Money: Points, points, points

It seems that everywhere you shop these days there are offers for a points card, a store credit card or at the very least a sign up for our emails for special deals! Most of the time a no thank you is the best response however if you tend to shop at the same stores it may be worth your time to look into the benefits of a points card or even (gasp!) a store credit card

Chances are if you’re a busy working mom you tend to shop at the same grocery store, same pharmacy and same retail stores. I am not a huge fan of retail store credit cards and have never really come across any that offer benefits that outweigh the negative of having another damn credit card.

The best points cards to have (if you live in Canada) are the Presidents Choice Plus card and Shoppers Optimum. I also have an airmiles card (eye roll here).

It’s pretty easy to rack up enough points with the first two of these cards in a reasonable amount of time. Especially with all the bonus in store points that are typically offered.

Shoppers tends to be expensive if you’re buying items at full price. I recommend buying most things that are on sale and shopping when it’s 20X the points. You will easily reach the first reward level right away and likely in a few months reach their top level.

The PC plus points app will give you weekly offers to for bonus points and things you usually buy anyway (Hellooo consumer tracking). I don’t really think this is a terrible thing, I know I’m going to probably buy apples, oranges and lemons next time I shop so if Presidents Choice knows too and wants to give me more points … I’ll take ’em. When this program was first rolled out they were giving away pointslike crazy, they’ve definitely scaled back now.


How to spend your hard earned points :

With the Optimum card I wait until they have a “spend your points” event. You will get even MORE stuff than you would redeeming on another day. The last time they had one we ended up getting 4 boxes of diapers, 4 jugs of laundry detergent, toilet paper for the year and paper towels… Just to name some of the things in our haul  It’s always nice paying only the tax on $200 worth of household goods!!! Especially when all those things are on sale!

Spending PC points : you can redeem anytime you grocery shop once you’ve accumulated 20 000 points ($20 off). Since I get squat for a maternity leave I’m saving my points for the next time we decide to have another baby. Most people I know just spend them as they accumulate the points … There’s really no benefit in saving them up, except to use on a rainy day!

I have two credit cards, one that is mostly used for my business and our PC MasterCard. I only typically shop at our independent grocer and No Frills , so it makes sense for us to have this as our spending card. You get extra points for using your PC MasterCard on any purchase, so it definitely makes it easy to get points if you’re mostly shopping at the same grocery stores.

As as far as Air Miles go… I had one for about 12 years and still hadn’t racked up enough points to do anything with, despite the weekly LCBO trips during university. It wasn’t until we built our house I had acquired enough points to actually fly somewhere (FYI: the booking agents I dealt with were awesome). I also just went to book a flight with Air Miles for our March vacation and everything was blacked out. No fun.

Moral of todays post: if you’re a creature of habit and too busy/lazy to cut out coupons – a points card or store credit card are the way to go!

Food: Giada’s Salmon with Lemon & Capers

Here’s another great recipe from Giada. It’s super easy and super quick. Definitely doable after a long day of work. From start to finish you’re looking at about 20 -25 minutes and depending on your sides you may be waiting longer for rice to cook!

Salmon is so healthy for everyone in your family (even toddlers!) unfortunately it is getting extremely hard to find wild caught salmon in any of the grocery stores near me. So we tend to only eat it in the summer when Grandpa has had a successful day of fishing. However, we still usually buy farmed from the store every once and awhile and this is our favourite way to cook it. There is a huge debate about wild vs. farmed salmon – which I don’t have the time or energy to delve into today. I firmly believe everything in moderation and personally I prefer wild over farmed but I have a sinking feeling farmed may be our only option in the not so distant future.

When buying farmed salmon from the grocery store you want to make sure it has a nice pink colour, doesn’t smell like fish and does not have too much fat. If you look closely at the fish you will see white lines separating the pink. Lots of white = lots of fat so try and pick pieces with as little white as possible. Ask your local grocer when they usually get the delivery of salmon and try to shop on those days when it will be the most fresh.

Here is the link to the original recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/salmon-with-lemon-capers-and-rosemary-recipe.html

Step one: I tend to take the skin off the salmon, this is optional but after washing the slice of fish just take your favourite filet knife and cut the skin off (or leave it on). Grab a piece of foil, place the salmon on it and fold up the sides loosely. Pour some olive oil, salt & pepper on the piece of salmon.

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Step 2: Mix your freshly squeezed lemon juice, wine and capers. I use a 1-1 ratio of lemon juice:wine simply because we tend to love anything citrus-y in our house. Pour about 3 tablespoons of the mixture into each tin foil pod & add a couple of slices of lemons.

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Step 3: Wrap these babies up and stick on a BBQ or a grill pan for 10 minutes. Seriously, just 10 minutes.

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Step 4: Enjoy!

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I typically serve salmon with some wild grain rice & a nice big salad. Delicious & Nutritious!

Enjoy!

* I did not use rosemary in the recipe, I am not a huge fan of it plus I hate buying a large bunch of herbs to use in a single recipe*

Travel: The beauty of home rental sites

I have been using VRBO & Home-Away for about 3 years now. I am a huge fan, I have always had fantastic experiences and being able to have a fully furnished house/apartment is worth its weight in gold – ESPECIALLY if you have children. I love having a full size fridge for milk, a stove & oven to cook and heat things up with and actual bedrooms with their own doors for naptimes.

If you’re traveling with children or a large family it is definitely worth your time and energy to search for an apartment rental. We have rented apartments and houses in Italy (Rome & Pizzo), Florida, California and Vancouver to name a few. If you are traveling with more than 2 people it is usually the same price or slightly cheaper than a hotel (as long as you’re not planning on renting a mansion).

I always look for places with good reviews, if there is a new listing in an apartment complex I tend to look for reviews of other apartments in the same unit. That will usually let you know if it’s worth the risk of staying in an unreviewed listing (everyone has to start somewhere!).

It is definitely a lot less stressful having your own space to go back to after a long day of sight-seeing. I do not miss any hotel amenities because the ability to go grocery shopping and have snacks, breakfasts and lunches ready to go instead of having to find a child friendly restaurant is much better than having someone make your bed every day (although with many rentals you can add this in).

Over the years, I’ve noticed a huge increase in the number of rental properties available in any given location – this is great & a bit daunting. You can literally look for days trying to find which one is right for you & your budget. Figure out what is at the top of your list (how many bedrooms, beach view or beach front, closest grocery store or bar?), and then start narrowing down your options.

And that’s my 2 cents on the best places to stay when traveling with children!! (or large groups). Happy Travels!

Beer Lovers’ Advent Calender

So I saw this idea through a friend’s Facebook page and thought that I could definitely rock this project out. Usually with any Pinterest/craft ideas I ignore and go looking for something someone else has already made. This is an incredibly easy and awesome way to score points with your significant other and literally takes 20 minutes. You can always do a much prettier version but I didn’t have enough time for that!

Step 1: Buy beer

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Around Christmas time it’s really easy to find Holiday mix packs by different brewers. I bought 4 mixed 6-packs of varying flavours. Since we are nearing 12 days until Christmas Eve you can easily do a 12 pack

Step 2: Tape Beer Together and make sure it is sturdy at the bottom

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If you have an old 24 case lying around,  this would be best. I didn’t have that so I craftily used a lid from a box as the bottom and taped all my 6 packs together. I made sure the tops of the boxes were level-ish.

Step 3: Wrap the Box of Beer

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Step 4: Tape Numbers 1-24 (or 1-12) on the Tops

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Mix them up, and BAM! Advent Calender for Drinkers.

Step 5: Bask in the light of awesomeness when your significant other sees their gift

Personally, I would love to receive a 12 months of wine. I think this would be an awesome gift idea for wine lovers. AND if you plan on doing this talk to your local wine expert (the LCBO usually has GREAT advice) for wines that taste best after aging for a year.

Reading : Our Fave Kids Books

I hope in the near future I am able to do an adult version of this list. I have been reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt for about 4 months now. I hope to finish it by 2017. Anyway, we read a book to our daughter every morning before breakfast or driving her to grandma & grandpas. It’s a great way for her to slowly get out of that morning daze.

The earlier you start regularly reading to your babies/toddlers the better their language and interpretation skills will be as they grow. This has been shown in several studies (links at the bottom of the page). Personally, I find that it’s a nice way to settle down and just have quality quiet time with our little girl. Much more effective and educational then plopping her in front of the TV in the morning while she is waking up! Look below my recommendations to see how you can help kids, schools & communities receive much needed books!

We are still in the board book phase, so everything on this list is available in board book and is age appropriate from 0+.

1. Bubble Trouble by Margaret Mahy and Polly Dunbar. This book is fun to read and listen to. It’s well written (no singular boring sentences ) and the illustrations are wonderful. If you’re looking to add to your library or get a gift, this one is great, it would be great for older children who are learning to read on their own as well!  (http://www.amazon.com/Bubble-Trouble-Margaret-Mahy/dp/0547994834/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1417870918&sr=8-1&keywords=bubble+trouble)

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2) Numbers by Xavier Deneux  I like this one because it’s easy to see the numbers, the number can be traced with little fingers and you can count the objects on every page. It’s nice to have the tactile sensation help with learning to count! (http://www.amazon.com/TouchThinkLearn-Numbers-Xavier-Deneux/dp/1452117241/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1417870872&sr=8-1&keywords=numbers+by+xavier)

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3. Where’s Spot? by Eric Hill. An oldie but a goodie. Especially when your child learns to flip the tabs on their own and try to find Spot! (http://www.amazon.com/Wheres-Spot-Little-Board-Books/dp/0399240462/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1417870937&sr=8-1&keywords=where%27s+spot)

4. Huggy Kissy by Leslie Patricelli. We received this as a gift and our little girl loves this book. It’s extra nice for us because we have a dog and a cat so at a young age she was able to point out where the doggie and the kitty were. We also have Toot and  Tickle, but Huggy Kissy is our favourite. (http://www.amazon.com/Huggy-Kissy-Leslie-Patricelli-board/dp/0763632465/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_z)

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5. Panda Bear Panda Bear What Do You See? (Slide and Find) by Eric Carle. I think every child should have a small Eric Carle collection. The slide & find makes it a bit more interesting for little ones. (http://www.amazon.com/Panda-Slide-Martin-Brdbk-Boardbook/dp/B00BR9XQKY/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1417871103&sr=1-4&keywords=panda+bear+panda+bear+what+do+you+see)

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And while you’re purchasing books for your children or loved ones, remember that most low income families do not own a single book for their children. Since it’s Christmas, if you’re looking for a way to help those in need here are some links to great charities that provide books to schools and families in need!

http://www.firstbookcanada.org/

http://readingisfundamental.org/

http://www.bookaid.org/

http://www.worldreader.org/

Also, if your community does a Christmas Cheer drive – it’s a great way to donate books to families in need.

Happy Reading & Giving!

 

Links to studies that show the benefit of reading to infants & toddlers:

http://www.earlyliteracylearning.org/cellreviews/cellreviews_v5_n4.pdf

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/raising-readers-writers-and-spellers/201109/babytoddler-reading-what-neuroscientists-and-parent

http://aapnews.aappublications.org/content/early/2014/06/24/aapnews.20140624-2

… and MANY more

What Mom Wants for Christmas:

Oh how I hate the question “What do you want for Christmas?” To be honest, if I see something I like that is reasonably priced, I buy it for myself, regardless of the time of year. There may be one big ticket item I tell my husband and parents to chip in and buy me but honestly it’s nothing I need. And it’s mostly so I don’t get a bunch of stuff I need to return (yes I’m one of those, I hate clutter and things that tend to go into storage and never see the light of day).

So on behalf of all busy, tired Moms out there , this is what I think most of us want:

TIME!

Whether it’s extra time with our kids or an hour to ourselves. How can you buy this elusive present for your favourite Mom?

Easy Peasy.

1) Book a family weekend/day/afternoon away. Go sledding, to the movies, to a hotel with a pool (and spa if you want extra points). Here’s the catch though – after booking it make sure YOU are the one who packs for the kids (or at least helps) and plans where to eat and what to do when you’re there. Let Mom kick up her feet without worrying if she packed enough snacks and remember the bathing suits.

2) Spa Gift Certificates

These are incredibly easy, however when I received $200 worth of gift cards for a birthday they sat in a drawer for 9 months. Why? Because I don’t take time to go to the spa. So along with buying massage/mani/pedi gift cards – set up an appointment time AND a babysitter. This is the golden key. Also, if you’ve booked a hotel with a spa.. send Mom down on her own while you watch the children.

3) What does she like to do when she has an hour to herself?

Is it read? Ask what books she would like, or get a Kindle/Kobo with a gift card. Yoga/Pilates? Get a gift card for classes for her favourite studio. Movies? Set a date  night to go see whatever new is playing (chances are, she hasn’t been to a movie rated higher than PG since before she was pregnant).

4) A cleaning lady! Seriously , my house is usually somewhat tidy but I hate spending our Saturday’s giving everything a good cleaning. Ask around for recommendations or look into Molly Maid and other services if they are in your area. Maids typically charge $20/hour in our area. They can come once a week or once a month! Leave the house for a few hours for some quality family time and come home to a cleaner house ! It gives me chills just thinking about it.

Don’t be afraid of the ‘gift card’, when it’s done with thought and a personal touch they really are a great gift! As a working mom , I hope my husband and other significant others read this and spoil the hardest working woman they know!!!