Mass Consumerism and the Endless Quest for the New

Mass Consumerism: New and Shiny!

New and Shiny!

I’m drafting this at 3.30am in the morning. I’m sitting in pyjamas with my daughter curled up next to me, laptop on my knees, lamplight casting a low glow to contrast the light of the tv; ‘Magic School Bus‘ is teaching us about viral invaders. It sounds all warm and cosy; it is…. except it’s 3.30am in the morning!

Don’t get me wrong, Miss 3 is a crap sleeper but tonight (and the night before) isn’t because of her health concerns. We’re awake because yet another nappy company decided to get on the train of ‘New and Improved!’, ‘All New Look!’, ‘Amazing New Technology!’. I could give two shakes of a rat’s tail for their heavy use of the word ‘new’; what I want in nappies is a reliable steadfast product that works. I have enough sleep deprivation in my life without needing to spend time in the supermarket re-evaluating nappy brands.

It’s not that long since popular nappy company Treasures changed their design causing an uproar amongst parents that eventually moved from social media parenting platforms to the mainstream news. I watched with interest (and respect) as one determined mother took our concerns to the news outlets and with our permission shared our crappy experiences (pun intended).

Now another nappy company, Kiddicare, has decided to follow suit and change their design to a dramatically new look that is eerily similar in look to the new design Treasures nappies. Their website claims “Our new five layer ultra-thin absorbent inner core made from hi-tech fibre makes for a better performing nappy.” Their ‘breakthrough technology’ and ‘non traditional materials’ are presumably meant to attract additional customers and justify a price increase.

The reality is that their old nappies worked. They were well priced and effective which is all I actually want in a nappy. I have had countless leaks from the new ultra-thin nappies during both day and night. Tonight I tried double layering the nappies and her pants; they still leaked (despite her only having a few sips of water before bed!) and I was woken yet again by her feeling cold and chilled in the middle of the night. I’ve already complained to the company (firing off an email at 2.30am yesterday) but that still leaves me having paid for a large box of nappies that have no functional purpose.

I’m frustrated and tired (and regretting that mug of coffee now) by lack of sleep and needing to strip bed sheets in the middle of the night. My ASD daughter does not sleep easily and is very routine focused. To her wake up time means a bottle of formula and cartoons; I know from experience that she will be awake for several hours before I have a chance of easing her into a nap. If I’m super lucky I can sometimes get her back to sleep when she wakes during the night but not once I’ve had to change clothes and sheets.

The question arises why multiple nappy companies are feeling the need to change their design in the first place (and why they haven’t done more product testing before release!). One can only assume it’s because they feel the need to dangle something new and shiny in front of consumers to attract their attention (like we’re nothing more than magpies indiscriminately collecting anything from tinfoil to gold watches) and have forgotten that their core purpose should be deliver something that works. I wish they would instead go with the maxim of ‘If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it’ and instead focus on aesthetics. Why can’t they just release limited edition runs of new prints with collectible cards inside the packs? Tell me all about the wonders of pandas and leopards with accompanying cute prints but have the nappies actually work!

Advertisements

Rewards for Potty Training

Reward Charts can help potty training.

Reward Charts can help potty training.

When starting potty training it’s a good idea to think about how you’ll keep your toddler motivated. Some toddlers will simply want to be ‘just like my big brother/sister’; others will respond to lots of praise; others need something tangible to work towards and that’s where reward charts can be useful.

Potty Training! It’s something that we all experience as parents as we help our children transition out of nappies. I’ve posted previously on:

Reward Charts

Sometimes toddlers need a little extra positive reinforcement to start (or stick with) potty training. Reward charts can be a great way of helping them to see progress, learn about delayed gratification, and learn about working towards achievable goals at a young age.

There are lots of great ideas online for printing out your own reward chart that you can stick on the fridge (like these free to print charts). The important thing is to choose a theme that will tie in with your toddlers interests. I liked this magnetic one from Kmart because I knew Little Miss would like moving the magnets around.

Tip: If you have multiple children, it’s a good idea to instigate reward charts for siblings as well to prevent tantrums, jealousy, and rivalry! If your 2 year old is toilet training, maybe your 5 year old can have a reward chart for homework or chores.

Rewards

These need to be relevant to your child’s interests, realistic for your budget, and appropriate in scale. A trip to the park, a book, a small toy, are more realistic then promising a trip to Disneyland! Also, keep in mind that a reward comes after the action has been successfully taken (and a bribe comes before).

Sit down with your child and be really clear:

  • what they will receive points for (i.e. stickers on their reward chart),
  • what rewards they are working for, and,
  • how many points they need to obtain those rewards.

Encourage your child to brainstorm with you what those rewards are going to be. Possible rewards include:

  • Items (toys / books)
  • Activities (trips to the park, library, the zoo)
  • Food (jellybeans, McDonalds, restaurant)

You may want to start off with reward stickers for:

  1. each wee / poo in the potty (or toilet), and then move towards
  2. stickers for staying dry at home that day,  then,
  3. staying dry at kindy, then,
  4. staying dry overnight.

The important thing is to scaffold your expectations and help your child towards success at a pace that’s realistic to them. Remember that every child is different.

Items

Toys or books can be easily tailored to your child’s interests. It’s a good idea to have a mix of rewards that they can work towards (with larger or more expensive items requiring more points).  If you take them to a store to choose rewards, it’s a good idea to guide their choices by offering them a few options and letting them select one.

It’s also a good idea to guide them towards choosing toys that you were thinking about getting them anyway and which you can afford. Consider items that will encourage open-ended imaginative play and remember that you don’t need to buy ‘branded’ items for your kid to have fun.

We chose a (non-branded) My Little Pony and a wooden pizza – each slice and topping has to be earned so it has a good mix of short and long term gratification.

Activities

Again, these can be easily tailored to your child’s interests. You may want to have activities close to home, or that are free, cost fewer reward points and then have costly activities be something they have to save more points to earn. Not all activities have to be away from home either!

  • At home: build a tent out of sheets & chairs; make a collage; parent play with cars / dolls / animals / trains for 20 mins without distractions; have a tea party with toys; invite a friend over for the afternoon.
  • Free: go to a park; feed ducks; favourite playground; go to a beach; bike ride; art gallery; museum.
  • Paid: go to an indoor attraction (like a playground or trampoline park); go to zoo; go to observatory to see stars; movie.

Food

Food can be a controversial choice because it risks weighting food choices to show that some foods are inherently more desirable than others. In saying that, plenty of parents have chosen to use a jellybean or other small treat as a reward.

For more creative options, why not choose food related activities instead. Reward points could be saved towards things like:

  • doing baking together,
  • helping to make dinner (or choosing from a list of dinner options),
  • buying and planting vegetable seedlings, or micro-greens for the windowsill,
  • going to a cafe for a fluffy or scone,
  • going to a restaurant for lunch / dinner.

Rainy day play: Making a spider

Easy to make spider

Make a simple spider!

Kids love playing with craft materials. Why not spend a rainy afternoon making spiders, insects, or monsters; you could tie it in with a trip to the library to find some books for inspiration!

Materials

  • Pipe cleaners
  • Milk bottle lid
  • Googly eyes
  • Sellotape
  • Craft glue / glue gun
  • Scissors

 

Directions

  1. Cut your pipe cleaners to length and sellotape (or glue gun) them to the base of the milk bottle lid. Bend them to give them knees / feet so that it can stand.
  2. Glue on some googly eyes.
  3. Take the spider exploring!

 

Why not share with them 20 Fun Facts about Spiders for preschoolers or watch a short educational video clip about spiders aimed at preschoolers and kids.

Making a magical felt crown

Easy sewing projects - making a felt crown or tiara!

Beautiful glittery felt crown

Making a beautiful glittery felt crown or tiara is an easy sewing project. You can do it all in an afternoon either hand sewing or using a sewing machine and glue gun. Toddlers will have fun choosing all the colours and decorations! Older kids can be supervised to make this themselves 🙂

Materials

  • Felt
  • Buttons
  • Chalk / dressmaker’s pencil
  • Ruler
  • Scissors
  • Thread
  • Optional: glitter
  • Sewing needle / sewing machine / glue gun

Directions

  1. Using your ruler and chalk, draw a pattern on the felt. You need the crown / tiara + two rectangles for straps. The straps bed to be long enough to tie at the back of your child’s head.

    Measure, draw, and cut your fabric

    Pieces of felt cut out for the crown

  2. Let your child choose decorations for their crown. You can choose whether to handsew buttons on (stronger) or hot glue gun them. Sprinkle on done rainbow glitter for extra magic! (The glitter will stick to the felt, at least for a while).
  3. Sew the straps on each side. You can either use a needle or a sewing machine.
  4. Ta da!

    Finished felt crown

    Beautiful crown ready to wear!

 

Making a drawstring bag

 

Making a drawstring bag

Making a drawstring bag for marbles

Making a drawstring bag is a fun and easy project to do with kids! I still remember the soft nubby green cloth of the drawstring bag of marbles my brother and I shared as kids. I wanted to make something similar for Miss 3 and gaining access to a sewing machine at kindy seemed like a great opportunity.

There is an easy project to follow in this book by Jane Bull, My Sewing Machine. I didn’t think to look so I actually designed my own project for this bag. My daughter’s sensory sensitivities mean she doesn’t like being in the same room as the sewing machine when it’s operating but she likes looking at the sewing book and she liked helping me with the pattern, cutting, and pinning.

Making a drawstring bag (for marbles)

Materials

  • Paper, sellotape, pencil
  • Fabric
  • Cord or ribbon
  • Ruler
  • Pins
  • Chalk / fabric pencil
  • Scissors (paper, fabric, pinking)
  • Safety pin

Tip: Shop around to find good prices for fabric. Sometimes you’ll find fabric in unexpected places – I bought a giant polyester fleece blanket for NZD$3 / USD$2. It was perfect for making a drawstring bag for marbles (though I wouldn’t use it to make a dress).

Design

I made up a design template using paper, scissors sellotape, and pencil. I could see there were two different ways of approaching the bag and decided to have the fold at the bottom and seams up the sides; this results in the cord being on on two sides (instead of one) which I thought would be easier for Little Miss.

Making a paper template

Making a paper template for the drawstring bag

Once I’d worked out the design, and order of sewing seams, I transferred the template into the fabric. My fabric pencil didn’t work on the fleece but chalk did 🙂

Fabric cut and pinned for the drawstring bag

Fabric cut and pinned

I kept my seams about 1.5cm from the edges, allowed plenty of space for the cord, and made sure the fabric was ‘wrong side’ facing out (not as important with this fleece but good practice).

Sewing the bag

I made sure the threads were all set up and then my sewing order was:

  1. Sew short end (for cord).
  2. Sew other short end (for cord).
  3. Loop silky cord through safety pin. Miss 3 loved helping wriggle the silver fish (safety pin) through the ‘tunnel’. We did that on both sides and then I tied the loose ends.
  4. Sew each of the long sides. I started with a curve at the bottom and then went up to the drawstring (enough to just go over that seam but not go over the cord). Then I turned the fabric around and did a small zig-zag back to reinforce.
  5. The nice thing with this fabric is that I didn’t need to hem or worry about fraying like I werewolf with cotton. I did use the pinking shears to cut the bottom corners off (being careful of the curved corners I’d stitched).

    Drawstring bag sewn (wrong side facing out)

    Inside the bag

  6. Turn bag right side out!

    How to make a drawstring bag!

    Drawstring bag for marbles

Bag of marbles

Next week we can go on a treasure hunt expedition to buy marbles for the bag we made!

Rainy day play: Make a fishing game!

Make an indoor fishing game!

Make an indoor fishing game!

Indoor fishing can be a great way to develop fine motor skills and imaginative play! You can buy fully stocked Gone Fishing kits or you can make your own. We picked up our fish very cheaply (as they were factory seconds) and then let our imaginations run wild with the materials we had at home.

The Fish

We were fortunate enough to pick up our fish cheaply. You could also use a saw or sandpaper and glue gun to fashion a vague fish shape from scraps of wood. The metal eyelet is the same as what’s used when stringing up net curtain cords.

We decorated our fish with: several colours of paint, glitter glue, googly eyes, coloured feathers, and plastic gems.

Tip: This is a great craft project for teaching your toddler patience. We worked on ours over about 5 days. We needed to do the base colour on one side and then let it dry overnight; flip it over the next day and repeat the same. You need more time to let things dry when you’re using craft glue but can speed things up by using a glue gun.

The Fishing Rods

You can make these with lengths of dowling. Use an electric drill to make a hole about 1cm from the top and thread some twine through that has a paper clip tied to the other end. Alternatively, you could glue gun the twine to the rod (if you don’t have a drill).

The paper clip is surprisingly effective; I can catch my fish with it and Miss 2 will normally ‘manually’ catch her fish but will also attempt to catch it without ‘helping’ the hook.

Our rods have multiple shades of paint and glitter glue on them (as well as plastic gems) and also needed drying each night in the hot water cupboard. I stood them upright in a small glass baby food jar (we have several that we use for crafts).

Learning to sew

A step by step beginner's guide to sewing

A step by step beginner’s guide to sewing

I recently gained access to a sewing machine. My previous experiences were the 10 lessons we did as a class, decades ago, when I was in Intermediate School. My Nana was a dressmaker and money is tight so I’d love to learn a new skill.

I decided my best approach, since I don’t have a mentor, was to look through the local library. I found a brilliant book by Jane Bull, My Sewing Machine. It’s a step-by-step guide for beginners, ostensibly for 8-12 year olds since it was in the children’s section, with lots of photos and easy projects. It explains the different parts of the sewing machine and how to thread it.

Setting up the sewing machine probably seems really simple if you’re familiar with one but it’s not intuitive for me. There are a lot of steps, compared to hand sewing, and forgetting one of them leads to catastrophe! (Not really, but it can cause a lot of frustration as the needle just tattoos holes in the fabric or the threads turn into a tangled cat’s ball).

The sewing machine is located at our lovely new kindy. I had a pair of fascinated 4 year olds avidly watching my every step (no pressure!). It’s actually a nice learning experience for the kids being able to talk to them about how I don’t know how to use it and that we can work it out together. It’s not just about teaching them how to sew, it’s teaching them the process of learning. I’m talking with them about going to the library, following the instructions in the book, and asking for help when I can’t work out something myself.

Thankfully, one of the student teachers is a sewer; I’ve been able to run to her for help a few times when everything’s turned to custard!

Easy Pizza Pie! Healthy, delicious, and packed with vegetables.

I was so excited to discover our corner dairy has started stocking locally made Middle Eastern flatbread. It’s baked and delivered fresh each day, soy free, additive free, and wonderfully cheap. I’m having fun experimenting with it to make pizza, pizza pie, and wraps. The latest experiment involved making a vegetarian pizza pie that contrasts a salty crispy top with the tangy sweetness of tomato and the rich flavour of melted cheese. Not only is it a great way to get vegetables into your kids but it’s also a useful idea to keep in mind for jazzing up leftovers.

Ingredients

  • 2 x large flatbread (dinner plate size)
  • Leftover tinned spaghetti or pasta sauce
  • Thinly sliced vegetables (I used mushrooms, fresh spinach, and zucchini).
  • Grated cheese (I used Colby and Parmesan)
  • Neutral oil (I use Rice Bran)
  • Rock salt + garlic granules / smoked garlic salt / dukkah
  • Optional: If you like meat then you it’s easy to add tinned tuna, cooked chicken, roast pork, leftover (cooked) mince, sliced boiled egg, etc…

Allergies: soy free, egg free, dairy free*, nut free.

Directions

  1. Place the first flatbread on a pizza tray or lined oven tray.
  2. Lightly spread on tinned spaghetti or pasta sauce.
  3. Layer on sliced vegetables (and meat, if using).
  4. Cover in grated cheese(s).
  5. Place the second flatbread on top.
  6. Brush with neutral oil or melted butter.
  7. Grind rock salt over the top and sprinkle on garlic granules. Alternatively, you could use a smoked garlic salt, or dukkah, etc.
  8. Cook in a preheated oven at 180’C for approx. 10 mins (until cheese has melted and the pizza pie is thoroughly heated through). Keep an eye on the top (you may want to move it lower in oven or lower temperature slightly if the top is browning and crisping too early).

 

Tip: For other great pizza ideas – consider making a scone base pizza!

How to make a vegan chocolate spread that is allergy free and tastes amazing!

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting. I use Nuttelex + coconut milk to make a vegan, allergy free frosting that tastes amazing!

If you have a child with food allergies then you may find it difficult to source safe versions of products like Nutella. Alternatively, you may have a child attending a nut free kindergarten or school in which case Nutella isn’t permitted (as it contains hazelnuts). If you want to use a treat spread, for school lunches or parties, then this recipe will help you make your own!

Ingredients

  • 115g allergy friendly spread like Nuttelex (buttery taste)
  • 2 cups icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup Dutch Cocoa Powder
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 – 5 Tbsp  coconut milk

Allergies: gluten free, dairy free*, soy free, egg free, nut free. Vegan*.

Directions

  1. Whip the Nuttelex.
    • I like to use the food processsor (with a plastic beating tool rather than the metal cutting one).
  2. Sift in the cup icing sugar, and cocoa powder. Add the vanilla and 2 Tbsp milk.
  3. Beat until smooth.
    • I like to pulse it slowly in the food processor.
  4. Mix in more coconut milk, 1 Tbsp at a time, until you have a good thick smooth consistency.
  5. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Easy Banana Muffins (or Banana Cake) that can be made vegan and allergy free!

Banana cupcakes & gingerbread spice cookies

Banana cupcakes & gingerbread spice cookies. Made vegan and allergy free.

Banana cake has long been one of my nemesis; I just haven’t had the knack. I’m so glad to have finally found a recipe that works! It also has the wonderful bonus of being dairy, egg, soy, and nut free! I have also made it gluten free 🙂

Ingredients

  • 2 mashed / pureed ripe bananas*
  • 5 Tbsp neutral oil (I use rice bran)
  • 1/2 cup water + 1/2 cup water
  • 1 1/2c plain flour (or Healtheries Gluten Free Bread Mix).
  • 3/4c sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 Tbsp vinegar (I use apple cider)

Tip: The riper the bananas, the better this will work! As the bananas ripen they convert starch to sugar. Really ripe bananas will mash more easily, be sweeter, and have a more intense banana flavour.

Gluten Free: You can, of course, use a different gluten free flour! The reason that I’ve listed that one is because it contains guar gum but no raising agents (as the recipe includes those). You could, for instance, substitute superfine rice flour and add guar gum. Personally, I don’t use xanthan gum as it can be grown using soy as a base. You may need to experiment a little with gluten free flours to get the cake just right (you may want to start with muffins as it’s easier to tell when they’re cooked). Keep in mind that gluten free baking is often moister, denser, and may require a longer baking time.

Allergies: soy free, dairy free, egg free, nut free, gluten free*

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 180’C and prepare muffin trays / cake tin.
  2. Mash your bananas until you have a smooth texture. Tip: A food processor can do this quickly for you but you’ll want to do the actual mixing by hand.
  3. Mix in the oil and 1/2 cup water.
  4. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  5. Add the wet ingredients (banana, oil, water) to the dry ingredients. Add the vinegar.
  6. Stir till just combined. (Slowly add additional water if required).
  7. Quickly get into cupcake cases, muffin trays, or cake tin, and pop in oven.
  8. Bake until skewer comes out clean. Approximately 12 – 15 mins for muffins and 30-40 mins for cake.

Icings: Check out these ideas for completely natural icings that don’t use any artificial additives and are easy to make.

Tips: I’ve made this recipe several times. Lessons learned: using the plastic batter-stirrer-attachment-thingy for the food processor makes for a denser end product (so does over stirring by hand); the rising effect that you get from the vinegar + baking soda means that you want to get this into the oven quickly (instead of having a lengthy sidebar with your toddler about how baking is really just chemistry in the kitchen).