Thursday, November 14, 2019

Five Experience Christmas Gift Ideas for Toddlers

There has been a bit of a surge in interest in the last few years about experience gifts versus physical gifts. With the popularization of minimalism, sustainability, and intentional living, experience gifts seem like a no-brainer. As a parent, I completely see the merits of limiting the “stuff” and avoiding overwhelm – not only for your children, but also for you as the parent keeping it all in order! I have been brainstorming what we could gift to Isabelle this year and came up with these ideas.

Weekly Activities/Clubs
If your child is involved in a regular, scheduled activity, or if there is something you were thinking of signing them up for, this makes a great gift! Dance, swimming, gymnastics, hockey, music – the possibilities are endless. As for what they can actually open on Christmas morning, you could purchase something they need for the class or activity. A bodysuit and tights for dance, a swimsuit for swimming lessons, skates for hockey, etc. Or, you could give them a small toy that emulates the activity, which you could use to help explain the activity if it is new to them or they are very young.

Visit to Local Attractions
You likely have a museum, children’s centre, or special local attraction available to you – why not get your child a pass to that? They will have fun spending time with you, and it would likely be educational, too.

Road Trip
This might not be for all children or families, especially if time in the car is more stressful than fun. But if you like short trips, consider a road trip to somewhere new or somewhere you have been before but could explore a little more.

Family Vacation
While a road trip could definitely be seen as a family vacation, this category is meant to be more of a larger vacation. Some families like to forgo presents to take a trip together instead. I am a huge fan of this idea, if your budget can accommodate it.

A Visit to the Bookstore or Library
Instead of purchasing your child books to open on Christmas Day, let them know that you will spend an afternoon together choosing a few books for them to enjoy. This can be at a bookstore or a library, but the key component is spending time together looking through all of the options and making the selection together.

I came up with plenty more ideas for older children, but it was a little bit harder to think of things that made sense for toddlers. What else would you add to the list?

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Our Living Room & Fireplace Before and After

I cannot remember if I shared this information on the blog before, but in August 2017 my parents moved from Saskatoon to Regina and my husband and I moved into their home here in Saskatoon. We have been super happy with this arrangement – this is more house than we could even rent, nevermind buy; there is a huge backyard; there is a wonderful neighbour community; and I grew up here. When I look around at the different paint and design features, I see the hard work that my father put in to making our home beautiful and updated. There definitely is not anything that we needed to change or update, just a few things that could stand to become more our personal taste. We painted the living room from beige to a warm white within six months of moving in, and that is it. 

We have been taking our time with the whole house, but since the living room is the centre of the house and the first room you see when you enter, we wanted to focus our efforts here first. It took a while for us to decide to paint over the oak touches. While the tone of the wood was not really our style, we are not people that tend to jump right to painting over beautiful, great condition wood. We ultimately decided to go with white over the wood to brighten up the room, and then a blue on the walls (Soft Chinchilla - Benjamin Moore) as a contrast and statement.

Another large part of why we worked on this room first was the tiles on the hearth. The original ones were loose when we moved in (they had been on my dad's to-do list for years). When our daughter was starting to crawl, she discovered that she could loosen the grout. All of a sudden, the tiles were off and the little pieces of grout were finding their way into her pudgy little hands on their way to her mouth. We obviously did not want her to be eating the grout, so my husband removed everything that was loose or could possibly become loose soon. What was left was about half of the tiles and a half-naked hearth. My husband and I do not have similar styles when it comes to home decor, and we are still pretty new at this, so it took a very long time to come to a consensus and we lived with this sad hearth much longer than I would have liked to.

Once we were ready to go, though, my husband did a great job building the wooden sides to the hearth to match my vision. Instead of tiling the top and sides as it had previously been, we decided to tile the top but go with wooden sides with a curved wooden edge - this was my number one priority so that it was a bit more child-safe. We really struggled to agree on the look, and particularly the size, of the tiles to use, but we ultimately ended up with these marble-look subway tiles, and I could not be more happy with them,

This room does not have any exterior walls, so there are no direct windows to the outdoors (the windows flanking the fireplace go into the sunroom). There are pockets during the day, especially during the bright, reflective winter, that allow light into this room, but the majority of the day sees this room in darkness. As such, it is important to us to make design decisions that maximize the light and brighten the room when we can.

We still have plenty we want to do in this room, including changing out the baseboards and even the floor, but it will be a long, slow process. We haven't really styled or decorated the mantel yet, either. We tend to layer pieces over time, and I will be decorating for Christmas soon.

Another thing we did in the living room was remove the built-in, look-through shelves that separated the entrance from the living room. This still isn't totally complete, though, because we have some patching and painting to do, so I will share that update when it's fully finished.

What are some updates that you have done recently in your home, or that you hope to do soon?

Products used:
Benjamin Moore Regal Select Interior Eggshell - Soft Chinchilla (Wall)
Benjamin Moore Advance Interior Pearl - Distant Gray (Woodwork)

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Household Items to Stock Up On Before Baby Arrives

I recently shared a post about the practical ways I am preparing for baby. In that post, I mention stocking up on household items before baby comes so that you don’t have to worry about them for a while after baby arrives. I had a lot of people ask what exactly I stocked up on last time and what I’ll stock up on this time, so I thought I would share a list. I am not stocking up on some of these items this time around, because I have more than enough on hand to get us through the first three months, but I wanted to include a more comprehensive list for someone starting from scratch.

Dish soap
Dishwasher tabs
Garbage bags
Ziploc Bags (multiple sizes)
Saran wrap
Tin foil
Parchment paper
Paper Towel

Toilet bowl cleaner
Multi-purpose Cleaner (or use the ingredients below to make your own)
Ingredients to make different cleaners (empty spray bottles, rubbing alcohol, white vinegar, dish soap, essential oils, baking soda) 

Vinegar (in place of fabric softener)
Stain remover

Body Wash
Bar Soap
Dental floss
Specific skincare (one backup of each item)
Toilet paper
Hand soap
Cotton rounds

If you start stocking up a couple months ahead of time, you can also wait until the items are on sale, which is actually a great habit to get into if you’re trying to be budget-conscious and you have some storage space to spare. Instead of waiting until you are on the last bit of a product or the last roll of paper towel, when you grab that last item add it to your list and keep your eye out for the next couple weeks to wait for the sale. Sales tend to go in cycles of six weeks, and you will eventually notice the patterns in your area. But I can dive into that another time if you’re interested.

Is there anything else you would add to this list of items to stock up on?

Monday, November 4, 2019

Practical Ways to Prepare for Baby

I recently shared a post about how I am preparing for maternity leave in Canada. As I wrote that post, I realized there were a lot of other practical ways that I am preparing for Baby #2 that I thought I should share. A few things that I am doing to prepare for when baby arrives are preparing myself mentally for a different schedule, making some very loose plans for activities or events, making plans for meals/food, stocking up basic supplies, and making a list of people I can reach out to for help.

A Different Schedule
It is a big shift to go from working full-time, Monday to Friday, to being home all day every day. While my introverted self loves it, I actually need to be prepared to push myself into a little bit more of a schedule. I can easily fall into laziness (especially with the excuse of a new baby), and I do not want to do that. Thankfully Isabelle is pretty structured, so I know I’ll need to be at least a little bit more scheduled for her, but I also do not want to rely on her to keep me in check! I have a rough idea of the kind of schedule I want to aim for, based on my experience with Isabelle, but I know it might be extremely different with this baby, and I am prepared to show myself grace and allow for changes. This, of course, is only after I have taken time to rest and heal during the Fourth Trimester.

Planning Activities
Just like my plan for my schedule, I have a loose plan for activities and events that I want to get to with the kids. Things like mom groups, mommy and baby exercise classes, recurring playdates (maybe even hosting a regular group one??), and mid-week visits to both sets of grandparents are on my list and slotted into my mental calendar. I want to take advantage of this amazing time at home, and for that I need a plan (even if it changes).

In terms of food, I find I am not the best for preparing freezer meals. Lisa from the blog Farmhouse on Boone recently did a different kind of freezer cooking prep that I think I might try to emulate. Instead of preparing full-on meals, she cooked up meal components that her family enjoys and that can be mixed and matched to make meals. So, although it might not be quite as easy as pulling out of the freezer and putting into the oven, it cuts the prep time considerably.

I also recently started a Meal Train program at my church that I fully intend on signing up as a recipient for.

Household Supplies
Before my last maternity leave, I watched all the YouTube videos, read all the blogs, and found all the pins on Pinterest about how to prepare for baby. Some of my favourite tips had nothing to do with the baby at all; they were about the function of your house and your family. The top tip was to stock up on household things such as laundry detergent, toilet paper, cleaners, dish soap, etc. I am all for this, because it makes me feel accomplished and it is something I can organize in the nesting phase if I run out of baby clothes to fold.

Now, yes, my husband is fully capable of picking up toilet paper and buying laundry detergent. However, I would prefer he not waste his time doing things that I can easily do ahead of time anyway. He wants to be with baby, too! Moreover, if he needs some alone time out of the house, I think he would rather see a friend than run to Walmart. Also, with the hormones that come after giving birth, I don’t want to deal with the potential sob fest I might experience if the “wrong” kind of laundry detergent was picked up (yeah, that’s a thing that can happen, as ridiculous as it may sound).

Support System
Finally, and honestly most importantly, I am making a list of people that I can reach out to for help. I mean an actual list. It is important to at least think about who you can go to for help, because when you are in the thick of it, you might come up blank. I am taking it a step further and writing it down so that it is available for me in those inevitable moments when I just cannot think, and so that my husband can step in and ask for that help when I do not feel I can ask for it. The postpartum period is so beautiful, but it is also so, so difficult. It is important to have a support system in place and to ask for help when we need it. Even though my parents and my in-laws do not live in Saskatoon, I have a large support system, and my mom and mother-in-law are still only a phone call away.

This list should include anyone and everyone who has offered you help in some way. The list can include how they can help if they were specific or just their name if they are a general helper. You should also include community help associations and medical organizations that can be helpful, such as a lactation consultant, your health region’s contact for postpartum support, your doctor, the health line, etc.

AND USE THIS LIST! You can and should ask for help if you need it. Your loved ones want to help.

If you are in Saskatoon, here are some organizations or contacts I am adding to my list.

If you are pregnant or have had a child, what did you do to prepare for when the baby arrived?

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Preparing for Maternity Leave in Canada

I recently announced that we are expecting Baby #2, and with that comes all the preparations. We will of course need to prepare for actually welcoming baby, but today I am going to focus on how we are preparing for my maternity leave of eighteen months.

18 Months?!
In January 2018, the Canadian government increased the amount of parental leave available to birthing or adoptive parents. The monetary amount did not change, so you can elect to receive a higher bi-weekly payment for twelve months or a lower bi-weekly payment for eighteen months. Once you start receiving the benefits, you cannot change your mind.

You have the option of taking the entire amount yourself, or splitting it with your husband or co-parent. Additionally, they later added that your husband or co-parent can take 5-8 weeks above and beyond the amount available to one person without shortening your time available.

I’m no expert on this, so please check out this link for more information.

As mentioned, I live in Canada and I also work at a great employer that provides compensation for maternity leave above and beyond what is available to all qualifying Canadians through Employment Insurance. This is a great privilege and I do not approach this blessing lightly.

Even with the great maternity and parental leave provisions and the top-up from my employer, I am still going to be receiving a reduced wage for the first year, and then only the Employment Insurance for the last six months. This is something to give thought to, and save for ahead of time if necessary.

From our experience with my last maternity leave, the amount that I receive is plenty for the first year, so we haven’t needed to save anything extra for this portion. Things will balance out because I will not be at work, incurring related expenses (paying for parking, buying professional clothing, lunches and coffee out more frequently), and we will not be sending Isabelle to daycare as frequently. I also found we were better about meal prep and planning because I had more time to devote to it, so I plan to put some emphasis on that and foster those habits as well.

What we need to be prepared for, however, is the last six months of my maternity leave. The amount I will be receiving is significantly less than I usually earn, so we are saving for that time. Thankfully, some large monthly payments will finish before the amount I receive is reduced, which is a large part of our plan.

Ideally, we would like to get to the point that we can budget off of my husband’s salary only and treat mine as optional, but we aren’t quite there yet. Hopefully by the next maternity leave!

In order to receive the Employment Insurance and my top-up, I have to complete the paperwork. The link I shared above is a good start, or talk to your Finance or Compensation department. I have a great Compensation Advisor who walked me through the process last time and will again this time.

I'm sure there is probably more I could or should be doing to prepare for maternity leave, but these are the big items. If you have taken maternity leave or will be soon, how did you prepare?

P.S. When writing this post I realized that I have a lot more practical tips for preparing to welcome a new baby, so stay tuned for my next post about the schedule and organization side of things.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

An Introduction and an Update

Hi everyone, and welcome back to Sweet Spontaneity! It has been awhile, so I wanted to briefly re-introduce myself before I jump into today's post.

My name is Sarah and I live in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. My little family consists of my husband, my daughter, Isabelle (who will be two in November), and myself. I work full-time in an administrative role and I do some freelance makeup artistry, though not as much as I used to.

I have run this blog since the fall of 2008, and it has seen a few different names and styles over the years. Looking back in my archives (oh wow, that is cringe-worthy); it appears I settled on the name Sweet Spontaneity in August 2010.

My love of writing has waxed and waned over the years, but I have enjoyed having this little space to come back to that is a little reflection of myself. I chose the name Sweet Spontaneity because I did not want to limit the nature of my content, and instead wanted to be free to go with the spontaneous ideas and interests as they have developed over the last decade. Just as there are seasons in nature, there are seasons in life. For me, some have come with extra time and mental capacity to devote to writing and this blog, and others have limited the time or brain space available for it. I have maintained a pretty steady presence over on Instagram, though, so if you want to be able to stay more current with me, please follow me there.

Now that we have caught up, let's move on to the purpose for today's post!

We are expecting baby #2! As I mentioned, you would already know this if you are following me on Instagram, but I wanted to share here as well.

We are due around New Years, but we are preparing for earlier due to 1) our own calculations from charting and, 2) how early Isabelle came. One child does not make a pattern, though, so we are more than happy to let this little baby keep growing on the inside into the New Year, if that is what he or she needs to do!

We are very excited to meet this little person!
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