Happy December

things on my mind as we roll into this last month of 2017…

gift spreadsheets
I remember when I was a kid trying to spy over my mom’s shoulder at the hand-written list of gifts for all us kids. To stop my own kids from doing the same I made that most boring and tedious of documents, A SPREADSHEET that I colour-coded and shared with Taylor. I think this will also help us to avoid a replay of last Christmas, (I gave you my heart? no) when we kept forgetting what we’d already bought and kept buying more and ended up with WAY too many gifts.

holiday concerts
Gwen’s school concert was last night (so bizarrely early imo) and it was cute in the way that elementary school concerts are cute. Gwen did a great job and Nicky really enjoyed himself, jumping up and down in our laps and clapping, through about half of it before becoming overtired and angry. Thankfully Gwen’s class performance was early in the show so Taylor was able to leave early without missing her.

decorating, decorating, decorating
I keep rearranging the lights. I’m pretty happy with how they are now, although I feel like I need oneeeee moreeeee strand to put around the fence railing above my stairs to really complete the look outside. We’re going to be decorating the tree tonight and I think getting started on building some holiday Legos this weekend? Then there’s the holiday Playmobils as well, and the little paper houses and garlands and and and…

advent calendars
Taylor and Gwen have Lego advent calendars this year, and I really wanted one for myself but I couldn’t find one I liked. So I guess next year I will have to make my own! I didn’t have time this year but maybe it would be cool? I had a brief idea of making them to sell but the packing sounds like a logistical nightmare. Oh, I and I need to make a new regular calendar for 2018, so keep your eyes peeled for that since I’ll prob be offering it as a free download again

vacationnnnnnnnn
I typically schedule my winter vacation to sync up with the school break, and this year it’s the last week of December and the first week of January. There’s three more weeks of work left, but I can do it. I can do it. This week Taylor’s had out-of-office training and hasn’t been able to take Gwen to school so I’ve been doing drop offs and pick ups with all the little kids. It’s been… ok. Last week I had one of the daycare kids walking so Nicky could go in the double stroller with the other daycare kid, but he (the walking kid) is not yet two so it took a long time and on rainy days we got drenched. I got a stroller board for him instead and it’s been so much better not having to a) walk at the speed of a toddler, and b) wear Nicky for hours every day. I’m thinking I can start doing drop offs regularly a few days a week so Taylor isn’t always getting into the office so late, but still, I’m glad this week is over (it’s a pro-d day) and I don’t have to go down to the school for three whole days!

one one two two

Those poor palmiers, I very very diligently halved the recipe and then grabbed the wrong size of measuring cup and used twice as much sugar as they needed! They were (mostly still edible) but pretty well encased in carmelized sugar. I need a do-over on them.

Last week Gwen had her first-ever Pajama Day at school and honestly you’ve never seen a more excited kid. Also: they were allowed to bring stuffies and two of her friends brought toys Gwen gave them for their birthdays.
Pork chops with apples & onions are a favourite family dinner, but I need to talk about those peas. I threw them together at the last minute, cooking them in butter with lemon zest and smoked salt and they were delicious. Even picky eater Gwen admitted she liked them “a lil bit,” and Nicky couldn’t get enough.

I spent a few evenings sewing a couple of rag rugs together using this DIY to make a new pouf. The rugs were $13 each and I stuffed it with old duvets and pillows I was planning on getting rid of so in addition to being easy it was very affordable! Initially I wanted more neutral-coloured rugs but the ones I found were much more expensive and I decided to go with the thrifty option. The kids and pets certainly think it’s great.

I have been working hard to slowly but surely refresh our living space and HONESTLY I am so happy with how it’s all turning out. The living room/playroom switch has opened up so much more space for playing, and just makes so much more sense than they way it was before. The simple act of repainting the (new) living room and dining room all the same colour makes those areas seem so much bigger as well. We shortened Taylor’s desk which got rid of even more wasted space and clutter, and opened up the office into the living room. And other than our new couch (which was sorely needed) I think the only purchases have been paint and a few small decor items. Other than that, it’s all been rearranging.

This weekend I’m going to repaint the wall where Taylor’s desk used to be (there were a couple of shelves above that we took down that left a major amount of holes behind), and next I’m going to focus on the playroom. I want to finish repainting, move the blackout blinds to make more space for naptime, create new book storage (shelves? a bookcase? boxes?) and invest in a new play kitchen. I got rid of Ol’ Bluey when we had the floors redone but I need a new one. I just feel like it’s something kids really love! I’m like 99% decided on this one, although I loathe the pink and would paint over it/replace it. It has a lot of space for play and I like the shape a lot. I have it planned out in my mind how I’m going to install it in this weird, awkward corner while still leaving space behind it to store the folded minicribs when they aren’t in use, with a shelf above it that has a framed poster mounted on the front to store the minicrib mattresses. It’s hard to explain but I’m very confident that it will work. I’m just hoping that the kitchen drops in price a lil more before I pull the trigger on it.

Also this weekend we’re going to start putting the tree up! Long-time readers will know I like to have it up, bare, for a while to let the kids get used to it, so we won’t decorating until December 1st. A little Christmas has already started sneaking in though: the new mushroom ornament and the felt Santa (made from a kit by Gwen) are already brightening up the room with holiday cheer.

Autumn Leaves

Last week was so hectic around here, I’m very much looking forward to taking it easy. We still have Gwen’s actual birthday dinner on Wednesday and I have an MRI scheduled for the same day (first thing in the morning before work, yikes) but other than that there’s nothing out of the ordinary on my schedule.

Halloweenies

You know, I made sure to charge the battery for my camera so I could take proper pics of the kids in their costumes but the battery is still in the charger and all my Halloween pictures are on my phone.

Gwen chose to dress up this year as a Chocolate Chip Cookie Kitty Cat Princess and no lie, I killed it. Her costume turned out perfectly and at her request I also made a Chocolate Chip Cookie Kitty Cake Royalty costume for Nicky. She had a great time at her school Halloween party, and so much fun trick-or-treating! We went with her best friend Hugo, Hugo’s sister Frankie and their cousin Taiga, and also went to one building with her friend Danielle from school. She is still a little shy and requires a parent when going up to most houses and Taylor had Nicky in the stroller, so Sym handed out candy at our place so I could go with Gwen. After we’d gone around the block Taylor took the little kids home and put them to bed while I took over candy duties from Sym.

We decorated and tantset up our Halloween candy station at the front of the house this year and I honestly don’t even know how many kids came through. Hundreds, literally. We were giving out candy for around three to three and a half hours! We actually didn’t run out of candy but we had over 700 and there’s maybe 100 left? I think for next year I need to get some larger decorations and more spooky lights for my display.

Now that Halloween is over I need to REALLY get to work on Gwen’s birthday party plans. I have some half-formed ideas for her outer space-themed party but everything is still very nebulous (GET IT) and this party is… this Saturday. OOPS.

october

Hmmm two-thirds of this month have gone by and I haven’t posted at all. I’m still trying to get a handle on our new schedule, and it hasn’t helped that Nicky is getting molars (I think, he won’t let us check). The past few weeks he’s been up multiple times during the night, crying and fussing, which is unlike him. His constant wake-ups mean Gwen ends up sleeping in our bed, which means either Taylor or myself end up sleeping on the couch. It’s not ideal, and on Wednesday night I reached my limit of Nicky-Up-All-Night and just let him cry. And you know what? He fussed for a little while and then slept all night! The same thing happened last night so I guess that’s just the way it is. Letting him cry is hard for me, partly because it breaks my heart but also because I know our neighbors can hear him and I feel like they will judge me! Although if they have to hear him making a noisy fuss I suppose it’s better at 9pm vs 3am.

Gwen is still settling in at kindergarten; she loves it and has made a lot of little friends (and was the only classmate invited to one friend’s birthday party) but she struggles a little with stuff like… everything. Paying attention, accepting disappointment, following instructions. She will be working with a speech language pathologist for her delay and a resource person for her fine motor skills. I had a “goal-setting” conference with her teacher earlier this week and it was hard not to cry afterwards and feel like I’ve failed her, but as my friend reminded me last night, she’s still only four!

With everything that’s going on with the little kids, I’m also having some struggles of my own. I can’t remember if I mentioned this on the blog but my Graves’ disease came back this summer, so I’m being treated for that again, but on top of that my back pain (I injured my lower back when I was a teen) has been truly terrible lately. I’m worried that having the wear Nicky in the Ergo for school pickup is basically destroying it, and if it turns out that’s the case I really don’t know what I’m going to do. I saw a doctor about it two weeks ago and was giving a prescription for some EXTREME muscle relaxants, but tbh they don’t really help? So it must be a problem with something else: bones or nerves or connective tissue. I’m also supposed to have an MRI but I don’t have an appointment for it yet, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

This post seems pretty negative, but in spite of it all I’m feeling pretty happy, calm and content (although maybe it’s the pills, haha). I’m deep in my holiday season planning; we had a great Thanksgiving (Taylor and I made the traditional chicken & waffles), and I’ve already bought birthday gifts for both girls as well as ordered the new pieces we need for this years Christmas pajamas. It’s going to be so cute; I can’t wait! We should have Symphony for Christmas this year but her dad got mixed up and made plans for her with his family and, being the very gracious person that I am, I did not insist we stick to our regular schedule. So we will be doing Mini Christmas again this year with Symphony. Unfortunately, there is no Christmas light Maze here like last year (although if you are in or around Arlington, Texas I recommend it) so I will have to find a different fun holiday activity for our weekend.

Of course, before Christmas comes Halloween, and I need to go out today and buy the things I need to make Gwen’s costume. She wants to dress up as a cookie princess (???) so I need… to make… that. I have a surprise day off today so we’re going on an adventure to the fabric & craft stores for supplies. Gwen is actually off school today; for some reason I always end up not working on her school’s professional development days, which is pretty cool but it would be cool to one day have a day with JUST Nicky (this has never happened). Anyway. I’m not sure what to dress him as yet, but I’m thinking… maybe… cookie prince?

one year

Saturday was Nicky’s first birthday, and I honestly can’t believe how quickly the time has gone! It seems like the blink of an eye and my tiny little green bean burrito baby is a big boy who loves to eat steak, play with other kids and is thisclose to walking.

To celebrate we had a brunch party with some friends and family who were in town for a wedding. Taylor and I made food for fourteen people- seven adults (including Sym) and seven kids and amazingly enough it was not a disaster? We had fruit salad with strawberries, blueberries and butterscotch melon (SO GOOD), bacon, tater tots, and funfetti pancakes. Taylor and I were actually at the stove making pancakes at the same time; he was making everyone else’s food while I made Nicky’s smash cake: a stack of 12 silver dollar pancakes for his twelve months here. I used a tablespoon to measure out approximately the same amount of batter for each, spread a little cake frosting on top of each and stacked them up. I secured the whole stack with a wooden skewer that I pulled out just before serving to the birthday boy, and it was a hit.

After Gwen, after getting sick, and after Taylor’s and my very responsible decision to not have more kids (even though I REALLY REALLY wanted a baby) I thought I’d never get to experience pregnancy and childbirth again, and even though my third was my most physically uncomfortable pregnancy and the delivery was terrifying, I am so happy to have had Nicky. I’m so grateful and lucky to have three wonderful children who all love each other, and to watch them grow together is my greatest joy in life.

five faves

I basically stopped existing reading this article because it’s SO. REAL.

The perils of HGTV.

Finally a Kickstarter that is relevant to my interests.

I want this, someone in the UK get me this.

I’m a lil apprehensive about Isle of Dogs because well… Wes Anderson often kills dogs in his movies (Buckley!!), and this movie is almost all dogs… idk, y’all. Decide for yourselves.

Skip Hop Tuo Convertible High Chair Review: The Good, the Bad & the Fatally Flawed

This high chair was not provided to me for review purposes; I bought it (on sale) with my hard-earned money so all my opinions are truly and honestly my own.

When Nicky reached high chair age I had fully planned for him to use Gwen’s hand-me-down Ikea Blames high chair. It was secondhand but Gwen had no problems using it, so I didn’t anticipate Nicky would have trouble either. Unfortunately, he HATED the chair. He would throw himself around in it so hard he’d hurt himself and cry too much to even eat, defeating to purpose of putting him in the dang thing in the first place. Even tucking pillows around him didn’t help. I decided he should have his own high chair, something with a higher back, some cushioning and a 5-point harness with shoulder straps to stop him from flailing around quite so much. Something that fit my aesthetic would also be a bonus. In late April I saw that the Skip Hop Tuo Convertible High Chair was on sale at well.ca, and I liked the look of it so I scooped it up.

THE GOOD

Obviously, the best thing about this high chair is the look of it. The beechwood legs, the two-tone grey seat and the modern silhouette are all things to love about this chair. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want the things in your space, even baby gear, possibly especially baby gear, to look good to you. For me, this chair was one of those things.

It’s also easy to keep the chair looking good, because most of the parts: the seat, reversible seat pad, tray and legs, made from hard plastic, vinyl, or wood, all wipe clean very well. I was actually a little worried about the seat pad staining, as one side is white, but so far it hasn’t been a problem at all. The tray, with a removable, dishwasher-safe insert, is easy to attach, adjust and remove using one hand. I do wish the tray was a little larger (it’s too small to accommodate even a mini ezpz placemat/plate) but that’s not a huge problem for me.

The outer shell of the seat is hard plastic that so far has been proven durable and strong. In spite of the plastic shell and wooden legs the chair is very lightweight and easy to move- the handle on the back of the seat is a nice touch that makes it even easier- and even lift if, for example, you need to shake it out over the sink.

I also like the fact that the high chair transforms into a toddler chair, so Nicky will be able to use it for longer than just a couple of years, and with such an attractive look to the seat I’m happy to keep it around as long as I can. This also helps to ameliorate the cost, as this chair was not cheap; regular price is around $200CDN, although as I stated above I did get it on sale.

THE BAD

Now, because of this future toddler chair conversion, there are a few aspects in the design of this chair that are a little… weird. I understand WHY they are the way they are, and they are not necessarily dealbreakers, but I don’t have to like them.

Number one on my list of problems is the layout of the harness. In a regular, non-convertible high chair with shoulder straps, those straps would usually attach near the top of the seat back because they go over the baby’s shoulders. On this seat, the shoulder straps attach at the BOTTOM of the seat back, which means that a) they are a little more prone to tangling, and b) they don’t keep Nicky sitting quite as still as I’d hoped. It’s obvious that Skip Hop made this choice so that once converted from the high chair configuration to the toddler chair there aren’t awkward looking holes high up in the seat back. I get it.

Next up in awkward design choices is the tray. Instead of being part of the seat, the post that goes between the baby’s legs to keep them from slipping forward & out is part of the tray, obviously once again to preserve the look of the seat as a toddler chair. However, this means that when you remove the tray you can’t put it down flat and right side up. You either have to balance it on an angle (and I find it falls over quite often) or put it face-down, which, if the tray is dirty, makes a huge mess. You can of course take out the removable insert which would theoretically have the bulk of the mess on it, but pulling the insert out often causes any food scraps to go flying. Additionally it took Nicky only about five weeks to realize he could pull the insert out himself and send it, and everything on it, onto the floor in one fell swoop.

THE FATAL FLAW

I mentioned up above that most of the parts of this high chair were easy to clean. I say “most” because there is ONE aspect that is a true pain to wash: The straps. You can wipe the nylon webbing of the 5-point harness sort of clean, but to get it TRULY clean, every now and then you’d need to remove the harness from the chair, wash it and put it back in. And here’s the kicker: You can’t. YOU CAN’T.

I feel like there are a few different designs for high chair harnesses to make them removable and re-insertable. With this chair, Skip Hop instead made the mind-bogglingly terrible choice of making the straps very very difficult to remove and, once removed, nearly impossible to put back. And like… this is Baby Gear 101 stuff. Fabric parts that get very dirty should be easy to clean, and if they need to be removed to be cleaned, they should be easy to remove. Anything else is pure amateur hour.

For the first few months that we owned the Tuo this wasn’t a huge issue, and I was able to keep the straps mostly clean, although they did develop a few stains. Then, in late August, one day when Nicky was in his high chair wearing only a diaper (something I think is common for a lot of babies to do, especially messy eaters in the summer months) the unthinkable happened: a blowout. A truly nasty and gnarly, wet and squelchy diaper blowout of horrorshow proportions. Poop. Everywhere. Including all over the hard-to-clean and not-really-removable high chair harness! Like I’m sorry if I’m being a little over the top here but I just feel with fecal matter you want to clean it out of fabric a little more thoroughly than just wiping it off, you know? Maybe it’s just me, but it’s how I feel.

Now, since the straps don’t attach to the top of the seat back they do have a lot of slack throughout most of the length and it is possible to put a bowl of soapy water in the seat and soak most of that length to get stains out. I’ve had some luck with this method, especially during berry season. However, the parts of the straps closest to the points where they pass through the seat aren’t soakable in this manner and those were exactly the parts with the worst poo contamination.

Obviously you have to remove the harness in order to do the toddler chair conversion. It’s just really, really, really difficult to do. It probably took me the better part of an hour to work the three back ends of the straps up through the hard shell and styrofoam core of the seat far enough to be able to pull them through the very tight holes of the seat cover. I definitely considered just cutting them more than once, but I still need to use this chair for my baby! It needs to have straps!

Once I finally had the straps out they were a fast and easy handwash and dried quickly, but this was the only part of the process that was fast, easy OR quick. Because next, I had to reinsert the straps into the seat, which is clearly not something that has been taken into consideration with this design. It took at least twice as much time to reinsert the harness as it did to remove it, it required a lot of experimenting with different tools and wasn’t even possible to do without some damage to the interior of the seat. The biggest problem is the channels through the seat that the strap ends have to pass through are not straight down. They run at an angle, and the openings are quite tight, meaning you can’t just drop the strap through. I had to use a butter knife to shove the harness ends through the channels, which somewhat gouged up the styrofoam inside, as well as dislodged some small round pieces of fabric that were inside the the seat serving some unknown purpose. I don’t know what they were for, but they’re gone now. I then needed to use pliers to pull the ends of the straps through the openings in the bottom of the seat, which damaged the fabric of the harness ends somewhat.

If you are considering removing the harness from your SkipHop Tuo high chair to clean it, please please read what I have to say next: DON’T. Don’t do it unless, like me, you have an overwhelming amount of determination and tenacity about not letting inanimate objects get the best of you, as well as an overabundance of free time. This incident took place on a weekend when Taylor and I were both home, but had it happened during the week when we were working I feel like the Tuo would be in the trasho right now. If you’ve already pulled the straps from your Tuo and are now frantically googling “Tuo high chair straps removed how to put back help disaster,” congratulations on finding my blog! Good luck, and godspeed.

IN CONCLUSION…

In the honeymoon phase of owning this high chair I recommended it to a lot of people, and to any of them who bought this chair or put it on their registries, I would like to apologize. I’m sorry. What happened to us (POOP) was kind of a worst-case scenario but I think there are quite a few different things that could be spilled or mushed or forcefully ejected from a human body onto the high chair that would necessitate a more thorough cleaning of the harness, and I pray this never happens to any of you. Since I was able to get mine back together I am going to continue using this chair but overall I feel I can no longer recommend the Skip Hop Tuo Convertible High Chair unless it goes through a major redesign of the harness straps and the way they attach to the seat.

As one final note, I did try to contact Skip Hop about the problem I was having and I can’t say I was thrilled with their customer service either. Maybe it’s different in the US but in Canada it’s really not great. The contact form on the website has a dropdown menu of subjects you have to choose from and none of them really applied to my situation- there’s no option for “other.” The customer service number on the site is purely for Carters/Osh Kosh B’Gosh and the number I was given for SkipHop (1-877-4-SKIPHOP) was incorrect. When I managed to guess the correct number ((1-877-4-SKIPHO lolol omg), once I navigated the menu system it sent me to voicemail and my call was not returned. I did receive a response to an email sent directly to their customer service email address, but it was a pretty generic “send us a picture of the damaged or defective item” message, and the problem I had wasn’t damage or a defect, it’s an actual flaw in the design of the item. I can’t imagine they’re willing to send me a whole new high chair every time Nicky makes a mess in his so I didn’t bother replying.

The Perils of Scrimping on Butter

One night last week we were stumped on what to give Gwen & Nicky for dinner. On Thursday Sym is at her dad’s and Taylor and I eat later in the evening, so it’s just the two little kids to cook for. We decided on a lazy classic: breakfast for dinner. Just some fried eggs & toast. Easy-peasy.

We’d run out of butter to fry the eggs so after he got home from work Taylor popped back out to the store to pick some up. The grocery store by our house is way too busy at that time of day so I directed him to the drugstore instead. They only had the cheapest cheap no name butter, but butter is butter right? APPARENTLY NOT. Like I’m not some fancy label buying butter connoisseur; I buy store-brand butter for the most part, so I figured this would be fine. And when the house filled up with smoke and the egg whites were overdone while the yolks were barely warm I assumed it was just Taylor messing up somehow (SORRY TAYLOR).

Then on Sunday I wanted pancakes for brunch. We only recently stopped using pancake mix and making them from scratch (we use this recipe, which is pretty much perfect IF you half the amount of salt), but they’ve turned out great each time we’ve made them. So imagine my surprise and consternation when the house filled with smoke AGAIN and the first two pancakes were still raw on the inside when they were BURNT on the outside.

It was at this point when we realized the problem: THE BUTTER. That cheap-ass bargain basement butter with its ludicrously low smoke point was ruining the pancakes like it has almost ruined the eggs! We quickly wiped out the cast irons and tried using vegetable oil instead, which worked a little better (no smoke at least) but it did not impart a nice flavour to the pancakes, and we were still having trouble cooking them through: they were still turning out raw on the inside even when the outside was seriously overcooked. We tried reducing the temperature and flipping them a few more times, but then Taylor had a revelation: there was butter in the batter! Three whole tablespoons of melted trash butter, rendering our pancake batter uncookable and inedible.

In the end we had no choice but to send both the pancakes and the remaining butter to the food waste bin, while we went out for brunch instead (which was a whole other comedy of errors), but in the end we learned a valuable lesson: Don’t. Scrimp. On the butter!

In other news, Taylor and I have found a solution to Gwen’s kindergarten drop-off/pick-up problem. Turns out getting Gwen to and from school with both Nicky & the daycare kids was actually not… physically possible for me to do. So now Taylor drops Gwen off in the morning and I pick her up in the afternoon. I’d hoped to avoid this because I feel like going in to work so late won’t be good for Taylor’s job, but at the end of the day I just cannot do both drop off and pick up. It would be different if we’d gotten a space at the school LITERALLY ACROSS THE STREET FROM OUR APARTMENT, but we didn’t (something I will be forever bitter about) so we’re doing it this way instead.

sick day essentials

Ringing in my favourite season with a gross cold isn’t exactly my ideal situation, but I’ve been making the best of a bad time with some tried-and-true pick-me-ups…

Keep your toes warm with soft, comfy bison down socks.

I don’t have a real fireplace but even a fake one gives the impression of coziness so why not fake it ’til you make it?

Cinnamon + honey, tea + whiskey.

Vegetable soup doesn’t really need a recipe but just in case.