Saturday, March 31, 2012

Mom Central Canada {hearts} Manager to Mom! :D

I'm super excited to share that Manager to Mom has been selected as one of the Winter 2011 recipients for a $250 Mom Central Canada Blogger Grant! Only 10 bloggers are chosen each quarter so this is quite the distinction, and a quick review of the previous winner lists confirms that I'm in some elite company! 

The blog post idea I submitted was on helping busy moms become more efficient so that they can maximize the quality time they have with their families. I'll be writing up this post over the next few weeks. I hope y'all like it and find a tip or two you can put into use yourselves!

Thanks Mom Central Canada for this wonderful honour!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"Anti-Sick" Recipe: Onion, Lemon and Honey Drink

This past Winter, my family was constantly sick. We'd get over one illness and boom, down we were with another. Strep, gastro, multiple colds & the list goes on. I'm pretty sure the entire staff at the walk-in clinic knows my astrological sign by now.

In addition to all these maladies, I was also battling general fatigue and brain fog, so I decided to be proactive about the whole situation and booked an appointment with a local naturopath.

I'm so glad I took this step! 2 1/2 months later, I can definitely say I'm feeling a lot more energetic and focused.

And as for the sickies? Well, one of the many fascinating health "tools" my ND supplied me with was a recipe for an onion drink.

"An onion drink?" you say, scrunching your nose.

Yes indeed! Though I promise you that it's actually quite good.

And more importantly, since I started drinking this li'l concoction, I haven't been sick. At all. Despite the fact that I continue to encounter germ factories posing as humans on a regular basis (including my husband who's currently battling a narsty sinus infection, poor guy.)

Not making any "official" medical claims here. Just sayin'

So why an onion drink, you still may want to know. Well, similar to garlic, onions are packed full of immune boostin' phytonutrients and other goodies which helped earn 'em a spot on the The World's Healthiest Foods list.

But seriously - isn't the flavour kind of gross? Nope - the opposite, in fact. It's refreshing and tangy, with a hint of sweet.

Want to try it out for yourself? Well, it's your lucky day! :)

Onion, Lemon and Honey Drink

  • 1 large red onion
  • 1 lemon (preferably organic)
  • 1 tablespoon raw honey
  • Water

  • Chop up onion and place in 32oz resealable jar (e.g. mason jar or pickle jar).
  • Cut lemon into 4-6 pieces and squeeze into jar.
  • Seal jar and refrigerate for 3 hours.
  • Heat honey until it's in a liquid state and pour into jar.
  • Fill jar with water. Leave about an inch of air at the top.
  • Seal the lid tightly and shake shake SHAKE!!!
  • Refrigerate overnight.
  • Pour and enjoy!

Note: If you're feeling brave, you can eat the onions too. I don't personally love how they tend to "make an appearance" again later, however, so I stick to the drink myself. :)

What do you do to boost your immune system during cold & flu season?

Wordless Wednesday: Hickory Dickory Shock!

Our daughter S (15 1/2 months) used to love the Hickory Dickory Dock video from Super Simple Songs. Then she started getting "excited" at the elephant part, but turns out the excitement was actually utter terror, as this video demonstrates. I was taken aback by her reaction in the moment but didn't realize until I watched the video later just HOW upset she got! Poor kiddo - I hope we didn't scar her for life! (Mentally/emotionally, I mean. Yes, I realize we probably already scarred her physically with that nasty head gash. Evidently we're not in the running for any parenting awards here!)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Surveillance Cameras at Daycare – A Window into your Child’s Life {Guest Post}

Having a baby really changes a person's perspective. That's an understatement… having a baby turns your world upside down. That's not a bad thing, though. Children can really help a person focus on what is important in life. A child brings with them a new perspective, and a new set of worries. I have a major anxiety issue when it comes to my little ones. It is difficult for me to leave them with family, let alone strangers at a daycare. Sometimes all the interviewing and detective work to scope out a childcare facility doesn't feel like enough. What do you do at that point? Sell the car, cut off the cable and plan to never work again? Or is there a better way?

A growing trend in Daycare centers across the country is to provide parents with access to a streaming video feed of their child's classroom. Now at first glance, this may seem kind of creepy and big brother- esque. But it is actually quite useful, especially for the anxious parent. First of all, no one has access to the video feed unless they are a parent of a child in the class. You don't have to worry about weirdoes logging on to watch your child. It is secure, and that is something that a parent can feel good about.

Having a live video feed will likely improve the performance of the staff of the daycare. Knowing that you are being watched has a powerful effect on behavior. Any neglect or abuse could be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, which is important when the victim is a small child who is often less communicative than their adult caregiver. This can also reduce bullying, and make it easier to pinpoint the source of a bullying problem.

The video feed also gives parents a window into their child's life. You can feel as though you are sharing special moments with your little one, even if you can’t actually be there. It can be fun to see how your child acts during "circle time." Are they shy? Outgoing? What is their favorite song? A live video feed can tell you so much more than a piece of paper with either a happy or sad face circled, or a list of how many bowel movements they had that day… which is the standard daycare report.

As long as we don’t become obsessed with checking in, or try to micromanage the staff, surveillance cameras in daycare centers can be very useful. There is a certain amount of control that has to be relinquished when sending your little one to a childcare facility. But, letting someone else care for your baby is sometimes easier said than done. Going back to work is a very difficult transition for most parents, and knowing that you can check in if you need to can make it so much easier.

Chelsea Stanley is a proud parent of two and writer for 2MCCTV Security, international supplier of surveillance cameras. She writes about child safety, parenting & anything that relates to being a mother.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Menu Plan Monday

Menu planning has been challenging this Winter, mainly due to hubs' & my curling schedule. Regular trips to Toronto for work throw a wrench in there too. But - I'm going to try this week! No office trips are currently planned, and the earliest curling game is at 7 PM. Let's roll!

Light Macaroni and Cheese with Spinach

Greek salad w/ chicken

BBQ'd smoked pork chops, zucchini, portabella mushroom & sweet potato

Sautteed Swiss Chard with Bacon

Leftovers (for S)
End-of-season curling dinner

Sunday, March 25, 2012

How to Get Started with Cloth Diapering: 10 Tips

Since my husband and I started cloth diapering our daughter over a year ago, numerous other parents (and parents-to-be) keen on taking the plunge have asked me for tips on getting started. Naturally, since I'm such an avid believer in the practice, I'm super-eager to help out however I can! That said, after the 9th or 10th email and/or converation on the topic, I realized I was reiterating the same stuff each time, and thought "Why the heck aren't I blogging on this?"

Great idea, me! :)

So here you go - my top 10 tips for getting started with cloth diapering!

(Note that this list assumes you are sold on the "whys" of cloth diapering. If not, there's lots of research out there to help you decide which approach is right for you!)
  1. Do some reading. But don't get overwhelmed! A quick Google search will turn up hundreds, if not thousands, of websites, blogs, forums, retailers, etc. on cloth diapering. If you're hungry for knowledge, feel free to pour through anything you come across! But if you just want a few good, solid sources to focus on, here are my recommendations:
  2. Repeat this mantra: "Cloth diapering is simple!" At the basic level, you just need absorbent stuff, waterproof stuff and a way for the diaper to stay on. That's it. Sure there are many brands out there competing to win you over, not to mention all the different styles (all in one, all in two, pocket, etc.). But when it comes down to it, you'll end up doing alright with pretty much any system out there. That said....

  3. Try out different brands/styles before acquiring a full stash. First of all, you won't know what works best for you and your little one until you start cloth diapering in practice, and second (a bit of a personal opinion) trying different kinds is fun, fun, FUN! That said, I know a couple mamas who bought complete single-brand stashes upfront, and things worked out OK for them (though one mentioned she would've tried different types if she had the chance to do things over!) I also know that some folks want to avoid disposables entirely for their baby-to-be, which requires having a full stash upfront. One neat option for trying lots of types before buying (and likely ditching those 'sposies altogether) is a rental program such as Make the Switch from The Cloth Diaper Shop (Canada) and the Changing Diapers, Changing Minds program from Jillian's Drawers (US).

  4. And exactly how big is a "full stash"? This is generally considered to be 24+ changes (or 7-8 per day for three days). Of course, if you find yourself developing a fluff addiction (like many of us CDing mamas "suffer" from) you might end up with twice this many. Or more. Consider yourself warned! ;) Note that a "change" doesn't necessarily mean an entirely separate diaper, as with many systems you can reuse covers as long as they aren't soiled.

  5. Prepare to buy a few "special" diapers (or boosters) for night diapering. While some people find their regular daytime diapers work just fine overnight, many others encounter leakage issues. Makes sense - night diapers are often worn 10-12+ hours at time so they need to hold a lot of liquid, especially for heavy wetters! Some parents successfully contend with this by using boosters (which may also be called doublers, soakers or inserts) to increase the diaper's absorbency. Others purchase special diapers for overnight usage. A good option here is a fitted diaper with a cover. We generally use two types overnight with great success - our Kawaii Snazzy Minky one size pocket diapers with two microfibre inserts, or our Earth, Mom & Baby Bumboo fitteds with a cover.

  6. Concerned about initial costs? There are many options available for building a stash without breaking the bank.
    • Buy second-hand (try Kijiji, DiaperSwappers or Cloth Diaper Trader). Although at first this may seem weird or icky, most "previously loved" diapers being sold out there are in good to excellent condition, and washing them thoroughly (or even boiling) will ensure any previous nasties have been eliminated.
    • Try winning your stash. Online cloth diaper-related giveaways are abundant, hosted by the brands themselves, stores which carry them and "mama blogs" (such as my own! :) Not sure where to find them all? Two great places to start are the Cloth Diaper Giveaway Roundup at and Cloth Diaper Giveaway Linky at Baby Giveaways Galore. It's also helpful to follow giveaway tweeters (who can be found on Twitter by searching #clothdiapers and/or #giveaway hash tags.)
    • Purchase new diapers with a lower price tag. Prefolds or flats (plus covers) are inexpensive options, and there are many lesser known (yet high-quality) pocket diaper brands which sell for rockbottom prices when bought in bulk. (Kawaii and Giggle Life are a couple brands I've tried and would wholeheartedly recommend.)

  7. Looking for a specific recommendation on which brand/type to start out with? Then do what I did and purchase the Bummis Organic Cotton Diaper Kit! It contains everything you need to start cloth diapering full-time (perhaps with the exception of dedicated night diapering items), and is one of the more affordable options. No, I'm not being compensated in any way for this recommendation; we have just been super happy with this purchase ourselves.

  8. Go the whole nine yards and use cloth wipes! This is *totally* the way to go if you cloth diaper. Wipes can be laundered along with your diapers so they're super-convenient, plus they're a greener option and will save you even more money. You can buy (or make) dedicated wipes, or you can make do with small, folded washcloths or even old shirts. (Seriously!) As for what to wet them with, some parents just use water but we personally love a simple solution made from water, olive oil, natural baby wash and tea tree oil.

  9. Get a diaper sprayer. Super easy to install & use, this li'l device will save you time and really cut down on the "ick" factor of pre-cleaning poopy diapers once your kiddo's on solids. (No need to spray EBF poop as it's water soluble.) And, no, it does not cause “poo to be sprayed all over the walls" - an early fear my husband had. :)

  10. Don't be afraid of cloth diaper laundry! It's really not that tricky, nor time consuming. You may need to play around a bit to find a routine that works for you (based on factors such as washer type/size and water hardness), but you'll figure things out pretty quickly. As for dirty diaper storage, so many simple solutions are possible. Pail/liner and hanging wetbag are two popular options. And nope, you don't need to soak your diapers prior to washing - dry storage is just fine. Easy peasy!! As for folding - think of it as a good excuse to kick back with an episode or two of your favourite show and still feel productive! ;) 

And now, a couple questions for my readers! 

For those who are already seasoned at cloth diapering -  what other tips would you recommend for cloth diapering parents-to-be?

For those who are getting ready to start out - got any specific questions which this article didn't address? I'd be more than happy to take a crack at 'em! :)

    Wednesday, March 21, 2012

    Jeni Lynn Designs (Etsy): Ridin' Safe Poncho Review & $30 Giveaway! (Closed)

    Back in January, I found myself searching for a better way to keep our daughter warm & comfy in her car seat without putting her safety at risk. I decided to make this the topic of a FB QOTD post and you guys shared some great tips! I felt particularly compelled by the concept of a car seat poncho (noted by two readers), which is designed to keep a li'l one warm from head to toe without interfering with the seat buckle. Rather than loosening the straps to adjust for a bulky winter jacket (which isn't safe), the poncho goes overtop the restraint system, allowing the straps to fit securely over your little one's indoor clothes. 

    I had to try one of these out for myself!

    One of my readers mentioned she'd made her own poncho, however I'm not exactly skilled with a needle & thread myself (understatement of the year?) so I consulted my friend Google...

    ...and promptly stumbled upon Jeni Lynn Designs, a sweet Etsy shop based in Castle Rock, Colorado and owned by Jeni A, a full-time working mama (of a baby boy born early last year) and, unlike yours truly, an obviously talented seamstress! Jeni has always enjoyed sewing and crafting, and decided to turn her hobby into a business in 2011 as a step toward becoming a stay at home mommy - a goal she is very passionate about!

    Jeni's flagship product is her Ridin' Safe Poncho, which was what brought me to her store in the first place. She also offers numerous other baby items geared toward making parents' lives easier and more convenient - for example full-coverage "shirt saver" bibs, sippy-savers and wet bags. And let's not forget her super-adorable leg warmers, taggie blankets and Boo Boo Buddies! All of her products come in an awesome selection of styles/patterns.

    Jeni is happy to accept custom orders, so if you want a different size, shape, quantity, etc. of an item, just send her a message and let her know your preferences!  

    So let's take a closer look at the Ridin' Safe Poncho.

    From the product description:

    This poncho is 2 layers of super soft fleece, and includes a 4 inch zipper at the neck to make getting it on and off super easy! There is an attached hood for extra warmth, too!

    The poncho measures approximately 33 inches square. It will be longer on smaller babies; more blanket-like. On taller kids it will provide more upper-body- only coverage, like a traditional poncho. The corners are situated to point to the front/back and down each arm to provide the best possible coverage.

    How to use: When you sit your baby in their car seat, simply drape the back of the poncho up over the car seat back (do NOT leave the poncho behind baby's back!) Lift up the front, buckle the straps underneath and lay it back down. When it's time to get out of the carseat, simply unbuckle your little one and go!

    Jeni also offers stylin' hood accessories such as spikes or a mohawk, and the option to add a third layer of fleece for ultimate warmth!

    For review purposes, Jeni sent me a Ridin' Safe Poncho with double layer fleece in the butterfly pattern. She made it a bit larger so that our daughter can continue to wear it next Winter when she's 2.

    Here's a close-up of the cozy hood and partial zipper.

    And here you can see the two layers of fleece which create a nice, thick barrier against the cold!

    The fleece is, indeed, super-soft and the construction of the poncho is extremely solid.

    Here's our little munchkin all set to "ride safe", giving us her best ET on Hallowe'en impression!

    And here we have her secured snugly into her seat, swimming in a sea of butterflies! Notice that the back of the poncho is pulled up over the top of the seat rather than bunched in behind her. (As a side note - no, she didn't rip off her bandage between the last photo and this one; the two photos were taken on separate occasions. I'm all about full disclosure! ;)

    See how the straps get secured over her regular clothes, underneath the poncho fabric.

    We have now been using the poncho for over a month (up until the current week, that is, during which the record temperatures have convinced me that March is the new June! :) This has given us ample testing time and we've put together the following thoughts and observations:
    • The poncho does a wonderful job keeping our daughter warm. She's always toasty (but not overheated) when it comes off, even after a short ride during which the car didn't get to warm up fully.
    • It doesn't quite cover her tootsies, so on colder days we throw an extra blanket overtop. 
    • Admittedly, the poncho isn't quite as easy to use as I'd hoped for/expected. Putting it on is certainly dirt-simple; the challenge is in getting the straps in place under all that material. It helps to have a "buddy system" (where one person holds up the front of the poncho and the other person secures the restraints), however if you're on your own your best bet is to be able to work the straps by feel, underneath the material. Alternatives include holding the front of the poncho over your child's face so you can see what you're doing (which they surely won't appreciate) and temporarily removing the poncho during the strap-in process (which'll leave them shivering unless you already have the car fully warmed up!) So all in all, there's a learning curve involved here, but, as with most things in life, practice makes perfect! (And it certainly helps to have a user-friendly car seat and/or helper accessories such as Lula Clips.)
    • Our daughter will sometimes get annoyed at the poncho and try ripping it off. That said, this tends to happen when either the face "window" isn't aligned quite right, or she's bored. Distraction is helpful here to shift her focus to something else.
    • On milder days, the poncho works nicely as a blanket (and this is obviously much quicker/easier!)
    • The poncho also works well in a stroller, on milder days (e.g. about 6 to 15 degrees Celsius). Same concept - back of the poncho over the top and straps underneath. But since you don't need to be quite as precise with stroller straps, securing things by feel is quite easy in this case.

    • Finally, the poncho is super-easy to care for; just throw it in with your child's regular laundry. (I machine wash on warm/cold and machine dry on low.) It comes out slightly less plush than it went in, but this is unavoidable with fleece.

    All in all, despite the learning curve we did experience, our Ridin' Safe Poncho has become our "go to" cold weather car seat solution for our daughter (and potential future children :)  Its ability to keep her safe, warm and comfortable is certainly worth the extra minute or two of fiddling "by feel" to get the straps in place, and the quality of the poncho is (surely) second to none. We also appreciate its versatility as a stroller solution, or, simply, as a warm 'n' fuzzy blanket.

    Buy It:

    Want a Ridin' Safe Poncho of your own? Or have your eye on the ultra-practical "Shirt Saver" Bibs? Shop for these and many other great hand-made baby products at Jeni Lynn Designs! (Note: Etsy policies apply to all purchases.)
    Win It:

    One lucky Manager to Mom winner will receive a $30 credit to Jeni Lynn Designs, good toward the purchase of any item(s) of their choice! Jeni has also generously offered to include free shipping on the winner's order.

    To enter, please fill out the Rafflecopter form below. Comments do not count as entries, however feel free to add a comment to remind yourself that you entered!

    Sunday, March 18, 2012

    "S" at 15 months: Yeah, No and Uh-Oh!

    I commented to Chris the other day that our daughter has become smarter than me (and possibly smarter than a 5th grader - so we should look at cashing in on that). And she's turning into such a social, adventurous, hilarious little character!  What a fun age - she's taking in so much, and sharing her "big li'l" personality with the world!

    First things first - let's catch up on some official pics.

    13 months:

    14 months:

    15 months:

    Is it just me or did she age waaaay more than she was supposed to from 14 to 15 months? There's also a li'l sumpin reminiscent of myself as a wee one in that last pic. It's about time - she's been pretty much 100% Daddy since Day 1!

    Growth-wise, we haven't been as hyper-focused on the cold, hard numbers these last few months, following the reassurance by her pediatrician that she's doing just fine, despite our previous concerns. We have tried to do a few weigh-ins, however - 18 lbs at 13 months and about 19.5 just after 15 months (at her last checkup). So still hanging out in the 10-15th percentile range. Height-wise, probably still around 40-50th percentile but we haven't gotten an actual measurement recently. (Though I *did* just rediscover the growth chart which came with her baby journal, so we'll get that up soon and then no excuses!)

    She's been cutting teeth slowly but surely since her 1st birthday. Her top two lateral incisors came in during her 13th month (first left, then right) and her bottom left one started pokin' through a few weeks later. 15 months (minus a few days) marked the arrival of her first molar on the top left.

    Here she is showing off some of her new chompers, with a head full of narsty, sticky, food-filled pre-bath hair!

    Speaking of hair, she's really been rockin' the toddler "short long" (as her Aunt Tracey affectionately put it) over the last few months. Until recently, we've just let it do its thang, for the most part, but it's starting to get out of control.

    Enter Taming Attempt #1:

    A little too "Samurai warrior" for our liking. Attempt #2:

    Much better! (As for the band-aid, let's just say that sharp-cornered coffee table + loose area rug + audacious toddler isn't an ideal combination.)

    Meal-wise, she's chowin' down on pretty much everything we eat now, and she's becoming more adept at feeding herself. She's an old pro at spooning porridge-like foods such as oatmeal, and gaining more control over spearing solid items with a fork. She still prefers eating with her fingers quite often, though, and occasionally she'll pull a move like this:

    Good 'til the last drop! That's my girl. :)

    When it comes to playtime, her tastes have progressed considerably. We've packed away almost two bins full of her young baby toys (rattles, squeakers, early cause/effect games, etc.) and opened the remainder of her more "advanced" toys from her birthday and Christmas.

    She really likes the two riding toys from her Granda & Empa: her Rock, Roll n Ride Trike and 2-in-1 Wagon Rider. 'cept when it's in wagon mode, she likes to put herself into it more than anything. Silly monkey!

    She's developing a strong affinity for matching games and puzzles, such as her Melissa & Doug first chunky pets and farm animals puzzles. And she's quite good at 'em, too! Here you can see her (at 13 1/2 months) working on both of them at the same time!

    She's getting into some crafty things too. She likes her animal stampers set and ol' standbys like crayons and playdoh. Here's the first time we tried a traditional home-made playdoh recipe - it came out just like the real thing!

    Other types of toys she's into recently include shape sorters, blocks and builders such as her WEDGiTS. These things are awesome as they're accessible for young toddlers, but can be used to make considerably more complex creations so they grow with your child until 7-8 years or older. (Heck, even Daddy finds it fun to tinker around with 'em!)

    S continues to be an avid lover of reading and music. Some of her favourite books recently include Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Animal Explorers: A Swim in the Ocean (a shape-matching book), Little Rabbits' First Farm Book, her personalized Winnie the Pooh adventure book, First 100 Animals, First 100 Words, Light's Out Night's Out, various Sesame Street board books and Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. The last one is my absolute favourite to read to her, as it's just so sweet (though invariably chokes me up at the end with all the pictures and rhymes of the narrator kissing her own baby, especially when S points out and says "Mama"! <3)

    Speaking of words, they're really coming now! Mama, Dadda, Nana, Papa, Yeah, No and Uh-Oh all come out perfectly clear, and she's getting so close with dozens of others (and even starting to string them together)! She loves to study our faces as we say different words and then attempt to repeat 'em back to us, grinning away. She's also into pointing at objects (especially in her books) and having us say the names for her. Repeatedly.  "Corn! Apple! Bean! Potato! Apple! Plum! Corn! Potato! [.....]"

    A lot of "words" at this point are coming out as just the first sound - for example, "buh" could be many things such as ball or blue, and "buh-buh" could be baby, bottle or bubble. Context is always helpful, of course. :)

    She continues to ape sounds very enthusiastically as well. She still loves her animal noises, and, much like her (admittedly immature) parents, bodily noises now amuse her greatly as well. Case in point:

    She has been so keen on verbal communication lately that we haven't been teaching her many new signs, however she continues to use the old standbys like "milk", "more" and "all done".

    Now for a couple fun videos of S' enjoying one of her most favourite things of all - music!

    Unfortunately you'll need to endure her Mom's definitively sub-par vocals in not one, but BOTH of these. But her utter adorable-ness makes it all totally worth it....right?

    This one took place at the Blue Moon Restaurant when she was 14 months old. No stage fright here!

    ...and this one at home a couple weeks later, while we were waiting for Daddy to finish up din-din. Notice the 'tude come out midway through as she tells me "Nope, not into that one, Mom." :)

    We took her to a few Kindermusik classes when she was 14 months old, and she had a blast! I did feel a little silly (at first) myself creeping and trotting around the room singing along with the instructor and her odd vibrato. But then I realized that this all came together based on years of investigating what resonates with babies and makes them want to learn, so I got pretty into it myself! We'll probably enroll her again at 18 months when she's eligible for the toddler-level class.

    I'm sure it goes without saying that she also loves all those fun movement games - swinging her around and upside down, tossing her on the bed, "I'm gonna get you!" and other tickle games, etc. etc. Nothing's more heart warming than baby giggles!!

    Finally, we love to see how much of a social butterfly she has become! Everywhere we go, she's waving "Hi" to people, running around and exploring, and interacting with adults & other children alike. Here she is at 15 months old, tearing around at her great grandma's 95th birthday party without a care in the world!

    And here she cuddles with her Nana, all dolled up in her beautiful new dress which Nana and Papa brought back for her from Panama! (Excuse the sweat socks - we got lazy during the outfitting process and only stripped down her top half. :)

    She's already popular with the boys too! Here she is flirting with Sam, the son of one of my best friends. (Don't tell Daddy!) Sam is just 2 weeks younger than S and was her first little "friend'!

    A few other random tidbits from the last few months:
    • She definitely knows who "S" is now! When we look in the mirror and I say "Where is your nose?" (for example) she points to her own nose!
    • She's getting better at recognizing colours and shapes, but both are still kinda hit & miss.
    • She's beginning to help her mom and dad with stuff like closing doors, wiping down her meal tray and "folding" laundry.
    • Li'l tantrums are starting to happen, mainly when she's a) tired or generally cranky and b) something "unpleasant" has happened to her, such as an object taken away or a cupboard closed. Presumably (?) pretty normal stuff.
    Well, I think that pretty much covers things!

    Now time to join Hubs for a quick episode of Season 2 Community before calling it a night.

    So what have your little ones been up to recently?

      Monday, March 12, 2012

      Lil Helper Diaper, Insert, Wetbag & Wipes Review + Giveaway {Fluffy February} (Closed)

      Question: Why did two Aerospace Engineers start a cloth diapering company?
      Answer: To prototype "the new time out" - launching unruly toddlers into space!

      No wait, that's not quite it. :) But the real story is quite compelling itself!

      Lil Helper (based in Toronto, Ontario) was founded in 2011 by Mohammed Ghandi and Nader Abu El Samid, two friends who met in university - yes, indeed, both working toward a degree in aerospace engineering!

      The idea for the company germinated in 2009 when Mohammed and his wife Sophie began looking at cloth diapering options for their baby-to-be. Although existing options showed some potential, they found that most were overly expensive and not highly functional. As such, Mohammed was driven to design a more functional & affordable diaper that they could use on their own baby. Nader came along for the ride as he had some free time, the opportunity allowed him to show off his computer-aided design skills and, most importantly, he shared Mohammed's desire to solve a real world problem and help out families in need.

      Once a working prototype was in place, the two friends hunted down raw material suppliers and a professional seamstress who met their high standards, and after a few iterations, arrived at their current diaper design (which continues to evolve with time and feedback.)

      In Mohammed's words: "As the name of our beloved company (coined by Sophia), the company is built around a simple philosophy to make products that provide a lil help to all that are involved- the babies who are our end-users, the parents (uncles, aunts, grandparents, Santa Claus, etc.) who purchase our stuff and the environment at large."

      One of the awesomest things about Lil Helper is their Baby Do Good program. The idea is simple - the company donates 1 diaper for every 3 sold to a family in need - but the impact is, I'm sure, anything but "lil"!

      To top everything off, Mohammed and Nader are just a great couple of guys - they're super-passionate about their company, customer service-oriented to the max, hilarious and totally geeky! (And trust me - that's a compliment coming from Yours Truly!) To see what I mean, take a lil (hee, I just can't help myself) browse around their website and you'll surely find yourself LYAO at the colourful analogies and biting wit.

      Alright, so what all does Lil Helper have to offer for CDing families? In addition to three types of cloth diapers, Lil Helper also sells extra insert sets, bamboo wipes and wet bags.  

      And guess what? I got to try a lil (gahhh, I can't stop) of everything!!

      My loot included two organic bamboo cloth diapers... charcoal bamboo cloth diaper...

      ...three extra sets of liners/inserts - original cotton, organic bamboo and charcoal bamboo (respectively)... package of bamboo wipes...


      ...and two zipper wetbags!

      And look how little packaging was used on the whole kit 'n' kaboodle! That's what this green-minded mama likes to see!

      All three types of Lil Helper diaper share the following characteristics:
      • AI2 (all-in-two) design. Inserts/liners snap in and out of the shells.
      • One-Size. Diapers are designed to fit from 7-35 pounds (or from birth to potty training).
      • Outer layers are made from waterproof yet breathable materials.
      • Snap rise and waist closures.
      • Comes in an array of solid colours.
      • Packaged with two detachable liners which have 7 total layers of absorbent cloth.
      The only difference between the three types is the materials used in each one's construction.  

      The Original Cloth Diaper has a micro-fleece inner, a waterproof PUL outer and unbleached cotton / micro terry liners.

      The Organic Bamboo Cloth Diaper has an organic bamboo inner, a waterproof PUL outer and organic bamboo / micro terry liners.

      Finally, the Charcoal Bamboo Cloth Diaper has an organic charcoal bamboo inner, a waterproof bamboo PUL outer and organic charcoal bamboo / micro terry liners.

      If you're like me, you're wondering just what the heck "charcoal bamboo" is. Well, Nader offered up the following helpful description:

      Charcoal bamboo fabric is a base organic bamboo material that has bamboo charcoal particles infused into it. The bamboo charcoal is similar to the carbon that you would find in a water filtration system, but the particles are "nano" in size (extremely small), but at the same time have huge surface area that that gives them very high absorbancy. The more contact area exposed to liquid, the more absorbant, which is the case here. Any organic waste, including bacteria, allergens, etc. also latch onto these particles, giving it the hypoallergenic effect. We've had one mother whose baby was getting rashes and welts from another brand and was about to stop cloth diapering all together, then tried the charcoal bamboo and the issues all went away, most likely due to these great properties of the charcoal.

      Cool beans, huh? Then again, we wouldn't expect anything less from a couple of science nerds. ;)

      Here you can see one of my organic bamboo diapers snapped into three size settings - small, medium and large - and fully unsnapped. All diaper types have the same size settings. Notice that the snaps are close together which is great for ensuring a snug fit at any size.

      The smallest setting with its crossover snaps creates a teeny tiny diaper, and the largest setting appears quite roomy. So I'd say the 7-35 weight range advertised is pretty accurate, if not conservative.

      Three snaps are included on each side of all diaper types to keep things in place and prevent wing droop.

      Both the leg and waist elastic on all diaper types is nice and stretchy to promote a snug fit, and the surrounding material is soft to the touch, particularly on the charcoal bamboo.

      Here you can see the organic bamboo and charcoal bamboo inners (respectively), and a close-up comparison shot. The organic bamboo is smooth and the charcoal bamboo is plush, but both are nice and soft.

      The inserts/liners are one of the coolest parts of the Lil Helper diapering system, and unlike any I've come across before. Each diaper comes with a large and small insert of a matching material (e.g. the Charcoal Bamboo Cloth Diaper comes with a Charcoal Bamboo Insert Set), and separate insert sets can be purchased as well.

      Inserts snap together and then snap into the diapers so that everything stays in place even on a super-squirmy baby. Or, as our friends at Lil Helper more eloquently put it, the snaps guarantee that the liners are in proper fielding positions when a mother load arrives. :D

      The smaller insert has two inner layers and can be used on its own. The larger insert has one inner layer and should be used along with the smaller insert for extra protection. (Using it on its own exposes baby's bum to open snaps which wouldn't be that comfortable, plus the single inner layer would provide limited absorbency.)

      Here are my original cotton, organic bamboo and charcoal bamboo insert sets (respectively), snapped together and ready to go!

      Here you can see how the large and small insert are held together by two snaps at the one end.

      Inserts can either be used together for maximum protection, or the smaller insert can be used alone. (Why not the larger one, you may ask? Well, two reasons. The larger one has exposed snaps which may bother baby's bum, and the smaller one actually has one more layer of absorbent material than the larger one. So there y'go!) 

      Here is one of the diaper shells lined with a small insert and both inserts, respectively. AND, notice that the inserts are charcoal bamboo whereas the shell is organic bamboo in this example. Yup, you can mix and match diapers and insert types to your heart's content!

      You can also snap together small and large inserts of different types. So you pretty much have ultimate flexibility with these diapers!

      The fact that this is an all-in-two system allows you to reuse clean/dry shells between wearings. My personal preference is to launder a whole LH diaper following a change, because each one's inner is made of a soft material which cannot be wiped down, but admittedly, I can be a bit anal. :)

      For testing purposes, we decided to stick primarily with matching diapers and inserts. Here is our lil sweetie modelling her organic bamboo diaper + insert set in the star pattern. Snazzy, huh?

      And let's switch to the green diaper for a few more angles!

      Here she is in her charcoal bamboo diaper + insert set. She was quite squirmy during this particular "photo shoot" so I only managed a couple decent pics.

      In general, we have found all of the diapers (with their corresponding inserts) to fit and perform quite well. We haven't had a leak during the day so far with any of the diapers, solid messes have been readily contained and our daughter's bum always looks healthy and "happy" when one of her LHs comes off, with little to no marks left on her skin. We love that the company strives to ensure that only the softest, most breathable materials touch baby's skin and we also {heart} the flexibility of the insert system and the fact that everything stays firmly in place via the resin snaps. I should note that we've used both inserts together most of the time, though in some cases the bottom insert was almost completely dry when we changed her so a single insert would have gotten the job done here.

      For night diapering, we've had the most success so far with the organic bamboo + organic bamboo and organic bamboo + original cotton shell/insert combos. We've tried these 3-4 times and only had a small leak once when the diaper was super-saturated. We have (strangely) had consistent leakage issues with the charcoal bamboo diaper/inserts, even when the diaper wasn't too full. It seems that moisture is somehow averting the inserts and wicking into the cover.    

      Our daughter prefers sleeping on her side or tummy, so this could contribute to the issue. We've also noticed that when she gets super active, the diaper can shift a tad result in a small leg gap (though, I'm sure, this would happen with many/most diapers out there).

      That said, it's a bit of a mystery why the leakage has happened with the charcoal bamboo and not the other types, as charcoal bamboo is technically supposed to be the most absorbent material of the three. I'm wondering if it has to do with the outer material of the diaper, which is softer and strikes me as less waterproof than the PUL on the other two types. In any case, I plan to keep testing to see if I can figure things out!

      Another minor issue I've noticed is that the waist snaps don't *quite* line up with the hip snaps on all three diaper types. Due to this, a small amount of material bunches between the snaps. A superficial issue, sure, but still one which prevents obtaining that "perfect fit"! That said, Nader told me they have observed some variability in snap placement themselves and are paying close attention to this in upcoming batches.

      I also found that one of the rise snaps on the star-patterened organic bamboo diaper is a little loose and occasionally comes unsnapped on its own. Again, though, this hasn't affected performance nor (it would seem) our little one's comfort.

      In terms of care & maintenance, Lil Helper diapers and inserts are pretty simple - machine wash on cold/warm/cold (though I actually use cold/hot/cold and things come out OK!) and either machine or air dry. I like to machine dry the inserts on low but hang dry the covers to extend their life. Unlike other bamboo diapering products I've tried, the LH bamboo air dries nice & soft. That said, the covers do take about 24 hours to dry (significantly longer than 100% PUL, or PUL + microfleece variants) due to their natural material composition. One great thing about the charcoal bamboo in particular is that it doesn't really show stains - even if your little one has been munchin' blueberries like they're going out of style! (Yup, speaking from experience here!)

      All the diapers and inserts have laundered nicely except for the original cotton insert set, which got kind of wonky/bunched up after prepping.

      I mentioned this to the LH guys and Nader informed me that this is a known issue, and is due to the fact that the outer fabric is shrinking at a slighly different rate than the inner microfibre. It will be addressed during the next design phase. In the meantime, it shouldn't affect performance (which we agree with from our own experience, though we do assume that the next phase will result in a comfier experience for baby!)

      Allllright, on to the official eval! Though first, a quick note. Unless otherwise indicated, a comment applies to all LH diapers. Points specific to the original cloth, organic bamboo or charcoal bamboo diaper/insert will be indicated with (OC), (OB) or (CB), respectively.

      + Great-looking dipe at all size settings
      + Moderately trim design, especially when using a single insert
      +  Comes in an array of attractive solid colours as well as a few snazzy patterns (OC, OB)
      - Variability in snap placement results in some superficial bunching of material (though this is being addressed in upcoming batches)
      - Currently comes in just four solid colours and no prints, so style options are limited (CB)
      Score: 4.5/5 (OC, OB); 3.5/5 (CB)

      + Great performance during daytime diapering; no leaks experienced so far.
      + No issues with solid poop containment
      + Good night diapering performance; minor leakage occurred only when inserts were saturated (OC, OB)
      +/- Diaper generally achieves a snug (but not overly tight) waist and leg fit, however slight gapping has been noticed around the leg following lots of physical activity (which could potentially pose a problem for EBF poop?)
      - Overnight leakage regularly experienced with the charcoal bamboo system; still trying to solve this mystery! (CB)
      Score: 4.5/5 (OC, OB); 3/5 (CB)

      Comfort & Health:
      + Only natural, breathable materials touch baby's skin.
      + Elastic is nice & stretchy, and covered with soft material for baby's comfort. Little to no marks left behind when diaper comes off.
      + Does not appear to cause or exacerbate diaper rash. The opposite, in fact - we've noticed that our DD's bum tends to look healthier & happier when we change her out of a LH diaper than it did before we put it on.
      + Even the covers are breathable and incorporate natural materials
      + Snaps are placed close together which allows for a comfy, snug fit at any size.
      ++ (Bonus points!) The charcoal bamboo diaper/inserts are antibacterial and hypoallergenic, which may allow even those babies with the most sensitive, rash-prone skin to wear cloth! (CB)
      - The current version of the Original Cloth Insert gets wonky after laundering, due to different shrinkage rates of its outer and inner materials. This shouldn't affect performance but may not be the comfiest for baby. (Note - this is a known issue which will be addressed during an upcoming design phase.)
      Score: 3.5/5 (OC), 5/5 (OB), 6/5 (CB - yup, I'm reserving the right to award greater than 100% in super-special cases!)

      Ease of Use:
      + Snaps are easy to attach as they aren't overly tight
      + Stretchiness of the diaper helps get things in place when little one's being a super-squirmer
      + Diapers and inserts are a breeze to care for - easy spray-down, machine wash, machine dry or hang.
      + Inserts can be mixed & matched based on baby's size, trimness desires, availability or personal preference.
      - Diapers take longer than average (about 24 hours) to air dry due to natural material composition.
      Score: 4.5/5

      Quality & Durability:
      + Construction of both the diapers and inserts looks and feels very high quality in general.
      + Snaps appear to be sewn in very snugly, and elastic is nice & strong.
      + Premium materials are used in all diapers and inserts, especially the charcoal bamboo.
      + Charcoal bamboo hides stains well (CB)
      - Variability in snap placement results in some superficial bunching of material (though this is being addressed in upcoming batches) 
      - The current version of the Original Cloth Insert gets wonky after laundering, due to different shrinkage rates of its outer and inner materials. (Note - this is a known issue which will be addressed during an upcoming design phase.) (OC)
      - Noticed a single overly-loose rise snap on one of my diapers, but this was probably a one-off.
      Score: 2.5/5 (OC), 4/5 (OB), 4.5/5 (CB)
      (Note - given I have only been using these diapers for several weeks, I plan to update this section a few months down the road to get a true durability picture!)


      Total "Diaper Awesomeness" Scores: 
      Original Cloth Diaper: 19.5/25 (Good diaper. Recommended.)
      Organic Bamboo Cloth Diaper: 22.5/25 (Great diaper. Highly recommended!)
      Charcoal Bamboo Cloth Diaper: 21.5/25 (Great diaper. Highly recommended!)

      Overall Comments: Lil Helper's three types of AI2 diapers are unique, versatile, breathable and comfy, and generally perform very well. The Charcoal Bamboo diaper is particularly notable for its hypoallergenic property, which may allow babies with the most sensitive skin to wear cloth diapers (though I've had issues myself night diapering with this type.) I've noticed a few design imperfections (in particular with the original cloth inserts), however the LH team is aware of these and plans to address them shortly. These guys are super-dedicated to creating The Perfect Diaper for an affordable price, so keep your eye out for continuing improvements!

      Approximate Stash Cost:
      Original Cloth Diaper: $336 to $580
      Organic Bamboo Cloth Diaper: $384 to $652
      Charcoal Bamboo Cloth Diaper: $432 to $724

      Calculation details: Lil Helper suggests that you can reuse diapers which aren't soiled/wet, simply snapping in new inserts. My best guess is that you'd be able to do this about half the time, therefore you'd need about 12 diapers and 12 extra insert sets in order to have 24 changes. This would cost $336 for a set of Original Cloth Diapers, $384 for a set of Organic Bamboo Cloth Diapers and $432 for a set of Charcoal Bamboo Cloth Diapers. Adding the $100 OS premium would bring these totals to $436, $484 and $532, respectively. Assuming you want a full set of 24 diapers and inserts, you're looking at $580, $652 and $724, respectively (including the OS premium).


      Let's move on to the final two LH products I got a chance to test - their zipper wetbags and their bamboo wipes.

      The wetbags are made from resilient, waterproof PUL, contain a snap-able loop and are large enough to hold 3-4 soiled diapers. At $8 a pop, they're super-affordable too! Curently 8 colour choices are available, but no prints. I received an orange and a blue bag for review purposes.

      The product description for the bags mentions that they contain "the best zippers in the industry". I assumed this refers to how the zipper creates a tighter closure than you'd commonly find, which can be seen here.

      That said, I decided to ask LH to elaborate on this a bit further. Nader provided the following info:

      When we sourced the zippers, we made extra effort to select only zippers that can last, so chose them on the basis of long life, ability to handle high load, and ability to keep liquid from coming out of the bag over time. These zippers met all the criteria, which makes them premium from a functional point of view, and why we chose to put them on out wetbags. The tighter closure you described is key to keeping moisture inside and stopping any mess from being created.

      I did note that the pull tab is on the small side so it's not the easiest to grip. I also noticed that the bag is significantly smaller than other medium wetbags I own, and you need to really stuff it full in order to fit four dirty diapers.

      Nader responded to this as well:

      The pull tab is something we do want to increase in size and improve upon- with feedback like this we know what direction to head in. The same goes for the size of the wetbags, we are planning on introducing a larger size as well, and you are absolutely right that for quite a few users it would be difficult to fit the numbers that they would typically need.

      I love that Lil Helper is so appreciative of constructive feedback and really strives to incorporate it into future product design phases!

      A final comment about these bags - they're not 100% waterproof. If you actually pour water inside and squeeze, the water will come out through the seams. However, it appears that many (if not most) wetbags are like this, and it actually may be a good thing to allow oxygen to flow through. I did note that the bag holds smells in very well. My daughter had a particularly narsty, smushy poop the other day when I was out and I decided to simply roll the dirty thing up, bag it and enlist the services of my sprayer once I got home. I couldn't smell anything unpleasant coming out of my diaper bag, so two thumbs up on this front!

      All in all, these are solid little wetbags for an affordable price. With a slightly larger zipper pull tab and a bit more room (for an extra diaper or two), they'll be SUPER awesome!

      Last but not least, the bamboo wipes! These puppies come in packs of 5 for $10, which is a great price for what you're getting!

      Wipes are two-ply, with one side made of microfiber and the other made of soft organic bamboo terry.

      They are certainly "generously sized", measuring 8"x8".

      They are also luxuriously plush. Check out how thick they are compared with your standard cheap-o washcloth wipes.

      Most importantly, these wipes are very absorbent!! They eagerly slurped up our wipe solution after just a single prepping.

      When used as bum wipes, a nice thing about these guys is that they're large enough to use a single one as both a wet and dry wipe; simply wet half of it and off y'go! That said, I personally like to keep a single prefold on our daughter's change table for drying purposes, therefore I found these wipes a bit bulky to use as wet wipes exclusively. (Especially considering the valuable space they take up in her change area.)


      Y'know what I've been LOVING them for? Bath time! They are MUCH softer than the dedicated bath cloths we'd been using previously, but still an ample size & thickness to get the "full body" job done. I've also kept one aside for washing my own face. It manages to be both smooth and "grippy" at the same time, so it's perfect for these two purposes.

      I haven't tried them as mealtime wipes, however I'm sure they would get the job done here as well.

      All in all, I'd definitely recommend picking up a pack or two as these are just great wipes for many different purposes. The only downside I've found is that the two sides appear to shrink at slightly different rates so the wipes come out of the dryer not perfectly flat/even. But not a big deal at all, functionality-wise, and my guess is that Lil Helper will fix this minor detail in an upcoming phase.

      Buy It:

      You can purchase Lil Helper diapers and accessories directly from the company website, or take a look at their Where to Buy page to find a 3rd party retailer (though note that at the time of this writing there is only a single retailer, diaper-eez, based in Toronto.)

      Win It:

      One lucky Manager to Mom reader will win 1 Lil Helper diaper, 1 extra insert set, 1 wetbag and 1 package of bamboo wipes - up to a $54 value! Winner chooses diaper type & style, insert type and wetbag colour!

      To enter, please fill out the Rafflecopter form below. Comments do not count as entries, however feel free to add a comment to remind yourself that you entered!