Wednesday, 29 January 2014

From Cupcakes to Chemicals - Book Review

Because my husband travels in the pro-science circles online, last month he came across an article by Julie Gunlock and passed it along to me to read. I noticed she also wrote a book called Cupcakes to Chemicals (How the culture of alarmism makes us afraid of everything and how to fight back). I really loved the catchy title and was very interested when I read the summary, so I quickly ordered a copy. 

Gunlock is a mama to three little boys and understands what a home really looks like. And the answer is not found on Pinterest. She knows that it's hard for moms to get dinner on the table every night, keep everyone safe and happy, all the while, processing the non-stop stream of information from the various media outlets we see in our day.

Maybe it's just me, but it feels like a new study with some alarming danger is published every other week. And often these studies will contradict each other. And more importantly, I'm tired of being worried about every. single. thing. connected to parenting. Will his sippy cup deform his teeth? Will he break his arm because we don't have bumper pads in the crib? Did he eat too many cookies this week? Is it ok to give him apple juice? It's enough to make me want to scream and throw things like a toddler.

In Cupcakes to Chemicals, Gunlock sympathizes with us; we all want to be amazing moms for our little bébés. And it's hard when we are constantly told by others what is best for our families. What foods to eat and which to avoid. What products to use and which to throw away.  And not stepping in that line could result in something horrible. But there are enough real things to worry about with our kids (like is he in the right daycare?) that we don't need manufactured problems (like is the apple juice going to kill my son?).

When my mom sees me do something different with our son (like sleeping on his back as a newborn, or using a video monitor) she often (jokingly) says to me that it's a wonder my sister and I survived, because she didn't do those things. The reality is that children born today in Canada and the US can expect to live longer than ever before. Like Gunlock tells us in her book, progress is being our friend.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm often a fan of natural cosmetics. I'll reach for the GreenWorks brand of cleaners, and I have even been known (before baby) to make my own body lotion. I also know that apple slices and milk make for a healthier snack than chocolate cookies, and I don't need a government study to tell me that.

I hope our son, Sebastian, develops strong critical thinking skills, so I should model them for him. I want him to grow up questioning whether something is right or wrong, and not just believing what someone else says because they think they are smarter than him. One of my favourite examples from the book is when Gunlock tells us not to be afraid of our plastic garden hoses. She says that "if a person attempted to drink the amount of water required to reach PVC toxicity, they'd first die of dilutional hyponatremia - death by water overdose- before reaching that toxic level."

I found this book to be refreshing, and a perspective not always given much time. Reading this book was like being given permission to relax and enjoy parenting. Something that almost sounds like an oxymoron. But being less stressed about life is good for my health, which is, in turn, good for Sebastian's health, and probably my husband's too ;)


Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Best Books for Babies

I've previously shared with you the baby toys that got played with the most in our house.  Today we're talking about the best books for our little baby bookworms.

One of my favourite baby gifts we were given for Seb was from my work. A couple days after he was born, instead of sending flowers, they sent a basket of books from Mable's Fables.  We got this little blue and white basket (which we now use for storing toys) full of a dozen beginner board books. Genius. I love reading, and I hope Seb does too. So far so good in that area. He really does have his favourites, and some of the ones listed below have made more than one trip to our 'book hospital' for repair. He loved any kind of 'feely' book with different textures on the pages and especially loves the Little Feet Like book that is a book especially for his feet. Also, we have no fewer than 4 bath books in the mix with our bath toys, and he loves reading them (when he's not sticking them to different walls of the tub).

These were Seb's favourite books when he was under the age of 1.

My picks: For the first few months, my favourites were his favourites. I also got into the habit of reading him right to sleep at nap time, so we often read these:

And if you want to know what life with a baby is like check out The Boss Baby

What were the most read books for babies in your house?


Thursday, 16 January 2014

Chemo Angels

I think we all find our own way to give back to the world. I'm sure lots of us have a particular charity or organization that we like to support. A few years ago I found mine. Chemo Angels is an organization that offers support to people with cancer. Patients worldwide can register for free with the organization, and then they are given two buddies, or angels, for the duration of their chemotherapy treatments. Each week, the angel/buddy volunteers send letters, notes of encouragement, or even small gifts to their patient during this difficult time.

There are a two main ways to be involved. Chemo Angels send a small gift each week to their patient. Card Angels send a card or two each week to their patient, and also maybe a small gift from time to time. Angels don't expect to hear back from their patients. This is not a penpal program, which is good because I don't really have time for a full-on penpal, but I do have time to send a little light and love someone's way. Your commitment is over once your patient graduates from the program by finishing their treatments or, in some cases, when they pass away.

I have been a Card Angel for a couple of years now. It's not always easy. The chemo buddy I had last year passed away. In my monthly update from the organization, I had found out that her cancer was spreading. Over the last few months her updates said she was having more bad days than good. What do you write to someone who is dying? She was mom just a few years older than me with young girls at home. My challenge was to send her something that would make her smile when she opened my letter. When I was sent the message about her death, her husband told us that she kept every letter and note in a scrapbook.

That being said, there are so many wonderful things about being a Card Angel. I love when I get an unexpected letter from my chemo patient. I really love hearing they've graduated from the program and finished their treatments. Sometimes the patient, a family member or friend will write directly to the organization and express their gratitude and these messages are forwarded to the Angels. It is so wonderful to hear how full their hearts are of gratitude after something that really was easy for me to do. I also enjoy looking for little treats that I can include in my cards such as bookmarks, tea, stickers, gift tags, inspirational quotations, etc. It really is a great excuse to buy beautiful stationery, which I love to do. I have my eye on these beautiful cards right now. There is also an active Facebook group for Chemo/Card Angels. The members in this group are constantly sharing ideas, answering questions, and offering support when needed. Below is a picture of what I'm sending my chemo patient this week.

Another branch of the organization is called Senior Angels. These angels offer support to seniors who may be house-bound or have less family contact available to them. Senior Angels are there to let their buddy know that they are remembered and that there are still people who care for them. More information about the Senior Angel program is available here.

If you'd like to volunteer as a Chemo Angel or Card Angel, you can find the application here.
If you know of a cancer patient who would benefit from this program, you can find that application here.


Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Sprouts Kids {Local Love}

S wouldn't let these beanbag turtles out of his sight.

There's a new baby/toddler hangout in the 'hood. A friend of mine emailed me a little while ago about a new place called Sprouts opening in Leslieville, and because I like any place where S can run around and tire himself out before nap time, we went to check it out last week.

In many ways it is very similar to Gymboree, but bigger. And while Gymboree has very scheduled drop-in times (often during nap time), Sprouts Kids is open for drop-in play all day long. Perfect for Sunday mornings, which can be the tricky time slot to fill around our house.

Playing in a fort under the big slide.
The indoor playground is packed with a ton of fun things for little ones; slides, climbing structures, a velcro activity wall, Duplo tables, these super fun bouncing toys, and there are even a couple of built in trampolines. I often wish they made Jolly Jumpers in toddler size because I know S would still use it daily. A playground with a trampoline is the next best thing.

For the parents, there is complementary Starbucks coffee and tea in the snack lounge. And yes, you can use one of their mugs to bring your beverage into the playground area. You can bring your own nut-free snacks, but if you happen to forget, the vending machine at this place sells Baby Gourmets and whole wheat fig bars. As a nice bonus, the music they play isn't 'kid' music, and it's actually music you would love to listen to.

Jumping toddler = fuzzy picture. But worth it!

The first visit is free, and then I bought the 6 drop-in play pass for $55.

They also have a slew of classes for newborn babies up to 6 or 7-year-olds. You can sign up for dance, science, arts & crafts, or even a kids book club! If I was still on mat leave, I could see myself spending a lot of time here.

My suggestion - go early. By 11am it was pretty packed, but I feel that really shows the demand for more places like this in the city.


Monday, 6 January 2014

Les petits plaisirs - Downton Abbey

Here is the next post in the series Les petits plaisirs. My goal for this series is to share things I've found to be little pleasures in life. It could be a quotation, a song, something I like to do, or even just a comfort item. Whatever makes me feel good inside, and I think may make you feel good too.

*Spoiler alert - if you haven't seen the end of season 3, there is a spoiler below. Sara G - I'm talking to you ;)

Last night was the season 4 premiere of Downton Abbey in Canada. I was late joining the Downton Abbey following. After binge-watching seasons 1-3 with Rob last summer, it firmly holds the spot as my favourite show right now. And after dropping some not-so-subtle hints about Marks & Spencer's Downton Abbey bath and beauty line, I can further channel my inner Mary Crawley with  these treats that were in my Christmas stocking.

I'm an emotional person. I've been known to cry at books and movies easily. However, I think it has been a long time since a tv show has elicited such an emotional, and even physical, reaction from me. My Facebook status from last summer would tell you that I wanted to break up with Downton Abbey mid-way through season 3 and by the end, I felt like I had a Downton Abbey hangover. But still, I craved more. I missed the witty Dowager Countess. I missed Lady Mary (in mourning WTF!?) and I miss Matthew. Thank God they wrapped up the story with Ethel and her son because as the mama of a 1-year-old boy, that plot line nearly did me in.

As per my resolutions, Rob and I invited some friends over to celebrate the new year and the newest season of Downton Abbey. The season 4 premiere did not disappoint. Thomas was up to his old tricks, Bates was still charming, and the Dowager was making her opinion known left, right, and centre.

Our Downton night was made of chocolate, scones, tea and other adult beverages. I only wish I had a bottle of the new Downton Abbey wine to serve as well.  So, I guess you know where to find me on Sundays at 9pm for the next little while. In the meantime, check out this funny SNL short on Downton Abbey (or "Fancy Entourage" - ha!). And if you don't mind a little vulgar language, P. Diddy cast himself as part of Downton Abbey in this well done Funny or Die video.