Saturday, 30 November 2013

Raising Boys

Perhaps it's related to the fact that there are a couple of slightly older boys in F's preschool class, but my darling boy has officially decided that he can no longer sit down to pee. I'd be completely unbothered by the whole thing, but F has also decided that he needs me to show him how and without giving you a mental picture of what that attempt at a teachable moment looked like, I can tell you it's not going to happen.

It's moments like these that I find myself especially frustrated with our situation. As if being a single parent isn't hard enough by itself, the simple fact is that boys and girls sometimes need an older member of the same sex to show them things. I can't imagine how awkward it would have been to ask my father feminine questions growing up. Actually, I can but I think it would have led ol' Papa Bear to a stroke so I'm especially glad I didn't have to get into bras and tampons and all that jazz. Standing up to pee is pretty small on the list of things that F will need help with in his life, but it felt as big as a mountain when he asked me to do it.

By gently explaining that boys and girls are built differently, I managed to help him understand that I cannot show him but I said I'd be there if he needed some help. I asked what he thought he should do, and he managed OK except that he missed the toilet and somehow managed to pee on everything else in my bathroom. But, we celebrate the small victories here, too, so with a change of his clothes and a quick trip to the laundry room with my bath mats, we were ready to try again. And try again we did, with much more success and better aim. (Hooray!)

The challenges in raising a little boy as a bit of a girlie girl are just beginning, and I know that. I feel especially fortunate that F's preschool class has a male teacher - a positive male role model who he can learn from and hopefully turn to. I'm lucky to have a group of male friends who I can turn to for advice when needed, and I'm lucky in that the boy stuff is less gruesome than the girl stuff as things move forward from here.

But, challenges lie in being a single mum with a boy in other ways. It's the moments when I need a few moments to do chick stuff that F is convinced that he desperately needs to be beside me. It's as I change my clothes or put on a bra or he asks why girls have to sit down to pee that I realize we might be hitting the age where F and I just can't do those things together, and it's tricky. I can't lock the bathroom door when I head into the shower. I can't tell him to wait outside the stall as I use a public washroom. I also have to gently explain that no, he cannot paint his nails when Mommy does. It's a learning curve. (And sometimes I let him have non-shiny clear polish on his toes, just because.)

Yesterday's pee-splosion all over my bathroom taught me that, although it might get messy, letting F take the reins and taking a step or two back is the only way we can make it through some things. It's really hard to accept that F and I might be coming to the end of our baths together. Pretty soon, I'll even have to put my foot down over the whole co-sleeping thing, too. But there are some things we can't avoid, so we'll have to learn how to make them work.

And make them work, we will.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Handcrafted Christmas

Blame it on my place of work, but I've got nothing but Christmas on the brain lately!

We've been talking about Christmas since I started work with The Salvation Army back in January, and now - 10 months later - I am up to my eyeballs in Christmas from Santa Shuffle to Beary Merry and back around to Christmas Distribution and kettle kick-off and everything else under the Christmas tree sun. I've always been a keener about getting Christmas presents sorted out, but this year I had an extra kick in the arse to get me going:I challenged myself to make as much as possible.


I started my own Christmas gifting campaign way back in October with more glitter and paint than any adult woman should ever have in her possession. It was hours spent cutting paisley shapes out of dictionary pages and scrapbook paper. It was a few hours of editing photos and designing Christmas cards and some other dandy photo-gifts for a few family members. It was a lot of burns on my hands from the glue gun (they are dangerous, people!) and it has been nothing shy of fun.

Aside from the fact that most of my presents will be totally unique, I've been able to save a lot of money by making things while also feeding my creativity a bit. I had loads of paint, paintbrushes and canvases to get me started on most of the gifts and a few trips to Michael's and Dollarama filled any gaps in my plan. F even joined in on the action, and it gave us the perfect opportunity to bond over some fun with paint and left me with a mess the size of Russia all over my dining room table.

If you're thinking about handmade Christmas gifts, let me give you a few ideas.

-- White mugs from Dollarama + a Sharpie and a steady hand = cute, personalized coffee mugs! Don't want to use a mug? Grab a plate instead. Black is my favourite (black on white is easy-to-read and chic) but you can use any colour, as long as you're OK with it changing a bit as it bakes. Some colours won't stay true. Simply write your message or draw your design and bake at 350* C for 30-45 minutes. Let cool. Be cool. 

We painted our trunk instead.
-- Canvas + paint + little hands and feet = Make a Christmas Tree paint project out of a white canvas and your child's hands and feet! Start at the bottom with a brown footprint (heel pointing the top of your tree). Allow the paint to dry. Now, with green hand prints, build your tree as a triangle. Allow all the green paint to dry. Top it with a yellow hand print for your star and get real creative by letting junior use finger and thumb prints to put ornaments on your tree and get that thing colorful and bright!

-- Wooden anything + sea shells or little beach rocks + glue gun = seashore inspired art! Take a Dollarama picture frame and make it beach-y, or build something using old wood and cover it in rocks and seashells. It's shore to impress. (The funeral for that pun will be held at 2 pm on Saturday.)

-- Bake something! Whether it be chocolate chip cookies or a delicious loaf, home baking is something few people have time for these days! Don't have time to do the actual baking? Throw all of the dry ingredients in a jar and present it with instructions. 

If you can't make it all by hand, try buying a handful of small, inexpensive things for your loved ones this year and package it artfully and uniquely for them. Personalized gifts show the recipient how important they are to you.

Still stuck? There's no shame in a gift card!

Friday, 15 November 2013

Operation: Gratitude, Part 3

I'm so glad we did this.

I'd be lying if I said this whole thing was a walk in the park. Starting out, things weren't so pretty. There were some tears and anger, and it was frustrating for both F and I as he was trying to understand all that I was trying to explain to him. Around the time I was ready to throw my hands up in the air and give up, F asked me to wait "right there" before he hopped off his chair and ran down the hallway. We had been getting ready to write our letter, so I doodled on a piece of paper while I waited. 

And waited, and listened to the sound of F digging through his toy box and then to the sound of his entire toy box spilling onto the floor until he came running back with a little purple truck in his hand. I should have taken a picture of it this, but I think my emotions fogged up my brain. I want to send him one of my own toys, too, Mommy. Yup. My kid is awesome.

We talked about how special Christmas is and we talked about what Christmas looks like for us. We go to Grammy and Grampy's house and open our presents, but mostly we go home and we spend time with the people we love. That's pretty special. And then we talked about all of the homemade gifts we're working on for loved ones this year, and how love goes into everything we make and wrap and give to our friends and family. And then, we wrote this letter:


My name is Finley and I am almost 4 years old. I live with my Mommy in a city called Halifax with our cat, Duncan. He is orange and soft. I go to preschool when my Mommy is at work. It is fun, and I make lots of friends there.

I hope you like the present we picked out for you. I have a soft bunny, too. I sleep with him at nighttime. I packed one of my trucks for you to play with. My Mommy makes Christmas special for me, and we want you to have a special Christmas, too.

The most special gift is invisible in your box of goodies, but we hope that each time you hold or play with one of your toys, you can feel the love that we packed them with.

Happy Christmas!

Love your Canadian friends,

Finley and Ashley (Mommy)

Even though the Operation Christmas Child boxes are being collected this week, you can still make a difference in a kid's life. Head on over to the Operation Christmas Child page on Samaritan's Purse website and donate, or fill a box online. 

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Operation: Gratitude, part 2

First, I have to admit to something: I cheated.

BUT I didn't buy the two pairs of boots on Beyond The Rack that I was totally in love with and instead, went out and got all of my Operation Christmas Child goodies during my (three hours behind schedule) lunch without F. I have to admit... I chickened out on bringing him anywhere near a toy section. And I will also admit that I bought him a small treat to make sure that he's not feeling badly about this whole giving toys away thing... which he will get after everything else is finished. In case you're interested, it's a box of crayons. From Dollarama.

It hadn't really occurred to me that a 2-4 year old boy wouldn't be the easiest to shop for, and considering I only have a shoe box worth of stuff to choose from, I had to really put on my thinking cap. I picked up some socks, a storybook, crayons, a notebook, a t-shirt, and a canvas bag which this little boy can decorate and carry his things in. I also got him toothbrushes, soap and a stuffed animal. I tried to find candy that was individually wrapped, but then I realized that when F was two years old I wouldn't have given him any candy at all, so I decided to give up. I may change my mind yet.

Finley with our OCC box!

Now that the present itself is taken care of, it's time to start writing a letter so I asked F to tell me what he'd like to say to a little boy at Christmas. We started working on our letter but didn't finish it, so you'll have to wait until tonight or tomorrow for the final draft.

Christmas is such a commercial holiday for us here in North America that even the best of us get wrapped up in the excitement of shopping for and wrapping and opening gifts that we forget what Christmas is supposed to be about. Even a family who doesn't observe Christmas as a religious occasion can agree that Christmas is about love and family.  

I am guilty of making Christmas about Santa Claus for F, and while I don't think that's a crime in itself, I believe that I'm robbing F of the true meaning of Christmas by letting Santa and his elves have all the glory. As we get closer and closer to the most wonderful time of the year, I look forward to reading The Christmas Story as much as The Night Before Christmas. I'll look forward to telling F about Baby Jesus and the miracle of love, and you better believe I'll love using "the elves are watching!" as a method of modifying his behavior. In addition to the toys and the movies and the fun that F will be getting this Christmas, I want to give him more.

I'm giving him the gift of gratitude. Of love. Of sharing. And, most of all, of giving.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Operation: Gratitude

I was a spoiled kid.

In fact, I am still spoiled. My parents bought me a dozen roses and my entire family showered me with gifts and love and awesomeness and a disgusting amount of delicious, delicious food last weekend as we celebrated my graduation a year after starting PR school. If you were near me right now, you'd be able to see the drool dripping down my chinny-chin-chin because the food was that awesome. Broccoli salad should be illegal, you guys. 

But I digress. Spoiled rotten I was, and remain to be so I guess it won't come as a surprise that my sweet little guy is also spoiled.

F has so many toys that he has a full collection at my mom's house and a full collection at my house. He's got movies, books, an iPod Touch and all kinds of cool gadgets that didn't exist when I was a kid. I take full responsibility for spoiling my child. I want him to have all of the nice things I had growing up, and more. I want to give him these things, and when I can't it breaks my heart. And, admittedly, I've been giving him things to try to compensate for his dad not being here.

But it's time I give him more. I'm going to give him compassion. I'm going to give him understanding. I'm going to give him more love. And today, he's going to give toys to someone else as we fill a box full of items for a child in need this Christmas. 

My parents gave me toys and clothes and stuff, but they also gave me morals and values and a desire to make the world a better place. Now, I work for one of the biggest, most recognizable charities in the world and I help people day in and day out. It's time F learns how amazing it is to give. It's time F realizes how lucky we are. It's time he learns what gratitude is.

Will it be easy? Probably not. But it will be worth it. Stay tuned for photos, videos and a copy of the letter we send to a 2-4 year old boy in need this Christmas.  

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Helping and Helped

I hate asking for help.

I hate it. Blame it on my perfectionism or my pride, but help is my least favourite thing to ask anyone for. I can fundraise for any cause, and I dole out help to others before helping myself a lot of the time. When I'm offered help, I often decline. I realized how stubborn I was not so long ago when, on a date, I dropped my sweater and refused to let my date pick it up. He called me out on it and he was right. In everything from picking up sweaters to getting ahead on my work load, asking for help is the last thing I do so you can imagine how hard it was for me to ask for help paying for F's daycare.

The facts to me look a little different than the facts look to others, and while there was a time I would have been offended (and honestly, it wasn't very long ago) by someone suggesting I seek help in covering my costs as a single parent. I look at my life as this: I have a job that pays pretty well, given my entry-level status and the state of our economy. I have a roof over my head and food in my fridge and a family who would (and have) do anything for F and I. I have a deadbeat ex who doesn't pay support, and while it would make my life eons easier I do OK.

Until I realized that I wasn't doing as OK was I thought. And that's when I did it. I asked for help.

Within a week, I went from losing sleep and being unable to eat (AKA Mom Stress Diet - it's very effective) to having a huge weight lifted off my chest. And guess what? I'm glad I asked for help. I'm glad that we have a program in our (horribly, horribly flawed) system that gives families a chance to make a better life for themselves. I'm glad that, after referring tons of people to these programs and services, I can have a little bit of the help I want to see others get.

Accepting help doesn't make me a failure, it just means that I'm human. Asking for help doesn't mean I'm weak, but that I'm brave enough to do it, that I'm willing to do what it takes to give my child the future that he deserves and that I so want for him. For me. For both of us. I help people every day. It's my job, it's my passion and I love it. But I realized something really important.

I can't take care of others if I don't take care of myself.

I can't help others if I don't help myself.

Where ever you are on your path today, whatever obstacles you face, know that there are programs and services that can help you. If you're in the Maritimes, you can contact me directly and I can actually help you get help. If you're in Nova Scotia, you can contact 211 Nova Scotia to be hooked up with the community and social services nearest you.

There is help. There are people who want to help.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

NeoStrata Anti-Wrinkle Complex (night) Review

After a lot of research, I decided to start using a retinol cream.

The initial response I received from people older than I am sounded something like "You're much too young for that!", but the experts disagree. In fact, every dermatologist I spoke to recommended introducing an over-the-counter Retinol creaming meaning I didn't even need to walk into their offices OR pay for a consultation. Why? Most twentysomethings have experienced some level of sun damage and using a cream containing retinol can reverse that.

I did a bit of research and decided that I wanted to go with NeoStrata's Anti-Wrinkle Complex for night based on the fact that I have never used a NeoStrata product that I wasn't totally head-over-heels for. A great bonus was that it was hella on sale, and girlfriend loves a sale. Combined with my heavy-duty new cleansing routine and an equally heavy-duty nighttime moisturizer, this product has found itself a new home in my skincare routine.


I started using the product on a Wednesday night - the night before my CTV News promo shoot actually - and didn't use it again until Saturday night. I now use it 5 nights a week and will soon make the switch to every night. The key to retinol creams is to allow your skin to adjust. For those of you who don't know, Retinol is a derivative of Vitamin A which has the unique ability to get deep into your skin and provide antioxidants. It causes increased cellular growth in the outer layers of skin - this is what causes dryness and peeling - so that fresh, new skin can be exposed. Adding a moisturizer on top of your retinol cream can help with this. If your skin is really dry, try to get it in better shape before you introduce a retinol cream - you'll be glad you did.

Because Retinol makes your skin incredibly susceptible to sunburns, it's important to use sunscreen daily. I now use SPF 45 on my hands, neck and face each morning. I also put a little bit of NeoStrata Anti-Wrinkle Complex on the backs of my hands at night time before covering them with a heavy hand cream. Other than my face, my hands probably see the most sunlight as they are always exposed.

My thoughts?

My skin feels much smoother and is a lot clearer since I started using the night complex. It takes about 12 weeks to see true results from any new regime, from exercise to diet to skincare, so I'll be anxious to see what the next few months bring! In the meantime, I'm enjoying the fact that my freckles have actually lightened and my skin is really bright and fresh looking! The most important part of my regime is making sure that my practices and products are complementing each other, and not working against one another.

Tune in next week when I review my Neutragena "Pore Minimizing" trio - two cleansers and one exfoliating scrub, compliments of Klout!

Friday, 1 November 2013

The Happiest of Hallowe'ens

Two posts in one day! Yay for you, my beloved readers!

F didn't want to trick-or-treat last night (he decided this on Wednesday after his Halloween party at preschool), so we decided to lay low - thank goodness! I was up before 5 am to bake a blueberry croissant puff for our office Hallowe'en breakfast AND I wore a tutu and my excitement over this really took a lot out of me. That and F was a real ghoul all day and I had to carry him kicking and screaming into his daycare provider's home, where she then had to peel him off of me so I could actually go to work.

Sigh. Parenthood is so, so, SO unglamorous - even when you're wearing a tutu.

I got the idea in my head about halfway through making my tutu last weekend that I should start making them and selling them. One of my good friends pointed out that I'm probably the only adult who'd be into wearing tutus every day, but there may just be a market for little ones. We'll see where that goes. I really enjoyed making this one!

I think it turned out pretty well and I was especially impressed with my hair - considering it was day 3, after sleeping on it two nights in a row and I managed it at 5:30 am in only a few minutes. Hooray me. It was significantly less pretty this morning when I woke up on day 4, with a bird's nest that an osprey could have homed in.

Here's a couple of photos of my get-up!

The tutu, before tights!
My hair!

Legs and nude heels!

In my old pointe shoes!

Hair - from the front!

I realized yesterday, while standing in my office lunchroom just how amazing the people I work with are. I had the warm and fuzzies all day, after laughing and sharing in some good times with everyone. The awesomeness of the day was only improved by snuggling with F last night while we watched the Magic School Bus in bed! I somehow doubt this is how we'll be spending our next Hallowe'en.

Happy November, friends!