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Smart Cookies: Sandra Hanna’s Top 10 Tips for Saving Money

FAM, self By February 20, 2013 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , 1 Comment

February is my least-favourite month.  And not just because the only time I was ever dumped was on Valentine’s Day.  Daft cow.  Anyway, holiday bills are still flowing in and the Canadian and US governments are all talking about budgets and fiscal responsibility.  Ugh.  But where finances and family budgeting used to be considered ‘I wish I were an ostrich’ words, Sandra Hanna, co-founder and CEO of Smart Cookies has turned me around.  In sharing her top 10 tips for saving money, she suggests throwing out the term ‘budget’ (too much pressure) and finding hidden ways to save money – making it into a game.  She had so many tips I couldn’t write them fast enough.  I was so inspired and challenged to take charge of my finances.

A Smart Cookie’s Tips on How to Save Money

1.  Sell things you don’t need.  Along the ‘game’ lines, we’ve had a blast taking photos of items and being creative with descriptions.  Taking interesting photos and using terms like “Pottery barn-style dresser” and “shabby chic” can get an item sold quickly.
2.  Instead of heading to the store constantly, save time and money by using food you already and will give you recipes with items that you have on hand (and may be craving…)  The recipes they suggest may also get you out of a rut and help your kids to expand their culinary horizons.
3. is a gift card swap so that you can mail in a card you’ll never use and replace it with either cash or a card you need.  While Aunt Betty was kind in giving you a giftcard for a movie, the extra dinner and childcare costs make it not so budget-friendly.  Swap it for something like a new slowcooker – and save even more on comfort food.
4.  Search for the hidden money in your household.  This can be a fun one for children too.  Turning off lights, using Tide Coldwater to save on hot water bills and making a fire instead of turning up the heat can be fun as well as rewarding. is a great resource for coupons on products you use all the time.
5.  Hair schools provide a great inexpensive alternative to pricy salons.
6.  Rent, don’t buy expensive clothes.  If you live in the US, Rent the Runway. Enter your zip code, size and event date up to 6 months in advance and our calendar will help find available dresses and accessories. You can book rentals for a 4 or 8 day period.  In Canada?  Rent Frock Repeat. They send you 2 sizes to ensure a good fit.
7.  Choose your apps wisely.  Purchasing apps can be fun – .99 cents here, $2.99 there.  It can add up.  Buy when they are free or on sale – with and and make sure you try the free versions first to ensure you will actually use them.
8.  Apps like allow you to eliminate impulse grocery buys by organizing your grocery list aisle by aisle. (And you won’t forget the milk).
9.  Control your own Entertainment: Vimeo lets you live stream your apple TV and curate your own content.
10.  Save your time (and money) by never waiting on hold with

One of the key changes I have made is registering for, an app and website that tracks my bank accounts, credit cards and budgets.  (Why, exactly did I think $50/month was adequate for clothes?  Funny joke..)  It takes a bit of investigation to realize that your information and passwords are secure, but once you make the leap, you will never be in the dark about your spending patterns.

Sandra’s other inspiration?  Respect moms.  Whether you work outside the home or focus on saving money inside the home (or both), Moms are a very powerful bunch in the financial and budgeting world.

Jill Amery was given the opportunity to interview Sandra Hanna as part of the #PGMom program through Proctor and Gamble.  As always, her opinions are her own.


Chinese New Year Traditions for the Year of the Snake

FAM, self By February 7, 2013 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , No Comments

The dazzling celebration of Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, falls this year on February 10 marking the end of the winter solstice according to the Chinese calendar and lunar New Year. Chinese New Year is the longest and most important holiday in the Chinese calendar.  This year is the year of the water snake – bringing with it the possibility of luck, adventure and prosperity. As part of a multicultural society, why not take the time to learn about the unique Chinese New Year Traditions for the Year of the Snake with your friends and family:

1.  The most important event of Chinese New Year is the Reunion Dinner. The reunion dinner on the eve of the Lunar New Year draws all family members back home to reaffirm love and respect that bind them together as a unit. The best food is served for this feast in abundance! We love T&T Supermarkets (the largest Asian supermarket in Canada – ps.. the items from T&T are now available at Real Canadian Superstore!!).  Their Crispy Crackers can make a perfect appetizer. These crispy crackers can be topped with grilled vegetables, flavourful spreads or even marinated seafood.

2.  Another custom of Chinese New Year is to reconcile with loved ones, wish others peace and happiness and to forget old grudges.

3.  Dumplings are considered a lucky food during this holiday. They symbolize wealth and are believed to bring abundance and prosperity because their shape resembles a Chinese ingot. Add some luck to your dinner with T&T Cooked Dumplings.  You needn’t tell the guests they are ready in just 2-3 minutes..

4.  Decorate your home with lanterns and banners in traditional red and gold, colours which signify wealth, longevity and good fortune.

5.  Gifts are commonly given on Chinese New Year. These can be sweets such as cakes and candy or the traditional red envelopes containing ‘lucky’ money (always in even numbers, odd numbers are considered unlucky) or sometimes chocolate coins.

6.  End your feast with sweet cakes. Traditional pineapple cakes like these can be found in almost any bakery in Taiwan. The moist, crumbly, golden crust surrounds a chewy, fresh-tasting filling made with intensely sweet pineapples. Alternately, Chinese Style Pastry (also known as sachima) is a moist, chewy puffed wheat snack from Taiwan resembling puffed rice squares. These treats are irresistibly sweet, slightly sticky and perfectly golden brown.  The ones from T&T have no added preservatives.)

Happy New Year – or Gung Ho Fat Choy!


10 Ways to Save Money During the Holidays

FAM, self By December 20, 2012 Tags: , , , , , , , , No Comments

January is all about new beginnings – thinning out, simplifying and looking forward to longer daylight hours.  So why do we continually sabotage ourselves in December?  According to new research released by Mobilicity, Canada’s smart mobile phone carrier, 58 per cent of Canadians say they spend more than they should during the holidays and a further 59 per cent find themselves making impulse purchases. This overindulgence may lead to feelings of guilt, remorse or the ‘holiday shopping hangover’.

Unfortunately, it’s often parents of young children who are at greatest risk for this holiday overspending phenomenon.  We’ve put together a few tips so that you can start your new year early (and not hide under the covers when your bills come in).

1.  Buy e-books as gifts on Kindle, iBooks or Kobo. They are much less expensive (and environmentally-friendly) than the paper versions.

2.  Utilize the apps on your smartphone to save money.  Some of our favs include: Shopcatch, Groupon, Living Social,, Kayak, AirBNB, and Hipmunk.  In today’s economy, it is perfectly acceptable to gift a daily deal voucher provided you have put careful thought into the desires of the recipient.

3.  Set limits for gifting to family.  Drawing names and setting a $50 limit can be fun and won’t break the bank.

4.  Dropbox is a free service that saves you printing costs and allows you to access your documents and photos from any computer or smartphone.

5.  Flipboard is a fabulous alternative to buying paper magazines.  Big Oven or Food Network Canada house thousands of recipes and can help save money on Hard copy recipe books.

6.  Amazon has a great app that allows you to scan bar codes in stores in order to compare prices to what the item sells for on Amazon.

7.  Shop all year.  Seriously.  When you see a great sale, keep the December holidays in mind and consider buying gifts for friends and family early.  Black Friday sales have also come to Canada and stores like the Bay, Future Shop and Apple are offering deep discounts.

8.  Make sure you research your big purchases.  Tripadvisor, Yelp and Auto Trader are great apps with which to research big ticket items.

9.  We have lots of Homemade Holiday Gift ideas.  Especially when received from children, they are filled with love and sentiment for special people in the kids’ lives.

10.  Give experiences instead of ‘things’.  Offer to babysit for close friends and supply movie tickets.  Take a friend’s children to the zoo.  Make coupons for the kids for extra screen time or a date with Mommy.

There is no need for guilt or remorse due to overspending if you consider the needs of others and plan ahead. (Goodness knows – parents are hard enough on themselves!)  Using technology to make life easier (and cheaper) will help you to embrace your January goals and limit the January holiday shopping ‘hangover’.


helpful tips for working moms

Time Management Tips for Working Moms

FAM, self By August 1, 2012 Tags: , , , , No Comments

In today’s world, everyone is busy.  People always seem to be rushing from one activity to the next and trying to do several things at once in an effort to save time.  Working mothers understand “busy”- they’re basically working two full time jobs, and it’s no wonder why working mothers often find it difficult to balance everything in a neat and organized fashion!


Feeling Beauty with the Photography of Kyrani Kanavaros

FAM, self By May 24, 2012 Tags: , , , , , , , , , 1 Comment

I’m a lot of things, but I’ve never considered myself a model.  It could be the height.  Or the hips.  Or just a fear of a huge camera in my face and never being able to imagine ‘making love’ to it.  Then people quietly told me about this goddess of a photographer.  I saw some of her shots, and convinced myself she must work only with models.  The women were stunning.  The lighting was breathtaking.  I decided to take the plunge and go to a ‘Glamour Session’.  Maybe one would turn out….one of my back!  (Ha Ha…. Incidentally I just got some stats from the Dove Movement for Self-Esteem:  “60% of our girls abstain from everyday activities because of self-doubt and only 4% of women all around the world consider themselves beautiful.”  I think it’s time to change that.  And if anyone can make someone feel beautiful, it’s Kyrani Kanavaros.

On the actual day of my shoot, I woke with glassy eyes.  I felt sick as a dog.  I trundled to East Vancouver, ascending the stairs of Studio B at Sugar Studios – nervous, dragging my feet with ringing ears and trepidation.  Not even one would turn out.  I could feel it.  I looked like the bottom of a shoe.  (And that was one of my more positive bit of self-talk).  I began the ‘process’ and there was complete calm.  Was it the champagne?  Croissants?  No.  I think it had to do with the sunshine, the professionals in the room who had mastered their crafts, and the pure artistic fun that was created.  Kyrani walked into the studio and I knew that I was in good hands.  We hugged and chatted about kids.  She found out my goals for the photos and learned about me.

First, to the makeup.  Wow.  Kendra Lovick from Beautymark made my skin glow!  How – I don’t quite know but intend to find out.  As we went along, she offered tips and tricks that I wish I’d made notes on.  When you do this – record it.  You’ll never need to run panicked to a department store makeup counter 5 minutes before date night again.  (Not that I’ve ever done that).  Kendra applied cutting-edge products as the other pros buzzed around, joking and taking coffee orders.  It had the warm and fuzziness of a supportive knitting bee with an edge of NYC Greenwich Village-Vogue-style session thrown on top.

Next was styling with Helen Baker of Stylefinder.  She had purchased several suits, dresses and high-fashion pieces that she mixed with shoes and funky jewellery.  I loved the Jacqueline Conoir suit and dress.  Total Mad Men.  Not once did she smirk that a piece may be too tight.  She studied me with eyes of a pro and the creativity of, well, a top stylist.  Her hands flew over the racks and I was set with outfits.  And she let me try things out of my comfort zone – see the green dress below.  First up?  A red dress with black stilettos.  I’d never used a stylist for a shoot before and would never do another without.  No shot was wasted because prior to Kyrani effortlessly clicking away, Helen was ‘on’ me fluffing, hiding straps and fixing my hair.  How could I have functioned without this woman in my life for so many years?  PS.  Can you be my date-night shadow?

Kyrani is one of those photographers with a gift.  Is it her 6th sense? Ability to make you feel beautiful?  Mastery of the camera? Energy she feeds her subject?  Effortless way of shooting in order to capture the essence of YOU?  I have absolutely no idea.  I can’t even figure out how not to keep photographing my thumb – let alone make magic out of an everyday woman.  I just know that I’m going to book another session.  And so is my husband.  And I would give anything to enable those 96% of women everywhere who do not consider themselves beautiful to be touched by the Klik Photographic team.


Yes. I am Mom Enough, thanks Time Magazine

FAM, self By May 12, 2012 Tags: , , , , , , 4 Comments

What a year it’s been for parenting to be in the spotlight.  With What to Expect When You’re Expecting about to debut, the ‘Mommy Wars‘ surrounding Hilary Rosen’s comments about Ann Romney being a SAHM, and now Time Magazine’s provocative cover.  For me, it’s not the image but the headline.  The article inside is pretty tame – facts and ideas about attachment parenting that surfaced 20 years ago and have always caused judgement and quibbles in the nicest of mommy groups.

“Are you mom enough?”  Seriously?  Time Magazine should be ashamed.  There are gimmicks to get people in grocery store lines to snag a magazine but this headline is in seriously poor taste.  As if Moms aren’t hard enough on themselves.  The reason I run UrbanMommies and UrbanDaddies is that when I had young kids I felt isolated, judged and condescended.  I was so immersed in the ‘shoulds’ of attachment parenting that I neglected the needs of myself as a woman and human being.  I am thrilled that more parents are nursing and wearing their babies.  But mothers and fathers are also losing sight of their own needs.  Dr. Sears is a brilliant physician with great ideas, but like with all ‘religions’, if taken to the extreme or used out of context, chaos ensues.

Both of my kids had colic for 18 months.  (I’m hoping the brain-synapse theory of colic is true and it just means they are smart).  They were high needs babies.  I wore them both in a sling or carrier hours every day.  The massage bills added up.  And I didn’t shower much.  The boys wouldn’t go in a stroller without screaming so I just sacrificed my body and hoped that the skeleton would hold out.  They slept in my bed for a few weeks and they snacked on breast milk whenever they were inclined.  I was exhausted, drained, burnt out and my milk supply dwindled due to lack of self-care.

So I read all of the books about ‘gentle’ ways to train them to sleep.  (This is where you hear people start growling as we get into the Pantley vs. Ferber debate.)  In a nutshell, I tried all of the gentle stuff.  For weeks.  I was still exhausted.  They wouldn’t settle.  The guilt was overwhelming and everyone weighed in.  Nurses, paediatricians, friends, helplines, and my elders.  So now I was exhausted and demoralized, questioning my parenting and values.  As soon as I shut out the ‘advisors’, I had an epiphany.  I decided I needed to care for myself, my marriage, my health.  Follow my instincts.  I knew my baby and my family.  The others didn’t carry a kid in their belly and have a head emerge from their ‘Lady Garden’ (quoting the Bloggess on CNN – brilliant).  I was no good to my kids if I was an exhausted and irritated mess.

So I let them cry a bit.  Yes, a ‘modified’ Ferber approach.  I put them in a crib.  I took off whatever stinky t-shirt I was wearing and tucked it into their hands, hoping my smell would calm them and vindicate me.  I went back often, leaving them a bit longer each time.  They were stubborn but after a time, they both learned to sleep.  Some mom friends stopped talking to me.  I was the devil.  But my milk supply returned.  The colour came back to my cheeks.  I still carried them in a sling all the time.  I nursed until they were 18 months (and I was at my thinnest – why the hell did I stop?!) and I still carry and cuddle them.  They are very attached and loving.

So I used my instincts as a parent to do what was best for my family and kids.  I stopped listening to the know-it-all Moms who were trying to justify their own decisions by criticizing mine.  And I developed enough confidence and belief in my intuition to pour my heart and soul into a company that would hopefully help other moms to trust their own decisions and take time to care for themselves.  So yes, Time Magazine.  I am Mom enough, and I would argue that all Moms, whatever their decisions on breast/bottle, sleep training, baby wearing or whether they stay at home or work outside are all Mom enough.  We are all doing the best we can.  As we shared yesterday through Facebook, “There is no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one”.

Snack tips for kids from an expert nutritionist

Snack tips for kids from an expert nutritionist

FAM, self By April 3, 2012 Tags: , , , , , No Comments

Tina Stewart is a registered dietitian for the President’s Choice® product development team. As a busy Toronto mom of two, Tina has a number of tips to offer for choosing healthier foods and filling your grocery cart with them.  (Keep reading for a bang-on dinner recipe, snack tips and solutions making sure you leave the grocery store with healthful products – even with the kids in tow.)

Q.  What are your top 5 snacks to give kids?

I always look to balance nutrition and fun with snacks for my kids. Here are my five favourite go-to options:

1. Ants on a log! This classic snack is quick and easy to make: celery sticks with peanut butter (or any other kind of nut butter) in the groove topped with a few raisins as ants.  My son has a peanut allergy, so I use soy butter. This snack provides carbohydrate and protein, and is a fun way to get your picky-eater to eat.

2. Veggies and Dip- An assortment of colourful vegetables such as mini carrots, celery and sliced peppers with a yogurt based dip is a great way to get vitamin, minerals and protein.  I use PC 0% Plain Greek yogurt and mix with PCBM Ranch or Caesar dressing as a dip for vegetables.  Another alternative is to try hummus as a dip for vegetables.  These are both favourite after school snacks.

3.  Crackers and Cheese. Choosing whole grain crackers that are source of fibre, improves the nutrient value of this snack, and cheese is an excellent source of calcium.

Creating a tasting plate. A selection of apple pieces, carrot sticks, crackers, cheese and/or  nuts.  You can add a new item every week, such as dried fruit, to help your child discover new foods they haven’t tried before.

5. Every once in a while, a frozen treat can be a great snack, but it’s about making the healthy selection for your kids.  I give my kids the PC® Blue MenuTM Greek Yogurt Smoothie Bars in mango to devour. They’re incredibly creamy, so kids believe they are ice cream, but I know they are getting probiotic cultures, and they’re low in fat.


Q. When you’re at the grocery store with kids in tow, how do you make sure that healthy options get into your cart?

When you’re at the grocery store, reading nutrition labels is important to make the healthy choice, but that can be difficult with kids wanting to run up and down the aisles. Try to turn shopping into a game for your kids.  At Real Canadian Superstore, they have added easy to view symbols on their PC® Blue MenuTM products which indicate increased fibre, or reduced fat and sodium, as examples.  I enlist my own kids to help me find the foods with the arrows when we’re looking at a specific shelf.  Not only does it keep the kids entertained and busy, but it has also helped me teach them about nutrition with the easy to view symbols.

Q.  Favourite place to travel:

Although I have not been there for a while, I would say my favourite place to travel is Europe.  I have  a particular affinity for Italy and France.   I love learning about history and the rich cultures of each of these countries. And of course, who could forget about the wonderful food!

Q. Cannot-live-without gadget

I cannot live without my blender.  I use it to make smoothies for a quick addition to breakfast or as a snack. It also comes in very handy for pureeing my favourite vegetable soups.

Q. Go-to ‘Mom’ attire

My favourite go-to Mom attire is definitely yoga pants and t-shirt.  When you are a busy mom on the-go, these can be paired with a comfy pair of runners and away you go.

Q.  Favourite kid-friendly dinner to make.

We like to do theme nights at our house, and this gives the kids something to look forward to. The other day I made a twist on lasagna that they loved for Mexican night: a Burrito Casserole. Instead of traditional layers of pasta, I used the PC® Blue MenuTM 100% Whole Grain Whole Wheat Tortillas for a nutritious portion of fibre.  For the filling I used vegetarian crumble as an alternative to meat, and then added vegetables to make the meal healthy, without sacrificing flavour. The recipe is found on, but I want to share it with you. The kids, and my husband, loved it!

Burrito Casserole


2 tbsp (25 mL) PC® 100% Pure Canola Oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
¾ tsp (4 mL) ground cumin
1 pkg (454 g) PC® Blue MenuTM Vegetarian Ground Crumble
1 pouch (283 g) PC® Cooked Whole Grain Brown Rice Sides
1 can (19 oz/540 mL) PC® Blue MenuTM Black Beans PC Blue Menu Black Beans
1 jar (430 mL) PC® Salsa – Mild
1 pkg (390 g) PC® Blue MenuTM 100% Whole Grain Whole Wheat Tortillas
2 cups (500 mL) PC® Blue MenuTM Tex-Mex Light Shredded Cheese


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Spray 13 x 9 inch (3 L) glass baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. In large frying pan, heat oil over medium heat; cook onion for about 4 minutes, stirring, or until softened. Stir in garlic and cumin; cook for 1 minute. Stir in frozen meatless ground beef, frozen rice, beans, 1-1/4 cups (300 mL) of the salsa, and ½ cup (125 mL) water. Cook for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until heated through. Set aside.
  3. Cover bottom of prepared baking dish with two tortillas. Spread with half of burrito mixture and sprinkle with ½ cup (125 mL) of the cheese. Repeat layers. Cover with remaining 2 tortillas. Spread with remaining salsa and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Cover dish with foil.
  4. Bake in centre of oven for 30 minutes. Uncover; broil for 3 minutes or until top is golden.

Chef’s Tips

Serve sprinkled with 1/3 cup (75 mL) chopped green onions, with light sour cream and sliced avocado on the side, if desired

Q. I’m currently reading this book..

Pride and Prejudice, a classic novel by Jane Austen.   I think that this is the fourth time that I have read this book, but I just love it.  I recently purchased an e-reader and it came pre-loaded with all the classics, so I am getting myself reacquainted with all my favorite novels.

Q.  My child’s birthday party this year will involve…some kind of physical activity such as swimming, karate or an indoor play area.  I have two very active boys that have energy to burn so I find that parties that include physical activity are a great way to provide some healthy fun!

Q.  Is there 1 food that children should try to eat every week?

There isn’t just one food, in fact what is most important is that children—and adults too— eat a variety of foods from the different food groups each week, and each day.  Fresh produce, protein, whole grain, and dairy product such as milk and cheese will help ensure your child consumes the necessary nutrients and vitamins they need to have energy for the day, while growing up healthy and strong.  Planning your meals the week before can help you double check that you’ve included nutritious items each and every day, and save you from the “what should I make for dinner?” moment.

Q.  What about ‘hiding’ nutritious food inside sauces and baking.  Good idea or bad?

I think that “hiding” nutritious foods inside other items can be used to improve the nutrition of certain items such as extra vegetables in sauce or added fruit in muffins.  I don’t think that this strategy should be used to trick our kids into eating fruits and vegetables.   Children may need to try a food several times before they will accept it and just like adults there may be some foods that they will never accept.  I think the focus should be on offering a variety of foods, including fruits and vegetables and allowing children to develop a taste for these foods and eating habits that will last a lifetime.


Ten Simple Tricks for Looking Great No Matter Your Age

FAM, self By February 9, 2012 Tags: , , , , , No Comments

Every woman is beautiful in her own way, and age is nothing but a number. However, it’s also true that there are things we can do to make ourselves look younger, more polished, and more put-together—and those things don’t have to cost an arm and a leg. It’s pretty simple to look fantastic, whatever your age, by taking heed of these ten simple tricks for looking great no matter what your age.

birth control for moms

Birth Control for Moms: Choosing the Right One for You

FAM, self By February 9, 2012 Tags: , , , 1 Comment

If you’re a mom and plan on having more kids eventually—but not right now then birth control for moms is an issue you need to think about.

Not every birth control method is for everyone, and even if you have a method you like best, it might not be the best thing for you at certain times! Although the ultimate decision should be made with your physician’s input and guidance, here are some helpful hints on choosing birth control that’s right for you and the stage your life is at right now.


Finding Your Mommy Style

FAM, self By January 25, 2012 Tags: , , 1 Comment

Every single one of us as mothers has our own unique style. Perhaps it’s not something you every really thought about, and it shouldn’t be something you allow to define you, but Socrates was a smart man when he said, “Know thyself!” As smart, chic Urban Mommies, we should know ourselves better, and so treasure the beautiful parts of our styles—and work on the parts that aren’t so beautiful! Finding your mommy style is easy.