Sunday, September 30, 2012

Purrrr! Toddler's Catarina Costume from Costume SuperCenter: Review

Now that I'm a mom, many of the simple joys that excited me as a child are reemerging through the  eyes of our daughter S - a beautiful butterfly, reading a favourite book over and over (and over) again, and feeding the imagination through pretend play. On this note, there's no holiday more exciting to a young child than Halloween - ghosts and jack-o-lanterns everywhere, eerie music, gobs of candy, and, of course, getting to dress up as someone (or something) else for an entire day!

Last Halloween, S was only 11 months old so she didn't really know what everything was all about - though we still "converted" her into an adorable cuddly lion and hauled her around with her older cousins for the night. Now that she's almost 2 and growing into quite the creative, observant li'l thang, my husband and I are stoked - this year, she's going to have a ball! Therefore, when I was offered the opportunity to review a costume from Costume SuperCenter, I jumped at the chance!

Costume SuperCenter's motto is Super Costume Selections at Super Low Prices, and they're certainly right on both accounts. As I began browsing their site, I was immediately blown away by the variety of options available for adults and children of all ages. All the classics are there (such as witches, clowns and pirates), but if you or your child feel like venturing off the beaten path, there are many more whimsical options. Want to be a garden gnome, UPS guy, chili pepper or Heinz ketchup package? No problem! Prices and shipping charges are very reasonable (especially if you shop the Clearance section!) and you can search by keyword and/or narrow by category in order to hone in on that perfect costume. The company also offers accessories & makeup to complete any look, and decorations & props to give your home that perfectly creepy Halloween atmosphere.

Of course I had to let S pick her own costume, so I plunked her in my lap and began browsing the numerous infant/toddler categories. She was particularly enamored with the kitty costumes, though the one that excited her the most was the Toddler's Catarina Costume:

Product Description:

If you think your little girl is the cat's meow, this Toddler's Catarina Costume is purr-fect! The costume includes a dress, headband, tail and mitts. The black and pink dress features a tutu skirt and sheer chiffon-like sleeves. The black bodice is embellished with satiny, hot pink ribbon that crisscrosses across the front like a laced up corset. The coordinating headband features feisty feline ears. Add the black tail to the back and let your little one slip on the black with pink ribbon mitts and she'll be purring in no time. She may be a black cat but she be far from unlucky because your little kitten will look so cute, people will want to give her some extra treats this Halloween. Your toddler will be purr-dy in this Toddler's Catarina Costume!

C'mon - how adorable is this?! My husband wasn't so sure - "Isn't that a little saucy?" he asked. (Ahh, fathers - never too early to start getting uppity about these things!) I told him not to worry - she'd be wearing something on her arms (at the very least) to contend with our brisk mid-fall Ontarian weather. This seemed to appease him. :)

Our daughter will be 2 at the end of November, so we ordered the 2T size. The costume arrived a mere two business days after the order went through - very impressive! I tore into the package right away to make sure everything was there and no damage was evident. Aside from a bit of wonkiness in the tutu (probably unavoidable given it had been squished into a flat package), everything was in order!

As per the instructions, I hand washed all the pieces in warm water using a mild, scent-free detergent and then hung / lay them flat. Everything dried fully within 24 hours, and hanging the dress helped the tutu settle back into its proper shape.

And now the fun part! "Do you want to try on your kitty costume?" I asked S, and she nodded emphatically. We started her off in a pink comfy shirt and black pants, and then layered the outfit on top.

Ta-daaaaaaa! Hello Kitty!

"Yup, I am pretty much 10/10 on the cuteness scale!"

And a view from the back - check out that adorable li'l kitty tail!

For the "dry run" we went without makeup, though we'll throw on a simple black nose and some whiskers to complete the look on the Big Day itself. Although the whole thing's certainly on the puffy side, we should be able to work a hoodie or jacket on top (if necessary) to keep her toasty, and the ears could go on top of a fitted hat too. Fit-wise, the top part is quite loose on her at this point so she wouldn't be able to properly wear it undershirt-free without the sleeves coming down her arms, but this isn't surprising giving she's on the low end of the weight spectrum and has a couple months to go before turning 2. So all in all I'd say the sizing is pretty accurate. The nice thing for S is that she'll be able to play dress-up in it for at least another few months after Halloween!

All in all, my daughter and I are both very happy with the Toddler's Catarina Costume from Costume SuperCenter. It's ultra-cute, fun and yes - just a li'l saucy. :) And while I probably wouldn't just throw it in a box and let her go at it willy-nilly, it feels like it'll be durable enough to hold up through both Halloween itself and a number of subsequent dress-up sessions. And at the low price point of $23.99, that's a pretty sweet deal!

Buy it:

Visit to purchase a "Catarina" costume of your own (note: it also comes in child's size) or search/browse through hundreds of other selections to find that perfect outfit for yourself or a loved one. Thanks to the site's quick shipping, there's still time to place an order and receive your costume(s) before Halloween - but don't wait too long as the Big Day's just a month away! Happy shopping!

Disclosure:  I received no financial compensation for writing my review, although I did receive the sample item free of charge.  This is my completely honest opinion above and may be different from yours.  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

From Diapers to Diamonds: Rocking your Disability Like a Lady {Book Review}

My sister, Rebecca Anstett, is truly an inspiration. She is talented, kind, open-minded and motivated, and at just 36 years of age has garnered a mile-long list of personal, scholastic and professional accomplishments. Whether she is working on her Doctor of Divinity dissertation, exercising her speaking skills as a Distinguished Toastmaster or striving toward optimal nutrition, Rebecca is continuously learning and searching for ways to better herself and those around her.

It is no real surprise, then, that when Rebecca was faced with a number of significant health setbacks in recent years, including a diagnosis of fibromyalgia in 2010 and, subsequently, multiple sclerosis earlier this year (a double whammy to be sure), she fundamentally chose to view these not only as new challenges in her life but also as new opportunities. Opportunities to experiment with alternative health therapies, to offer an empathetic ear and a voice as a Distress Line volunteer, and to advocate on behalf of others struggling with what she refers to as "less-ability".

On this note, I'm excited and proud to share with you Rebecca's latest accomplishment - a newly-released ebook entitled From Diapers to Diamonds: Rocking your Disability Like a Lady.

As its title suggests, the book's main target audience is women faced with physical disabilities and/or "abnormalities". The core message is a powerful one, but also one that is (unfortunately) difficult for a woman in these circumstances to truly embrace - that a physical setback does not make her any less of a lady, nor should it take away her right and ability to happiness, love, pleasure and all the other finer things in life. In her writing, Rebecca admits that she herself often battles that "little voice" trying to convince her otherwise, but she has made great progress prevailing over it through positive thought and action.

From Diapers to Diamonds is, by and large, an account of Rebecca's own (ongoing) mind-body-spirit journey of healing, however it's also peppered with practical advice for others who wish to embark upon (or accelerate) their own healing journeys. The "meat" of the book is divided into eight sections discussing areas of her life (e.g., dressing, working and travelling) which, at the onset of her health challenges, generated the greatest fear and anxiety within her. Within each section, she describes relevant, personal experiences which have challenged her to face her fears and rekindle her sense of feminity and self esteem in that aspect of her life, and also includes suggestions, challenges and affirmations for others to try out on their own healing paths. I found her final section on loving particularly poignant and inspiring - a testament to the true love she has found with her husband and soulmate Mark.

Rebecca's voice is honest and passionate, often humorous and sometimes a little dark. All in all, very reflective of the physical, mental and emotional ups and downs she has experienced in her life, and on her own healing journey.

Although From Diapers to Diamonds is targeted mainly toward women with physical challenges, there are certainly positive messages to be found for all readers. Messages about self acceptance, love and determination, about seeking and expressing appreciation and gratitude, and, most importantly, that everyone is entitled to a happy and fulfilling life - no matter what curveballs are thrown their way!

Take a look at Rebecca's own video intro for her book here:

To celebrate its release, Rebecca has chosen to offer her book by donation until September 30th, following which it can be downloaded at a set price. Head over to her book release page for more information, donate/download instructions and a 2-page teaser. And if you feel that Rebecca's message is a powerful one, I encourage you to spread the word! Rebecca appreciates any/all support in her quest to empower others and show them that they do not have to suffer.

Wordless Wednesday: I can lift it! No, really, I can!!

(Winning pumpkin at the New Hamburg Fall Fair.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fall Tips for Prepping the Home Exterior for Winter {Guest Post}

By: Jakob Barry

When autumn arrives, most of us are still in summer mode, but as the weather begins to change, homeowners realize there's little time to batten down the hatches. Despite the many responsibilities towards family and work, winter will still be moving in so getting the home exterior ready for what lurks ahead is a priority.

That's why dealing with the fall clean up and property maintenance chores early will save the headache of doing it later and allow for more time to enjoy the changing of the leaves and last days of the garden with the kids before the first frost. It will also make sure our loved ones are safe and sound when the freezing temperatures move in.

That being the case, here is a quick checklist for making sure the main exterior issues are taken care of.

  • Roof leaks - Starting from the top down, checking the roof for damage or leaks is essential for the security of the home. After all, if a leak goes unnoticed, water could flow almost anywhere through the structure, wreaking havoc. Examining the roof to see if any shingles are missing is one way to get an idea of how well it's holding together. However, the best way to find leaks is by inspecting the attic, crawl space, or loft for any discolorations which will indicate water damage. You may even want to take a few minutes on a rainy day to check these places for dampness.

  • Gutters - We all know the power of water, as even a small but constant drip can split a rock over the course of time. That's why gutters are an essential part of the roof. They block rain water from flowing down shingles and striking the sides or foundation of a home. Problems occur, though, when gutters are blocked by leaves and other organic debris. For this reason, a survey of the gutters is worthwhile and if they, or downspouts, are clogged they need to be cleaned. Finally, screening should be placed over them so water enters but everything else stays out.

  • Drafts - Moving downward, windows and doors need to be checked for drafts which put a strain on heating systems and jack up utility bills. The checking is usually done from the interior, but when drafts are found they are generally sealed from the outside. Searching for drafts can be done inside with a candle held around window and door frames. If found, they can be sealed easily from the exterior with caulk.
  • Cracked cement - When cracks form in cement along foundations, walkways, and elsewhere, water can seep in. Where temperatures drop below freezing in the winter, the water turns to ice and expands causing even further damage. Fall happens to be an excellent time to fix cracks in concrete because it's not too hot or cold and patchwork will harden well.
  • Yard tools - Last but not least, make sure all yard tools used over the warmer season have been safely returned to the basement, garage, or shed. This includes the garden hose, which could freeze and burst in extreme cold. Once everything is in its place, it will be easily found and in good condition when spring is finally in the air.

Jakob Barry is a home improvement journalist for He writes about Green topics for professionals across the U.S. like Warren, MI, concrete contractors.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Teeming with #2: Week 29 update!

Hellooooooo 3rd trimester!

I must say, I'm beginning to feel quite rotund. (And look it too, evidently!)

I'm up to 136 pounds, for a total of 28 since getting knockered. That's almost as much as I gained during my entire pregnancy last time around. But y'know what? That's not really a bad thing since I started out way too thin this time around. My guess is I'll gain about 40-45 in the end.

Apparently the little guy's now about 2.5 pounds himself, and his testacles are beginning to descend. So there y'go on that.

My latest midwife appointment (on August 30th @ 26 1/2 weeks) was gloriously uneventful compared to the previous one. ("How are you feeling?" "Good!" "Lots of movement?" "Yup!") My blood pressure continued to be nice & low (110/66) and baby's heart rate clocked in at 142 bpm. Only thing was a slight amount of protein in my urine, but nothing to write home about.

I had my glucose tolerance test last week, and I "passed" that one as well! That was a relief, as I flunked it last time and had to go back for the more intensive 3 hour follow-up which was a pain in the arse, and I loathe drinking those McDonalds-esque orange flavoured liquid sugar drinks. Apparently each one contains 50 grams of glucose *shudder*. But I digress. The GTT did turn up low hemoglobin (102; they want to see at least 110) so I'm back on my Ferrasorb to help bring things back up.

So yeah! Feeling good all in all, still enjoying a healthy appetite and my mood continues to be nice & level. Pregnancy's definitely good for my mental & emotional state! Still dealing with the crusty nose thing but it seems to be getting better, and nasal strips have helped overnight when it tends to be the worst. And yup, coughing and sneezing continue to be "risky business" if you catch my drift. I think things are improving a bit here though too - thanks prenatal yoga!  Li'l man is starting to do something funny that S always did in my 3rd trimey with her - "bunching up" on the right side of my belly. I'll have to get a pic at some point because it looks quite bizarre. Speaking of my belly, I've been slathering on the belly jelly I won in a giveaway last year, and it's awesome stuff. Next to no appreciable stretch marks so far (knock on wood), plus the scent is lurvley and it just feels good to give the ol' belly a rub! S helps out too (though one time she sank her whole hand in right to the bottom, the goofy goo.)

That's about it for now. Seeya in a few!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sunday, September 16, 2012

ChildUp Early Learning Game Cards: Review and Giveaway! (Closed)

ChildUp is a company which provides education and resources for parents who seek to raise successful, balanced and happy children. Their program is grounded in the principle that the brain is a learning machine, and that the best young pupils perform well not because they are inately "gifted" but because they were better prepared at an early age than their classmates.

ChildUp offers both online parenting classes and early learning tools, and also maintains a blog of hand-picked articles highlighting the importance of parental involvement in the development of bright and happy children.

I had the opportunity to review the ChildUp Early Learning Game Card series - specifically Teach Your Child to Count to 10 - Math & Logic 1 and Teach Your Child to Count to 20 - Math & Logic 2.

Product Information:

Both card packs are intended for boys and girls age 1 to 5, and each contains 48 Child's Cards and 16 Parent's Cards. The Parent's Cards describe the ChildUp Early Learning Method and include early learning and parenting advice, and the Child's Cards help children learn to count while discovering four different series of animals.

More information on Math & Logic #1:

Helps parents to teach:
  • Numbers from 0 to 10
  • Numbers as quantities and symbols
  • The first steps of addition
Helps develop the child's:
  • Math and logic skills
  • Learning and cognitive skills
  • Listening and memory skills
  • Attention and concentration skills
  • Language and social skills

The Child's Cards in this pack are divided into four series, each of which features a different group of popular animals and contains 10 "regular" number cards (with the numbers 1-10, represented in symbolic form on one side and amount form on the other), 1 animal card (showing the animals depicted in the series on one side, and information on each animal on the other side) and one "0" card (showing the number 0 on one side and the animals' empty environment on the other side).

The red series features domestic animals (dog, cat, horse, etc.), and each card only shows one type of animal. The orange series features african mammals and each card shows 1 animal of one type and (n-1) animals of a second type. The green series features birds and each card shows an even/close to even division of two types of animals. Finally, the blue series features aquatic animals and each card shows three types of animals.

The Parent's Cards suggest (as a primary activity) first showing the front of a card to your child and counting all the animals together and then showing the back and repeating the number. The goal of this exercise is to help children count and associate numbers as symbols with their corresponding amounts. The cards also suggest other appropriate learning activities at this level, such as counting objects in day-to-day environments and using the cards to learn about and categorize animals in different ways (e.g. by the sounds they make, how they move, where they live, etc.)

More information on Math & Logic #2:

Helps parents to teach:
  • Numbers from 10 to 20
  • Odd and even numbers
  • First additions and subtractions
  • Categorzing, sorting and comparing
Helps develop the child's:
  • Math and logic skills
  • Learning and cognitive skills
  • Memory and problem solving skills
  • Concentration and self-control skills
  • Language and social skills

Similar to Math & Logic #1, the Child's Cards in this pack are divided into four series, each of which features a different group of animals. In this pack, however, new animals are featured and each series contains either 10 or 11 "regular" number cards and 1 animal card, and only one of the series contains a "0" card.

The blue series features 8 mammals and 2 marsupials and includes odd numbers from 1 to 21; the brown series features reptiles and includes even numbers from 2 to 20 (plus the 0 card); the purple series features 8 insects and 2 arachnids and includes higher numbers (up to 25) and the pink series features mammals and includes all numbers from 10 to 20. Most of the cards in all series depict two animal types, however a few in the blue series depict one type alone and the first in the pink series shows all 10 types together.

The Parent's Cards in this pack also suggest (as a primary activity) the amount / symbol association exercise described previously (i.e. count animals on one side and then repeat the number on the other side). The cards also suggest numerous more advanced counting, adding, sorting and grouping activities, using both the cards and objects in day-to-day life. 

My Review:

First of all, I've come across a number of opinions from both sides of the formal/no formal camp - i.e. those who feel that "formal" education is mandatory at an early age, and those who feel that education should come primarily (or exclusively) in the form of free play over the first 2-3 years. My own intuition and experience have led me to believe that while free play should have predominant focus for toddlers and preschoolers, more structured, parent-led education can certainly be beneficial as well. To realize these benefits, however, I feel it's very important to be in tune with your child - which means selecting "study times" when the child is happy and alert, being willing to go with the flow and veer away from a desired "lesson plan" (if/as applicable) and knowing when it's time to stop. Bottom line - play time (structured or not) should be enjoyable for a child!

The heavies outta the way, on to my actual review. :)

First of all, some basics. The cards are quite sturdy and hold up well to fairly rough play. Our daughter S (21 months) has certainly subjected them to the gamut of toddler activity - throwing, stomping, grabbing, biting and crunching - and despite all this, they're showing very little wear. (That said, we do try to encourage her to play nice so she can continue to enjoy them for a long time!)

Another nice thing is that the illustrations are bright, crisp and colourful. Here is an example number card (front and back) from Math & Logic #1:

And here is one of the animal cards from Math & Logic #2:

Our daughter LOVES her cards! She wants to play with them regularly and they hold her interest for quite awhile - generally 15-20 minutes or longer. At this point, I like to do a combination of free play and guided learning and, to my earlier point, keep a close pulse on her mood and attention level. When we do guided play, I prefer to use the Math & Logic #1 cards right now, however when she's playing more independently I alternate the sets to maximize her interest. She is currently keen on finding/naming animals and is especially drawn to the animal cards and associated "0" cards.

In terms of counting skills, over the last few months S has progressed from calling everything "two" to rhyming off numbers until about 14 with ease. I'm confident that the ChildUp cards have played a key role here, as they have given her the opportunity to hear these number sequences many, many times. We're still working at associating each number with its corresponding amount and symbol, however. She's good at 0, 1 and sometimes 2, however she'll often point to an image with, say, 3 or 4 animals and count much higher. :) But all this will come, and we don't want to push her too much at this point to "get it right".

Here's a video of S and I having a "mostly guided play" session together which demonstrates some of her current abilities and tendencies.

These cards have the inate potential to be extremely versatile. As I mentioned earlier, they can be used to learn counting, number symbol/amount association, animal names and facts, adding, subtracting, sorting and grouping, and there are many variations possible on how these skills can be taught/reinforced. The Parent's Cards include some great suggestions, but numerous other techniques could certainly be envisioned as well. Due to this, I feel these cards could, indeed, continue to be both beneficial and interesting to children all the way from 1 to 5 years of age.

The one bone to pick I have with the Child's Cards pertains to Math & Logic #2 in particular. I don't love that the series within this set aren't internally or externally consistent - i.e. that each features entirely different collections of numbers, and that only one contains a 0 card. I'd prefer something like two series odd (1-19) and two even (2-20), or perhaps even all four from 11 to 20 (and then they could be used in conjunction with the Math & Logic #1 cards). I'd also like to see one whole series here feature just a single animal per card. All this could just be me, however; others may be all about the variation that's been included in this set.

A little more on the Parent's Cards. I feel that both sets do a great job overall introducing the Early Learning Method, describing the fundamental approach to using the cards and providing practical learning ideas. That said, I do have a few suggestions which I feel would make these cards even more valuable:
  • Convert them into a booklet. I don't see a specific benefit to having this section in card format, but a downside is that they can get out of order quite easily (inevitable with a resourceful toddler! ;)
  • Cite references. A few of the cards mention studies and/or study results; citing specific references here would provide more credibility and allow the parent to find out more (if desired).
  • Provide (loose) guidelines around when a child is developmentally ready to begin some of the more advanced activities suggested. (The cards do suggest that children are ready to start learning how to count by/before 1 year of age - but when are they ready to start learning basic addition and subtraction, for example?)
  • Enhance the "how to use these cards" section as follows:
    • Suggest how/when to use each specific series (or use all together)
    • In addition to the instructions for teaching numbers and counting, include similar plans for teaching basic addition and subtraction.

Overall, I highly recommend the ChildUp Early Learning Game Cards to parents who believe in the potential benefits of early education and are in search of tools to help their children get a head start.

Buy It:

ChildUp Early Learning Game Cards can be purchased either directly from the ChildUp website (note - you need to register for an account to order) or from Amazon. Cost is $7.99/set plus taxes & shipping. Order from the website now and take advantage of their Back to School Promo: FREE shipping until September 30th! While you're there, you can download their Early Learning Game Apps for iPhone/iPad - free from the App Store!

Win It:

One lucky Manager to Mom reader will win both sets of ChildUp Early Learning Game Cards (Math & Logic #1 and #2) of their own!

To enter, please fill out the Rafflecopter form below. Ensure that you follow all instructions within each entry option to ensure your entries are valid. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure:  The prize is being provided to the winner by ChildUp.  I received no financial compensation for writing my review or offering this giveaway, although I did receive the sample items free of charge.  This is my completely honest opinion above and may be different from yours. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Peek-a-boo!

I just love the uninhibited joy of a young child enjoying one of their favourite activities! Especially when it's my own precious li'l monkey. BOO!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

7 Tips for Balancing Work and Family Life

As anyone with children would certainly agree, life changes....dramatically....the moment your first little bundle of joy enters the world. Raising a child is an amazing experience - but it's also (at times) frustrating and exhausting, and introduces so many new tasks and responsibilities that it often feels there aren't enough hours in the day (let alone neurons in your brain)!

While off on maternity leave with our daughter S, I said more than once that motherhood was a much tougher role than the one I'd left (as Project Manager at a software company). And then I went back to work a year later and found myself with two jobs - because the "Mommy" part, of course, doesn't just go away! Balancing "formal" work and personal life during the last 9 months has certainly been challenging for our family, however along the way we've learned some helpful lessons & tips. We don't always abide by these (for one reason or another) but life is a lot more rewarding and less stressful when we do!

Here are our Top 7 tips. Hope you find a helpful tidbit or two in here as well!
  1. Keep work at work. My husband and I both work from home (for the same company, actually) which has a lot of perks but it's also particularly easy to let work bleed into personal/family time. This can be a slippery slope, so I've made it a personal policy to shut down my laptop when our daughter comes home from daycare so I can spend quality, non-distracted time with her. If necessary, the lappy can come back out later when she's sleeping. In the same vein, I strive to "keep home at home" during work hours, so that I feel accomplished at the end of the work day which makes it easier & more rewarding to flip the switch and enjoy family time that evening.

  2. Use your sick days. Many people (myself included, in a previous life ;) opt to "suck it up" and push through when they are ill, with a common rationalization being that the work will just build up and require extra time later if they take the day off now. While this may be true to some extent, overdoing it when under the weather is likely to prolong the illness, compounding the problem anyway. And once you become a parent, I've realized, you're particularly prone to both getting sick in the first place (since small children are such germ factories) and running yourself ragged when you are (since when you're sick, your little one(s) often are too so they require extra care). Not to mention the fact that spreading nasty bugs to coworkers is Never a Good Thing. So use those sick days when appropriate - doing so benefits both you and your company!  

  3. Organize/simplify your morning routine. For us, this includes (among other things) re-stocking the diaper bag the night before, having numerous quick & healthy options available for breakfast (fresh fruit, various hot & cold cereals, eggs, etc.) and sticking to a standard schedule whenever possible. I also aim to complete my own personal care routine and get in a little "me time" while our daughter's still sleeping, as this helps me feel more alert and outwardly focused once she's up. In general, the fewer little organizational things we need to actively think about and/or tackle each morning, the more relaxed & present we are to enjoy quality family time and then shift gears easily into work mode. On a related note, if you're a chronic snoozer and want to break the habit, check out this excellent method on how to get up with your alarm clock. It works!

  4. Make chores less of a "chore". First of all, find a division that works well between you and your partner. Since my husband and I are both working full time, we share chores pretty evenly and have naturally gravitated toward a division that caters to both our preferences and skill sets. For example, he finds dirty diapers gross and I wretch at the scent of decaying food, so I do poop spray-downs and he handles the composter bin. He has a green thumb so he keeps the plants alive, and I'm more sensitive to feng shui (slash neurotic about clutter - your pick) so I do most of the general tidying. Etc. With some chores (such as cooking and dishes) we take turns; whoever is more motivated or has more energy will take the reigns here. Speaking of dishes, we aim to wash (or at least rinse) them right away so we don't waste unnecessary time and resources soaking and scrubbing caked-on nastiness. Combining mindless, repetitive chores with more enjoyable activities (where possible) is also helpful - for example, folding laundry in front of a favourite show. Finally, it goes without saying that chores provide a great opportunity to teach children valuable life skills and reinforce positive traits - regardless of whether they're helping or "helping" (i.e. in the case of a toddler :).

  5. Practice healthy habits. I'll reduce the plethora of possible preamble here to the simple fact that healthy habits lead to more energy and increased alertness, which is obviously vital for balancing the demands of work and family life. Of course what's considered healthy is often under debate and/or specific to an individual or group, so here are some things I've learned that are both "no brainers" (in that there is little to no research refuting them) and universally applicable.
    • Limit your intake of sugars, fake sugars and processed food. Or cut them out entirely if you have the discipline. (I don't. :) These foods may taste good, feel satisfying and even give you a burst of energy in the short term, but ultimately they'll make you feel like crap. 
    • Eat copious quantities of The World's Healthiest Foods. To encourage both of these habits, keep food readily available around the house from the second list but not the first. 
    • Listen to your body. If you need to rest, rest. If something feels wrong, get it checked out.
    • Consider seeing a naturopath. Long story short, these folks focus on the optimal health and wellbeing of people as individuals - because what's healthy for your Uncle Bob may not be for you. Many benefits plans include naturopathic coverage, so make sure to check into this.
    • Look for opportunities to reduce toxins in your environment. For example, eat organic when appropriate & possible; choose personal care products with safe ingredients and use "green" cleaning approaches/products. (I personally {heart} Norwex! And no, I'm not a consultant (yet :) so there isn't anything in it for me to promote it.)
    • Ensure you are getting high-quality sleep. There are many articles out there on sleep quantity, which is obviously super-important. That said, I feel obtaining quality sleep is just as vital. If you're regularly waking up feeling sluggish, there might be something you can adjust in your sleep routine which will help. A different pillow or a new mattress, perhaps. In my case, my dental hygienest suspected that I'm a night-time mouth breather (based on the pattern of plaque on my front teeth) so I started paying more attention to this when drifting off at night. Indeed, I'm usually unable to breathe through my nose 100% clearly. I started using nasal strips and found this helped tremendously! I woke up feeling more rested, even on fewer hours of sleep. This is something I might look into further for a more permanent solution, as nasal strips get expensive with regular use (for one thing), but I'm glad I've nailed down something at least shorter time that works well!

  6. Make mealtimes manageable. I love food, and I (usually) love to cook. I'm into bold flavours & ingredients, world cuisines and, well, deliciousness (is that word?) in general. I got into a pretty consistent menu planning routine during my last maternity leave, and it worked out really well. But. Unfortunately these days, it's not as practical to do this because my husband and I commute regularly to our head office (~2 hour drive), and sometimes we're simply too short on time and/or exhausted to cook! As such, I've temporarily removed "advancing my culinary skillz" from the to do list and thrown in the towel on weekly meal planning in favour of quick & easy meal solutions which can be whipped together on the fly. Here are some tips we've learned for achieving this:
    • "The freezer is your friend" - When we do cook, we often make copious quantities so that one or more portions can be frozen for later meals. Soups, stews, chilis, cabbage rolls and rice dishes work nicely here. We also keep lots of frozen veggies and fruit on-hand for quick sides and smoothies (respectively). And, yes, we've been known to toss in the occasional store bought lasagna or pizza, and have learned not to feel (too) guilty about this! :) Finally, I recently tried out "freezer cooking" at SupperWorks and so far we're loving the meals - easily, healthy and tasty! I might do this again to feed the freezer before Little Man arrives, or if I can manage several hours of uninterrupted time I'll plan out a freezer cooking bonanza at home
    • Sometimes a "non-meal meal" is OK - For example, on a given night we might steam some beans from the garden, finish a leftover pasta salad and eat a bunch of fruit and nuts. And heck, we often feel better after these "meals" because they aren't nearly as heavy!
    • If we want gourmet, we go out and get it - Satisfying that craving for dim sum or hand-crafted ravioli is best left to the experts these days. Which leads nicely into the next point...

  7. Spend quality time with your partner. With work, children, events, chores and so many other little things competing for attention, nurturing a romantic relationship can easily fall to the bottom of the pile! Making a dedicated effort to prevent this is important not only to keep those wonderful sparks, common interests and all that other good shtuff that brought you together in the first place alive, but also to guard against empty nest syndrome. Quality time together could be in the form of an "official" date night, an engaging discussion, relaxing on the couch together in front of a good show, or good ol' "marital congress". :) The important thing is that you are alone together, enjoying yourselves and focusing on something outside of day-to-day responsibilities. On the date night topic, my husband and I are very fortunate to have numerous family members and two trustworthy babysitters who are happy to spend time with our li'l monkey, so if we feel like dinner and a movie out on a particular Friday night, we can usually swing it. But when we can't (or when we prefer not to), chilling out at home with a bowl of popcorn can be just as relaxing!

What tips have you learned to help balance work and personal life (or life in general) with your own family?

Disclosure:  I was selected as one of the Winter 2011 recipients for a Mom Central Canada Blogger Grant, and received compensation for the above post. I would like to thank Mom Central Canada for continuing to empower Canadian bloggers in the form of financial grants, opportunities to connect with great brands and many other helpful methods of support. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

RearZ Smitten Fitted Diaper: Review & Giveaway! (Closed)


For my latest review, I'm excited to be partnering again with RearZ, a cloth diapering company based in my hometown of Kitchener, Ontario. Back in February, I featured their Flair Snap Prefold and Couture Cover products during my Fluffy February review/giveaway event. This time around I'll be giving you the lowdown (as I see it) on their Smitten Fitted Diaper.

To read up on the company's history and core values, take a look at my previous post or visit the About Us section of the RearZ website.

Now, let's get to business! :)

Product Information:

Juicy, fluffly, luxurious.  You will be totally smitten with this diaper
Check out our Green America approved diaper! 
A very absorbent velour cotton diaper with some great features you will not want to miss.
  • pocket opening for night time boosters (like a newborn or small rearz prefold)
  • tongue design for faster drying time
  • available in X-Large for children who need diapers longer than average
  • certified organic dyes
  • available in snap and oversized velcro closures
  • cross over snaps for lean babes
  • low lint design
  • suitable for night time use
Small 6-15lbs, Waist range: 8"-18", Thigh range 4"-11.5", Rise Range is 12-15"
Medium 14-22lbs, Waist 10"-20", Thigh 6-14", Rise 13-16.5"
Large 23-40lbs, Waist 12"-24", Thigh 7-16", rise 15.5-19"
X-Large 40+ lbs, Waist 16"-28", Thigh 10-21", rise 17.5"-24" 

My Review:

Over the past few months, our daughter S (now 21 months) has had some challenges with diaper rash so we've been gravitating toward natural, breathable cloth diapering options, especially at night. As such, I jumped at the chance to review a RearZ Smitten given it is composed entirely of cotton and receives particularly positive feedback on its usage as a night diaper.

S hit the 20 pound mark early this year and has been gaining slowly but steadily, so I chose the large size Smitten for review purposes knowing the diaper would almost certainly fit until she's potty trained (side note: getting closer now! :) This would also allow testing of the lowest end of the recommended weight spectrum. I received an orange diaper with aplix closures.

My first thought - definitely a "hearty" diaper! Lots of absorbent material, and pleasant to the touch. The inner is nice & soft - not super-ridiculously soft like other diapers I own, but many/most of these others get their softness from synthetic materials like microfleece and minky. So a small trade-off here. I'd use the term "rugged" to describe the outer as it's a thick material with a microterry feel.

The waist aplix strip is long and wide, allowing for a highly customized fit.

Cross-over aplix is built in as well, allowing the slimmest of babes to get a nice, cozy fit. Similarly, cross-over snaps are available on the snap version of the Smitten.

(Side note - seriously, that would have to be One Skinny Baby, as our li'l girl is pretty trim and at the lowest end of the recommended weight spectrum for the large, yet we still secure the aplix tabs on the main strip as you'll see shortly.)

Perfectly-sized laundry tabs are built-in for prevention of diaper chains in the laundry.

Nice & stretchy elastic is built into the legs and back of the waist. The front of the waist is not elasticized, however.

The stitchwork around the edge of the diaper is solid and even with no loose threads. Definitely high-quality construction!

Finally, the design of the diaper is pretty neat. I' manages to be a regular all-in-one (in that the base shell contains absorbent material), a tongue-style all-in-one (with extra absorbency added by the "tongue") AND a pocket diaper, allowing Even More Absorbency to be added for the heaviest of wetters. 

Our li'l girl isn't a super-heavy wetter herself, so I was quite confident the diaper would have more than enough absorbency itself to provide complete overnight protection for her. And, upon testing the insertion of a bamboo insert, I certainly hoped this would be the case! The pocket is quite tight and challenging to stuff smoothly - definitely not a job for Dad! As such, I'd probably try laying the extra absorbency on top of the pocket, either above or below the tongue. So this is something I'd recommend looking to improve in future iterations of the design.

Another (more minor) gripe I have about the design is that the tongue is a bit lumpy/bulky where it is attached at the pocket opening. As such, I make sure to smooth & stretch it out before I put the diaper on our daughter so this isn't a bother to her.

Overall, the Smitten fits our daughter quite well. As I mentioned, she's at the lowest end of the weight spectrum for large, so she achieves the best fit with the aplix tabs pulled close together, but not overlapping. In this picture, it appears that the aplix itself is detaching, but it's actually just the non-aplix material at the edge of each tab curling outward a bit. So an aesthetic issue if anything.

The Smitten adds a li'l extra "junk in the trunk" (i.e. not the trimmest diaper in our stash), but it's certainly cute nonetheless! :)

And here you can see that the leg elastic gives her a snug yet comfy fit around her thighs.

During the testing period, S has worn her Smitten mainly overnight (with a wool cover) and it's performed admirably. We've had a perfect leak-free record during the 8-10 times she's worn it so far, and (as suspected) have never needed to add extra absorbency. She's pooped in it a few times as well, and there've been no issues with containment.

Care and maintenance of the Smitten is pretty easy. To prep, we just washed it 2x along with our regular diaper laundry and it was good to go. Solid poop generally stays on the tongue making spray-down a breeze (though looser poop which sneaks under the tongue is a bit more irksome as it can get trapped in the creases formed by the leg elastic). No special instructions for washing (just toss it in with your regular diaper load) though I do recommend machine-drying as both the inner and outer material gets pretty coarse/stiff when hung to dry. And (I'm sure this goes without saying) make sure to secure that aplix or the extra-large tabs will definitely "find some friends" in the dryer!

As for longevity, the stitching and elastic are holding up perfectly so far, and the inner is remaining nice and soft. The outer material is losing some softness over time, but this is only a minor concern. The aplix may become an issue in the longer run, however. The strip is already starting to get slightly pilly and the tabs doesn't hold quite as firmly as they did originally. I definitely prefer the aplix on the RearZ couture cover, which is remaining super-strong after several months of usage. Given this, I'd almost certainly opt for the snap closures if I were to purchase additional Smittens for our stash.

Time for the official evaluation!

+ Available colours are lush and vibrant
+/- Diaper does have a cute look, however it's not the trimmest option out there, particularly noticeable in the booty (especially when at the low end of the weight spectrum for a particular size?)
- Edges of aplix tabs are prone to curling when secured, so they stick out a bit
- Currently only available in 5 solid colours
Score: 3/5

+ Perfect leak-free record (8-10 usages along with a wool cover, focusing on night-time use) without adding extra absorbency
+ Pocket opening allows addition of extra absorbency for uber-wetters
+ No problems for us containing solid messes (note - not tested on EBF poop) 
+ Extra-long aplix strip + cross-over aplix allows for a perfect waist fit on babies of all sizes
+ Comes in an X-Large size for children who need diapers longer than average
Score: 5/5

Comfort & Health:
+ Made of a natural, breathable material (cotton velour)
+ Coloured using certified organic dyes
+ Inner is very soft to the touch
+ Does not appear to cause/exacerbate diaper rash when used with a wool cover
- Tongue flap is a bit lumpy where it's attached to the pocket; this could be a tad uncomfortable for baby if not smoothed down properly
- Material does not (on its own) wick away moisture from baby's skin,  so you might want to use microfleece liners to help with this (particularly overnight).
Score: 4/5

Ease of Use:
+ Oversized aplix closures make it super-easy to secure the diaper
+ AIO design means no stuffing/snapping of inserts required for "regular wetters"
+/- Prep and cleaning quite easy/straightforward. Spray-down is easy when poop stays on the tongue, but a bit more finnicky when it gets into the folds below. Machine-drying recommended to maximize softness. And don't forget to secure those laundry tabs!!
- Smoothing down the tongue where it attaches to the pocket opening is recommended so it isn't lumpy against baby.
- The pocket is very tight, making it quite challenging to stuff properly. Not a problem for us as our daughter hasn't needed extra absorbency, but could definitely be frustrating for parents of babies who do.
Score: 2.5/5

Quality & Durability:
+ Even, high-quality stitching around entire diaper; no loose threads
+ Elastics are tight & solid
+ Inner material remains soft & lush after multiple washes
- Aplix strip appears prone to pilling and loss of "grippiness" over time
- Outer material loses softness over time
Score: 3.5/5


Total "Diaper Awesomeness" Score: 18 / 25 (Good diaper. Recommended.)
Overall Comments: The RearZ Smitten is a hearty, well-performing cotton-based fitted diaper particularly recommended for night usage. Its unique design combines a tongue-style AIO with a pocket for extra absorbency (if needed), however the pocket is quite tight making it difficult to stuff. The aplix variant (while easy to use and great for achieving that perfect fit) appears prone to pilling/losing "grippiness", and as such, the snap variant may provide better longevity. The Smitten is available in 5 vibrant colours (using certified organic dyes) and achieves a cute (though bulkier than average) fit.

Approximate Stash Cost: $635.91 to $1059.85 + cost of covers
Calculation details: Most children would probably only need the S, M and L sizes from birth to potty training. Smitten are sold in packs of 5 (regular price $67.99 / S, $69.99 / M and $73.99 / L), so assuming you want 25 diapers in each of these sizes, the total would be $1059.85 plus the cost of whichever cover system(s) you opted to use. Note that Smitten 5-packs often go on sale at up to 40% off through various deal sites, so if you're a diligent deal hunter you could work this total down to $635.91!


Buy It:

RearZ products can be purchased directly from the company website or from select 3rd party retailers.

Win It:

One lucky Manager to Mom reader will win a RearZ Smitten fitted diaper of their own! Winner selects size, closure type (aplix or snaps) and colour. (Note: available colours may vary.)

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! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure:  The prize is being provided to the winner by RearZ.  I received no financial compensation for writing my review or offering this giveaway, although I did receive the sample item free of charge.  This is my completely honest opinion above and may be different from yours.