Living In Smaller Spaces

Growing up I can remember swearing that when it was my turn, I’d have a large home over a small one, and ideally a sprawling one (single storey) rather than stacked. The rationale was that it drove me crazy to feel like I was in close quarters with the rest of my family, particularly during my teenage years. Larger home meant more opportunity for privacy and bungalow meant potentially greater ‘distance’ from others.

Fast forward to 2 years ago and I found myself in the complete opposite situation. Living in the Pacific Northwest, we, like so many others found ourselves in a relatively small apartment (~1,100 square feet) spread across 2 levels. Fine for two of us, but what about baby?

Fast forward to today and we find ourselves with a relatively happy and healthy toddler in that same apartment. So far things are working well, but I have no illusions that were he to be in his teens he would see it very differently. As well, I’m starting to realize that even at his young age it would be nice to have some additional space or at least that we did a better job of using our existing space.

The following article, Chill-Out Corner: A PositiveTool for Learning Emotional Self Regulation, draws attention to the fact that as our toddler has continued to grow and mature I may not have continued to consider his needs and revisit the layout and makeup of our home environment. While the article discusses the subject in the context of a place for a child to go when he needs to ‘chill out” I think it applies equally to the discussion of other, more general scenarios as well. Does your child have an environment that allows him or her to deal with life in a safe, comforting, familiar way?

Our son has a need for privacy. He has a need for a safe, comfortable space. While he has his room, we haven’t done a good job (in my opinion) of making sure that its decorated / designed appropriately and in such a way that he sees it as HIS ROOM. Today it serves a shared purpose. We store random stuff in his closet. We hang our coats on his wall. Two of the walls are bare. The lighting doesn’t provide a warmth that makes you want to spend time in that space.

Time to get to work!

Christmas 2012. The Haul.

So, we’ve failed. Clearly. We’ve failed in our promise to ourselves that we wouldn’t allow the toy situation get out of control. I clearly remember visiting friends’ homes and cringing at the piles of toy cars and sports equipment that just seemed to occupy every nook and cranny of their previously tidy homes.

We promised ourselves that wouldn’t be us.
We failed in that promise.

As a result of Christmas 2012 I now have a new project on my hands. Identify, review and select Vancouver-based services that accept used toys, kids books and children’s clothing and put them, or their proceeds to good use.

While our situation may not be as bad as most, our little guy certainly has more toys right now than he needs, or frankly than he can manage. More concerning, where prior to Christmas he showed little interest in either presents or the idea of new toys, he now considers anything loosely resembling a present as being something that should be his, and to my dismay he’s asked me if he can have “new cars.”

I figure there’s no time like the present to try and change that attitude and to reduce both the clutter and amount of distraction for him in and around our home.

I’m open to any suggestions for worthy recipients of toys, clothes and books in good to excellent condition. Currently I’m thinking of:
Vancouver Public Library for the books.
Big Brothers for toys and clothes that our friends’ kids won’t be able to use.

Traveling With A Toddler. Crazy Seat Prices Over 2 Years Old

Ok, so our toddler is over 2 years old and we’ve benefited several times from the ‘lap infant’ policy of most airlines in the past. What’s got me is that this holiday two things have changed.

1. Our little guys, as stated above, is now over 2 years old and so no longer qualifies to be a lap infant. This despite the fact that I doubt he’ll sit in his seat for more than take-off and landing.
2. This year airfares in Canada are CRAZY!!! 3 people (2 adults, one toddler) flying from the west coast to Toronto totals almost $3,000. THREE THOUSAND DOLLARS.

This year we’re lucky and I was able to book our flights on points, but it wasn’t easy. The number of points required was higher than normal, and our program’s ‘partner airlines’ had conveniently blacked out the entire holiday season such that we weren’t able to get a direct flight and have to ping-pong through Chicago of all places (praying for no holiday snowstorms).

All this despite having booked a couple months in advance. Good times.

What makes it all the more frustrating is that a couple weeks ago I booked a work flight 5 days in advance that saw me bounce from Western Canada, to Salt Lake City, then to Silicon Valley then back to Canada and the entire trip cost less than $700. 5 days in advance.

Dear airlines. Please note that unless fares change this is likely to be the last holiday flight east for us for a long while. Further, it might help to ease the irritation if you didn’t have a UI that suggested that there would be some discount for children when there’s not. It’s very irritating to specify the number of adults, then the number of children and then be prompted what what age (greater than 2) the child is when there’s no change in fee. Might as well just ask how many passengers over 2 and be done with it, then allow the purchaser to confirm that there are adults with the group.

So irritated.

Things To Do On A Rainy Weekend #1. Visit A Fire Station

This past weekend was a mess weather-wise. Hard, continuous rain, high winds and generally cool temperatures meant the park, the beach and even the woods were out. As chance would have it we were visited by some firemen who were doing random checks of buildings in our neighbourhood. While chatting with them they mentioned that if we ever “saw the door open” at the local fire hall we should feel free to come knocking.

Fast forward 2 hours and we were standing in front of the fire station as those same firemen arrived back. True to their word they opened the doors and invited our little guy in to see the trucks.

Not surprisingly he loved it. They let him sit in the seats, both back and front of the big fire truck as well as one of the smaller ones. They suggested he try on the helmet, which he refused but also showed him the various hoses, and other equipment. Before we left we were provided with a bit of swag to take with us so he’d remember his visit.

I don’t know how often they have to do this, but I expect its a regular occurrence and I thank them for it. So, if the weather turns on you and you’re looking for something to occupy a few hours on a weekend don’t forget about your local fire station. Your kids will love it.

Halloween? What Halloween?

Ok, I’m disappointed, and more than a little relieved that our little one doesn’t really ‘get’ the whole Halloween thing. Why? West coast weather is why. No don’t get me wrong, what we experienced out here doesn’t hold a candle to the challenges faced by those folks on the East coast dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Not one bit, however it was unfortunate that on Halloween we experienced the heaviest downpours I can remember since I moved up here.

All you kids who didn’t make it to our door to take the candy on offer, I understand. If you come back today the candy’s all yours.

To those 7 brave souls (and the Stormtrooper parents) who did come by. My hat is off to you.

Falling Into The Marketing Trap – Automoblox Toy Cars For Me Or The Baby?

Recently I found myself picking up a couple Automoblox mini vehicles from Manhattan Toy for my son without even considering for a second whether he would enjoy the toy. Essentially I think I fell into a potential Apple trap where marketing, design and packaging made me pull the trigger without doing the evaluation that I would normally do before purchase. Fortunately, in this case I think I made the right call.

Basically I’ve bought 2 Automoblox mini vehicles for my son, and I find them shockingly addictive. Fortunately he seems to love them as well so I don’t feel so bad buying them. That said, I’ve also ordered 4 additional as ‘stocking stuffers’ for the Christmas Holiday that is still 2 months away. The first vehicles I bought are the following:
Automoblox Mini T900 Truck
Automoblox Mini C9-S Berlinetta

Here’s what I like about them.

  1. They look great. My opinion, you judge for yourself

  2. No sharp metal or hard plastic edges. We have leather couches and I’ve been really surprised how many toys that don’t look risky are actually able to leave marks on the leather. The Automoblox cars we have today are smooth enough that there have been no issues with furniture.
  3. They come apart and can be rearranged into new vehicle combinations. Each vehicle body breaks into 2 or more major pieces as well as the windshield can be removed as can the wheels. We haven’t shown our little guy that the wheels come off so he’s not tempted to put them in his mouth, but he enjoys disassembling and reasseembling the other components across vehicles.
  4. They appear to be pretty robust. We haven’t lost or broken any element of these cars yet despite very heavy use.

I can’t comment on the larger Automoblox cars, but I assume they are equally well put together, if not moreso.

Keeping Breakfast Interesting – Toddler Version. Banana Pancakes From Scratch.

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this previously or not, but our typical breakfast consists of some variant of a smoothie with the most common including the following ingredients:

2 bananas
1 huge scoop of peanut butter
1 – 1.5 cups of quick oats
~200mL of yogurt. If using peanut butter, then vanilla, else fruit flavored
milk or more recently coconut almond milk
BLEND!!

While this continues to be consumed with enthusiasm, there is also a new found appreciation for pancakes and waffles. For a short while we fell into the bad habit of having waffles once or twice a week, and using frozen store-bought waffles to meet the need. Not healthy.

So, we’ve started to make large batches of pancakes from scratch. We store them in the fridge and toast them in the morning as needed. This has been a huge hit and provides a nice alternative to smoothies especially as the weather is getting cooler. I’m including the typical ingredients below for a single batch. Usually I’ll make a double batch of pancakes since we’re storing them anyway.

1.5 cups of flour
0.5 tsp of baking powder
0.25 tsp of baking soda
WHISK!

In another bowl:
1.5 cups of milk
2 teaspoons of lemon juice
1 tablespoon of sugar
WHISK!

Melt about a tablespoon of butter and add to the milk mixture after about 5 minutes
Add an egg to the milk mixture.
WHISK!

Add the wet mixture to the dry and stir with a fork. Lumps are fine.

Mash a very ripe banana with a fork. Stir it into the batter.

That’s it. Now it’s time to cook the pancakes and enjoy.

The Growing Toddler Book List. Old Favorites And New Additions

The Little Blue Truck series continues to be a favorite with our little guy, with specifically Little Blue Truck and Little Blue Truck Leads the Way factoring into each evening’s bedtime reading on any given day.

We figured it was time to throw some new material into the mix and after reviewing a number of different sites got the sense that Mo Willems’ Knuffle Bunny series was worth a shot. Note that we didn’t start with the original Knuffle Bunny book, which might have been a mistake assuming that it served to introduce characters. Instead we started with Knuffle Bunny Free (An unexpected diversion) and Knuffle Bunny Too (A case of mistaken identity). The books are short, funny and interesting in that they overlay the cartooned story characters on photographs of real places and things. While the first read wasn’t particularly well received, we’ve found that Knuffle Bunny Free is now a bedtime favorite and Knuffle Bunny Too has a place in the rotation as well.

I should also mention that Knuffle Bunny books are available in Kindle format on Amazon, as are the Little Blue Truck books which will make them the obvious choice for any coming flights or extended travel.

Best of all we get a bit of a breather from what had become a nightly sequence of two Little Blue Truck books (not that there’s anything wrong with Little Blue Truck books, but daddy needs a breather every so often).

So, what are the top 5 books on our toddler’s reading list in order?
1. Little Blue Truck
2. Knuffle Bunny Free
3. Little Blue Truck Leads the Way
4. Super Duck
5. Knuffle Bunny Too

Exercise Ideas Needed For Rainy Winter Days In The Pacific Northwest

Walking in the woods in the Pacific Northwest

We live in the Pacific Northwest and as such, winter brings very little snow, but an absolute TON of rain and gray. Last year we managed pretty well as our little guy wasn’t terribly mobile, or at least didn’t require a large expanse in order to wear himself down. This winter promises to be different. VERY different. Thus far he’s occupied himself before bath time by running from the front deck window through the living room, dining room and kitchen over and over. While this does seem to tire him out, it reminds me of the monotony of a hamster wheel and I can’t bear to condemn him to that all season.

So, what are our choices?
1. Continue with the hamster wheel approach.
2. Ignore the rain, dress appropriately and get outside for walks anyway.
3. Look for activities insides elsewhere.
4. Have friends over, and vice versa.
5. Other?

At this point I’m looking at a combination of numbers 2, 3 and 4 :)
Coordinating activities elsewhere certainly seems like a good way to burn off energy, do it in a warm, dry environment and get the little guy playing with new friends (and allowing his mother and I to meet new people in the neighbourhood as well). My only pause with this relates to getting myself organized and learning what the city has to offer someone of his age, and coordinating this after childcare and between meals, bath time and sleep. Just writing it has me thinking it will easily tire him out, as it will us.

Ignore the rain and get outside anyway. This has been our weekend approach given a number of small parks in the area, well-groomed woods and a beach / seawall easily accessible. The challenge here being that someone of his age does not care about waterproofing or hypothermia which leads to attempts to launch himself into rather deep puddles despite being deep in the woods and only halfway through the walk. Good times, and requiring of planning for the unforeseen with additional backups boots, clothes etc on hand.

Have friends over. This one seemed to be the easiest and most obvious, but also the one that hasn’t come together cleanly at all. Short of quick visits on the way home from day care we’ve found challenges with coordinating with parents who have their own commitments in the evening, dinners planned and so forth. With post-day care pickups occurring at roughly 5pm that gives a short window before dinner followed by a short window between dinner and bath time. Add to this coordination across families and you can understand the challenges.

I would LOVE to hear how some other folk out there coordinate their weekdays and weekends in order to allow for playtime in the evenings with others as well as ensure appropriate, safe exercise / exhaustion before bed :)