2012

From my family to yours…

Merry Christmas from City Mom

PicMonkey: To Pay or Not To Pay

PicMonkeyIf you’re a blogger then you’re familiar with PicMonkey; a photo editing website that up until a few days ago, was free! Even if you’re not a blogger, you might be a fan of this free software that made your photos go from plain to pro in just a few clicks…no skill required!

What’s changed? There’s now a $4.99 a month option for the “Royale” features. Don’t worry, there is a still a free version of picmonkey.com that may meet your needs.

This is a big decision as five bucks really adds up. That’s $72 a year, and if you’re using it primarily for  blogging then it might be hard to justify the costs when most of us don’t get paid much.

BETTER PHOTOS. BETTER STATS?

This is a hard question to answer. And there might be no real way of telling. If you’re like me, you love taking photos and photo editing, so wanting to add pretty pictures to your blog just comes naturally. PicMonkey made that possible for a lot of us but now we have a decision to make.

Is it worth making the investment?

I decided to pay for one month on PicMonkey.com so that I could make a good comparison, but of course, the decision is yours depending on what features you use most.

It looks like PicMonkey did a good job of getting to know us and our habits before they started charging. A lot of my favourite features will now cost me. Check it yourself and see how your needs measure up.

PIC MONKEY FREE vs. ROYALE

Please note: this feature is Part One of the PicMonkey feature. This does not include the Themes segment of PicMonkey which will come at a later date.

Let’s get started:

BASIC EDITS

All basic edits are included in both the free version and the Royale version. Thanks PicMonkey!

  • Crop
  • Rotate
  • Exposure
  • Colors
  • Sharpen
  • Resize

EFFECTS

Effects change the way your image looks by applying funky and fun colours, balances and other manipulations. I apply some sort of effect to almost every image I edit. I think there are enough free choices to do most of your photo needs justice.

PicMonkey EffectsTOUCH UP

Touch Ups include the fun stuff like Red-eye Remover, Airbrushing and my favourite: Wrinkle Remover. Sadly, WR costs. Which will be cheaper; a yearly Botox injection or a PicMonkey membership?

PicMonkey Touch UpTEXT

If you want to add text to your photos (which I almost always do) then here are your choices. In my opinion, there are plenty of free fonts to choose from to add a variety to your images.

PicMonkey FontsOVERLAYS

Overlays enable you to add character to your images like Labels, Arrows, Comic Bubbles and more. I’m a big fan of the Labels feature and guess what? It’ll cost you!

PicMonkey OverlaysFRAMES

Ah, the Pièce de résistance, photo frames. What is a picture without a frame? This one includes my personal must-have which is the Rounded Corners feature. Thank goodness this option is free; with one click, you get perfectly rounded edges to soften your image for display.

PicMonkey FramesTEXTURES

Just as the title says, add fun textures to your images like Weaves, Paint and Metal. I’m not one to use textures much (to date) so I could live with or without these.

PicMonkey Textures

Of course, with the paid version you also get to lose the ads. Honestly, I didn’t find the advertisements that annoying. You can be the judge: ads vs. $4.99 a month?

MEMBERSHIP

The good thing is that PicMonkey doesn’t lock you into to a commitment. Meaning, you don’t have to pay for 12 months upfront. So if you really want to see which is best for you, try out a one month membership with knowledge that you can cancel at any time.

Be careful though, membership automatically renews if you don’t cancel in time. Opting out is available on the picmonkey.com website.

Happy editing!

Logo from picmonkey.com

City Mom

Holiday Gift Giving Made Easy: iCaughtSanta.com

City Mom's Holiday Gift Giving Made Easy

Imagine the look of wonder and surprise when your child receives a photo of Santa caught in the act in his or her very own home. iCaughtSanta.com is a unique website that helps visitors create those memorable keepsake photos.

In just three steps anyone can upload a holiday photo, add Santa Claus and print it as proof… or share it via Facebook and Twitter. Last-minute shoppers can buy Gift Cards and eGift Certificates for loved ones with children, making iCaughtSanta.com a great gift idea even if you don’t have kids yourself.

iCaughtSanta.com

Please note, I added this border on my own after I completed my image. Borders are available with the tool.

MY EXPERIENCE

I wrapped our gifts from “Santa” and placed them in the spot under the tree, where we will leave them on Christmas Eve. Next, I took a high-res landscape image with my camera. I did some editing on the image before I uploaded it on iCaughtSanta.com so that I could crop it, adjust the colour etc.

Then the rest was really easy and fun. I uploaded my photo and used the iCaughtSanta.com tools to select the specific position I wanted Santa to be in, his size and even the colour and brightness I wanted him to be.

The process is really foolproof and so much fun!. Now the hard part will be waiting until Christmas day to share the photo with Little S.

CREATE YOUR OWN

Visit iCaughtSanta.com to create your character image. You can even create one with Rudolph, The Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny.

By using that link above, you will receive 25% off the regular price of $9.99.  When you create a photo, you can also enter to win one of three iPads in an exclusive iCaughtSanta.com giveaway.

ENTER TO WIN

There will be five lucky City Mom readers who will win an eGift Certificate which is good towards creating one image on iCaughtSanta.com.

Please use the Rafflecopter widget below.

Good luck and have fun!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

City Mom

I am a Lioness, hear me roar!

 Lioness

With the recent tragic event that took place in Newtown, CT, I ‘m sure I’m not alone in the fact that I appreciate parenting more. I have a new outlook on the gift that I’ve been given and that is being a mom; the parent of a little angel who seems to have been put on this earth by God Himself.

It’s unfortunate that it takes a tragedy for us to take stock of our lives, but this one hit too close to home. Most of us have children around the same age as those innocent children who lost their lives. This didn’t happen in some crime capital of the world that we could never identify with. This happened in Anywhere, USA; in Anytown, Canada.

I’ve been feeling sombre, as I’m sure a lot of the world has been light of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting. I’ve been having trouble falling asleep at night as disturbing images flash on the stage behind my eyes.  I can’t help but put myself in the shoes of the families whom have suffered.

This post is not about that though. It’s not that I don’t have an opinion or some very strong feelings towards the subject; it’s just that I don’t think I can offer any new perspective on the subject or put the feelings into better words than others already have.

TAKING STOCK

When you picked up your child from school/daycare on Friday, December 14, 2012, did you hug them extra hard? Did your feet pick up a little faster once you spotted their twinkling eyes? I know mine did and when Little S and I got home, I saw the gigantic hug my husband gave her and it seemed to last a lot longer too.

Becoming a mother hasn’t been easy for me. It didn’t come naturally to me to put my needs on the (very furthest from the front) back burner. We’ve had our ups and downs and we’ve struggled with some issues.  I often hear that little voice in my head telling me to “Slow down. Take this all in. Enjoy this.” But when I find myself in a difficult stage, it’s hard to ignore that other little voice that says “I can’t wait for this particular stage to be over.”

But the last few days have been different and I’m focusing on what really matters. I’m slowing down and savouring the special moments and I’m even trying to enjoy the not-so-special moments. Like a New Year’s Resolution, this momentum can fade and it’s natural to become ‘comfortable’ in your life and sometimes we need reminders.

THE ROAR OF A MAMA LION

I received one of those reminders today; I happened to have The View on TV for some background noise. I don’t think I’ve ever actually watched an episode of The View but one of the guests grabbed my attention.  It was Leslie Mann discussing her new movie This is 40. I really want to see it so I think that’s why I stopped.

Alicia Keys

Image courtesy of www.eurweb.com

The next guest happened to be Alicia Keys and something she said during her interview caused me to stop, rewind (thank goodness for PVR) and take notes. When Barbara Walters asked Alicia about motherhood and how it had changed her life she replied with the following:

“It’s changed everything, without question. I guess you never know that until it really happens.  It’s made me so much better; I’ve become so much wiser, and so much more ready to step into my womanhood, and I’m empowered.

“I’ve been ready to make choices I didn’t know how to make before. You become this lioness and all of a sudden you’re like ‘NO!’.”

When she said the word “No!” she said it with a deeper, louder voice; mimicking the roar of a mama lion, protecting her cubs.  Perhaps it was this new found parenting appreciation or the fact that it’s Christmastime and I’m in “giving mode” or in fact both, but it caused me to reflect and take a step back to appreciate this thing called Motherhood.

It is a wild ride and you just cannot achieve perfection in this career. But is it ever the most rewarding job we’ve ever been given?

I am a Lioness. Hear me roar!

Image courtesy of Rob Bonneywell/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

City Mom

Holiday Hygiene: 5 Tips to Keeping Your Kitchen Germ Free

Cutting Board and Knife

Is any Christmas a real Christmas without green & red Rice Krispie Squares?

In my opinion no Christmas is complete without the ooey, gooey, marshmallowy squares made with the Holiday Rice Krispies. I know from years past, that these boxes of Rice Krispies sell out quickly so we got ours early in December and just couldn’t wait until Christmas to get cooking.

The secret to perfect Rice Krispies Squares is…well, there is no secret. They have to be one of the easiest recipes to make.  The real secret to good cooking and baking is hygiene in the kitchen and missing the mark on this is actually quite easy.

COOKING WITH KIDS

One of my favourite things to do is work in the kitchen with Little S. We love it so much that it was actually one of the episodes we did on City Mom on Rogers TV.

When you’re cooking with children, it can get a little hectic. Spills, sticky fingers and taste testing are all sure to happen. That’s why I found this list of facts from the Hygiene Council to be not only helpful, but very eye-opening as well.

Did you know that 50-80% of food-borne illnesses happen in the home?  – hygienecouncil.org

Most of us are more worried about the food we come in contact with that is out of our control like at restaurants and cafeterias, but it’s in our home where we’re most at risk.

Here  are a few things we do when we work in the kitchen to help keep thing hygienic:

  1. Prep cooking area:
    • 9 of 10 kitchen cloths have unsatisfactory or worse levels of bacteria so we always use Lysol Antibacterial wipes for wiping up our work space.
    • TIP: Use disposable cloths or soak reusable ones in disinfectant overnight to clean them.
  2. Wash our hands before we handle any food:
    • Poor hygiene and food preparation can cause up to 90% of kitchen surfaces to be contaminated during the preparation of a meal.
    • TIP: Try using a quality antibacterial product that’s safe to use on food areas to remove harmful bacteria and viruses from your chopping board.
  3. We handle meat with care:
    • We use different cutting boards for fruits and vegetables than we do for meat and we use a meat thermometer to ensure we cook to a safe temperature.
    • TIP: Use different knives and boards for meat and vegetables to prevent cross-contamination and always cook all meat products thoroughly at 70°C.
  4. We store our fresh foods and leftovers according to recommended food handling suggestions:
    • This is important especially during the holidays. Don’t leave the turkey out too long after everyone has been served. And follow guidelines for reheating leftovers.
    • TIP: Don’t leave cooked food sitting at room temperature for longer than two hours. Remember to reheat at (at 70°C or above) and re-serve leftovers only once.
  5. We try to maintain a clean and sanitary kitchen all of the time. In a hectic life it’s hard to always stay on top of cleaning: Did you know that high chairs or places where children eat have worse levels of bacteria than toilet flushes?
    •  Here are a few more tips to help to keep your kitchen hygienic:
    • TIP:  Disinfect the inside of your fridge regularly to remove microbes where food has dripped.
    • TIP: Store food in the fridge at 5°C, don’t overfill and make sure cold air can circulate.
    • TIP: Foot-operated bins are more hygienic because they reduce the risk of hands picking up germs touching the bin lid.

CLEAN ROUTINE

I know these facts and tips can be a little daunting. It seems there’s germs everywhere we turn and there are, but with a few cleaning routines you can stay on top of it and make it really easy.  Be sure to check out www.hygienecouncil.org for more information and tips.

What’s your favourite holiday recipe? What tips do you have to help keep your home clean?

Disclosure: I am part of the Lysol® Healthy Families Ambassador Program by Mom Central. I received compensation as part of my affiliation with this group.  The opinions on this blog are my own.

Image courtesy of mrpuen/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

City Mom

Thames Valley District School Board Teachers Strike: London Day Camps

Local Events Listing

It’s official. The Thames Valley District School Board teachers will be participating in a strike on Thursday, December 20, 2012. If your child attends a TVDSB school then he or she won’t be able to attend class on this day.

If you’re like many other London and area parents, you have to find alternate care for your child to attend for the day; preferably somewhere fun, educational and stimulating.

While this may not be an exhaustive list of facilities in London hosting day camps for the day, this is a list of some of the events we’ve been able to gather. As always, if you know of an event not listed here, please feel free to add your event in a comment below.

DANCE EXTREME DAY CAMP

Dance Extreme

  • Where:  Dance Extreme – 312 Commissioners Road West
  • When: Thursday December 20, 2012
  • Time: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm (before and after care available $)
  • Ages: 2.5 to 13 years old
  • What: Half-day camp for children 2.5 to 5 years old. Full day camp for ages 4 to 13 years old.
  • Cost: $35 + HST for Dance Extreme students, $40 + HST for non-students
  • To register: www.danceextreme.com

BUDDING ARTISTS DAY CAMP

Budding Artists

  • Where:  Budding Artists – 944 Western Counties Road
  • When: Thursday December 20, 2012
  • Time: 8:45 am – 4:15 pm
  • Ages: 5 – 12
  • What: An intimate and creative camp featuring art and music.
  • Cost: $40 (includes pizza lunch)
  • To register: Email info@buddingartists.ca

CHILDREN’S MUSEUM DAY CAMP

London Children's Museum

  • Where:  London Children’s Museum – 21 Wharncliffe Road South
  • When: Thursday December 20, 2012
  • Time: 8:30 am – 5:30 pm
  • Ages: 3 to 12 years old
  • What:  All day camp encourages campers to participate in art, culture and science activities that make the day not only fun, but educational too.
  • Cost: Members $28; Non-Members $32
  • To register: Pre-registration is required. Visit to learn more: www.londonchildrensmuseum.ca

KIDSCAPE DAY CAMP

Kidscape

  • Where:  Kidscape Indoor Playground– 1828 Blue Heron Drive
  • When: Thursday December 20, 2012
  • Time: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm (before and after care available $)
  • Ages: Toilet trained children to 12 years old
  • What:  Kidscape play, crafts, activities, stories and games. Lunch and snacks available $.
  • Cost: Full day $30 + tax, Half Day $18 + tax (9 – 12 or 1 – 4)
  • To register: Visit www.kidscape.ca

YMCA DAY-LONG PROGRAMMING

YMCA

  • Where:  YMCA – Various branches
  • When: Thursday December 20, 2012
  • Time: Various times
  • Ages: 4 to 13 years old
  • What:  YMCA run day camp
  • Cost: Contact your local branch.
  • To register: Contact your local branch to find our more information: ymcawo.ca

EXPLORE THE WINTER HOLIDAYS

Museum of Archaeology

  • Where:  Museum of Ontario Archaeology – 1600 Attawandaron Road
  • When: Thursday December 20, 2012
  • Time: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
  • Ages: 5 to 11 years old
  • What:  Play winter games, create holiday crafts from around the world, and explore the Museum.
  • Cost: $35 per child
  • To register: Call 519-473-1360 and visit www.uwo.ca/museum for more information

CITY OF LONDON CAMPS

City of London

  • Where:  Two locations: Stronach Area – 1221 Sandford St. & Earl Nichols Arena – 799 Homeview Rd.
  • When: Thursday December 20, 2012
  • Time: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm (before & after care available $)
  • Ages: 4 to 12 years old
  • What:  Camp activities.
  • Cost: $21 per child
  • To register: Call 519-661-5575 or visit www.london.ca (Use barcode 247234 for Stronach camp or Barcode 247245 for Earl Nichols camp_

We will keep our ears open, and continue to search for other day camp options.

City Mom

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