April 18, 2014
by Mommy Gearest
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Disneynature’s Bears: in theatres now!

Bears movie DisneyThe movie: Bears (Disneynature)

When it’s in theatres: April 18, 2014

What it’s about: Well, it’s about bears, of course. Three bears, in fact: mama bear, Sky, and her two cubs, Amber and Scout. This incredible cinematic journey takes us through the first year of the cubs’ lives as they make their way across an Alaskan mountain range to feast on the salmon that will fatten them up to survive their first winter. If they make it that far. We learn how few brown bears in the wild make it beyond their first year, and see some of its friends and foes along the way. A stunningly terrifying avalanche and the threat of its own kind are just two of the obstacles we meet during Bears.

What The K Man said: “The parts where the bears were fighting were awesome!” (But he was generally not that interested during the other 90 per cent of the movie when the bears weren’t fighting.)

What Miss Q said: “I liked it when the baby bears were playing in the snow. But I was scared of the fighting parts.” (She was intrigued and engulfed in Bears from beginning to end; but she was too scared to keep her eyes on the screen during the fight scenes.)

The verdict? While Bears gets a “G” rating, you need to know that if your child is usually scared of fighting animals, there are about four significant fight scenes between two very large bears with rather big teeth. But if you can just do head-in-the-armpit snuggles to get through it, you and your kids will get to see a gem of a film. Phenomenal scenery, it was a constant reminder of the fragility of life and the amazing miracle of the circle of life.

April 15, 2014
by Mommy Gearest
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Ronald McDonald House: the reason I’m OK being a McMom

Put your hand up if you call yourself a McMom without any shame.

Mmm-hm. That’s what I thought. There aren’t too many of you.

I didn’t let The K Man step foot into a McDonald’s until he was two years old. I was proud of that. I was proud that I’d fended off the marketing prowess of the Golden Arches for the 18 months my son had been alive and eating solid foods. (Because, trust me, he knew those arches belonged to someone faintly recognizable; I believe he thought it had something to do with Old McDonald. Maybe he thought it was the farm.)

I admit, though, that when I finally gave in and let him enjoy his first taste of crispy McNuggets, I was relieved. Because that meant I could openly eat McDonald’s again instead of waiting until he was in bed at night or the one day my Mom visited and I was gifted a few hours of alone time beyond my front door.

Because, damnit: I love Big Macs. And McNuggets. And those fries. Dipped in Sweet & Sour Sauce. And if you played the song today, I would likely remember every single lyric to that catchy ad from the ’80s. (OK, that’s a small lie. Not every single lyric. Because I just Googled it to see if I could find it for those of you who have no idea what song this is: The McDonald’s Menu Song.)

RMH Canada

It’s pretty rare for me to post logos, but I strongly believe in the good work that RMH is doing.

Skip ahead a few years and I was at a social media conference where the president of Ronald McDonald House Charities Canada (RMH) spoke. By the end of her one-hour speech, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. She moved us with stories about the families who were saved from financial ruin because they could turn to RMH. About the children who were able to have their loved ones close while they were in hospital for what could only be described as harrowing, heartbreaking diseases, treatments and surgeries. About the many holidays and celebrations and challenges shared and faced inside the walls of the RMHs across Canada and around the world.

That was it for me.

In that moment, I swore to never again feel guilty about buying my kids Happy Meals. Because every single one contributes to the good that RMH does. Every. Single. One. You don’t think 10 cents adds up to much? Think again. Since January 2004, McDonald’s Canada and its franchisee owners have raised $42 million from sales of Happy Meals alone.

Now, I still make my kids share one pack of fries and one bag of apples, mix one white with one chocolate milk, and I don’t let them eat the sugary yogurt, but I think about RMH and the families it serves as I divvy it all up and we scarf it all down.

Since that speech, I’ve had the fortune of seeing two families live through touch-and-go times at Ronald McDonald Houses. One in New Zealand with their toddler and one here in Canada. I want to share their stories in hopes that it helps erase the guilt you have about being a McMom.

These are their love letters to Ronald McDonald House, in their own words…

Jo Gordon from New Zealand writes:

“Ron’s House, as my family calls Ronald McDonald House, is our home away from home. For many families, RMH is a sanctuary in a short whirlwind of medical emergency. For our family, Ron’s House became home for most of 2013. A place where I was able to retire to after a night of broken sleep and stress to take a breath, wash away the worries, catch up on sleep and find a dose of normality with other families who were also temporary permanent residents.

Tiago in New Zealand

Tiago then and now. Always smiling!

“One way the community supports RMH is having local businesses coming and cooking meals. Often two meals a week to provide a break to parents juggling sick babies in hospital and siblings living at RMH. Our daughter remembers her year of weekends at Ron’s House very fondly; a year of making new friends every weekend, attending parties put on by local businesses and having a safe place to run around freely all weekend.

“I guess what I am trying to say is that RMH saved our family. We were able to be together and support each other when things were really tough. Ron’s House will always be a special place to us.”

Sherry and Ken in Courtice, Ontario, Canada write:

“On October 31, 2013, we welcomed our son, Chase, into the world. He was born three months early and weighed only 2 lbs., 7 oz. We were scared.

“Five days after he was born, the hospital did a routine head ultrasound to see if Chase had developed an intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH); an easier way to understand it is that it’s bleeding in the baby’s brain. This is very common in premature babies and is rated in stages, from one to four. Four being the worst. I will never forget that day when his doctors pulled me into the meeting room to tell me my son had a stage four IVH on the right side of his brain, and the complications that it may cause my son in his future. His father had returned to work and I was on my own to hear the news. I left the hospital so upset. I was now going to tackle what should have been just an hour drive home. But it took me almost three!

“I broke down that day and I knew that I could not handle the travel into Toronto for the next three months to be by his side. His father and I made the decision to find housing close to the hospital to alleviate the stress of the travel. This is when a good friend of mine looked into the Ronald McDonald house for us. Within two days we were settled into our room, a five-minute walk from Mount Sinai Hospital where Chase had been born.

Level III NICU preemie

Baby Chase now and then: from Level III NICU to the picture of health.

“The house truly was a home away from home. The facility provided us with all the amenities of home. There was a kitchen, laundry and computer room just to mention a few. Volunteers would routinely come to the house and provide dinners for us. What a relief coming home to a cooked meal at the end of a long and sometimes stressful day. We met people from near and far, some becoming friends with whom we still keep in contact .

“We called the Ronald McDonald House ‘home’ for two and a half months. Two and a half months that I will never forget and will forever be grateful for. Thank you, Ronald McDonald House and staff!”

I also asked on my Facebook page for RMH experiences, and received this note from fellow Canuck Elisa Metza:

“My son Griffin was born in December 2011 with Complex Congenital Heart Disease. We were living in Kingston, Ont., and in the weeks leading up to his birth, we began to make arrangements to stay in Toronto, as we knew he would be going into surgery at SickKids Hospital shortly after birth. We had heard of Ronald McDonald House, but didn’t know what to expect. For $15 per night we assumed it would be hostel-type, bare minimum accommodations. When we arrived – tired, overwhelmed and scared – a small part of that burden was lifted. It was beautiful, spacious and clean, close to the hospital, with all of the amenities we needed. Far better than any hotel space we could have afforded. We would come back several times in the following two years – while Griffin endured three open-heart surgeries and two heart catheterizations. 

“Probably the biggest impact RMH had on us was during Christmas 2011. At six days old, Griffin had his first heart surgery. I spent Christmas Eve in the Critical Care Unit of the hospital and on Christmas morning, my husband, 13-month-old daughter and I woke up at Ronald McDonald House. Outside our door were mounds of donated gifts for our family. When we went downstairs, Santa Claus was waiting to greet us. That evening, my parents, brother and Grandmother were also welcomed into RMH to enjoy a massive Christmas dinner, provided to all the families staying at the house, completely free of charge. Never before had I experienced ‘the true meaning’ of Christmas, and this kind of generosity. RMH is a special place that has made our most difficult times a little more bearable.”

There are 14 RMHs across Canada, helping more than 10,000 families each year. TEN THOUSAND.

Even if you’re anti-McDonald’s or still believe its McNuggets are born of some pink goop, even if you swear up and down that you’ll never let your child eat under the Golden Arches, I hope you can appreciate the amazing work that McDonald’s does through Ronald McDonald House. And, hey, maybe you’d even like to donate a few pennies of your own?

If you have a story to share about your experience with Ronald McDonald House, feel free to leave it in the comments.

April 13, 2014
by Mommy Gearest
0 comments

Chariot Urban Series: Chinook 2 double stroller

Chariot blue coloured bike trailerI make the same promise to myself at the beginning of each new spring: I vow to exercise more. I commit to shaking the dust off of my Schwinn cruiser that’s been hibernating all winter and bring out the strollers that are extra-conducive to moving more.

I realized just how out of shape I am yesterday when I hooked up the Chariot Chinook 2. I made it around the block (somewhere between a measly one and two kilometres), and couldn’t bring myself to do a second lap. For someone who could once rollerblade the entire Toronto waterfront, this is pretty pathetic.

But with the Chariot facing me every time I open the garage, I’m expecting (hoping?) it to guilt me into trying to turn one lap into two and two into four in the coming weeks as the weather gets nicer. (You know, before it gets too stinkin’ hot that I use that as an excuse.)

I received a Chariot Chinook 2 (versus Chinook 1, which is the single version) to test out as part of my freelance work with CanadianFamily.ca last year, and ended up including it in my roundup of the best double strollers. Here’s why:

Chinook 2 bike trailerTHE GOOD

The Chinook is part of Chariot’s “Urban Series,” but as a full-blown suburbanite, I assure you it’s perfectly good outside of the city, too.

Like every other Chariot model, the Chinook is a total chameleon, becoming a stroller, bike trailer, hiker or skier depending on the conversion kits (attachments) you use. Out of the box, the Chinook is only a stroller, so if you know you want it to be a bike trailer, too, be sure you purchase the Bicycle Trailer Kit Chinook conversion kit separately. And be sure it’s the one made specifically for the Chinook; any conversion kits made for different or older models won’t work with the Chinook series.

If you’re one of those crazy people who’s had three kids in a matter of three or four years, you’ll really appreciate the option to purchase the infant kit that allows you to attach a car seat to the top of the Chinook. That’s three kids in one fairly compact stroller, which is both handy and impressive.

Unlike some of Chariot’s previous models, the Chinook allows you to roll down the side “windows” so there’s only a screen separating your child from the world instead of a sheet of plastic, which can get far too hot in the summer months. Considering you must keep the plastic screen down in the front when biking (to protect your kid from incoming rocks and other debris), being able to let air in via the side windows is awesome.

Another big improvement is the ability to recline the seat to make the interior a little more comfortable for kids who are prone to fall asleep during a stroll (or bike). It’s by no means flat, but it’s enough for a kid who’s used to sleeping upright.

Chariot Chinook 2 bicycle trailer conversion kit

Minutes before the ride around the block that knocked me on my you-know-what.

Speaking of the interior, it’s really nicely padded. In fact, the Chariot Chinook comes with so much padding, I think the manufacturer understands that sometimes you just want to put your kids into a padded room. Mine were too big to take advantage of the extra padding that would keep one or two year olds in their seats really well.

The harnesses are HUGELY adjustable, fitting both the smallest of kids right up to my nearly six year old.

There are three different handlebar heights. The lowest is low enough that Miss Q (age 3) is able to handle it pretty well on her own. The highest is high enough that 6’6″ Big B finds it comfortable. So that’s pretty amazing.

The Chinook can handle a combined weight of 100 pounds, so two 50-pounders are fine weight-wise – even if they might not fit so well height-wise.

The key for any running or biking stroller is its weight, and the Chinook does not disappoint. It’s extraordinarily light and that means towing two kids behind you is easier than it would be with a heavier trailer.

Its handling as a stroller is also crazy good. You can lock the front wheel if you’re running or trekking through snow, or release it so it swivels. And swivel it will; on a dime. One-handed strolling is rarely so easy with something designed for so much versatility.

The colour selection is nice; I’m not really a lover of orange but mixed with the cranberry colour on our Chariot Chinook, I don’t mind it at all. The blue version is really lovely, too.

Hooking up the Chinook to my bike was easy as pie. A click here, a snap there and it was ready to rock and roll. This is especially important for people who are planning to do a mix of biking and strolling in the same trip. Let’s say you’re headed to the grocery on bike but when you arrive not only do you not want to lock everything up using three different sets of locks, but you also want to contain your child so you can shop in peace. Simply detach the trailer attachment arm, unfold the wheel that’s tucked under the Chinook and lock up your bike outside. Then re-attach everything when you’re finished shopping and ready to go home. Perhaps this is part of the rationale behind calling this the “Urban Series” because it’s pretty unlikely that I’m going to bike to the nearest grocery store since we don’t even have one in my little town.

Folding the Chinook is so, so, so much easier than it was to fold our old Chariot Corsaire XL. In fact, it folds so easily that we often fold it up and hang it on the wall of our garage to get it out of the way. Well, that is when my garage is clean enough to accommodate a vehicle. Which it’s not right now. But that’s a whole other story.

THE GAFFE

The other reason for categorizing the Chinook might be it’s folded size; it’s big in the trunk of my CUV. It’s definitely not my first pick when we’re going on a day trip because it means I have to remove just about everything that’s already in my trunk to accommodate it. And take off the wheels (which is ridiculously easy to do, but it does add another step.)

My main complaint about the Chinook is that there is no middle seating option for a single child rider like the Chariot Corsaire XL. In our old Chariot, you could rearrange the harnesses to put either two children side by side or one child in the middle. No such luck with the Chinook. You’ve got a single rider? Pick one side or the other and take your corners slowly if you’re biking.

I can’t get through a standard door frame with the Chinook like I can with other double strollers, such as the Bumbleride Indie Twin or the Mountain Buggy Duet. So I tend not to take it shopping (especially if I know I’m going to be hitting Gymboree with its extra-small pathways, even for single strollers).

Storage space is pretty limited. There’s a pouch in the back that can hold a small backpack and a small, flexible cooler. But if you’re doing a day trip, expect to carry bigger backpacks or diaper bags. You can get a diaper bag that’s designed to fit the wide handlebars, but having not seen nor used it, I can’t comment on its size. You should consider diaper bag clips or a diaper bag that has clips built into it, like the one from LUG, if you think you need to bring it along.

It’s listed for $1,100 for the base Chinook 2 on Chariot’s website (though you can find it for $100 less elsewhere; see below). Make that $1,250 if you want the first-year-of-life accessories kit. Add another $85 for the bike trailer attachment. And so on… It’s not cheap. It’s the Bentley of running strollers. So be sure you’re going to get a lot of use out of it. Just do the math: Assuming you have just spent $1,1oo, if you expect to use it daily for six months out of the first year, that’s about 182 days or just slightly more than $6 per day to pay for itself in year one. Not bad if you really use it that much. By comparison, if it sits in your garage and you take it out 10 times in its debut year, it’s a hefty $110 per stroll.

THE GEARS

4/5

So…where can you get it:

Hot Wheels Track Builder sets

April 9, 2014
by Mommy Gearest
0 comments

Hot Wheels Track Builder

You know how it can be super-awkward when your kid has two friends over to play? Oftentimes, three kids together just doesn’t gel. Someone is often left out or feels ganged up on by the other two in the pint-sized version of Lord of the Flies. Well, without the whole dead pig part.

Rewind two weeks and I really wondered what on earth had made me let The K Man invite two of his besties over. I’d seen it end horribly before. But I’m a sucker for a great play date while Miss Q is sleeping; I manage to squeeze a lot of home organization into those two hours of occupied and slumbering children. And so my five year old had “the guys” over for a Hot Wheels Track Builder party, where we would unleash the boxes of new Track Builder sets that Hot Wheels sent over for us to test out.

Not one fight. Not one naughty word. Nothing but smiles and laughter and vrooming car noises could be heard in my rec room that afternoon.

And you can have your own Hot Wheels Track Building Challenge, too, and be entered to win a pretty awesome party at home where the Hot Wheels team will trick out the house in glorious blues and oranges. Tracks galore! Maybe something like…this?

Hot Wheels Track Builder ChallengeTHE GOOD

The Hot Wheels Track Builder sets and cars have been played with for hours upon hours upon hours at our house and they’re still a fan favourite. Plus, they’ve held up well against the test of time; we haven’t had any breakage like we did with the Hot Wheels Wall Tracks. They’re basically like a bigger-boy version of Thomas the Tank Engine tracks, which can be twisted and turned in new directions every time you play with it.

The components aren’t too expensive. About $25 for the 5-Lane Tower Starter Set; less than five bucks for the rocket booster, different stunt pieces or the slingshot-style launcher; another $15 for the digital speedometer. You could piece together a pretty impressive track with several bells and whistles for $50. Go up fem there and you’re going to need a monstrous amount of floor space to make room for your child’s creativity.

The connectors are easy enough for five year olds to use, and they actually stay together until you decide to disconnect them.

The tracks are flexible, which means as rough-and-tumble kids are playing with them this way and that, they’re not going to crack.

While there are a few motorized components available, for the most part the Hot Wheels Track Builder is just pure kid elbow grease. And imagination. I love listening to The K Man making up stories about his cars when he’s playing solo and when we have races, he narrates them (very seriously and with a lot of detail). It had been a while since he’d played with his Hot Wheels and the Track Builder sets have really renewed his interest in the many cars we’ve collected over the years. In fact, he said “Mommy, I forgot how much I loved Hot Wheels.” Collective awwww…

IMG_2607Even Miss Q, a three-year-old girl, loves getting in on the action. She managed to score a pink and purple Hot Wheels car and she dives right in with the boys. And holds her own.

THE GAFFE

It can take up a lot of space. If you don’t have 10 square feet to work with, you might feel cramped. Or, perhaps, just motivated to find more creative twists and turns to play in a smaller footprint.

THE GEARS

4.5/5

So…where can you get it?

April 7, 2014
by Mommy Gearest
0 comments

D-Link WiFi Baby Camera (DCS 825L)

Lindsay Noronha is a working mom of (almost) three that lives just west of Toronto in Canada’s fastest-growing community: Milton. She has a giant passion for her kids, which is why she scans parenting blogs relentlessly, eavesdrops on other moms at Target and promises to one day actually read a parenting book from cover to cover. When not working as a mom and communications professional, Lindsay can be found watching PVR’d episodes of kid-friendly shows including Criminal Minds and The Following.

Lindsay received a D-Link DCS 825L WiFi Baby Camera in exchange for her honest opinion.

***************************************************************

While preparing for the birth of our third child, my husband, Shaun, and I were thinking about all the things we would have to buy new for this baby.  We happily discovered that the list was quite short and included mainly big-ticket items like a bigger house and “cool” minivan — but at least the list was short.  One of the things that we knew we would have to invest in was a good baby monitor.

When our son was born four years ago, we bought what looked to be the best, because it was the biggest monitor on the market. Bigger is better, right? Wrong. The unit was heavy and bulky and certainly couldn’t be transferred from room to room easily.  When my son was three months old, we went to visit my girlfriend who just had her first baby a few weeks earlier.  We were sitting in her living room having tea when I spotted it: a small, full colour, fully portable monitor. It looked as shiny and sleek as a cell phone and seemed to work great. Why did she have one of these and I didn’t?

I would rectify this situation immediately.

I dragged Shaun and the baby out to the closest baby-gear store the next day to buy this fabulous new monitor. And it was fabulous. For a little while. We could see the baby well in the dark, it was full colour in the light and I loved being able to easily carry it from room to room. Alas, after about a year, it became possessed by the baby-gear demons. It would turn itself off, quizzically show that it had no juice after being plugged in all day and it constantly froze.

Because it was so untrustworthy, we dragged out our first mammoth monitor to use along with it. The sound on the big screen was terrible so we also lugged out a pair of audio monitors as well. Our house looked like the headquarters of a secret service sting operation. Not good.

When we were researching a supreme monitor for baby number three, we decided quickly that we wanted to use our phones as the monitor’s parent units so what we were really looking for was a camera that could transmit to our phones seamlessly and beautifully. Is that too much to ask? Because we wanted to have the right monitor in place before the birth of the baby, we decided to monitor our two-year-old daughter who we haven’t spied on in more than a year. This should be interesting.

Watching some post-nap play thanks to night vision.

Watching some post-nap play thanks to night vision.

THE GOOD

The picture quality is quite good. The night vision is a little grainy but I can see my daughter kicking the sides of her crib and throwing her cuddly friends overboard clearly, so I’m happy with it.

There are a few features that may be ideal for a newborn or a child who is used to being monitored that, although backfired for us the last go-round, I will definitely try out for baby No. 3. The ability for us to speak to her through the camera is a great example of this. I can see how this feature could be soothing to a newborn or expected by a toddler, but for my daughter it was terrifying. The first time we tried it, she sat up instantly, turned her head toward the camera and started crying. We went in her room and showed her with our iPhone what we were doing…but she wasn’t comforted. She wasn’t a fan. My son on the other hand loves this feature.  He asks for my iPhone as soon as he gets up in the morning so he can talk to his sister before we get her up. He also loves hearing his voice coming from the camera. At least one of them is happy.

I also like that we are able to play lullaby music remotely from the camera. Again, my daughter thought this was a form of medieval torture unless we played Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, then all was right with the world.

Shaun and I are definitely helicopter parents. We can count on one hand how many times we have been away from our children at the same time. Work is really the only thing that keeps us away from our kids, so being able to see at least one of them during nap time is blissful. Not only can you see the baby from the comfort of your desk chair (or Starbucks booth), but the two-way communication function also works. There is about a 10-second lag, which can be annoying, but the kids loved to hear daddy’s voice coming through the camera. My son would talk back while my daughter scoured the house looking for her dad.

The D-Link WiFi Baby Camera comes with the option of a pink or blue face plate, which is great if you care about that kind of thing.

I thought at first that the temperature feature was a waste of screen space until the night that our furnace stopped working. I didn’t realize that the furnace had broken down until I noticed that the temperature in her room was declining quickly. I went to check the house thermostat and realized what had happened. It was a very cold and frustrating night.

THE GAFFE

Trying to get a good angle...

Trying to get a good angle…

You’ll have a hard time getting a good angle.  The camera is round so it tends to roll off the base when trying to get a good view. The camera does come with a wall-mounting unit but I don’t like mounting anything to our walls especially when we are getting ready to put our house on the market.  We put the camera on three books on a high shelf but her head was still cut off from our view every night. We could generally see from her mid-back and downwards.

The lag with the two-way communication is very annoying. Our bedroom is across the hall from our daughter’s room so we could hear our voices coming through the camera at least five seconds after we spoke. My son loved this lag. He would speak into the phone then run to her door to listen to what he said coming from the camera, but for us this was pretty irritating.

The set-up was very time-consuming. On paper, it looks straightforward and there really are only a few “simple” steps but it took us three times of starting the set-up process before we got it to work. A better FAQ with troubleshooting techniques would have been useful.

THE GEARS

4/5

So…where can you get it?