Monday, 29 December 2014

9 Tips to Save Money and Curb Impulse Shopping

I just got my credit card bill. Le seigh. You know that saying "shopping is my cardio"? Can online shopping be cardio? Well, that's my weakness. But I'm resolving to save a little more, so that means spending less. Here are the tips I'm going to try and follow to help grow our savings and pay for an upcoming trip.

1. Unsubscribe from retailer emails and unlike their FB and Instagram pages. Bye bye J. Crew. Au revoir Anthro. No more will I allow you to assault my Facebook news feed with free advertising because once upon a time I clicked 'like'. And my inbox? It already feels lighter. I picked my favourite (Chapters Indigo), and that one got to stay. But otherwise outta sight, outta mind.

2. Tell a friend about the item. This trick I do often with my friends or on the blog. Sometimes I find something that I think is so great, but I probably don't really need it, so I feel better when I tell others about it.

3. Don't buy for "sometime." I often find gifts and think, "Oh this would be a great baby shower gift, or this would be a great gift for so and so." But the problem is, I just end up buying more things and don't always gift them when I thought I would. My new mantra is this - If it's not something I need right now, or I don't know exactly when and for whom I need a gift, I won't buy it.

4. Use up what you have.  Stationery, food, cosmetics. These are all things that I have multiples of at home. I resolve to use up the things I have at home before I buy anymore. Seriously, there is almost half a cow in my freezer.

5. Brown bag it. I'm usually pretty good about bringing my own lunch, mostly because at work I really don't often have time to run out and grab something. But, I can be better at making Rob's lunch for him, so that he buys it less often. At least that's what I tell myself. Rob tells me that whenever I make him lunch, he eats it at 9:30am and then still gets "second lunch". Ugh. So maybe this one doesn't really work.....

6. Use the library. Buying a Kobo has got to be one of the best investments I've ever made. Ebooks are usually only slightly less expensive when buying a hard copy, but I can download books from the Toronto Public Library right onto my Kobo for free. Free books. On my Kobo. Plus the waitlists for ebooks are often shorter at the library. I also don't have to go pickup or return my books because they just disappear off my Kobo when my lending period is over.

7. 3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Making a Purchase.  Check out this article. The idea is to ask yourself, how will you feel about this purchase in 10 minutes? in 10 months? in 10 years? Focus on short and long-term profit/loss. I've been trying to use this one more and more lately. In 10 months I'll likely be annoyed that I spent X number of dollars on another sweater, but I'll probably be ok with splurging for a glass of wine when I'm out for dinner and a movie with a friend.

 8. Sell your stuff. I'm a purger. I'm constantly going through our house and getting rid of stuff we never use. Sometimes I just give things away, mostly stuff like books and such, to friends. Other times I'll send a big pile of stuff off for donation. But if something is still in great shape, I find local buy and sell groups on Facebook and sell items there. I belong to a couple, and it's a super easy way to make a few extra dollars if you've got extra stuff around the house.

9.  Scope out where kids can eat for free.  When you're out for dinner with your family, try finding a restaurant where kids eat free, usually with the purchase of an adult entree. Here's a list of 9 family-friendly restaurants where kids eat free.

So those are my money-saving tips. Do you have any to add? I'm sure we'd all love to read them too!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

The Days Are Long, But The Years Are Short

It's been one of those weeks where I feel like 90% of my time with Sebastian has been spent arguing with him about sleeping, eating, the iPad, or the potty. Not how I wanted to start the holidays. Like I read here, I can't tell if it's killing me or making me stronger.

Then, as I was cleaning out my emails, I came across this post called Thank You for Your Childhood. Written by the good people over at Growing Child, the main idea in the post is how we can be grateful for our children's childhoods. How are our lives enriched? What ridiculously fun things do we get to do all over again? Even Taylor Swift is onside with the lyric, "Wasn't it beautiful when you believed in everything?" So, given that I'm feeling a bit frustrated with the recent onset of the terrible twos, I thought it would be a good time to make my own list of why I'm grateful to Sebastian for his childhood. It's not exhaustive or anything, but it's what's on my mind right now....

* For the moments in the quiet (past, present and future) where you are asleep on me. I love this.
* For your belly laughs and smiles.
* For being able to reread all of my favourite childhood books
* And being able play again with my favourite childhood toys.
* For being the reason to make sure we all eat a little bit healthier.
* For how excited you get when you finish something you've been working on.
* For how hard you love your favourite books or games or people. (But not the iPad. I'd really rather you didn't love the iPad so much.)
* For being able to visit fun children's places again like the zoo, farms, the aquarium, the Santa Train, etc etc etc and the bonus of seeing it all through your eyes.
* For being the inspiration behind learning about blogging.
* For your unsolicited but delicious hugs and kisses.


Monday, 15 December 2014

Best Toys for 1-2 Year Olds

A little while ago I posted about perfect books for 1-2 year olds, so next up are toys! If you're shopping for a toddler, here are the toys that got played with the most in our house (well...apart from the iPad that is) over the past year and a half or so.

1.  Shape Sorter 2. & 3. Plush Buzz and Woody
4.  Window Gel Clings  5. Play kitchen  6. My Own Leaptop (read about how we play with the Leaptop here)
 7.  Melissa & Doug Chunky Puzzles (OMG puzzles. These puzzles. S was/still is obsessed!) 
8.  Foam puzzles tiles (Make a big box, make little boxes, make a box and put things in it and shake it around, lay them all out in a line on the floor and walk on them, count the numbers, repeat a thousand times).

The I Spy Blanket

I first talked about just how cool this blanket is here, but I really feel it's worth mentioning again. Fun toddler blankets are always cute, but this one really is a toy and a blanket in one. He's enjoyed it ever since he could recognize any of the animals or characters. Even more now because he LOVES any book or game that involves "finding" something you tell him.

Similar I Spy Blanket

Block sets are also a ton of fun. Stay tuned for a post in the new year highlighting some the coolest block sets out there.


Best Toys for Babies
Best Books for Babies

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Men's Gift Guide #1

Rob rarely asks for anything when gift giving occasions are upon us. Conversations can often go something like this:

Me: Hey sweetie, what would you like for Christmas (Father's Day, birthday, etc etc etc)?

Rob: Nothing. I don't need anything.

Me: Ugh. (rolls eyes)

I rack my brain forever and then go buy something I think he'll love.

Rob: Actually, can you get me this (insert some random electrical circut thing I've never heard of)?

So if your husband or significant other doesn't happen to be wishing for an FPGA or a 3D Printer, here are a few other ideas that have worked with Rob in the past.

Kobo or Kindle - I'm a Kobo girl myself, but I prefer the Kobo only because I can get books from our library on the Kobo. Rob enjoys his Kindle. He really wasn't much of a reader when we first started dating, but he really reads so much more with his Kindle. If you want to pre-load a good book to go with it, Rob recommends Chris Hadfield's An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth.

Maker Dad: Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects by Mark Frauenfelder - I nearly bought this book for Rob for Christmas before I saw that it is for father-daughter projects. Maker-ism (is that a word?) is big in our house, or at least it's big with my husband and we both hope Seb loves it too. I haven't yet gotten my hands on a copy of this book, but it looks freaking awesome. I really would like to see if the projects could be gender-neutral.

Popular Mechanics Subscription - This has been my mom's go to gift for Rob for the past few years. She's actually gotten him a subscription to the cleverly-named Nuts and Volts, but Popular Mechanics also comes highly recommended by many of the men I know.

DNA Canvas Portraits by DNA 11- By far and away the coolest art piece in our house. I gifted Rob this as my wedding gift to him, and now our DNA hangs in our living room.

Eco Friendly Shaving Kit by Orange Fuzz - Rob LOVES this shaving kit. It's full of all-natural products and comes in an upcycled wood cigar box. I've also gifted it to my brother-in-law and his partner. My brother-in-law told me his partner downed both kits quickly. Trust me, the Guinness Cedarwood Beer Soap smells amazing.

Train Play Mat T-shirt - So I actually haven't gifted this to Rob yet, but this shirt makes me laugh...and question my parenting....and want one so so bad.


Monday, 1 December 2014

Homemade and Personalized Gift Ideas #1 (plus places to just buy them online for the not so crafty like me)

Seb has some pretty crafty grandparents. My dad is a magician when you give him a piece of wood. My mom is very skilled at sewing and quilting. Rob's mom crochets, and, before he passed away, Rob's dad was also quite a skilled craftsman.

I thought I would show off some of the wonderful goodies we've been gifted from them. And just in case you don't quite have the time to make these items yourself, I've found links on Etsy of places you can buy them.

Jewellery box

This is a jewelery box my dad made for me ages ago. I love its simplicity. The top tray slides to either side and is easily removed. Also, it's becoming more and more evident that I clearly have a Stella & Dot problem ;) lol

Check out this similar Solid Black Walnut Jewelry Box on Etsy.

Button Christmas Ornament

Inspired by a very similar ornament my mom and I saw in a copy of a magazine awhile back, my mom crafted this ornament by gluing buttons onto white felt. I love that she added a little J button just for me :)

I couldn't find anything quite the same on Etsy, but here are a few that have a similar vibe.
Similar 1 - Tree ornament with vintage button mix
Similar 2 - Christmas hearts

Personalized Name 

This was actually a wedding gift from my late grandmother. My parents loved it so much, I gifted them their own copy a few years ago. Here's where you can get your own personalized wall decor via Etsy. My mom had the crafty idea (no pun intended) to get the first letter of her name and of my dad's name from these zinc letters at Anthro (similar) and hang them above their last name photo on the wall. They look so good together.

Wine Cork Trivet

My dad made this wine cork trivet a few years ago as well. It is used often in our home, and I love pulling it out and showing it off when we have guests. It's so unique! Also, the blue denim trivets underneath were made from my very own jeans by my mom.

Here's a similar cork trivet - Walnut Wine Cork Trivet

Baby Quilts

My mom made Sebastian a number of quilts since he's been born. The rocking horse quilt is a hanging quilt because it has a few buttons and extra material pieces on it. The Noah's ark quilt is his everyday quilt. He sleeps with that one every night.

Similar Noah's Ark Quilt set
Personalized Rocking Horse Quilt

I Spy Quilt

This quilt I actually bought from one of my sorority sisters when I was pregnant with Seb. She was selling them at a sorority event, and I immediately ordered one. It was so great to order it from someone I knew because she personalized many of the squares just for us (a cat for lily, computers to represent Rob and his work, a Canadian flag, etc). This blanket gets lots of use in our house. In addition to sleeping with it, Seb really enjoys searching for the squares when we name them. I would  encourage anyone with a baby or toddler, or anyone who needs a gift idea for a baby or toddler to consider an I Spy Quilt. It's one of his favourite toys.

Similar I Spy Quilt
Similar (DIY)


Monday, 24 November 2014

The Joy of Missing Out

Last Sunday I had 2 separate commitments with friends. Earlier the week before I ended up cancelling each of them. It had been a busy week, and I felt I needed to stay home and get some work done, and really, just spend time with my family. Then Sunday morning Seb woke up with a fever and that plan was also thrown out the window.

Such is my life these days. I feel like I've been saying "I can't right now" to my friends so much lately.

And for the most part, I'm ok with it. It's called the joy of missing out.

This article  describes the joy of missing out as, "a rebellion against saying yes to everything... about giving yourself the space to think and experience things without freaking out about what you 'should' be doing instead." Oh, how this speaks to me.

I wasn't really feeling the 'fear of missing out' before. But if someone asked me to do something, and there was nothing planned in my agenda, I would usually say "Yes." and just make it work. What I've been learning this fall is that just because my Google calendar is free, doesn't mean my brain is. It makes me a better mom, wife, friend, and employee to make sure I'm not constantly running from one thing to another every minute of every day.

I don't like saying no to my friends, and I feel even worse saying yes and then cancelling. But I'm not saying 'no' to do something I don't love. Sometimes I do really need to sit down and work for the job that pays me. But more often than not, I'm saying 'no' so I can spend some time with Rob and Seb. I know I joke about how batshit bananas parenting can be, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. The moments that are crazy are worth the moments full of joy, love, and laughter.

We haven't made any permanent decisions, but it's quite possible that we may not have any more children, so I plan on enjoying the crap out of this one. Soccer on Saturday mornings, gingerbread cookie decorating on Sunday afternoons, a glass of wine and Netflix with my husband after a long week of work, these are the things I need more of in my life.

As someone who loves lists and organizing, I found this quotation from Dr. James Dobson really resonated with me, "Children just don't fit into 'to do' lists very well. It takes time to be an effective parent when children are small. It takes time to introduce them to good books. It takes times to fly kites and play punch ball and put together jigsaw puzzles. It takes time to listen."

So, when I have to RSVP no to something, it's not that I don't think it's going to be super fun or that I don't want to spend time with my friends. But I don't necessarily feel bad about saying no anymore. I both need and want to also spend time with my family, or even alone to recharge. I've realized that saying no to one thing allows me to say yes to another.

Joy takes many forms. It can be a fun ladies' night out, a crazy vacation, a date night with my husband, or watching Seb make the puzzle pieces talk like animals. I feel blessed to be able to choose between so many paths to happiness and joy in my life. Even when it means choosing the ones that are closer to home.


Image via Pinterest

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Toddler Hack - Stickers

I'm probably the one out there who didn't even think of this, but I love that my friend Sara told me the best way to give toddlers stickers to play with....take the backing off!  Seb sometimes finds it tricky to get the stickers off by himself, but once I take the backing off, it's independent play time!

Stickers before I took the backing off.....sticker madness in process afterwards

However, now I find stickers everywhere! ;)


Do you have any other simple toddler hacks that make play-time that much easier? Share them in the comments below.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Things I Learned After My iPhone was Stolen

My phone was stolen last week. Right off my desk at work. I share an office with 3 people, all of whom I've worked with for nearly 10 years. One of them was away for the day, another is the brother I never had, and the third person is a friend so close to me she was in my wedding. These people are not responsible. Find My Phone located my phone at an industrial park north of the city later that evening. My best guess is that someone who isn't normally part of our work community was in doing some kind of work for us, saw my phone on my desk and took it. Frustration and tears followed. Let's just say that last Monday was much more 'messy' than it was 'splendid'.

My phone isn't even particularly new. I've had it for 2 years, it is an iPhone 8G, and I know there are scratches hiding under the case. But what made me so angry and sad was not losing the physical phone, although a new phone was not an expense I had planned for this month, but the loss of my photos and videos. It's a sickening thought to lose those memories, but to think about someone else looking at them just feels so violating. I share a lot of photos, but on social media I choose what I want to share. And I choose what is just for us. There is nothing celebrity-phone-scandal worthy on my phone, but the sick feeling is still there nonetheless.

By the grace of God, I discovered (after many tears were shed, unfortunately) that my phone had backed up to my laptop at some point near the end of the summer. I swear I don't remember doing this intentionally. I must have been charging my phone or something on my computer, and it synched. Does that happen? Anyways, I found so many of the pictures and videos I thought I had lost. The video of Sebastian's first steps. The pictures from our first flight together as a family. They're all sitting safely in iPhoto right now. I did lose any pictures I've taken in the past 3 months or so, but it feels like nothing compared to what I thought was gone.

Since having my phone stolen, I've learned a few things...

1. Store your phone safely. The reason my phone was stolen was that it was on my desk at work. To be clear, there are other phones on other desks at my work all. of. the. time. It's a culture of bad habits I suppose. If my phone wasn't on my desk, but perhaps stored somewhere else, it may not have been stolen. #lessonlearned

Also, now I'm so paranoid about leaving my phone by my desk that I've turned into one of those people that carries their phone with them around at work. Ugh. I hate that. But I keep it on silent, and I can't fathom going through this again anytime soon.

2. Activate Find My Phone - This feature is built into your iPhone. It allows you to locate, lock or erase your iPhone and prevents it from being erased or reactivated without your password. The first thing I did when I noticed my phone was missing was meet with my tech dept and have them activate this feature. Once my phone was turned back on later that day by whoever stole it, Find My Phone sent me an email with a map of the location of my phone. Crazy!

3. Cancel your service - The next thing I did was log into my Rogers account online and suspend my service. Then later that night I called them to confirm that it was disactivated and to list my phone on the IMEI Blacklist. Because I still had the IMEI number from the original box, I could list my phone on the IMEI Blacklist. This ensures that my phone is unable to be activated on any phone network in Canada ever (Jenn 1, Mari Kondo 0).

4. Back up your photos - I need to get better at this. I mentioned I did have a lot of my pictures somehow backed up onto my laptop, but this was not planned. And I did lose any pictures from the last three months that I haven't shared via Instagram. Now I'm investigating options for backing my pictures up regularly. I've used Picassa in the past, but I really don't love it. I'm looking into using iCloud storage or Google Drive. Hopefully they're easier to use. I think I'll also back them up on an external hard drive. Finally, this is a good reminder that it's time to make a family photo book.

Edited to add - I have actually gotten better at this! Here is my post about organizing and backing up digital photos.

5. Prey App - Rob thinks we should now add the Prey Anti-Theft app to our phones. Basically it allows you to remotely control your phone by taking a picture or sounding an alarm. I'm a little on the fence though. I have a little uneasy/creepy/stalker feeling about this app...

So, that was what my week was like last week. Beaucoup stressful!


Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Family Photo Shoot - Fall Edition!

Our family pictures tell a story. They're our family autobiography. They tell the story of who we were, who we are, and if we look really close, we can maybe see glimpses of who we will become.  One picture can instantly remind me of what it felt like to hold S as a newborn. Another can take me back to the memories of his first Christmas, his first steps, or a favourite onesie (I always loved the ivory one with the mama and baby giraffes...).

With cameras built into our phones, we have the capacity to build an even stronger bank of memories, to share with others forever if we choose. Pictures can be powerful. They can make us laugh, or bring us to tears. I know I have photos that do both. Maybe that's why I've become more interested in photography recently. Lately, I feel more aware than ever that these moments in life are fleeting. And I want them to last so bad. Part of me wants S. to be little forever. I wish that our pictures could somehow capture the smell of his hair when he was a baby, the way his little 2-year old arms feel when the hug me, the way he mis-pronounces tomorrow as tomano, or the sound of his laugh. But I can't stop him from growing up, so the next best thing is to have a collection of memory-laden photos to keep close to my heart.

Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still. Dorothea Lange

Last year I didn't get around to taking many family pictures before the holidays. This year, I wanted to be sure we got some great photos of our family. Just as fast as he grew beyond babyhood right before my eyes, I feel that the toddler stage will pass just as quickly.

After a little bit of searching online, I found the photographer Joanna Galant. Joanna specializes in baby, children, and family photography. I absolutely loved the photos from her gallery, so I contacted her to book her for a fall photography session.

I sent Joanna the pinterest board I'd been compiling of toddler family photos, and she also made her own board just for me with further inspiration based on the ideas I had shared with her.

We met in High Park at the end of September for our photo shoot. At first Seb was pretty shy, but after a few pictures he warmed up and really enjoyed just playing in the park with all of us.

 Toddler Tips

Clothing: Sebastian is in a phase where he is very particular about what he wears. I introduced the sweater he'd be wearing a few weeks before and encouraged him to wear it so it wasn't a brand new item to fight him into on photo day. His favourite old beat up white runners also "disappeared" the week before photo day, so he'd wear the more neutral navy ones. They were much nicer for our pictures, and then I brought the white sneakers back out the next day.

Bring books: Joanna suggested we bring Seb's favourite toy to the photo shoot. And I'm pretty sure she didn't mean the iPad. So, we brought a few of his favourite books. Rob even sneakily put a few leaves between the pages to encourage him to look like he was reading in the park. I know, I know...A couple of these photos belong right up there with my other Instagram photo lies. Ya ya...Seb's totally reading by himself in the park on a sunny fall day. We do this kind of stuff all the time. #nobigdeal

Bring a Grandma!

It just worked out that Rob's mom was visiting the weekend of our photo session, so we for sure wanted to get some shots of Seb and his avó together. And seriously, the pictures with Rob's mom in them are some of the best ones from the whole session in my opinion. Her love for Sebastian just radiates from her. And he just loves her right back.

One of these pictures will make it onto the holiday photo card I was talking about earlier this week. I think I've picked my favourite, but my friends and family will have to wait until they get their cards to see the final selections ;)

Thanks so much again to Joanna Galant Photography. We are so so so happy with the results of our photo session!


Monday, 27 October 2014

Best Books for 1 - 2 Year Olds

Toy Story Board Book Set (similar), My First Animal Sounds, Baby Faces

Thoughts on the books
That boxed set of 12 board books has been read many times at our house. We have the Toy Story set, but this Sesame Street set is the exact same format.

I found a preloved copy of My First Animal Sounds at a children's book share, and was so excited to bring this home and read it with S. I remember having a copy of this book when I was little.

I know there is a board book copy of Go Dog Go, but we love the full-length version best.

Between 1 and 2, Seb loved "dictionary" type books just full of pictures of objects with the words underneath. We have a few different versions, but a simple My First Words book was his favourite.

Mama Loves Me (and similarly, Daddy Loves Me) are great books for this age because it's simple, repetitive, and highlights many activities toddlers do with their parents at that age. Super cute:)

Finally, despite some arguments believing this book somehow encourages child violence towards fathers, we love Hop on Pop. Isn't one of the important lines from the book, "Stop. You must not hop on pop??" Anyways.....

You can see that our stack is well-loved. So much so that our copy My First Words was taped and retaped so many times that it eventually had to be thrown out and replaced with the First ABC book.

Do you have any other books to add to this list? I'd love to hear them!


Monday, 6 October 2014

Local Love: Maternity Leave in Toronto's East End

After living and/or working in the east end of Toronto for over a decade, I've fully fallen in love. I couldn't imagine living in another part of the city. There are so many families here and almost everything I could ever want or need is within walking distance from my house. Our friend Jim maintains that you can physically feel the "cool factor" rise as you take the subway across the Don Valley Parkway. I agree.

I had a generous 16-month mat leave after Seb was born. And because I had a rule that I had to get out of the house every day at least once, I banked a pretty healthy list of great places to take babies and young toddlers. If you're on mat leave in Toronto anywhere east of the DVP, check out some of these places.

1. East End Children's Centre - (0 - school age) There are 2 locations for the East End Children's Centre, but we always go to the Kimbourne location because it's closest to us. A massive church basement full of toys for babies, toddlers and young kids of all ages. Rob loves taking Seb here on Saturday mornings, so I can get a few things done around the house. They provide snack, circle time, and have crafts, a climbing structure, a train table, a sand table, a play kitchen, puzzles etc etc etc. Cost - $1 donation.

2. Playground Paradise - (cruising babies -12 yrs old) The hours here are a bit all over the place, and it can get filled up quickly on weekends, so I found the best time to go was as soon as it opened in the morning. There are slides, a ball pit, large foam blocks, and a few fun toddler play structures for little ones. There are also lots of activities for older kids and a splash pad outside.

3. Oaks 'N Acorns - (0 - 6 yrs) Another stay and play café on the Danforth. It can also get pretty busy, but it's bigger than Lil' Bean N' Green. I've been here for a birthday party too which was super fun, and they're always having lots of great themed workshops for young kids. They also offer classes, but I haven't tried any of them either.

4. Baby and Me Fitness/Stroller Fit - (0 - 12 months ish) You can find Stroller Fit classes all over the city, but this is the one I took and really liked. Fresh air and a bit of a workout in the summer did us both some good.

5. Gymboree Play and Learn Classes - (0 - 5 yrs old) Seb and I practically lived at Gymboree for the first year of his life. We loved their Play and Learn Classes and, although it's one of the pricier baby activities, I felt it was really worth it, especially on days when the weather kind of sucked.
Just a note - you can claim the cost of Gymboree Play and Learn classes on your taxes under the Children's Fitness Tax Credit.

6. Kids Fun Town - (babies and up) Kids Fun Town isn't always my first choice because I find it a bit small, but, unlike the stay and play cafés, it's open on Sundays and holidays, so I do love that. There is a large bouncy castle inside, a small ball pit, and a variety of toys.

7. Toronto East/Broadview EYC - (0 - 6 yrs) All Ontario Early Years Centre programs are free (or...prepaid by your taxes if you prefer lol) and until we had a serious nap schedule, we went often to the Broadview Baby and Me program on Friday afternoons. Each week there was a different theme or activity like mommy and baby yoga, circle time, or visits from public health nurses. I really enjoyed this program. Be sure to call and register the week before, as they tend to fill up.

8. EYET Book Corner - (all ages) The Beaches East York site has plenty of similar Early Years programs. We also really like their Book Corner on Wednesdays at 3:00. To encourage literacy at home, you can go and pick up a couple of donated books that are yours to keep free.

9. Movies for Mommies - (0-7 months or so) Miss going to the movies because you've been home every night with bébé? Then this is perfect for you. Seb and I did this once, and I did really enjoy it. He slept in my lap for about half of the movie, but when he was fussing I didn't feel guilty at all because the theatre was full of moms doing the same thing. I think this outing is great until your baby gets mobile, then they may be a little too squirmy.

10. Skyzone - (walking toddlers and up) Skyzone is an indoor trampoline park and on Tuesday and Thursday mornings they have Toddler Time where only toddlers are allowed in to jump. If your baby/toddler is anything like mine, jumping is his absolute favourite thing to do ever, so this is pretty fun. It's also extremely busy so get there early.

11. Swimming Lessons - (6 months and up) This is also something you can find all over the place. I've done the summer outdoor swimming lessons through Toronto Parks and Rec a few times, and also the diaper fit classes through H2O Fit. Diaper and Toddler Fit classes are offered on Saturdays at Monarch Park Collegiate.

12. Monkey Magoo's - (1ish and up) I'd say around 1 is a great age to start taking babies here. It's a big play space with plenty of toys, a ball pit, a slide, and lots of ride on cars etc. They also have complementary tea and coffee for the mamas. Note - on weekends they are almost never open to the public because they do so many birthday parties. They keep their website pretty up to date with birthday party closures, but during the week is when you want to plan to go here.

13. Sprouts - (0 - 7 yrs old) This place is very similar to Gymboree. You can read all about Sprouts on a post I previously did here.

14. Toronto Public Library Baby Time - (0-18 months) Some local branches run their Baby Time program by lottery, so we never got in; however, I'd still try if I was on mat leave again. It's a 45 minute story, rhymes, and songs program. I don't think it runs in the summer. If you don't get in to the sessions, just head to the library anyways. The back corner of the kids' section has 2 bins at the Coxwell/Danforth location is filled with board books, and we often go just play and flip through the books on our own.

15. Living and Learning with Baby Program - This is a free 6 week program offered by Toronto Public Health. Call and register as soon as you have your baby to be put on the wait list for your nearest location. The program is advertised for babies 6 weeks - 6 months old, but the wait list was so long at my location that at 6 months, Seb was the youngest baby in our session. Most babies were 6-8 months old. This program was a really great way to connect with new moms.

From the author of Toronto Urban Strolls for Girlfriends, is also the book, Toronto Fun Places for Families. This 450 page book is full of activities and excursions for families in the GTA. Plus, this book will grow with your family. It's not just for babies and toddlers and includes a ton of things to do with older children as well.

And finally, if you're looking for even more, awhile back I wrote a guest post for the Rookie Moms called Baby Activities in Toronto that has other ideas for things to do all over the city with your baby.

Despite what it looks like, I know this list isn't exhaustive. These are just the places I've personally tried, and I know many new ones have popped up since I was on maternity leave. Add any of your favourites in the comments section.

Have fun mamas!

Monday, 29 September 2014

Toddler Sleep Update..or..How we got our 2 year old back on track

Remember this? When Seb just would not sleep alone? And stay awake for hours on end at various points throughout the night?

Well, at the risk of cosmically breaking the pattern, I'm happy to report we seem to have gotten his sleep routine back on track. Most nights we can count on him to sleep from 8pm-6:30 or 7am, (...knocking on wood..loudly!). I wanted to share the update and let you know what we did that seemed to help.

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, by Marc Weissbluth is our go-to sleep book. I had actually lent our copy out to a friend, but texted her something along the lines of "Remember that sleep book? I need it back asap. I have to re-read the toddler section. We're dying over here." So, here are the tips that we put into place.

1. No talking when you go into his room. This one is as easy as it sounds. No talking. Period. Even 'negative' talking (ex "It's not time to play. It's time to go to sleep.") is still attention, which is what he wants. Go in. Do what you need to do. Leave. No talking.

2. The same parent goes in every time that night. This keeps it consistent. You can switch parents on different nights, but when it's your night, it's your night. Then your little one knows a little bit more what to expect.

3. Ignore the whining. I don't remember if this was actually one of the tips from the book, but it was the philosophy we adopted. We have a video monitor, so we could see what was going on, and if he was really crying and freaking out, we absolutely went in to check on him, but the whining, we tried to have him settle that on his own.

4. Music/white noise. Seb started to really enjoy lullaby music. We use it in in the car if we need to drive somewhere during nap time, and it knocks him out quickly. So we started using our favourite white noise app again, but this time set to 'music box'. I also bought him a Lullaby Gloworm because Rob's friends were telling him their baby liked it, but Seb hasn't really warmed up to it too much.

5. Sleep rules. This was/is the best one. Directly from his book, we followed Dr. Weissbluth's suggested sleep rules. I wrote them on paper (pink..Seb's favourite), and Seb coloured the page. The sleep rules are:
At bedtime we
1. Lay down
2. Close our eyes
3. Stay very quiet
4. Go to sleep
(Seb is still in a crib we modified the first sleep rule. Instead of lay down, you can say "stay in bed".)

Then I made a second page called "Sebastian's Sleep Stickers". Before bed each night, after storytime we'd read the sleep rules together. In the morning, if he had a good night, he got a sleep sticker for his sheet. Seb LOVES his sleep stickers. He asks for them every morning. And look at all of the sleep stickers he has this month! If he ever does have a bad night and ask for a sleep sticker, we just say, "Not today. We can try again tomorrow." You can also do the sleep stickers after nap as well for consistency if you like. We don't do that regularly, because naps don't seem to be a problem.

In addition to the sleep stickers, you can also have a motivating reward. Seb likes things like yogurt raisins or fruit gummies, so he gets one or two with his sleep sticker on good mornings.

Maybe it was a phase and all of our antics had nothing to do with it. More than likely getting back into a nice daily routine after the business of the summer helped significantly. Nonetheless, these 5 tips, along with a few bottles of wine, helped us get back on track. Hope they help if you need them too! And thank you so much to everyone who commented earlier with their encouraging words! #miserylovescompany :)


Monday, 15 September 2014

Learn How to take Better Pictures with your Phone

A few weeks ago, I started playing with my photography skills. You may have noticed if you've been following me on instagram lately. During the last half of August, I registered for the SnapShop Phone Course by Ashley Ann Photography/Under the Sycamore.

Before this course, I knew next to nothing about photography. One of my sorority sisters did a quick workshop with us a few years back to try and teach us what all of those functions on our cameras meant, but I didn't really retain much of it unfortunately. (Which was entirely the fault of the student, not the teacher. My friend S, who shared her tips, takes amazing photographs.)

Plus, I now take pictures almost exclusively with my phone. When I'm out with Seb, I don't carry our other camera around (which I'm pretty sure is damaged a little anyways), and I find my iPhone can usually take pretty decent pictures. So, while I could do the point and shoot thing to capture whatever I'm taking a picture of, I wanted to learn more about how to take my pictures from ordinary to interesting. Ashley describes the course as "written in a personal and conversational way, this course contains all my thoughts and approaches to capturing life with a phone camera." One look through her instagram feed had me drooling. I can learn to take pictures like this on my phone??? Sign me up!

While I'm not at that level yet by any means, I do think I was able to apply her suggestions and snap a few "interesting" pictures while I was practising in the summer.

Playing with sunstreaks

Practising lines and rule of thirds


  Trying new tips for indoor pictures and angles

The course is entirely online through her blog and via instagram. It's module-based, so you can work through it at your own pace within the 3 week window the course is open. Ashley provides her students with a hashtag to use so they can all see each other's pictures on instagram and leave each other comments/feedback. 

I love the specific practice ideas and prompts provided, so it's quick and easy to start practising her tips right away. As I mentioned before, I had no previous photography knowledge, and I really felt I gained so much from her course. She easily explained the basics of photography and how to use my phone to capture everyday moments in a practical and realistic way. She also shared a ton of her own photos as examples so we had lots of guidance and ideas of what we were working towards. Past students can keep following the course on instagram to get new prompt ideas after their course time has ended.

What I also appreciated was this was not an app-heavy course. She did get into editing with apps a bit, but the course doesn't push a number of expensive phone apps, so you could fully participate without spending more.

So that's my newest hobby! Photography :) I'm enjoying it and look forward to playing around with all of the tips and tricks I learned in the SnapShop Phone Course.


Monday, 1 September 2014

Baby Shower Brunch #pinterestforthewin

Last week my cousin and I hosted a baby shower for a friend. Our theme was Baby Shower Brunch (hey...we had to be finished the shower by nap time) and were expecting about 20 women to attend. For brunch we set up a waffle bar and served them with salad, parfaits, and the yummiest chocolate caramel cheesecake pops.

To save time in the morning, I made the waffles ahead of time and froze them. Then I just heated them in the oven for 10 mins when the guests arrived.

Pretty much all of the ideas I had for the shower I found on Pinterest. Here's my whole Baby Shower Brunch Pinterest Board.  This is the link for my specific waffle bar inspiration. My table wasn't large enough to label every item on it, so I liked this way of labeling the steps instead.

Waffle Bar
Step 1 - Grab a waffle
Step 2 - Choose a spread
Step 3 - Add some fruit
Step 4 - Pour on the toppings
Step 5 - Eat and Enjoy!

Do you see the fork and knife? They look totally real right? I discovered silver plastic utensils this summer, and I couldn't wait to use them again. I think they add just a bit of extra withitness to your event. I've heard you can get them at Costco, but I found mine at a dollar store.

My cousin organized a baby food tasting game, which I surprisingly sucked at, and another fun game where you had to match the time of gestation in days to different animals. Yeah, African Elephants have an average gestation of 645 days, so when you're 36 weeks along and totally over being pregnant, just be glad you're not an African Elephant, though you may feel like one ;)

Throughout the shower, I encouraged guests to write little messages to the new mama-to-be on diapers and then sent them all home with her at the end.

And, finally, because it was a brunch, I though the perfect favours would be little whiskey bottles filled with maple syrup. I ordered them from the Etsy store Temples Treats, and they don't seem to be available anymore but here is something very similar. I then used baker's twine and blank tags to write a little thank you note to the guests.

And that was it! We had fun, and I know it was a special day for our new mama friend.


Related - Baby Shower Gift Idea: Mama's Medicine Cabinet

Monday, 25 August 2014

Baby Shower Gift Idea - Mama's Medicine Cabinet

I hosted a baby shower for a dear friend over the weekend, and here's what I put together as her gift - Mama's Medicine Cabinet. I went and got a cute basket and then filled it with the above items we used often while Seb was a baby still use all. of. the. time. I know she'll use each of these items. Plus she can take the basket, toss in some diapers, wipes, a folding change pad, and voilà - instant diaper changing station for another floor in her house.

Idea cred: I wish I could take credit for this awesome idea, but I totally stole it from someone else. I read about it last year via the Rookie Moms, and couldn't wait to make it for someone who I know would really appreciate this type of gift.

If you're not into the DIY version, someone has already done the work for you selling a complete package called Mommy's Medicine Cabinet.

And if you're looking for a great card to go with it, here's my current fav.