Monday, 30 November 2015

Battle of the... Ear thermometers

Taking a child's temperature is not at all easy. If you have reason to check, they are already warm, cranky, possibly vomiting, and always uncooperative. You might only get one solid crack at it, so it had better be accurate. We discussed in the past the variety of different thermometer makes on the market, but my favourite by far is the ear thermometer. They might be the bulkiest variety, but when it comes to the clarity, the features, and quick results, the ear thermometer is king.

That said, in my son's short life, we've owned three. The first was so difficult to understand, we returned it. I thought initially it was me not understanding how to use it, but thankfully, now that I own these two, I can see that the problem was the product and not the user! Both baby product wizards Summer, and medical equipment kings Braun, make excellent thermometers for different reasons. I think you would do well to own either of these models, but to help you narrow down which might be the better fit for you, today we watch them duke it out in a three round battle; ease of use, bonus features, and price!

Image borrowed from A Rush of Love
Ease of Use

Summer: It seems like an easy enough process, but even after reading the instructions, I'm not 100% that we understand how to use this model correctly. My husband will press the start button, maybe 4 times before feeling that it has worked, while I hold the button down the whole time until it beeps. I'm not sure either method is correct, but it does work eventually.

Braun: This model is super simple - it has a flashing light, so you can tell that it's calculating even in a dim bedroom, and the results come fast. Push the on button, insert in ear, push the temperature button, presto. It couldn't be more straight forward.
Image borrowed from

Bonus features

Summer: The very best feature of this unit is the red/green indicator. While it, and most models, give you the temperature in either Celsius or Fahrenheit, sometimes neither makes sense when you are tired and anxious. If your child has a fever, the temperature comes up red, leaving no doubt of the results. The flashing green temperature indicator is a huge relief, reassuring you that all is well.

Braun: This model has some bells and whistles, but for the average home consumer, I'm not sure you would use them. Of note; a 10 temperature memory for tracking temperature trends, and it comes with a package of protective tip covers. This would probably be handy for a home daycare or school use, but I don't think most moms need to keep track of an elaborate series of readings. Plus, a good wipe down and periodic thorough clean are sufficient. I can't see me buying replacement tip covers.


Summer: At $38.77, the summer is a bargain. Most models are double this price, and with not that much more going for them. If you take the time to understand how to use it (or are just better with technology than I am), this is a totally decent model to have on hand or have as a spare for Granny's house.

Braun: We managed to get our unit on sale for $69.97, but I have seen it priced over $80. This is the type of unit that you would put on your registry, because you might not see the value in putting it in your cart at Walmart with the other $700 of baby stuff you end up buying. That said, I can see this unit surviving multiple kids, so you might see it as more of an investment.

So there you have it. When push comes to shove, I prefer the Braun. I wish it had the red/ green colour indicator of the Summer, but otherwise, it's a great product. Light, easy to use, and seemingly long lasting, it squeaks out a win over less expensive Summer, but not by much. Don't forget that these units are battery powered, so even if (fortunately) you don't use it very often, it's a good idea to check it once a month to make sure it's working for when you need it!

Friday, 27 November 2015

We Tried It! Pillsbury Ready-Made Sugar Cookie Dough

I love sweets, but I have exactly zero willpower. A box of cookies is a very dangerous thing to have on hand, so I don't often put one in the cart as a safety precaution. I also love baking, within reason... I have so little time on my hands with a toddler that a multi-step, chill, roll-cut-repeat sugar cookie just seemed out of the question. Or is it? I've seen tubes of oh so tempting chocolate chip cookie dough in the grocery store refrigerator before, but this week I saw something new - pre-made sugar cookie dough, ready to slice and bake, or cut and decorate with your brood. I love this idea, especially for this time before a helper with patient measuring is an option, so I'm trying it out!

I paid $3.49 for my roll of dough. This article is not sponsored, and this is a true reflection of how I felt baking cookies while my toddler slept and my husband played video games.

I decided to try both styles of preparation to see what worked better. Slice and go seemed straight forward, but the dough is a little crumbly, and maintaining an equal cut wasn't exactly easy. I'm not sure if a bigger knife would have made a difference. Or heating the knife, like you would a spoon for ice cream? I don't know...

I also rolled out half with flour as suggested and cut out shapes with my one Christmasy cutter, a tree shape. This was way harder. The fat component (vegetable oil, I assume) made the dough very greasy when left unchilled for too long. You really need to work quickly - something that would be hard with young children. It also stuck terribly to the counter, so moving the shapes was kinda tricky despite the flour. If you were the kind of baker that had a Silpat baking mat this probably wouldn't be an issue. Then again, if you have a Silpat, you're not often making Pillsbury.

I was a little worried that my well-intentioned sugar ovals would bake inconsistently, but they rounded out nicely and cooked evenly.  Then again, the package really didn't explain how much these babies would expand. I spaced my 24 cookies over 3 baking sheets and they still puffed up to probably 3 times their size. I would suggest a smaller cookie cutter could yield double the cookies with great results.

While the first cookies baked, I decided to create a side experiment; I wondered whether it would be easier to decorate the cookies before or after the baked. Then I realized, I had very little decorating "stuff." I always have chocolate chips in the house (who doesn't?), so I brought those out. Then I remembered I had some gel icing writers and sprinkles left from my son's first birthday cake. Blue and brown aren't exactly "holiday" colours, I suppose, but why not?

The baked-in decorations worked really well and would be better for decorating with really young kids. A small assortment of chocolate, sprinkles, or candies just to give the cookies a bit of personality. It's just beige dough after all. I had more fun with the after cookies though, and I think older kids would too. Making fun icing shapes and intricate patterns. The gel pens worked great for this and with some patience you could get some great detail. A fun idea for a teacher gift, maybe?

Taste-wise, they were pretty darn good. They are not a chewy cookie by any means if that's your thing, not that they are meant to be, and they have a bit of a "store bought" quality to them. I don't think you could fool anyone in to thinking you baked these from scratch, but that's okay. Ironically, I liked them more than my toddler, so I don't know what that says. Largely kids are excited about any kind of cookie. Overall, considering the fun of the Christmas cookie "experience," I think it's pretty great. Quick to the point, fun for a cold afternoon indoors after tobogganing or making a snowman. I give it 4 out of 5.

Have you tried this product before? What do you think? 
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Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Protecting Your Home While You're Away - What and When

We're getting close to that time of the year when people go "a-wassailing" - holiday parties, work functions, shopping, and trips to see family. This is great for your spirit, but the longer you're away, the more risky it can feel. It's dark earlier, and leaving your home empty can make you feel a little nervous. Additional people roaming the halls of your apartment can make your secure building feel a little less so. Not to worry, we've got some great ideas to protect what's yours while you're away spreading joy to the world!

What: Plan to Protect

When: 6 - 8 weeks before departure

As soon as possible, a few small investments in your home will help secure the exterior, and increase it's energy efficiency!
  • Swap your outdoor light with one that comes on with a timer, or is motion detected. This will seriously deter kids and casual troublemakers from getting too close. You can even buy very convincing looking, fake security cameras if you don't want to spring for the full thing.
  • Check the condition of your mail slot, weather stripping, garage door, and window locks, immediately removing the easy targets.
  • Arrange someone to pop buy once or twice to gather mail, put out garbage, and check for footprints around the back of your house. 

What: Create the Illusion

When: 1-2 weeks before departure

Just like this helpful list from the government of Canada puts it " If your house is completely closed off, it is going to look like no one is there. If you make it appear more normal, it is less obvious that you are away."
  • If you normally decorate, do so. Maintaining your lawn and driveway the way you normally do is important.
  • Minimize your social media evidence - advertising your countdown might get in the wrong hands. It's great to be excited, just keep the exact departure and arrival to yourself.
  • Be a little extra sceptical of "accidental" buzzers. Consider giving your friends a funny password like "guacamole" or "isosceles"  for entry.
What: The Final Overview

When 1-2 days before departure

With your bags packed and your tickets in hand, doing this last walk through will give you piece of mind that you've done everything you could to protect your home.
  • If you have valuables that you're particularly concerned about, find a strategy to protect them. This might mean photos for insurance purposes, getting a safety deposit box, or dropping it off with a relative for safe keeping.
  • Remove any spare keys you have hiding under mats, unplug your automatic garage door opener, and make sure no major electronics are visible from the street.
  • Consider some lights, a radio, or other small appliance to leave on while you're out.
There's no reason to expect something to go wrong, but being one step ahead of the game is not paranoid, it's smart. I often say, "you don't insure your car once it's on fire." Take a moment to review your policy to make sure that you are covered for everything you think you are. Once you've dotted your i's and crossed your t's, you can relax en enjoy your vacation.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Mommy Money Matters: Stocking A Winter Wardrobe

The change in the season has been a dramatic one in my laundry room. I certainly didn't appreciate how comparatively few loads shorts and t-shirts generated before long sleeves and jeans struck. Little things, like making sure he has enough clean socks, is suddenly a concern in a sandal-free morning routine, never mind remembering where mitts and hats got left, and it really slows things down. Finding that balance between so few clothes you're doing laundry every night, and owing two dressers full of stuff they grow out of over night is tricky. And when you start talking about outerwear? Where do you start! What is enough, and how can you get the most out of what you have? We clever mamas have a few tips to share...

The Basics:

Your little one is not only going to be wearing more layers, you'll need spares for your diaper bag or daycare bag. This means mixing and matching. Three piece sets are cute, but if your outfit is bright red and your back up olive green it will look - interesting. Not that matching always matters, you'll just have an easier time of the whole getting dressed routine if you have a few neutrals. A few grey, black, and beige sweatshirts will serve you well and work for either gender. A plain pair of track pants, leggings, or jeans to go with will go with any shirt. Try finding some bargains on fleece and cotton hoodies from thrift stores and mom-swaps, especially for those muddy toboggan rides and messy indoor painting days!

For the Feet:

With temperatures going from 19 C to snow and -3 C in the span of a few days here, your little adventurer will still need a variety of footwear. Good quality sneakers for inside and out, a pair of good rain boots, and at least one quality pair of winter boots. For sneakers, so long as they fit well, any brand will really do. Consider avoiding shoelaces until they can tie them alone. They're just a temptation for busy hands and an inconvenience for busy teachers. Winter boots merit a little more research. Getting a good brand that will last will serve you better, and retain their value for resale.  Of course, buying all of this brand new can really add up, so asking around for a bargain or looking in to consignment might help you get a deal. Oh, and make sure you have lots of extra socks for doubling up or changing out when after a post-snowman soaker!

Hats and Mitts:

Most kids don't like wearing hats - until they feel cold. Having a couple hats for your child's "mood" is sometimes the key. Anything that covers their head and ears will do the trick, so don't go overboard. Hats that attach under the chin with a snap or Velcro is ideal for babies and toddlers that will fight the hat the most.  When it comes to gloves,however, you almost can't have too many. My son had five pairs to start the season and we've already lost one. Whether you leave them at Nana's, they're still wet from school, or forgotten in the car, at some point you'll need a backup or two, or six. Keep in mind a variety of thicknesses, too. Sometimes a stretchy Dollar Store pair is good too take the edge off, but sometimes you need something waterproof and insulated for serious outdoor play. Big box stores will sell them cheapest after Christmas or off season.

How do you stay warm on a budget?  Have you scored a bargain? Tell us about it!

Friday, 20 November 2015

Play Time - Sick Day

My son has a cold, again. Or maybe I should say still. Very shortly after going into daycare, he started coming home with minor things; scrapes, runny noses, little bumps here and there. No biggie, he's a kid and those things are going to happen. As soon as the chill hit the air though? Wham! Perma-cold. A never ending loop of dripping slime, hacking cough, and periodic misery. My doctor checked him out and basically said that it's going to be like this for the first year of daycare while his immune system grows with him. So long as his fever doesn't spike dramatically, or he doesn't experience anything abnormal, we pretty much just have to roll with it. This causes a few problems; I'm missing work again (which causes me a little anxiety and guilt), and we're bored!  Here are some of our fun coping mechanisms for a recovery day at home.

If ever there was a good time to play with your food, it's today. If your kids are old enough (or just plain patient enough) to bake with you, this is a great way to spend some quality time. Try some smile cookies, some healthy blueberry muffins, or fresh rolls! My mother used to make what we lovingly referred to as "bread shaped animals" and we loved them. The smell was amazing. Younger kids can still have fun in the kitchen. What we did this morning was pick some colourful fruit for breakfast. We made an artful arrangement, then dug in together, with yoghurt for deliciously messy dipping. A good dose of vitamins and a nice meal in one.

When eating gets a little too "creative" or your little one is really congested, why not have an under sea adventure? A nice, warm bath is a fantastic multitasker; you have a great time, while opening up your airways, and you come out clean! Big win there. If your little one is in to bath toys, you can make up a whole story with sound effects and funny voices! For babies, take your time to clean each tiny toe, allowing them to take in the comfort of your touch. Singing about rubber duckies and boats adds to the fun!

While my son usually loves independent play, when he's really sick and needy I need to have a repertoire of "cuddle" tasks - things he can largely do on my lap. We like to sit and play blocks, making towers, changing them around, and knocking them over. This can occupy him for a long time, and he loves to sort through looking for the specific colours I ask for, or shapes that will best fit. Sitting at his train table is also a big hit. He'll move the train along the track much more calmly when he's feeling unwell, rather than redesigning the whole village. 

The ultimate cuddle task is reading, of course, and I will read book after book of his favourite characters. We have lots of modern board books, which are great for him to hold and handle, and are perfect for short attention spans. When he wants to really snuggle in, we have a 1980's collection that includes lots of the old school. I'm talking Disney (he likes puppies, so Lady and the Tramp and 101 Dalmatians get a lot of attention) , Sesame Street (with characters like Prairie Dawn and Guy Smilie!) and lots of nature books. I actually enjoy them more than he does some time for the pure nostalgia of it. 

I know it's not great to let your kids spend too much time in front of the television, but for a sick day, I don't think it will hurt to have a little media in your mix. With really educational programming available to us on demand from services like Netflix and YouTube, you can select and show only exactly what you want. I record a few programs on the PVR and when it's over, it over. The next show doesn't start, the screen stops entirely. My son will say "all done" and it's on to the next thing. Not only does it serve as a short, relaxing treat for the child, you can stop playing entertainer for a brief moment. Just long enough to take your child's temperature, get some food or medication, or just to enjoy that time together.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Media Reflection: The Business of Being Born

The whole process of the actual delivery is something a pregnant woman spends a lot of time thinking about. The unknown causes a lot of anxiety, and that fear can lead you to believe that birth is a very clinical experience. I admit, I was of that opinion and never considered a midwife for my own labour experience. This very graphic documentary, produced by Ricki Lake, did not change that. What it did do, is raise some very interesting questions about the way birth is portrayed in the media, and how science of the delivery is actually practice in the United States. The message began with tangible numbers, and personal anecdotes, but ended with a harsh and emotional-fuelled assault on hospital birth that I found distasteful.  Here's my full account of "The Business of Being Born."

The Numbers

The film starts with some pretty staggering facts, including that 70% of births in Japan and in the United Kingdom employ a midwife, whereas the the number in the United States is less than 8%. In fact, the use of home birth in the US has seen a tremendous decline in just over 50 years. From 95% in 1900 to less than 1% in 1955. I find that difference remarkable, especially given the later stated math on cost. At the time of filming, a "spontaneous, vaginal birth" cost in excess of $13,000 done in hospital, while a mid-wife claimed her fees for the entire process, including pre-natal care and facility fees, would be around $4,000! The trouble of opting for the less expensive method is the ensuing insurance claim, which was made to look gruelling, if not practically impossible. I can see how these numbers would scare Americans, especially those in low income brackets, but as a Canadian viewing this film, the cost is all but irrelevant. 

The Control

The thesis of the film seems to be that a midwife offers you a lot more control over your birth experience than a doctor (granted), and that should be something we all want for the natural bonding implications. I'm not sure they convinced me of the later part of that statement, but control is very lacking on a bed in a delivery ward. Some of the evidence they show of hospital births are damning. In one scene, a doctor told a woman in a rather cold fashion "Remember, no crying. You gotta breathe, okay?" Several clips of births with "interventions" by hospital staff certainly play into that traumatic, sensational, ER version of birth you see on television. Nurses giving women deadlines on how long they had to push, and dosing medication after medication for everything from contraction management to pain reduction. By comparison, the home water bath and birthing centre did seem more civilized and calm. This is one of the strongest points put forward; feeling scared, and being given "expert" opinion does make you question your body and your ability to deliver in the manner in which you want. So called "choices" in hospital are really just instructions while you are in such a compromised state of body and mind. 

An image of a restrained woman about to deliver used in the film
The Emotions

That second part of the film's central premise - that we should desire to control our birth experience, and the essential emotions it produces - goes too far on too little in my opinion. While, as Ricki at one point says, childbirth is "not an illness," they overtly suggest that women that choose a doctor, medication, c-section, etc are not experiencing the natural chemical reaction necessary to create a loving bond. The pain/ pleasure euphoria that ensues after a natural (read: midwife assisted) birth supposedly generates an essential reaction crucial to attachment. I was shocked to the point of being a little offended. After nearly two hours of encouraging women to take charge of their own bodies and have the birth experience they want, they then back track telling you that the only kind they should want is natural, with a midwife. They insult women as "too posh to push" and bring up heinous examples of medical horrors such as thalidomide and 1920's birth restraints to really send home their point. It's cruel to women who have had medically necessary c-sections, and those who, after having done their research, chose an OB/GYN.

I did learn a lot about the options available to women in terms of the delivery process, and it did have moments of truly empowering information. While I was not convinced that they proved their point, I do agree that women should trust in their bodies and pursue a delivery that suits their individual needs, be that a home birth, a natural birthing centre, a hospital, or otherwise. You do not need to expect a traumatic birth experience, and you do have a choice as to your practitioner, your medications, and your limits. As graphic and hard to watch as this film can be, I highly recommend it for women unsure of what direction they would like to take - just take the message with a grain of salt.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Mommy Musing: Including Yourself in the Picture

I'm not a "selfie" kinda gal. My social media profile contains more images of my cats than of myself. Hey, cats are huge on the internet... Still, at a photo shoot that I had back in October for my son and niece, I decided to force myself to be included in at least a few. We had pictures as a group, and I tried my best to "look nice" while trying to keep my busy toddler still. I was incredibly judgemental of the results; looking more at my belly and my messy hair than at the smiles and the fun of my family on a sunny fall day. I can't help myself, I have poor body image.

I've struggled with my weight as far back as I can remember. I have seen pictures of myself as a slender 8 year old, but what I recall most is the wounded and overweight me that began in my early teens. I stopped wearing shorts at 14 years old, after the only pair that I felt comfortable in - a thick, black pair I stole from my father - fell apart in the wash. I would shop with my friends at the mall, but buy only shoes or accessories, getting my clothes from thrift or outlet stores. I love being thrifty, but I also couldn't justify spending designer prices to clothe a body I hated.

Having grown in to my body, so to speak, I'm no longer ashamed of what I look like. I try to eat moderately, I exercise when I can, and I'm healthy. Old habits do die hard, however, and I still find myself feeling self conscious regularly. I have days when I can't find anything to wear, or scrutinize the blemishes and dark spots on my face harshly. That's all part of being a female I suppose, especially in this modern, photo-obsessed world. I accept myself, but not in a swim suit, or shorts, or in photos, or... so maybe I haven't fully come around.

My mother is the same, but for her own reasons. She is beautiful, slender, and looks so young for her age. You would think she would love to have family pictures done, but when she sees herself, she sees a (non-existent) bump on her nose from when it was broken as a teen, she sees wrinkles and age spots, she see an image that she would rather not capture. So she hangs photos of us, but not of herself.  I have so few photos of my whole family together, and even fewer of just my mom at the various stages of her life. The ones I have, I love so much. I laugh at the fashions, smile at the fun, and search for features that were inherited by my sisters and I.

It made me start thinking of my son in the future. It's terrible to think of, but the unforseen can happen. He will wake up one day, hopefully decades from now, and I will no longer be there to spend time with him. As much as I hate my outfit, or my stretch marks, or muffin top, I will never be as young as I am today. He, and maybe his children, will want to reach back in time like I do now. I want to leave him the memories of fun and love that we have together, and not always be the one behind the camera. 

Having my photo done might make me feel awkward in the moment, and I may not always be thrilled at the results, but what I'm doing is capturing a moment in time. I owe it to my son and to myself to have those memories to look back on together. They don't need to go on Facebook or be framed on the wall, but can be stored safe in an album that I take down like a story book, and tell the tale of my own life, and the life we share together.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Controversy Corner: Breast Milk

This article is a Controversy Corner for a reason; writing about breastfeeding and formula seems to be more of hot button topic than ever, and I’m really not sure why. Every mother wants to do what’s best for their child, and that should be the primary concern when feeding your infant.

Full disclaimer: I failed at breastfeeding. I say “failed” because that’s how it felt – the hospital staff, family, and society make you feel that you are not doing a great job at being a mom if you can’t do this “simple” task. My body knew how to make a baby and my baby knows he needs to eat… so why is this not working? I am also not a medical expert by any stretch of the imagination. This article is for discussion purposes, because I didn't know about a lot of these options when they might have helped me. Talk to your doctor if something here makes sense to you.

I chose to supplement with formula, and eventually converted entirely for my sanity and my baby’s health. I don’t regret it, because I know I tried everything I could at the time. That doesn’t mean I won’t try again with the next one, and this time I’m armed with even more information: a powerful tool. If you are struggling to produce enough for your baby’s needs and personal belief or religion prevents you from supplementing with formula (even vegan formulations which are available), things might be a little rough as you navigate the options available to you.

Your doctor or mid-wife might suggest a lactation consultant as a first step. Often available to come to your home or bedside, these specialists can assist you with different positions, props, pumping, and other methods that might build a routine that works for you. Lactation consultants can be very expensive. There are free ones, but mine never made it to the hospital the three days I was there. Free ones in your area might require an application based on your socioeconomic status, and if you don't qualify, in Toronto for example, their services can cost 60+ dollars an hour, and they probably won't fix your issue in one session. Coaching could feel awkward at first, but the support of someone that believes in what you’re doing might be nudge you need to push through the harder days. It takes practice and patience, things that are really difficult to regulate with a tired mom and an unpredictable newborn. Successful moms some times dedicate days to focus exclusively on bonding and latching, without visitors (or much time in a shirt.)

Another option is to seek the support of a group of moms. Women who have or are currently breastfeeding get together to discuss biting, mastitis, thrush, engorgement, let down, and all the other tricky topics that come with the territory. It’s not all boob talk, though! My community offers many “cafés,” meetings, and talks for moms to come and chat about anything and have a hot drink. You might find this idea uncomfortable if you are very shy or modest. A cover will help (most ladies wear one), but be prepared for women who are confident in doing it "freely."There may also be women or facilitators that want to help you in a "hands-on" way. If you don't feel comfortable about that, be sure to say so! I very much support finding like-minded ladies with which you can chat for reasons of your own sanity alone, and getting out of the house is a great idea at least a couple days a week. If it makes you feel more relaxed and helps with breastfeeding, all the better.

There are also dozens of products on the market aimed at boosting your supply; such as raspberry leaf teas, milk-thistle or fenugreek capsules, and vitamin enriched “lactation” cookies, available at natural health food stores. They are not quick fixes, so you might have to build up over a week of use to see results. I have known a few women who have had great success with one, or a combination of these products, and some that saw no change at all. These items can be a little harder to find, and not all brand names are reputable or regulated, so you do need to proceed with caution. You might feel more comfortable with a thoroughly researched prescription instead of something homeopathic. In that case, you might ask your doctor if domperidone or something like it could help your with your production. 

If none of the above options seem to improve your success, and your baby’s weight is very low, or is ill, there are services available that can even supply pasteurized human donor milk. That’s right, gone are the days of a wet nurse like in Romeo and Juliet. Hospitals work with suppliers that screen, collect, pasteurize, and bottle breast milk from women who have some to spare (whoever these magical women may be.) It might seem odd at first thought, but before formula, wet nursing was the only other option, and they didn’t even have the technology we have today! If formula is off the table, and there is milk that could otherwise go to waste, why not? I think it’s an amazing idea.

While many people still firmly hold the belief that “breast is best,” and that may very well be true (it's certainly cheaper), the fact remains that the breast is no longer strictly "necessary", and you do not need to feel guilt for feeding your baby highly regulated and nutritious formula. For women who are ill, gay couples raising a child, babies that can’t latch, for whatever reason – these children no longer have to die in developed nations because we have formula. That’s a wonderful thing. Of the 4 children born in to my extended family in the last two years, 3 were at least supplemented with formula for a variety of reasons. They are happy, healthy, smart, and wonderful children! That said; you have the right as a mother to not want to feed your child formula, just as I have a right to feed my son the way I see fit.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Special Report: Recommended Ages on Toys

I often read the directions on products out of curiosity, as well as to maximize the quality of its use. Today, for whatever reason, I decided to read the directions on my body wash. They read: "Squeeze onto a wet pouf or washcloth. Work into a rich, creamy lather and rinse." Now, most people understand the concept of body wash, but if you were actually seeking information on this label, you would have a hard time getting clean. At what point does this product contact your skin? I am I to assume that once the wash cloth has been rinsed I can scrub, or I am I to understand that the company actually forgot a step in a 4 step process?

Toy labels are similar; the guidelines are vague, sometimes offer vast age ranges, and leave a lot up to interpretation. When you're considering whether or not a toy is appropriate for a child, there are really only 3 considerations that label means to express - potential liability, intellectual/ physical complexity, and mature content. Whether or not a person wants their children exposed to swear words, sexual content, or other violence is a personal decision for a parent and has more to do with the child and parenting style than the toy itself. For that reason, let's look more into the other two.

Potential Liability:

This is an obvious concern for parents and toy manufacturers alike. With historical references like lead paint, lawn darts, and the thousands of choking hazard lawsuits, companies take this decision incredibly seriously. This is one way in which you really should consider the intended age range on a given product, and here are some reasons why:
  • Newborns have limited head control, so suffocation is a real threat - limit stuffed toys, bumper pads, and clothes with hoods.
  • Babies put everything in their mouths, so consider the paint, chemicals, ease of cleaning, and obviously choking potential on any toys.
  • Toddlers take risks and like to interact very intently- watch for parts that could snap, pinch, or otherwise unintentionally snare them.
  • Preschoolers like to test boundaries -  so now is not the time for beads, finger paints, tiny doll shoes or other insta-messes (if you value your relationship with the parents at all.)  

Intellectual/ Physical Complexity:

This is probably the hardest range for manufacturers to establish. My son actually has a set of stacking pots on which the original age frame was 6-36 months. How on earth did they gauge that? At 10 months when I bought it, it barely caught his eye. At 18 months now, it occasionally peaks his interest. I have a hard time believing that he will still want to interact with it at all in a year's time. Think about the following characteristics:
  • Height Restrictions: Trikes, bikes, and other ride-on toys have more to do with how tall the child is than how old they are. Age is only a factor is so far as the average age of a child that is of a given height with a given set of abilities. If your niece was an early walker and a string bean, there's no reason to wait.
  • Imagination/ Emotional Age: Even if a product is targeted to an older (or even younger) age group, products mean different things to children at different ages of their lives. If the toy is of little concern in terms of risk, allowing the child to grow with a product or nurture an emotional need is a good thing.
  • Development: Since children move through stages at lightening speed, it almost always makes sense to buy a product they are not yet ready for, rather than something that suits them exactly at this moment. Examples include books, clothes, and educational material (science kits, colouring pages, etc).
When a child is overwhelmed by an outpouring of gifts, such as what happens on birthdays and on holidays, items can go underutilized, which is a real shame. Bringing the item that is put away for down the road when the child gets a little bigger is something a parent can really appreciate. If you're still unsure about what's appropriate or even "in" this year, don't be afraid to talk to someone. Ask the parents, a store associate, or even a child playing in that section of the store. With the parent's permission, of course! Randomly talking to a child might give some parents the wrong idea...

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

TOP 5: Daylight Saving and Sleep

For some reason unknown to me, some people tend to be more sensitive to environmental changes than others. When the weather is about to turn, I can feel the barometric change in the form of a headache. You have undoubtedly met people who experience “rain pain” in their backs or knees, and so forth. In the same vein, some children are much more aware of the lack of light that this season brings.

My son is reeling badly from daylight saving; getting tired much earlier, feeling restless in the early stages of sleep, and the dreaded extremely early rising. Starting my day well before 5am is too much for me, especially multiple days in a row. So what can we do about it? I’ve researched the top 5 suggestions for correcting scheduling offsets (regressions included)!

5. Prepare Ahead: If you know you are about to experience a shift due to travel (or because you knew about daylight saving more than a day ahead), you can start with gradual shifts towards the new time. Try off-setting naps by 15 minutes for a few days, then another 15 minutes. The same should be done with your whole bedtime routine as well.

4. Do Nothing: This might work to your advantage if your little one has been going to bed too late, or if your shift hasn’t taken a major toll. The classic grin-and-bare-it. suggests:

“If your baby’s is fairly adaptable to change, and is not sensitive to overtiredness, then you can simply do nothing, take the time change in stride. This means sticking to your baby or toddler’s normal schedule as best you can. The exception to that would be the morning wake-up time; that will likely be earlier for a few days, or maybe a week.” 

3. Don’t Fight It: As tempting as it is to coax your little one back to sleep by changing your normal bedtime routine, you might end up doing more harm than good. Just as Wee Bee Dreaming describes:

“Don't give too much attention to the nap/bedtime battles. You don't want to make long-term habits for a short-term phase. This regression will pass in time, but if you make a habit of now rocking the child, letting them sleep in your bed, sitting with them until they fall asleep (unless you are already doing these things), or skipping naps entirely, this regression now turns into a new habit for the child, one that will be tough to break.”

2. Adjust your lights: Being darker at 6pm and lighter at 6am might be confusing, even if you are an adult. Child Sleep Science explains: “Light exposure is what keeps the circadian rhythm locked into this routine and it’s only through altering light exposure that you can truly reset the circadian rhythm.” Making changes to how and where you light your home can really help. Use multiple light sources in your living room and play space until 30 minutes before you start your bedtime routine. Ensure your child’s room is very dark, with black out drapes if possible. You can still use a night light or other small source, so long as you don’t like the sky betray what you are trying to accomplish!

1. Go on with life: Just as your little one came to this routine, so too will they adjust to a new one in time. You still have the same start time at work. School, appointments, and errands still have to happen, so let the pieces fall into place. Fill your time by demonstrating the adjustment with dinner, bath time, and everything else a child uses to gauge time before understanding clocks. If your child is a little tired and off for a few days, that’s okay. By staying the course, with enough time and patience will encourage.

I know this doesn’t seem like much consolation when your own routine is off by the change. Believe me, 4:30 is not a time I care to acknowledge, never mind actively participate in. As with all things with children, change is the rule, not the exception.Your going to have things that throw off sleep; teething, colds, grandma's house... so take it in stride. No phase lasts forever and this is no exception!

How are you coping with the time change? Tell us your sleep strategies on Facebook!

Monday, 2 November 2015

Holiday Gift Lists - What and When?

I know, I know - how cliché. We've just finished Halloween and immediately everyone turns to the topic of the Holidays. The stores have already had Christmas decorations creeping out of corners since school started, but now that the orange and black is on clearance, the red and green is going to be more and more prominent, and on people's minds. I'm not suggesting you should sing carols or put an inflatable Olaf on your lawn just yet, but in terms of planning for presents, the earlier you begin, the better. Here's why:


Some have been shopping since July, some are starting to listen hard to what your saying to get ideas, some are just dying to spoil your little one with all kinds of toys and clothes... And that's not even getting in to Aunts. I know, I am one! I see things I want to buy for my niece on the daily! This is not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a complicated scenario for a mom. You want to be surprised, but you need to have a certain amount of control over the things that are bought for your child. I'm not even talking about finger paints and beads here people, I'm talking about sizing, preferences, and moral beliefs. 

Your kids are going to receive gifts you may never have bought yourself, and that's a good thing, so it's not worth hurting someone's feelings if a gift is not 100% your taste. A gift is a gesture of love and appreciation, and the giver wants you to be happy, so here are a few strategies to finding a middle ground.

What: A Christmas "Needs" List

When: For close family, and your own reference.

It's good to have, even if it's not the holiday season, so that you can capitalize on sales and are prepared for a growth spurt! Go through your child's wardrobe for the size they have now, and the size that they will next grow in to. Make some notes on their sizing and the gaps in their closets, and have this available. Needs are things like underpants - not fun to receive, but necessary. The older your child gets, the more they dread things like clothes, so it's not as desirable for the giver to buy. Sure, people might want to buy cute pajamas, or fun little outfit, but don't count your list being met in its entirety. 

What: A Christmas "Wants" List

When: Your child is old enough to have preferences (ie: a letter to Santa) or you're being asked by friends and family.

This list is the complete opposite of the above. It's not practical, it's the wow-factor. Family and friends love buying things like toys, movies, and other entertainment items because of the fun they are to buy, and the fantastic reaction you get from the receiver! It's true of parents too, so you can hardly blame them! If people ask you what your child wants for Christmas, try to give a variety of options, thinking a little outside the box. 
  • Books, books, books - if your child has a favourite television show, try encouraging their love by combining it with reading rather the DVD or other media. Remember to ask for some books that are ahead of your child's current abilities so they have room to grow.
  • Outside, literally - your house is probably packed with stuff, so why not some outdoor toys? From bigger gifts like bikes, sleds, and wagons, to smaller items like chalk, beach toys and hockey sets, lets encourage some fresh air!
  • Fun experiences - lessons, classes, and family passes are a great gift for the holidays. If your child likes fish, a day at the aquarium has much more impact than a goldfish in a bowl, and no animals will be harmed!
What: A Christmas "Don't" List

When: You feel strongly that a gift is inappropriate.

This is not meant to be a power trip; maybe you try to have toys that are not battery powered, you prefer organic materials, you discourage screen-time... whatever the case maybe. For the holidays, it's okay to receive a few treats that can be stored away separately and enjoyed within limits. What you should make people aware of, politely, is something that prevent you from allowing your child to use a toy, even on a sick day or special occasion. 

An example that sticks out in my mind is weapons. Sure, older kids might want to play aggressive or war like games, but I would draw the line at having toy guns and archery material in my house. I feel strongly about this issue, but not everyone in my life thinks it's problematic, or knows I hold this view. It's okay to casually mention this limitation if giving a list. It will save a lot of awkwardness if a gift you feel is inappropriate is purchased by stating your case ahead of time.

Do you worry about holiday gifts? How do you deal with presents that are inappropriate?
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