Happy Birthday Baby Boy! Experiences as Gifts for Kids

It happened. I crossed my legs and sucked in, trying with all my might to save our anniversary, but our tiny one came barreling into the world ON our first wedding anniversary. Sayonara whimsical weekend celebratory getaways and hello Chuck E. Cheese’s (and other gifts for kids).

In part, stud muffin and I are both closet introverts, in part, we live in small places, and in (larger) part we have too much stuff and don’t particularly like it. It makes for messy rooms, pieces break and disappoint and if we’re being honest, keeping up with the Jones’s toys next door is priceeeey.

Gifts for Kids

When my baby (who the airlines now officially refer to as a my child) turned 2 yesterday, we had already decided that his “gift opening” ceremony would be a short one. I’ve heard the formula:

  1. Something you want
  2. Something you need
  3. Something to wear
  4. Something to read

…and until I had kids that sounded reasonable to me. Now I can’t imagine even buying that many things for each kid once they outnumber their parents.

First of all, he’s 2… we still have a free pass on his (non) memory and since he doesn’t understand the whole birthday deal, we have zero pressure to perform. So we’re changing things up in our home. Since husband and I have birthdays that are just over 2 weeks apart, we made it a tradition from the get-go to go somewhere together instead of buying gifts for each other. Year 1 we did a weekend in Niagara (with our 2 month old little screamer), year 2 a weekend at a resort in Ras Al Khaima and this year, my 30th, I’m expecting big things!

For munchkin’s first birthday (and our anniversary) we hit up the local zoo (dude LOVES animals), this year we did a Scandinavian adventure.

Experiences Vs. Stuff
“I wanna touch birdie” – frolicking around the Copenhagen streets

Experiences Vs. Stuff

Experiences Vs. Stuff
I’m on a boat!

Extravagance is definitely not the order the day. If we had a whole gaggle in tow I reckon we’d make a day at the pool and a barbeque just as much fun as a tri-country odyssey (but we wanted to sneak in one more flight before he became a full fare).

The Value of Experiences

Here’s our rationale:

  • All I remember from my childhood are the things we did together, the adventures, the traditions, the time together
  • My family has always been super close and very open about everything because we have spent so many nights in tiny hotel rooms with nowhere to hide and insanely expensive internet that we refused to pay for. We also always read a book together on vacation and have nightly dinner “topics”
  • The more we get gifts for kids, the more stuff we have and the more places and boxes we also need to store it
  • Stuff doesn’t make people happy.

An article published in the Journal of Psychological Science following more than a decade of research into the topic found that over time, people tend to become less happy with material purchases and more happy with experiences. I love the rationale. No matter how wonderful a thing (new car, house, phone) – we adapt to them over time as they become ordinary – memories in retrospect however tend to become fonder (even negative ones turn into hilarious anecdotes). Just the anticipation of an experience can engender happiness. SO if you read that carefully, there is delight in anticipation, delight in the experience, and a delightful memory post-hoc.

Going on adventures are so valuable because they also become opportunities for learning. Growing up wherever we went on holiday (all over Canada the US) we had the obligatory Parliamentary and University tour. We learned all about governments and higher education, and are better for it today. When we go on vacation we like to rent cars, get a good “feel” for a city, and use apps to learn all about the places we visit.

Plans I have for future birthdays:

  • Give a kid (or maybe their siblings) $100 for the day and allow them to pick a special adventure they would like to use it for
  • Enroll them in a class/camp they are into (sports/dance/pottery/basket weaving)
  • Subscription to a great magazine (national geographic/monthly mass readings & reflections)
  • Memberships or seasons tickets to museums, rec centers etc…
  • A “day-your-way” where the whole family is at their service
  • Finding ways to use “their” day to make someone else’s (volunteering)
  • If a bunch of their birthday’s are close together – a bigger gift (a ping pong table or the like) that the whole family can enjoy
  • Always share what we love about the birthday girl/boy over dinner

I think these options will result in sweeter dreams, fonder memories, more learning, greater joy in our home and fewer sprained ankles (tripping over toy cars) and storage bins.

But, if you’re wondering – we had a little party and bought him a kid-sized blackboard/whiteboard for his birthday so that there was something to unwrap and he can practice his letters!

Experiences Vs. Stuff

Experiences vs. stuff


What are some ideas you have for making birthdays special?

The Best Brain Food for Babies

One of the things I learned quickly with number one, was how difficult life was prior to his ability to communicate, and how much simpler it became as he acquired language. Also, hilarious.

Enter the vibrant (albeit slimy) egg yolk.

Best Brain Food for Babies
Sally Fallon of the Weston A Price Foundation (brilliant, lengthy article to be found here) states that “parents who institute the practice of feeding egg yolk to baby will be rewarded with children who speak and take directions at an early age”. Reason enough to try, no? This isn’t like willing your tiny one to walk and then regretting even having the thought the second he takes off down the hall cackling. This is talking we’re *ahem* talking about! Way less screaming, guessing, and wild gesticulations plus infinitely more cuteness and laughter (Stud Muff generally refers to me as “honey,” guess who else does too?)

Unfortunately, before we all skip merrily into the kitchen to whip up a Greek omelet, there is one caveat to the magic. Said egg yolk needs to be raw, or nearly so.

Why Raw Egg Yolks > Cooked Egg Yolks

  1. Heat destroys the enzymes that help our bodies assimilate the nutrients in eggs
  2. Heat also alters and reduces those nutrients

Raw egg yolks are also less likely to result in an allergic reaction, making them a great choice for many people. (Egg whites tend to be more allergenic and are best left until the wee one is over a year old – though this is being increasingly left to the discretion of parents if there is no prior history of egg allergy in the family). Therefore – while cooked eggs are nothing to snuff at nutritionally, raw eggs yolks pack a serious health punch that is also gentler on the digestive system and more available to our bodies.

Health benefits of raw egg yokes for babies and their brains:

FAT – Pastured hens (generally organic, or at least raised on flax or insects) – lay eggs with far more omega-3 long-chain fatty acids than their conventionally raised (caged) counterparts. These fatty acids are also found in breast milk because they are essential for the developing brain.

CHOLESTEROL – Perhaps a scary word at first glance – cholesterol is another wildly important component of optimal brain development (is also another key player in mom’s milk)

VITAMINS A, D, E and K – Which happen to all be fat-soluble (they require dietary fat in order to be absorbed by the body). These vitamins are key in bone growth, immunity and skin development of little ones. Fatty acids in the egg yolk itself make them readily available to their bodies.

Additional vitamins and minerals found in the humble yellow goop:

B6 – involved in making neurotransmitters needed for brain development

B12 – involved in the maintenance of nerves, blood cell and DNA

Zinc, copper, choline, B12, thiamin, riboflavin, selenium, folate

All of these benefits – one food – that is easy for their immature digestive system to handle.


How to sneak em’ in:

  • A quick over-easy in the frying pan
  • Whisk it into blended smoothies (at the end)
  • Mash up with banana or avocado
  • Put egg into boiling water for about 3 minutes, cool and then cut open and allow yolk to run into a bowl (season with a little salt, pepper and turmeric for even more nutrition and taste!)

You are what you eat as they say 🙂 What we feed our kids is what their bodies will be made of, and I have every intention of training my babies’ palates to enjoy the things that will nourish them and keep them healthy. “Let food be thy medicine”

What You Need to Know to Raise Resilient Kids

They say the millennial generation is lazy. Entitled. Fragile. They say we can’t handle stress. They say our “helicopter parents” hovered around us solving our problems and telling us we were God’s gift to the world – the most perfect little specimens. All of us.

I also say, that if parenting is a test, mom and dad (hi!)– you aced it. A+. I turned out great! Thanks 🙂

Except, I AM in fact, a lazy thinker. Losing an eraser does stress me out sometimes and now that I’m done my PhD, I do feel that I should be handed a tenure track position (jokes). Let’s talk about how to raise kids who might handle these situations a little differently – kids who aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and get to work. Kids who like a challenge and will be more willing to confront some of today’s problems.

First, two words about brain development in children:

  • The brain is far more plastic (read: impressionable, moldable) in childhood, adolescence and early adulthood than it is later in life.
  • Every experience a child has shapes the way his/her brain wires itself. Brain development is activity-dependent, meaning that those circuits that are turned on consistently will grow stronger, while those that see little activity may be “pruned” away and disappear altogether. This makes a busy little person’s brain much more efficient at processing their world and rising to meet its particular challenges

Despite their best efforts, scientists have yet to discover any kind of tricks or particular actions that expedite the wiring process in children’s brain development. Loving care and exposure to language (verbal interaction) are the only ways we know of to safeguard and encourage cognitive development in little ones.

There is, however, one simple, proven way to develop kids who are not averse to hard work, and consequently are more likely to have brains that are wired for eventual success. It involves developing what Scientific American calls in this article a “growth (or mastery-oriented) mindset”. This stands in stark contrast to what has been termed a “fixed (or helpless) mindset”.

What you need to know to raise resilient kids

Kids with a fixed (helpless) mindset believe that intelligence is doled out in fixed amounts, and whatever they have is all they are entitled to. These can be children who have sailed effortlessly through school as well because, as everyone told them, they were “smart”. This mindset becomes obvious in the face of mistakes which break their confidence and threaten their egos. They often shy away from challenges for fear of looking “dumb”.

By contrast, mastery-oriented children understand that intelligence is flexible and can grow through hard work and study. Their objective is primarily to learn. They are motivated by challenges, seeing them as opportunities.

What you need to know to raise resilient kids

So what are some strategies we can begin implementing how to develop resilience and a growth-mindset in our baby Einsteins?

  1. Tell stories about family members, colleagues, and heroes who saw success as a result of hard work and perseverance, stories about underdogs who didn’t give up. We are the stories we tell.
  2. Teach them that their brain is a muscle like any other and grows stronger with more concerted use and effort
  3. Rather than reinforcing that they are brilliant and talented, let’s start praising the effort they put into a project, how hard they worked, what a great challenge opportunities are….etc. Some examples of this could include:
    1. You are getting really good at studying! I saw you reading over your history book so many times, making great notes and asking others to test you. All that work really paid off!
    2. I like the way you kept trying variations on that pasta recipe until you created one that tasted this good!
    3. That really looked like a tough math problem, but you kept at it until you figured it out. You didn’t get distracted, and you worked really hard, way to go!
    4. Wow, that’s a tough problem – what a fun challenge!
    5. That question was too easy – let’s see if we can find something harder that we can learn something from.
    6. Mistakes are interesting – let’s see what we can learn from this one.

How to Help Your Child Enjoy Heathy Food

Don’t we all dream of a world in which our kids come running to the kitchen for kale and quinoa, and politely say “no thank you” to strangers when offered cookies and ice cream (because those things would never be found in our kitchens….right? at least not in the cupboards the kids can reach…)? Today we’re talking about how to help your child enjoy healthy food – not just tolerate it – but ask for it with a smile 🙂 (<– putting one on your face as well).

As a certified sugar addict I’ve been very committed to raising kids who have better trained buds than I… and that starts young. I’m talking in utero young. Flipping and floundering and sucking back smoothies through their umbilical cords…

How to Help Your Child Enjoy Heathy Food

Studies like this one have shown that moms train their babies’ palates at large by what they eat while pregnant, nursing and in the early years of solids. The taste of breast milk is fluid (chuckle chuckle) and determined by the mom’s diet. Eat lots of sugar and you’ll be treating your tiny one to human soda, spicy food will give it some kick. Of course these effects are not all-powerful, but the flavor subtleties influence their preferences when it comes time to introduce solids.

How to Help Your Child Enjoy Heathy Food

How to Help Your Child Enjoy Healthy Food

Posts on optimal first foods will be up in the coming weeks, but for now, some ideas of how to help your little one enjoy things are good for them include:

  • Eat whole, nourishing foods while pregnant (not enough for 2! caloric requirements only increase minimally and closer to term)
  • Eat whole, nourishing foods, plenty of good fat and increase overall quantity while nursing
  • Offer variety upon introduction of solids (new things tend to be more interesting, I generally feed him 4 different things at each meal and only bring out 1 or 2 at a time)
  • If baby refuses things like liver sneak it in with some organic, unsweetened applesauce
  • Limit or remove sugar from their diet altogether (and watch how they beg for fruit!)
  • Set a good example in food choices
  • Don’t give up! It takes about 12 separate instances of eating something unpleasant for the palate to begin to enjoy it
  • Don’t give in. Once baby becomes a toddler, they can go a few hours without eating, no problemo. If they are refusing the delicious healthy meal you have lovingly prepared, gently remind them that they will have nothing else until it is finished. In our case, it goes back into the fridge and comes out the next time they are hungry. You’ve heard it before, but babies will not starve themselves. Give it some time and they’ll be begging for pureed liver and kale.

Bon Appetit!

Activities for Toddlers – Strategies for Busy Parents

When it comes to activities for toddlers, one of my new “feel-good-about-today” strategies is what I’m calling:

The 3-15 chunks. (Love me a good sexy title!)

Most days, I find myself at home and car-less, which sounds like a recipe for quality kid time n’est-ce pas? Then I check my email. And all of a sudden it’s open season on my time as publications, job hunting, laundry and writing suck up the space in my planner.

Too often at the end of the day I used to feel like I could hardly account for my waking hours. Nothing of consequence had been accomplished. I was no better for it, and neither was my Little. There had to be a better way, and I think, for now, I’ve found one that is working really well for us. It requires an investment of about 45 minutes a day.

I spend most of the day in the same room as my son, eating the pretend “pasta” he “makes” with sand toys, laughing at his antics, correcting his behavior, hugging his sweet body and answering his questions, but not entirely present and not particularly engaged (usually working away on my computer). This is where I see the dichotomy between quality of time and quantity of time.

I technically spend all day with the doll, but it used to be the case that I didn’t actually spend it with him. I just had time with him.

This is what I came up with.

I now try to do a minimum of three 15-minute chunks a day with my Little (these can certainly be smaller chunks of time, and sometimes it turns into such a party it lasts for hours). Most weekdays this pans out, some it doesn’t…we just keep rolling.

Growing Great Toddlers - Strategies for Busy Parents

Activities for Toddlers

15 minutes for some kind of physical activity

  • Dance party anyone?
  • Kicking around a ball
  • Walks
  • Hitting the park
  • Swimming
  • Running around blowing and catching bubbles outside
  • Making and flying paper airplanes or kites

15 minutes for some kind of intellectual activity

  • Practicing numbers
  • Recognizing letters
  • Country capitals (Kabul is literally the cutest word he knows how to say)
  • Reading together
  • Practicing colors while we draw
  • Learning body parts

15 minutes for some kind of spiritual activity

  • Explaining something about who God is
  • A particular Bible story
  • Memorizing short verses
  • Praying together

If at the end of the day I have accomplished those things – at this age – I think that it was well used.

Activities for toddlers - Strategies for Busy Parents

Perhaps those of you with multiple kids at different ages and stages at home can weigh in a bit on this and suggest ways to make activities with toddlers work in those situations… but I reckon we’ll either move into teaching the same general thing at different levels simultaneously, or focus on only one or two of those a day with each child independently.

We’ve been doing this for about a month now, and it has made stay-at-home mothering so much more meaningful and fun for us! And seriously, my little sponge-of-a-son blows me away every day with his capacity to understand and remember. If you see him around, ask him the capital of the UAE. *melt*