October 29, 2014
by Mommy Gearest
1 Comment

Wordless Wednesday: Garden of Life’s Ocean Kids DHA Chewables

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If there’s one thing I will always remember about my Grandpa, it’s that he took cod liver oil religiously. Back then, of course, omegas and DHA weren’t in the vernacular — but he knew it was good for him. I’ll never forget the way they smelled: awful. Thankfully, times have changed and liquigels have managed to evolve into less stinky versions of their former selves. We’ve been giving our kids DHA since they were in utero; I always took a prenatal vitamin with added DHA, and we made a point of introducing the kids to fish early on. But since we don’t eat it enough, I also let them pop daily gummies. The problem is that those gummies are laden with sugar. So I was thrilled to learn about Ocean Kids DHA Chewables from Garden of Life, which contain 250 mg of omega-3 fatty acids and 120 mg of DHA per daily serving. There are no fillers, no artificial ingredients, no artificial flavours and no preservatives. HALLELUJAH! While The K Man suffers through his serving a little, Miss Q is all over them and we usually find her begging for more. The best part? No sugar, except for those naturally occurring in the berry and lime juice that sweetens the Ocean Kids DHA Chewables ever so slightly.  

 

DISLAIMER: This post is considered an entry into a Garden of Life influencer contest; however, I strongly believe in this brand and would have featured it anyway! 

October 27, 2014
by Mommy Gearest
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Travel in style with The Shopping Channel: a #FamilyTravelCA chat

Two of my favourite brands are married and already giving birth. Heys (my personal luggage brand) and FLARE (one of Canada’s finest magazines) partnered to create fashion-forward luggage.

Heys FLARE luggage setIt’s true: even your luggage should make a statement. When we bought our luggage nine years ago, quality came first but style was a very close second. At the time, there weren’t any leopard spots or abstract graphics available. We went as bold as we could with red. And although there are a few more red bags on the conveyor belt now than there were nearly a decade earlier, they’re still nestled among a sea of black.

Break out of the black, people! Add some colour or a little zing to your baggage wardrobe. This is one of those fantastic opportunities to be more daring than you might be with a purse or a pair of shoes (even though a good leopard print shoe is always wise!).

Made of an impact-resistant polycarbonate composite (which is the same stuff that goes into making bulletproof glass!) and featuring a “frameless” design, the new three-piece Heys/FLARE hardside luggage is lightweight, flexible and durable. Because stress-free travel is a must.

Available in six patterns, there’s one to suite the fashionista inside of each of you. And hey, at least you’ll always know which set of bags is yours as it rides down the runway.

These fabulicious bags are available through The Shopping Channel, and you’re in luck. Join us for this Tuesday’s #FamilyTravelCA Twitter chat from 9 to 10 p.m. and you can win a set of your own! And if you don’t win the grand prize, you still have a shot at hundreds of dollars in gift cards from The Shopping Channel.

To win, you have to RSVP below and be a Canadian resident. That’s it! So get yer RSVP on and we’ll see you on Tuesday, October 28.



October 26, 2014
by Mommy Gearest
0 comments

Hey, Mattel…game ON!

I was born in the 1970s. And we had little more in the ’80s than Super Channel and Atari, so my family played games. I never took to most card games, but I still love a good board game.

Many of my favourite childhood memories revolve around board games, like that time we were playing Pictionary and my dad got his card mixed up. So what he was drawing for my brother (an American Indian) was not what my mom and I saw on the card (Vanna White). We died laughing as he continued to sketch arrow after arrow surrounding a man wearing feathers. Had he made it a feather boa, at least it would have been closer to Vanna. That was probably 1987 and we still talk about it. And occasionally laugh so hard remembering the look on his face that we cry.

My extended family is huge and during family gatherings, we often play a big round of Trivial Pursuit. When we aren’t watching out for cheating (a regular occurrence), you might find us making up definitions for words like “horology.”

Before we had kids, it wasn’t uncommon for Big B and I to take our special-edition Cranium over to my aunt and uncle’s house for a raucous night of play and wine. It even factored into one of our loveliest wedding memories, when my uncle tried to hum “Who Let the Dogs Out?” during one of his turns to surprise my cousins with their all-expenses-paid trip to be part of our destination wedding in The Bahamas. (I assure you, it sounded nothing like the song. We still get a good kick out of that one, too.)

Oh, and Balderdash. Try playing that with a bunch of English majors and see who wins. It’s absolutely one of the best games of all time, and we’ve busted it out at a party or two. (Yes, our parties are that awesome.)

Mattel board games

Thanks to Mattel, we’ve introduced our children to one of the first games we played as kids ourselves: UNO. At ages 3 and 6, they’re totally capable of playing this game with a parent and The K Man would be able to play it independently with other kids his age. You may not think of it as an educational game, but I’d beg to differ. It teaches and reinforces colours, numbers and patterns; it helps kids form and understand different rules (skip a turn, pick up four cards, reverse play); and it’s brilliant for spatial organization — being able to picture something in your mind and describe it. Our kids love that a game may last one minute or 12, and I can see the strategy piece starting to form in The K Man’s brain. Miss Q, on the other hand, is still quite happy to tell everyone playing what her cards are.

Pictionary and MadGab are still much too beyond our kids’ years, but we’ve stashed them with our other board games in the rec room and will pull them out in a few years.

We also tried Apples to Apples and Bounce Off, with some success. This is the perfect time to note that there’s a reason these games have age recommendations on them. Cognitively, most kids reach milestones around the same time and I have no doubt that Mattel has tried focus group after focus group to try to get suggested age ranges nailed down. Follow them. Sure, you can change up various elements of many games to make it easier for too-young participants, but there are enough games out there that you could easily just stick to what works for your kids in the stages they’re in right now.

While the Bounce Off concept was easy to understand, my kids just can’t yet manage the skill involved to bounce four plastic balls into a specific pattern. (Big B and I did play a bit so the kids could learn, and it was super fun. The K Man should be ready for this in only a year or two.)

I can also see Apples to Apples being a game they’ll enjoy by age eight or so. Basically, you choose a green apple card — which has a word with synonyms on it — and after being dealt five red apple cards, you have to (a) select a card that best represents the word on the green apple card, and (b) explain your rationale to the judge. Perfect for learning how to prove a theory through logic and debate.

So the next time you find yourself with a rainy day and you’re all crafted out, pull out a board game and connect with your kids. In no time, you’ll be making Vanna White memories of your own.

 

October 23, 2014
by Mommy Gearest
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Belly Dance Maternity (guest review)

This guest reviewer’s name is Sara; she’s a mom to two beautiful boys and three fur babies. Her eldest just turned three and her youngest is three months old (so she might be a tad busy). They also have two dogs and a cat. (OK, make that really busy.) Aside from being a mom, she wears a few other hats. When she’s not running around doing pick-up and drop-off or taking her youngest to the doctor for weight checks, she’s a wife, business owner (check out Itsy Bitsy Necessities), a baby sign instructor, a blogger and a student. Oh, and when she’s not on maternity leave, she’s also an Educational Assistant.  Yes, busy. Any why? So she can stay home an additional year to be there for when her son transitions to JK, and to just spend some extra quality time with her youngest. Family is important; she lives very close to her parents and grandparents and talks to her mom at least once a day. (Hmmm….sounds familiar…)

Sara received nursing tops from Belly Dance Maternity in exchange for her honest review.

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As you can imagine, having a three year old and a three month old is a tad hectic. On top of the regular day-to-day craziness, my youngest is a little underweight for his age (according to the chart at the doctor), so throwing in extra feedings everyday can make things a little more challenging. It seems like I am a convenience store open 24/7 located near a very busy neighbourhood. As we all know, feeding a baby and staying covered up can sometimes be a challenge. I personally was a little apprehensive of this task because when I was growing up it was a running joke with my family that I was an unintentional flasher.

I may have, on one or more occasions, had a wardrobe malfunction.

For instance, one time we were at the beach and I got changed and thought everything was in the right place but soon had it brought to my attention that I was not quite all tucked in. So, as you can imagine, the idea of breastfeeding has always been a little nerve-wracking because, (a) I don’t want to flash the world; and (b) I was afraid my younger brothers would bring up my childhood mishaps. Nonetheless I was really pleased when Mommy Gearest gave me the opportunity to test out some proper nursing wear. I received a NOM Surplice Tee in navy and a NOM Ruched black-and-white-striped Snap Tank from Belly Dance Maternity, an online retailer that delivers to Canada and the USA.

THE GOOD

The first thing I would like to mention about these shirts and Belly Dance Maternity itself is how friendly and efficient their customer service team was. I first received an email from Mommy Gearest’s contact asking me to go through the site pick out a few items I would like to try. Once I replied with my list, I then received another email from a customer service rep from the Buffalo location asking my size and for my address. Right after I replied, I received another email from someone in shipping who just wanted to send a quick note to let me know my parcel had shipped and then two days later I received it. This really impressed me especially since it was coming from out of country.

Of course, when I picked the parcel up from the post office I ripped it open right away to see what the actual articles looked like in person. I knew I was getting a navy shirt but did not know what colour of tank I would be getting. I was very pleased with the white and black tank I received. I tried my NOM Surplice Tee (long-sleeved) right away and fell in love. It was one of the softest shirts I had worn in a really long time, it provided me with a slimming fit and I really liked the weight of it. I mention the weight because unlike similar products, even though it was long-sleeved, it didn’t feel like it was going to be overly warm, and that is a bonus since no one wants to be hot and sweaty while feeding her baby.

Another feature I like about the shirts is the convenience and protection it provides. With the crossover front panel, I was able to easily access the “goods” for my son without walking down memory lane of flashing the world. Not only does it provide easy access, it provides you with a layer of security that moves out of the way with ease yet keeps you covered pretty much no matter how you are sitting/feeding.

A great feature that both the long-sleeved shirt and tank share is the length. I found both articles a bit longer than most of the tops that I own. This to me is an added bonus as I personally still like to wear my maternity jeans from time to time (because, let’s face it, they are super comfy and probably the nicest jeans I have ever owned). The extra length comes in handy as it hides that stretchy waste band or looks really cute with a pair of leggings (again going for the comfort factor!)

Another great thing about the tops I tried is that they wash nicely. The first time I wore my long sleeve top I spilt some salad dressing on it – I am known to be a little messy when I eat. As usual, I go to take my last bite and spill oily dressing. My first thought was “I ruined the shirt,” but to my surprise the stain came out! Any shirt that’s that easy to clean is a good one in my books.

THE GAFFE

The gaffe. Well, to be honest, I didn’t find too much that I didn’t like about the two Belly Dance Maternity shirts I tested. The one thing that does stand out to me though was the price. The long-sleeved top was US$75 and I don’t know about the rest of you but on my mat leave, a budget a $75 shirt has no place is tough. Even when I am working full time I rarely spend more than $30 to $35 on a shirt. [Editor's note: I frequently purchased nursing wear from BOOB Design, with shirts in the $75 to $150 range, so everyone's budget on mat leave differs wildly.]

Another thing that I think the manufacturer could do is provide instructions as too whether or not the extra material across the chest is to be pushed down for easy nursing, or pulled up. It is not a big deal, but it did take me a few tries until I felt comfortable with it. A little guidance in the beginning would have alleviated some frustration while I was out to dinner and trying to feed what seemed like a starving child. (I personally get a little more flustered when trying to feed and my son is screaming and other guests keep looking over, the last thing I need is to fight with my shirt.)

Oh, and one more suggestion I have for Belly Dance Maternity: make the garments dryer-friendly. It is recommended to hang/lay flat to dry – I don’t usually buy things I can’t throw in the dryer; if I did they would more often than not get thrown in the dryer by mistake as I may start the load and my husband will switch it to the dryer. It is very handy as a new mom to be able to throw a load in the laundry and no have to worry about special instructions.

THE GEARS

4/5

So…where can you get it?

October 16, 2014
by Mommy Gearest
2 Comments

FoodSaver 2-in1 Vacuum Sealing System

Have you ever bought bulk packages of meat or fish, taken them home and tried to divide them up to put some in the fridge and the rest in the freezer?

We used to do it a lot, but stopped when we found that freezer burn wreaked havoc on the food we tried to deep freeze and use months later. It meant that we spent a bit more upfront but we weren’t throwing out hundreds of dollars worth of steak, chicken and salmon in the course of a single year.

Same went for banana bread, which I hate making unless I do it in large batches. But it just never lasted well in our freezer, despite being double-bagged. I would even go so far as to try to suck out all of the excess air from those “locking” bags (I think you know the ones…). Picture that. Just for a moment. A grown woman standing over a plastic bag sucking the life out of one of its corners. I always felt like I was taking my life into my hands when I’d attempt this feat with something like raw chicken, when I’d see out of the corner of my eye some rogue chicken juice creeping up toward my mouth.

This was my first (and still favourite) use of the FoodSaver system. We like to buy meat and fish in bulk and freeze at least half into a couple of different servings.

This was my first (and still favourite) use of the FoodSaver system. We like to buy meat and fish in bulk and freeze at least half into a couple of different servings.

That used to be me, so I was kind of thrilled when a FoodSaver system arrived at my doorstep a couple of months ago.

THE GOOD

FoodSaver is really easy to use. I read the instructions once, and barring some slight confusion about how to insert the extra roll of plastic when you want to make your own size, I didn’t encounter anything that prevented me from sucking out air like a pro.

As I mentioned, we’ve been using this thing for a couple of months; I thought it was important to see what food that had been sealed using the FoodSaver machine would be like if we left it in the freezer as long as we normally would. I’m pleased to report that we didn’t experience any freezer burn on meat or fish, and banana bread thawed like a dream. The banana bread pictured below was sealed at the beginning of August and I thawed and opened it yesterday; it was as fresh and moist as the day I sealed it. So it works. And it works well.

I find vacuum sealing food rather fun. I can’t articulate why, but watching the air get pulled out of the bag is somehow very satisfying.

The FoodSaver 2-in-1 works really well with baked goods, like banana bread and doughnuts, as well as "wet" foods like chill, applesauce or soup.

The FoodSaver 2-in-1 works really well with baked goods, like banana bread and doughnuts, as well as “wet” foods like chilli, applesauce or soup.

I love the option to use and reuse the Ziploc-style baggies thanks to the handheld wand that’s built into the FoodSaver system. This is what gives it that 2-in-1 claim. And we’ve gotten a lot of use out of these bags; plus, it appeals to my desire to be greener whenever possible. And though I recognize that plastic is terrible, unfortunately, it’s a necessary evil when you want to preserve things in the freezer.

At about $230 for the Food Saver 2-in-1 Vacuum Sealing System, I think it’s reasonable value. I easily tossed away $230 worth of meat and fish last year alone. I’m expecting this to fully pay for itself inside of one year. (Of course, you still have to buy replacement bags and rolls…)

I like that the machine gives me the option to select “wet” or “dry” foods; this straightforward instruction means that food like chilli doesn’t get sucked up into the FoodSaver as it’s vacuuming out the air.

It’s a nice-looking enough unit, but…

THE GAFFE

It takes up a lot of real estate on my countertop. People with small or galley kitchens probably won’t like FoodSaver’s footprint (at least the model I have). It’s really a bit bulky to go into a cupboard, so unless you have a walk-in pantry like I do, finding a home for it might be tough.

Refills aren’t cheap. At Canadian Tire, for example, a double-roll refill is $23.99 and a 12-pack of large Ziploc-style reusable bags is $15.99.

You end up using A LOT of plastic because the machine requires a four-inch clearance on either side of the vacuum-sealed “line” to work properly.

The electrical cord is not long enough…an extra foot would be really helpful.

Not all wet foods seem to get fully sucked of air. The chilli up there on the left, for example. That said, I can’t say it’s made a difference in terms of how well it’s kept food in the freezer.

Sometimes, the machine appears to be finishing the job and then just…stalls. I turn it off, and start over again and that seems to do the trick, but it’s weird. And freaky because the noise it emits while it’s stalled isn’t pretty.

THE GEARS

3.5/5 (if refills were less expensive, the overall system would have earned a higher rating)

So…where can you get it?