Science World Rocks!

We used to have a yearly membership to Science World, but we let it lapse. We hadn’t been in a long while because of the renovations going on – last time Zak had gone the construction smells made him sick. On Friday night, however, looking for activities to do on the weekend, I saw that a paleontologist would be on hand at Science World on Saturday to show fossils, etc. At breakfast, when we mentioned to our son that we were considering going to Science World to see an exhibit about dinosaurs, he exclaimed, unprompted, “You know what I want to be when I grow up, Maman? I want to be a pa-le-on-to-lo-gist.” So off to Science World we went.

It was still early when we arrived so it was not too busy, and we went straight to the Extreme Dinosaurs exhibit, which we had almost to ourselves. And it rocked! At first, our son was afraid of the life-size dinosaurs that moved and growled. He who loves “Team-Rexes” so much that he would probably trade his sister for one wouldn’t go anywhere near the T-Rex because he thought he would get eaten. I had to cajole him into stepping further into the exhibit, holding his hand every step of the way, while his dad and sister were happily going back and forth pushing buttons to make dinosaurs move. But he came around. Although he remained weary around the T-Rex, undoubtedly the central piece of the exhibit, he quite enjoyed the experience.

The dinosaurs are controlled by motion sensors and they do growl, so it can be surprising for young children, but once we made it clear that they would not move their feet, that they were not real (!?!) and that they would not eat him, our son was able to go through, albeit with sweaty palms. I was very proud of him for overcoming his fear, and it was worth it: the exhibit is really cool. There was even a fossil table where kids could brush off some fake sand to unearth fake fossils. After that we spent some time at the kids space, which our son enjoyed a lot. To our surprise, our baby was also really happy, walking around, picking up balls and throwing them in various apparatus. We stopped to chat with the paleontologist, we had snacks, and we left only because nap time was approaching.

But now that we have renewed our membership (and that winter is coming), we will be back for sure. We found room to park our bikes outside and our double stroller/bike trailer inside, the employees and volunteers were nice and dynamic… it was definitely a nice outing that was enjoyed by all.

And I was not paid or given any perks to provide this review of one of Vancouver’s main attraction… but it’s never too late!

It gets better…

You may or may not know Dan Savage (or you may not want to admit that you know him). He writes a sex advice column that runs in many newspapers in the US and Canada. He is also openly gay, and him and his partner (his husband in Canada) have started the It Gets Better Project, which will soon have a Canadian version, supported by Rick Mercer among many other artist.

The project was started because a series of gay teenagers committed suicide after being bullied and harassed by classmates. But the message is aimed at all teenagers who are going through high school wishing they were not born: this is the worse time of your life, but that means it will only get better. And it does. Dan Savage asked adults to record a video to tell teenagers how much better things will get, and tell them to hang in there so they can see the great things life has in store for them. Even Barack Obama recorded a video on the American Website.

This project really struck a cord with me. Like so many others, I was teased and bullied in high school. I was a year younger than everyone else (I skipped a grade), I was immature, and I was a very, very good student. And did I mention I was shy and had very little self-confidence? I didn’t have it worse than countless others. And I never thought of suicide, probably because through all that I had a family that loved me, I had good friends who went through pretty much the same thing with me, I had interests – like music, which allowed me to be part of a band, and the Scouting movement, which gave me a place where I felt like I belonged and fit in. I had my passion of writing, which allowed me to express myself. And I didn’t believe in an afterlife, so I just figured anything was better than not existing. But I was pretty miserable for a while.

Like most people (fortunately), I put up with it and things got better. Back then, I never would have thought that some day I would be married to such a handsome and wonderful man, that I would find a place and a community at the other end of the country, that I would have a job I loved and that I would have two beautiful and healthy children. To be frank, I thought I would never ever find love, because I was such a geek and nobody cared about me. But so many of us feel like that, and yet we all end up with a pretty decent life once we get out of high school. High school is not real life. And things DO get better.

Thanks to Dan Savage for this initiative. And if you are a (relatively) well adjusted adult, take time to talk to that teenager you know who is having a rough time, whether because he’s gay, or otherwise different, or just not cool enough. Let him or her know that you love them, and remind them that their nightmare will not last. They will move on and things will get better. Things will get great. Life is worth it.

The Business of Being Born

I was recommended this movie and decided to rent it last night. It is an interesting look at maternity care in the United States by a producer and a filmmaker who do not hide their pro-midwife and pro-homebirth biases. Although some of the facts of maternity care in the US does make your blood curl, I also see some flaws in their arguments.

For instance, they compare the mother and infant death mortality in the US to that of Europe and Japan, where midwives attend %70 to %80 of births. What they don’t mention is that the US is also the only one of those countries not to have universal health care. So the fact that there is more complications could also be due to the fact that lots of women don’t get the pre- and post-natal care they should for lack of money or insurance.

But there is also convincing evidence that there are problems in the American system. The fact that some hospitals have a %45 cesarean section rates is rather alarming, as is the fact that almost no one manages to have a natural birth at the hospital there. Of course we have only one side of the story, but it does really seem like when labor drags on a bit too much, doctors are very quick to prescribe pitocin to speed up contractions, which usually leads a woman to need an epidural, which then tends to slow down labor, which requires more pitocin, which ends up putting the baby in distress and leading the mother down the path to a c-section. All that, according to them, because hospitals are businesses and doctors want to empty beds as fast as possible. It is telling that the c-section rates spike around 4 pm and 10 pm, when doctors want to go home.

I have to admit that watching that movie made us reconsider homebirth. I’m still not overly comfortable with the idea, and I am pretty confident that a midwife will be able to help me have a natural birth at the hospital. But although my first birth with my doctor was completely natural, Zak is right when he points out that it was a super fast birth once we got to the hospital, and nothing says I would have been allowed to have that kind of birth if I had been in labor for hours. I will talk about it with the midwife on Tuesday out of curiosity. If I wasn’t convinced I can have a natural birth at the hospital, I would definitely consider a homebirth. But for now, I’ll stick to my hospital plan.

If you’re curious: The Business of Being Born, $6.99 rental on the Website but $4.99 rental on iTunes.

Pink stinks!

I just read about this Website this morning:

And I can think of several people that could find it interesting. Basically, this Website was started by a British mother of two little girls who was sick of the pink toys and sex culture invading her house and jealous of her twin sister, who had two little boys and a house full of dinosaurs and other more interesting toys in a various array of colors. I haven’t had much time to look at it yet, but their T-shirts look cool. They go after toys that are “too” pink, that promote stereotyped roles for little girls or that want to make them look and act like young adults. You know, like high heels for babies or the Polly Pocket Races to the Mall cars…

I guess they haven’t had time yet to post the dance pole for young girls, or the padded bikini tops for 7-year-olds that were recently pulled from the shelves. There certainly is work to do in this area!

Sometimes I’m really glad I have a boy!

Pumpkin Patch

Today we visited a patch of countryside less than 30 minutes away from our bustling city: the Country Pumpkin Patch, in Richmond. We had a wonderful time with some friends of ours despite the fact that there is some room for improvement.

First, their Website doesn’t work… Except when it does. Which seems to be random. And I was slightly disappointed by the farm animals that they have: 2 lamas, 2 miniature goats and 2 pigs. I thought there was a petting zoo, but I guess I must have read their site wrong. The price tag is a bit high ($10 per person, free for 2 and under, although some of the signs on the site say 3 and under, some 2 and under). But the price does include a pumpkin of your choice and a hay-ride.

Pumpkin PatchAll in all, we figure it was worth it. The main site has a stage with live, non-stop entertainment; a bit lame for adults, but pretty good for children and the music was not bad at all. There are tables for picnics, a few booths selling junk food and a tent full of hay, which older children were having fun playing in. At first, we thought that was it and we were really disappointed. Then we took the hay-ride (with live entertainment) to the pumpkin patch. The corn maze was not overly entertaining, but the pumpkin patch is huge and all of the pumpkin were perfect! Granted, they opened on Saturday and we went Sunday, so we were among the first. Last year, we went later in the season and the remaining pumpkins were all smashed or rotten. This time, we had our pick of small pumpkins, big pumpkins, orange, white, green pumpkins…

Our boy and the son of our friends had a good time dancing to the music and sitting on pumpkins. They will enjoy it more when they’re older, and we’re definitely going to go back. I love to seize any opportunity to show my son where his food comes from. This is a great place to go to enjoy a sunny fall day.

-Mommy, look at me, I swear I’ll manage to lift it!

There is no more lead in MY dinnerware… I think…

I have been delaying writing a follow-up post to “I’m sorry, why is there lead in my dinnerware?” for a while, however after hearing last week a very unsettling news report out of Utah, in which a toddler may have suffered lead poisoning in utero and from breast milk due to her mother’s exposure to the lead glaze on their Gibson Overseas dinner plates, it was pretty hard to delay it further.

A few months back I contacted a number of dinnerware manufacturers – Corelle, Dansk, Dudson, Homer Laughlin China Co., Ikea, Lenox, Mikasa, and Pfaltzgraft – to see if any of their dinnerware products were lead-free. Of these eight manufactures two (Mikasa and Dudson) have never replied, perhaps because they didn’t like the question, or worse, they didn’t know the answer.

Luckily six manufacturers were nice enough to provide some information about their products. Below are the important excerpts from their emails:

Our specifications are that stoneware products and glazes are made of clay-based materials and glazes used throughout the industry. Decorations, if present, are made from low-lead enamels and fired at temperatures exceeding 1000 degrees F, which binds any heavy metals both physically and chemically so that their release is minimized.

All Dansk dinnerware is made Lead Free.

Homer Laughlin China Co
All of our ceramic products meet the requirements of California’s Proposition 65 for lead and cadmium release. We meet the technical requirements to be called lead free and cadmium free. As we are sure you know, there are trace amounts of lead in the atmosphere which make it impossible to be 100% lead free. You can be sure that our products are as free of lead and cadmium as it is scientifically possible to be.

The IKEA product range is subjected to comprehensive tests and complies with the strictest applicable laws and safety standards, and we have detailed regulations on the use of chemicals and other substances in the manufacturing process. If one country tightens its rules, we introduce these new regulations on all IKEA markets, whenever possible. The lead and lead compounds are not allowed to be used and the contamination limit value adopted at IKEA is 100 mg lead/kg.

Note: We followed up with Ikea to see if they could clarify what their reference of 100 mg lead/kg was all about and although they have not yet responded to us we did find the following at the bottom of one of the pages in their catalog:

All Ikea ceramics for preparing and serving food are lead- and cadmium safe. This means no heavy metals may be transfered from the glaze to the foodstuffs. For products which come into contact with food. Ikea imposes tougher criteria than the law demands. And tests are made regularly.

In response to your inquiry regarding the lead content in our products, lead can be found in our tableware, crystal products and hand-painted products.

It is our Company Policy to use only lead-free glazes, pigments or decals in our porcelain, stoneware, china and earthenware products. We know of no company with a more stringent policy with respect to the use of lead, cadmium and other contaminants than Pfaltzgraff.

So what is a consumer to do? Well, we immediately took Lenox and Corelle off of our shopping list, followed by Homer Laughlin China Co. simply because we were not overly fond of their style. Next we tried to look for Dansk, but unfortunately we could not find any company selling their dinnerware locally. That only left us with: Pfaltzgraff, Ikea, using glass dinnerware or starting the process all over again.

We hesitated for a while between Pfaltzgraff and Ikea. Pfaltzgraff had some nicer looking dishes, but they all seemed to be made in Asia and we were hoping on finding something made a little closer to home. Ikea in turn had not bad looking dishes made in Europe, Asia, etc. but some of the sets didn’t have any cups. In the end we decided that if we were going to buy dinnerware from a-far, we may as well pick the nicest style, and so we are now eating off of brand new white, stoneware Pfaltzgraff dishes.

The problem with being a consumer, is at the end of the day, it all comes down to blind trust. You can be informed and careful until the cows come home, but unless you can take every product that you purchase into a professional lab for testing, on some level you have to believe that these companies – who are often solely accountable to their shareholders – are doing the testing and have the quality control that they claim to. These days, that is more trust than I have… Which is why although there shouldn’t be any lead in our dinnerware, according to its manufacturer, unless we get it tested I will always have a little spec of doubt! Maybe we should have went for glass dinnerware…

Now, what about the glaze in our slow-cooker… is it lead-free?

Cloth Diapering – How?

Using cloth diapers is not as complicated as people may think, but there are a lot of things to think about and when you have never seen anyone use them, it can certainly be intimidating at first. So here is a summary of what it has been like for us.

We have decided to buy Mother-Ease diapers on the recommendation of a friend, and we are totally satisfied with them. We can get them in local stores, but also online for a very small shipping fee, and they are made in Ontario. The service is great and from what I have heard, the quality of the products is hard to beat. We have 36 of what they call One-Size diapers, which fit a child from birth to potty-training. You can adjust them by folding them differently and using different sets of snaps (no pins needed). All you need to do is change the size of cover you use as your child grows. A cover (which also closes with snaps or velcro) is necessary to make your diapers waterproof, and the perk of the Mother-Ease covers is that they are made of polyurethane laminate (PUL), which breathes a little and is one of the safest plastics out there health-wise. Some people also use wool covers, which I haven’t tried, but apparently they work very well and obviously, they are more environmentally-friendly than plastic ones.

There are other options out there, for instance all-in-one diapers, which have a cover and diaper sown together. They make things more easy as you have only one thing to worry about, but they are more expensive, take longer to dry and wear off faster as you end up washing the cover with every use. There are other fitted diapers that come in different sizes to accommodate your baby’s growth, as well as prefolds, which have to be folded and attached with a fastener or pins. All in all, it seemed to us that the one-size diaper was a good option, cheaper than most, as your diapers grow with your baby, but of good quality, which makes life easier.

Our diapers are made of bamboo, which is probably the greenest option at this time. Bamboo grows quickly without the need for pesticides, and it is naturally antibacterial. It also absorbs more, so the diapers can be trimmer for the same absorbency, although it does make them dry more slowly. Mother-Ease also sells cotton and organic cotton diapers.

When your baby gets older, you may need a bit more absorbency, especially at night or for longer trips. You can simply add liners to your diapers. Mother-Ease makes some (bamboo or cotton) that snap into the diaper, but there are also other companies making hemp or cotton liners out there. We use a stay-dry liner made of a wicking fabric to keep our baby’s bum dry since he seems prone to rashes, but a lot of people do without them or make their own by cutting fleece into the desired shape and size.

You don’t need to bleach diapers. Actually, you shouldn’t bleach them as it will make them wear faster. If your baby is exclusively breast-fed, their poop is water soluble and therefore, you don’t even have to get rid of it before you wash the diapers. You just need to do a pre-rinse. Since we don’t have that option on our apartment’s laundry room’s washers, we rinse the diapers first with the help of a diaper sprayer hooked onto our toilet. You can also use flushable liners to flush out the poop. Either way, your baby’s poop is eliminated the same way yours is: down the sewer, where it can be properly taken care of.

The only thing you have to be weary of is laundry soaps. Some will not work well with cloth diapers because they leave residues behind that can build up and make your diapers stink. So you need to go with something simple, preferably with no perfume and additive of any sort. We found two Web sites that rate laundry detergent for use with cloth diapers (Diaper Jungle and Pinstripes and Polkadots). We use Country Save (sold at London Drugs, but call first as we found that not all stores carry it) and we are extremely happy with the result as well as the price. You also need to use very little detergent, again to avoid build-up issues. That makes laundering your own diapers even cheaper.

Many people prefer to use a diaper service, which costs a bit more but simplifies your life. You drop your diapers in the bag given to you buy the service, and once a week they pick up the used diapers and drop a bag of clean diapers. This way uses less water as the diapers are washed in big batches, but the services have to use bleach and harsher soaps as the diapers are used on different babies all the time, and the diapers used are generally not as high quality, and therefore not as user-friendly.

Most people these days use a dry-pail method, which means that they just put wet and soiled (rinsed or not, depending) diapers in their diaper pail and take them out on laundry day. A washable diaper pail bag makes things all the more easy as you empty it in the washer, then drop the bag in the washer, too. The other method, called wet pail, consists of storing soiled and wet diapers in a pail containing a bit of water and either a bit of detergent or baking soda, or some other recipe (there seems to be as many as there are cloth diapered babies). In my experience it is unnecessary and make things harder on laundry day as the pail is a lot heavier to handle.

A lot of our friends use disposable diapers when they are out and about, but we just carry a dry bag (the type made for kayaking, like this) which is very light and small to carry when empty, yet can fit several used diapers. Since we use wash cloths and water instead of wipes, we just put a few wet ones in a Ziploc bags, and we’re ready to go! We have never had any problem. Sure, you do have to change the diapers more often than you would have with disposables, but you should be changing them often anyway for your baby’s health.

I’m sure that I’m forgetting some info, but I would be happy to answer any question on the subject. There is also a lot of information on the Internet on various websites. A good way to start if you are interested in cloth diapering is to join a forum online. Again, Mother-Ease has a very good one with a lot of savvy moms giving advice to the newbies.

Happy diapering!