Toronto with kids

A friend’s wedding may have been our perfect excuse to head over on holiday to Canada, but it’s also a place I’ve always wanted to visit. It might be a slightly different type of holiday with two kids in tow than it would have been a few years back – not much opportunity for wandering and exploring, or hanging out in vaguely hipster bars – but it was still a fab trip.  

Here’s some of our highlights and tips if you’re heading to Toronto with kids – especially in winter when some attractions are closed and it’s too cold to spend much time outdoors:

CN Tower Restaurant   

 

It’s the big attraction of the Toronto skyline and one that’s easy to get the kids excited about.  You can buy a standard entrance ticket for $32, but our tip is to book a table at the 360 revolving restaurant.  It’s $55 for the fixed price two course lunch menu ($35 for kids), so not that much more than the standard entrance plus buying food out somewhere else, if you think about it.

The food is genuinely delicious and generous in portions, and you get unobstructed views through the glass as the restaurant revolves while you eat.  You also get access to the viewing level after you’ve eaten where you can brave the glass floor and venture outside on the walkway (although this bit is behind mesh so the views aren’t as good as in the restaurant).  Our two were ‘too cold’ within about 30 seconds of stepping outside so the time in the warmth of the restaurant was well worth it to take everything in, and we were able to get some great photos without having to resort to buying the green screen official pics from downstairs.

There’s a small kids play area on the ground floor as well which is worth knowing about if you need the kids to burn off some energy either before or after!

Oh, and if you’re scared of heights like me, stand at the back of the elevators when you’re going up, as the glass doors – and glass panels on the floor – don’t hide anything!

Ripleys Aquarium

 

When we were asking Torontonians where we should take the kids whilst in Toronto, the relatively new aquarium, right next door to the CN tower, was roundly recommended.  I almost didn’t bother though – surely an aquarium is an aquarium, I thought, and we’ve been to a few in the UK to know what to expect.  I’m so glad we did though, Ripleys is by far the best aquarium I’ve been to and well worth a visit.

Whilst the whole thing is really well designed and the children’s play area right in the centre could easily have kept our eldest entertained for hours if we’d let her, the highlight was definitely the underwater tunnel. Unlike some I’ve been to where you can see the other end as soon as you enter, and at busy times inevitably gets blocked by people standing waiting for a lonely shark to wander past, this one twisted and turned back on itself so it felt like it was huge, and the moving walkway running through it meant you could concentrate on fish watching not on tripping over someone else’s children. Add to this a plethora of sharks, a lazy sawfish laid right on top of the tunnel, and countless other fishy delights, and it was a big win.

The visit was topped off with a chance to see a diver feeding the fish in one of the tanks (and happily posing for photos with the kids after the ‘show’), and plenty of chances for the kids to crawl under, through and into tanks of fish (all while staying dry!), which all in all meant we pretty much had to bribe G to leave.  Luckily this was achieved by the promise of the outdoor railway museum right across the street, complete with a real life ‘Tidmouth Sheds’ and train turntable.  

If you need to bribe any adults to leave, one of the sheds now hosts the Steam Whistle Brewery tour. 

Just saying.

Marlies Ice Hockey at the Ricoh Arena   

 

I loved the idea of going to an ice hockey game, but tickets to see the Toronto Maple Leafs were pretty much out of our range, especially as I wasn’t sure how the kids would cope with an evening game, and wasn’t entirely sure how child friendly it would be in general.

Instead we bought $30 tickets to see Toronto’s other team, the Marlies, playing against Chicago Wolves.  My fears of whether it would be appropriate to take kids to were allayed when our taxi followed a school bus full of kids in to the arena, which is just a short taxi ride from downtown.

Despite being a low scoring game (2:1 to Chicago, since you’re asking), it was a much greater spectacle than seeing it on tv would have you think, and great fun. We resisted the urge to buy a giant foam finger (I’m not sure we’d fit it in our luggage home!), and left a little before the end to grab a cab from outside and get the kids to their much welcomed beds.

Ontario Science Centre

 

Despite being a taxi ride out from downtown (ours was about $25 each way), and with an entrance fee of $22 ($13 for kids), the Ontario Science Centre is a stalwart of the guidebooks and promised lots of hands on experiments and fun.

The building itself is rather sprawling and poorly signposted, and compared to the shiny newness of the aquarium some of it has seen better days, but it’s what’s inside that counts, and despite a whole afternoon there right until it closed at 4pm, we barely scratched the surface.

The big success of the day was the planetarium, where we went to a show for fives and under which saw the night sky projected onto the ceiling, taking the kids around the constellations and off on a spaceship to the moon. Both G and C were rapt – the latter particularly striking as she had been in a monumental grump most of the day!

The hands on science arcade was also a winner, and we could easily have spent longer there if we’d had a bit more time and energy.

Top tip if you do go – find out if the Van de Graaf generator is still there – it’s all Torontonians will be asking you for days.  We missed it but it seems to be the one thing locals all remember from school trips.

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Little Sniffles

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C has always been partial to a good old fashioned cold. She got her first one at just five weeks old and since then we’ve been happily passing them back and forwards between each other, each seemingly getting more and more extreme as we get closer to winter.

Oh yeah, and the so called ‘cold season’ has barely even begun, hasn’t it? Somebody save us!

Much as I enjoy rating my youngest daughter’s snot bubbles on size, colour and durability (although I’m disappointed that I’m yet to catch one on camera for her much vaunted 18th birthday album), I definitely don’t enjoy the impact on her already fragile sleep pattern, especially as I’m heading back to work soon. And believe me, I don’t function very well without my sleep!

I remember only too clearly the night that I dumped a poor sleepless snotty C in her Daddy’s arms and announced I was going to the 24 hour Tesco to try and buy something to help her sleep.  I came back not with a bottle of brandy as Daddy feared (though it would probably have helped me if not her) but with a saline nasal spray and a plug in inhaler, having discovered that there’s very little you can actually give to a poorly baby.  I then discovered that the plug in was not a great match for a summer mini heatwave, given it relies on having doors and windows firmly shut.

It’s fair to say it wasn’t exactly my most successful shopping trip.

So I was chuffed to bits when Dentinox asked me to try out some of their products to help deal with the sniffles. We’ve used their sticky eye wipes in the past to help with C’s blocked tear duct, and our parcel from them included an inhaler dummy, vapour oil, medicine dispenser and nasal aspirator.  After I got over the ‘ew’ factor of sucking baby snot directly out of her nose USING MY MOUTH (!!!), I realised that it was either that or continue spending inordinate amounts of time wrestling a tissue around her face, spreading more snot over her than on the tissue thanks to her protests.

First up, the inhaler dummy.  Compared with the plug ins, this seems a geniously simple idea. You place a few drops of the vapour oil on a pad on the front of the dummy, close it up and pop the dummy in baby’s mouth. The vapour is exactly where it’s most needed, and safely enclosed so you don’t need to worry about baby ingesting the oils.  And you don’t have to seal the room shut to keep the vapours in.

C took to this like a pro. Despite the fact that she’ll only accept a dummy for the first five minutes of going to bed, it was long enough for her to settle off to sleep, and even when she was asleep it was still near enough to have the desired effect.  I was also pleased to find that the oil didn’t have that eye watering kick to it that some others do.

We had less success with the medicine dispenser unfortunately, thanks to C’s new found dummy aversion.  But having managed to spray Calpol all over Daddy’s T-shirt (missing C’s mouth by a mere, but vital, inch), I can see how this would be a godsend for babies who haven’t developed C’s fussy tastes.

And so on to the aspirator.  I have to admit I was never convinced by the efficacy of these, but I was impressed, particularly when I realised there was little to no risk of ingesting snot through it.  It seems to work best after using a saline spray (as opposed to the drops which seem next to useless on a wriggly baby), as this loosens the mucous enough to suck it right out of there without having to contemplate the logistics of sticking things up there (not a good idea on any account).  And with her nose a little clearer it made C’s feeding both easier and a hell of a lot quieter, reducing the risk of her waking her sleeping sister with her rather impressive snorts and snores.

All in all the Dentinox products do the job and really do help.  And despite C’s cold we have succeeded this week in achieving the mythical Sleeping Through The Night (TM).  On more than one night.  In a row.

If that’s not a ringing endorsement I don’t know what is.

 

I’ve worked with BritMums on this project with Dentinox and Snufflebabe to test their products during cold season. All opinions are my own. To find out more about the products visit http://www.dentinox.co.uk and http://www.snufflebabe.co.uk.

 

Britain’s Driest Nappy vs Britain’s Prettiest Nappy

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I’ve already written about my reasons for using cloth nappies – mainly the fact that I hate taking the bins out, and especially bins filled with festering baby poo, urgh!

So when I saw that Pampers were asking people to do the ‘Britain’s Driest Nappy’ challenge it got me thinking.

First, I came up with all the excuses for why ‘dry’ wasn’t the be all and end all – the waste argument of course; the cost savings when using reusables; the chemicals in disposable nappies; the fact that feeling damp helps babies potty train earlier, etc etc.

And then I realised that I actually have no idea how cloth nappies compare as far as keeping baby dry is concerned.

I know that we only get the occasional wee leak, usually when I’ve left the nappy on too long, and that despite C being a very heavy wetter we’ve found a nappy that copes perfectly well with being on for 13 hours overnight, whether she sleeps through as she’s finally begun to recently, or if she wakes for sometimes 2-3 feeds which means she wees more overnight.

And I know that we pretty much NEVER suffer the clothes-wrecking poosplosions that I remember only too well from our disposable days and see and hear other Mums talking about.

But how dry do they keep C’s little bum? Is the poor girl sodden the whole time that I’m blissfully cooing over the pretty prints and colours?

I thought I’d better put it to the test.

This isn’t about knocking people who choose to use disposable nappies by the way – whilst I’m a cloth nappy advocate I would never judge another mum’s choices and cloth nappies aren’t for everyone (incidentally, that’s why I help run a cloth nappy library which lets people try cloth nappies for themselves before committing to buying their own).

And I’m not in any way trying to knock Pampers either – they’re our nappy of choice when we do use disposables – yes although we mostly use cloth we do use disposables occasionally as well.

Rather, I was genuinely curious to see how the nappies I choose to use feel against C’s skin.

I picked out one of my favourite nappies (a Bumgenius Freetime, if you’re interested), a Pampers Baby Dry nappy that I had to hand, some water, tissue, and a terribly angled camera phone that beautifully accentuates my double chin.

Impressed? I was, and I have to confess a little relieved too! I was actually expecting a little bit of dampness to come through the fleece, so was surprised that the tissue was pretty much bone dry.

What I forgot to mention is that the fleece liner also makes it really easy to chuck poo down the toilet without having to touch it – but that’s got nothing to do with Britain’s Driest Nappy so it’s not really relevant anyway. It’s just usually one of the first things I get asked about when talking about cloth nappies!

I should add that the slight dampness from the Pampers nappy was really nothing to write home about, it was, in fairness, really very good at locking away the moisture.

I’m just pleased that I don’t have to rely on finding excuses to justify my choice to use cloth nappies, and can rest assured that C’s bum is as dry as it is pretty.

If you’re interested in trying cloth nappies you can do so cheaply, and in some cases for free, by getting in touch with your local cloth nappy library via the UK Cloth Nappy Library Network, or by searching on their map of UK Cloth Nappy Libraries.  Nappy Libraries offer advice on finding the right nappies for you, as well as hiring out kits so that you can try before you buy.

A Forest Holiday

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We’ve been on holiday again!

Just a short UK one – we decided to go on a mid week break to Forest Holidays at Sherwood Pines, and had a lovely time.

I’ve never been to Center Parcs, but my understanding of it is that Forest Holidays is a bit like Center Parcs, with slightly plusher accommodation, but fewer on site activities (eg they don’t have a swimming pool on site). The clincher for us was that we could have a cabin with a hot tub of our own for some chill out time after the kids were in bed – whoop! If you’re going all out then there are even cabins with ‘tree house’ master bedroom suites, but we stayed in one of their ‘Golden Oak’ 2 bedroomed cabins.

The cabins themselves were spacious and smart, with underfloor heating, terrace with BBQ area as well as the hot tub, and wifi included with the entertainment package we bought in advance. You can arrange extras such as beauty treatments and a chef to come to your cabin, and even order a pizza through your TV! The only downsides were that there wasn’t space in the second bedroom to put up the travel cot we’d brought, and the lack of oven gloves in the kitchen!

It’s unusual for us to go on holidays that aren’t jam packed with day trips and places to go from start to finish, and before we got there I did my usual googling and asking around to see where we should go. But once we arrived we soon decided to take things easy and enjoy the forest rather than jumping in the car every 5 minutes.
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The Forest Holidays site is a short (10 minute) walk from the main Sherwood Pines visitor centre, with a variety of play areas, walks and cycle paths. My last experience of Sherwood Pines was about 3 years ago, running a 10k race after a quite literally sleepless night with a toddler G. This time was somewhat more relaxing!

A couple of times during our stay we left the pram behind and popped C in one of our carriers to go and explore the forest. We followed one of the shorter walks at the visitor centre which was just right for G, with enough to entertain her on the way round including a rainforest discovery theme, a couple of play areas and a den building area. She also loved being just like Dora the Explorer and taking charge of the map and directions!
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One of the unique offerings at Forest Holidays is the on site Forest Ranger, who can take you on tours of the forest to see wildlife, learn how to survive in the wild etc. We booked G onto the ‘young explorers’ walk on the Thursday which she absolutely loved – they saw deer footprints, all kinds of different trees (including one that had been struck by lightning, and another which was a scratching post for the local deer), a fox’s den, and picked up lots of bugs on their way round which they then built a bug hotel out of sticks and leaves to put them in. At the end of the walk they collected pine cones that they painted in The Retreat (the main cafe/shop/office for the site). It ended up taking a good chunk of the afternoon and was excellent value for the £8 cost.
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We did do a couple of trips out – one to the Thaymar Ice Cream Farm Shop (they had dairy/soya free ice cream as well as a baby who shares C’s birthday so it’s now my favourite place in the world!), and one to Sherwood Forest itself. The latter had a neat cafe (but no dairy free treats sadly), and another lovely walk through the forest to see the famous Major Oak tree, again a walk just short enough for G to manage without too much moaning.

We ummed and ahed over whether we should let G have a go in the hot tub at the cabin and after looking up the guidelines decided to let her in a few times for short periods. She loved playing with the resident rubber duck, but the hot tub mostly remained our post bedtime treat, complete with a glass of bubbly and, er, the baby monitor on the side.

We went back to Sherwood Pines at the end of our holiday to do the mini Gruffalo trail which, whilst not on a par with the one at the Forest of Dean, was still good fun and a lovely way to round off the trip.

All in a we had a fabulous time and would highly recommend it!

We paid for our trip with our own pennies and weren’t given any incentives to write about it, we just had a great time and wanted to share!

The Baby and Toddler Show

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C and I went on a flying visit to the Baby and Toddler Show at Manchester’s grandly named Event City today. A little white lie to the parking attendants directing people to the furthest overflow parking (yes, I’m a bad person ) and we were soon parked up outside the Trafford Centre’s Barton Square ready to go.

It may not be a patch on the huge shows in Birmingham and London, but given we live close by it was worth a quick trip down the road fora number of reasons.

Firstly, I had a voucher for 50% off a Bambino Mio Miosolo nappy. I’ve already written about my cloth nappy addiction, and whilst it’s not my current favourite nappy, I’ve been very impressed with the Miosolo – it’s held up to some pretty epic poosplosions, is pretty quick to dry and the attached insert is simple to stuff and much easier than hunting out a matching insert from the washing pile.

Secondly, I was fed up of hunting through baby swimming class websites trying to find one I can get to with C inbetween school pickups, ballet, football and so on. All the main class providers were there, and it was great to see G’s first ever Water Babies swimming instructor again. I was also excited to discover that Rebecca Adlington has set up a swim school in Bolton – guess what I’m enrolling G for ASAP!

And finally, I got the chance to meet Rachael from Kangarinos who was there with Cheeky Rascals giving me the chance to try out a Manduca carrier around the show (pictured!). I’ve been looking for something quick and easy to pop C in for the school run, and the Manduca is definitely a contender, particularly as they’ve released a limited edition purple version. Purple!

Back home, a brief look online reveals the worst. No, not anything wrong with the Manduca carrier – it simply appears that the world of ‘baby wearing’ has the potential to be just as addictive as cloth nappies.

This could be dangerous.

The Weekend Box

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You know when you save something for a rainy day, then never quite get round to finding a day quite rainy enough to justify it?

Despite the weather, that’s exactly what I did with our first Weekend Box, and it took the arrival of our second box today to spur me into action.

The Weekend Box is a subscription service which is delivered either fortnightly or monthly (you choose), giving children aged 3-8 four separate activities to keep them busy. The boxes cost £7.50 each, but see the bottom of this post for a code to try one for free!

The activities in the box are themed – each box has something to make, something to explore, something to cook and something green. And almost all the things you need are included in the box – you also receive an email before your box arrives pre warning you of any cooking ingredients you might need, although anything other than store cupboard staples and fresh ingredients is included in the box.

Our first box included finger painting, map making, cooking snowball biscuits and making a kite using recycled materials.
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G was hooked from the moment she spotted her name on the box – so much so we almost didn’t make it out to nursery school in the afternoon! She intuitively understood the colour coding of bags, instructions and stickers, and loved running up and down the corridor flying the kite, and getting (not too) messy with paint.

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As an adult I had some niggles – the box wasn’t quite sturdy enough not to have been a bit battered in the post (the second box is the same) and I had to comb through the contents with an excited preschooler hovering over my shoulder to find out what we could do. The instructions were also all written rather than having pictures, which would be fine for older children but meant G needed me to constantly tell her what to do – she likes to be able to make things independently most of the time but at 4 years old is obviously not yet able to read the instructions herself.

That said, the activities kept her entertained for the bulk of the day, and she thoroughly enjoyed herself. A big incentive for me was that we found ourselves doing things we wouldn’t have done otherwise – not just the activities themselves but, for example, we used up the leftover poster paint to do hand and footprints of both G and her baby sister.

Box two has arrived already, and as G already clocked it on the doormat I’m sure we’ll be doing that one very soon too!

I got my first box free using a referral code from a friend and you can too, by entering the code LORRAINE3707 at checkout. You can cancel at anytime so it’s well worth trying out! This post is all my own views and I haven’t been incentivised to post, although I do get credit on my account for every person who signs up using the referral code above. If you sign up you receive your own referral code to share.

Five Best Products For Newborn Babies

Having done this all before, I should probably know all there is to know about newborns, but the truth is I’d totally forgotten 90% of what was useful first time around.

So in an effort to be helpful to others, here’s my round up of the five most useful products for the early days of having baby at home.

Morrck All Season Baby Hoodie

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There’s nothing worse than trying to put on / take off layers of clothing on a squirmy newborn baby. And once they’re asleep the last thing you want is to be waking them up worried they’re too hot or too cold. Not to mention the fact that padded coats and snow suits are a big safety risk in car seats.

The Morrck hoodie slips onto your car seat or pushchair, with straps to safely use with a three or five point harness, and means you can quickly and easily adjust the number of layers over baby without disturbing them, or dropping blankets on the floor. It’s brilliant for nipping in and out of shops and shopping centres, and has enough layers to keep baby cosy even if it’s snowing outside.

Moby Wrap

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Newborns like to be with you as much as possible, and who can really blame them? They’ve spent 9 months growing inside you, sheltered from noise, temperature and hunger, then suddenly are thrust into a bright , noisy and downright terrifying world.

Before you feel as though you will never get a moment to do anything for yourself ever again, a sling can be a really worthwhile purchase, and the Moby Wrap is a popular choice both for ease of use and flexibility to use with different holds etc – I’ve only just started using it but already much prefer it to my previous ring sling, which never seemed particularly comfortable for baby.

It takes a little getting used to when tying it on, but there are plenty of YouTube videos to show you how,and once tied you can leave it on you until you’re ready to put baby in, even putting the wrap on yourself before getting in the car for example, or keeping it on all day and popping baby in and out as required.

Lansinoh HPA Lanolin Cream

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If you’re going to breastfeed, this is pretty much the only product worth buying!

With all the talk of how natural and easy breast feeding is, it can be a surprise how uncomfortable it can be at first, and Lansinoh is basically like a magic balm to help! The only annoying thing is how difficult it is to get out of the tube if it’s not been warmed up a bit first.

I should add that whilst it can be uncomfortable at first, breast feeding shouldn’t be painful, and pain is usually a sign of a poor latch. There’s lots of support out there either via your midwife or organisations such as the NCT and La Leche League, both of whom have helplines and breastfeeding supporters who will even come out to visit you in person, either at home or in hospital.

MAM Glow In The Dark Night Dummies

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Now I’m not saying that dummies per se are an essential baby purchase, but if you do decide to use a dummy with your baby, these are genius – once you get over the slight weirdness of offering your baby something green and luminescent, that is.

Why are they so useful? Well, after a few nights of minimum sleep, even the seemingly innocuous task of fishing a dummy out of a Moses basket becomes surprisingly onerous, so the soft glow of these soothers suddenly becomes incredibly useful!

RockItTots Big Brother / Sister Tshirt

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Not strictly for baby, but when you have an older sibling to think about, getting them on side early on is a no brainer!

With G currently obsessed with superheroes, we put in a special request for a RockItTots T-shirt saying “Sometimes being a sister is even better than being a superhero”, and gave it to her as a present from baby C when she first visited her in the hospital. RockItTots were more than happy to oblige and it was dispatched quickly, so was here in plenty of time for the (admittedly late) arrival of baby C.

So there you go – my five favourite products for baby, all of which are very much in use with C, who’s now ten whole days old!

All of these products were either bought with our own hard earned cash or given to us by friends, we haven’t been given anything for free or paid / otherwise encouraged to review them!