Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Little Less Conversation: Technological Determinism in the Age of Digital Text-Based Communication

I'm happy to welcome a brilliant guest blogger today, Natalie Schreiber.  What I love about Natalie's writing is that she makes various points and then allows the reader to come up with their own conclusion.  I think this piece is thought provoking and covers a topic we can all relate to.  The take-home lesson will be whatever you make it.
"The medium is the message."
- Marshall McLuhan, Communication Theorist & Big Daddy of Communication Studies

Technological Determinism

Technological determinism is a reductionist theory that presumes that a society's technology drives the development of its social structure and cultural values.  It's quite easy to see how our social structures are being shaped by the technology that we use to communicate with one another, for example the ways in which advertising changed with the introduction of the internet.  Our world has rapidly changed in a very short period of time.  We now have so many options to use to communicate with people, and many of these methods are text-based.

The Medium is the Message

We have phone calls, text messages, email, online chat, Facebook, and other social media platforms, each providing us with a different way of expressing information.  We may select one form of communication over another for a variety of reasons.  It could be because of a perceived social benefit or a kind of protection that the medium gives us, for example choosing to send someone a text message instead of calling them; perhaps this would be a way to avoid what you fear may be an awkward exchange, or maybe you think you just don't know them well enough to call them.  Maybe a phone call is too personal for you, you don't want to actually hear their voice or have them hear yours.  Or maybe it's purely practical: your message is just short enough that it fits neatly into a text message and you feel that a phone call would be unnecessary or just not suited to whatever it is you need to say.  No matter what the reason is behind the choice of medium, it can't be denied that the medium largely influences the message.

Social Changes

With text-based communication being so prevalent in 2012, I decided to reflect on how this has changed our social world and how we relate to others.  In the past 10-15 years, since the rise of mobile phones and the internet, most people do the majority of their communicating using digital text-based mediums such as text messages, online chats and Facebook.  I feel that this has led to a sense of impersonality as far as how we relate to each other and see each other as people.  The following is a summary of some ways in which I've noticed our communication has changed, both in style and content, with the rise of the digital age and relatively new mediums like text messages and online chats.  Of course, these things don't apply to every single individual across the board, but they are general trends which I've noticed in my social interactions throughout the years.  You decide for yourself whether these things are beneficial to having a rich and full social life or if they are detrimental to maintaining authentic relationships with others.

1. "Hello" and "Goodbye" conversation markers are now optional.  These days, text-based conversations are apparently considered so casual that often neither the beginning nor the end of the exchange requires acknowledgement.  In earlier times, when people would communicate mostly by speaking to one another either on the phone or in person, you'd have to use these kinds of social "book-ends" to mark the beginning and end of an interaction with someone.  Old-fashioned letters (yes, using paper) would also have a beginning and ending point.  When interacting in person, one could get away with casually strolling up to someone and speaking to them without a definitive introductory phrase, however this is assuming that the visual approach and possibly any kind of physical gestures (ex. waving) would take the place of such an utterance.  Obviously, phone conversations require a spoken introduction or you wouldn't know who was on the line.  In person and on the phone, it is considered rude to leave the conversation without acknowledging the end of the interaction in some form.  I bet most of you would feel at least somewhat shunned if you were talking to someone on the phone and suddenly the person hung up without a warning, or you'd be likely to assume that the line was disconnected due to technical problems and that the disconnection was not actually intentional.  There's a basic etiquette with phone conversations that we've lost when it comes to interacting through text-based methods.  For the most part, people simply start talking when they want to express something and the conversation ends when neither person can think of anything else to say, so they stop conversing.

2.  We say things we don't mean/that are not representative of our real emotive state.  "Lol" and "haha" come to mind, as they are two of the most obvious examples of responses that are supposedly representative of an emotional reaction.  "Lol" has become a broad catch-all response to just about anything someone says, even when you're not really moved by whatever it was (how many times are you actually laughing out loud when you use this acronym?).  It's kind of like holding up the "Applause" sign in a television studio during a live filming to get the audience to clap.  It's not a real response indicative of how you feel.  Similarly, we have things like "aww" to represent sympathy (do you really care?) and "cool" for just about anything anyone says to you (is it actually cool?).  What do these things mean?  And how are you really feeling?  There is a real lack of creativity with the dialogue we seem to gravitate toward for the most part.  This could just be sheer laziness, or if the conversation is not valued very highly by its participants, they aren't likely to put effort into keeping it interesting.

3.  Conversations are an aside to whatever else we are doing at the time.  In this day and age, it's not really enough just to have a conversation with someone when you're chatting online or texting them.  There is always something else going on.  As such, we are used to multitasking while we are conversing, are we can be easily distracted by other things between messages.  We can even abandon conversations completely without warning if something more interesting is going on that pulls us away from our phone or computer.  This behavior is understood as normal, acceptable, and forgivable.  Inherent in text-based communication (perhaps with the exception of email) is the assumption that the person we are communicating with is doing something else while the conversation is going on.  They never have our full attention, and we never have theirs.

4. Conversations are fragmented.  With Facebook, chat, text, email, and so on, you can leave a message for someone and they may not receive it for a period of time.  When they get the message, they may not respond right away.  They may respond hours, days, or even weeks later.  There is no demand for immediate attention when you are conversing by any kind of text-based communication.  The message is simply sent and then left out there until the recipient responds.  As you are not physically in front of someone waiting for a response, or hearing them speak on the phone, there is no time-sensitive expectation that a response will be coming shortly.  This means that a conversation can span many hours or many days of back-and-forth messages via text, email, Facebook.  As a result of this, one’s perception of the social interaction shifts: instead of making time for a start-to-finish conversation with that person, you are fitting the conversation in to the spaces between the activities and obligations of your daily life.  It is a devaluation of the conversation to the point where it’s not so much that you are interested in engaging with the person, rather it has the feel that you are managing or simply keeping up with their messages to you at a pace that suits your lifestyle and schedule.

5. Information addiction.  This world overloads us with information constantly, and we have been conditioned to both crave and create more.  There is a constant need to know things and be up-to-date with the latest flow of information, and also to continuously flow information to others about ourselves.  Reading and commenting on blogs, news sites, checking and updating Facebook, sending and receiving email and text messages are all a part of this culture we have created.  The obsession with the exchange of new information trickles in to our interpersonal behavior in noticeable ways.  We check our phones while we are engaged in face-to-face interactions with others, we take photographs of our food, our pets, our friends, our purchases, the car accident we just saw, the cool cloud formation in the sky, our faces, and post them on Facebook regularly for others to receive and then comment on.  There is nothing wrong with the exchange of information, but we must remain aware of our habits, how often we find ourselves frequenting various communication outlets and the manner through which and intent behind how we communicate.  If we find that we are needlessly checking social media sites (for example) without much practical benefit to ourselves, you may wish to ask yourself what is behind the constant checking and needing to seek out more information.

6.  We communicate when it's unnecessary.  I'm not talking about having a conversation with a friend to catch up and see what's new with them, because that serves a legitimate and valid purpose.  I'm referring to the conversations that are wholly empty of meaningful data and that basically exist to fill up space.  "Hey", "Whats up", "Not much, you?", "I’m at work, really bored" "Lol me too" etc.  These interactions serve to occupy our time and distract our attention from the things we should be focusing on (work or school?), but they don't have an actual purpose beyond providing a distraction.  It is possible that these conversations spring up out of the need to feel some sort of connection to another person, or is it because we find it so impossible to remain present at our jobs or at school or while going about our daily activities that we default to feeling “bored” and must then seek out communication to find relief from that perceived boredom?

7.  We creep.  This is naturally only relevant to social media websites, as personal email and text messages are off-limits to our social circle.  The use of social media websites to communicate is a major development in how modern social interaction works, especially within the past ten years.  Instead of talking to someone to find out what's going on in their life, we can just visit their profile page or read their latest status update.  Updates about people automatically show up in our news feed, giving us the info whether we want it or not.  We know things about them, and vice-versa, without ever having to actually talk to them or send them a message.  Brilliant!  And somewhat creepy!  It's become a part of many people's daily lives, however, to broadcast information in such a way to a large number of people, and to seek out other people's personal broadcasts.  Every person becomes a bit of a celebrity in this regard, and we don't bat an eye when people know things about us that we haven't told them personally, because we're aware that we've already put out a virtual press release.


Draw your own.

Natalie Schreiber holds a BA in Communication from Simon Fraser University. When she's not working her day job at a small publishing company, she enjoys acting on the stage, singing anything from pop music to opera, and playing with her cat.


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Friday, June 29, 2012

A Little Game I Played to Better Appreciate My Comforts

I have terrible seasonal allergies.  When I had my allergy test years ago, the doctor said point blank to me that I'm terribly allergic to grass, most trees, dust, etc.  Most of the time I'm fine, but spring and summer can be brutal.  Two days ago, for example, was brutal.  The worst part about my allergies is that nothing works except straight up Benadryl, which also makes me pass out cold in a delightful (yet inconvenient) sleep.  When I'm sneezing up a storm and can't keep enough tissues around, all I think about is how miserable I am.

Yesterday my allergies weren't so bad.  I happened to notice this at around noon.  I decided that I would really notice how comfortable it was to NOT be sneezing all the time.  How amazing it felt to not have to blow my nose every 90 seconds.  How great it felt to just be able to breathe.

When my allergies hit, all I think about is how excited I am for when they settle down.  Of course, when they settle down, I don't think about the allergies at all... I take it entirely for granted.  I normally don't appreciate it one bit!

Once I realized this, I decided to play a little game of appreciation.  I took mental note of things that I find even mildly uncomfortable, and then I took a few minutes to really appreciate that I wasn't having to endure them.

For example:

- I'm really happy I can now lay flat on my back. When I was pregnant, I couldn't do this without great discomfort.  Now I'm not pregnant, so of course, I take it for granted. I laid on my back for several minutes and just really enjoyed it. 

-  I'm also really happy that I can now lay on my stomach! When I was pregnant, there were so many times when I wanted to, but of course, I couldn't.  Now I can!  I laid on my stomach for several minutes and just really enjoyed it. 

-  Right now I don't have my period.  When I get it, I get awful cramps and I wish it was far, far away. I don't have it now, so booya!  I sat around for a few minutes and was just really excited about this. 

-  Right now my mom, dad, and two sisters are alive and well.  Someday they won't be.  I'll be laying there wishing I could just be in a world where they are alive.  I'm in that world now, so I'm really happy about that.

-  It's not raining right now.  Need I say more, Vancouverites?

-  Right now I don't have a headache or diarrhea.  It's pretty rad.

-  My wisdom teeth also don't hurt. Rad x2

-  I'm not wearing high heels. 

You get the idea. Life is good!


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Thursday, June 28, 2012

For the Love of Toddlers in Yoda Costumes: A Star Wars Costume Review and a Gift Card Giveaway!

A few weeks ago we attended a birthday party and the family owned a shockingly authentic Darth Vader mask. No, seriously, it was terrifying. At least Aias thought so! We practically had to leave he was so scared. Aias isn't scared of much, so I was really surprised about this. Now I know why he was so opposed to Darth Vader: he's a Jedi Master!

Attempting to use The Force to move his trains along the track
Yes, that IS a toddler Yoda costume. Pretty cute, right?

In all seriousness, this is a pretty adorable costume that we were excited to receive and are even more excited to review.  You'll be able to win a Gift Card to acquire one of your own at the end of this post, but first, keep reading so you can have a better idea of what you will be getting!

The Yoda Costume you are seeing here is a Star Wars child costume in USA Size 2-4 for kids ages one to two.  It's a pretty simple costume containing a headpiece and hooded robe, but there's no question as to who he's pretending to be (although from the cell phone pictures, my mom thought he was Shrek).  Aias is over 2.5 but he's quite small for his age as he only weighs 25 lbs and the costume fits a bit large on him, but the hat fits a bit smaller.  I think this is because he has the head of a regular sized 2.5 year old and the body of a smaller kid.  I believe on a regular sized one or two year old, it would probably fit this way as it is intended to:

There are a few things I really like about this costume, aside from the obvious cuteness.  First off, the hat, which is clearly a very important part of the costume (otherwise the kid would just look like some kind of religious figure), is actually very well made for a baby/toddler.  I've seen lots of cheaply made costumes that come with hats that I don't think would last 5 seconds on a toddler. The Yoda hat that comes with this costume is clearly designed to stay put, and in a way that is comfortable.  It's designed to not just sit on the top of the head, but to be worn as a full head covering which I think would be great on a cold Halloween night.  Aias normally yanks hats off immediately, but he kept this hat on for 5 hours.  Yes, we did parade him around in it for 5 hours!

You can get an idea of the fabric and design if you click on these images. 

Front view: the velcro and straps are nice and thick.

Back view: a nice full fit. At least, if you have a child with a normal sized head :)

I love the stitching on the front of the hat.  Not super elaborate but perfect to get the Yoda message across.
The second thing I like about this costume is that the fabric and stitching are pretty good quality.  After Aias took his hat off and was asleep in the stroller, I met up with a friend and she complimented me on Aias's new robe.  After explaining to her that Aias hadn't  actually joined the seminary but was, in fact, wearing a Yoda Costume, she was surprised at the quality.  Most of those costumes you buy in bags at costume shops are clearly not the kind of quality you'd want your kid to be wearing around on a daily basis, but apparently the this costume robe looks decent enough quality to be wearing around as a regular piece of clothing.

A final thing I like about this costume is that it survived the washing machine AND the dryer and came out looking new.  I remember a long time ago I purchased a bag costume from a costume shop and I put it in the dryer: big  mistake.  It was such horrible quality that the stitching came undone and the felt was horribly pilled.  This costume took the washer and dryer like a champion, despite the fact that it clearly says "hand wash cold water" inside the tag.  I couldn't help myself, I had to test it.    If you have a child and you are looking for a Halloween costume for them, you know that washability is pretty important. This past Halloween Aias and I went to no fewer than 6 Halloween events and he wore his costume to all of them.  He had spilled hot cocoa and worse on it, and luckily it survived the wash.  This costume will survive a Halloween and will be nice to pass on to friends or younger siblings, or will be a great addition to any trunk of dress-up clothes.

So before the giveaway, here's one last picture.  This is a crappy cell phone pic, but I think it's adorable.  Aias was thrilled to roam Granville Street in this costume, but then he got tired of walking:

Ok, so are you ready to get a costume of your own, maybe for yourself or for your child or whoever you wish?  Perhaps you want to see how it feels to be Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Darth Maul, or Padme Amidala for a day? Enter to win a $25 Gift Card below!

And don't worry, if Star Wars isn't your thing, you can still use your gift card for any costume on their site.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

This, my friends, is why I pee with the door open!

I'm sure the Emily Post Institute would agree that it's a common courtesy to close the door to any washroom while you are using it.  Sure, no one wants to hear or see you doing your business.  I used to abide by this rule often, I assure you.  In fact, almost 100% of the time, even if I was home alone.  However, since Aias was born, things have changed a little.  For a long time I just took Aias into the bathroom with me (I even closed the door behind me!) and let him sit in the bouncer on the floor.  When he was old enough to get around on his own, I let him crawl around on our (immaculately clean) bathroom floor.  When he started walking, it was sort of game over.  He didn't want to be stuck in the bathroom with me, he wanted to play with his toys or do whatever it was he was doing.  The older he got, the more of an issue this became.  The end result was that I started peeing with the door open.

I'm sorry if this appalls you, parent or non-parent, it's simply a reality for me at this point.

Once Aias turned 2, keeping the door open became more a matter of being able to listen to what trouble he may be getting into around the apartment.  I'm deaf in one ear so anything that enhances my ability to hear is a good thing; in this case, it's leaving the bathroom door open.  Generally he plays alone very well in his room and in the living room, but I worry a bit about the kitchen since it's an open space and while babyproofed relatively well, it's not 100% padded.  The kitchen is visible to me 99% of the time, the 1% of the time it's not is because I'm in the washroom.

Now I should mention that I only keep the door open if it's just myself and Aias at home, sometimes Morgan.  Of course, Morgan often gives me a rough time about this so I try to make sure to close it when he's hanging out with Aias in the living room or whatever.  In the event that Morgan is holed up in our bedroom working on something, it's fair game to leave the bathroom door open as far as I'm concerned. Someone's gotta listen for the kid!

So judge away at how horrible this habit is, but let me just show you some validation first.  Several weeks ago I was sitting in the living room putting a puzzle together with Aias when nature called.  I went to the bathroom to pee and left the door open (of course!).  About 5 seconds later I heard a stool being pushed across the living room floor, then the kitchen floor... I immediately cut it short, washed my hands, and walked into the kitchen to this:

Yes. Aias had pushed a stool into the kitchen, up against the kitchen counter, climbed up, opened the cabinet that contains the glasses and some food, and got himself a mug!  For what? I don't know. And YES, those are knives on the counter! AND YES THAT'S THE STOVE!!!


I maintain that I wouldn't have heard this with the door closed.

Please also note that I took the time to take a photo of this.


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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Easy-Peasy Sugar-Free Homemade Strawberry Jam with Stevia

For a long time I thought of canning and making jam as being an incredibly complex and difficult act that would only end in tears and botulism if I attempted it.  The other day we went strawberry picking and I may have gone a little overboard and ended up taking home nearly 30 lbs of delicious organic field strawberries.  Oops. That's a lot of strawberries.  It's especially a lot of strawberries if you have a tiny, already stuffed freezer. 

We started eating them immediately upon returning home, we brought some to friends, we chopped some up and put them in the freezer, but there were still so many!  I began frantically researching strawberry recipes, the most obvious of which, was strawberry jam.  But could I do it, could I can???  Most importantly, could I can without using ridiculous amounts of sugar.

I decided to give it a go!

My search for sugar free strawberry jam and/or strawberry jam with stevia yielded many results, the best of which was this blog entry by a blog called Less Sugar Naturally.   The post is adorable and I think I'd get along great with the author. However, I didn't want less sugar, I wanted no sugar. Furthermore, I didn't feel the recipe or instructions were written in a linear enough way for me.  I mostly followed her recipe, but I made a few changes to it to make it more suitable for my needs. First off, I didn't add any sugar at all.  I realize this was a risk.  However, in the end it worked out perfectly.  The strawberries we picked were field berries and didn't have so much as a speck of white in them; they tasted like they were dipped in sugar already (seriously, you guys).  I also wanted this to be vegan jam so I replaced the butter with coconut oil. 

Many friends and family have shown an interest in the process and recipe, so here's how I did it, step by step, in detail. Please don't hesitate to ask questions in the comments.

You, too, can have two dozen jars of jam! (Check out my jam splattered walls, too)

How to Make Sugar Free Homemade Strawberry Jam with Stevia*
*This recipe makes about 1.5 litres of jam total

Tools you'll need:

- 1 very large stock pot (it must be able to hold full mason jars)
- 1 small-ish pot
- 1 medium sized pot
- Mason jars with lids and rings (I prefer 175mL or 250mL jars)
- Canning tongs (you will need these, seriously, do not attempt to just use regular tongs, you will end up breaking a glass or burning yourself or both)
- A wooden cutting board or two
- A canning funnel or a small pyrex jar and ladle

Ingredients you'll need:

- 6-7 cups of cut and hulled strawberries (this will ideally puree into 4-5 cups)
- 1 package of Pomona's Universal Pectin (this includes pectin and calcium water mix.  Normally sugar activates the pectin, in this case, the calcium water will)
- 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon of coconut oil
- 1 bottle of liquid stevia drops (I used Now® Better Stevia)
- OPTIONAL: you can add sugar, honey, or only stevia to sweeten. I chose only stevia.  If you choose honey or stevia, choose 9 tablespoons of each.  

Once you have all your tools and ingredients, you are well on your way to entering the jam zone

1. Step one is to prepare the calcium water.  The calcium water mix is inside the Pomona's Universal Pectin box (it's the smaller packet of the two).  Prepare the entire package of calcium water as instructed on the outside of the box.  It's best to prepare it and put it in a small reusable container that you can keep in the fridge.  Once prepared, store it in the fridge, sealed.

2.  Take all of your jars and all of your lids/rings.  Place the jars in your stock pot and fill the pot with water.  You are going to be boiling these jars in hot water for 10-15 minutes.  Take your lids and rings and place them in the small-ish pot and do the same. Put on a timer, and once 10-15 minutes of boiling is over, carefully remove both the empty jars and place them on the wooden cutting boards to absorb the heat.  You can simply drain the water from the lids/rings and leave them in the empty hot pot if you wish.  These supplies should wait on the counter for you.  DO NOT TOUCH THEM with your bare hands, however, or you will need to re sterilize them. 

3.  While your jars are boiling, puree the strawberries.  You should end up with 5 cups of strawberries once pureed.  Put any extra aside for the next round or for eating.  You won't want more than 5 cups of pureed berries for this recipe. 

4.  Pour your pureed strawberries into your medium sized pot.  Add the 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, the 1 tablespoon of coconut oil, and 2 teaspoons of the prepared calcium water.  Bring this mixture to boil, stirring well. 

5.  If you have decided to use sugar in this recipe, you should mix 9 tablespoons of it with 2 teaspoons of the pectin.  Mix it very well. 

6.  Add your sugar/pectin mix OR just 2 teaspoons of pectin to the boiling strawberry mix.  Stir very well, constantly (seriously! don't stop stirring!) for roughly 2-3 minutes.  Make sure there aren't any lumps of pectin visible in your mix.

7.  At this point, if you are using honey as a sweetener, you can go ahead and add 9 tablespoons of it to the mixture and continue stirring until mixed.  If you aren't disregard this step, of course.

8.  Remove the mix from the heat.  If you have added honey or sugar, add roughly an additional 40 drops of liquid stevia to your mix.  If you have NOT added honey or sugar, add roughly 50 drops of liquid stevia to your mix.  Stir very, very well. 

9.  Now it's time to pour your jam into your cans.  You can use a canning funnel for this, or you can do what I did and use a ladle to scoop out the jam, pour it into a small pyrex container, and then pour it into the jar.

10.  Fill each jar carefully, and once you do, use regular tongs to lift the sterilized lids out and place them on the jars.  Carefully and touching only the outside of the rings, tighten the rings on the jar.  Tighten the jars only enough to ensure they are closed, don't do it super duper tightly.  If you do it too tightly it will interfere with the sealing process, which is exactly what you don't want. 

11.  Once all of your jars are filled, take the canning tongs and put them into the huge stock pot of water again.  Boil the jars of jam for 10-15 minutes.  Remove them from the pot when they are done boiling and sit them on wood cutting boards. Over the course of the next hour you will hear them "popping."

After 2-3 hours, you'll hopefully find that all of your lids are flattened.  This means the jars have sealed. If you find that you can push on the jam lids and they are floppy and make a popping sound, they aren't sealed.  Any jars that haven't sealed after 3+ hours should be kept in the fridge and will be good for 3 hours.  Jam that has properly sealed can be kept in the cabinet for storing.  Once you open the jam you have roughly 3 weeks to consume it and all opened jam should be refrigerated. 

Yay, you did it!

I was seriously proud that I pulled this off.  The first thing I did was force Morgan and Aias to try the jam, and then I went to a friend's house to make her try it. Along the way, I saw another friend, and I gave her a jar too.  Jam making is pretty rad.  Don't be scared to try it!



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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Finally, Shoes My Kid Will Wear: And You Can Win a Pair (or Two!)

Shoes are a really touchy subject around here, for two reasons.

First, we are pretty picky about the soles of Aias's shoes because we believe that soft-soled are best not just for infants, but for developing toddlers and young kids.  We feel that soft soled shoes will allow the muscles in his feet to develop naturally by improving his balance and enhancing his overall foot and muscle development because they allow his toes to actually grip the floor surface.  It's really easy to find soft soled shoes for small babies and pre-walkers but as kids get older, it's not so easy.  Especially difficult is finding soft-soled shoes that can handle the outdoors. 

Second, as if we weren't picky enough, Aias is uber picky as well.  For the first year of his life he wore the same pair of Robeez and evidently this imprinted on him or something.  When he outgrew them, we got a few new pairs.  It was easy enough to do because he's smallish and was so young.  When I saw that he was about to outgrow his most recent pairs, I was a bit frantic.  For weeks we talked to him about how he was going to need new shoes because the ones he loved weren't going to fit him for much longer. He was really upset to hear about this and didn't want to try any other style of shoes.  What's worse was we couldn't find any similar ones that were large enough... he was already wearing the largest size in that specific style.  We went to a dozen or so stores, looked at shoes, and he wouldn't let any of them on his feet.  It was frustrating to say the least, especially because we had to compromise a lot of our beliefs about soft-soled shoes when we realized they were few and far between in his size, but any shoes we tried to put on him were immediately rejected anyway.  Any shoe we managed to get on him (and it was a struggle to even get them on his feet in the first place) were immediately rejected; he said they hurt and acted like we had thrown acid on his feet.

I was checking out some message boards about soft-soled shoes for kids, and I came across a site called ShoesZoo on a board.  People were raving about ShoesZoo, saying it's the only place they would ever buy shoes again, and so of course I had to check it out.  Upon checking out their site, I was shocked I hadn't heard of it before.  We had been sinking money into Robeez and this whole time ShoesZoo was there just waiting for us.  We ordered three pairs, and when they arrived, the unthinkable happened: Aias wore them!!! WILLINGLY!!!

The brand they sell on ShoesZoo is called Carozoo and they feature soft-soled shoes in sizes for babies as young as newborn to kids as old as 8 years old.  They have an option of cow or sheep leather; cow is for frequent and outdoor wear, and sheep is a bit softer and is for casual indoor wear.  The amount of styles they have is crazy, they literally carry probably 300+ styles and designs.  This was especially useful for us because Aias needs a little encouraging to wear new shoes.  We chose trains, airplanes, and snowmen, because those happen to be his favourite things.  It was nearly impossible to just pick three pairs but I figured I'd start with three and then order more if the shoes worked out.  He loves them, so I'm going to be ordering more in the near future! They have Jack-O-Lanterns for Halloween, Christmas Trees for Christmas, etc.  What's best, is when he outgrows these ones, we could order the exact same pairs but in larger sizes.  He'll barely know they had been switched so there will be less shoe drama, if any.

The snowmen

The airplanes
I'm confident to report that the quality of the Carozoo shoes is exactly the same quality as Robeez, and we've owned about 10 pairs of Robeez.  I'd purchased a pair of knock off Robeez from the Bay when Aias was small, and they were awful. They were leather but felt like cardboard. I was worried because these ones were inexpensive they'd be the same, but they aren't at all.  It would be impossible to tell the difference between the Carozoo and Robeez if the tags were removed.

Aias has been wearing the train pair around, to the beach, the playground, through wet grass, on gravel, on pavement, etc.  They are still not damaged and are wearing exactly the same way the Robeez did.  I even washed them and they survived and don't look any different than before.  They are comfortable, they look great, and Aias approves them. I can't ask for much more.

Proof he's wearing them! Unbelievable, trust me :)

And again!

ShoesZoo is a Canadian company out of Richmond.  Shipping is $1 per pair and each pair costs between $8-$11.  You can also get an additional 5% off on their website if you use the code "shoeszoo7" anytime. My shoes arrived about 2 days after I ordered them, probably because I live in Vancouver. 

Another thing I love about ShoesZoo is that they give a free pair of shoes away to babies with clubfoot (club foot or congenital talipes equinovarus). If your baby has clubfoot, you are qualified to have ONE free pair soft sole baby shoes from ShoesZoo. At present, they send free shoes to Canada, USA and Europe. 

I want you all to try these shoes, and so does ShoesZoo, so here's a giveaway!  One lucky winner is going to win two pairs of shoes from the ShoesZoo website (any two pairs they want, any size, any style) and one winner is going to win one pair (any pair you want, any size, any style)!  Thanks so much to ShoesZoo for providing these prizes!

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Go Ahead, Talk About Your Awesome Kid!

You know how some parents talk about their kids non-stop and act like their kids are the greatest thing ever, be it in person or online? Lots of people find this incredibly annoying. I know I used to. Then I sat down and thought about it for a while and now I don't find it annoying one bit. In fact, I like it.

I like it because there are lots of people in this world whose parents just seriously do not give a crap about them. These are not parents that brag about their kids milestones, they are not parents who take 9 million pictures of them, they are not parents who would ever update their Facebooks every 2 seconds with something witty or cute that their kid says. These are parents that could care less about their kids; parents who kick their kids out of their homes for being glbtq. Parents that let their relationships with each other take precedent over their kids needs. Parents who subject their kids to abuse of all kinds, sometimes in ways you can't even stand to imagine. Now of course, this is not to say that bragging and carrying on about your kids online or otherwise is any superior way of expressing your love for a person; but you get what I'm saying here. 

Every day there are new stories in the news about horrendous things some parents have done to their children, rotten stories of cruelty, abuse, and neglect. You can  see the fear on these children's faces in photos. Children that would have given anything to have a parent show some interest in them, a parent that would hold them tight, tell them they are amazing, and think they are a valuable and important human being worthy of only the most gentle treatment.  And don't forget the hollow or vacant stares of these children when they grow up into fragile, vulnerable adults.

All dramatic instances aside, you then have the parents that don't hit their kids, don't abuse them emotionally or physically, but are simply too busy/disinterested to notice them.  That's a whole other painful side.

So, you know what? You go ahead and love your kids. Post non-stop about them on Facebook or your blog or tell me about them at playgroups.  I'll gladly sit there and hear/read about it. Because honestly, it makes me happy to see someone make a big deal over a kid. Everyone needs SOMEONE in their life that thinks they are the bees knees, and I love to see that person be one of their parents.

Remember, this is not to say that if you don't brag about your kids non-stop, you don't love them.  Obviously that's not what I'm implying.  And who knows, maybe there are some people who brag and carry on about their kids when people are paying attention and in private they are terrible to them.  All I'm saying is,  there are a lot worse things a person can do than carry on about how awesome their kid is. Goodness knows we need all the optimism and positivity we can get these days in this mixed up crazy world. 

Go ahead, you love that special snowflake, so tell the world!

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Bonus Giveaway: Another Playful Planet Storyland Yoga Freebie, This Time On Demand!

Since there was such an outpouring of interest in the Playful Planet Storyland Yoga DVD, I've asked Playful Planet if they'd be willing to give away a downloadable (on demand) copy of the DVD, and they've said yes!  Please note, this won't be mailed to the winner, it will be downloadable but will be the exact same thing as the content on the DVD. 

If you are interested in being included in this bonus contest, please enter below!

When you are done entering, please consider voting for Playful Planet at Mission: Small Business (  They need 250 votes to be considered for this $250K grant. It could be just the thing to put PP on the map! PLEASE take a minute to vote for Playful Planet! Please note: you do not have to vote to enter the contest, but Playful Planet is pretty awesome and I'd love to see them win this.

"Thanks to a program sponsored by Chase and LivingSocial called Mission: Small Business℠, your support could translate into a $250,000 grant. But we need at least 250 votes at to qualify.

To vote for our business:

Go to and log in using Facebook.

Search for our business by name OR filter by our State and City.

Click on the blue Vote button next to our business name to show your support for our business."

Thanks everyone!!!

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

More Felt Crafts You'll Be Sure to Finish: Fruit and Lego

Here I am again with my dorky 5 minute felt projects. I've actually created a tag called "5 minute felt" since I have a feeling these posts may continue to be a trend around here.

The way this whole quick felt thing works is that I ask Aias what to make and he tells me.  This time he told me he wanted fruit, so I asked him what kind of fruit.  His responses led to these:

The grapes are pretty rad because they are Velcroed on so you can peel them off one by one.

Next he asked me to make Lego Duplo blocks. I'm not too impressed with these, but here they are:

Morgan says he doesn't think those look like Lego Duplo, but Aias seems to believe it's what they are, so ha.

The Lego Duplo ones aren't super impressive but they are pretty useful in that Aias likes to sort them by color if I ask him to, and he pretends to stack them as though they were real blocks.  They were also very easy to make once I made the first one. 

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Monday, June 18, 2012

How To Take Care of Introverts: Toddler Version 1.0

I keep seeing this picture circulating on Facebook, Pinterest, etc. It's based on Linda Kreger Silverman, Ph.D.'s piece "On Introverts." I consider myself an extrovert, but Aias seems to be an introvert and whenever I read this it always strikes me how useful these tips are in keeping him happy and healthy. I thought I'd write out a few examples of how these tips apply to toddlers and small children, namely Aias.  I divided my thoughts into two parts: one for parents of introverted children and one for friends and family of introverted children. 

I believe this design was made by Questionably Late on Tumblr, but I can't be certain. If you know for sure, let me know.
Lots of people expect small children to all be precocious, confident, and outgoing like Michelle Tanner from Full House or Olivia from the Cosby Show.  I think I always thought Aias would be the same.  For some reason or another, he's simply not.  When I introduce him to friends (or even family members) that haven't spent any time with kids, they always seem really surprised that he's so shy and unwilling to just run into their arms.  At first I sort of felt like I was letting people down in public, because when they meet Aias he doesn't just run up to them and give them a hug or want to be best friends with them.  I realize now that there is nothing wrong with Aias for being this way.  Perhaps, like me, you have a toddler or small child that seems to be growing up and becoming more of an introvert.  If so, please consider these tips above and how they apply to day to day life with your toddler or other toddlers in your lives.

1.  Respect their need for privacy

What parents can do: While Privacy doesn't seem to be something we can give our toddlers a lot of, since they need so much supervision, it is possible to give them a bit of it.  In Aias's case, he likes to be able to play privately for a while each day.  This means not forcing him to play with others all day everyday, and making sure he has some quiet time in the morning to play with his toys all by himself.

What family and friends can do:  Please understand that my child needs to spend some time alone.  He may love you and love spending time with you when you are visiting, but he will also need some time to himself.  Please don't take it personally.  

2.  Never embarrass them in public

What parents can do: Most people are gentle enough to always obey this rule with their children whether they are introverts or not, but embarrassing an introverted child in public can be extra devastating. In Aias's case, if you embarrass him about doing something funny or silly, he may literally never even try doing it again.  Right now Aias's favorite thing to do is sing and dance, all the time, everywhere.  It's our worst fear that someone will someday make him feel self conscious about this because we know once this happens, he will never do it again. 

What friends and family can do: Please be gentle with my child when it comes to possibly embarrassing them in front of others; this means avoiding even good intentioned jokes that may make them uncomfortable.

3.  Let them observe first in new situations

What parents can do: When you bring your child into a new environment, even if it's a kid-friendly one, allow for them to observe for a bit before encouraging them to jump in and participate.  In Aias's case, we often show up a bit earlier to doctor's appointments, etc, so he can get a feel for the space.

What friends and family can do:  Please understand that when we show up for a play date or to take part in a new class or activity, it will take a while for my child to warm up.  He isn't being rude by not jumping right in, he's just trying to make sense of the new environment. 

4.  Give them time to think. Don't demand instant answers. 

What parents can do: When you are playing with your child and discussing colors, numbers, etc, give your child a few minutes to think about their answer.  In Aias's case, we often find ourselves asking tons and tons of questions all the time; if we don't get a quick answer, we answer it ourselves.  After a while Aias must feel like he's just constantly being quizzed and tested.  To stop doing this, we stopped asking tons of questions.  Instead of asking him "What colour is that block, Aias?" we instead say "That block is blue!"  He will often just start identifying things as different colours after a while if we do things this way.

What friends and family can do: Please give our child time to think through the questions you ask of him.  Try not to spend time "quizzing" or "testing" our child, as he feels a lot of pressure if you do this.

5.  Don't interrupt them.

What parents can do: Let your child speak and be patient for them in finishing their thoughts and sentences.  This can be hard with Aias because sometimes he seems to speak in a jumbled and jargony tangent; we have to be sure to let him finish, always.

What friends and family can do:  Please let my child finish his sentences, even if you can't understand a word he's saying.  You may not understand what he's trying to convey, but he does, and he's doing his best to share with you.

6.  Give them advance notice of expected changes in their lives.

What parents can do: If you are going to the park later, or if one parent will be away for a few days, or if they will be staying at home with their auntie while their parents go out to dinner, make sure they know this is going to happen.  Springing it on them at the last minute will be terrifying to them otherwise. Aias needs time to prepare for things like this, and to be given enough time to ask questions.

What friends and family can do:  Please understand that if you text me and ask if we can come to the park in 10 minutes, it may take us longer than that.  My child may be in the process of doing something else and it will take a bit of notice and transition time for us to get there.  I know you can't always give tons of notice, and I appreciate the last minute invites, but please be aware that while we will always try our best to make it, it may not always happen.

7.  Give them 15 minute warnings to finish whatever they are doing. 

What parents can do:  This one is easy, just give your kid 15 minute warnings to finish whatever they are doing.  Maybe even give them another 10 minute warning and then even another 5 minute warning. I'm not sure this is an introvert only thing, I think it may be a standard toddler thing too!

What friends and family can do: Please understand that I can't often just pick up my child and go at the drop of a pin.  Let me know, in advance, if you would like us all to leave a place so that I can give my child some warning.  Please understand that I do this to avoid meltdowns and tantrums and to make these transitions more smooth and comfortable for everyone.

8.  Reprimand them privately.

What parents can do: This can be difficult in a play group setting, but sometimes the best thing you can do when a child needs their behaviour guided is to get down at the child's level, use a firm but gentle tone, and look them in the eye and quietly convey your message.  Screaming at the child so that the whole room stops to look can be devastating to an introverted child.

What friends and family can do: Please understand that screaming at my child loudly in public places is not actually going to change their behaviour, it's just going to shame and frighten them.  Please don't interpret this as my "spoiling" them or being too permissive, I'm only doing things in this way because I know it creates the best long term behavioural results for my child. Please know that it doesn't mean I'm not taking my child's behaviours lightly.

9.  Teach them new skills privately.

What parents can do:  Try to teach your child new things one-on-one or in smaller groups.  We saw this in action when we taught Aias how to pedal a bike.  We were at the Community Centre and around several small kids and he was very shy about practicing his new skill in front of both of us, nevermind in front of all the other kids.  He took the bike to a corner of the room and decided to practice it where no one could see.  When he felt comfortable doing it, he proudly came back to where the rest of the kids were and showed off his new skill.

What friends and family can do:  If you are showing my child a new skill around many other people, please realize he may not do a very good job and may seem resistant to try at first.  He isn't behaving this way because he is trying to be indignant, he's just trying to feel comfortable.

10.  Enable them to find one best friend who has similar interests and abilities.

What parents can do: Parents sometimes get really worried when a kid wants to spend all their time with just one or two other kids, instead of around every other kid.  In the case of Aias, he tends to find one or two people he really cares about and then likes to spend his time nurturing those friendships. This is because it takes so very long for him to feel comfortable around anyone in the first place.  Once he finds someone he's comfortable with, he likes to stick around with those people.

What friends and family can do: Please don't take it personally if my child doesn't become your best friend instantly (or your child's best friend!).  These things take time for him.  Over the course of a few days/weeks/months/whatever, he will get to know and trust you/your child as well.  If you try and push the relationship, it will take longer.

11.  Don't push them to make lots of friends.

What parents can do:  Aias knows lots of kids, but he only has a few real friends.  This is partially because of his age but also because he takes so long to feel comfortable with people.  When he is comfortable with people, he thrives!  If your child is the same, let them choose quality over quantity when it comes to friendships.

What friends and family can do: Please don't expect my child to become best friends with every child they meet, or even take an interest in every child they meet.

12.  Respect their introversion.  Don't try to remake them into extroverts. 

What parents can do: This is a tough one.  We all want what's best for our kids.  I personally took Aias to about 5 playgroups a week to try and make him "come out of his shell" at first, and while he did benefit in many ways, it got very stressful for him as well.  I cut it back to 3 playgroups and then once we started meeting some people, I cut it down to 1 playgroup a week and several play dates with people we know, instead.  This has been really helpful for him.  I also had to be careful about finding the balance between listening to what he requests and encouraging him to take part in things he didn't really think he would like to take part in at first. For example, I used to say "Ok we are going to go to the Family Centre today" and 99% of the time he would say "No, stay home!"  I knew it wouldn't be healthy to sit at home and not socialize every day, so I'd say "We are going to the Family Centre for 20 minutes and if you don't like it we can leave. If you are having a good time we will stay."  After saying that, I'd always follow through.  If he was having a good time after 20 minutes (this was the case 99% of the time) we would stay, and if he wanted to leave, after he did his 20 minutes we would leave as promised.

What friends and family can do: Please understand that we will attend important family events, birthday parties, play groups, play dates, etc, but there may be times when we can't stay long or when we have to separate from the group for a while.  In the long run, this benefits everyone.  Please don't take it personally but my child can sometimes get overstimulated and stressed out in social situations.

I hope this has been a helpful exercise for you as it has been for me. Please share any other information or thoughts you may have on this topic in the comments.

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Check Out Our Personalized Puzzle From Piczzle, and Win One For Yourself!!!

We're on vacation this month (an extremely rare occurance), so I'm not going to be making a ton of posts. However, I have quite a few giveaways for you instead, which I'm sure are at least as good as my ramblings!

As Aias gets older he gets more and more interested in puzzles.  He started with the ones with the big chunky pieces, usually three to a board.  He then worked his way to smaller puzzles with the pictures on the inside of the board.  He's currently working on 4, 6, and 12 piece puzzles. What's the only thing better than a nice new puzzle? A nice new puzzle with your picture on it!

I couldn't miss this opportunity to review a personalized jigsaw puzzle from a company called Piczzle.  Piczzle makes fully customizable wooden or cardboard photo and picture puzzles.  The puzzles they offer range from as few as 6 pieces to as many as 2,000 and come in a variety of sizes, from small to giant.  I thought Aias would get a huge kick out of seeing a picture of himself and his dad on a puzzle, and I was right!

I chose one of his favorite photos of himself and daddy; a photo of our hike on Mount Finlayson near Victoria, BC. Here's the picture I sent to Piczzle:

Yeah, it's sideways.  I know. 

We received our puzzle a few days ago, just before we left on a trip.  I have to admit, my first thought when I opened it was that it was way nicer than I expected it to be.  I expected it would just arrive in a plastic bag, but instead it came fully wrapped in plastic and in a nice reusable cardboard box with my photo printed on the outside.  Inside, the puzzle pieces are large (perfect for little hands) and in a good quality zipper bag.   This product is totally gift quality!

The box with the plastic removed

The box with the plastic around the edges; really great gift quality

Cracked open so you can see how it looks when you open it

The pieces!

Completed: I did it, Aias observed

I love this concept of creating custom-made jigsaw puzzles.  In the past I've taken a piece of cardboard, glued a picture on it, and cut the pieces up to make puzzles.  In my opinion, that's totally a great plan if you have a lot of time on your hands and aren't interested in making something that will last a long time.  However, if you don't have a lot of time on your hands and you want an excellent gift quality product, Piczzle is the way to go.  I was honestly blown away by the high quality and presentation of this product, and I know we will have this puzzle for years to come. 

My only criticism of this final product is actually a criticism of myself; I'm not sure the picture I ordered was ideal in puzzle form for a small child.  I managed to do it and I'm sure when Aias is a bit older he will be able to do it as well, but I think there's too much blue space in the picture I chose. Next time, I will follow these criteria when selecting a picture for his 24 piece puzzle:

- A more "close-up" image
- Brighter and more varied colours
- Objects in the photo with sharper, more distinct edges

Alternately, if I wanted to make a more difficult puzzle, I'd go with an image like the one I chose above, or something even more monochromatic. 

I'm planning on ordering some of these as gifts in the future as I think these are incredibly versatile for gifting; you can order larger puzzles with more pieces for adults, and these 24 piece puzzles are perfect for preschoolers.  Remember these aren't just for kids, as people of all ages will get a kick of seeing themselves and their families on puzzles!

If you want to learn more about Piczzle and the products they offer, check them out on their website, on their Facebook page, and on Youtube.  If you want to win your own small cardboard puzzle, enter our giveaway below!!!

Finally, just a heads up, after the winner is announced and is awarded their puzzle, Piczzle will also be giving me a discount code for my readers so that all of you can go ahead and order puzzles from them if you wish.

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I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Popsicles That May Just Save Your Toddler's Diet

Aias is an incredibly picky eater. He's also small for his age. These are things that concern me from time to time. Every day is a battle to get nutrients into him, and nothing feels better than knowing he's had a good food day.  I created this popsicle recipe to guarantee he has at least a few basic nutrients in him every day.

I'll start by saying that these popsicles are a tool for the desperate; they are incredibly expensive to make (but check out my coupon code below to save $10)!  If your kid is a decent eater, you probably won't want to bother.  That being said, if you are like me, you've probably sunk tons of money into a variety of foods that you've ended up throwing away when your kid snubbed them anyway.  If you invest in making these and your kid likes them, trust me, it's an amazing investment!  If your kid doesn't like them, well, you will have some healthy popsicles for yourself to finish :)

Three completed super-popsicles

Lots of kids with sensory or texture issues will happily eat food that's frozen and in popsicle form, or so a few pediatricians have told me.  So far it's been the trick to success with getting Aias to eat.

The ingredients:

Greens+ for Kids (by Genuine Health)- A 128gram container usually runs about ~$28 CAD.  Greens+ for kids is a sugar-free powder that you add to water so your kids can the nutrition offered by vegetables

NutraSea Kids-  A 200mL bottle usually runs around ~$18 CAD.  Nutrasea Kids is an omega-3 supplement with EPA, DHA, GLA and vitamin D.

Kindervital Liquid Vitamin for Children- A 250mL bottle usually runs around ~$25 CAD.  Kindervital contains vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, C, D, E as well as the minerals calcium and magnesium, and is blended with herbal extracts and fruit juices.

Organic berries/banana- I choose organic berries (and sometimes a banana) to add because your child will get the juice AND the fibre of the berries.  Choose berries that taste good to your child to up the odds that they will eat the popsicles.  I go with organic because berries have so much surface area to be sprayed with pesticides, they taste sweeter, and because they will be consumed raw. 

Full fat or 2% yogurt of your choice- I prefer full-fat plain green style yogurt because we want to get fat into Aias.  Choose any yogurt you think will taste best to your child.

Fruit Juice, Stevia, or Sugar to Sweeten- We sweeten with Stevia.  If your child has a specific fruit juice they like to drink, sweeten with that.  If you are just willing to do anything to get your child to consume the above ingredients, just add some sugar.  Work on getting nutrients into your child now, and then worry about taking the sugar out later. 

Finally, you'll also need a popsicle maker of your choice (any will work, we happen to have a Zoku)

An arsenal of healthy things!

You'll need to blend all of these ingredients together using a blender or hand blender.  The amount of ingredients you use will depend on the size of your popsicle molds and how many pops you are  making.  To make 6 pops in the Zoku, I generally use a handful of berries, a banana, about 1.5 cups of yogurt, a scoop of Greens+, 1 tablespoon of Nutrasea oil, and 3 doses of the Kindervital.

If you are more comfortable with it, you can mix it all up and then measure out single doses of the Kindervital to add to each pop.  Remember, some of the Kindervital nutrients are fat soluble so technically you could give your child too much of the vitamins, so be careful and conscious of that when serving the pops to your child. 

Other ingredients you may want to add depending on your nutrition goals for your child:

Protein powder
Silken tofu
Carrot puree
Flax seed oil
Coconut oil or coconut milk
Happy Planet smoothies for flavor

If you are nervous your child won't eat them, try to make a few tiny batches with ingredients that slightly differ.  Take note of which ones your child prefers.

Let me know how it works out for you if you try these; they've really made a world of difference for us.

Getting cold in the Zoku, almost ready to be eaten.

P.S. You can get most of the ingredients on well.ca, and if you use the coupon code AIASDOTCA you will get $10 off a $40+ order (if you are a new customer).  Check them out here.


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