackie #WalkforSickKids

I didn't think I could do it last year.  I was in pain for the last 5km but there was no way I was going to quit...Zack never had.  The accomplishment of challenging myself and pushing through was such an important experience for me.  Having Zack in my mind for all 20km, he remained my inspiration.

The day of the walk, I saw his face at every turn.  In the faces of Ty and Jayden.  In the faces of the other kids we met along the journey.  I saw the way he used to look at me when he accomplished one of his own goals and I felt him cheering me on.


We met families who knew about Zack and we shared the stories of our incredibly brave kids, nurses and doctors we loved and what life was like with a sick child.  We remembered those first days after our kids were born and rushed to SickKids for treatment to keep them alive, feeling thankful for the time it gave us with our child.  We saw kids who had conquered cancer, survived open heart and brain surgery and even other families who had lost children within the walls of SickKids.  We remembered those painful last days together, but also marveled at the way in which our sweet children and our families were treated with dignity and respect.  We remembered making molds of our child's feet and hands and celebrated how each and every nurse and doctor fought to keep them alive until the very end. We shared the story of how the nurses and doctors took turns doing CPR for over 40 minutes for our Zackie and they never gave up.  That act gave us three more days to be with him, tell him all that we needed to say and ultimately allow him to give up the fight, in our arms.

The morning of the walk we raised the "Courageous" flag to kick off the opening ceremonies and shared our story about Zack with the participants who were just about to start their day.  We celebrated our fundraising efforts and walked with pride as Zack's family and as SickKids Ambassadors.


We can't wait to do it again this year and walk 20km for SickKids in honour of our Zackie.  Again this year, our boys were able to participate in the YTV tv spots to promote the walk and they felt so proud to be a part of this initiative as SickKids ambassadors
 
Along side other incredible families who we have met along the way, Paul, Ty, Jayden and I will be walking for Zackie and working towards our fundraising goal of $1500!

Check out Ty's scene on YTV!


Jayden's SickKids Ambassador Debut on YTV!

 

There are no words to express how SickKids has impacted our lives and how, even though Zack is gone, they continue to embrace us as family.  

Please donate here to Zack's Dream Team! Every dollar will help us reach our goal!

Thank you,
Heather, Paul, Ty and Jayden xo

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Breaking Bad and other Shows with Kids who have Disabilities

The other night I was watching the Emmys and so thrilled that my fave show of all time, 'Breaking Bad' had yet again swept the awards with their wins.  I can't totally articulate why I love that series so much, but I do know that it's due in part to the fact that they cast a young actor with CP (cerebral palsy) in the role of Walt Jr.  It not only made me look into what could have been Zack's teen years, but also set the bar for other shows to create an environment of inclusion and celebrating differences.

Watching Walt Jr. use his crutches and talk with some difficulty was such an interesting warm juxtaposition to the crazy, drug and blood-filled episodes.  Seeing as he navigated through his world, grabbing for crutches, trying to gain more independence and even exhibiting very "typical" teen behaviour, created a much needed balance for the family's chaos.  While not much was ever said about his disability or his diagnosis, there it was in every episode as if to show that in fact his needs were the most "normal" thing about them!

It got me thinking- what other tv shows and movies have portrayed young people with disabilities?  Did they use actors with or without those challenges? 

Here are my favourite shows or movies that include kids who have disabilities;

Breaking Bad- Walt Jr. has CP on this amazing show and uses crutches to get around.  This 20-something actor has CP in real life, but does not use assistance to walk. 



Spy Kids 4- I LOVED that the boy in this film was Hearing Impaired and wore blue hearing aids like Zackie!  My boys thought this was pretty awesome too.  It was not only mentioned in the movie, but celebrated and used as a "superpower".



Life Goes On- This was one of my favourite shows from the early 90s, long before I even knew the impact of having one of its main characters have Down's Syndrome.  Chris Burke was one of the first actors on television to show different abilities and he used his celebrity to build awareness for the National Down Syndrome Society. 


Glee- Becky's wit and attitude on this show provides much of the comic relief.  She breaks down the stereotypes that might exist about kids with special needs and shows us that teens with disabilities can and should be treated like everyone else!  Sue's relationship with her is exactly that.  Becky feels the same lust, anger, joy and frustrations that the typical teens experience on the show and I just love that she crushes on all the guys.  Her harsh language and brutal honesty shocks and impresses me all at the same time.

Glee- While the show has received backlash for not using an actor who is actually disabled and in a wheelchair, the producers claim they did open casting to actors with all abilities, but found no one with the voice or talent required to play Artie.  I still love that Artie's talent is not at all limited by the fact that he's in the wheelchair.  The show has addressed so many of the teen issues of inclusion, independence and sexuality that face youth with disabilities.


Parenthood- Having a boy with Asperger's on this hit NBC Drama has made an incredible impact on the awareness of Autism and ASD in the mainstream.  I've followed Max Braverman's character as we learned about his diagnosis, watched him struggle in the school system and even navigate complex social relationships.  The show's creator (who has a son on the spectrum) has balanced the need for social awareness with sensitivity and even a bit of humour.



How to Train Your Dragon- I loved this film as well as its sequel.  Having lost his leg in a near fatal accident, Toothless befriends and even helps build a prosthetic for his dragon Hiccup.  Not limited in any way, Toothless is by far the most fearless and respected dragon trainer in Berk. Since so many younger kids will watch this film, I think it sets the stage for a great discussion about respecting all abilities.


Dophin Tale- One of my favourite movies recognizing difference, celebrating it and finding ways to overcome any obstacle!  By far Winter is the best animal represented in movies with a disability, but its the screen-stealing little girl in a wheelchair who captured what it means to connect with someone who is just like you (thanks to Michelle who reminded me about that amazing scene).


More great movie title ideas from Love That Max.

Update:
Since posting this on my Facebook wall, I've heard of more great movies and shows;

American Horror Story- featuring a mentally challenged young woman Jamie Brewer.

So You Think You Can Dance- From my friend, Theresa Sanders;  although it doesn't feature a character, they have often featured disabilities in various ways...they've had numerous contestants audition with disabilities and they always tell their story and highlight them, in September 2012 they featured the Axis Dance Company during one episode who put on a glorious performance featuring dancers in wheelchairs, in June 2008 one of the choreographers Jean Marc Genereaux created a beautiful and moving dance for his daughter with disabilities and dedicated it to her because she loves to watch dance, and even last night one of the dances was about helping someone with visual impairments make their way and find love. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

10 Family-Friendly Ideas for the Last Week of Summer

Can you believe we only have one week left before the kids go back to school?  We've been cleaning and shopping and gearing up to start back to the regular routine of the school year.  I don't know about you but we still have some things on our Summer Bucket List that we need to do but haven't had a chance.  While some of those adventures will not get done in time, we have recreated some fun ideas for our family to enjoy the last week of summer before school starts!  Here are 10 ideas for your family!


1.  Get nominated for an Ice Bucket Challenge, talk to your kids about ALS and make a donation to ALS Canada.

2.  Go on an ice cream adventure! Visit your favourite ice cream shop and try a flavour you've never tried before (we love to visit Slices and Scoops in Fenelon Falls and order Moose Tracks or Peanut Butter and Chocolate!).

3.  Make a photo book or journal about your summer adventures and have the kids do the writing or dictating.  This is a great idea to get them back into creative writing mode for school!

4.  Go Park-Hopping and try a park you have never gone to before!  Drive around to new neighbourhoods and stop at parks that look like fun. We love to check out the ones with fitness equipment!

5.  Use your season's passes or coupons to visit your favourite summer places just one more time!  We can't wait to have one of our last visits to Wonderland. 

6. Book a playdate with a school friend to get your child reacquainted with a buddy before they start back next week.

7.  Have one of these summer dessert recipes for dinner at least ONE night this week!


8. Take a bike ride to the kids' school and do a "dry run" of the first day back.  Play some of their favourite recess games on the field or tarmac.  Do they know what door they will go through when the bell rings?  How fast can they run to line up there?  Can they guess who their teacher will be?  It's great to start talking about school and classroom rules too!

9.  Try one of these 5 ways to give back to kids who are in need of school supplies for this September.   

10.  Host a Netflix movie night inside or under the stars with popcorn and some retro candy!  With the sudden and sad passing of Robin Williams, it's the best time to reminisce and introduce your kids to the adventure movies we love from one of the best comedic actors ever.  These titles are all on Netflix; Jumanji and RV.



Check out these other adventure titles for Big Kids from Netflix Canada; 
Journey 2 The Mysterious Island (with The Rock)
The Adventures of Tintin
Tad: The Lost Explorer
The Adventures of Mickey Matson and the Copperhead Treasure
National Treasure
Labou and the Quest for the Lost Treasure


Little Kids
Dora The Explorer
Wild Animal Baby Explorers
Tree Fu Tom
Rubbadubbers: Tubb's Pirate Treasure
A Turtle's Tale: Sammy's Adventures
The Hive
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! 

Should you participate in the #ALSIceBucketChallenge?

I've always been hugely supportive of charitable initiatives and fundraising for several important causes that have impacted our own family, so when the ALS Ice Bucket Challenges (#ALSIceBucketChallenge) started showing up in my feed last week, I needed and wanted to learn more about both the disease and the fundraising plans.  

As more and more videos filled by Facebook feed, I wondered if these people were really donating to this important cause or just jumping in on some viral social fun. The Ice Bucket Challenge debate has been going on for several weeks now and I can actually see both sides of the issues.  While African children struggle to have clean drinking water, we have chosen to waste thousands of buckets. I agree that it just doesn't make sense. On the other hand, after a bit of reading and research, I was pleased to see that the challenge has in fact produced unprecedented fundraising results and will really be able to make a difference in supporting more research.  When I thought about whether I would participate, I decided that ultimately the pros outweighed the cons.  I felt comfortable knowing that the money that our family donated, would have not have been donated otherwise, had we all not been challenged.  I love that my kids learned about a disease that has affected several families that they know and that they each contributed some money towards our family donation.  I've watched videos like this incredible video of Anthony and read blogs like Charlie's, that has allowed me to learn more about ALS. This is a good thing, right?



Participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge is your choice, free of judgement. You may have seen my own Ice Bucket video on social media last week and noticed that I nominated my friend Ally to do the same.  When I challenged Ally, I didn't know that her mother-in-law had died as a result of this relentless disease.  I'm so proud of her for sharing her reasons for declining, as well as her story of watching someone slip away from ALS. It may help you form your own decision about participating or not.


Here is Ally's story-

I've been watching the ALS ice bucket challenge evolve on social media for the last few weeks. I wasn't sure what I would do when I was inevitably nominated. Turns out I'd rather write about what the disease is really like, than dump a bucket of ice over my head.

Our family lost my mother in law, the kids' Nana, to ALS. She was 65 years old and it was literally a year between diagnosis and death. It was a hell of a year.

ALS is a relentless, fast-moving, terrifying disease that held our family in its throes until it finally took her life. This isn't my story, of course. ALS didn't happen to me - but I can tell you what it stole from a woman who had just begun to enjoy retirement, her grandkids, and plans to travel.

First, it stole her voice. This was a woman who called her kids regularly to chat, and almost always called back after the last hang up because she had 'one more thing to tell us'. Her first symptoms were slurred speech, and the quick downhill road meant that she could only write to communicate. The pain in her eyes and frustration at not being able to talk was hard to watch. It stole a huge part of her personality when she lost her ability to speak. We would have given a lot to hear her 'advice' one more time.

It stole her friends. There were friends that stopped coming to visit, unable to cope with seeing their friend attached to a feeding tube, unable to speak to them, communicating only with pen and paper.

It stole her dignity. As a person loses muscular control, simple bodily functions become difficult if not impossible. It meant Nana no longer could travel to visit family even a 20 minute drive away. She became trapped in four walls, as reliant on others as a newborn.

It stole her ambition. Her will to live at the end - of course it was gone. There was no life left to live, nothing to hope for or to look forward to. While her mind was strong, her body had betrayed her, and she had to let go. As hard as it was, after the year we saw her go through, it honestly was a relief to see her suffering end.

To our family, reminders of ALS are reminders of heartbreak, of a terrible year where it was all we could do to keep up with and try to adjust to the ever-changing realities of this disease.  With every empty bucket of ice dumped it also serves as a reminder of a life not lived and an emptiness in our lives of what could have been. And while it's great to see that the #icebucketchallenge has raised awareness and money (incredible gains over previous years for which I'm so glad), for me, I'm going to take a different challenge.

I'll be doing the NoIceBucketChallenge instead - read here for more, or just follow these simple steps (credit to the author Will Oremus):

1. Do not fetch a bucket, fill it with ice, or dump it on your head.
2. Do not film yourself or post anything on social media.
3. Just donate the damn money, whether to the ALS Association or to some other charity of your choice. And if it’s an organization you really believe in, feel free to politely encourage your friends and family to do the same.


Guest post by my friend, Ally Cooper.  I'm so proud of her courage to write this and her passion to tell an important story about ALS.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Coming Soon: Innovative Conception Aid for Couples Struggling with Infertility #TheStorkIsComing


Having gone through infertility and ultimately conceiving through IVF (in vitro fertilization), I'm thrilled to bring this exciting news to Canadian couples.

Are you ready for the NEW, over-the-counter conception aid? The Stork is coming to Canada this summer. Available exclusively at your local Rexall Pharmacy. 

Sign up for special offers and to be notified when it is available in-store here or follow #TheStorkIsComing to get the newest information as it lands.



Disclosure:  I've been compensated for helping to spread the word about this important new conception aid for couples.  Having gone through infertility and ultimately choosing IVF, I'm thrilled to bring this exciting news to Canadian couples.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

5 Ways to Give Back for Back to School plus Me to We Supplies Giveaway!

The reality is that back to school shopping has already started for many families (including ours), but it's also true that many kids just can't afford new supplies, healthy breakfasts or even new shoes for their school start this September. That's why it's a great idea to make giving back part of your preparations for the new school year.

As much as I love summer, sun and sitting pool side (when the weather is actually good), I really love the excitement and routine of going back to school.  I can remember going school supply shopping with my mom and my sister every year and loading up the cart with all new binders, markers and pencils. Cracking open that new spiral notebook and writing "Mrs. Shaun Cassidy" always symbolized the start of a great new school year.

Now with my own boys, while they might not be quite as excited as me, to start another year at school, they do love to shop for new supplies!  Last year, we started a new tradition of giving back to other kids so that they could enjoy just some of the privileges that we have.  More and more companies are providing ways to make your dollars count for underprivileged kids around the world, so why not use your buying power to shop where it counts?  It's also a great way to have another discussion about making philanthropy part of your family's daily life.  Here are my 5 favourite ideas to give back this back to school season;



1. I've fallen in love with the Me to We products for back to school (sold exclusively at Staples Canada).  Ty and I loved attending the launch in June, where we learned about how this innovative line of products will support several initiatives around the world.  The best part is that after your purchase is made, you can go online and track your dollars.  Ty and I got home from the event and grabbed the laptop to find out how our money would be used.  We found out that when we bought the Me to We water bottle, we helped an 8 year old get access to clean water in his village in Ghana. How cool is that?

2. Did you know that 1 in 3 Canadian students will start the school year without the proper supplies? Staples Canada teamed up with global pop music superstar Katy Perry this year to “Make Roar Happen” which celebrates and supports students during the back-to-school season with the goal of reaching the milestone of $10 million in nine years.  Each Staples location, in partnership with one or more local registered charities and schools (click here for a list of local partners), invites donations at point of sale where 100 % of the proceeds or supplies collected will be directed to schools, classes and persons who most need the assistance.  What a fabulous way to give back while you shop with the kids!



3.  You could also start off the school year with a donation of $20 to the library at SickKids. While our kids will be in class, some children will be using reading to escape from their daily and sometimes difficult hospital routine. Story-time and book delivery service, where books are delivered right to the children in their hospital bed, are just a couple of the children’s favourite services you can help support. Your gift may help provide a child with hours of enjoyment during their hospital stay and will help fund popular and classic books of all kinds - in different languages, on CD, and for all reading levels. 
4.  As part of our back to school giving, we just sent 4 cartons to the West End School in Negril, a place we visited during our trip to Jamaica last year.  With our emotional attachment to the place where we read books to the kids, hugged the students and where our boys received stickers and high fives from its children, the Sandals Foundation (and the West End Early Childhood Institution) was the perfect choice to give back for the new school year.

Adopting a school outside of Canada can bring a sense of global responsibility and help teach your children to look beyond our borders.  Sandals Foundation in Jamaica and Turks and Caicos is an amazing organization that helps to ensure that as many children, youth and adults as possible have the educational opportunities they need to reach their full potential. Programs include community scholarships, adopted schools, book drives and literacy programs, and support of new libraries and computer facilities. 100% of your donation goes to the specific projects.


5.  Did you know that 36% of the 1.7 million Canadians turning to Food Banks in 2013 were children and youth? That's too many empty lunch boxes heading to school each day.  You can help this August and September when you attend a Quaker lunch bag event at momstown this month or go online to use your child's art to create their very own 'Made in Canada' lunch bag. For every approved submission, Quaker will donate the equivalent of 10 lb. of food to Food Banks Canada for Canadian families in need. In 2013, Food Banks Canada distributed over 17 million lb. of food to its network of 500 food banks, of which over 1 million lb. was cereal (a category that includes granola bars).  What a great way to get the kids involved in giving back this September!



Enter to Win a Me to We Prize Pack from Staples Canada that includes*;

 
a Rafflecopter giveaway


*Open to Canadians only.  Contest closes September 15th, 2014. 

Bike Tips and a Contest for Beginners and Pros with #CAABike

For my birthday, I was so excited to get a new bike!  I had always been the one to push the stroller with Zack or walk Roxy while my other boys enjoyed a "family bike ride" without me!  I've secretly been jealous and really excited to get back on a bike after...oh, about 25 years!  It couldn't be THAT hard to ride again, could it?  It's literally like "riding a bike" after all!  
  

Since my birthday, we been on several bike rides around the trails in our neighbourhood and even over to watch Paul and his soccer team play at the local park.  Still left on my summer bucket list is to take the annual "Beaches and Toronto Island" bike road trip that Paul and the boys have done the last three years!  This year, I get to join them!

As a beginner, there was so much I still had to learn about bikes and bike safety and I was thrilled to hear that if we ever had bike trouble, we could use our CAA membership for Bike Assist, just like we would for roadside! I've even downloaded a great Bike Assist App with cycling routes and attractions that come right to my phone!   It has incredible features for beginners and the pros. CAA’s free Cycling App includes:
  • CAA route planner to decide your next ride across the province
  • ETA Alert to let your co-riders know that you’ve reached your destination safely and on time
  • Follow your friends as they ride with you through our Friend Follow tool
  • View do-it-yourself videos to help you change a flat tire, fix your breaks and cycle safe
  • Real-time updates about current road conditions
- See more at: http://blog.caasco.com/community/bike-safety-tips-from-caa/?utm_source=RT&utm_medium=xcell&utm_campaign=Bike_Assist_Video#sthash.SPd0VmCQ.dpuf
CAA’s free Cycling App includes:
  • CAA route planner to decide your next ride across the province
  • ETA Alert to let your co-riders know that you’ve reached your destination safely and on time
  • Follow your friends as they ride with you through our Friend Follow tool
  • View do-it-yourself videos to help you change a flat tire, fix your breaks and cycle safe
  • Real-time updates about current road conditions
- See more at: http://blog.caasco.com/community/bike-safety-tips-from-caa/?utm_source=RT&utm_medium=xcell&utm_campaign=Bike_Assist_Video#sthash.SPd0VmCQ.dpufCAA’s free Cycling App includes:
  • CAA route planner to decide your next ride across the province
  • ETA Alert to let your co-riders know that you’ve reached your destination and on time
  • Follow your friends as they ride with you through our Friend Follow tool
  • View do-it-yourself videos to help you change a flat tire, fix your breaks and cycle safe
  • Real-time updates about current road conditions

Phone

I have to admit that I don't know much about bike repairs (and in all honesty, neither does Paul), so I'm so happy they have some great videos on the basic bike repairs and tips (from air pressure to helmet safety) that we all need to know before a bike trip with the kids.  I love this one that covers the basics for a newbie like me!


If you want to be more adventurous than us, you might even plan a cycling vacation and CAA has route details for France, New Mexico, Western and Eastern Canada!

NEW CONTEST!  What's Your Road to Victory?
Upload a snapshot from your favourite cycling route and you could win a Montague Crosstown cycling bundle and three-hour bike-fitting session valued at over $1200.


 
Be sure to follow CAASCO on Facebook and Twitter.
Disclosure:  I was compensated for this post about the incredible features of the CAA South Central Ontario Bike Assist Campaign.  All opinions are 100% my own.



Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Shoe Lover's Peek at DSW Canada

Did you know that shoes have been a huge part of my life? Some of you may not know, that I grew up in the shoe biz with my very first job as a cashier at Town Shoes in 1989, and that I then moved on to manage their stores in Kitchener, Ottawa and even Bloor Street (where I sold Erica Ehm her wedding shoes)!  When I became the Director of Marketing, I really started to understand retail and the shoe biz from a totally different perspective, living each day understanding a woman's obsession with shoes and how to speak to a true "shoe-aholic".

About 7 years out of the biz, and about 104 shoes later (damn, I miss my discount), I was thrilled to attend the DSW Canada (owned by Town Shoes) media event with my bestie.  Let's be honest, what could possibly be better than a glass of wine and shoe shopping with you BFF? 


I couldn't believe the size of the new DSW Canada store in Mississauga.  About 20,000 square feet of a pure shoe lover's paradise.  This is not a store to take the kids to- they don't sell kids shoes like it's sister division The Shoe Company- but instead it's a store to visit with a girlfriend or alone to find some much needed "me time" while trying on some of the 22,000 pairs! 

This is barely a glimpse in the 20,000 square foot store!
The two new Canadian retail locations, Heartland Centre in Mississauga and Woodland Hills in Newmarket (I hear it's over 23,000 square feet!) will open their doors August 7th to the delight of shoe lovers everywhere!  Don't even get me started on the fabulous service, now offered at all DSW stores- tongue-in-cheek signs at the cash, one gift card for all banners and even staff on the floor with iPads.  These iPads will be used to look up sizes at other locations and to sign you up for their NEW unique loyalty program for shoe lovers, that will allow customers to earn and redeem points at all banners across Canada; Town Shoes, The Shoe Company, Shoe Warehouse, and DSW Canada locations.


The big question is can shoppers can expect the same brands they've come to love in the U.S...the answer is yes AND no- DSW Canada will be carrying their core assortment of leading brands like Nine West, Ralph Lauren, Sam Edelman, Cole Haan, Steve Madden, Sketchers, Clarks, Converse, Nike, Keds, and Coach (to name a few) but we also spotted House of Harlow, Frye, Ivanka Trump and Jessica Simpson added in the mix- all at up to 40% off the suggested retail price!

After putting my two choices on Instagram for my friends to vote on, I've already bought my first pair at DSW Canada- an adorable pair of Nine West leopard flats.  So what are you waiting for?  Shoe lover's paradise has already arrived!  PS....you can NEVER have too many shoes!


Follow DSWCanada on Instagram, Facebook or the hashtag #DSWCanada for your new shoe fix!