Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year’s Resolutions

I have struggled with the idea of New Year’s resolutions for the better part of 10 years. I used to make them, and then decided against it, after many fell by the wayside less than a month into the New Year.

Resolutions are funny things – if you don’t make any at all, you feel guilty; if you try and fail, you feel guilty. This guilt was enough to make me swear off resolutions for a few years. What I had forgotten, though, was the immense pride I felt when I actually followed through; how bettering myself, and achieving my goal, gave me such an amazing sense of accomplishment. What a feeling!

So this year I’ve decided to start fresh and get back to making some much-needed resolutions for 2012. It’s a great opportunity to teach my kids by example, to show my kids that Mama really can stick with it; that if I set my mind to do something, by golly, I will do it!

I know it won’t be easy, but I’ll have my little ones cheering me on. They’re my biggest fans and I don’t want to let them down.

Wishing you joy, health and happiness in the New Year – from all of us at Oliver’s Labels.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Best Gift

My daughter asked me for a present this morning. I told her she had to wait.

Kids are impatient by nature – heck, I’m impatient by nature! But, there are always lessons to be learned and this was the perfect time to teach her one. I asked her why she wanted a present now and didn’t feel she could wait until tomorrow. She simply said, “Because I really want one!”. That’s a typical 4-year-old response, and I couldn’t fault her for it. But, I explained to her that many kids don’t even get one present, let alone many, and that she is very fortunate to have everything she does – a healthy family, a wonderful home, great food to eat, and lots of love! It’s simply a bonus to get special things like presents at Christmas. I reminded her of the baskets for the Salvation Army we contributed to at her school; of the toys we gave to kids who are less fortunate than us. She looked at me and I could see a glimpse of understanding in her eyes - that she realized she was luckier than many children – then she gave me a huge hug. That was the end of asking for a present “right now”.

As parents, we are always looking for ways to instill gratitude in our kids, and there’s no better time to do that than at the holidays. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or nothing in particular, it’s a festive time of year - ripe with opportunity to reach out to others, show a little kindness and be great examples to our kids. 

So, if you see the charitable bell-ringers on the street this holiday season, give your kids a few coins and let them drop them in the kettle. It will make their hearts swell - and teach them that they can experience that amazing feeling, not just at Christmastime but any day of the year, by giving to those less fortunate. Now, that's the best present they could receive!

Happy Holidays from all of us at Oliver’s Labels!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Things I Said I'd Never Do...

1. Let my kids watch a lot of TV… check.
2. Occasionally resort to bribing… check.
3. Eat sweets before dinner… check.
4. Play with plastic bags (albeit while I’m sitting next to him)… check.
5. Miss bath night - again!… check.

This is a checklist of things I said I’d never do. I promised myself I wouldn’t resort to any of the above to get through the day.

Until. I. Became. A. Mom.

Wow, what an eye-opener!! It is so much easier being the fun Aunt or babysitter than it is being the responsible parent, isn’t it?

While I don’t espouse to be the best mom ever, there are some facts of life I can’t ignore – I work from home and I parent my children full-time (no nanny!), so something’s got to give. That’s where the list above comes in.

1. They say the TV becomes the babysitter and, whoever “they” are, seem to be right. That being said, each day I set aside time to do an activity with the kids (crafts, drawing, etc) or take them out to play. And, every night without fail, we read together for 30 minutes (or more, depending on if they sucker me into another story!).

2. Bribing (or compromising, as I like to call it) happens when my toddler has just been put down for the night and my daughter wants/needs/has to have something… another story, a drink of water, a few more minutes before lights-out. That's when I occasionally give in and let her have what she wants. I'm too tired to fight it.

3. Picture this… it’s right after Halloween and I’ve already promised (see “bribing”, #2) that my daughter could have a Halloween treat after school. Technically that’s before supper, which breaks the “no sweets before dinner” rule. You can’t win!

4. Sometimes a plastic bag is what my toddler wants to play with. It may be the only thing that will keep him quiet and occupied. So what do I do? I sit next to him and let him play with it because it makes him happy.

5. I don’t know when my daughter’s disdain for bath time started. Actually, she doesn’t mind the bath, just the washing part. (Make sense? It doesn’t to me, either.) So, sometimes I let it go… it’s not going to kill her to miss a bath, yet it saves my sanity occasionally. A decent trade-off, no?

I know of a lot of moms who would never admit they do the things on my list because there are a lot of other parents out there who would judge them. I, however, believe in laying it all out there… foibles and all. None of us are perfect; we do the best we can. Yes, there are times when I question my parenting choices, but there are just as many times when I’m amazed by my kids' kindness, wit, compassion and manners.  People even comment on those things, which makes me think I’m not doing such a bad job after all.

So the next time you find yourself doing one of the things you said you’d never do... take heart - all those "judgy" parents do the same things, they just don't admit it!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Winter Fun & Frivolity

Whether your child’s school break starts before the holidays or after, odds are you have a two-week stretch of vacation that will test your creativity and push it to its limits! So, we at Oliver’s Labels are here to help!

1. Bake cookies with the kids  - yes, we know, it’s been said before (many times before!). But that’s for a reason – it works! What kid doesn’t wanna get elbow deep in cookie dough and chocolate chips? ‘Nuff said.

2. If you’ve got snow/cold weather, take full advantage of it. Tobogganing, skating, snowball fights, snow angels…whatever floats their boats. If they’re old enough, send ‘em out fully insulated and let them go wild outside with all the neighbours’ kids. Just make sure when the frozen crew decides to come inside, there’s hot chocolate waiting for them! (And maybe some of those cookies they made…) Bonus – your child(ren) will probably sleep like a rock; snowball fights are tiring!

3. Go to the movies. There are so many great family movies out at this time of year so why not enjoy a blustery afternoon inside with a bag of popcorn and your favourite little person?  Your local museum would also be a good bet… many have additional children’s programs scheduled during school breaks.

4. I Spy Nature Walk – kids love contests, so why not get outside and see who can be the first to spot items on a nature list? Items could include various species of trees (easy-to-identify varieties like Maple, Oak, etc.), birds sitting on a wire, acorns or chestnuts, a red car (or blue, or purple…), random numbers (try to spot them on signs or on buildings). You get the idea! When you’re done, the “winner” gets to choose what treat everyone will enjoy back at home – or the local coffee shop. 

5. Visit your local rec or community center.  Many community centers have programs for kids during the holiday break, or open up their facilities during non-program times for free play. My local rec center, for example, doesn’t run any regular programs during December, so they open up their gymnasium two mornings a week for families to drop-in and play. It’s a great way to get some exercise and let your kids get out all their energy while having fun.

6. Take your kids to your local home improvement center for craft/building projects, most of which are free (or very inexpensive). You need to register in advance, in most cases, so check out their websites, below, for more information. 

U.S.: Home Depot    Lowe’s  

Canada: Home Depot    Lowe’s

7. Have a “Random Acts of Kindness” Day, where you and your kids brainstorm ideas to make a difference in someone’s life. Ideas include: shoveling an elderly neighbour’s walkway, making muffins to welcome someone who just moved onto your street, calling relatives you haven’t spoken to in awhile just to say “hi” (it’ll make their day!). Kids love when their opinions are valued, so give them free reign to come up with a kind gesture that will put a smile on someone’s face – and make them feel great, too!

Whatever you choose to do, have fun! The options are as endless as your imagination so let it run wild!

Have a great winter break. J

Monday, December 12, 2011

Holiday Helpers

As the song goes, "It's the most wonderful time of the year!". And, for the most part, I agree. However, there are some days when (no matter how hard I try) the craziness of the season makes me, well, crazy.

If you read this blog regularly, you already know that I haven't yet stepped foot in a bricks-and-mortar store to do my Christmas shopping, so you're probably wondering, "what's she so stressed about?". I mean, really... no crowds and crying/whining kids to contend with; no racing around like a mad woman trying to track down that "must-have" gift of 2011... just web-surfing, mouse-clicking, credit-card-entering and voilá - you're done!

Well, it's not quite that simple. (But, you knew that! ;)

As parents, we know that instilling traditions in our kids and giving them the wonderful experiences we enjoyed as kids (or wish we did) is more important than any of the material things we could ever buy them. We bend over backwards, stay up late, do whatever we need to make the holidays special, because these are memories our children will have forever. We want to do activities with our kids, but sometimes need to get creative in order to get our tasks done but still have fun.

So, here are a few "holiday helpers" that just might take some of the insanity our of your schedule.

1. Baking with the kids 
Okay, when I saw this one, I laughed. You see, it's meant to be a joke, but I think it's a great idea. While I'm busy making cookies "with" my kids, they can be playing around with this and we're all happy! No little hands picking their noses then putting them in the cookie dough, yet they're having a blast "decorating" the cookies. (Yes, I know, it's a cupcake decorator, but they don't have to know that... cookies would work too, no?)

2. Crafts, crafts and MORE crafts!
My daughter can't get enough of crafts... and it couldn't make me happier. :) Visit your local dollar store and stock up on seasonal foam cut-outs, stick-on jewels, pom poms, stickers and whatever else your kid(s) will enjoy. Then, give 'em a glue stick, some washable markers and let them go nuts. Trust me, you will have a solid hour or more to yourself. If you haven't already tried this, DO IT! :)

3. Give them chores
This one sounds like it would go over like a lead balloon with the kids, but it's all in how you present it. First off, buy some of our Stick-eez™ clothing labels. Then on the next cold blustery day, make some hot chocolate, put on a holiday show (Frosty the Snowman, anyone?) and drop a huge pile of clothes and the pack of labels in front of the kids. Show them where you want the labels to go (on the clothing tags) and tell them you need stickers on all the clothes. Kids love stickers no matter what kind they are... they'll do it (and save you some time)!

4. Babysitter swap
Let's face it, babysitters are expensive. If you had to pay someone to watch your kids every time you wanted to step out to run errands or go grocery shopping sans kids, you'd be broke! Instead, get a group of neighbourhood moms together and work out a babysitting swap schedule. If there were five moms, each mom could take a day and, say, each afternoon a different mom could rotate watching the whole lot of kids after school. The kids will have a blast hanging out with their friends and, for only 2 hours of craziness, you'd get 8 hours of sanity in return!

5. Make meals in advance
At this time of year, I don't even think about making supper until 5:30 or 6:00... and by that time, I'm stuck! So, take one Saturday afternoon and make a few batches of the family's favourites - lasagna, meatballs, eggplant parmesan - and freeze them. It'll help you to enjoy mealtime with your kids and not get harried when life gets busy. (It comes in handy when unexpected guests pop by, too!)

Here's to a fun, memorable and, most of all, stress-free holiday!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Travel Tricks

I’ve never been a fan of (the idea of) travelling long distances with my kids. Car trips are one thing, but air travel… well, that’s a whole other ball game!

I think part of my apprehension comes from the fact that hubby isn’t the best traveller. There’s anxiety and stress around deadlines. Have we left early enough? What if there’s traffic on the way to the airport? What if the plane is delayed and we miss our connection? The list goes on…   So, the mere thought of travelling by plane with 2 kids under the age of 5 really stresses me out! 

It doesn’t have to be that way, though.  A good friend of mine flies with her two kids (under 4 years of age!!) all the time. She is my go-to resource for all questions air-travel-related. Over the years, I’ve picked up a few tips from her for those (rare) occasions when we fly.

  1. Always put a change of clothes and a few small packable activities, like crayons and paper, small travel games, storybook, etc. in your carry-on.

  2. Since kids get cranky when they are hungry or thirsty, make sure you bring lots of healthy, travel-friendly snacks, like applesauce cups (bring a spoon!), raisins and crackers.  Don’t forget to bring a sippy cup… but you’ll probably want to empty it prior to entering security (liquids restrictions) and fill it up with bottled water once you’re settled and awaiting your flight. 

  3. Buy one new toy or activity prior to your trip. Pack it away as a surprise for the plane ride. It’s your secret weapon when you need to keep your child distracted in a pinch. 

  4. Hand-held devices like iPods and other portable movie players are a sanity-saver - I can speak from personal experience on this one!! If your budget allows, buy one! If you don’t want to spend full price, Craigslist, Kijiji or eBay Classifieds have used ones for good prices, so check often. Rebember to grab a set of headphones so your child won’t bother those around him/her with the soundtrack to their favourite movie! 

  5. Car seats: every country (heck, state and province!) has different regulations around car seats. My personal opinion is that you can never be too safe, so I always ensure my kids have the highest level of protection while in the car, even if it’s not required by the jurisdiction we’re visiting. To make life a bit easier, there are companies who rent car seats at your destination. Many car rental agencies even have car seat rental as an option, so you know your child will be safe all stages of your journey.
  6. Label everything. I can't stress this enough!! Your toddler will drop his sippy cup while in transit to your connecting flight, and your kindergartner will somehow manage to leave her iPod on the plane. That's just the way it is! Make sure to get a Found-it™ code on your labels, so you have a better chance of any lost items being returned to you.

All of us at Oliver's Labels wish you safe, fun travels this holiday season!  Hopefully, these tips will help you while you brave the holiday rush!!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Giving Back: SickKids Hospital

It's amazing that, no matter how harried our lives become, when we take time out to help others, it changes our perspective and lifts our spirits. At some point, we all think about how we can give back in some small way, and with so many deserving charities and causes out there, it often takes a personal experience to help us focus on one.

Here at Oliver's Labels, that epiphany happened to our founder, Debbie, after a close relative ended up at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto. She saw young patients going through a wide range of treatments, while the wonderful staff worked hard to keep up their spirits. This was an experience that made a real impact on her. And, as her company grew out of its infancy, so did her need to give back to SickKids.

Susie from the Child Life Dept. at SickKids (at right) with
Lisa from Oliver's Labels
Last week, that dream of giving back was realized. We now provide fun, custom labels to the Child Life Department and to some patients at the hospital.

Being in a hospital is no fun, but we hope that, in some small way, our labels will brighten someone's day. We're honoured to be able to contribute to such a wonderful organization that is not only a world leader in pediatric healthcare, but whose staff is known for their immense caring & compassion... making a real difference in the lives of kids.

If you volunteer, donate or give back in some way, we'd love to hear about it. :) We'll post stories of how our fans are making a difference in their communities on our Facebook page and here, on our blog, so that everyone can be encouraged and inspired to make their mark as well!

SickKids is always appreciative of donations, whether big or small. If you are able to give back in some small way, here’s how you can do it:

 Here is a list of some much-needed items:
·      Matchbox cars
·      Jewelry
·      Travel games
·      Dolls
·      Figurines
·      Decks of cards
·      Activity books
·      Decorative pens/pencils
·      Small craft activities