Monday, November 24, 2014

DIY Decorating on a Budget

Tree decorations aplenty.
Have you started decorating for the holidays yet? We've got our Christmas lights up on the eaves (or rather, we've turned them on again--we never take them down) & I've begun debating whether or not we'll get a live tree or a cut one. I have a wreath project started that I hope to finish in the next week or two (wish me luck) & I've started thinking about decorating the house too.

Trouble is, we don't really have much in the way of house decor for Christmas. We have tons of tree ornaments, but not much in the way of knick-knacks or art work or garlands. So my mission this season is to find some new decor items for the house... without breaking the bank. I want to some more holiday cheer to our house with a budget of $25. It's pretty unlikely I'd find any decent quality things at the dollar store & I wouldn't get much new stuff anywhere else for that amount. So I'm not going to get new stuff--I'm going thrifting!

I'm heading over to Value Village, who have graciously provided me with a $25 gift certificate, to see what deals I can score for our holiday decor. I'm aiming to create a tablescape, though it'll probably be more of a 'shelfscape', because the wall shelf in our living room is the only horizontal surface the baby hasn't figured out how to access (& tear apart) yet.

Before I go, I thought I'd share with you my plan of attack. If you haven't done too much thrift store shopping lately, there's definitely an art to it. Here are my top tips for scoring holiday decor items for less:

Sewing-themed decorations, maybe?

  1. Do your homework! Cruise Pinterest for ideas before you go shopping & start a board for inspiration. Here's mine, if you want to see some holiday decorating ideas I've collected so far. Follow me to keep up with my pins--I'll be adding more decor ideas after this post is published.
  2. Focus. Don't get intimidated by the professionally decorated homes you see on Pinterest--focus on some of the items you like that you could recreate in your own home. Make a list of things you might need to create some of the looks you're going for.
  3. Don't judge a book by its cover. Once you're at the thrift store, think of what you're looking at in the store as raw materials. A coat of spray paint or acrylic or glitter can give new life to things like china figurines, vases, or baskets.
  4. Shop your kitchen. Think of what you already have on hand that could become part of your holiday decor--candy or cinnamon sticks? Mandarin oranges or pomegranates? Branches from a tree outside? Keep these in mind while you look for vases, jars, baskets, etc to hold these items.
  5. Allow serendipity! Bring your list & your plan but remember to keep an open mind & if inspiration strikes you in the store, go with it!

The fun of thrift shopping is that you never really know what you'll find there. Some of my favourite clothing items are things I just happened upon by chance in a Value Village. I really love taking something that someone else didn't want & making it beautiful, whether by reworking it, or just arranging it in a new way. Plus, it's a great way to avoid all the packaging waste & resources that go into making & shipping new items across the world.

Will you be thrifting anything for the holidays this year? Have you got any tips to share? I'd love to hear in the comments below...

Disclaimer: I will be receiving a $25 gift certificate to spend at Value Village, but was not otherwise compensated for this post.

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Get Outside! (Even in Winter with the Kids)

Four of us bundled up for a cargobike ride
Besides the fact that kids need a few hours of exercise a day & the easiest way for mine to get that is at the park, we also bike everywhere. Year round, rain or shine, we're on the bike going where we need to go. So when I saw a few posts floating around Facebook about how to bundle kids up for the recent cold weather here in Vancouver, I thought I might have something useful to share with you.

Here's a roundup of tips for getting the kids outside & keeping them warm. One caveat, before we get going: these tips are based on my experience here in Vancouver, where the temperature only very rarely gets past the single digits below zero,  & we only get a week or two with actual snow stuck to the ground, so if you live somewhere colder, they may not apply.

Baby It's Cold Outside!

During Linnaeus' second winter, I wrote Winter Baby Tips, with some ideas to keep your tot toasty when they're strapped into the stroller or baby carrier, including a review of our favourite item of baby clothing for winter: the MEC Ursus bunting.

Honey, I layered the kids

Now that I've got a preschooler & a toddler, my focus is more on clothes for the chilly visits to the park or bike rides. Rain or shine, it's all about the layers. On cold but dry days, that looks like winter coats, maybe an extra fleece underneath, hats or hoods, long underwear or leggings under pants, mittens, thick socks & boots. For cold & wet days, we go with fleece layers over clothes, gumboots with double socks, water resistant mittens, then one-piece rain suits over everything. We have both Tuffo Muddy Buddies (I get ours here) & MEC Newt Suits.

I particularly love MEC's fleece hoodies for little kids--the hoods are snug & close fitting, so they work under a muddy buddy hood or a bike helmet & are difficult for toddlers to pull off.

Forgetting anyone?

You're probably all focussed on keeping your kids warm at the park, but like me one day last week, forgot about yourself. I should have worn warmer footwear than the leather riding boots I had on, & maybe an extra pair of leggings. My toes were numb by the time I got home from the park at dusk, even after the mostly uphill bike ride home. Oops!

Bringing along a hot drink in one of these awesome spill-proof Contigo mugs (full review here) is good too--it'll stay hot for the entire time you're there & keep you warm from the inside out. Also: they just squeeze into a bike bottle cage, if you're riding.

That's a wrap

Lastly, I'll leave you with a little motivation to get out there for walks or rides in the holidays: I♥Biking: Riding in Winter.

Have you got any tips to share for keeping kids warm outside in winter? What about those of you who are in cooler climes than the balmy Wet Coast of Canada?

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Saturday, November 15, 2014

2014 Christmas Bucket List

Photo Credit: pedrosimoes7 via Compfight cc

A few times a year, I like to make lists of things I don't want to miss out on. There's so much to do during the holidays, that I find it helpful to have a bucket list to remind me of the activities I don't want to forget. We'll be having a big Christmas dinner & spending as much time  with family as we can, of course. Here's what I'd love to do this holiday season:

  1. Going krazy karpeting at a local park (if we get enough snow)
  2. Making gingerbread houses (probably out of a kit)
  3. Baking & decorating cookies
  4. Decorating a real tree
  5. Building a snowman (again, if we get any snow)
  6. Riding the Christmas Train at Bright Nights in Stanley Park
  7. Biking to the Trinity Street Light Festival
  8. Making some gifts--we'll see how much time I have for this with two active kidlets this year!
  9. Sending out holiday cards
  10. Santa photos (maybe early enough to send them out in the cards!)
  11. Drinking Glühwein at the Vancouver Christmas Market
  12. Making more seasonal decorations for our house
  13. Making an evergreen wreath
  14. Visiting the VanDusen Gardens Festival of Lights
  15. Buying Hope in Shadows calendars from a street vendor
I doubt we'll check off every single thing on this list, but it's nice to have a reminder so I don't get to December 24th before I remember that I wanted to take the kids to VanDusen, or something...

What activities will you be doing this holiday season? What are your top three can't-miss-out activities that you want to do with your family?

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Review: Foost First Knife

Foost First Knife in action (image via Foost)
I can't remember where I heard about Foost First Knife, but when I checked out their website, I loved the idea for three big reasons. First: Linnaeus is going through a stage of wanting to do nearly everything I do--typical for a four-year-old, I think. Almost every day, when I'm baking, chopping vegetables, or making lunch, my little shadow pops up behind me & asks, "Can I do that too?" I have tried helping Linnaeus use our kitchen knives before, holding his hands & making sure the sharp Henckels blade doesn't slice into his fingers. But that was before baby Bronte started walking, climbing, & generally causing chaos if I'm not watching her like a hawk.

The weight & size of the Foost First Knife are well designed for small hands & it's serrated but doesn't have an edge on it, so it'll cut through hard vegetables like carrots, but not injure little fingers if it slips. So I could theoretically leave Linnaeus chopping veggies for a minute while I grab his sister off the kitchen table or pop a piece of errant Lego out of her mouth. Billed as a knife for kids from 2-10, I think it's ideal for the lower half of that age range. If you've got a child that's six or older, there's the more advanced Foost Next Knife.

The second reason I like Foost First Knife: when Linnaeus is more involved in making & serving out the food we eat, he eats better. Linnaeus was excited to get his knife in the mail & guessed what it was before I opened the package. We tried it out on some cheese at lunch time, then some carrot sticks. With harder foods, you need to saw through, so you're not going to get precise slices. But then again, were you expecting perfect medallions from a four-year-old? When I sent carrot sticks to preschool for snack time, a lot of the time they come home unopened. But when Linnaeus gets to cut the carrots himself, he always eats them.

The third thing that made me want to share this product with you: Foost isn't a company that's just trying to sell gadgets for kids, they want to change the world. Kate, a dietitian, & David, a children's education specialist & entrepreneur created Foost to teach families about benefits of eating more fruits & vegetables & how it can be fun, via classroom demonstrations, parent education, & fundraising. They own & operate Foost in Melbourne, Australia, where they live with their four children. 

I think Foost would make a great stocking stuffer. Foost also makes another gadget that sounds like fun: a vegetable noodler. It uses a spiral plane blade to cut long strips from all sorts of veggies. Imagine the colourful soups & pastas you could make & how many vegetables you could get your kids to slurp up! Or if you wanted to make a bigger gift of it, Foost also sells the Mini Chef Pack which includes an apron & a chef's hat, or the Junior Chef Pack which contains a Foost Next Knife, apron, chef's hat, mesh safety glove, veggie scrubber, & a veggie noodler.

Like the Foost Facebook Page to continue the conversation about healthy eating with your family. 

For more colourful recipes and tips visit

Disclaimer: I received a free Foost knife to facilitate this review, but was not otherwise compensated.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

#EcoClutterBuster Update: Taming the Kids Closet

I actually found more after I took this photo
It's been quite a while since I posted about my quest to eliminate the clutter in our house without throwing things into the landfill with this year's #EcoClutterBuster project. I accomplished a major decluttering project this past week that I thought I'd share with you.

Last weekend I participated in a clothing & kids' stuff swap at a friend's housing co-op. It's the first I've been to in years, but I thought it would be a good idea to pass on some of the clothes that are a little too well-loved to consign & I haven't passed on to friends' children. I have a few bags & bins where I toss clothing as they grow out of them. I pitch things of Bronte's in there a couple times a week--she's growing like a weed still--so I knew I'd have quite a bit to bring.

Then I got to work sorting the too-small clothes, unused toys, & outgrown baby gear. I filled THREE Ikea bags, two large fabric shopping bags & tossed a few items on top of the pile. It was about the same volume as Bronte's crib, which is where most of the stuff was stored. Though I shouldn't let you think I'm as organized as to have it all in one place. I found maternity clothes in my room, gear, shoes & toys in the living room, clothes in the kids' closet, the bin behind their door, the crib, their dresser drawers, & a few things in our storage rooms too.

The Yuba Mundo was stuffed to the gunnels with toys, books, clothing, baby gear, shoes, diapers, bottles...

If I'd had a small car, this stuff wouldn't have fit in the trunk. Luckily, the giant GoGetter panniers of our Yuba Mundo hold a ton of stuff & I was able to strap the rest on top of the rack, in the child seat & the BreadBasket. I'm not sure how much the load weighed, but from the way the bike handled, it wasn't more than when I bike Linnaeus, his friend, & Bronte to preschool one day a week. I got a lot of smiles & comments as I rode over to Commercial Drive in the gorgeous fall weather. Definitely a fun way to cut the clutter!
I brought home seven items for the kids.

I think the majority of what I brought went home with other families at the swap, but when I helped clean up, I noticed some going into the donation bags, to be picked up by the Developmental Disabilities Association, I believe. I did bring a few things home from the swap, but you can see from the pictures, it was definitely a huge net loss of clutter in our house!

Have you ever participated in or hosted a clothing swap? What was your experience like? Do share... 

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Christmas Gifts with Impact: Hope in Shadows Calendars

Have you started thinking about Christmas shopping yet? Have you got anyone on your list that you just don't know what to get? Maybe a coworker in the Secret Santa gift exchange, or a sibling who already has everything? I've got a suggestion for you: a Hope in Shadows calendar. 

This year's calendar features a photograph by Sonia Samuels, one of 250 participants in this year’s Hope in Shadows photo contest. This is the 12th year of collaboration with Downtown Eastside members sharing photographs & stories focused on what is meaningful about their community.

Sonia’s photo is one of thirteen compelling calendar images, each one telling a different story about the Downtown Eastside community. Once the contest wraps up & the winners are chosen, thousands of the gorgeous large-format colour calendars are printed. Then the Hope in Shadows street vendors speak to thousands of people from all across the city, sharing the stories and building bridges between communities. Every calendar purchased creates employment opportunities for those hard-working vendors: They buy each calendar for $10 & sell them for $20.

You can create positive change in your community through one simple act: buy a calendar.

Sonia's photo is featured on the cover of this year’s calendar and captured the contest theme "the community we have built". You can read Sonia’s story here

Look for licensed calendar vendors around transit hubs, busy pedestrian intersections & all over downtown. Purchase a calendar for yourself, & give another one to family or friends. Sharing stories like Sonia's can help change perceptions so many have of the Downtown Eastside community.

The action is easy, but the impact can be huge: Buy two calendars, give one.
Look for vendors when you're out, or check the list of locations & usual hours on the Hope in Shadows site here.

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