Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Happy Fallowe'en, 2014


I'm pretty sure that when we left for Maui less than a month ago, it still felt like summer in these parts. Then we were treated to 3 weeks of blistering hot and humid tropical weather. When we returned, half the trees on our street had already stripped themselves bare, and we needed to wear jackets and socks with our shoes again. I guess fall arrived sometime during our absence, and now it's mere days from Hallowe'en.

Usually, this is my favourite time of year. Back to school campaigns and all of the lovely memories that it conjures would inevitably lead to the Thanksgiving displays and then Hallowe'en. From that point, it's a mad rush toward Christmas and the gloriousness of that holiday season. On most Septembers and Octobers, I'm sipping my PSL's and enjoying the beautiful warm colours and crisp air of the season.

This year, however, the entire experience was somehow pre-empted, not only by our Maui trip, but by the sudden passing of our beloved granny in September. The time that would have been spent feeling nostalgic and romantic about the season and preparing for each occasion was instead used to mourn, to plan an impromptu Edmonton trip and funeral, and to take a blessed three week getaway to paradise. I now find myself back in the season, but nowhere near prepared for the trick-or-treating festivities set for Halloween or for November's arrival.

I feel a little bit lost.

Maybe it's the grief, or perhaps just the daunting reality that we've now buried two people who were very close to us, all in the same year. Death has a way of diluting the flavours and colours from life's other experiences, watering down the excitement of this season into a tepid gray puddle of meh.

But a pumpkin awaits displaying, and a little girl eagerly anticipates a fun afternoon of trick-or-treating. Holiday gifts need to be purchased, even though I continue to insist on a "no gifts, please" policy that nobody seems to heed.

So I trudge on, my head a bit muddled and my entire self a bit numb, hoping that I will soon be able to taste the deliciousness of the season again. Some days, when the clouds gather and conceal the light, I have to push that much harder to muster my enthusiasm. Other days, feeling the warmth of sunshine on my skin, it gets easier.

And all the while, I hold on to the hope that 2015 will be better.

Gone with the FLLO - Traveling with the Clek FLLO

In previous posts, I've already detailed the awesomeness of Clek's FLLO seat, so no need for redundancy here. The true test of its greatness lies in how well it travels, since it is meant to be a "compact" and more portable version of the gargantuan FOONF.

Now, to be clear, we purchased a Clek WEELEE bag to transport our car seat on our flight to and from Maui, *and* we checked our car seat with our airline, which I know is a big CPS Tech no-no. They argue that any car seat that has been checked is as good as crashed, because the potential rough handling of the seat by the carrier compromises its integrity and could damage it internally. My experience (now that I've done it) is this:

It's in the bag... the Weelee bag
a) The Weelee bag is very well padded and sturdy. Once I had the seat properly placed inside the bag, I felt that it was as good as any seat in a styrofoam-packaged box. The bonus, of course, is that unlike a box, the Weelee has a telescopic handle and deeply-grooved, rugged wheels, plus a bit of extra storage inside for other light items (we put a fleece blanket and a Baby Jogger stroller tray inside ours).

b) The airline we flew with handles the fragile-checked car seat the same way that they handle and store strollers that are gate-checked. We have flown almost exclusively with this same carrier for the past decade, and our experience with our gate-checked umbrella stroller has never been concerning. We therefore assumed that it would not be a problem for them to be gentle with our car seat, since this was the 23rd and 24th time we've gate-checked items with them in the past 32 months.

So, how was the FLLO?

A happy passenger
The Good
- Convenient: easy to install because it's a seat we are familiar with, and their LATCH system is a breeze to use. We had the seat installed and ready to go in 5 minutes, and also removed and packed back into the Weelee bag in 5 on our return. Since we had already been using the seat, it was also already adjusted to the proper belt heights and lengths for Little L upon arrival in Maui

- Comfy for Little L, who we already know loves her Clek seats; we did several longer drives and there was nary a complaint from the rear-facer. We rented a Chev Impala and she had no problems seeing out the window, nor did Hubbs have any issues with view obstruction from the driver's seat

- Cool; no complaints from being loaded into the seat after the vehicle was left baking in the hot Hawaiian sun all day, thanks to the Crypton Super Fabric upholstering

The Bad
- Make sure you know how to store and remove the LATCH buckles, adjust head rest height, remove the seat cover, and install/remove the anti-rebound bar prior to traveling. Better yet, store the manual in the rear compartment of the seat, and always bring it with you. I naively thought that since I own 3 similar Clek seats, I didn't need to bring the manual. What resulted was a 20-minute fight with the anti-rebound bar at the car rental place at 10:00 pm. After the losing battle, we decided to forego its install and just put in the car seat. Luckily, on the FLLO the anti-rebound bar is optional in the U.S. (but mandatory in Canada!); otherwise, I'm sure we would have been wrestling with the bar for a much longer time.
Tip: The anti-rebound bar is installed from the very bottom of the base, the one that has the pivoting "flip foot" for rear-facing. Attempting to install the bar from the space between the seat and the base is an exercise in futility and stupidity. 
See that? The bar goes in under the base, but above the pivoting rear flip foot.

With the bar and the Weelee bag and the stroller food tray, airline says it was 43 pounds!

The Ugly
- Since the FLLO is still a large car seat, so too is its traveling case. On its own, the Weelee case collapses into a fairly flat package, and will fit into any trunk. However, together the Weelee with the FLLO inside dwarfed even our largest, 47-pound suitcase. You must factor this in when you rent a vehicle at your destination, or when you are taking a shuttle from the airport to the car rental place, or when you are cabbing from your home to the airport. You will need space, and lots of it, especially when you're traveling with other gear for your littles. In case you were wondering, we installed the car seat right at the car rental place and then collapsed the Weelee for easy transport. Whenever we cabbed, we requested a mini-van taxi, and we took multiple trips loading and off-loading the shuttle bus. We also traveled with two other grown-ups (my mom and my sis), who had extra hands to help.

Here the Weelee is beside the "medium" sized suitcases we had. The large 47 pound one was being weighed.

- The FLLO and Weelee bag do not easily fit on any airport cart. Bring extra hands to help, especially if you plan to wheel it on board for in-flight install.

I'm not sure the Weelee would have fit the trunk in its opened state.

BOTTOM LINE: Hubbs and I are now believers in the BYO car seat practice for travel. In future flights, we will definitely be taking the FLLO with us again. We have zero regrets about purchasing the Weelee bag, and cannot imagine having brought the FLLO without it.  We reminisced about our Honolulu trip, taken with Little L when she was 11 months old. She cried every single time we loaded her into the car, because she hated the car seat that we had rented. HATED IT. And on that trip, even though we had minimized our vehicle use as much as possible, we still found ourselves having to drive several times a week to get groceries or random baby stuff. This Maui trip was the complete opposite of that trip; Little L was totally game to load into the vehicle several times a day, even. We have no doubt that this was due at least in part to her comfort in the FLLO. Despite the seeming hassle of lugging such a beast of a package around, it was so worth it to have peace of mind during our 3 weeks away.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Descriptive, Not Prescriptive

Say what?!

 As usual, I was scanning through my feed, pausing to read articles that caught my interest. Two articles stuck out to me. The first, from my dear friend April of First Time Mom and Dad, mused about trying to keep life "innocent" for her little boy by protecting him from the harsh ugly things in the world. The second was a momma blogger / former teacher who was detailing her bedtime routine for her littles.

While both articles enticed me to read them, I ended up deleting the latter from my feed entirely. Why?

Descriptive vs prescriptive. 

You see, there is always a purpose for writing. With an awareness of one's audience, the author seeks to persuade, describe, inform, entertain, solicit information, something. Any blog post has an agenda, even if its only aim is to get you to giggle over your morning coffee. 

The older I get, the more selective I am about what I read. While I can appreciate an odd prescriptive post here and there, my tastes run decidedly descriptive. I am interested in what people's lives look like, but I'm not looking to be told what to do with mine. When the agenda of the writer offends, I stop giving them an audience. That's what happened in this case. I did not appreciate the prescriptive "you should" piece, not so skillfully disguised in "here are our personal experiences" garb. Despite appearing to be describing her family's bedtime practices, the blogger was in fact attempting to impose her views about the importance of an early, rigid routine and dictate what her readers "need to" do with their own children. The underlying implication was that her way was the "better" alternative, and that she was an expert on the matter and should therefore be heeded. The condescending "remember, dear reader" advice at the end of the post sealed the deal for me.

By contrast, the first article I read was deeply personal and even touched on sensitive topics like God and faith, yet remained completely consistent to being a descriptive revelation of the author's thoughts on child-rearing. I didn't agree with everything she believes, but I can still appreciate why she wants to do the things she will do for the good of her kiddo. There's no desire in her writing to convince me to do as she does, nor does she imply that any other approach is less valid than hers.

I know what you're thinking - um, aren't you super guilty of this too, Mrs Loquacious?!?! Yes, I am. I was. I am actively working on taming my quill, and revisiting some of those molehills I scaled like mountains in my early weeks as a parenting fool. It happens to the best of us, I'm sure. The arrogance of ignorant youth and inexperience coupled with an internet connection and Google arms everyone with just enough enough ammo to self-destruct and leave behind a path of burned bridges and blistered hearts. 

But the more I live, the more I learn. And although I am unwavering in many of my positions about raising Little L, I dare not tell anyone else what they "need to" do, nor speak down to my readers as though you were all imbeciles or little children. Scratch that - I wouldn't talk down to toddlers or imbeciles like that either, because condescension is born out of a disrespect for one's audience. 

Anyway, consider this my mea culpa if I have offended you in the past with a particularly prescriptive post. Generally I do try to share only what I believe, not what you need to believe. And in the future may my post's intentions be abundantly clear! If not, feel free to call me on it.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Three Weeks Silent

Hubbs in the corner, but a view of the HumuHumu restaurant while we waited for our luau to begin
For the handful of you who like to read this blog and wondered if I had dropped off the face of the earth, the answer is.... sort of. I dropped off the Blogosphere to enjoy the sunshine in Maui. Our return was delayed by three days so that we could avoid any of the turbulence and stormy effects of Hurricane Ana / Tropical Storm Ana, who just happened to visit the islands on the tail end of our trip.

The good news is: everyone is safe, and we got a chance to squeeze three extra days of R & R in Maui. The bad news: jet lag, and now that we are back, we have suitcases yet to unpack. That said, I promised a Clek Fllo travel blog post, and you're going to get one from me. Soon.

Until then, I have to catch up on my zzzz's and a crapload of other stuff that I missed while I put my life on hold to hula and sip lava flows ;)

Monday, September 29, 2014

One Card to Rule Them All

One credit card, that is. I'm referring to my Avion VISA. Did that sound like a pitch? Like I was trying to sell you something? Really I'm not. I haven't received one point, one cent, or one anything from the RBC folks who issue these VISA cards, so this is totally just my own fangirling, because you deserve better than, say, Airmiles (or Aeroplan).

I used to like Airmiles. I thought it was great that I could get a point for every X amount of shopping money I spent. Then I went to redeem my points for a flight, and discovered that it wasn't as easy (or free) as I thought to spend my points on air travel. You see, I could only use my miles on the ticket portion of the flights. I had to pay the tax and surcharges in cold hard cash. That kinda sucked. Then there was that whole process of having to call in, wait a bazillion years to talk to an agent, and go through a booking process more rigorous than my NEXUS application. The entire ordeal of redeeming my points felt very out of my control, and my A-type self doesn't like that. Further limitations like black-out dates or restrictions on the airlines I could book were also reasons why I didn't care for Airmiles or that other one, Aeroplan. 

But everyone needs a credit card, right? We have a "one card" policy in our household, because we're not big on debt. More credit card = more potential for debt. Thus, we only have the big V, and the one we happened to opt for is the Avion. Now, whenever bills come through our credit card (which they do), or we make any big ticket purchases, Hubbs and I get one point per dollar towards a flight.  We also have all of that travel protection jazz and car rental insurance coverage, which is totally worth the annual $170 we pay.

When we want to redeem our points for a flight, we just go online and book it. Skipping the hassle of having to deal with being on hold is priceless, really. When we need to pay the taxes and surcharges for the flight, there's the option to do it with our remaining points or, as I prefer, we can use our credit card to pay, thereby accruing back some of the points we just cashed in. No black-out dates or airline restrictions, and for those who like doing Euro travel, there are promotional periods when you can transfer Avion points into British Airways points at a rate of 1.5x the Avion total. Not too bad, eh?

Sure, the interest rate is kind of high (22%), but that's why you pay off your cards, folks! Obviously not for the faint of heart, or those who like to make minimum payments :) But for us, it's such a good way to accrue points. Our only beef with Avion is that they haven't updated their per-flight redemption limits in quite a few years, and now that fares are going up, it's harder to find flights that don't exceed these values. This means that, unless we book on a crazy good seat sale, we still have to cough up the difference. 

Avion, if you're reading this, it's time to increase those limits. 

Nonetheless, our trip for 4 to Maui was completely paid for in points. What has your card done for you lately?

(The joyful faces on board our flight to Paradise)

Pinterest Phony Bolognas, or How One Toddler Really Does Art

I am convinced that Pinterest was invented to make mothers feel inferior. However, those of us in the know have already realized that when it comes to certain pins, Pinterest is actually just full of phonies. One such area would be toddler art. 

Now, I do realize that a very talented and phenomenally gifted young artist might be able to come up with a spectacular piece of art. I can concede that when it comes to a craft that has heavy adult assistance, the end product could look incredible. This one, for example, doesn't look too shabby. I did a lot of "helping" though. 

She did the splattered painting part, and some of the ripping. I glued.
I have yet to meet a toddler who doesn't spill, or doesn't accidentally drip paint or glue in the wrong place. I don't know of a single child who hasn't accidentally smeared something that needed to dry. I have witnessed five and six-year-olds cry over their "ruined" art, and I've also seen some very frustrated nine and 10-year-olds who made one poor decision with their paint brush, and spent long periods of time trying to repair the "damage." I have also cleaned up after hundreds of students following a particularly rousing art session, and the work areas have never been clean spaces. Especially when you work with paint, you can expect splatter on clothing, shoes, tables, floors, paintbrushes, and just about anywhere else that you didn't really want to see splatter.

So when I come across a Pinterest idea for a toddler craft or art project where the picture depicts a completely neat and  unblemished end product, situated in an immaculate room on an unsoiled and uncluttered table where a clean, contented looking toddler may be sitting, I have a pretty good idea who actually did that art and staged the photo shoot.

Now Little L isn't MENSA-level smart, but she's no slouch either. She is a bright and fairly attentive 2.5 year old. She is generally quite cautious and careful and clean, and is oft found whining when she spills something or makes inadvertent yogurt "dots" after pulling a straw out of her drink bottle. 

I did a craft with her today. Follow along and witness with me a real toddler doing art. 

Mini-potatoes sliced in half.
We decided to do some potato "stamping" with paint. I thought maybe we could make a pumpkin print.

I did the clean stamps. The smeary ones were hers.
Then I introduced the asparagus spear as a dot-maker. Note the smudged prints and random marks. 

Look at that satisfied grin after hearing the paper go RIIIIIP.

Then my lovely little artist wanted to start tearing at the paper so that she could make another collage and "use glue." She ripped before I could even say yes.

The teeny tiny piece of asparagus in her left hand. She's still ambidextrous!

To distract from further tearing, I offered her a pumpkin to paint. She willingly accepted and began making red (and later, blue) dots with the end piece of an asparagus.

Most of the ripping was my handiwork. She only wanted to rip for a little bit.

Sadly, she has a great memory. She remembered her initial desire to rip up the paper. When I was ready, I let her rip. 

This is a different set of papers: marker paper for ink stamping.

Now that our first project was in tattered,  torn pieces, I tried to coax her into gluing a collage. Well, she was over it. She wanted me to pull out the stamps and the stamp pad.  I hauled out 15 of them, and then Little L chose the apple shape and attempted 3 half-hearted stamps. I did a few more to try to entice her to continue. However, she decided that she wanted to stamp with the little potatoes instead of using the shapes in front of her. 

The dropper comes handy courtesy of Tylenol. It makes a great tool!

While she was potato-stamping with the paint and the stamp pads, I decided to grab a dropper and some water to "refresh" some of the drying ink pads. She saw the water and the dropper and suddenly the potatoes needed a bath. Not one to squelch my daughter's creativity at play, I indulged her imagination and surrendered my dropper and water. 

Bedtime (for the bathing potatoes)
More than an hour after our little art project began, Little L was done. She wanted to dry off the potato and put it to bed. And she wanted out of her chair, stat. My original art idea? In pieces in the trash. This new stamped paper was soaking wet from all of those potato baths, and needed to go to the garbage as well. 

Pinterest's phony mothers can kiss my a$$. My toddler had fun, but her sleeves were covered in paint and the cuffs were soaked. The table was also dripping water onto the floor, and I had 8 bottles of paint, 3 brushes, 3 palettes, several potatoes and a lot of stamps to put away. Also, no Pinterest worthy pic of the immaculate end product to show, and no staged model child happily seated with her handiwork. 

But this was real, and fun, and child-led. Little L learned about using non-traditional mediums to print and stamp patterns and shapes on paper. She saw cause and effect in action as she mixed paint colours and washed ink off her potatoes. She explored the effects of dropping water on water-soluble ink and washable paint, and she was able to stay engaged indoors on a wet and cold autumn day without being in front of a TV.  In my mind, it could not have been more successful. 

I'm not actually sure what people are trying to prove when they post these perfect "crafts" or "projects" online, but I suspect that they are not actually letting their toddlers do the work. Toddler work, or play, is a messy business. These littles  don't need exemplars to model. They just need to explore and figure things out themselves, after being shown and taught safe ways to interact with their tools. 

My kid's art projects may never be Pinterest worthy, but I'm okay with that. Maybe I will see you on the "nailed it" memes instead! :P

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Pumpkin Schmumpkin - The Halloween Scrooge

Bah hallowumbug! I am *not* gonna carve a pumpkin this year. Even if all the mommas do it, even if it makes me look like the least festive mother around, I absolutely refuse to do it again this year. I have my reasons.

1) No matter what super fancy pumpkin carving tools I purchase, it's still not sharp enough to make a nice clean cut on the pumpkin's facial features. That shell is hard, y'all. And thick. I honestly don't know how anyone does 90 degree angles on their pumpkin pictures with sharp, straight-lined precision. That's some surgeon-level skill right there. Mine always ends up looking like it belongs on those "Nailed It" Pinterest fail sites.

2) Using those carving tools is always a dangerous feat, no matter what anyone tells you. Those little blades aren't safe! (And if they are safe, they're not sharp enough to be piercing hard pumpkin shells). I'm always imagining the sharp little blade piercing through my left index finger or slicing the fingerprint right off as I'm gripping the orange melon with my left hand and carving with my right, squirting the blood everywhere, ruining the pumpkin, completely wasting my efforts and money, and traumatizing Little L in the process. Yep, my mind goes there. Every. Time.

3) Messy messy messy. The pumpkins must be hollowed, but that gloppy stuff, while fun for kids to slime up as they pick out the seeds, is no fun for me to clean up once the goo get smeared everywhere and ends up air-drying in place. Pumpkin guts are really just organic superglue, I'm convinced.

4) Because we live in a balcony-less high-rise and our windows face a lush green courtyard, there's really no place to put a carved pumpkin without it either rotting or becoming the newest fruit fly hotspot. If you recall, we get a lot of fruit flies. Too many. And they *love* vinegar, which is the product of choice for treating hallowed raw pumpkinheads and preventing premature rot, which, frankly, is an inevitability anyway because my hallway is always warm and a little damp, and not particularly well lit. So if I treat it with vinegar, I get the infestation. If I use nothing, then I get mold. Have you ever seen a moldy pumpkin? We had one a few years ago. It was disgusting, because the mold was black and the fuzz was white. It really was a frightening, Halloween-worthy sight. (I've heard of using bleach to treat the pumpkin as well, but bleach inevitably discolours whatever I'm wearing, and I pretty much only own black clothes right now).

5) I'm lazy. There, I said it. Carving a pumpkin with a toddler probably produces several hours of work for me, from the hollowing to the painstaking carving to the messy clean-up, and yields very little entertainment for Little L. I'd be lucky if she was engaged for more than 15 minutes, and in my mind I can imagine her splashing pumpkin guts all over the hardwood and slipping on it. I can also imagine me, elbows deep in pumpkin slime, having to assist her and prevent a meltdown after she has decided to go do something else instead. Yeah, no thanks. I'll just sit here quietly and sip my Pumpkin Spice Latte.

So in an effort to compromise and not be a total spoil sport, I've purchased 6 mini's for her to paint and repaint over and over again. We will also make the trek out to a nice pumpkin patch, and I'll buy her a pie. And in lieu of the rotting real pumpkin, I'll pull Pete out of the closet. You haven't met Pete yet? We got him last year. And he is made out of foam, which, though also unbearably messy, was at least a cinch to carve. :)

Happy fall! 

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