Friday, 18 December 2015

Special Report - Modern Gift Giving

A holiday tradition can come from many places; from deep religious belief, from family history, or even from the media. Dating back to Victorian times, the way we celebrate Christmas has been in constant flux. The introduction of Santa, the Christmas tree, and the big turkey (or duck) dinner were added to religious practices like charity and carolling. Now in the age of Facebook and Pinterest, new ideas as to how to make the season fun and special seem to come up every day!

From decorating, to feasting, to sharing the magic with our children (you may have already seen our write up on Elf on a Shelf), the way you celebrate is as unique as the members of your family. Today we focus more on the way we actually give in the 21st century, with a few ideas on feeling spoiled without over-commercializing the biggest money-making holidays of them all.

Christmas Eve

More and more parents are extending the gift giving into the night before Christmas - a day packed with traditions all its own. After ensuring the tree is trimmed, the stockings are hung, and the cookies are out, some families open a special gift or two reserved for this evening. 

  • A board game - for a family with kids aged pre-school and above, a nice way to focus on family time, that doesn't involve television, is to play a group game. From the classics like Candy Land and Trouble, to a more recent fave like Apples to Apples, there are dozens of choices for every age group.
  • Pajamas - having brand new sleepwear is a super cute idea. Having matching outfits always makes for great holiday snaps. Take some pictures the night before, though. You can't count on everyone in your family still wearing the same jammies for present opening. 
  • A book/ books - Seasonal reading for before bed is a nice way to unwind after a day of too much excitement leading up to the big day. It doesn't have to be T'was the Night Before Christmas (although that's a good one), it could be a more traditional piece, or even just a wintery tale to strike the right mood.

Christmas Day

Whether you open them up right out of the gate, or start with a hearty and decadent breakfast, it's hard not to focus on the present part of the day when you're staring at a mountain under the tree! But does it need to be a mountain? We are huge fans of the saying: "something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read."
  • A want - that's easy enough to figure out this time of year! No doubt you had a fairly large list to choose from, if not a few friendly hints! Consider making this gift the biggie under the tree, while Santa brings something smaller. It's terrible when some kids get a stuffed dog and others get an iPad from the same man in red.
  • A need - this could also be a toy that serves a purpose beyond just fun. It could be a comfort item, crafting supplies, sport or dance lessons... you name it.
  • To wear - we're not talking underpants here, but maybe a fashionable sweater your daughter has been coveting, or that great sports jersey!
  • To read - again, focus on the fun. You don't have to buy Dickens if your son likes Captain Underpants. Whether it's outer space or  cooking that interests your child, encourage reading in every way you can.
The present opening process can be a blur, and leave everyone feeling let down that it's over. Try to extend the moment as long as you can, taking the time to open each gift and appreciate it. That might mean taking turns, pictures, breaks for games or snacks... whatever it takes to extend the moment. It's also important to have something ready to look forward to immediately after the gifts to keep spirits high. A karaoke carol sing-a-long? How the Grinch Stole Christmas? A family craft for Grandma? It's the perfect moment to share in the tradition that started it all - the love of family.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

DIY - Time Killing Crafts for the Un-Crafty

If you spend enough time on the internet, you start to think that you are the laziest human on earth. How are these moms turning pallet wood into castles and old onesies into gorgeous memory quilts? I mean, who has the time? I love baking and crafting as much as the next person, but even if I had a few hours to devote to being creative (which would truly be luxurious), I do not have the talent of some of these artesian mamas out there. The good news is, you don’t need hours or mad-skills to create some fun and festive decorations for your home. You, and your eager kiddies, can do some great traditional crafts while waiting for dinner to cook, or even while watching Rudolf before bed.

Cut Paper Crafts:

· Snowflakes – Easy and beautiful, all you need to do is fold paper several time on to itself, cut out little chunks and shapes, then unfold to reveal your unique creation! You can round off the edges, or add glitter to take it to the next level.

· Christmas Trees – Cut a basic tree shape from green cardstock or construction paper, and then embellish your design with coloured shapes taken from old cards or Christmas wrap! This is a fun way to make a Santa list too, using a catalog for the presents.

Bead or Link Crafts:

· Pasta necklaces – That classic accessory of parenthood; design a piece for granny, or a special accompaniment to your holiday outfit. Use colourful ribbon or yarn to start, and add paint to really show off your style.

· Paper chains/popcorn garland – Is there anything more traditional than a great garland for the tree, or to decorate a play space? Try adding fresh bay leaves or cranberries with your popcorn for the scent and colour! If you are worried about your child with a needle, there are plastic crafting ones available at most big box stores.

Mold or Form Crafts:

· Dough ornaments – Use this recipe as your base, then add a small amount of food colouring, or paint afterward. If you have trouble thinking of shapes, us cookie cutters as a mold. Don’t forget a small hole using a toothpick, so you can add string!

· Candles – a favourite craft from my childhood, they are way easier than you think! Using wax granules from a hobby store, melt slowly in a pot on the stove to a liquid consistency. This is a great way to use up some old, broken crayons as colouring! 

Tip: Tie a wick to a straw so it doesn’t fall in to your shape! You can line a toilet paper tube with wax paper, or find a cute jar from the dollar store!

Monday, 14 December 2015

Mommy Musing - The Never Ending To Do List

Never is the time crunch on mommy demands worse than at this time of year. Extra work in decorating and maintaining the house for visitors, parties, shopping, and just things like medical visits are eating in to the time that I didn't even know I had. The "ought to" and the "got to" lists in my house are growing by the minute... The every day domestic stuff never goes away, and even if I was anywhere close to caught up on laundry and vacuuming, I have just over a week before the Holidays ramp up in to full swing. We have officially reached the point of no slowing down until January, and it can all be a little overwhelming. 

Beyond the irritation of mall shopping, and plainly wanting to do chores after work, I'm really scared that my Angry Mom is showing up too often lately. Most of the joy that comes from the Holidays is doing activities with my son, and eagerly awaiting the moment when he can open up his gifts! I love watching his face while he marvels at an elaborate mall tree, or the shock and wonder of walking through what little snow we've had. It's amazing, sweet, and exactly the way I want to be spending my time - not stirring a pot for dinner, or matching socks. 

I thrive under a routine, but when something constantly knocks down my plans, like the unexpected activities associated with the holidays, I get really easily frustrated. Not frustrated that my schedule is off, but more concerned that some things are going to just fall off my plate. They do, and that's unavoidable. The lack of control can make me feel like a failure as a wife, and certainly as a mother. My son is too young to understand that Mommy has a lot to do, and to know that we missed a craft time or a play date, but he's not too young to know that I'm stressed and distracted.

I can prioritize, delegate, dig in and accomplish whatever I can, but it's just not going to all get done. It can't, and I'm learning to be okay with that. With travelling to another province, I'm giving up my tree this year. A small sacrifice that I don't mind too much. I'm not going to attempt to do 4 fancy cookies, or to handwrite cards to everyone I know, although I love both those things. We're not going to go on dozens of winter walks to see Christmas lights, make snow angels, and go tobogganing in the park. My life is not picture perfect all the time, and that's normal.

What I am going to do is surround myself with family, spend extra time in my pajamas, and try to relax. When I look back on my life, I don't think I'll ever wish I spend more time scrubbing floors or tying perfect ribbon. In my heart, I'm not the sick and tired mom, ever tethered to her phone. I want to spend more time on the floor, learning about diggers, painting, and making dinosaur noises. So that's my gift to myself this year - permission to be a messy, lazy, happy and engaged mom. I think it's my favourite gift ever. 

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Mommy Money Matters – Buy and Sell Sites

As my maternity leave recently ended and I couldn't return to work, I was looking for a way to bring in a little bit of money in advance of the expensive holiday season. Having already made many purchases through buy and sell sites and at mommy swaps for my daughter, I knew they were a good place to try to sell some unused but still useful things. In the last two months alone, I have made almost $800 using Kijiji, Craigslist, VarageSale, and a Facebook Buy and Sell group by selling things that had been taking up room in my spare bedroom for over 4 years.

Since I am no longer a novice when it comes to online selling, I thought I'd save you all the time and trip ups and give you some of my tips for getting the most out of the buy and sell site experience.

Tip #1 – It doesn't hurt to try!

This is a relevant tip for buyers and sellers alike. The worst thing that can happen is that someone says no; so ask if delivery is possible if you don’t have a car or ask to come look at the item before promising payment or haggle the price down a bit. On the flip side, it is savvy to list at a higher price than the lowest you’d accept for your own sale items because buyers are going to try to get the price down on your stuff, too. If you would prefer to sell all your board books as a lot – don’t feel pressure to break it up for people who ask, and if you only want one outfit from a clothing lot – ask if they’ll sell it to you separately. The point is: this is not traditional retail store shopping and you have control over the experience. Both parties get something out of the transaction (a steal on a pair of boots or some extra cash for holiday shopping, etc.) so everybody has to be willing to accommodate a little bit.

Tip #2 – Do some research

Regardless of which side of the transaction you’re on, it’s crucial that you make an effort to comparison shop. If you’re posting your items for sale, take some time to get a sense of how other people are pricing similar things. You don’t want to post it for too cheap and miss out on much needed money but you also don’t want to sit around for months without a bite because you over valued your item. Things can take on emotional meanings for us, but a stranger doesn't care that you nursed your three sweet babies in that glider – they just want a piece of furniture for a good price to make their own memories. As a general rule, find the average price for your item in comparable condition and price it 5% lower for a fast sale. Sometimes undercutting the competition by even a dollar or two helps you to stand out.

As a buyer of big ticket items, use online reviews to figure out if this product will meet your needs and check out what it sells for brand new. If someone is selling a used item, they should not be asking for 75% or more of the brand new asking price – no matter how excellent of used condition it is in! If it retails for $400 and they’re asking $350, you’re better off buying it brand new where you’ll get warranties and customer support and store guarantees. I know that good deals can go fast with many people looking to buy so be informed on objects you’re in the market for in advance and you’ll be prepared when one shows up on your feed. Don’t be afraid to state your interest immediately and then get into a conversation with the seller. If they can’t answer your questions (or you don’t like the answers) they can move on to the next person. No harm, no foul.

Tip #3 – There’s no place like home

Buy and sell sites are only as strong as the communities they serve. Transactions are easier, faster, and safer if you stick to your own neck of the woods. As a buyer, you may find what you’re looking for at an amazing price by casting your net very wide, but how reasonable is it to search for a stroller in a city 3 hours away by car? Remember, the onus generally falls on the buyer for pick up. When you consider hassle and gas money – it’s not as good of a deal. Many sellers want a quick transaction, too, especially when they've priced it for a fast sale. They won’t be willing to hold it until you can get out to them in two weeks. Hold out for a posting closer to home. Save yourself the heartbreak, and don’t even scour the postings from areas outside of your community.

On the selling side, it works to your benefit to build a good reputation in your community. People talk, and you want them saying good things about you - like you price things fairly, you’re easy to contact for extra info, and your items are in excellent condition upon pick up. Also, to the point in the last paragraph – you don’t want to hold an item for 2 weeks for someone from out of town, turn down 3 other offers, and then have them change their mind on the day of scheduled pick up. You can't control if people from other communities contact you, but don't post your items all over the place hoping for a buyer because it may disappoint someone, and don't feel pressure to lower your price since the buyer is being put out by travel (I've been asked this more than once!). If they contact you from out of town, it's up to them to make their own travel arrangements and pay the originally agreed upon price!

Tip #4 - Manage expectations

Besides managing your expectations about how much money you will rake in selling your used things, honesty is the sellers best asset. If you're trying to sell something through an online marketplace, do yourself and everyone else a favour and put it all out there right in your description. If there is a scuff or a small tear, if it needs replacement batteries, or if it has a flat tire, go into detail about the condition from the get go. This helps make transactions more efficient (as you're not bogged down by individual questions), it helps your reputation (as you're seen to be honest and up front), and it limits aggressive haggling (as people know you've priced it a certain way because of the current condition). Don't make people come all the way to your house only to find that you neglected to mention missing pieces or obvious damages and don't wait for them to ask the right questions to get details out of you. There is a buyer out there for almost anything and creative / handy types can mend or re-purpose items if they know in advance that that's what they're buying. As a personal pet peeve - do not post a picture of an item with a disclaimer that it "just needs a good wipe down," wipe it down yourself. Clean up your items before you snap a picture and post it online to put the best foot forward. I just do not understand why people post dirty pictures with a promise to clean it before pick up...

As a buyer, the expectations you need to manage are your own. The reason you are getting such an amazing deal on the purse or exersaucer is because it is previously loved. Steel yourself against disappointment and know that even excellent used condition items may have a scuff or a missing sticker or a pull on the seam. If you want brand new in the box quality, you should look for other ways to save, such as coupons and flyer price matching. This isn't to say you have to settle for junk. Decide what condition is acceptable to you and know in advance what you're buying. It's also good to know that you may face some disappointment - a better deal on an item turns up in your feed 3 weeks after you buy it, a toy that retails with 6 balls only comes with 3, or a great pair of shoes just posted are 2 sizes too small for your feet...such is used shopping!

Here's a handy guide to buy and sell site shorthand so you can shop like a pro:

EUC - Excellent Used Condition
GUC - Good Used Condition
BNWT - Brand New with Tags
BNWOT - Brand New without Tags
BNIB - Brand New in Box
PF - Pet Friendly
SF - Smoke Free
SS - Straight Sale
OBO - Or Best Offer
ISO - In Search Of
PM - Private Message
BUMP - (This is to push a post back to the top of the feed)
SPPU - Sold Pending Pick-Up
NIL - Next in Line
POOS - Posted on Other Sites (or some will say cross-posted)

Monday, 7 December 2015

We Tried It! Campbell's Soup Kit

Friends of mine know just how much I love soup. I could eat it breakfast, lunch, and dinner for days on end without complaint. From creamy chowder, to chunky veggie delights, to ethnic wonders like Pho or borscht, I've yet to meet a soup I didn't like.  Having soup out of a can is fine for lunch, but a dinner meal seems to call for a big bubbling pot. I've tried to pull out the old slow cooker every now and again, but I'm not a morning person. I would rather make something tasty on the fly then try to pull together even a few extra brain cells before 9am. 

When I first saw the campy ads for this new product, I had my doubts. How could a pre-made product be as good as that soup that took her 4 hours? Not likely... Dried soup mix is often my last choice too, because of the salt content and the lack of real substance I feel often results. In fact, I passed over this exact product several times before putting it in my cart for this and two more reasons; the price was often listed at $4.29, which is a tad high, and it clearly states that the product requires not only the package, but also broth and fresh ingredients. If you aren't into meal planning, you could very easily use the ingredients meant to go with your package separately, and never have them handy when you actually wanted soup.

This week during our grocery shop, it just so happened that the store had these kits on sale for $.99, and vegetable broth for $1.25 - a steep discount on each. I noticed that it also called for zucchini, which was already in my basket, so I decided to give it a shot. The instructions claimed the bag served 4-6, so at under $.75 a serving, the value definitely seemed to be there.

After having opened the package and the broth, I realized that the soup also called for sweet potato. It's something I have in the house on occasion, but didn't today. I decided to cut up an equivalent amount of regular PEI's and add a little on to the cooking time to account for the swap out. 

I have to say, the first waft of aroma wasn't at all what I was expecting. There was a highly spiced, almost curry like smell that made me think the flavour was going to be very strong. I mean, the package said "Spiced," but the zucchini led me to expect something more Mediterranean for some reason. It also had that distinct packaged soup mix quality. The concerning freeze-dried texture that makes you wonder if it will take forever to soften or turn immediately to mush.

At the half hour mark, the soup was perfectly cooked and ready to taste. It was good, but my Eastern flavour profile expectation was dead on. Curry is not something I'm always in the mood for, but it worked out tonight. My son was not at all interested, however. The bean mix was nicely softened, and but not convincingly "fresh." Zucchini, sweet potato, and lemon juice are not enough to make it shine. I'm not sure if fresh spinach or plain yoghurt might add something that it's lacking.

Having served my husband and I each one large bowl, there wasn't much left in the pot. A lunch serving at best. I have no idea how they thought 6 people could possibly share... as a small appetizer, I suppose? For dinner, with some crackers or a roll, 4 is a stretch.  Overall, as something to keep in your cupboard (if you're willing to be flexible on the fresh additions the packaging recommends), it's not bad. It was totally worth the money I invested, but I'm not sure a price tag of over $3 will keep it on the shelves. I image it will be discontinued, so look for it in a clearance bin near you!

Friday, 4 December 2015

Trend Watch: MamaRoo Baby Swing

Rocking an infant is something of an art form. Every baby has their own preference, every mom their own style. How ever you do it, in the first 4 months, you do it a lot. Heck, some moms never stop. I still sway involuntarily when I see a little baby, and I have been know to switch from petting the cat to what seems like burping him... As sweet as it is to sooth your little bundle yourself, occasionally your baby actually benefits from stretching out a little and experiencing their surroundings. Plus you might want to, I don't know, pee or make a cup of coffee? 

Baby swings are not new, but the technology is starting to really amp up. From it's origins in the Victorian home as a simple swing that mom (or nanny) still had to push, to the modern Swingomatic invented by David Saint for the Graco company in 1953, traditionally swings just moved back and forth, or maybe side to side. There were improvements to looks, battery packs, and how compact a unit could be, but no real innovation on how it actually moved. Then in 2006, a clever team of mothers and robotics engineers paired up to create one of the most science filled pieces of baby-kit on the market - the mamaRoo. 

According to Carnegie Mellon University  "[f]or this new product... they put accelerometers on parents as they were holding their babies and captured their motions. They used the results to develop the five motions of the mamaRoo: car ride, kangaroo, tree swing, rock-a-bye and ocean wave." Add on the futuristic fabrics and the elaborate sound system, and parents are almost unnecessary! Other than for food and diaper duty, of course. There are now even aps you can add to your phone for changing the settings at a distance from the baby, lest they pick up on your scent or make eye contact!

In all seriousness though, it seems amazing to me that it took this long for companies to improve on a realistic human movement. The technology is there, but with their finger on the pulse and other companies working hard to catch up, even basic mamaRoo units retail for over $250, while other brands sell for well under $200. Companies like Graco and Fisher-Price are now forced to compete with upgrades to their high end baby models, which could drive mamaRoo down, but their research isn't done. With MP3 plug ins and Bluetooth technology, soon your infant seat will contain more chips than Dorritos. 

So is it worth all the fuss? Here's what one of our readers is said about hers:

We call ours the space pod! It is smaller that other swings. I would say we didn't take full advantage of the sounds, music and motion options, Isobel was either in the mood or not. We liked it because it gave us another option for the baby. She liked the pod at first, then went through a phase where she hated it, now she loves it again! She likes to recline and play with her toys. It's a little awkward to move it around, but easier than other swings. --Jenn 

My son loved his more basic swing, but it was lent to us by my cousin's son that hated it! You could register for it and use it once. It could be come your most cherished possession. The thing is, you won't know until you try! If you have a friend that owns one, you might want to try your child in it before forking out the big dough. You might also look for one resale. They are pretty new to market, and really only used for the first six months of your child's life, so second hand might be a great way to save some cash!

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

DIY - Baby Footprint Art

Kids crafts are so much fun to do, and getting art work home from school is especially great at this time of year. Delicately cut snowflakes, snowmen made of cotton balls, and sparkle embellished stockings to hang on your fridge. For kids not yet in school, their "talents" are still limited, but their lack of skill allows mommy to be more involved in the process. You've no doubt seen some amazing ideas for hand and footprint art on social media and wonder how to create it yourself. Count on us for tips on the right supplies, and the right techniques, to pull off one of those adorable gems for yourself!

To begin any craft, especially if your baby is mobile, start with a "destruction zone" - an area that is prepared for the havoc of paint and mess. I suggest an old tarp or bed sheet for the floor under your table and a disposable table cloth from the dollar store or some old newspaper to cover the surface. Make sure you've set up all the craft supplies, gone to the bathroom, have baby wipes ready, and have filled a sippy cup to minimize distractions from the task at hand. Your child might be in to this, but be prepared for an unhappy customer and get your ducks in a row.

Supplies for these crafts vary from minimal to elaborate lists, so have a good read through what's involved before you get your heart set. You will most likely need water-based paint such as Crayola Washable Finger Paint. The texture is creamy for easy application, and it wipes off clean with minimal effort. From hands and feet that is - don't dress in your Sunday best while you're creating. Having a sponge or some small craft brushes for decorations are helpful and possibly markers for final details, names, and dates. Finally, a cute surface to stamp such as card stock, paper plates, gift bags, or unglazed pottery.

This is a version of my son's first footprint craft!
Once you're ready for the craft, you might want to have a "ring buddy" handy. You know, the kind you tap in to grab a cloth, untangle the tight grasp on your hair, or salvage the print before baby examines it too closely. Older siblings might have fun in this role, especially if you let them have a hand in the creative process. If you're a mom to one, or the others are busy with their own activities, invite another mom to do the craft with you! We gathered about 6 together last year to take turns making either reindeer or mistle-toes. 

Remember to leave plenty of time for items to dry in a safe place. Certain areas will be thicker with paint than others, so it could take hours to be ready to frame, bake, or mail to granny! With the mail being especially bogged down at this time of year, if you intend to send your gift, you should probably try sooner rather than later! Besides, you'll want time to take pictures... and decide if your creation is too cute to part with!

Need some inspiration? Here are a few great ideas I found on Pinterest this week:

Perfect to hang in your window or decorate your office space. Who wouldn't want a little sleigh! This is definitely advanced level stuff though. I don't think I could free-hand a Santa like that! has a whole page of everything from clay ornaments to ribbon enhanced canvasses. If only I had more time!

Good for the whole season through, why not try these fantastic penguins!  The paint work is a little harder, so it might call for a more patient (read: immobile) baby, but the details from mom are that much easier! You could really do a lot with the background by layering some white and light blue card. Check out the tutorial at Crafty-Crafted

This last one is probably my favourite. You can take it in so many directions, and really make a special family keepsake. Older children can pick the colours they gravitate to, or keep it simple with 3 seasonal picks (red, white, and green / white, grey, and blue). You could even make a family strand with each member using their favourite colour or birthstone colour! The supplies are minimal, and you can read all the steps at Beneath the Rowan Tree.                                    
Picture from:
Have you had made some amazing holiday artwork? We want to see it! 
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