Saturday, December 31, 2011

Bests of the Holiday

The Christmas holidays have come and gone. Around here we're winding down and getting ready for the New Year, new semester for me, and back to work for DH. The tree is down and decorations are nearly all put away. For us, usually this doesn't happen until well into January - however, I heard on the radio awhile back someone talking about how they take everything down by December 31st so as to start the new year with a clean slate. It made sense.

Highlights of this holiday have been:
  • Brendan participating in the Christmas Play at my mom's Church. He was a horse. It was very cute.
  • Hosting our first Christmas dinner for extended family. It was a success and surprisingly low stress.
  • Seeing Brendan so excited realizing that Santa had came and brought him the "big boy scooter" he had requested (the only thing he asked Santa for). 
  • Flying a new kite - thanks to Nana and Papa - on a rather warm Christmas morning
  • Getting together with old friends. We were lucky to have multiple visits from one of my very best childhood friend's who came home from Edmonton for the holidays. One of these visits involved a foam sword fight..between her and I. I haven't laughed so hard in such a long time. I was also able to get out for dinner with 3 friends from high school and despite not seeing each other in years it was just like old times. 
  • Taking B skating for the first time. I was so proud of him. Skating is hard and he was such a good sport. We only caught the last 30 minutes of a family skate session but by the end he was balancing well standing in one spot and getting better at getting up from the ice on his own.
Tonight is shaping up to be another low key New Years Eve and that's A-okay with me.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Giving back for the holidays with young children

As I mentioned awhile back. We want to start instilling the idea of Christmas as a time of giving to those who are less fortunate with our boys. Now that classes are out and exams and final papers have been written, I have a little bit more time to dedicate to finalizing more ambitious Christmas gifts and to deciding and executing our plan for giving this year.

Having young children, certain ways of giving seem less practical for us, mainly those that involve volunteering time. Some opportunities are inappropriate for small children – like working in a soup kitchen. Consequently, we have been trying to find ways that will have meaning for us, are appropriate given our finances and family dynamic, and most importantly, that B will understand (i.e. visible actions such as gift giving as opposed to monetary donations or monetary contributions that involve tangible gifts like food hampers). We’re also trying to pick opportunities that offer a teaching opportunity such as to explain poverty, homelessness, or illness. Food and toy donations are simple enough – he understands that we are giving to people who don’t have food or toys.

Some ideas for giving back at Christmas time for those with very young kids:
  • Donate non-perishable food or personal hygiene items to a local food drive. **We try to avoid giving sugar-laden, highly processed, or junk foods. Also, if you’re cleaning out your cupboards pay attention to best before dates and when in doubt toss it out. Alternately, if you have more money to spend, you could buy a food hamper.
  • Donate warm winter clothing – many places will take both used and new items and are looking especially for children’s items.
  • Donate toys to a local toy drive. Although many toy drives request new toys, there are also some places that will accept decent quality used toys. **We are asking B to select a few toys he no longer plays with/has duplicates of to donate since he is fortunate enough to be receiving new toys this Christmas.
  • Give a less fortunate family the gift of “Christmas” – gifts, food, decor
  • Make Christmas crafts and cards with your children and drop them off to a local nursing home for seniors who do not receive visitors over the holidays. The same can be done with flower arrangements (or poinsettias received as gifts if you’re concerned about small children or pets).
  • Donate to the local animal shelter - kids love animals.
  • Purchase products where the proceeds go to important causes ex. a local initiative is selling very cute calendars with the proceeds going toward the construction of a new, affordable facility in the Region.
  • Donate gifts to Sick Kids. DH spent some time there as a child for eye surgeries. They have a really neat site for giving get well gifts like crafts/baking supplies, books, etc. 
Any other ideas?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Santa Babies

One very excited boy and one not so sure baby.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hello December!

Yesterday was the first snowfall in these parts. I assured a rather anxious B he would be able to go tobogganing soon. The hot chocolate has already been flowing here and a pot of soup (ends of veggies thrown together in attempts to clean out the fridge before grocery day) is simmering away on the stove for dinner tonight. The snow serves as a reminder that I need to get moving on finishing my Christmas shopping.

I've been enjoying our newly painted house. Having the walls look fresh makes the other not so fresh things stick out - I totally need to find some new throw pillows. We used Benjamin Moore's Collingwood for most of our house and totally love it. Our living room (pictured) is done in Grey Mist the BM match for Restoration Hardware's Silver Sage.

Newest development? N's first tooth came through and this kid loves "real" food way more than baby mush.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Winter Wardrobe on the Cheap

Recently I was very successful at the Value Village 50% off sale. I've learned from experience that in order to score big you need to be there at 7am and have at least 2 hrs. to peruse. I also strategically shop the women's section first since good items go more quickly there than in other areas. I tend to grab anything that looks decent in my size and then pare down when I get to the change rooms. The boys are good for clothes so the purpose of my trip was for DH and myself.

Being in construction, DH goes through clothing quickly. If you've been to stores like Marks Work Wearhouse, you know that durable clothing isn't cheap! I find mens clothing at VV, for the most part, is more gently used than womens. My best finds were a pair of like new industrial quality Gap pants and some thick fleece sweaters, essentials for the cold weather.  DH isn't picky when it comes to style or colour so is usually happy with anything I get him.

For myself, I usually find cheaper clothing doesn't always fit the same or hold up as well after a few washes. Consequently I tend to focus on label picking when thrifting for myself. This trip I got a couple Jacob items, Gap, Banana Republic, and Old Navy brands. Behold my winter finds!

I paid $30 for all of this which regularly would've been $60 but I could've easily paid that for one item retail.  Side note - I got a free membership to their club and as a benefit will be able to shop 50% off the day before the event next time. Well worth it if you ask me!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

6 Months

So much has happened in 6 months. With the second child, time is just flying by. I remember with B anxiously awaiting new developmental milestones and constantly comparing his development with that of other babes his age. With N the milestones are coming and going far too fast. I don’t know whether it is the simultaneous achievements of both children that satisfies our parental desire to see our children reach new milestones quickly or whether just being so busy means we don’t have as much time to give it much thought. Either way, I find myself longing for the days when I could just nurse and cuddle my littlest. Lately he is so full of wonder. He rarely sits still and quite often squirms while I am feeding him taking several breaks when he hears noises or something catches his eye.

These days he is:
  • as always, enthralled with his big brother
  • a very picky eater. Aside from cereal, he will only tolerate carrots – and by this I mean so far they are the only veggies that don’t elicit an instant shudder.
  • a champion roller - no mobility issues here
  • loving the tummy time and is content to alternate between his tummy and back playing with toys in his playpen for 20 minute stretches (I didn’t use a playpen much with B but since my attention is far more divided these days, the playpen serves as a safeguard against doggy kisses, rough brotherly love, and age in-appropriate toys)
  • starting to enjoy riding around in the Ergo – not so much a couple months ago
  • grabbing at anything he can get his little hands on, faces included, and pulling it to his mouth for some gumming and a taste
Two peas in a pod.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Letting go..a little

Usually I feel the need to give B reminders such as "don't forget to stop before the next street" when he is outside. He always does. Yesterday I nearly had a heart attack when he unmounted his bike and ran toward the road. I shouted out, only to realize that he wasn't heading for the road at all but was interested in a leaf nearby on the boulevard.

On that chilly walk, I realized perhaps I am overdoing it just a touch with the constant safety/rules commentary and that I might be infringing on his innocent and exploratory nature which I want him to hang onto for a long time. Maybe I should scale back ever so slightly to offering comments only in the face of imminent danger. Someone with five grown children recently gave me some sound parenting advice - it was to save the "No" for when you really need to use it. Some days I feel like all I am saying is "No" or "Don't". I think I'll try to keep this advice in the back of my head and work harder at creating an environment where I do not have to focus on the negative. My baby isn't such a baby anymore. Might I add, he made us wait 5 minutes to cross a road until no cars were coming. We had plenty of opportunities to cross but he put it off just long enough until another car would appear.


Besides, I can find comfort in knowing we don't have to worry as much about others for awhile  :)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A date to remember.

File date nights with B under things I love. This year's Tree Lighting Ceremony

Hot chocolate for B and cider for me.  

Dan the Music Man entertained.  

 There was plenty of dancing.

 And amazement as the jolly old man in red stopped by to say hello. 

One large beautiful lit tree. 

Community and lots of snuggles to keep warm.

Chilled bones. Warmed soul. 

My Negotiation Deal

Since moving to our new abode - we've not been in the mood for renovations besides painting the boys bedrooms. Reno burn out I guess from tackling such a big project at our old house. The upcoming holiday season has been the perfect excuse to make a few changes which will freshen it up, as well as make it more of a home. Our home.

DH insisted that he did not want to do anymore large painting projects. i.e. the hallway and main floor  which also have some height in areas. This meant we were in the market for a painter. I scooped up some business cards while getting paint for N's room last month at the local paint store. I had 3 quotes and ended up negotiating $400 off an original quote and $700 less than the highest quote I received. How's that for a deal? I've never been good at negotiating - DH is worse. I always feel like by negotiating on price I am devaluing someone's hard work. Reading this post just prior to going through this ordeal gave me an extra boost of confidence to negotiate a deal that would also prioritize my own needs - thanks Kelsey!

It starts:

In light of my recent post on frugality and trade offs, we did compromise since we were paying to hire a painter and opted for low-VOC paint for half the price of the $80/gallon VOC-free even after tinting natural paint we used for the bedrooms.

But DH didn't get away scot-free! I managed to talk him into doing a budget bathroom reno. The birds ($10) are a favourite as is the "laugh"($6) as sometimes in the midst of all the chaos of two children, laughter is indeed what saves us.

And finally, we always battle over who gets to drink their coffee from this ceramic travel mug on weekend mornings. Thankfully today I have no competition! 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How we do "frugal"

I like to think of being frugal, in the simplest of senses, as trying our best to live “well” (by our own standards) within our financial means. I also realize that some of the actions we see as being “frugal” can be seen as a luxury or just way of life by others. If you have time – there is an interesting read here about differing definitions of frugality. 

These days I pride myself on being frugal. I am elated when I find a good deal on Kijiji, find something on sale, or better yet - for free – just ask my husband. I love the challenge of reigning in the budget and getting more out of less. During my wedding planning days I had a wee bit of an obsession with budget-friendly weddings.  

I came into frugality in university with a meager - yet generous since provided by the “bank of mom” - $1000 a month budget which after rent, car insurance, and debt payments left me with $300 for groceries, spending, and gas. I realize this is a large monthly budget for some but it does take a degree of creativity to “live well” with the luxury of a vehicle, shopping locally for approx. 30% of my needs, and finding extra money for outings (bars, cafes, movies) and non-essentials (extra clothing, gifts). Of course, there was no room in this budget for an emergency fund which meant that in the event of an unforeseen expenditure i.e. car repair, I had to make a plea to the “bank of mom” for a loan and arrange for a repayment plan – further cutting into my $300 allotment for non-fixed expenses.

To me, frugality is not about seeking the lowest price. It is about quality over quantity, making trade offs, spending a little more time researching options, and sometimes compromising. For instance, I may actually spend more on a good quality item so that I don’t have to replace lesser quality ones several times. I will also pay more for organic/natural foods but skip out on pricy convenience items. I generally go by the motto of buy used first. When this is not possible, I buy items on sale and only items that I would ordinarily buy i.e. just because I see a nice sweater at the thrift sore or on sale doesn’t mean I buy it unless I am actually in the market for a new sweater. I also only buy things I absolutely love.

Our financial circumstances these days are far from the lean budget of my university days and for that I am grateful. However, despite having the luxury of a higher income, we still have significant expenses that come with the lifestyle we have chosen for our family (home/car ownership, consumer preferences such as organic or local, etc.). Therefore, we are constantly faced with making choices and trade-offs. Our recent upgrade to a larger home in a suburban more family-oriented neighbourhood last summer meant that when my decade old car finally kicked the can awhile back, we opted for another used vehicle (unfortunately DH’s vehicle needs for work coupled with an inefficient transit system means we cannot be a car-less or even a one car family L as much as I dream about it).  We now both drive ’04 models. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Five Senses Friday


A strong cup of coffee to take the edge off my 4am wake-up with the littlest.


This track seems fitting and won't get outta my head these days.


My empty fridge as a reminder I need to do groceries *note this is what it looks like come Friday every week as a testament of meal planning and attempting to minimize food waste


Fresh November air - a reminder to take long ventures out with the boys like the one pictured below before it gets far more chilly. 


Thankful for fallen soldiers and veterans. I'm taking the boys to the Remembrance Day Parade downtown this morning. 

Happy Friday everyone!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Same but Different

One thing I love about having boys is dressing them alike as the picture above demonstrates. They aren’t too similar in appearance so B gets a kick out of “looking like brothers” in matching clothes.

Before N was born, I always heard others say that they loved all their children the same but differently and wondered how this could be possible. Harder for me to understand was how to love two boys the same. Somehow it seemed more plausible to me that loving two children the same could be achieved if they were different sexes. Now that I have two boys, I have been indoctrinated into the category of parents who love all their children the same but for different reasons. The things I like about B are definite character traits, whereas the things I love about N are general baby traits since at 6 mos. we only have a small glimpse of his personality.

Things I love about B at Age 3:
  • His determination – he is sometimes persistent to a fault (good for things like mastering new tasks..bad for not getting his way)
  • His independence – apart from playing, he enjoys doing things on his own so I let him. Yes, it can get messy or take a million times longer than it should but when he does master something, it gives him confidence and frees up time for us to focus on learning new things.
  • His friendliness – this kid loves to talk to everyone and anyone who will listen (truth be told, it hurts my feelings when he tries to talk to other kids and they don’t respond to him or do so unfavourably)
  • His sensitive/empathetic side – B has an extremely big heart. He is always concerned about how another’s day went. He never fails to show affection and share his feelings with us. Perhaps what I love most about him is his unwavering love for N - from getting out of bed to cheer him up in the middle of the night, to racing with excitement to see him every morning, to suggesting what he feels N might want when he gets fussy. He has yet to express jealousy toward him and I’m hoping it doesn’t come.

 Things I love about N at 6 months:
  • When he giggles at his big brother – I could listen to this all day
  • His agreeableness – in comparison to B, N is a far more agreeable baby. He rarely fussy apart from when he is hungry, tired, or bothered by a cold. He enjoys being held, but is also happy on his own.
  • His relaxed demeanor – N is pretty okay with lots of commotion. This is good because with B, there’s no getting away from chaos. DH is pretty laid back, something I have always liked about him since I am a little more high strung. I’m thinking N might be similar to DH in this regard but hard to tell since he is still so young.
  • His toe sucking – so darn cute! 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

My little gnome

It was just B's luck that he came down with a nasty cough and ear infection on Halloween. N was in bed at 6pm so we didn't even bother dressing him up.

Here is a short re-cap of B's previous costumes:
2008 - Tigger (we were busy renovating our house and last minute costume selections were sparse for a 6 month old a.k.a. pooh, piglet or tigger). A bonus.. I think I only paid about $15 since it was on clearance. 
2009 - Skeleton - we bought a pair of skeleton pjs for $8 and a skeleton hat from the dollar store. Needless to say he got much use out of this costume for under $10
2010 - Construction man - we already had a play construction hat and jean overalls. We got him a set of play tools for $2, borrowed a small tool belt off a neighbour which we doubled around him, and I smudged some charcoal eyeshadow on his cheeks for good measure.

This year, after changing his mind several times from robot to scarecrow to clown, he finally settled on being a gnome Halloween morning after watching one of the latest favourite movies, Gnomeo and Juliet (love the Elton John soundtrack to this movie!). Lucky enough, I stumbled across this tutorial online. I ran out to the store and grabbed some faux fur for the beard which was 50% off so cost me $3.50. For the hat, I cut up one of DH's old red work t-shirts, hand stitched it into a hat, and stuffed the top with some tissue paper I had lying around the house. I safety pinned the beard to the hat and he wore his yellow rain boots. Voila! Year 3 of not spending over $10 for a costume.

B was almost too sick to make it out but after seeing the first few kids come to our door, magically felt well enough to get dressed up and hit a few houses on our street. He got lots of compliments on his costume!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Creating Family Holiday Traditions

In Canada, those who celebrate Christmas have the luxury of getting an early start (if we take advantage of it) since Thanksgiving takes place in early October.

Every family has their own approach to the holidays so I thought I would share ours:

Winter Solstice

This is something I want to incorporate more into our holiday traditions. I think it is important to recognize natural patterns and celebrate the lengthening of the days. This celebration also makes me feel warm and fuzzy. This year I see us celebrating with a hearty soup or chili, hot chocolate, candlelight, gifts of knitted goodies, and maybe a family game of snakes and ladders – the only board game we own that B can play.

Christmas Eve Church Service

Christianity was significant in my upbringing, less significant for DH. Both my parents were practicing Christians. Church was a Sunday ritual. Once I reached adolescence, it became less significant to me and I attended less regularly. Now, as an adult, I appreciate good morals i.e. treat your neighbours as you would yourself, don’t steal, etc. (also taught by society in general) that Christianity reinforced in me. However, I remain undecided on whether or not I wholeheartedly believe in all parts of the faith. Consequently, I have adopted a somewhat piecemeal approach – accepting parts that seem relevant to me and taking the rest with a grain of salt.

Growing up, I attended Christmas eve and morning church services. As a child, I felt heavy about going to church in the morning as I was naturally anxious to explore new gifts. For my own family, we have decided to only attend the evening service. 


Both DH and I feel strongly about charity and want to make giving a significant part of our holiday traditions.

Beginning this year, we will be asking B to pick a few toys he no longer uses to donate since he will be receiving new toys as gifts. Also new for us this year will be buying a food hamper for a family through a local charity. While the toy donation will be a ritual, we plan on finding new ways to give every year. For example, next year we might buy winter clothing for a family. In doing this, we will have the opportunity to explain to our children that there are others less fortunate and instill in them the importance of giving to those in need.


There is much debate out there in the parenting sphere on incorporating Santa into the holidays. We do. Santa was an integral part of our holiday traditions growing up.  That being said, we have made a few deviations from our upbringings, for instance, in our family Santa only comes for the children. This means no stockings or Santa gifts for DH or I.


We didn’t buy wrapping paper last year and still have a small stash from previous years including gift bags (which we reuse). We plan on using this up. Beyond that, we will use recycled brown paper which B can draw/paint on to decorate. In subsequent years I would like to use handmade Christmas gift sacks – although I realize for children half the fun is peeling off the wrapping paper so I don’t want to eliminate paper altogether just yet. Maybe we’ll just phase in the sacks by using them for adult gifts.

Besides having a limited budget which forces us to be creative by making handmade gifts or search for used items, we also limit the number of gifts. For example, B will get one gift from us, one from his brother, and one from santa (besides his stocking). DH will get one gift from the boys and one from me. This also allows us to spend a little bit more on quality gifts.

Activities and Food

DH’s family enjoys doing lots of outside activities up North during the holidays like winter walks, tobogganing, horse-drawn sleigh rides and bonfires. They always convene on Boxing Day (December 26), so we like to partake in these activities with them, and avoid the Boxing Day shopping madness in the city.

Until this year, the Christmas tree farm was a large part of our winter holidays. DH has always had a real tree since he grew up at the farm. We’ve continued this tradition and plan on finding a local Christmas tree farm where we can get our tree this year. Again, as the kids get older, we may look at other more environmentally-friendly options such as “renting” a potted tree.

Lastly, home-cooked meals and holiday baking (gluten/dairy free for me) with family and friends are big for us. This year I may initiate a baking exchange with family!

What traditions do others have/plan on implementing this holiday season?