Thursday, December 26, 2013

Play dough activity bins

(aka cabin fever busters)

Now that the madness is Christmas is over my oldest daughter still has 11 days of school holidays left, but my husband goes back to work tomorrow. The weather can get as cold as -30 with wind chill some days, and my husband needs our car to get to work which means we are cooped up in a major way.

One of the ways I know we will be passing the time is with play dough. It's quiet, it's good for fine motor skills and it keeps her happy for hours. I have a special play dough bin that I keep on top of the china hutch in our dining room so it's ready to play with whenever she gets the urge.

The 'Play Doh' company sells all sorts of overpriced sets full of gadgets to make different things, but I find my cheaper 'set' is much more fun, and the dough is much softer and better smelling.

These are the essentials:

1. A big container of homemade play dough. I have a great recipe on my other blog for a play dough mix you can whip up and make in smaller batches. Last time I made her 6 different colors, and of course she mixed them all together, so next time I'm going to stick to one color at a time. The recipe is here.

2. A rolling pin (or water bottle) for rolling dough out.

3. Plastic cookie cutters (The metal ones can scratch surfaces). They tend to sell a lot of seasonal ones at the dollar store so I buy some new ones every holiday to mix it up.

4. A plastic knife for cutting.

5. Unlit birthday candles.

My daughter likes to make many tiered birthday cakes with the play dough, decorate them with candles, sing happy birthday, slice the cake, serve it on toy plates, and then start all over again. She can make dozens of cakes in an afternoon once she gets going.

We used to make them using different size cups, but then we found this set of different sized circle cookie cutters at the dollar store. We also found a set of squares and flowers to mix it up.

Any time we get any other play dough related crap in goody bags or for birthday gifts, they get thrown into the bottom of the play dough bin too.

After a lot of cursing and carpet scrubbing we have banished all play dough related activities to the kitchen table only, which makes clean up much faster and easier. My younger daughter is 18 months now and is starting to want to be included in EVERYTHING her big sister does, but she's too young to sit in a chair and also accidentally squishes all of her sisters works of art. I've taken to letting her use play dough, color or do other craft type activities in her high chair with the tray on which makes her feel included but keeps the beast contained.

A pacifier in the mouth keeps her from eating it (it also works for sand in the summer!).

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

7 reasons why every new mother should own some cloth diaper covers (even if she uses disposables)

I've cloth diapered both my girls since they were newborns because, well, I think it's awesome. I've tried many times to win other mothers over to the fluffy side. But I also get that it's not for everyone and I respect that too. People have their reasons for not wanting to do it- be it limited laundry access, squeamishness or any other reason. What you decide to catch your child's poop in isn't really any of my business.

But... as someone who has used cloth at home and disposables on vacation I have witnessed the pros and cons to both methods and figured out a way for you to get some of the benefits of cloth without having to commit to it fully. So keep using 'sposies' (as us fluff addicts like to call them), but keep a few cloth covers on hand anyway for these reasons.

1. Explosive poop

I've heard (and experienced) the horror of the 'blow out' or 'up the backer' or 'poopcano'. Exclusively breast fed babies poop sheer liquid with explosive force, volume and brilliant color. It ruins clothing, gets in their hair, requires bedding changes and baths and massive amounts of stain remover. I've spent many a vacation hunched over a hotel bath tub cursing and scrubbing shit out of pale pink clothing. But this rarely if never happens in a cloth diaper. Why?

Take a look:

On the left is the back elastic on a cloth cover. See how nice and thick it is? On the right is a disposable. You can barely even SEE the elastic it's so flimsy. Think about it, which would have a stronger elastic- something that's going to be worn once and thrown out, or something that needs to survive hundreds of wearings and washings??

I know some people say they don't want to use cloth diapers because they don't want 'poop in their washing machine'. But face it: you have kids- you're going to get poop in your washing machine (as well as pee, snot, vomit and much more). A cloth diaper cover is designed for poop and is much easier to get clean than the clothing, sheets, hair and skin it would have ended up on instead. Put a cloth cover on top of your disposable diaper (especially when you have a newborn or sick child with the runs). It will save you a world of trouble.

2. Poop masterpieces

Babies learn to pull the tabs on their diapers from a very young age. I've been regaled with many a terrifying tale of other people's toddlers painting hieroglyphics on their walls using their own feces. I've never had to deal with this. Cloth diapers and covers have strong, sturdy snaps and they are much much harder for kids to take off. My daughter was long out of diapers by the time she figured it out. If they are old enough to remove it and aren't wearing protective clothing (a sleeper or onesie), put a cover on it.

3. Swim diapers

The entire point of a swim diaper is to contain a sudden poop long enough for you to run away before anyone else in the pool notices. A cloth cover can double as a swim diaper, and works much better than those expensive disposable ones.

4. Outgrown diapers

I've heard it's a common problem for babies to outgrow their disposable size halfway through a giant box, rendering the rest a big useless waste of money. If that happens, they can can be laid inside a cloth diaper cover and used anyway, even if they are too small to fasten. The cover will hold it in place.

5. Cuteness

Face it, disposable diapers are UGLY! I think half the reason (probably more) that us fluffy mamas use cloth is because they are so freaking CUTE! On little girls they look adorable under a dress, in hot weather they can double as an entire outfit and they go PERFECTLY with baby leg warmers. If you want to join in the fun without the commitment of so much laundry, cover up that ugly bum with some cute covers. The possibilities are endless!

6. Emergency situations

When you have cloth diaper covers in your house or diaper bag you are never truly out of diapers- if you run out of disposables during an illness, snowstorm, car trouble, or because you're totally broke, you can use a cloth diaper cover and an old t shirt (without sewing anything) to fashion emergency diapers until you can get to the store or have the money to buy some.

Here is a video on how to fold a t shirt into a diaper.

7. For dolls/stuffed animals

Kids love putting diapers on their toys, but disposables get ripped up and wasted pretty easily. We had a stuffed Elmo walk around for a year or so wearing a green cloth diaper cover. My daughter loved that he was wearing 'deepers' too.

And if you're on the fence about actually using cloth? Give it a try- there are trial programs that let you test it out, diaper services, fluff addicted friends who would love to loan some out (and give themselves an excuse to buy more) or affordable types to buy outright to give you a start.

Laziness is my mantra and I still managed to cloth diaper both my kids (for a short while even both at the same time). Why? Because it's honestly not that hard. I actually find it easier to wash them than to keep track of diaper sales and keep buying them. And because we're short on money, and because it's better for the environment, and for their skin, and a good example to set for the older ones. And yes, because I'm addicted to how cute they are.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A message to those without children about buying gifts for kids

(or please think before you buy...)

This weekend I got caught up in the sales and ended up buying all the gifts for our 3 nieces and several family friends. As I got home and admired my bounty it occurred to me how much I had learned about gift giving to children since actually HAVING kids myself, but also how much I wished those without kids knew what I know now before they showered our kids with their good intentions.

So you don't have kids. Maybe it's because you haven't had them yet but plan to or maybe you like them when they belong to someone else but don't actually want your own. Either way you're that fun aunt, uncle or family friend who gets great joy out of buying things for the children in your lives. You have big hearts and great intentions and we know that and don't want to burst your bubble. But these are the things that parents wish they could say to you....

Things that we really don't want you to buy our children

1. Stuffed animals.

This is only half of them. My oldest child is only 4 years old.

It started the moment I got pregnant- people started buying stuffed animals 'for the baby'. I totally understand the desire to do so- I did it too before I had kids. But keep in mind that kids only really take to one or two of them and the rest pile up (and pile up...). The number I received during my first pregnancy would have held both my kids over for their whole lives, but they only increased in numbers once the actual kids were born. Not to mention the ones my husband and I both saved from our own childhoods for 'when we had kids some day'. Take it from me- parents hate the things. And the kids? There is that one stuffed animal that will become their velveteen rabbit, and it could be yours. But you would have better luck playing the lottery with those numbers.

2. Toys that sing in THAT VOICE.

Anyone with kids knows exactly what I'm talking about. IT'S LEARNING TIME! YOU'RE MY FRIEND! GOT MY NOSE! (HONK HONK!). To be on the safe side, just don't buy anything that sings or makes noise. If you don't believe me, try playing it 25 times when you're hungover and you'll reach the tip of the iceberg as to how it feels to have one of those things in your house for FIVE YEARS.

3. Anything with lace, ruffles or buttons.

I know you think it's ADORABLE. You think we will too. But what you don't know is that they will wear it once for an obligatory guilt photo and then be put back in the closet. This is because these things are 1. a pain in the ass to put on them. 2. incredibly uncomfortable for the child and 3. completely impractical to wash. Kids are a giant mess of bodily functions and wearing something like that for longer than 5 minutes is bound to end badly.

4. Candy.

But kids love candy right? Um yeah. But what you don't see is that after you go home they end up crying or puking or both. We try SO hard to feed our kids healthy foods and they are constantly bombarded with junk food. Please don't add to the problem.

5. Seasonally inappropriate sizes.

Sure that sun dress you bought is GORGEOUS. But it's going to have to be GORGEOUS on some other kid because by the time they're the right size for it it is going to be snowing outside. Keep in mind that all children are different sizes regardless of age and all brands of children's clothes are completely arbitrary in sizing.

6. Shoes for babies.

My girls had about a dozen pairs of shoes. They never wore any of them because babies have strange shaped feet and kick everything off instantly (except the leather ones like robeez. Those are the best). If you have a thing for shoes please wait a few years and buy them for a 5 year old who keeps wearing them out or losing them at school. They are still small enough to be cute but they are SO needed. I promise the parents will love you for it. This also applies to newborn outfits. They fit into those things for about 5 minutes, but they can wear some of the larger toddlers sizes for YEARS sometimes.

7. GIANT toys

If it's too big to bring over without a car, it's too big to give to other people's kids. The floor space in our house is in very short supply and WE like to be the ones to decide what occupies it. The sheer amount of gear that comes with babies and children is overwhelming, and unless you live in a giant mansion you're constantly fighting to find room for it all. Please buy something small enough to fit in a drawer or on a shelf.

And PLEASE don't combine #1 with #7 and buy something like this:

So what do you buy if you can't buy all those wonderful things? There are PLENTY of things that we would LOVE for our kids.

Parents love when people give THESE things to our kids

1. Pyjamas.

If you want to buy cute clothing, the best bet is simple cotton pyjamas. For babies make sure any sleepers have zippers instead of snaps. If you want to know why, try this: Dress your cat in a sleeper with snaps. In the dark. At 3 am. See how that works out for you. Zippers make it faster, and when it comes to dressing squirmy babies every second counts. Simple cotton outfits work too- think onesie or shirt and matching leggings or shorts. If you're going to buy individual pieces of clothing make sure it's a very neutral color. Nothing is going to match with that green pair of pants.

2. Good quality children's literature

Go for award winners, classics or current bestsellers. Read it 6 times in a row and see if you still like it. Remember that we're going to be reading these books over and over and OVER again, so make them ones that every age will like.

3. Wooden toys.

I don't know why, but wooden toys have more appeal to children. Stacking rings, sorting shapes ,blocks, puzzles. They will play with the same pile of blocks over and over but ignore the giant plastic stuff that's much more complicated. Educational toys, art supplies and anything that will really engage them is also usually a safe bet. But be wary of play doh. Some parents hate digging that shit out of carpet and cracks in the hardwood.

4. An experience. Especially with you.

If you really want to be AMAZING to the child, while still keeping the parents happy, do something together. Take them to a movie, or a museum, or an amusement park. The child will be thrilled and remember it long after any toy and the parents would love the peace and quiet for a few hours. Everybody wins. If you're out of town a gift certificate to DO something (including lessons) is a close second.

5. An addition to something they already have and love.

More trains for their set, legos for their collection, food for their play kitchen, furniture for their doll house. Adding something new to something they have breathes new life into it without huge cost.

6. Ask.

Every child has gaps that the parent would love filled. They might have been passed down 3 coats this year but not have boots. They might need new ice skates, or hardly have any pants, or REALLY want a certain toy. Ask for needs, ask for sizes, ask for wants. A little knowledge goes a long way.

7. If the baby is too young to notice the gift (or not even born yet) consider getting REALLY practical.

Batteries. They go in SO many toys and items. AA and AAA for most, but a few C and D as well. They will certainly go to good use.

Gift certificates for places that sell everything (like walmart, costco, target, the dollar store). There is always something we need to buy last minute for the baby.

Gift certificates for food. New parents are VERY short on time and any meal they don't have to cook is VERY appreciated.

Fitted sheets. Babies (and later children) are very leaky, spewing creatures. They require far more bedding changes than we do, often at all hours of the night. We can never have enough spares.

8. Your interest in them as people.

Nothing makes kids (or their parents) happier than really KNOWING them. Ask them questions, listen to their stories (and our stories about them. We love them so much and love that you do too).It thrills them when you remember their favorite color or book or their best friends name. You're an important part of their life and the time you spend with them (or talking to them if you're far away) is really what matters to them more than any flashy toy you could ever buy them. I know it sounds corny, but it's really true.