Monday, March 31, 2008

Winter walks

One of the pleasures of wintertime this year has been going for walks with the family. Whereas I used to push Kira around in her stroller everyday during the wintertime during her first 2 winters, I just haven't been able to get out as readily with 2 kids. It literally takes me an hour to get the kids ready for an outing when I'm alone, and then when I have one foot out the door either Calvin poos in his diaper, or Kira has to go to the toilet, thus delaying us by another 10 mins. In addition to this, when we're outside all Kira wants to do these days is walk herself, not be pushed in a stroller (she's two and a half so who can blame her?). It's difficult enough pushing a stroller through the snow-packed roads, and this on top of chasing a toddler? Arrrgh!

So, while there have been far fewer outdoor walks this winter than last, it's been quite enjoyable really, because now when we go for a stroll, it's all 4 of us breathing in the crisp, fresh air together. And although it's been quite snowy of late, the temperatures have been mild overall so there have been a few good occasions for leisurely walks. The photo on the right was taken to show how high our snow banks are! Our friends (especially those from outside of Canada) are always amazed at our snow!

Last summer I convinced Mark to look for and buy a second-hand double stroller. While I don't regret this purchase entirely, I am kind of kicking myself for the purchase we made because I think we paid too much for a stroller with small bald wheels that is cumbersome and huge. With the weight of 2 babies in it, some of the roads were almost impossible to navigate! Would you believe that we recently found a double jogging stroller at Costco for around $120? While it isn't a Chariot or a BOB (my dream jogging stroller!), I am SO happy with the investment because it isn't a huge one to make, I can push my 2 kids with SUCH ease, and this gives me added incentive to start jogging once the roads are cleared of snow and the jogging / cycling paths in Candiac open up. I was already calculating in my head as I announced to Mark during yesterday's walk, that if I use this stroller as much as I hope to, it will cost us less than $1 per use by the time we stop using it. I'll post more about the jogging stroller in a future blog. Just got great use out of it today, when I did an hour workout with it!

Here's my active daughter Kira puddle-walking. As soon as we let her out of the stroller, she went straight for the crunchy snow and the deep puddles. She enjoys puddles so much that she'll walk forward and backward through them... yikes, here I am hoping for a not-so-wet spring season ahead!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Revisiting Montreal

We hosted a young family from Japan last week. Keiko (I used to tell people she's the daughter of the cousin of Mark's father - and then found out I could just say that she and Mark are second cousins! Much simpler!), her husband Toyoyuki, their 7 month old baby boy Shunta, and their friend Yoshimi, arrived on Sunday night. Toyoyuki has been studying English in Iowa since January, and is taking a vacation from his studies. He had been away from his baby for a month and a half. I can only imagine how much he missed his darling! The family decided to reunite in Montreal and to see the sights and spend time with their distant Canadian relatives during their stay. The timing was great because although there was plenty of snow, the temperatures were quite mild ... well, by our standards, at least!

Last Monday, we walked through the cobbled streets of Old Montreal. The tour started at the Old Port along rue de la Commune, and we stopped at Gandhi restaurant for lunch (Indian cuisine). We continued along rue Notre-Dame where we stopped into the Notre-Dame Cathedral, a must for every tourist. We continued to the Jacques Cartier Square which was nothing like it is during the summertime. Very quiet, but pretty nonetheless. We ended our walk at Marché Bonsecours, where of course we had to mention that we were married! Supper that night was at Shambala on St. Denis (Tibetan cuisine). It was a great day for vegetarian food, hehe!

We spent a very baby-centered day on Tuesday, starting at EM Café in the Plateau for breakfast. Mark's cousin Julie works there, and Julie's soon-to-be sister in-law owns this new trendy café. See how crazy-big my extended family is? On to Mums & Tots of Brossard for some time with other moms & babies. Keiko wanted to see how a playgroup is run here, so it was a perfect opportunity to do it and hang out with moms, babies and toddlers. The above top photo was taken there. Too bad there wasn't any coffee made, but no worries. Our next stop was Maman, Bébé et Café in NDG. We let the kids hang out in the play areas while we all had coffee, tea and snacks. The bottom of these 2 photos is a shot of Shunta and Calvin enjoying themselves and each other's company, with Yoshimi. Back to the Plateau to see how bagels are made and to eat some fresh, warm bagels at the famous Fairmount Bagel. Our evening ended at Byblos, our first experience with Iranian cuisine. We all really enjoyed it. A lot of spreads with bread like pita for me. Mmm, very tasty and worth another try. The ambiance was also very nice and laid back. Here's a photo of the appetizer spreads.

We had the day off on Wednesday, when our guests went to Ottawa to check out the nation's capital.

On Thursday, we met up with Keiko, Toyoyuki, and Shunta (Yoshimi was feeling ill and stayed in town to rest and recover) at a cabane a sucre. We invited some family and friends to make it a big gathering! There were even guests from Germany joining us for an evening of traditional Quebec culture. Unfortunately there was no entertainment that night, but the usual sugar shack fare came out: salads, soup, chutney, bread, pork & beans, omelette, ham, potatoes, pigs' ears, and a selection of sweet, maple-filled desserts! Oh, and of course the "tire" (maple syrup poured on snow, then rolled onto a stick to eat! There is definitely an English name for this, but I can't remember what it is!) I hope all our international guests understood that we only tend to go once a year out of tradition and that we don't eat like this regularly! :) Unfortunately the hall was too dark for me to get any good photos. Here is a photo of our friend Maiko in the gift shop with all that mapley goodness!

Friday was our relaxed day when we hung out at home for the most part. At night, we hosted a potluck supper with about 20 family members - a moderate gatherng by Takeda standards! Keiko and Yoshimi prepared some delicious chirashi zushi and the rest of the family members contributed towards a yummy and varied feast!
Everyone had a chance to socialize and to meet each of our guests. Baby Shunta got a lot of attention! What a cute baby. :)

Our final full day together was spent rather quietly as well. Our poor guests had barely got over their jetlag and their trip was coming to an end. So we had a late breakfast and relaxed a bit, and then they all went for some downtown shopping (the famous underground shopping is perfect for tourists who aren't used to our cold weather!) before we were to meet up for our final supper together. We heard afterwards that they barely had any time to shop, because they spent 2 hours at Loblaws! Heehee... then Mark recalled that we had done the same thing in Japan. What we think is so everyday mundane is actually quite interesting for visitors from other countries! There were about 20 family members gathered once again, this time at Mythos, a fantastic Greek resto that we discovered a couple of years ago. Wow, we had a lot of different kinds of cuisine throughout the week! Good food, good times. A great way to end the visit with our family from Japan.

The Manabe family and Yoshimi left us early Sunday morning (Keiko, Shunta and Yoshimi flew back home to Japan while Toyoyuki went back to Iowa to continue his English studies). Our house was suddenly quiet and Kira asked almost immediately, where baby Shunta had gone. We're hoping we can keep the memory of this visit fresh in her (and our) mind so the next time we meet, she'll remember that she has family and friends in Japan!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Happy Easter!

Due to the fact that neither Mark nor I are religious, Easter has no religious significance for us, and sadly it's all about the Easter bunnies for us! I know, how commercial! But it's something fun for the children and really, our lives are so wrapped around our children these days! We've spent virtually the entire month of March gearing up for Easter, from decorating the house with Easter decorations, to the crafts we do at home with an Easter theme, to the little pop-up bunny toy I presented Kira with the other day (thanks to Dollarama for all of the above!). And most recently, we've attended 2 Easter parties - one at Mums & Tots, the other at Home Start (more about both of these great organizations in a future post).

The Mums & Tots Easter party was so much fun! I don't know how everything happened within the time span of 2 hours, but there was a yummy buffet of food (potluck), a gooey + messy = FUN craft of papier maché eggs, a pass-the-egg game with prizes, an Easter egg hunt, and loot bags with goodies including a book, a bottle of bubble soap (to remind us that one day spring will actually come and we might be able to play with this!), and other little gifts. Kira took a fantastic nap after all of that stimulation!

This past Thursday, Kira attended another Easter party held by Home Start, where she attended summer camp last year. Although she wasn't as much in the mood to join in the organized activities here, she sure had fun trying out a chocolate fondue for the first time! And bonus for mommy that Kira ate a LOT of fruit. Sure it was covered in chocolate, but she hadn't had so many grapes, bananas and apples in one sitting in a long time!

We decided that we would organize a little Easter egg hunt at home for Kira today. She did a great job and found all the eggs. Here's a photo of Kira making a sweet discovery.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

My growing boy

Time sure flies! I can't believe Calvin is already just over 4 months old. Where did the time go? And while I often feel guilty for carting him along to all of Kira's activities, I know that he's observing and absorbing every bit of activity into his little head. I wonder what he's thinking when he furrows his brows and looks so concentrated. For the most part, Calvin is easygoing and just a happy baby. He smiles with any amount of attention you give him, and is satisfied as long as you can figure out what his needs are (usually milk, or sleep). And what a dream of a boy to put to sleep! I can put him in his crib at night with his eyes wide open after nursing, kiss him goodnight, and he amuses himself and soothes himself to sleep generally without a fuss. I'm just hoping this continues, because I read only today, that it could change at around 6 months...

So, what are we doing differently with Calvin from what we did with Kira at this age? For starters, we're much more easygoing ourselves about our approach, and so maybe he senses this and that is why he's so calm. :) We aren't sterilizing everything Calvin touches. We don't panic just because his nose is blocked and he isn't breathing well (a little Salinex always does the trick!). We're not stressed about getting him on a schedule, and actually on this point he has done fabulously by putting himself on a very regular and consistent sleep schedule (feedings are on demand).

There are so many differences in the characters of our two babies that it really is impossible to put comparisons out there, the way most people expect us to. The sleep issue in itself is completely the opposite of our situation with Kira (she always has been and continues to be, difficult to put to sleep). He has loved his bath since day 1 and smiles the entire time he's in the water (Kira took awhile to adjust to bathtime - I don't think either of us enjoyed the experience until she was several months old). There are 2 things we are very careful with, and they are his skin (he has eczema) and my diet (he has bovine protein sensitivity and so I have to watch what I eat because it is processed into my breast milk). I'll be writing more about these issues after our medical appointments in the coming weeks.

One thing I am disappointed with is my inability to be able to go outdoors with the 2 kids on a regular basis. I can't take the kids for a walk without the entire family going together because: a) the stroller doesn't push well through our snowy streets and sidewalks; and b) Kira doesn't want to stay put in her stroller and it's impossible for me to push the stroller while she wanders off or fails to stay by my side. Mark and I go for walks when we can with our kids, because we feel it's important for them to get fresh air and to be used to all of the different seasons that we are so lucky to have where we live. Calvin isn't very aware of all this yet, and he screams when we bundle him up, but he seems to enjoy the outdoors and sleeps well after long walks.

Calvin's milestones? Let's see... he can push himself up on his belly, he regards his hands often and has started grasping things, and he "jumps" in the exersaucer. Oh, and he's mastered the art of "charming" with his beaming smile. He's inadvertently rolled over but I can't quite call this a skill yet. We're waiting for rolling and sitting in the coming months. Here are a couple of photos of my handsome little boy.

The importance of play dates

Sometime between now and the age of 3, Kira should be learning about and understanding the concept of sharing. I can't wait for that moment when it finally makes sense to her! In the meantime, I'm trying to give her as many opportunities as possible to socialize with others so she can develop some meaningful social skills. When she's surrounded by adults, she knows she's centre-stage and loves to announce: "Look at me! Look at me!" as she entertains the masses. When she's with other 2-year olds, there is always a power struggle, a fight, and tears - if not from Kira, then from one of her friends. When she's with an older child (especially with girls), she follows them around and idolizes them. When she's the big girl, she's very playful and depending on her mood, can even play "mommy" to a little baby.

While my calendar continues to fill up with appointments, classes and planned activities for the kids, I try to set aside at least one day a week to give them a play date. Although I can foresee the spring and summer getting a bit too busy to have regular weekly play dates, I'll be trying my darndest to fit time in for this activity. Kira has enjoyed spending time one-on-one with friends that she hasn't taken the time to notice at playgroup, just because it's such a frenzy of activity and she is a relatively quiet girl who likes to explore an environment carefully before she becomes comfortable. So far, we've hosted 4 play dates here at home, and we've also been to a handful at other people's homes.

Kira's first play date was at Juliana and Olivia's home. Juliana is 5 years old, and being the older one in the house, plays the role of big sister with confidence. Her little sister Olivia is the same age as Kira, and being her "baby sister", she thinks of Olivia as a baby. So when Juliana heard that Kira was a "big sister" at the age of 2, she thought that was SO funny! A baby being a big sister - imagine! :) We were near the beginning of Kira's toilet-training adventure at the time, so naturally Kira was having waaay too much fun to notice the urgency of her need to pee until it was too late. Aside from that mishap, we all had a really fun time. The girls played with toys together, drew together, read books, and even started to play a board game! We mommies even found time to have an adult conversation while the girls amused themselves in the basement (ahh, the luxury of having an older child - can't wait!). Of course, Calvin came along for the ride as well, but he was busy sleeping or pooing most of the time.

Here's an adorable video of Kira with her friend Jaiden. Vicki and I were diligent in being sure to supervise the kids and be next to them at all times to avoid collisions, fights or other mishaps. However, when we were both in the kitchen chatting for a moment, Vicki looked in on them in the living room and found them entertaining themselves. Unfortunately I didn't catch it all since I was busy preparing lunch, but here's part of what was going on in there. I LOVE this video! By the way, you'll notice Kira's wearing her princess costume. Try as we may to shelter her from the world of princesses and Barbies, she loves dress-up and it's hard for her to resist our bin full of costumes (some given to us, hence the princess one!)

I'm dreaming of getting a swing set and sandbox when the snow thaws, so we can take these play dates outdoors soon! Swings, sandbox playtime, picnic and watermelons - all outdoors! And all the mess stays outside! Experienced moms are all scoffing at me now, because the mess can't possibly all stay outside, am I right?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Eat Well Expo

Today, after celebrating Easter at a fabulously fun playgroup party (but more on that in a future post), I decided to take the kids to the Eat Well Expo (Expo Manger Santé), which runs until this Sunday March 16th. Of course, I had planned the outing in advance, and not wanting to be alone with the kids in a huge hall full of exhibitors and crowds, I invited my friend Mikio to join. Whew, I'm glad I did! Here's Kira with Mikio, being bribed to behave with some ice cream:

Amazingly enough, after a night of little sleep Kira managed to stay up throughout the drive from Brossard to the Palais de Congrès, and chattered away to me for the 30 minutes (!) it took for me to find a parking spot at the lot. Once we arrived and met up with Mikio (which was an ordeal it itself), we found the ticket outlet. Huge line-ups. I started to dread what I had gotten myself into.

The theme of this year's Expo is Children and Family Health. I was impressed to see so many exhibitors (more than 200 booths) with organic and ecological products to view, touch and taste. Had I been there alone, I might have taken more time to visit the booths and to read up on the products or to ask questions. But, with 2 babies in tow, the main goal today was to sample enough wares that I wouldn't have to prepare lunch upon arriving back at home. :) Ooh, lots of samples. Bread, chocolate, soup, jelly beans, sorbets, (dry and fresh) fruit, nuts, and more! Something like an outing to Costco but with narrower aisles and a greater selection. Oh, and skin products to sample on my dry, sensitive skin!

There were some booths geared towards moms, which was so nice to see. Also, it was nice to see that there were a few moms strolling around with their babies in slings or baby carriers. And the people in general were just so nice! It was nothing like grocery shopping during the holiday season (which I detest!), although it was definitely much more crowded. I think that every person who bumped into us or whom we bumped into, apologized kindly or smiled at my kids and understood. Amazing. Calvin needed to be nursed and nobody gave me a disapproving look (which sometimes happens in crowded public places - not that it makes me stop what I'm doing, but I do feel uncomfortable when I know there are looks flashing my way...).

For all of the positive aspects of this event, I probably wouldn't go again unless I were to take only one child (preferably the younger one), or to go alone. It was a bit of a hectic outing, and expensive too, including the hefty $16 for parking and $10 admission (children are free). But I had to try it, and it was fun! Kira had fun all the way until we left the Palais de Congrès. Here she is running through the pink "forest" in the building's main hall.

Okay, I promise to post some family photos and videos very soon!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Swapping for a cause

Last December I was lucky enough to attend my first children's clothing swap. It was so much fun and so inspiring, that I decided to organize one for the playgroup that Kira belongs to in nearby Brossard. Well, actually there wasn't too much organizing to do, except to think of rules that make sense to make the event run smoothly and satisfy everyone. It was also decided that we would donate any leftover clothing to those who are less fortunate. We decided through the recommendation of one of the members, Ana Maria, to donate all leftover clothing to Le Chainon, an organization that helps women in difficulty with their basic needs (food, hygiene, healthcare, security, hygiene). Please click on the above link if you're interested in learning more about this local organization (the website is in French only).

The benefits of swapping are numerous. For one thing, this practice takes place in a lot of women's groups as well, and I've read about designer clothing swaps where women gather in the hope of being able to trade stylin' outfits so they don't feel guilty about having spent hundreds (or thousands!) of dollars on an outfit that was only worn once or twice. Of course, swapping children's clothing is for a much simpler reason: to trade clothes that will only be worn for a few months out of the year only to be outgrown and collect in a bin in our basement! My personal hope was to swap a selection of Kira's outgrown girly clothes for some new duds for my growing baby Calvin (and boy, is he ever growing by leaps and bounds! But I'll save that for another blog post.) Unfortunately for me, the majority of clothing contributions were for little girls 2 and under. The pickings were slim for boys' clothing, and so I ended up not taking anything. But this is a risk you take in a clothing swap! Sometimes you walk away with gems!

Here are some of the rules I posted for the event that you may wish to use as a guideline in case you are thinking of organizing a clothing swap for your own group or organization:
  • Set a firm swap starting time so you can get things rolling promptly.
  • Set the maximum number of items a person can bring (this becomes the max. they can take away of swapped clothes).
  • Ask that if people have any outfits with more than one piece (for example, top & pants), to please safety pin the ensemble together so they don't get separated when people start sifting through items.
  • For a kids' swap: Limit the number of onesies, sleepers and t-shirts to a minimum, as swappers tend to look more for outfits / "special" tops & bottoms. In fact, I would even suggest that if you have onesies, sleepers or t-shirts that you want to get rid of, that you package them in sets of 2 or 3 to make them more enticing!
  • Set up a box of giveaway items that are not to swap, but for people to simply take if they like (and not to count in the number of items they swap). Examples: socks (in Ziploc bags - ie: don't bring one pair of socks, but if you have several, put them in a big Ziploc for someone to take); shoes (relatively clean ones only); any other accessories (such as belts, hair accessories, etc.).
  • For a children's clothing swap, set the sizes (for us, it was 0 to 6X) and seasons (we said any season's clothing was okay).
  • You don't HAVE to take back as many clothes as you give. If you just want to clean out your kids' closets a bit, then just bring in clothes.
  • You don't have to take items only for your own kids. If you see something that might be nice for someone you know, by all means take it as part of your swap!
  • Once the swap comes to a close, if you would like to take any of the items you brought back, feel free to do so (maybe you have someone in mind to give them to). Otherwise, please consider them as donations to a worthy organization.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Kira and her incentives

We're learning a lot about parenting as we go. Despite all the reading and research we try to do, things don't work out quite as well as we theorize they will and inevitably we end up changing our strategy a few times as we go. Hopefully we can learn enough from our experiences to "get it right" with Calvin, but then again each child has his/her own temperament and character.

Take sleep, for example. Kira started out going down for the night quite late, anywhere between 11pm to 2am. She was always such a light sleeper and I made the mistake of nursing her until she would fall asleep. I changed this after reading so many articles denouncing this practice. Then there were several months on end when I had to be stroking her head for her to fall asleep, and quite often she'd wake up as I tried to sneak out of her room. As she got older, this progressed to having to hold her hand. Things got better by the time she was a year and a half, but then regressed once she was transitioned to a big-girl bed (which we had to do because we needed the crib for the coming baby). Long story short, the thing that seems to work well for Kira has been incentives!

When we started potty-training Kira, we'd give her a sticker for every successful trip to the toilet. She still asks for a sticker every so often, but now she just knows when she needs to go, and we're smiling at the success of the milestone and the low cost of her reward (thank you, Dollarama, for selling 250 stickers for a buck!). We're also pretty conscious about providing healthy meals and very little junk food at home, so every yummy treat offered to Kira is like gold in her eyes. We tell her that if she eats a good meal, she can have a treat. The above photo is Kira with her coveted half-cookie that she received from Auntie Naomi last weekend, but we only let her have it today because she ate an impressive breakfast!

The funniest "incentive" we have to admit, is the vitamin. Kira gets a chewable vitamin every day. We started her on them because as with most 2-year-olds, every day is a different story on whether she'll eat well or not. So after consulting with her doctor, we decided to try starting her on fruit-flavoured vitamins. Whoa! Kira thinks they're candy! She begs for them all day long! So now her "reward" for taking an afternoon nap, is her vitamin when she wakes up! Here's Kira showing off her orange vitamin for a nap well-taken! :)

Our reward has lately been a better night's sleep, and a child who is a bit more willing to try new foods. Hopefully we won't have to resort to incentives all the time for Calvin, but we'll have to see what his character is like!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

My New Year began today

My New Year started today, March 01st. I just started a challenge to myself that Mark is joining me in. The Quebec government issued the 5/30 Challenge, which starts today. The Challenge is to eat a minimum of 5 servings of fruit and/or vegetable per day, and to take part in a minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity per day, 5 days a week, for 6 weeks. I'm off to a good start. 41 days to go.

I'm glad the Challenge started in March. I mean honestly, if it had begun in January I would never have made it, what with all the holiday gatherings and great food. I think March is the perfect time to start a resolution! We can actually look forward to springtime: the darkness outside is beginning to give way to sunshine.

I have lofty goals for this year, including keeping up maintaining a blog!