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

http://www.marthastewart.com/276331/how-to-make-paper-snowflakes/@center/1009041/christmas-crafts-projects

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. 




http://www.bashcorner.com/10-super-easy-and-fun-christmas-crafts/

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. 




http://simplebracelets.tk/how-to-make-candles-with-crayons/

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!

BONUS!
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! Thewhoot.com 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: http://beneaththerowantree.blogspot.com.au/
Have you had made some amazing holiday artwork? We want to see it! 
Tell us about it on Facebook!

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 toyrus.ca

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.

Price

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!