Sunday, March 4, 2018

Stretchy Wraps: an ideal baby carrier for the newborn stage

When our children were wee, the one parenting tool I could not do without was a good baby carrier.  Of course, I didn't have 'just one', I had a number of carriers because I felt that different carriers were better-suited to different stages and situations.  With our first two children, I relied on ring slings and SSCs to tote them around at home and when we were out and about.  I eschewed a stroller in favor of a carrier because babywearing was just so much more convenient. With our last two, I branched out into the world of wraps, both woven and stretchy.

Quite often, when new or expecting parents come into the store looking to purchase a carrier, they will ask for a carrier that they can use from day one through toddlerhood. While I can appreciate the appeal of buying one thing and using it through many stages, the reality is that even though many carriers, particularly SSCs, will claim to be a 'birth until 40 lbs' carrier, the reality is that even though you *can* carry a newborn in a SSC, they are not as well-suited to this stage as other types of carriers.

We often recommend that new parents consider a stretchy wrap as a newborn babywearing option, because it is a carrier well-suited to this stage for a number of reasons.

A stretchy wrap is supportive.  Newborns are born with low muscle tone, so they need lots of support, whether it's in-arms, or in a baby carrier.  A stretchy wrap offers great support to a newborn, particularly to their head and neck, which can be tucked snugly into the carrier.

A stretchy wrap allows  for skin-to-skin time while baby wearing.  Skin-to-skin time offers new parents a multitude of benefits, in particular, it provides fathers  with a wonderful opportunity to bond with their new baby.  If you aren't wearing a shirt under a stretchy wrap, it will provide as much coverage as a tank top, and due to its one-size nature, stretchy wraps provide both parents with an opportunity for skin-to-skin time (as opposed to a 'skin-to-skin' shirt which is sized).

A stretchy wrap can be pre-tied. When your newborn is unhappy, she will let you know IMMEDIATELY.  Your baby can go from quiet and content to a raging maniac in less time it takes you to blink. A pre-tied wrap means you can have your carrier tied on, and you just need to pop your baby into the carrier as soon as she wants to be held (and your baby will want to be held!).  A pre-tied wrap also means your carrier is ready to go when you're out of the house, no need to worry about tails or straps touching a dirty floor when you're out and about.

A stretchy wrap is machine-washable.  For the first six to eight weeks for your baby's life, he or she will be leaking out of every orifice (I am not kidding!!).  Ideally, SSCs are spot cleaned as needed, and machine washed sparingly.  If you have a baby who is prone to spit up after every feeding (and by 'spit up', I mean somehow regurgitate twice the volume of liquid she consumed), using a carrier that can be machine-washed and dried frequently is important.

A stretchy wrap is easy to use.  I know when you look at that pile of fabric, it seems confusing, but the beauty of a stretchy wrap is that there is ONE way to tie it on.  And?  You can tie it on, *then* put your baby in the carrier.  Other carriers that 'seem' easier (like a ring sling, for example), have a higher learning curve because you have to learn how to put the carrier on and adjust it while you're holding your baby.  Of course, it only takes some practice and patience to master this, but a stretchy wrap is an easier-to-use carrier right out of the box.

Although stretchy wrap manufacturers suggest their carriers can be used from birth up to 35 lbs, they are really only suitable to use until your little one hits the 15-20 lb mark, which is generally between four and six months of age. At this point, most babies can sit 'legs out' in a soft-structured carrier, and they are sturdier, so a lot of parents transition out of their stretchy wrap to a SSC at this stage. 

If you really want to explore the idea of using a SSC with your newborn from day one, we can certainly help you with that (and certain brands are suited to this purpose better than others), however, a stretchy wrap is a great newborn babywearing option that won't break the bank. 

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Closed from January 29th - February 9th!

The usual challenges of being a small retail business in January and February have been amplified this year by a major flood in early January, followed by an upcoming closure due to some major renovations that require our landlord to open our ceiling and outside wall. 

We are hopeful that we can reopen at some point during that period in the evenings or on the weekend (while the plumbers aren't working) so we can generate some revenue, but failing that, we're going to do our best to encourage our regulars to shop with us for the next couple of weeks while we weather this little storm.

Faustina at Fabrications and Patti at Tag Along Toys have graciously allowed us to leave orders at their stores for pick-up.  To take advantage of these local pick-up options, place an order on our website and indicate in the cart's comments section which location you would like to pick your order up from.  You will not be charged S&H, and we'll contact you as soon as your package is ready for pick-up. 

If you would prefer to have your order shipped directly to your home,  we've lowered our free S&H threshold to $50.00 (and if you're located between Little Italy and Westboro, we're happy to hand-deliver your order to your door, free of charge!).

As challenging as the next couple of weeks will be, it will be nice to have a two week break from running the store. Although I've taken vacations over the years, the reality is that the store is constantly on my mind, regardless of whether I'm physically there or not.  Worst-case scenario, we will have zero sales over the next couple of weeks, and our bank overdraft will float us until we are able to reopen.  But not having to worry about crappy weather, and the crappy parking it brings with it at this time of year, will be a relief.  When we reopen, there will a light at the end of the tunnel because March will be just around the corner.

If you need to get in touch over the next couple of weeks, feel free to e-mail me, or send a message through our Facebook business page.  We appreciate your support during this time, and we look forward to getting back to 'business as usual'.  As soon as we know whether or not we can reopen on a part-time basis in the next two weeks, we'll update our Facebook page.  Until then, catch you on the flip side!

- susie ;)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

DIY Frozen Treats

Summer has finally arrived in Ottawa after literally weeks (and weeks!) of rain.  We've restocked our popular stainless steel popsicle molds in both the rocket and paddles styles.  These popsicle molds are durable and easy to clean, and they will last for years -- even their bamboo sticks are reusable (but you will have to train your family not to throw them out). 

DIY popsicles are a great way to give your family healthy frozen treats, and they're so simple to make, your kids can help.  DIY popsicles can be as simple as frozen juice, but once you get hooked on DIY popsicles, it's fun to get creative in the kitchen. 
We've made the following recipes successfully (meaning more than once).  You don't 'need' popsicle molds, you can get by with cups and popsicle sticks, but the portion size and design of our stainless steel molds makes them easy to eat, and their drip catchers help cut down on mess.  I've linked the original recipes in the titles, the recipes below reflect any adjustments we made.

Avocado and Coconut Ice Pops

This recipe is not terribly sweet, so I liked it more than our kids (and to be honest, having popsicle in the freezers that the kids don't like as much as you do is not a terrible thing!).

1 fresh (large) avocado
1 cup coconut milk
2 Tbsp. honey (may substitute with 2 Tbsp. sugar)
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut
  1. Place avocado, coconut milk, honey and lemon into a blender. Blend on high until smooth.  Mix in shredded coconut.
  2. Pour into popsicle molds, insert lidded sticks into the popsicle molds.
  3. Freeze until firm.
  4. Run popsicle molds under warm water for about 15 seconds to loosen the popsicles so they slide out easily.

This recipe is quite sweet, the original recipe calls for up to 1 3/4 cups of sugar -- that's cray cray, 1 cup of sugar is more than enough (and quite frankly you could probably use even less).  Naturally, our kids love this recipe.  I like this recipe enough to make a point to keep two cans of coconut milk in our fridge at all times so I can whip this up whenever we feel like it -- it actually blends up into a nice, soft ice cream right out of the blender if you want instant gratification.
2 (13-oz.) cans of chilled, full fat coconut milk (don't use 'light' or fat-free coconut milk!).
1 cup of sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  1. Place all ingredients into a blender. Blend on high until smooth. 
  2. Pour into popsicle molds, insert lidded sticks into the popsicle molds.
  3. Freeze until firm.
  4. Run popsicle molds under warm water for about 15 seconds to loosen the popsicles so they slide out easily.
Optional: if you have the paddle-style popsicle mold, you can slide an Oreo cookie into the mold -- just slide the stick into the cookie cream before you insert it into the popsicle mold.
This recipe is great because you can use frozen fruit -- using frozen fruit reduces the work involved (who doesn't like easy?).
2 cups fruit (fresh or frozen)
1-2 tablespoons honey
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup water, juice, milk or yogurt (add enough to achieve smoothie-like consistency)
  1. Place all ingredients into a blender. Blend on high until smooth. 
  2. Pour into popsicle molds, insert lidded sticks into the popsicle molds.
  3. Freeze until firm.
  4. Run popsicle molds under warm water for about 15 seconds to loosen the popsicles so they slide out easily.

    Thursday, May 25, 2017

    28 days...

    disclaimer:  Are you a man?  I'm going to talk about my period here.  You have been warned!

    We have sold reusable menstrual products for a number of years now, and when customers come in to consider their options, we often chat about our own experiences using them.  I have dabbled with the Diva Cup, and it wasn't for me, but I'm the exception to the rule, and I really only gave it a 2-hour test drive one time (yes, one time!).  I know that it takes at least a couple of cycles to get used to a menstrual cup, there is a bit of a learning curve in terms of positioning it properly, and if I'm perfectly honest, my Diva Cup went missing basically immediately after that one time I used it, and I'm fairly certain it probably became a Barbie hat.  But that's beside the point. 

    Anyhow, I have been using cloth pads for a long time now -- I've had the same set of pads in rotation for close to eight years.  My initial investment was approximately $60.00; like buying cloth diapers, there can be a little sticker shock when getting set up with reusable menstrual products, but when you consider their longterm use, you can be sure you'll save $$$ in the longrun.  Things cost a little more now, but you could still comfortably get set up with a set of cloth menstrual pads for approximately $75.00.

    How many?
    I have six cloth pads in rotation, which is more than enough for me.  As a family of six, we (read: me) are always doing laundry.  My cycle is approximately five days long, and to go five days without at least a couple loads of laundry would be nothing short of a miracle.  I usually use two-three pads a day -- I can comfortably wear the same pad for 4-6 hours (even on those heavy days at the start of my cycle).  Cloth menstrual pads typically come in light/regular/heavy variations, I only use the 'regular' pads, they are sufficient for my needs.

    Do they work?
    How do the menstrual pads perform in comparison to their single-use counterparts?  Just fine!  I have never leaked through a pad, in fact, I find less 'mess' ends up in the pad by comparison.  Single-use menstrual pads contain super-absorbing polymers (the same chemicals used in disposable diapers) to draw liquid from your body.  Using cloth menstrual pads, I find most of my flow ends up in the toilet. I'm confident in this theory enough that I don't even use a pad at night -- as long as I go to the bathroom immediately when I wake up, I have no issues with leaking (I absolutely detest wearing a pad at night!).

    Öko Creations hemp/cotton menstrual pads
    Are they comfortable?
    In terms of comfort, cloth pads are a little bulkier, but not enough to bother me.  Some customers have switched to using cloth pads because single-use menstrual pads chafe their lady bits (yes, I said lady bits).  Cloth pads stay in place well as long as I'm wearing underwear that fits properly (when I wear underwear that's too loose on me, the pads can move around, which is not ideal, but completely avoidable). 

    Do I have to switch entirely?
    The only time I favor single-use menstrual products is when I play soccer (and not necessarily always, just sometimes), and occasionally when I run (which is rare because I hate running, but I'm only mentioning it so you think I'm actually more active than I really am).  Like cloth diapers, switching to reusable menstrual options doesn't have to be an 'all or nothing' commitment.

    How much work is it?
    Honestly, none.  I know there's lots of information 'out there' about how to 'properly care for' you cloth menstrual pads, but I'm going to let you in on a little secret.  You don't really have to do anything special.  I don't soak mine in a bucket beside the toilet because the idea of doing that makes me what to throw up (for realz). I toss my dirty pad into the laundry hamper (out of care and consideration for my family, I will bury them under other pieces of dirty clothing because I don't want anyone to faint from horror if they are confronted with a reminder that I still have a properly functioning uterus).  In our family we (read me:) wash everything on hot, and dry everything on low heat.  Even though our kids are well out of diapers, I still use CountrySave detergent because it is gentle, but effective at cleaning everything, including my soiled menstrual pads.  When my pads come out of the dryer with all the other laundry, they are thrown into my underwear drawer where they shall remain until I need them again 28 days later.

    So that's it, what do you think?  I hope I've made it sound as easy as it truly is.  Now that I have two teenagers who have periods, I'm reminded of all the waste that single-use menstrual products generate, and how much $$$ they cost (seriously!  They are so expensive!).  My girls know that I use cloth menstrual pads, and I know that they are horrified at the idea right now (and to be honest, at their age, I would have been too), but it's my hope that one day they consider switching to reusables.  I think for a lot of people, it's just getting over the 'ick! factor', once you get going, it's really NBD (no big deal).

    Wednesday, February 1, 2017

    Books, books, books!

    If you've visited our store in the past few months, you may have noticed we've been growing our inventory to include stock aimed at older children, we're not just a 'baby' store anymore.  As part of that effort, we've been growing our selection of books beyond board books and puppet books.  As someone who enjoys a good book more than anything else, I think reading is a valuable pastime for everyone, big and small.  It's a great way to improve your comprehension, vocabulary, and grammar skills, and it's a wonderful escape from real life.  

    As much as I enjoy reading books for my own pleasure, reading to our children when they were younger is something I'll always look back on with fondness.  Reading at bedtime was a great way to wind down at the end of the day, and it was part of our nightly routine.  Aside from providing entertainment, children can benefit from the message some books can offer.  Towards that end, we've stocked three new titles that emphasize gratitude, kindness, and sharing.  Given current world events, I think these messages are especially important right now.

    The Invisible Boy

    Meet Brian, the invisible boy. Nobody ever seems to notice him or think to include him in their group, game, or birthday party . . . until, that is, a new kid comes to class.

    When Justin, the new boy, arrives, Brian is the first to make him feel welcome. And when Brian and Justin team up to work on a class project together, Brian finds a way to shine.

    This gentle story shows how small acts of kindness can help children feel included and allow them to flourish.

    Last Stop on Market Street

    Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. But today, CJ wonders why they don't own a car like his friend Colby. Why doesn’t he have an iPod like the boys on the bus? How come they always have to get off in the dirty part of town? Each question is met with an encouraging answer from grandma, who helps him see the beauty—and fun—in their routine and the world around them.

    Those Shoes

    All Jeremy wants is a pair of those shoes, the ones everyone at school seems to be wearing. Though Jeremy’s grandma says they don’t have room for "want," just "need," when his old shoes fall apart at school, he is more determined than ever to have those shoes, even a thrift-shop pair that are much too small. But sore feet aren’t much fun, and Jeremy soon sees that the things he has — warm boots, a loving grandma, and the chance to help a friend — are worth more than the things he wants. 

    These books are a great way to open the door to conversations about the themes they present.  And those conversations, in turn, can serve as a great reminder that as uncertain as things may feel right now, the vast majority of people are kind and caring, and everything will be alright. 

    Wednesday, June 1, 2016

    Farewell, Waterloo.

    June 2016 marks our presences in the K-W area for ten years, unfortunately, it also marks the end of an era.  Declining sales have forced me to make the difficult decision to close our doors.  It is with great sadness that I'm announcing our last day of business will be Saturday, June 18th, 2016. 

    Over the past ten years, our Waterloo store has been staffed by a great bunch of mothers, many of their children have grown up in the store.  Far from 'just' salesgirls, I know these women have been a great resource in the community, providing wonderful assistance to new mothers in terms of offering breastfeeding support and general parenting advice.

    The unfortunate reality of our situation is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to compete as a brick & mortar business in the world of natural parenting products.  14 years ago, when I started this business, I was filling a need in the community.  I started the business because I thought other parents like myself would find it easier to buy to natural parenting products in person, rather than online.  At the time, being able to see products in person, and in the case of carriers, learn how to use them properly, trumped the convenience of online shopping, which was still in its infancy.

    Over the past few years, we've noticed a trend whereby despite the same number of people coming into the store to learn about the products we sell, our sales have steadily declined. This trend picked up steam over the past year as we had to raise prices to compensate for the weak Canadian dollar, making it harder to compete with WAHMs who enjoy a lower overhead, and big box online vendors, who have the volume to justify slimmer margins.  

    As sad as I am about making this decision, the store's closure will bring with it a sense of relief.  I think when people consider an independent business, they forget there's a real live person behind it, usually just one.  Dealing with declining sales (and mounting debt) has crept into every second of my life, it's been tough being the only person to shoulder the stress.  I did not start this business to become rich, I started it as a means to share my passion for natural parenting products with other parents, and to carve out a career that allowed me to contribute to our family's finances, and spend time with our children.  I am proud that I managed to foster a work environment that allowed other mothers to do the same, and I know that they are just as gutted as I am about the situation, but they support my decision.  

    I have no plans to close our Ottawa location, but I am slowly adapting its inventory to meet the community's needs.  We have been increasing our gift and toy selection, and I am planning on extending our hours so that we can catch the after work crowd.  I have resisted changing the nature of the store for a long time, but the reality is that we need to sell what people want to buy, and if I want to keep our doors open in Ottawa, I need to adapt to the market.  

    Effective immediately, all regularly priced inventory in Waterloo (excluding Padraigs) is marked down 25%.  Clearance prices are not applicable to previous purchases, and all sales are final.  If you have an outstanding gift card, I encourage you to use it ASAP.  Once the store is closed, you will be able to use them online, but shopping in person will save you the cost of S&H.

    If you are a K-W area parent, I would greatly appreciate it if you would share this post with friends who are in the market for cloth diapers, carriers, or breastfeeding essentials.  My husband and I will be travelling to Waterloo to pack everything up and bring it back to Ottawa on June 19th - the lighter our load, the easier our job. I would also encourage you to stop by the store, and let the ladies who work there know how much they'll be missed. There were tears when I broke the news to them, and I'm sure there will be many more tears before our doors close permanently.  I know they formed close friendships with each other, and many of our customers.  I feel fortunate to have had an opportunity to work with such a great group of women, I will truly miss them.

    Lastly, if there is a local store you enjoy, please make a point to shop there.  I know a lot of businesses in the K-W are are struggling right now due to the construction of the LRT.  Don't forget to show them your love, every purchase counts.

    Wednesday, May 4, 2016

    Kindergarten Registration? Consider the Alternative!

    At this time of year, parents come into the store lamenting the fact that it's time to sign their children up for junior kindergarten.  Having 'been there, done that' four times myself, I know it seems like in the blink of an eye, your child goes from being a helpless lump to an independent little ball of energy ready to get out into the world.  Certainly, when we were in the position of signing up our oldest daughter for JK 12 years ago (!!!), we were fearful of how she'd fare at school.  Will she make friends?  Will she like her teachers?  Will she enjoy school?   

    In terms of deciding which school to send our kids to when we lived in a suburb of Ottawa, the only consideration we had to make was English or French.  As Anglophones who both grew up in Southwestern Ontario, despite its widespread availability in Ottawa, French Immersion was not important to us.  Prior to coming to Ottawa, I had never heard anyone speak French outside of the classroom, where I became quite fluent at issuing commands such as "Open the window!", "Close the door!", "Raise your hand!", and my personal favourite "Shut your mouth!". As someone who moved to Ottawa and managed to carve out a respectable living just fine without being fluently bilingual, exposing our children to French Immersion was not important to me.  My father taught himself to speak and read German when he started dating my mother, so I wasn't terribly concerned about introducing French to our children at a young age, on an ongoing basis - if they are so inclined, they can learn to speak a second language later in life.  We enrolled our kids in regular Public school, and things were fine.

    When we packed up and left the suburbs almost four years ago and put down roots near the Shoppe, we had to enroll the kids in a new school.  I was under the impression our only choice of schools would be Devonshire (offering early French Immersion), or Connaught Public School (regular Public, at the time).  In deciding which school to enroll our children in, I was mostly concerned about our son Owen; he was still working on overcoming a considerable speech delay, and according to his teachers at the time, he was lagging behind.  In a casual conversation about school options with someone already living in the neighbourhood, I was ecstatic when I learned our kids were eligible to attend Churchill Alternative School.  I already knew other families who had their children enrolled at Churchill, so I was thrilled that our move had also put us within the school's boundaries. Talk about serendipity!  Now we weren't simply limited to choosing between schools that differed based on whether they offered a French Immersion program or not, we had an Alternative school to consider. 

    When casually discussing school choices with parents of preschoolers, parents often dismiss Churchill on the basis that it doesn't offer an early French Immersion program.  Like all kids in Ottawa, the kids at Churchill receive 40 minutes of core French daily from Grade 1 onwards; starting in Fall 2016, all children in JK will receive 50% of their instruction in French. There are schools in the area that offer a middle Immersion program, so if French is an important factor in your decision in terms of which school to send your child to, Hilson Avenue Public School accepts children in grade four into a French Immersion program - the decision to take advantage of a French Immersion program is not one that must be made when you enroll your child in Junior Kindergarten. 

    Alternative schools teach the same core curriculum as regular schools, but they differ in approach.  My daughter's former teacher (the talented Shauna Pollock) summed up how kids learn at Churchill perfectly with the phrase "Different kids learn in different ways, on different days."  Rather than apply a one-size-fits-all solution to teaching, the teachers manage to engage kids individually. The core tenets the school adheres to foster a sense of caring and respect among students, and it encourages intrinsic learning; children are internally motivated to participate and succeed.  Owen went from struggling at school, and disliking it as a result, to thriving - it was like someone had flipped a switch.  Our other children, despite not 'needing' an Alternative program, loved their new school.  

    At our previous school, like any traditional Public school, our kids received letter grades on their report cards. At Churchill, the report cards do not show a grade (although the report card is filed with the school board with a grade); rather, we receive detailed comments that provide us with a much better sense of how our children are actually faring in class.  The letter grade and canned comments we received from our former school were not helpful, they were just a source of stress for our son, who felt inadequate.  

    What the school lacks in French Immersion it makes up for in a comprehensive music program that culminates at the end of the school year with a community concert.  Our kids went from having zero musical ability to being able to read (and compose!) music by participating in the school's 'Ukulele Club.' There are many secondary benefits of musical instruction that influence children's development; as someone who doesn't harbor any musical talent, I'm glad our kids are getting a chance to tap into a creative outlet they would not have been exposed to otherwise.  In addition to the various music clubs, the teachers run a number of interesting and engaging extracurricular activities at recess that expose children to topics and skills outside of the core curriculum.  Given how taxed teachers already are trying to keep up with the basic demands of their profession, I am really appreciative that they find the time and energy to run these programs.

    The Alternative teaching model encourages parental involvement in the classroom. Although not required by any means, volunteering in our children's classrooms has given me a chance to witness firsthand how they're doing, and it's given me a great opportunity to get to know their peers and their teachers.  Communication at Churchill goes beyond occasional newsletters sent home in backpacks. We receive regular e-mail updates from their teachers, and many teachers maintain a class blog that gives parents a regular peek (including pictures!) into their child's day at school. Updates aside, having access to teachers via e-mail encourages an open dialog; if we've ever had concerns about our children at school, they are easily addressed directly with teachers.  

    I can't speak about the teachers at Churchill without mentioning how highly I think of them. They are kind and compassionate, and above all, they are clearly dedicated to their role as educators. 

    We are incredibly fortunate to be a member of this school community, with four years under our belt, we're officially at the halfway point, and I'm already feeling verklempt about leaving. I think I'll take it harder than the kids when it's time for us to part ways!  Moving to the Hintonburg area was a great choice for our family for a number of reasons, the change in school's was an unforeseen benefit that I'd put at the top of the list.  If you live in the school's catchment area, and you are still debating which school to enroll your child at,  I would strongly suggest you consider Churchill. Weekly tours on Friday mornings give parents considering the school an opportunity to see the Alternative teaching model in action.