Sunday, August 31, 2014

Buy a lot of zip up one piece pjs for baby (#6)

This is #6 from my life 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Giving Birth

OK, this is pretty cut and dry.  You can buy lots of cute little outfits for your baby, but if you want to make your life easier just plan on them wearing little PJs for about the first six months of life.  Of course you will spruce them up in outfits now and then, but the standard will be the one piece zip up.  No snaps.  Trust me.  Your baby will be comfortable, changes will be quick and easy and you do not have to worry about coordinating.  Bing.  Bang.  Boom.

I get most of my onesies at Walmart (where the George brand sells 3 for $12.00) or Target (where Carter's one piece zipups for newborns go on sale for $6.00 a few times a year), or the actual Carter's store (only when they are on sale).

Simplify.  Trust me.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Our House

I am going to be posting now and then about work around our house, but I wanted to write a bit of an introduction first...

We moved back to North America a few years ago after living overseas for an extended period.  Initially we were renters as we were not sure where exactly we wanted to live, but within a year we purchased a house.  We are very blessed in that we were able to buy a home, but it was also a stressful time.  Our house is in one of the most expensive regions of North America.  We looked.  And looked.  And looked.  It seemed that it was almost impossible to find a detached house that would meet our future needs for under a million dollars.  (Yes, you read that right.)  We decided to shift (slightly) the area we were looking in.  Our new goal: buy a house for under $500,000.00.  (Yes, you read that right.)  This was also a challenge.  We literally spent every weekend for several months driving all over the Greater Toronto Area, scouring MLS, looking at houses.  Eventually this paid off and we found a house significantly below our 500K limit.  We ended up buying a 2 bedroom bungalow (with a finished basement).  It is small.  It is not our dreamhouse but we love it and we have not regretted, not even once, our decision to buy it.  Buying a house that we can actually afford instead of stretching our credit to the absolute max is one of the best decisions we've made.  The house is not without its challenges - like any house - we are always trying to improve things, create more space, get rid of stuff, or just be more efficient.  I cannot deny that sometimes I drive around our area (where most detached homes are selling for over $1M) and wonder what we are doing wrong (ie. who are all these other people and how on earth can they afford these houses?), but this feeling never lasts.  I love our house which we have made our own.

I wish I could come up with something splashy or unique to say about the home related things I might post - but at the end of the day we are just normal people, living in a normal house, with a normal amount of mess, trying to make it all work.  Maybe you will get an idea from something I write - or maybe you will just think "hey, they should have spent the money and bought a bigger house."  Ha.

We love our house.  Buy less than you can afford.

Freedom Friday News Bits

Here at Life, Freedom, Family we will be having "Freedom Fridays" which will highlight some important readings you may have missed during the week.  Let's be honest, when babies are crawling around and work needs to be done you sometimes miss something worthwhile.  The goal here is to give you a reading list for Saturday morning (you know, the day when you tell your husband he has to watch the kids for a few hours and you sneak out for a smoothie - or you're just sitting in your car in the driveway......)

And on that note, here is the inaugural list:

The Face of the Tiger - Mark Steyn

Zara makes a mistake - or was it??  - Laura Rosen Cohen

We Do Not Have a Strategy - President Obama (via Twitchy)

There is Not One Way to Parent (#5)

#5 from my list, 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Giving Birth

When people find out you are pregnant, suggestions start rolling in.  Have you bought this?  Are you eating this?  Have you read this book?  There are many parenting books out there and the fact that no two are exactly the same should be enough to tell you that there is not one formula for raising a baby.  I have read a few books with some great ideas and suggestions.  I have read some truly horrible books about parenting.  There are people out there who get so sucked in to certain parenting mantras that they actually believe it is wrong (ie you are a bad parent) if you do not raise your child according to a specific book (and no - I am not talking about the Bible!).  This is garbage.

We have dozens of friends who are great parents and I cannot think of two couples I know who raise their child exactly the same way.  Similar values, yes.  Similar ideas about certain things, yes - but not everything.  But exactly the same parenting styles?  No.  If someone tells you "Oh you HAVE to read this book, it changed my life" it would probably be on the top of my list of Books To Not Read.  Oh and trust me - many of the ideas you have about parenting may change after Baby arrives.

Do not ever let people feel guilty because you are not raising your child the way they think you should.  This is ridiculous.  There are some good books out there - but do not get into this cult like mentality that if you do not do exactly what it says on page 154 your baby is doomed.

One book that I did find useful is not a book about parenting, but about baby development, The Wonder Weeks.  This book examines various key stages in a baby's development and explains why they may be behaving a certain way and things you can do to help them through this process.

The Wonder Weeks

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Guard Your Family Time (#4)

Here is #4 from my list, 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Giving Birth

This one is pretty straight forward.  Until you actually have your baby (even if it is not your first) you have no idea, no idea, how your labour will go.  Will it be long, short, will there be medical intervention....these are things that cannot be planned or predicted no matter how much we might like to think we have some element of control.  You do not know how you will feel after you've had your baby until after you've had your baby.

Prior to the birth of my son, I read a few books that mentioned limiting visitors at the hospital.  GREAT idea.  Maybe not for everyone, but it was for me.  We made a decision that we would have no (zero!!!) visitors at the hospital.  We told our family/friends this and they respected it.  I am so glad we made this decision.  I had a very straightforward, easy delivery but I was still exhausted and very emotional after giving birth.  Having these 24 hours to bond with my son (and my husband who was able to stay in our room at the hospital, hurray!) and try (note - try) to get some rest was invaluable.  We also limited visitors to our house after.  I did not have anyone come and stay with us.  Some people have their mom stay with them for up to a month.  This is a totally personal decision.  Only you know your relationships with other people, what you want in your house, and what will help you versus add stress.

Of course, many people came to visit us and everyone wanted to see our little guy.  We do not feel that we missed out on anything.  Remember - you are the parents - this is your child - your family - do not be afraid to set some boundaries.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Sleep is a Myth (#3)

Here is #3 from the list 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Giving Birth

I always laugh when reading articles or blog posts about someone who did “all the right things” when they came home from the hospital with their baby, and so on cue their baby magically drifted into a peaceful slumber only to awaken briefly for feedings.  And then, after mere weeks their baby also started sleeping through the night.  I also laugh when people take credit for being some kind of magical baby whisperer that can lull babies into the deepest of sleeps just because they know the right thing to do.  I have one word for these people: LUCKY.

Sleep training programs, parenting books, sleeping books, and baby gurus have made many mothers believe that babies should be reaching some sort of sleep independence at a very young age.  If you have not had your baby yet trust me – one of the most frequent questions people will ask you is, “Is he sleeping through the night yet?”  Note:  When you are a new mom and your baby is not sleeping through the night all this often well-meaning question does is make you feel like you are really doing something wrong.  I fell into this trap.  I did “everything right” so to speak but my son was a terrible sleeper.  I was completely exhausted.  I actually remember staring at him one night in an exhausted daze, when he was just a few weeks old, and not being able to remember what we had named him.  I was beating myself up because my son was not drifting off into blissful 3 hour naps when all the books said he should be.  Thankfully DoctorSmart (pseudonym) gave me some useful advice: stop reading these books!  Stop letting other people into your head!  Good advice.  The reality is that EVERY.  BABY.  IS.  DIFFERENT.  They do not all have the same needs.  They do not all have the same sleep pattern.  A good friend of mine has 3 children.  The first one started sleeping through the night at 6 months.  The second started sleeping through the night at 3 weeks (yes, weeks! After this she said she thought she could have 10 kids).  The third started sleeping through the night at 18 months (that killed the idea of having 10 kids).  She did not do anything notably different with the three children.  They all had different needs.

I have a lot to say about sleep but I am going to hold off.  However, let me say this – Babies sleeping through the night at a very young age is an exception – not a rule.  Babies all have different sleep needs.  When you have a newborn you will not be getting much sleep.  Fact of life.  Do not beat yourself up.  You will be exhausted.  People will tell you it’s just a phase and that will not make you feel any better at all because you are so tired.  This is where you need to do the following:
a) Pray for strength and rest.
b) Let someone else look after the baby so you can have a nap.
c) Tell yourself that this will not last and that you are strong and you are doing everything you can to look after your precious baby.  (It doesn’t feel good if others say this to you – but somehow it does help if you say it to yourself).

If you are feeling truly overwhelmed please get professional help (ie. See your doctor).  There is absolutely no shame in this.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Slow Cooker Beets!

Yes, it can be done!

My garden was full of beets last week.  I wanted to cook them but I don't like to boil beets unless it is for pickling, and I did not want to turn on the oven (hot!).  When I searched for slow cooker beet recipes online, everything suggested wrapping them individually in aluminum foil before tossing them into the Crock Pot.  This seemed like a pain to me as well as a waste of aluminum foil.  There had to be a better way....

Enter Ricardo Larrivée, one of Québec's culinary greats and author of Slow Cooker Favourites. (This is a fantastic cookbook - I use recipes from it often and it is also available in French.)  The book contains a recipe for an orange beet salad - with the beets cooked in the Crock Pot using orange juice.  Personally I'm not a big citrus person - but I wondered if I could adapt the recipe to my own tastes.  Namely, if I could cook the beets in the Crock Pot with apple juice instead of orange juice.  Answer: Yes!

What I used;
3 lbs of beets
3 cups of apple juice
Salt for seasoning
A dash of balsamic vinegar

That's it!  I trimmed the greens off the beets, washed them, through them in the Crock-Pot with the ingredients listed above and let it cook on LOW heat for 4 hours.  That's it.  Done.
(Note: I tried it a few times, it was good every time, the ratio I used was 1 cup of juice per pound of beets.  Also, cooking time may vary depending on the size of beets being used.)

The beets were ready to go - delicious on their own, with salt as a side dish, diced on a salad, added to Israeli couscous with other vegetables and feta, or sprinkled with goat cheese.  My personal favourite is to slice the beets, add some sliced apples, chopped nuts, goat cheese, and a sprinkle of maple syrup and olive oil.  This is a delicious salad.  Truly.

With Great Blessings Come Great Responsibilities

For the past few months I have had trouble sleeping.  My mind ticks away thinking about what is going on in the world.  Sometimes I sit in the darkness, wondering why I am able to watch my little boy sleep peacefully, wrapped in a warm blanket, while other mothers watch their children being decapitated by the Islamic State or killed by a Hamas missile.  Why am I able to live in freedom while Meriam Ibrahim was forced to give birth chained to a wall in a Sudanese prison because of her faith?  What did I do to deserve these luxuries while others are suffering unspeakable horrors?  My heart is heavy.  The truth is that I have done nothing, absolutely nothing to deserve the incredibly blessed life that I live.  It is only by grace that I live in a wonderful country, in a happy home, with my beautiful little family.  Feeling guilty because I am so blessed is foolish – I did not choose to be born in this great country, I did not choose to have a healthy, wonderful family, and I certainly did not get these things at the expense of someone else.  I must remember to be thankful every day for the blessings I have and I cannot let the darkness in this world stop me from living life and enjoying every day that God grants me.  We must keep living.  We must thrive.  We must love life, freedom, and family.

Having said this, with great blessings come great responsibilities.  Growing up, we were taught the importance of giving back, of helping those in need.  As Christians, we had a moral obligation to help others.  We could not turn our back on those who needed us – whether it was our neighbour, a friend in the church, or communities far away who needed medical supplies or schools built.  These things were easy to do – make a meal, donate some clothes, write a cheque.  These things were all important, but they could all be done with relative ease.  For many even spending a few thousand dollars to travel to some Third World country and throw up a few buildings was some kind of exotic adventure and life changing learning experience all in one.  The Christian community has often been ready and willing to activate for social issues as well, or to provide relief after natural disasters.  But there is one area where the Christian community, particularly in North America, has been consistently silent: the persecution of Christians around the world.  For some time now, Christians across the globe, particularly in Africa and the Middle East, have been sought out, tortured, and killed for their faith (take note – once Jewish communities are wiped out the Christians are next on the list).  With the exception of a few articles and some token statements (mainly from the Catholic Church) there has been no collective voice, no collective outrage, no political uprising in defense of Christians.  I’m not talking about Tweets (although they do raise awareness), or changing your Facebook profile picture to the Arabic Nun (for Nazarene) – which is a symbolic gesture but does nothing to actually help.  Where are the mass prayer vigils?  Where are the rallies outside political offices?  Where are the demands for the UN to condemn the global persecution of Christians?  Where are the demands for our politicians to denounce the violence and call for action?  Where is the pushback against Islamic terror?  I guess it is easier for Christians in North America to pick up the Starbucks on Sunday morning, then stroll into church, sing a few hipster worship songs, listen to a quasi-motivational sermon, and then get on with their week.  This is also a failure of leadership in the church - although I have heard from some clergy that they have tried to drum up awareness of these issues in their church and have been rebuffed, which is extremely disheartening.  Church leaders may be wary of bringing political issues into Sunday morning, but how can the persecution of fellow believers not be brought to the attention of your congregation?  I have my own theories about this but I will save them for now.  Church leaders have a moral obligation to raise this issue and to give their congregation the tools they need to act.

Ten years from now, people will be heading to theatres to watch a movie depicting the last days of Christians in Mosul.  It will be violent.  It will be horrifying.  Your children will ask you how the world (the world – a great guilt-free collective which we refer to while consciously excluding ourselves from) stood by and did nothing despite knowing exactly what was happening.  You will have to explain to them why you did nothing.

We are blessed.  We have everything we could possibly need and more.  We have a responsibility to help those who desperately need our voice, our actions.   

Monday, August 25, 2014

Life For Displaced Yazidis

Waiting for thousands of people to take to the streets in mass protests against IS (ISIL, ISIS, etc.).....
Waiting for the calls to boycott countries funding this terror....
Waiting for boots on the ground....


Why I Love Shopper's Optimum

If you live in Canada and you like free stuff – get an Optimum Card from Shopper’s Drug Mart.  Shopper’s Optimum is hands down one of the best rewards programs going.  I have my own rules for optimizing the Optimum program (see below).  But seriously – trust me – you will not regret getting an Optimum card.  Last year alone, I redeemed points and got over $1000.00 of free stuff (FREE!!!  Who doesn’t want free?).  

This is a picture of my most recent haul using my Optimum points – over $100.00 of products and I paid $8.41 (taxes).

What did I get?
Catelli Smart Macaroni
Catelli Smart Penne
Catelli Smart Rotini
Swiss Cheese Slices (a splurge!, usually I get them at Costco)
2 x Neilson Milk
2 x Chocolate Chips
Wonder Bread
2 x Royale Paper Towels
Quo Cotton Pads
2 x Christie Wheat Thins
Little Puffs (cereal bites)
2 x Godiva Chocolate Bars (another splurge)
3 x 184 pack Huggies Natural Care Baby Wipes
1 x 300+ Huggies Natural Care Baby Wipes
Neutrogena Clear Pore Face Scrub
Simply Lemonade
Free!  Free!  Free!

Now for the important part, my -

Rules of Optimum

1.  Get an Optimum Card (no kidding)

2.  Sign up for the Shoppers Drug Mart and Optimum emails – They frequently send coupons and bonus point offers, both to earn points as well as redemption bonus offers.  These are key to maximizing your points.

3.  If you have kids, sign up for the Very Important Baby (v.i.b.) program through Optimum.  Again, you will receive bonus point offers through this and you also get sent a great little sample pack and Optimum coupon book around the time of your due date.  It’s good stuff!

4.  Shop only when it is 20x the points or you have bonus point coupons.  This might not always be possible but it is key to maximizing your points.  This means you have to keep an eye on the flyers (or emails) to be aware of when it is happening.  I stock up on 20x the points days and it is well worth it.

5.  Only buy items on sale!  Again, this is not always possible.  I sometimes hear people complain that Shopper’s is expensive – but I often do price comparisons and on many items (diapers, wipes, paper towels, toilet paper, pads, bacon, chips, etc.) their sale prices are just as good if not better than other places.  Specifically for moms: Watch the flyer for diaper and wipes sales.  I get all my diapers and wipes at Shopper’s either through points redemptions (if they are on sale on a redemption day) or point accumulation (if they are on sale when it is 20x the points).  This requires a little bit of planning but it is very doable.

6.  Only redeem your points when there is a bonus redemption offer.  This is always advertised in the flyer and the Shopper’s Drug Mart emails.

Alright, there you have it.  Follow these six steps and you will find yourself on the way to getting loads of free stuff through Shopper’s Optimum.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Budget for Takeout (#2)

Here is #2 from the list 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Giving Birth

Before you have a baby people will tell you to stock your freezer.  You should do this.  More on this in a minute.  You will think you have your ducks in a row.  You are so organized.  You have the pantry stocked, the freezer full, grocery lists saved on your Smartphone.  Good for you.  Do not fool yourself into believing that you will never need takeout.  It might not happen in the first week, or even the first few weeks, but at some point you will likely find yourself exhausted/not wanting to cook/not wanting another freezer meal/not wanting your husband's cooking/not wanting Kraft Dinner (again) for dinner.  This is where you get takeout.  Or you even go out for dinner.  This is alright.  This is normal.  I repeat: Regardless of how well you prepared for baby, you are going to end up ordering dinner.  I promise.  Set aside some extra money for this.  Let go of the guilt.  Enjoy.

Prepping food for baby's arrival:
It's not hard.  Make sure you have well stocked cupboards, fridge, and freezer.  If you are used to making elaborate meals, this is a good time to find a couple quick and simple staple recipes that you can add to your library.  Also, make sure you have lots of quick healthy snacks on hand.  For example: yogurt, cheese, nuts, dried fruit, fruit, vegetables, etc.  It's also nice to have some loaves of your favourite quick breads or muffins stored in the freezer for quick access.  Trust me - when you are walking around your kitchen in a haze at 3 am between feedings looking for something to eat it will be a relief to grab a piece of cheese and a handful of nuts, or homemade trail mix if that is your thing.

Back to School!! Deals!! Target!!

Here at Life Freedom Family we love a good deal!  There are no school aged children in my house (yet) but I absolutely love school supplies.  They just feel so....orderly.  On Friday, BB1 (Baby Boy 1) and I went to Target where we stocked up on school supplies to donate to a local women's shelter.  Deals!  Consider picking up a few extra supplies to donate to your local women's shelter, the Salvation Army, or just give generously to someone you know could use them.  

Everything in this picture came to a grand total of only $47.10 (before tax)!!!  
I threw in a notebook and a pack of pencils for myself and surprise - I got a $10.00 gift card from the cashier (spend over $50.00 get a $10.00 gift card).  Bonus!

What did I get for $47.10?
15 duotang project covers
15 boxes of 24 Crayola crayons

10 200 sheet 3 ring binder paper refills
4 x 2 pack large glue sticks
4 x 2 pack Elmer glue sticks
1 5 pack Bic mechanical pencils
1 10 pack Ticonderoga pencils
1 2 pack erasers
3 x 10 pack Papermate pens
3 x 10 pack Dixon HB2 pencils
4 x 12 pack Up and Up pencil crayons
1 x 8 pack Dixon Shapes pencils
5 x 80 page one subject notebook
1 200 page Five Star pink notebook
1 Five Star 10 piece Math Set
1 Casio Scientific Calculator
2 x 400 Post It Notes Cube 
2 x 88 Post it Flag Packs
1 x 4 Sharpie Hi Liters

Target Canada's Flyer is good until Thursday September 8.  I am not affiliated with Target Canada and they did not pay me to write this.

Breastfeeding is Awesome But Not Easy, Not Necessarily (#1)

Here is # 1 from the list of 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Giving Birth

Breastfeeding is Awesome But Not Easy, Not Necessarily  (#1)

I always planned on breastfeeding.  I was not totally enamored with the idea (in fact some part of me thought it was a bit weird) but after having “Breast is Best” drilled into me for many years I knew that I wanted to try.  People warned me that it was not necessarily a piece of cake.  Many mothers have problems breastfeeding, especially during the first month.  

How did I prepare for breastfeeding? 

-I took a breastfeeding class at a local hospital prior to giving birth (the only type of prenatal class I took, and it was helpful)

-A good friend (who is also a pediatric nurse) gave me a book – The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers by Dr. Jack Newman - available here.  This book is excellent.  Dr. Newman is a world renowned authority on breastfeeding.  Reading this book before giving birth is ideal because once the baby comes.who has time to sit down and read a book?? 

Despite trying to prepare, I did encounter problems breastfeeding, namely I had terrible rapid letdown.  I’ll spare you the details, but for the first 3 ½ months of my son’s life, nearly every time I breastfed milk was pouring out of his nose.  Not fun.  I wanted to give up on numerous occasions.  My Doctor (who is amazing) gave me some solid advice:  First, he told me it was alright to give my baby formula and that I should not feel guilty about it (this was when baby was over 12 weeks old).  I did not end up doing this, but it made a huge difference to my mental state just to hear him say this - and he knew it.  He told me that many mothers need to hear their doctors say this out loud because they feel incredibly guilty about even considering giving their baby formula.  Second, he told me that although breastfeeding is best for baby it is not worth sacrificing your mental health.  At the time I was not getting more than 45 minute sleep stretches, my son had the previously mentioned milk fountain coming out his nose, other things were going on….I was stressed.  I was wondering if giving the baby a bottle to help him feed better would help get things in order (ie. restore my sanity).  I needed to hear these things from my doctor, and he was amazing.  I know that not every woman has a great supportive doctor.  I am lucky.  Nobody else knows what is going on in your home or in your mind.  If you truly feel you need to take a break from breastfeeding – you are not a sinner at the Church of Mom – do not beat yourself up.  Do not let others beat you up.

Despite all this – I made a decision to continue breastfeeding.  Sometimes as a new mom we struggle with guilt about what we may or may not be doing right - my doctor's support allowed me to shake this guilt and gave me the confidence I needed to buckle down and continue breastfeeding.  DoctorSmart (as we shall henceforth call him, not his real name) also told me that if I continued breastfeeding, the feeding issues would pass - my son would adjust to the flow of milk in time.  He did.  It took nearly 6 months and even now at just under a year we still have some issues but everything is soooo much better. I also have a wonderful friend who is a lactation consultant and who offered me tremendous support.  

Long story short – if you are planning to breastfeed do some reading beforehand (again I strongly recommend Jack Newman’s book). 
Do not be surprised if you run into some trouble.  This is normal.  When you do run into trouble consult with good resources – such as a lactation consultant – and know that there is lots of support available for you.  Some good resources are listed below.  Oh and by the way – I now love breastfeeding and so does my son.

Great breastfeeding resources:
Jack Newman’s website - Breastfeeding Inc.
A lactation consultant (Quick Note: A nurse is not a lactation consultant, unless he or she actually is a lactation consultant.  This is not a slam against nurses – they’re awesome – but they are not experts in every single area of the medical field so just make sure you are talking to someone specifically trained in the area of breastfeeding.)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Giving Birth

OK - I knew some of these things, but I didn't really get it.

I will be doing a series of 10 posts, expanding on each point - here they are:

1.  Breastfeeding is awesome, but not easy.  Not necessarily.

2.  Budget for takeout.

3.  Sleep is a myth.

4.  Guard your family time.

5.  There is not one way to parent.

6.  Buy a lot of zip up one piece pjs for baby.

7.  Everyone has an opinion about how you should raise your child.

8.  You can learn from others.

9.  Meltdowns happen.  This is (usually) normal and ok.

10.  Having a child is absolutely the best and most important thing you will ever do.

And so it begins...

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