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! 

Scribbles Over Colouring: Early Literacy and Process Art

Little L doesn't like to colour. I've tried hand-over-hand with her, modelling it, and enthusiastically selling the activity. No dice.

For a split second I was concerned. Is there something wrong with my toddler?! Why doesn't she want to use these nifty creamy super-bright crayons?! Why is she scrawling crazily in black marker all over the page and then running off to do something else?! 

As it turns out, not only is it completely normal for her not to want to colour, but it's actually not altogether beneficial to colour. True facts. Colouring is a good fine-motor activity to develop hand strength and fine motor/hand-eye coordination skills, but those aren't really our goals for Little L at the moment.

But scribbling??! This is apparently linked to literacy, and a very very good and normal thing. Scribbling is a precursor activity to writing, and it helps kids practice the motions that will eventually lead them to learn to print and draw letters and shapes. It also helps shape their understanding that text has meaning, and can be read and written and illustrated. A lot of research (which you can Google) supports the benefits of scribbling and recognizes its role in early literacy.

What a relief! Little L is not developmentally behind! She is definitely in doodle mode, and loves making circles and lines and dots all over the blank pages in her art book. Our colouring books are also peppered with her marker scrawls. Having read more about the link between literacy and scribbling, you can bet that I will be making "pre-writing" a regular part of our day!

Open-ended, process-oriented exploratory art with feet and paint
If you're wanting some tips on how to encourage your emergent writers, this site has some great tips on how to support your little scrawler. I have also ordered a few books to cultivate her "artistic" side without imposing the limits that most crafts, which are product-oriented, might have. The theory behind it is that every child is an artist, so our goal is to bring out the artist within. By simply providing the tools and showing children the techniques, you equip them to make "art" and enjoy the creating process, exploring and experimenting with the materials and mediums, without feeling any anxiety about what the end product might look like. When I was learning to teach art in university, this was one concept that really resonated with me, and as I've incorporated it into my own classroom I have found it to be consistent with much of the child-led, inquiry-based instruction that our schools are leaning towards. You can read about the differences between process and product art here and here and here and here

Anyway, here's to more process art and abundant scribbling in our future!

Painting pumpkins. Note the paper beneath became a canvas too!

After she started tearing the paper, we decided to make an artsy collage. Don't you love the colours?!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Dolls and Spoons and Little L's Play

Little L is a girly girl through and through. She likes bracelets and ballet and eating daintily and looking pretty. She even "puts on makeup" with a mini-kabuki bamboo brush that I ordered for her from Everyday Minerals.

That spoon needed a nap!
She is also very maternal and nurturing, preferring to cuddle and put her toys to sleep rather than have them attack one another or play rambunctiously. One of her favourite games of late has been to "cuddle" her figurines and sing them to sleep. When there is an absence of dolls (such as at the dinner table), she will substitute other random objects like cutlery in their place; the spoons and knives and forks get wrapped up in paper napkin blankets after lying down on makeshift pillows, and she will invent stories about the "mommy and daddy and baby" silverware and sing them to sleep. Heaven help us when the napkin falls down and one of these poor resting objects is woken up! Her imagination is certainly vivid ;)

I'd like to think that this type of play, this sort of girly nurturing, is innate and not the product of Little L's upbringing and exposure to media. We have allowed her to watch a few shows and movies on Netflix, but she generally sticks with Daniel Tiger, Pingu, and Super Why, all of which feature male protagonists and female friends, and don't tend to center on "girly" themes. Her familiarity with Dora and Doc McStuffins is limited at best (a book or an episode once or twice, and one "Nap Time" music video from the latter). She hasn't watched any of the Frozen movie, although she has seen the video for "Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?" a handful of times. Overall, I'd like to think that we have kept her influences mostly gender-neutral.

See? He doesn't really look like a good guy, but she doesn't know he's a villain. Sh!

It is therefore a surprise to us that she likes to do very maternal, very nurturing things with her stuffies and figurines and even Darkseid, a rather sinister-looking villain from DC Comics lore. In her care, Hubbs' poseable figurine has been subject to many undressings, a dance or two, some "feedings," and a *lot* of bed rest.

It's hard to argue that nature doesn't play a role in all of this, when clearly Little L's self-directed play tends to lean towards wanting to give homes and food and sweet sleep to these dolls. At our local bookstore (with the flagship Canadian "American Girl" shop inside), Little L can easily spend an hour playing with the displays. Her favourite set this past weekend was a new one, with monkeys in "Julie's Snack Set," and the Egg Chair that she deemed the bed of these little stuffed animals. I kid you not, she invented a full story about the two monkeys and their banana snack and going to bed and waking up and having meals. Hubbs and I watched her narrate her play and fuss around these toys for nearly an hour, until we begged her to move along to the actual bookstore. Thankfully the salesgirl in that department was very understanding!

Pushing Monk on the swings
We are 
intentionally trying to nurture and honour her interests, even though I would love it if she  branched out into less traditionally "feminine" realms. We are letting her take the lead in showing us what engages her, and trying to cultivate these interests further. In the spring, we will seek to enroll her in ballet classes. For her birthday or Christmas, we will be buying her a giant dollhouse (although figuring out which one to buy is proving a rather major headache). And we will continue wasting countless numbers of paper napkins to form makeshift bedding for her toys.

I do draw the line with "Bratz" and "Barbie" dolls. If Little L can find this much satisfaction playing with her Fisher Price Brother and Sister Puppy figurines, she does not need an anatomically-distorted girl doll in order to continue to play well, I reason. And of course, there are all of those body-image issues surrounding Barbies, and my desire to keep my girl away from poorly-behaved role models like those Bratz girls.

But I digress. It's so cool to see our little girl growing up and forming her own interests and preferences when it comes to her play. In the past, I felt like I really led the play by introducing the toys and showing her ways to interact with them. Now, she gets a toy and will start playing before I even have a chance to look at it closely. Child-led play indeed. 

Of course, we will continue to keep her media influences limited as long as we can, selecting fairly gender-neutral and diverse content for her little eyes. This of course means no cable, no commercials, and no Disney Princess movies for as long as we can hold out. It also means picking books with plots that offer lots of room for imagination and feature different kinds of problems that aren't typical or conventionally gender-specific (eg. no princess fairy tales here!). Likewise with iPad apps, we will be selective about the kinds that she is permitted to play. 

And although we are planning to indulge her girly play by buying toys that support it, we are also determined to keep introducing gender-neutral toys. Our most recent acquisition? Duplo! Of course, her very first thought was to request .... a house for her Miss Elaina figurine!  Sometimes you just can't fight nature.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Eat 'Em and Weep

I am a junk foodaholic and a carnivore. I also abhor many vegetables, with only few exceptions. This makes me the worst possible example of healthy eating for Little L. Like, if I could just have chocolate cake and chips for a meal, or maybe a few pieces of deep fried dark meat chicken (with skin, of course), I would be in seventh heaven. My tastes run distinctly juvenile when it comes to nutritional meals.
My Butterbeer a few years ago at Universal Studios Florida
Having said that, and realizing that I have a problem that must not be passed to the next generation, I have made it my goal to incorporate more veggies into our meals. I hope that somehow the constant exposure will lead to experimental eating, which will then lead to a lifelong love of healthier food. It's a long shot, I know. Genetics work against Little L, since Hubbs could easily down a pint of ice cream in a sitting, and I have my junk food anti-veg leanings.

Some of the veggies I've been trying to bring into our lives, with mixed success, are:

- salads with ranch dressing (a hit with Little L)
- salads with honey vinagrette and sugared nuts (a hit with me)
- caesar salad (a hit with everyone but Little L, who only eats the croutons)
- Fresh Express Santa Fe bag salad (a hit with everyone)
- carrots with ranch dressing (a hit with Little L)
- roasted brussel sprouts (a hit with all grown ups)
- sauteed or steamed broccoli with savoury garlic sauces (all)
- roasted asparagus with garlic and parmesan (all)
- spinach and kale chips (all)
- mini cucumbers and ranch dip (can you guess? Little L)
- roasted zucchini with parmesan (all but Little L)
- tempura vegetables (everyone likes deep fried veg, right?)
- garlic buttery corn on the cob (all)
- green peas (the little round frozen sweet ones, enjoyed by Little L)
- tomato slices (Little L)

Apples, carrots (and dip), and a PB banana
I haven't included potatoes, because they're so high-starch and low-fibre that they almost don't count as a veg. Note that this list is, however, abysmally short, and worse yet, half of the items aren't really on Little L's "eat" list. Also note that none of these veggies are being served plain, with the exception of tomatoes, which aren't actually vegetables. :/ Here's the thing, though: without the distracting yumminess of condiments, I wouldn't be able to stomach any veg at all. None. Not even baby carrots. I think this has become the case with Little L as well.

So what's a girl to do? I want to eat more vegetables (and my body can't handle peppers, which is why they don't show up anywhere in our meals), but gagging on naked raw greens is just a recipe for tears (mine) at the dinner table. Include all of my additional condiments, and I'm pretty sure the nutritional value of these veggies goes down several notches, although at least the greens do also go down my throat without my hurling them back up. 

Sometimes I have hidden the spinach or kale in smoothies, or lasagna, or my favourite orzo parmesan pasta, but Little L is not fooled by this and will not eat the wilted greens unless they are invisible (like in the smoothie).

Frying up onions, zucchini and yellow peppers for the veggie spaghetti
This is why I am begging ya, if you have any easy-to-make delicious veg ideas, please share! Kid-friendly ones are best, and ones that use an oven or a frying pan to prepare are preferred over those that use a BBQ (we don't have one) or deep fryer (don't have that either).  I promise I will try anything at least once, provided it is fairly simple to make and very appealing to consume. Otherwise, we're all going to stay in this veggie rut for the rest of our lives.

Are veggies a struggle in your household? For you? For your kids? How have you managed to balance your kids' meals?


Seller Beware - On Reviews and This Blog

Recently, I've started getting offers to review stuff on my blog. While this is very flattering indeed, I have mixed feelings about reviewing things that I have been somehow compensated for. My issue is that I believe that most people, when given something for free (or paid for something), will be more inclined to write a favourable review even when it isn't merited. This has been proven in sociological studies; when someone does something nice for us, we tend to want to reciprocate. Welcome to human nature.

I polled some of my blogging mommy peers on the matter, and the general consensus (from those who replied) was that they either didn't review things anymore, or if they did, they would give the companies who comp'ed them the "right of refusal" to not publish a post if it was negative.

My wonky-eyed ugly face, because I'm honest like that. 

This is where it gets tricky, because I can't just do what everyone else does. My stupid convictions and strong opinions get in the way! In this case, it is this: I cannot in good conscience write a favourable review when something isn't favourable, and I also cannot self-censor a review or allow it to be censored when it is negative, simply because this skews online content and doesn't allow for an open and honest examination of products. It also undermines my credibility if I only post glowing write-ups, and never allow myself to be critical about anything.

I mean, I'm a consumer who likes to Google stuff before I buy. I love that I can read up on a product on Amazon, or check out TripAdvisor reviews before I book my hotels, or consult Urbanspoon and Yelp for my dinner reservations. In all of these cases, I am so grateful for the folks who took their time to write about their experiences, good bad and ugly. It helps inform my choices, and I trust that if an overwhelming 480 voters tell me that a restaurant only has 38% approval, I'm probably better off eating elsewhere. Likewise, the hotels we've stayed at that are often very highly ranked on TripAdvisor always turn out to be a good choice.

What happens, then, when bloggers who have been provided with free "stuff" only post the glowing reviews? I would never know about the allergic reactions, the faulty parts that break off easily, or that something is a total waste of my money. I would never discover that the upholstery makes my kid overheat or itch, or that the snacks actually taste like styrofoam or contain questionable ingredients, or that the hotels are actually very filthy and the service is crap. The right of refusal would mean that these kinds of reviews simply aren't posted, since what business is going to want the blogger to go ahead and slam their stuff? And to be honest, I'm fairly certain that most folks who have received something for free simply don't want to post any negative reviews anyway.

So here's my policy for this blog:

1) Reviews on items (books, cosmetics, baby gear, etc) that I have purchased on my own have not been vetted by any affiliated companies. They don't even know that I exist. The reviews are 100% my own, good bad and ugly! And usually, they are favourable, simply because I'm blogging about it out of a passion to share what I've discovered with others.

2) If I do receive any compensation for my opinions, either in discount or free product or whatever, I will fully disclose this. Readers deserve to know exactly how much wooing I've been subjected to.

3) In cases of comp'ed reviews (like my recent series on the Clek FLLO), I will provide "sneak peek" access to my post to any affiliated companies upon request, but will not give them right of refusal. This means that I will still post my opinions, even if they are bad and ugly, even though I may have been given the product at a discount or for free. The only editing I will honour will be for factual discrepancies (e.g. weight or measurements, how a technology works, etc). Therefore, companies who wish to approach me to write a review will understand and accept the risk that their product may be negatively promoted on this blog.

Sellers beware! I'm going to be honest on my blog because I want my opinions to be considered trustworthy and credible. If a product or service is sh!t, then that deserves to be noted online just as much as if it is amazing. Therefore, unless you are absolutely convinced that your shizz is gold, I would advise against approaching me to review it. You might be sorry (but I won't be).


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