Thursday, April 29

Red Paint: Not For The Faint of Heart

Just to shake things up a bit, today's post is on the topic of decorating. I take after my mother and my aunt who love to decorate, accessorize, and redecorate. (My aunt is infamous for repainting her bathroom every season. My uncle is always thrilled.)

When we built our house seven years ago, we had the foresight to have a large room in the basement finished, which has turned out to be an incredible blessing. At the time, we assumed it would be a typical dark, depressing basement (underestimating the impact of the four large windows) and therefore we went with a pale yellow paint, to brighten it up a little.

Big mistake. The room always seemed cold, impersonal, and (believe it or not) too big. I know, I know, cry me a river. This was, of course, before kids' stuff filled it up. Anyway, check out the "before" pictures:

Now, to be honest, the too-country plaid slipcovers didn't contribute to the look I was going for, but the yellow walls were the main problem. After a great deal of research, I decided that red would be the perfect colour to achieve the warm atmosphere we wanted. Many friends and family members thought I was crazy to make such a dramatic change, and that part I have never regretted, but others warned us about the technical issues with red paint. Those people, I should have listened to. On the advice of the Home Depot lady (who also questioned my sanity, and stressed the difficulty we would be facing) we bought a pink primer to start things off.

Although we enlisted a couple of family members to help, painting an 800 square foot room full of windows, doors and a staircase is no quick job. Once the primer was on, my husband (only semi-jokingly) asked me if I wanted to just stick with the light rose colour and wrap things up. But no, I persisted, and we forged ahead with coat number one of  Behr's "Ruby Ring." Then coat number two. Then three. And we still weren't done.

All in all, it took four coats of paint on top of the tinted primer; a long and painful process. To spruce up the rest of the room, we got new black leather couches and loveseat, pared down the accessories, and eventually got a second bookshelf and painted them both black.

Some after photos: (the bottom one is the Christmas look. Red works really well with that!)

Ironically, right after we finished the room, I found out I was pregnant with Frannie and the nausea kept me from enjoying it. Between the new paint and the new leather, I wasn't able to go down the stairs for over a month!

Since that summer, we have upgraded to a flatscreen and new entertainment unit, and have added countless toys, games and books (a Barbie house, mini-kitchen, easel and basketball net fill a room quickly), but I am proud to say that the well-used treadmill has remained constant.

We absolutely love our dramatic room and receive compliments whenever we have new visitors, but if your heart is not completely set on red, I recommend you run go in another direction.

Monday, April 26

Take This To The Library: Our Book Club Reading List

By popular demand (okay, my sister-in-law asked for it), here is a comprehensive list of the titles read by my fabulous book club over the past two years.

I have ranked them in order of my preference, and linked to their Chapters/Indigo description. We began with the goal of reading more Canadian female writers, but obviously have branched out here and there. (Note: This list was updated after one of my fellow members refreshed my memory about a couple of titles I missed.)

1. The Stone Diaries - Carol Shields
2. The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood
3. The Convict Lover -  Merilyn Simonds (any Kingstonites will be especially interested in this based-on-a-true-story)
4. Good To A Fault - Marina Endicott
5. My Friend Leonard - James Frey (sequel to his controversial as-seen-on-Oprah embellished autobiography A Million Little Pieces)
6. Where We Have To Go - Lauren Kirschner (based in Toronto)
7. From East To West - Antonina Demyczyna
8. For One More Day - Mitch Albom
9. The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story - Diane Ackerman
10. The Shack - William P. Young
11. Three Day Road - Joseph Boyden
12. Late Nights on Air - Elizabeth Hay

One title which is not included on the list is "Man Who Forgot How To Read" by Howard Engel. I didn't read that one, knowing that I would be unable to attend the meeting. (It was on October 30th, and we had to take the girls pre-trick-or-treating at my parents' house.)

Have you read any of these books? I'd love to hear what you thought of them, and if you agree or disagree with my rankings. It would also be interesting to hear from my book club members -- what would be your top choice from the material we've read so far? Also, please let me know if I have forgotten any titles!

By the way, be sure to check out the "Bookshelf" in my sidebar, where I share other recommended reading.

Thursday, April 22

Bottle Battle: Have You Heard That Breast Is Best?

I recently came across a great article in Canadian Family magazine entitled "Bottle Battle" by Sydney Loney. It struck a chord with me, because my breastfeeding experience with Frannie was a complete disaster. I don't know you all well enough yet to feel comfortable discussing my sore, cracked, bloody, nipples...well, I guess we're closer than I thought because I just said it. I truly don't believe that I bonded with my daughter until I switched to formula, and believe me, I tried to avoid it. A nurse from the Health Unit even came to my home to check on things, and informed me that Frannie's latch was fine. My belief now is that in fact it was not, but hindsight's 20/20.

I'm not sure if you've heard that research shows breast milk is best...if only someone had told me. Ha. I can remember waking up one morning with the desperate hope that I could begin pumping my milk and feeding by bottle to relieve my pain. (The fact that the pediatrician had already informed me that my milk supply was insufficient did not deter me. We are supposed to breastfeed!) I made a panicked drive to the only local store selling a breastpump, and prayed that poor little Frannie could survive long enough to wait for me to pump for the first time. For some reason, the ounce that I produced did not seem to stave her hunger.

Long story short, I began to supplement with formula, and by the time she was three months old, I gave her one last breastfeed for posterity and that was it.
However, Maggie was a different story. I was determined to try again because yes, I did hear somewhere that breastmilk is better for the baby. From the first day in the hospital, she latched on pain-free. My husband is sure that my own comfort level as a mom made a big difference, and he could very well be right. This time, I started to see how words like "natural" and "beautiful" could be appropriate descriptors. Although it was a much better experience and I was able to produce enough milk to exclusively breastfeed, I still stopped at the three month mark.

I felt a lot of breastfeeding pressure from "society" -- don't you love that overused scapegoat -- but it was mostly self-imposed. I also wanted to give it my best shot because my husband's sisters and sisters-in-law (big family) almost all breastfed, and I thought there was something wrong with me as a mother if I didn't. Not that any of them ever made any judgments.

The funny thing is, I wonder if it's almost like the working mom/stay-at-home mom's made to be such a big deal, but really, does that tension exist anymore? How could it, when those categories have certainly evolved and subdivided...and we're definitely all working. Do you think women are really still judging each other, or is someone, somewhere making that up to drum up a good story? Are there truly women who would think I was terrible for ceasing my breastfeeding efforts? I mean, hey, I am impressed by women who choose to, and are able to, breastfeed exclusively for a long period of time (and I think they still enjoy the moral highgound), but I certainly don't judge those who make other choices. My brother's wife seems (correct me if I'm wrong, A) quite secure in her choice to start her kids on formula right from birth, and that's terrific.

I think we judge ourselves much more harshly than anyone else. What are your thoughts? How did you feed your children? For my friends and readers who are "expecting" (or hoping to be), what is your plan? Have any of you felt pressured to make a certain decision, or do any moms out there regret the choice they made? I'd love to know.

Monday, April 19

Did You Know? Green Is Sexy!

Okay, before I go all "earthy" on you here, I should make a few confessions. I absolutely always start my car before heading out in the winter. I was too lazy to figure out cloth diapers. Worst of all? I use the clothes dryer as much as I possibly can. Year-round. (Who likes crunchy clothing? I just don't get it.) However, I am a big reuser, recycler, and composter, which I think is pretty much the norm for our generation, and I would like to make even more efforts to leave a nice clean world behind for my children.

Next, I must confess that although the website I share here today has fantastic environmentally-friendly ideas, I didn't exactly stumble upon it while searching for new green products. In truth, I sought it out after reading about it in In Style Magazine. The site, Green Is Sexy, made it into the publication because one of its founders (also one of my favourite actresses), is Canada's own Rachel McAdams.

The site boasts a variety of eco-friendly ideas under categories such as "For The Girls", "Out and About", "In the Workplace", "Moneysavers", "Entertainment" and "For Laughs".

My fellow moms might be interested in a post on The Green Goober, offering environmentally-friendly products for kids, as well as a Green Christmas Gift Guide, posted in December but useful all year long. I'm currently considering a recycled-paper product purchase from Ecojot, (shown at left) since I'm one of those rare techno-junkies who still insists on keeping a paper dayplanner.

(By the way, depending what time of year you read this post, you might also be interested in my Green Halloween article. The editor proposed this topic, and the research was good for me. I even implemented a few of my own suggestions last year!)

I'd love to hear about ways you and your family have "gone green". If you have older kids, are they more environmentally-friendly than you are? Do you find it harder to be eco-conscious with children than you did before, with less time and more products? Any suggestions for the rest of us?

Here's my Earth Day contribution: for every comment left on this post, I will sweep the floor with an old-fashioned broom instead of using my beloved disposable-cloth sweeper. I'm willing to sacrifice!

Saturday, April 17

My First Award!

Oh my gosh! I wasn't expecting this! I would like to thank the, I mean, Deanna from Money Saving Canadian Mom, for the Sunshine Award!

Kind of ironic to be posting about a "Sunshine Award" on a dreary mid-April day when we actually received SNOW, but I am appreciative nonetheless.

The rules of the award are that I am to pass it on to twelve other blogs, but I am actually going to limit my pay-it-forwardness today to three Canadian moms who inspired me as I began a few months ago. These are blogs with real, live, interactive people behind them, so you feel like as you get to know them, they also get to know you. And although I would love to be on a million worldwide must-read lists (I mean come on, who wouldn't?) I truly am more interested in following blogs where I can leave comment 9, not comment 129. As an aside, I just read that only 5% of blog readers are commenters, the other 95% are lurkers -- so for every 5 comments you see on a blog, there may be 95 or more people who read it and moved on!

So, back to my selections. The three places I recommend you visit are:

A Peek Inside The Fishbowl
A Busy Mommy
Crumbs in the Minivan (also one of Deanna's choices, but I don't think there's a rule against that!)

Wow, it's much easier to make an acceptance speech when you can mull it over for half an hour while watching a rerun of Grey's Anatomy. (It was the one where Addison first defected to L.A., if you're wondering. I never realized that a different actress played Naomi in the beginning...but I digress.)

Anyway, I hope as you read this, you have more real sunshine than we have today!

Thursday, April 15

How To Sleep In: The Best $14.99 I Ever Spent

Yes, I know, it has the Princesses on it, but believe me, it's the best  fifteen bucks we've ever put in Disney's pocket. For Frannie's birthday we bought this alarm clock from the Avon catalogue, and it's worth every penny. Now of course, any digital clock would do, although this one does have the cool feature of lighting up when tapped on top -- which is also good because it doesn't brighten the room at night unnecessarily.

The first thing I did once the gift was opened was print a digital-looking number 7 on a piece of masking tape and stick it under the hour spot on the clock. We gave Frannie strict instructions that unless that number says 7, it is in fact not time to get up yet, and there is no point asking. This idea could also be adapted for an analog clock (and let me tell you, as a teacher I see firsthand the lack of experience kids have with analog, yet of course my kid's first clock is digital. Another 'do as I say, not as I do' suggestion!)

It took a couple of tries for Frannie to realize that the location of the 7 is important (i.e. 5:27 is not wake-up time) but now we can count on her to call out (at 7:00 on the dot) "IT SAYS SEVEN!" If only Maggie were old enough to work with this. I wonder if they make a crib-mounted version?

Monday, April 12

We've Been To London To Visit...

I apologize to those readers joining us from foreign lands, but at this point, most of you are from our lovely province of Ontario, and therefore this trip is actually an option for you. (Don't get me wrong: although it was a lot of fun, it's probably not worth the trek for my readers in Kentucky and the Philippines.)

Last July, we took our girls (and my parents - sorry, they're not included in the package) on a three-day trip to London, Ontario, and we had a blast. Here's a quick recap of the must-see attractions if you should decide to check it out yourself. Most spots would be perfect for a spring or weekend getaway as well.

Storybook Gardens:  animals, rides (the ferris wheel was the perfect size for our three year old), games, play and splash areas, entertainment, and of course, beautiful gardens. We planned to spend a whole day here, but found that half a day was enough. Every would-be-princess will be impressed by the grand castle entrance.

Best Western Lamplighter Inn: we stayed at this amazing hotel, and even snagged a room with a balcony overlooking the pool (so if one adult is down at the pool/huge waterslide/hot tub, the one who is stuck in the room during naptime/after bedtime can still take in the action).

London Children's Museum: this was definitely the best part of the trip for us and our kids. From toddlers through tweens, there is something for everyone, and it's extremely hands-on and interactive. The photo shown to the left is a replica of a city street where kids can work the McDonald's drive-thru and try out the till at Valu-Mart!

Adventures on Wonderland: although a fairly standard indoor playground (you probably have one like it in your town), it was still worth it as it provided new toys and climbers and a way to fill a rainy morning with the girls. They even have a special room for kids five and  under.

My cousin Stephen's house: Sorry - no link to this one, but just wanted to thank him and his family again for their hospitality! :-)

Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions about the trip, or if you live in the London area and have other attractions to suggest. It was something different for all of us, and I would highly recommend it for a young family.

Friday, April 9

Read It: Notes Left Behind (Brooke & Keith Desserich)

Do you like to pause while you read, sob for a while, and then continue? If so, then do I have the book for you!

"Notes Left Behind" is the poignant story of Brooke and Keith Desserich's journey through their daughter Elena's cancer diagnosis and the last months of her life. Honest, touching and inspiring, they hold little back as they share, through their journal entries, a combination of their day-to-day activities and their most private thoughts and feelings.

Perhaps this subject matter helped lead me to my Lenten goal of spending more quality time with my family, but let's be frank: life proceeds in a much different way when you assume you have all the time in the world than it does when you know time is running out, and it has to. Families could not function and the world would stop effectively turning if we all decided to live like we (or our children) were dying every moment of every day. (Sorry, Tim McGraw.)

That said, there are certainly lessons to be learned here about appreciating your children, and also being thankful for good health. I know one mom who whined recently because her daughter had double ear infections and double eye infections within ten days. Okay, so that was me, but really, it was a terrible ordeal! (Note: do not bother taking a child with pinkeye to a walk-in clinic, unless you want to spend two hours there only to be told to buy some Polysporin Ear and Eye drops over-the-counter!)

Even flipping through the book again as I write this post, I am getting tears in my eyes, and can't wait to give my girls a big hug. And maybe even more than five minutes of my time tonight.

To learn more about the Desserichs' story, visit their Notes Left Behind website.

Tuesday, April 6

"Dear Easter Bunny": An Open Letter Awaiting Reply

Dear Easter Bunny,

First of all, Frannie and Maggie would like to offer you their thanks for this year's goodies. They were thrilled with their haul of chocolate eggs, and this time Maggie was old enough to look for treats and understand the process (no repeats of last year's 'eating-the-eggs-while-they're-still-in-the-foil' fiasco). I'm sure you're quite tired after your busy weekend, but I was wondering if you could possibly find the time to answer a question I have: what do you bring to other little children?

This year, my girls received almost identical gifts, shown below: various foil-wrapped chocolate eggs, which you so painstakingly hid around the house, Easter dresses, a Colour Wonders pad and markers (so thoughtful of you when Maggie is particularly obsessed with colouring right now, and quite similar to the ones which were buy-one-get-one-free at Zellers last week) and a Littlest Pet Shop Animal. Total expenditure:  around $35 per child. Of course, that's just my guess.

I'm always curious to know what you bring to other little children, and if mine are receiving more or less. Just as we do with Santa, we make sure to tell our girls that you know exactly what everyone needs, so they really shouldn't compare with others, but I can't help but do so myself. Other holidays have become so commercialized that I would prefer for my kids not to start thinking of Easter as a gift-receiving occasion, although the chocolate, of course, is a must for children and mommy. No messing with that tradition.

Thank you in advance, Easter Bunny, for taking the time to leave some replies in order to let me know what the 'going rate' is for Easter treats. I'm hoping by this time next year your comments will provide a wealth of information for myself and my readers.


This Mom

Monday, April 5

Babysitting Questions and Answers

The new issue of Peterborough, Northumberland or Lakeridge Kids, depending where you live, has just hit the stands (and the net), and in it my latest article:  Babysitting FAQ's.

Who hasn't dealt with the problem of finding, training, and keeping quality teenage babysitters? I have to say, we have been extremely lucky: we've had an incredible babysitter ever since leaving Frannie for the first time at four months old, and when our sitter went away to University this fall, we began to train her younger sister for the job. There's nothing like leaving your kids and being absolutely certain they are in mature, responsible hands. These girls have spoiled our daughters with love, attention, and more material gifts than tweens and teens need to be buying.

Check out the article, and while you're there, explore the magazine's website which includes back issues and more information about the publication. You don't have to be local to benefit from reading this magazine. Although advertising and events are regional, most articles deal with general parenting and child issues which apply to all parents alike.

If you have any babysitter tips which aren't mentioned in the article, feel free to leave a comment here and share with others!