Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Sweet Valentine Treats

Heart Insert Apples for Valentines Day
Heart Insert Apples

Making sweet treats to share with the ones you love is a wonderful way to celebrate Valentine's Day.

I think these apples with the heart inserts are an absolutely brilliant idea. They'll be in the boys' school lunches this year along with their usual Valentines fare - heart-shaped strawberry jam sandwiches, heart-shaped carrots, cucumbers, and strawberries, and heart-shaped cookies. What a sweet surprise when they open up their lunch bags!

Though I probably won't have a chance to make all of these treats this year, these mouth-watering desserts are my favourite finds for Valentine's Day this year and I can't wait to try a few - especially those chocolate cherry kirsch hearts! (How can you go wrong with chocolate and booze?)

Strawberry Shortcake Valentines Day dessert
Strawberry Shortcakes
Photo & Recipe:
Orange Cointreau Brownie Tiramisu Valentines Day dessert
Orange Cointreau Brownie Tiramisu
Photo & Recipe:
Chocolate Lava Cake Valentines Day dessert
Chocolate Lava Cake
Photo & Recipe:
Creamy cheesecake with raspberry sauce Valentines Day dessert
Creamy Cheesecake with Raspberry Sauce
Recipe & Photo:
Chocolate Cherry Kirsch hearts Valentines Day dessert
Chocolate Cherry Kirsch Hearts
Photo & Recipe:
Strawberry Yogurt Cheesecake Valentines Day dessert
Strawberry Yogurt Cheesecake
Photo & Recipe:
Raspberry Meringue Hearts Valentines day dessert
Raspberry Meringue Hearts
Photo & Recipe:
Cherry Chocolate Kiss Cookies Valentines Day dessert
Cherry Chocolate Kiss Cookies
Photo & Recipe:
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Monday, 27 January 2014

Valentines Day Crafts

Holiday crafts are a favourite in this household.

Making creative crafts to decorate the house for the holidays or gift to friends and family is a great way to get in the spirit, and Valentine's Day is one of the most fun holidays to craft for with kids since the theme is friendship and love. 

Here are some of my favourite online finds this year - I can't wait to try these with the kids!

3D Paper Hearts
3D Fabric Hearts
Paper Heart Garland
Wool-wrapped hearts
Toilet Roll Heart Butterfly
Handprint "Tree of Love"
how to make a wreath
Craft Foam Heart Wreath
Toilet Roll Stamper
veggie stamping
Celery Stalk Rose Stamps

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Friday, 24 January 2014

Cinderella Castle Craft

Toilet roll Cinderella castle craft, Disney World, Magic Kingdom, kids craftsInspired by our annual trips to Walt Disney World, our favourite family vacation destination, this toilet roll Cinderella Castle is our most recent crafting masterpiece.

1. Colour sheets of plain white construction paper with "brick" shapes, then wrap them around as many toilet rolls as you choose to use. (We used twenty-four toilet rolls and one long paper towel roll)

2. Glue the wrapped toilet rolls together to make the castle and turrets - we used nine rolls for the base and another four for the corner turrets, four rolls for the second floor and another four for the second level of turrets, and three toilet rolls and a larger towel roll for the top floor turrets.

Toilet roll Cinderella castle craft, Disney World, Magic Kingdom, kids crafts
3. Cut circles from coloured construction paper and wrap into cone shapes. Glue to top of turrets.

4. Cut and glue window and door shapes from black construction paper.

5. Cut flag shapes from coloured construction paper or felt and thread onto pipe cleaners. Glue flags to top of turrets.

6. Dribble with glitter glue and glitter paint for Disney magic!

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Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Disney Dreams

It's that time of year - the Christmas season is over, winter is starting to stretch out a little longer and colder than we'd like and our thoughts are turning south toward sunshine and the beach. Our annual Spring Break family vacation to Walt Disney World is one of the highlights of the year for our family. It truly is the happiest place on earth and the family memories we've made there over the years fill us with love and keep us warm and happy through these freezing Canadian winters.

We can't wait until this year's magical family trip to our favourite place in the world!

Caribbean Beach Resort

Swordfights in our pirate room and steering the pirate ship bed.

Caribbean Beach Resort
Caribbean Beach Resort - Old Port Royale pool


Caribbean Beach Resort - Old Port Royale shipwreck splash pad
Sun, sand, private beach. Paradise!

Magic Kingdom - The Pirates League

                    Magic Kingdom - Astro Orbiter


Magic Kingdom magic at night!


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Monday, 20 January 2014

Childhood Vaccinations: Why the Debate?

One of the most talked about - and hotly debated - parenting issues lately is childhood vaccination.

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate is one of the biggest questions in parenting forums these days, with arguments erupting all over social media between parents on either side - most armed with inaccurate information. Thanks to the new "live and let live" online parenting culture, the upshot of the argument always seems to be 'it's a parenting choice, we're all trying to do our best, you decide what's best for your own child.' 

Here's the thing: it's not a choice. 

It has been turned into a confusing issue with mixed messages and false information posted everywhere, leading parents to believe it's a decision they have to make for themselves. But it's not a choice to be made - or shouldn't be.

There's not a valid argument for one side and a valid argument for the other.

It's not a subjective issue that comes down to parents' personal beliefs and preferences.

It's a matter of science.

Children should be vaccinated. Period.

Making the parenting choice not to vaccinate your child is the same as choosing between feeding your child or letting them starve, clothing your child or letting them freeze.

I am not a doctor, a scientist, or a medical researcher. I don't expect anyone to take my word on a subject in which I have absolutely no formal education; however, since those parents arguing against vaccination tend to get their "proof" from outdated articles, disproved studies, random subjective opinion and flat-out false information, I've done the research and included the relevant sources right here for those unable to find and verify the correct information for themselves. Valid, legitimate, accurate sources acknowledged and proved by the medical community throughout the first world.

I actually cannot understand why there is even any debate on this issue. Why any parent would choose to intentionally withhold vaccines for their child that could prevent them from contracting and spreading diseases - contrary to all valid scientific research and against the advice of the world medical community - makes absolutely no sense. Talk about your first world problems - I can guarantee you there are no parents in Uganda saying "no, thank-you; I'll take my chances" when offered life-saving vaccinations for their children. What a luxury to live in a part of the world where we have developed so far that some people are actually choosing to move backward instead of forward.

How about we rely on fact instead of myth?

Myth: These diseases are almost obsolete anyway.
Fact: Diseases that people once died from - like measles and polio - are uncommon only because people are vaccinated against them. If people are not vaccinated, these diseases will reappear. (1)

Myth: Vaccines have harmful side effects.
Fact: Vaccines are safe. Side effects are minor, like soreness at the injection site or mild fever. Major reactions are extremely rare; you are far more likely to be injured by a vaccine-preventable disease, if you choose not to be vaccinated, than by a vaccine. (2)

Myth: It's more natural to be immunized through disease than through vaccinations.
Fact: Vaccines produce an immune response similar to the one produced by the infection, but do not cause the disease or carry the risk of the disease's potential complications, like disability or death. (3)

Myth: Giving multiple vaccinations can overload the immune system and increase risk of side effects.
Fact: Multiple vaccines have no effect whatsoever on the immune system. Children are exposed to hundreds of substances a day that trigger an immune response, including food. There is more antigen exposure from a common cold than from vaccines. (4)

Myth: Vaccines can cause SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
Fact: There is no link whatsoever. These vaccines happen to be administered at an age when infants can suffer from SIDS; the two are not linked. (5) Giving the child the vaccines will not increase their risk of SIDS at all; not vaccinating will risk disability and death as a result of these vaccine-preventable diseases.

Myth: Vaccines can cause autism.
Fact: There is no link whatsoever. This FALSE rumor started as a result of a FRAUDULENT study published in British medical journal The Lancet in 1998. The study was subsequently discredited and retracted; the doctor who published the study was found guilty of professional misconduct and struck from the medical register and the original study was deemed fraudulent by the British Medical Journal. (6) The completely fabricated connection between vaccines and autism led to decreased vaccination rates - and therefore higher incidence of disease and death. There is no link between vaccines and autism - but there is a link between uninformed parents believing the false story and children contracting the disease.

The World Health Organization estimates that immunization averts 2-3 million deaths worldwide each year.

So don't vaccinate your child if you feel more qualified to make that decision than your pediatrician, Health Canada, the World Health Organization, every legitimate medical journal and organization and the entire scientific and medical community in the first world. I'm thrilled that group immunity granted by my child and the other children in our community will - hopefully - keep your kid from dying from a third-world disease.

But every time someone "chooses" not to protect their children with the required immunizations increases the risk that those diseases we once all but eliminated will return.

World Health Organization
Health Canada (Public Health Agency of Canada)
Canadian Paediatric Society
Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care
British Medical Journal
The Lancet (Medical Journal)

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Friday, 17 January 2014

That Newborn Smell

I'm really missing that sweet newborn baby smell, that special smell that only brand-new babies have - that sweet, earthy angel scent that means life and love and hope and home all at once. That smell you breathe in and feel complete as you nuzzle their perfect little eyes, cheeks, ears, neck - because they're still a part of you.

I'm missing when my babies were babies, when they were swaddled so tiny and helpless, those perfect little impossible miracles. When our love and need for each other was so innate, so intertwined, that it was all of life for a time. When simply being near me was all they wanted or needed because it was all they'd known when they were growing inside, and when I could stare at their beautiful squishy little angel faces and breathe in their sweet baby smell for hours and feel fulfilled.

I love my babies even more now that they're their own little people, and I don't regret for an instant my decision not to have any more. But...

I really miss that newborn baby smell.

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Wednesday, 15 January 2014

What to Buy for Baby

Since so many of my friends are just now having their first or second child and I'm a few years ahead in the child-rearing game - and out of the baby end of it altogether - I've put together this little list (as requested) to help new and expecting parents figure out what they need and narrow down the options of baby gear available.

As tempting as it may be to go out and buy the biggest and best of every single item baby store registries tell you infants need, the reality is that they just don't need all that much - and that they'll outgrow all of it within a year. Far more practical is to buy the basics for Baby - a safe, sturdy two hundred dollar crib, for example, rather than the fancy seven hundred dollar one - and splurge instead on items that will last through his childhood, like a good solid dresser, or items that will get a lot of wear and tear, like a heavy-duty stroller.

Here are the must-haves for Baby:


Crib - No need to go crazy with the fanciest convertible crib you can find; Baby won't be in it that long and it makes much more sense to invest that money in the big-boy bed he'll be using for years.
Waterproof mattress pads
Crib sheets 
Dresser - Pick out a good, solid piece that will grow with your child; don't necessarily match it to the crib as that crib will be gone before you know it.
Change table - I think change tables are a waste of money and space; the reality is that most of the time you will be changing Baby's diaper on the couch or your bed or wherever you happen to be. I had one - I used it sometimes for my first, rarely for my second, and got rid of it before my third was born because it was such a waste of space. If you must have a designated changing surface, consider purchasing an attachment for your dresser that can be removed once the diaper-changing years are over.
Nursing chair - You will need a comfortable chair to sit in to nurse, but consider your options. Look at what you already have - maybe one of your living room armchairs could serve double duty in the nursery for that first year; otherwise, consider purchasing a chair you can see using in another room in your home once it's no longer needed in Baby's room. Those nursing gliders look like just that and nothing else - you will never be able to use that expensive piece of furniture in another room and it will end up filling up a corner of your garage.
Diaper pail - This may seem like an automatic purchase (hide that dirty diaper smell? Yes please!) but it's actually not necessary. Any pail with a lid that secures will do the same thing. We had the Diaper Genie for our oldest two boys but gave it away on one of our moves. We hadn't yet purchased a new one when Baby was born and improvised with an empty plastic box we'd purchased cat litter in - and realized that it worked just as well as any diaper pail without the expensive refills every couple of days. We've saved over fifteen hundred dollars in Diaper Genie refills since Baby was born!
Monitor - Personal choice, but I think those video monitors are both completely unnecessary and incredibly creepy. We've always just used a normal audio one with multiple receivers.
Lamp / night light

As you're planning out your nursery decor, try to remember how many of those items are only going to be in that room for a very short period of time - if you coordinate your drapery, bedding, mobile, bedside lamp and wall decor in a specific theme most of those will be gone in a few short months and what's left will look pretty stupid. Far better is to decorate in an easily interchangeable colour scheme accessorized with a couple of themed items that can grow with your baby as he moves into his toddler and childhood years.


Bassinet - Since an infant is in a bassinet for three months at the most (my younger two were big boys and outgrew their bassinet by six weeks old) consider how fancy it really needs to be before you invest. Putting your money toward a better crib makes more sense; investing most heavily in a big boy bed makes the most sense.
Playard - if it's going to stay set up in your family room, consider getting something smaller profile and less offensively ugly (Eddie Bauer makes some gorgeous neutral ones, which will drive you significantly less crazy than staring at a bunny or Pooh print every day.)
Ikea Antilop High Chair:
High Chair - I don't think high chairs need to be as elaborately large, padded, stuffed, and baby-pattern-printed as they are. (Baby is sitting in it. He doesn't see the cartoony animals printed all over it. You will, though. Every day. In the middle of your kitchen and dining room.) We always used the Ikea Antilop one - small, compact, low-profile, easy to assemble and disassemble, dishwasher-safe parts, and inoffensively white with stainless steel. Perfect.
Safety gates
Bouncer or rocker or swing  - you don't need all three! Two would do - one seat for each level of the house that can be moved from room to room.
Exerciser or jumper - you don't need both!

As you're buying baby items for your home, try to remember that these items will be taking up space in your living room, dining room, kitchen, wherever for a while. Consider the size and profile of some of these items - baby gear takes up an awful lot of space considering how small babies themselves are, sometimes unnecessarily. Also put some thought into what they look like - you'll be staring at whatever pattern you choose for months!
Graco Quattro Tour Travel System:


Car seat / stroller system - Here's where I'd recommend investing as much money as you can. Buy the absolute best car seat / stroller system that you can afford - look for safety, durability, ease of use and convenience. These are items you will be using every day - they need to stand up to the kind of use they'll be getting. Check customer reviews and ask other moms - get the absolute best stroller system you can find. I really liked the Graco Quattro Travel System, which we used for all three kids, and a good three-wheeled jogging stroller is a must if you do a lot of outdoor walking, hiking and field tripping.
Car mirror
Snugli Comfort Baby Carrier:
Carrier - I used the Snugli for all three of my boys, simply because it's what I started with and I liked it. I have also heard great things from other moms about the BabyBjorn and ErgoBaby carriers. The Snugli was safe and strong, comfortable for Baby and Mommy, and took us through countless shopping trips, hundreds of days at the zoo and full weeks at Walt Disney World over the course of three babies and many years.
Diaper bag - I had a proper diaper bag when my first son was a baby but scrapped it for my next two - even the nice-looking ones are not that pretty, and I found that I preferred carrying around a single large purse with multiple compartments. As a first time mom, you think you need to bring everything Baby owns to leave the house - after a while you realize a couple of diapers, a package of wipes and a receiving blanket stuffed into your purse will do.

Clothing (first 3 months)

12 onesies
12 sleepers
4 caps
4 bibs
4 socks / booties
4 scratch mitts


Breast pump
Nursing pillow
Nursing pads

(I've assumed Mom will be breastfeeding; if Baby will be formula fed, obviously this list will include many more items. I can't offer advice on these items as I never bottle fed any of my babies.)

Baby Care

12 receiving blankets
12 washcloths
4 hooded towels
nasal aspirator
nail clippers

Monday, 13 January 2014

Kids, Competition and Politics

My son had the first real heartbreak of his life last week.

His rep soccer team announced the division of A and B teams - and he's been slotted to play for the B team. He's devastated. Beyond words devastated.

So am I.

My son's entire life is soccer. It's all he wants to do, all the time. It's all he talks about. He started playing house league when he was five and has played rep for the last two years. He plays soccer every recess at school and goes to soccer camp every summer. He is never happier than when on the pitch. He even hopes to be a pro player when he grows up. He trains like a crazy person and works his little butt off and has never missed a practice or game. But that's not enough.

The coaches announced before Christmas break that the team would be divided into two groups in the new year. It's a tough team with a lot of great players - we saw that at tryouts - so we were a little anxious. We came home and wrote out a list of all the players and tried to figure it out for ourselves. (I'm sort of obsessive like that.) We have just as good an understanding of all the players and their abilities as the coaches do - after an entire year of watching most of these kids play for hours and hours each week and three months of watching the couple of new kids train with them, we know who can do what. After looking at the list as objectively as possible, we knew there was very little doubt that our boy would be on the A team. He's easily one of the strongest defensive players on the team. No other player can come close to matching his footwork. And he's far and away one of the most committed players. We were quite confident.

The only thing that gave me a little bit of anxiety was the fact that our coach and his son are also involved in hockey, along with about half the team, and there's sometimes a bit of a "club" mentality between them. But, surely, that wouldn't be a factor - would it? Politics and favouritism in children's sports? Surely not. Not when most of those players come to fewer than half of our practices because of conflicts with the hockey schedule. Not when our son is clearly a stronger, more skilled and more dedicated player.

I was wrong.

The list was released the day of our first practice back. The A team consists of all the hockey players. The B team consists of all the other kids.

I lost it. I was actually crying my eyes out - not only out of disappointment myself, and not only because I knew how disappointed my son would be when I told him, but over the sheer unfairness of it all.

The world is unfair. I know this. I know this is also a lesson my son needs to learn at some point. But I think it sucks beyond words that he has to learn it now, and that he has to learn it about something that so important to him and close to his heart.

My boy's heart actually broke when I told him about the decision. I was barely able to hold it together, aching to protect my baby, hurting with his disappointment more than if it were my own and filled with anger at the coaches and frustration at my inability to do anything about it.

My phone was ringing off the hook all afternoon with calls from other team parents trying to figure out why and how this happened and what could be done. The thing is - nothing can be done. The coaches make the decision, and the decision is final.

A few hours later we had to put on our game faces and head out to practice. That was hard.

At the start of practice Coach had a little pow-pow with the team, talking about how hard it was for him to divide the team and if any of them wanted to talk about it he was always available. My boy stared intently at his own feet and his ears turned a deep shape of red as I watched him valiantly fight back the same tears I could feel stinging behind my own eyes.

The kids broke off into groups for drills and I watched him run and laugh and sweat, his face filled with joy as he played the game he loves most in the world with his best friends for the last time - starting next practice the two teams will train separately and he will no longer be playing with his usual line.

I sat with all my soccer mom friends, lamenting how different everything would be this year, feeling dismal and disappointed and trying to keep a neutral face on for my boy.

Time has put a bit of perspective on the whole thing. Another look at the team rosters shows that because all the hockey players were kept together on the A team, the B team in fact is left with more of the stronger players. The designated coach for the B team is someone we've known and liked for years. This season will likely not be the disaster we'd initially feared.

And, as disappointed as we are, this one small decision is not going to make much of a difference in the long term for our little superstar's soccer career. He's still playing the game he loves. He's training just as often, with just as qualified a coach. He won't be playing with all the same kids as last year - but he'll be playing with a stronger and more dedicated group of kids. And next year will bring yet another season, yet another team, and yet another series of challenges and changes. As long as he's playing, nothing else really matters.

But it really, really sucks that the politics of competitive sport has to start so early - and that my little boy has to learn so young the lesson that life's not fair.

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Friday, 10 January 2014

The Way to a Man's Heart...(Bacon!)

Bacon Rose

Men love bacon.
Almost all men, in my experience.
Bacon is to men as chocolate is to women.

Picture of Bacon Roses
Inspiration Bacon Roses

So for my husband's birthday this weekend I thought I'd try my hand at these bacon roses I saw on instructables - one of the most brilliantly creative food projects I've ever seen.

I changed the method a fair bit from the original post because I am a big fan of using what you have on hand for cooking, crafting and diy projects.

Bacon Rose Bouquet

Here's how I made my husband's 
birthday bacon bouquet:

Bacon roses,
Rolled Bacon Strips
1. Roll bacon strips tightly and tie securely with thread.

2. Place wrapped bacon upright on rack atop roasting pan (roses cannot rest in bacon grease or they will not cook or crisp properly.)

3. Bake at 375F for 20-30 minutes (roses should not be soft but should not be so crisp that they will crumble when stem is inserted.)

Bacon roses,
Cooked Bacon Rose

4. Allow bacon roses to cool completely. Remove thread.

5. Cut flowers off stems of plastic craft flowers and wash stems thoroughly.

6. Slide bacon roses onto craft stems, arrange in vase, and watch your man lose his mind over the bacony awesomeness.

Bacon rose bouquet, littletownhomelove.blogspot.caBacon rose bouquet, 

Bacon Rose Bouquet

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