Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Top 10 Gift Ideas for Tween Boys #SeasonsTweetings

While it's been hard to get my Christmas mojo going, one thing that I do love to do is spoil my kiddos at the holidays. As they get older, I find it really challenge to;
a. afford the things they want and stick to our budget
b. find something they don't already have 
Jayden is 7 and the easiest to buy for in our house! He loves almost any gift from musical instruments to small PlayMobil or LEGO figures or even "cool" clothes. But this year as Ty hit 11, I'm beginning to realize that being a tween is not only about moodiness and puberty, it's a tough age to buy for too!  

Somewhere between the ages of 10 and 12, our kids turn into a whole different demographic...tweens!  A relatively new term, Wikipedia defines Tweens as;
"A tween is a person who is between the ages of 10 to 12 years old. The term is often described in popular media as referring to a preadolescent (usually female) who is at the "in-between" stage in their development when they are considered. They are beginning to identify their own interests and express themselves through their activities and the first adult interests start to emerge, such as playing sports, playing musical instruments, cooking, sewing, using computers, etc. At the same time, tween self-esteem is in development and fragile, at best. As such, tweens are highly affected by peers and face pressures and worries that are often focused on how they will fit in and interact with others in society."
 
Considering all the pressures, changes and decisions that these tween boys are going through, gift giving becomes challenging! Many kids already have the latest electronics and gaming systems, so what's left?

Here are my Top 10 Gift Ideas for Tween Boys;

1. Sports equipment: Basketball is a huge hit in our house, but with the cold weather they can't play outdoors. This Christmas, we got the boys the indoor backboards and nets that hang on the back of their bedroom doors. Mini hockey sticks and new indoor sticks are great ideas for the hockey guys in your house!

2. Gaming: If you tween already has the latest system (PS4 is HOT this year), consider one of the newest games out this season (NHL15 or Destiny).  Be sure to check that the rating is T and not "Mature" for this influential age group!


3. Music: Sure iTunes cards are great to help your Tween load up on the latest songs for their playlist, but have you seen the cute Bluetooth speakers you can buy? You might want to limit the volume or suggest they play their music in their room only! Cool headphones are also a huge hit!
4. Books and Magazines: Thankfully, I have a book loving-tween! Every holiday, there are several books under the tree for Ty. This year, The Maze Runner series, Fault in Our Stars and Allegiant series are huge hits for this age.


5. Clothes: The one saving grace for Tween boys is that at this age, they are starting to actually care about their clothes and the way they look! Wrapping up a cool Shaun White hoodie, tshirt or slouch winter hat is actually COOL to these boys!

6. Foodie Fun: One thing we know about this age is that they can eat! What about a gift bag of their fave snacks or gift cards to the places they like to go out for a meal! This year, I got my tween a popcorn maker for his favourite movie night treat!


7. Retro Toys:  Some toys might still be cool, like Nerf and LEGO, but also nostalgic toys and games are filling the shelves at Target Canada this holiday. Whether it's a real record player or even the newest Simon electronic game, your tween can enjoy the same things we liked at that age!
8. Accessories: Start teaching your Tween to be on time with a cool colourful watch (this will help with curfews in a few years) or maybe they like to wear belts or ties! Don't forget to visit the shoe departments for the latest kicks for your boys!


9. Movies and TV Shows: Grab the DVD of your tween's favourite movie or show or treat them to a movie gift card or Netflix subscription!

10. Stocking Stuffers: Hit the pharmacy for some tween boy must-haves like deodorant, body spray, hair styling products and even Teen vitamins! Be sure to embarrass them with socks and underwear too!

Want to make shopping for tween boys even easier?  Shop all in one place at Target Canada!  Best part is that all available at 5% off everyday with your Target REDCard (ours comes right of the bank account so we can stay on budget and NO credit card stress!).


Follow @TargetCanada on Twitter or check out the Target Canada Facebook page for more holiday deals and ideas!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

I've decided to cry today

So many days I keep the feeling of sadness and loss bottled up.

I hide it from the boys, I hide it from Paul, I hide it from my parents and friends, I hide it at work and I even try to hide it from myself, but it's always there. 

Grief is a part of who I am.  

It has forever changed who I am, how I see the world, how I see others and how I see myself. 

It has created a layer of sadness that I wear like an undergarment, hidden from the world.

It creeps into every day, every mood, every breath and it can consume me when I least expect it.   

It makes me grumpy and impatient and sad.


I miss the me that was exhausted with sleepless nights, but overwhelmed with joy as a living miracle was in my life everyday. I miss the me who had shined as Zack's caregiver and advocate.  I miss the me that knew my purpose in life.  I miss the me that felt the deepest happiness and laughed out loud with my boys.

I miss my complete family. Our family of 4 is not our family. I look at photos of the four of us and it's not right.  It's not how it was supposed to be. 

I don't need a hug, a like on Facebook, a glass of wine or even shopping therapy.  I need my son back and it's the one thing I can never have.

Excuse me while spend some time alone, because I've decided to cry today.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Win a $100 to DSW Canada for your Holiday Shopping!

What a fun way to shop for shoes!  Let the kids sit in two chairs using the free wifi, while I take my time to go up and down the aisles of the over 20,000 square feet DSW Canada store in Newmarket!

After looking at the DSW Canada website, I planned a visit to look for what holiday looks were hot this season. What I found were rows upon rows of pumps in all heel heights, shoes with tons of bling (or not) and even "shoeties" (below-the-ankle booties) that would be perfect to complete any cocktail or office party look! With discounted prices on all of the leading brands, it was really hard to narrow down my choice for an upcoming holiday party.

It didn't help that my eyes kept going over to the gigantic boot section!  With a weakness for black boots, I bribed the kids with a mint and 15 more minutes to play their iPads, to give me a bit more time to try on some boots! I basically took over one aisle (it then looked like a tornado had hit), as I had about 10 different boxes of boots to try on! With the help of the very friendly staff, I found my size in ALL of my choices! After sharing my two "finalists" on Instagram, I chose a wedge Hush Puppies waterproof and warm pair of boots!  I'm almost excited for the snow (almost).
.

Before I left, I had to look down the men's section for a Christmas gift for Paul...he still misses my discount from when I worked in shoes! Since he NEVER reads my blog posts, I can tell you that my man will be getting a fab pair of chocolate brown Kenneth Cole dress shoes, leather gloves (only $35!) and some funky socks!
 


With my Shoe Lovers Rewards, I was able to save $10 and earn another $10 for my next visit...add that to the great $10 off coupon for completing a quick online survey and you know I'm already making plans for my next visit!

Want to feed your own shoe addition with a $100 gift card from DSW Canada?  Enter the contest below or watch for their weekly Tuesday Shoesday on Facebook
 for a chance to win 1 of 5 $50 gift cards!


Contest runs December 5th to 14th, 2014.  Open to Canadian residents only. Gift card can be used at DSW Canada in Mississauga or Newmarket. 
Not redeemable for cash. Non-transferable. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

How your Big Kids can still have fun with Elf on the Shelf

Yesterday, after only two days with our new Elf on the Shelf, Buddy, my big kid, Ty, told me that he knew that it wasn't real. Gulp. He knew that it was me who had been moving our "Buddy the Elf" around the house in funny positions each night. 

At first, I hid the disappointment that my latest attempt to find my Christmas spirit had been lost on my 11 year old son. I knew that Jayden, at age 7, would have far more fun with the Elf, but I actually thought that even Ty who still believes in Santa and the magic of the holidays, would go along with it for fun.  I was wrong...or was I?

Why did the fun have to end, JUST because he knew it had been me moving around our elf?  Couldn't both kids still enjoy this new tradition in different ways?  Of course they could!  

Here are how our Big Kid is going to enjoy Elf of the Shelf this year;

Get your big kid to help move the Elf on a few nights:
Ty and I decided that HE could be a part of the fun antics that Buddy did each night leading up to Christmas! He started last night and loved being woken up out of bed for the elf-capades!

Ask your big kid to help you make it fun for the little ones:
Having our own little secret was really fun and we winked at each other this morning as Jayden found the toilet paper rolling down the stairs.  Ty went on and on about how crazy that Elf was and what a mess he had made...academy award winning performance!

Big kids can be in charge some nights:
Why can't Paul and I be surprised too?  I'd LOVE to wake up and see where the Elf has landed.  We decided that on some nights, Ty would be the one to hide Buddy for our whole family!  He even downloaded the app for more ideas.

Big kids can still be surprised too:
Even though Ty now knows that our Elf isn't magic, it doesn't negate the fact that he still loves the surprises and fun! Sure Ty can help on a few nights, but on others, we will still find ways to make him laugh!

Here's our Elf on the Shelf fun so far.....

December 1- Buddy's first day



December 2- Buddy's second day


 December 3- Buddy's third day with my partner-in-Elf-crime, Ty


Is Elf on the Shelf a tradition in your house?  What's your favorite silly position for him or her? Did you stop the Elf on the Shelf when your kids got older? 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Elf on the Shelf, WestJet and other ways to find your Christmas Spirit

Oh December, here you are again.  The month that brings such a mixture of heartache and joy each and every year since Zack died at age 3 and a half.  I can't truly wrap my head around the fact that this is the fourth Christmas without him. Fourth! How is that possible?  

It's been four years since I bought Zack's last gifts and searched online to find the perfect Elmo bedding set. 

It's been four years since our three boys sat on Santa's lap.  

It's been four years since our family of five took it's last holiday photo.  

It's been four years since Christmas brought the joy that filled my heart and our home. 

It's been four years since I looked forward to this holiday.


I know that it's only normal that I find myself struggling again to find the joy this time of year, but I still curse myself for feeling this way.  

So, in an effort to find MY spirit and maybe help some of you this season, I thought I'd work through MY list of ways in which the magic of the holiday is still alive in our family and somewhere in my heart....


1.  Buddy, our new "Elf on The Shelf" has arrived! For years, we have resisted this tradition , but this year I wanted to try a daily reminder of the magic that is Christmas. So far, this is really a lot of fun!


2. Giving back is one of the best ways for me to find that Christmas spirit! This year we've been part of Operation Christmas Child, World Vision gifts and will host a toy drive at school! 

3.  Holiday parties with wine, appetizers and sweet desserts are some of my favourite parts of December!

4. I love attending the Holiday Memorial service at our local Bereaved Families chapter.  Surrounded by others who are also struggling to find their holiday spirit, it's very comforting to not feel quite so alone.

5.  Shopping is fun and therapeutic!  Picking gifts my boys will love and seeing them wonder about what Santa might bring...that is Christmas spirit at its best. Watching Paul get excited about the shopping deals is a thing of beauty. The world's best shopper, my generous hubby often goes way overboard at Christmas, so I hope that there is some holiday magic on our Visa!

6.  Spending time with my amazing family and going up north to my parent's house at the lake (aka Christmastown) is where memories are made.  Just like some of my wishes on my list from 2013.

7.  I can't wait to take two weeks off with my silly boys and do NO work for two whole weeks! I can't say that I've done that for years and I'm making our to-do list now!

8. Decorating is both tough and beautiful. Every house looks better with mini lights and I smile each time I pass Zack's Elmo ornaments on the tree.  



9. My friends and family around me fill my heart with love, memories and laughter.  Nothing better than surrounding yourself with people who love you, any time of the year.

10. Then there are the viral videos and stories you hear this time of year, like this one. THIS is Christmas spirit and miracles at work.....I dare you not to cry...

 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Movies to get you and the kids through cold and flu season

Moms aren't allowed to get sick, right? Wrong!  Last week, while Paul was away on business (best timing ever), I was down and out with the flu. Not wanted to get out of bed, I still wanted to entertain (and bribe) the kids so I could rest and feel better! It only took a few days to get over it, and we actually had tons of fun in our pjs!

During the "cold and flu days" you COULD spend all day "Elfing" yourself like we did in this video, you could grab some empty toilet rolls and create these cute Christmas crafts or you could log into Netflix and watch some hilarious flicks with the kids and laugh your way to better health (this one gets my vote)!




So, my prescription to get better this winter, is to curl up under the covers, down some cold medication, grab your favourite cuddlers and have a family movie night with some of our Family Favourites....after all, laughter IS the best medicine, isn't it?

Our number one favourite for this time of year (and no, it's not too early to watch it) is Elf, so my "sickie" request was that we watch it together first!




Here are some of our other all-year-round faves;

             
             
     


Wishing you and yours good health this winter!


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!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Just-Like-Gourmet Chicken, Goat Cheese and Pesto PIzza Recipe

Weeknight meals are a huge rush for us and now that I'm not working at home, and with Paul working late or traveling, we need some creative ideas to make healthy dinners in 15 minutes! 

I love the idea of batch cooking and even tried it a few times, but I can't seem to find the time on Sundays with our crazy hockey schedule.  That means that dinners are still a stress each day. I've been taking PROTINIS for my lunches, and now I've got a new best kept secret with Maple Leaf PRIME Chicken Breast Strips! Fully cooked strips can be added quickly to pastas, stir fries and wraps or even top your favourite salads for a protein-packed, healthy and quick dinner.
Maple Leaf Prime Naturally® Sweet Thai Chili Fully Cooked Chicken Breasts Strips (400 g)
Last week we used the Sweet Thai Chili Strips to make a Gourmet Pizza that was one of the best pizzas I've ever made!!! I promise, if you keep these strips in your fridge, you will find tons of ways to enjoy them with your family for your own Dinner in 15! 

Ingredients:
pizza dough or pre-made grocery pizza shell
pesto
soft ripened goat cheese
mozzarella
PRIME Chicken Strips (original, Italian Style or our fave Sweet Thai Chili)
any veggies for toppings that you like

Directions:
1. Top the pizza crust with pesto
2. Add chicken strips (and any other veggies you like)
3. Top with crumbled goat cheese and some shredded mozzarella
4. Bake as per pizza crust instructions.

Follow @MapleLeafPrime and the hashtag #Dinnerin15 for more great recipes!




Disclosure: I am a huge fan of life made simple with Maple Leaf PRIME Chicken Strips and was thrilled to be compensated for posting this recipe.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

This Week in Kardashian News- Racism and Nudity

Argh....where do I begin?  

Last night, I was appalled by Khloe's blatant ignorance when she posted this lovely meme on her Instagram account. I couldn't let it go. It went beyond 'stupid celebrity' status and hit me close to home. Very close, in fact. So close that I could see my husband and kids attack by the white hooded clan, in the past. My beloved family would have fallen prey to their violence. I can't even wrap my head around the clan's hatred and persecution over many decades. It will NEVER be funny to me. When I tweeted about her ignorance, I was a target of a lovely troll who was clear to point out how Khloe was just joking and that I should get therapy. AHHHHH...It appears that I wasn't the only one to be offended by her trivializing the horrific violence perpetrated by the KKK, as the internet was quick to reply and educate her on the history of the clan.  How dare she, from her white privilege, feel entitled to joke about such a thing? If you truly love black men, would you EVER make this a joke? 

We already know that Kanye has been offending people with disabilities at his concerts but now the Kardashian girls too? The story came to a halt when BET weighed in and now Khloe has taken the post down on all of her social channels. For the moment, good had triumphed over hatred and ignorance....until...


This. Paper Magazine felt it necessary to show us Kim Kardashian WEST oiled up, photoshopped and NAKED (not just showing her behind as is seen on most posts) in an effort to "break the internet". Did she?  No, but she did have a trending hashtag, had all my blogger friends writing about it, recreated a image steeped in racism and she broke my heart. Stupid I know, but I find it so hard to figure this woman out. I love her and I hate her. She seems in love, committed to her marriage and her lovely daughter, so why is she exploiting herself? Or, is she letting us exploit her because of how she started? Has marriage and motherhood not brought a wisdom that leads to better, more clothed decisions? I wish I was as confident in my post-baby body, and I believe ALL mothers can be sexy, but at what cost to their kids and their creation of what is acceptable. And Kanye, surely his ego is stroked on this photo, and they are singing all the way to the bank. But why is she doing more nudity than ever? Is it because it's on her terms? As a marketing ploy? She's a mom, with a daughter. Surely, there is more she could be teaching her little one about body image.

Has she gone too far or is this just part of her game?

Monday, November 10, 2014

It's Easy to Put Gifts that Give Back on your Holiday Wish List

Kindness is finally in style! As the holidays approach, I'm realizing that along with the gift guides and toy commercials, are an equal number of opportunities to give back with gifts that help those in need! Better still is that families are beginning to make giving back a part of their own holiday traditions. The amazing part of this is that these thoughtful gifts can change lives for the better! What could be more appropriate for the season?

We've been giving creative gifts that give back for many years through our local children's hospital, fundraising and donating in Zack's name, supporting local charities that matter to us and even donating some of our vacation time to volunteer at a school in Negril, Jamaica. The experience at that school is one that will forever stay with us and with our boys. Not only did we get to hand out an extra suitcase FULL of supplies for the struggling school, toys for the kids, necessities for the teachers and even some yummy candy, we got to spend time with the students in their classrooms. Like so many other struggling communities around the world, education is a treasured privilege and these kids LOVED school, took such pride in their work (even using pencils that were worn down to the nub) and were inspired by teachers who were making the most with what little they had. How could we not want to do more?



Because of this amazing experience and the choices from World Vision, we will be skipping the coffee and movie gift cards for our amazing teachers this year. We will be looking beyond our beloved island, for ways to help the over 100 countries that benefit from the gifts in the World Vision Catalogue. This holiday, with our $50 donation to Supply a Classroom, we can provide access to education for children living in poverty. Best of all, this donation is multiplied SEVEN times because of generous partner donations! I can't wait to see the looks on the teacher's faces when they see that their gift is helping teachers around the world!
That wasn't enough. I could have spent several hours deciding how to do even more through World Vision's initiatives like providing sustainable food and water sources. When the $30 gift of Sports Equipment caught my eye, I knew that THIS was what I would get our boys for their annual stocking stuffer donation. Our boys know what it's like to enjoy hockey, basketball and soccer, and can truly relate to the feeling of not being able to play because of a lack of equipment or even not having access to a safe place to play. Imagine the looks on the kids' faces when they are able to have the same fun that our own kids can have!
Giving back just feels good and inspires our kids to follow our lead. While I haven't even looked at the boys' lists for toys and video games for Christmas yet, I already feel thrilled with the online shopping I've done for the holidays. What gifts that give back are on your shoppping list? 


https://catalogue.worldvision.ca/Gifts/Forms/Gift.aspx?giftId=1909


Twitter Party Alert!
Want to learn more about creative ways to give back this holiday?  
Please join the Twitter Party on November 19th at 8pm EST 
using the hashtag #WorldVisionGifts.

You can also find them on Twitter and Facebook.

Disclosure: Giving back is what I love to write about! I'm honoured to be share our plans for giving back as part of the World Vision Blogging Program.
Disclosure: This post was sponsored by World Vision Canada. However, this is a cause that is near and dear to my heart. All opinions are my honest opinions. - See more at: http://www.echoesoflaughter.ca/2014/11/change-life-this-holiday-season-with.html#sthash.GUKx4jeK.dpuf
Disclosure: This post was sponsored by World Vision Canada. However, this is a cause that is near and dear to my heart. All opinions are my honest opinions. - See more at: http://www.echoesoflaughter.ca/2014/11/change-life-this-holiday-season-with.html#sthash.GUKx4jeK.dpuf

Get the Kids Involved in Giving Back at Christmas

This is the time of year when holidays, traditions and family become even more important and parents and kids alike are making their lists and working to create their idea of the "perfect" Christmas.

In our house and in our family, the "perfect" Christmas is a time for celebrating each other, giving gifts that make us smile and giving back to those in need. It's just the way it is in our family and it's important to get the kids involved in this tradition. With every passing year, we find new ways to involve the kids in the philanthropic initiatives that will not only help those less fortunate but actually help our own kids learn the value of giving back and the power of thinking beyond our own neighbourhood.We've given to causes that mean a lot to us and even donated time throughout the holidays, but this year we found Operation Christmas Child.
 
The boys and I started planning this week, and sat down to make the lists for our shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child.  Both boys were challenged to fill their own shoebox for another child who lives across the globe. Heading off with $20 ($2 of their own money) to spend at The Dollar Tree, they took their lists, grabbed the cart and started to shop for a child they don't know, but one that they want to help have a better Christmas. They walked up and down the aisles making the best choices and thinking of what that child might need or want most. Would they like crafts or colouring? Should we send a stuffed animal or a skipping rope? I loved every minute of watching the kids make their decisions and feel so proud of what they were doing to help another child just like them.


Start a new tradition with your family this holiday season with this initiative that makes it fun and engaging for the kids to get involved!  The National Collection Week is November 17-23rd but if you aren't close to an Operation Christmas Child collection centre, you can now fill a shoebox online!  Along with your $7 donation to pay for shipping your box, here are some tips on what to include in your Operation Christmas Child shoebox;
  • School Supplies; pens, pencils, pencil crayons, note pads, etc.
  • Hygiene Items; facecloth, toothbrush, comb, and soap. Place soap in a sealable bag
  • Toy and Other Gifts; stuffed animals, small musical instruments, hair clips, toy jewelry, t-shirts, socks, and candy (loose, individually wrapped hard candy in a sealable bag)
  • Personal Note  - Include a personal note and/or a photo in your shoebox
What NOT to pack:
  • Decks of standard playing cards (other card games such as UNO are allowed)
  • Food and any chewy, crumbly, or soft candy: Including gum
  • Used items
  • Toothpaste
  • Liquids or items that could leak, melt, freeze, or break - Shampoo, creams, lip balm, bath gels, mirrors, or glass, etc. (these can damage other items in the shoebox).
  • Items that can scare or harm a child - War-related toys, knives, and toy guns, etc.
Here's what our boys, Ty and Jayden, put in their shoeboxes;






This post was brought to you by Operation Christmas Child, but the images and opinions are my own. For more information, please visit http://www.samaritanspurse.ca/operation-christmas-child.aspx.

Join the conversation on social: Facebook and Twitter and follow the hashtag #OperationChristmasChild