When Parents of Twins Have Favorites

I confess: I am a parent to twins - 2 girls - and I have a favorite child
I admit: It's very hard for me to confess this out loud
Wait! It gets worse.
I think: I've always had a favorite daughter almost from the day the girls were born
I notice: That I let my favorite twin get away with a lot more than her sister
I over-compensate: My non-favorite child with hugs and kisses and extra mommy time
I panic: When I have to give both girls milk and one cup is fuller by a couple of drops
I react: By closing my eyes and handing out the cups so each girl takes one and I don't feel the guilt of giving my favorite twin the fuller cup
I'm OK: Because I don't have a constant favorite. It changes from month to month depending on... I don't know, the moon's position or something
I do know: That I love my daughters equally and this is one of the many emotional hurdles of being a parent to more than one child

Any mommy out there with a confession to make? Please share, I'm all ears!

Calgary Farmers Market Favorites

I've visited a farmers' market every other weekend since we moved into our home. My favorite so far has been the Calgary's Farmers' Market. It's an indoor market that's open every Saturday and Sunday and has quite an assortment of fresh foods and homemade goodies. It's also my opportunity to feed my twins organic foods without breaking the bank.
I've always thought organic foods are expensive and they usually are. Even in the farmers' markets. I've however found that there are some deals in the Calgary Farmers' Market that are comparable to if not better than the grocery store foods especially when purchased in season. Notice how bell peppers are sometimes as expensive as 3 for $5 in the grocery store? Try the farmers market. You just may be in for a pleasant surprise. 
Calgary Farmers Market Wall Mural

My favorite stalls in the Calgary Farmers' Markets have been:
Souto Farms for fresh produce - I love, love love them. The have the largest variety of produce AND the best prices in the market. Plus they're friendly and have samples everywhere.  
Bowden Farms for chicken 10lb box of drumsticks

Sylvan Farms for cheeses - The girls love their 5 year aged cheddar. Yummy, yummy!

This week, all my loving is going out to Calgary Farmers Market and to Julia, the lovely hostess of Mama Loves which I'm linking up to today. Go check out the cute flashlights that her girls are loving.

4 Reasons to Use a Private Photographer For Family Photos

In the bottom section of my first post on choosing a family photographer, I mentioned my experiences with Picture People, Target, Sears and a private photographer. Here's a pictorial of 4 reasons to use a private photographer for family photos

Close your eyes and imagine what the second baby looks like
Very good session with Target except for a big nose boogie that's not visible in this pic
From Sears. Did the backdrop shrink? So glad I can crop the photos myself.
Thanks to Little Laughs Photography in Calgary. Photoshopping was part of the package
Can you see the difference in photographer skill and quality of props in those 4 photos. It's unmistakable. My final advice in closing off this post series, go with a private photographer. If I had to do it all over again, I would look for a photographer whose style I like and just buy a good package because these babies really do grow fast and all you have are memories and pictures. Plus wouldn't it be great if those pictures actually look nice?! Just sayin'

PS: The Target photo sessions were quite good BUT the photographer had a lot of experience working we kids. I found out from talking to her that she's been in the kid photography business for over 5 years working with different photography chains. With the chain stores, you can't always predict who you'll get but if you find a good photographer working with a chain, by all means patronise them for the cost savings.

Choosing the Best Photographer for Family Photos

So you've looked at your studio options, what next? Picking the best photographer to work with that will ensure satisfaction with the photos at the end of the day. I always recommend starting with a shortlist and working through that list until one option remains

Step 1: Decide what you want in a photo package
What is a photo package?
Almost all chain and private professional photographers offer photo packages. The package will specify the number of prints, sizes, digital copies and cost.
Lifestyle considerations
Do you like to print lots of photos and send to the kids' favorite aunts and godparents? Do you scrapbook and prefer to work with a particular size of photos? Do you prefer digital copies over print?
I fall in the third category. I'm working towards having a minimalist, clutter-free home (in spite of the fact that I have twins). One of my strategies is to digitize music, photos and books as much as possible so when choosing photo packages, I look for one that includes digital copies of the photos at a REASONABLE PRICE. I emphasize that because I've got a photo CD from Target for $99 and I've spoken to Magenta on the phone and been informed that each photo on the CD would cost me $99. There's a wide variance to how much photographers will charge for digital copies. Shop around and ask questions before you commit
Cost
I went back to review wwhat I paid for the photo packages I got from the 4 studios I've used so far and guess what? There is no noticeable price difference. That's correct. I automatically assumed that private photographers were too expensive but I was wrong. 
Step 2: Find out what you can and cannot do with the photo package
Copyright Issues
This is the natural followup to wanting digital copies. It's good to know how much freedom the photo studio will give over the photos. Can you print them out in another studio? Can you share them and on what medium? Can you remove the watermark? I'm not a legal expert so this paragraph is a summary of what I know. A good example is our 2011 Santa photos, we were informed that even though we paid for the digital copies, we could only print them on a home printer and not a commercial photo printing service like Walmart. Who does that????

Digital Resolution
In other words the quality of the digital copies you get. Will they be low resolution photos that are only good for electronic viewing? Or will they be high resolution photos that can be blown up or printed on canvas without any loss of clarity?

Step 3: Choose the photographer whose style best matches your family's
Photo Gallery Review
The most important thing I can say about choosing a private photographer is preview their gallery of work. If you're going for a family session, take a look at their family photos. If it's just a session for the kids, take a look at their baby/kid photography.
Pay close attention to the expressions captured, the poses, the arrangements, the props and the photo effects. They'll tell you a lot about the photographer's style be it formal, casual, full of effects, simple or even goth. Try and visualize your family in the photos or settings. Will you be happy with the result? Can you imagine hanging one of those in your office, living room or using as a screensaver? The photographer may be good but their style could be different from your vision and result in an unsatisfactory photo session.
My style is pretty casual and laid back so I look for a photographer that captures people in unguarded, unposed moments. I prefer natural action photos to formal posed ones. Plus I have a thing for black and white or sephia effects so I look for some examples of those in the photographer's gallery.

My next post, I'll share our professional photography journey over the last 19 months and tell you about my newly-found and much-beloved photographer in Calgary.

Taking Family Pictures - Studio Options

We just had our 18 month old photo session for the twins and so this week's posts will be focused on family photography.The first question is "Do I really need professional photographs taken?". My answer would be yes. I thought I didn't but I now regret the fact that I do not have nicer pictures from when the girls were younger. The next step from "Yes" would be to choose a photo studio. Here are the options available as well as the pros and cons of each


Photo Studio Options


Department Store Photo Studio: These are the portrait studios in department stores like  Sears, JC Penney, Walmart, Target etc
Pros:
Flexible hours: Most share opening days and hours with the associated department store so they're available on holidays and could stay open as late as 9PM 
Affordable Options:In the form of promos, coupon codes, club membership discounts etc
Easy appointment bookings with little to no wait time
Cons:
Huge variation in photographer skill. Some are good, some are bad and some are very very bad. Could end up with a photographer who's not an expert at kid or baby photography
Photos may not be available immediately after session. Target had a 2 week wait period
Sessions are generally shorter - one hour or less. With two babies, one hour is sometimes not enough time to get them in the right mood for good pictures
Props may be limited and/or cheap looking


Photo Studio Chains: These are regional or national standalone photo studio chains. Kiddie Kandids (US), Picture People (US) and Magenta Studio (Canada) come to mind
Pros:
Flexible hours: Most are located in shopping malls and share the same opening days and hours with the mall
Immediate photo printing within an hour or less
Printing Options: Of the three studio options, these chains offer the most printing options e.g canvas prints
Cons:
Huge variation in photographer skill. There's still no guarantee that your photos will be taken by an experience child photographer. 
Sessions could be shorter on busy days - one hour or less.  

Private Photographers:  
Pros:
Location shots: Some private photographers are willing to hold photo sessions outside of their studio. This is especially good for kids who do not respond well to indoor flash and lights of a studio. Their photos can be taken outside on a sunny day with no flash required
Skill it's easier to predict the skill of the photographer as there's usually only one person taking the shots versus when using a commercial studio 
Touch-ups: Some will offer touch-ups free. (A good option for drools and runny noses)
Cons:
Cost. This can easily be the most expensive option of the 3
Wait times: A very good photographer will have a long waitlist so sessions have to be booked months in advance especially sessions for holiday photos
Photo Delivery Time: Most professional private photographers will not deliver the photos till weeks after the session

My Experience with professional photographers: 
The twins had their 6 weeks New Year photos taken at Picture People. Even with club membership, this was quite expensive and almost all the pictures were not usable.The photographer's expertise with baby photography was right around zero
Valentine's and 9 months professional photos were taken at Target portrait studio.The photographer was good with the babies, which is why we went back for the 9 month photos. We went on a weekday so we were not rushed out of our session. Only negative was that the pictures had to be sent somewhere else for printing so we did not receive prints till 3 weeks later 
First birthday photos were taken at Sears. We got a good package deal on this and took the pictures around 7 PM after work. The photos themselves were just ok and we go the CD immediately after the session 
18 month photos were taken with a private photographer. Well-priced package, 90 minutes session, lots of good props and an experienced photographer. We had to wait 3-4 weeks to see the photos though


Hands down, I would say the experience with the private photographer was the best option for us. So how about you? What's your take on professional family photos? Which studio has given you the best value for money?

Toddler Teenagers at 19

Sometimes it's hard to tell if we have toddlers or teenagers around here. It's the same keeping odd hours, mood swings, strong opinions and clothes that fit weird. But enough about me, I'm here to talk about my twins :)


Photo Credit
19 months old and mama's eyes have been opened to a lot of new things

  • Spice can put on her shoes (of course always on the wrong feet) and sometimes a tee shirt all by herself.
  • Sugar has figured out how to open the closets (and my life shall never be the same again
  • Spice has 4 canines coming out at the same time; bringing her teeth total to 16
  • Sugar is growing her eighth tooth - an incisor. She seems to be growing one tooth per month
  • Spice likes to call her sister by name
  • Sugar like to call herself by name
  • Both girls love their "Cat in the Hat" DVD and know to point to the DVD player and say "go go go" if they want to watch it.
  • Both girls have started imaginative play. They love cooking in their play kitchen and pushing their bumbo seats around the sofa like cars
  • Both girls going for walks around the neighbourhood
  • Spice loves to walk in the grass but wants nothing to do with the woof woofs
  • Sugar hates to be near grass but loves patting the friendly woof woofs on the head
  • Both girls like making animal sounds with their favorite being the quack quack and the woof woof
  • They will sometimes refer to the woofs as meows or quacks just to get a reaction from me. I always fall for it
  • Both girls will be moved from infant room to toddler rooms in the daycare starting next month. I've asked that they be put in separate classes. 
I' going back to read my post from this time last year and I can't believe I was fretting over the fact that the girls were not crawling, talking or teething. How time flies! (What?! did you think I was going to end this post without a cliche or two on kids growing fast?)

Organizing Your Kids Clothes and Closet

This is a collection of tips and products I would recommend to anyone interested in organizing their kids' clothes, closet and rooms. Here's what my twin girls' closet looks like now and a little background information on the picture.

Organizing kids clothes
All closet organizing supplies are available on Amazon and for less than $75, you can bring some order to chaos. How about that!


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Details of my closet organizing tips can also be found on this guest post I authored on the "I'm an Organizing Junkie" blog 

Dinner Menu Planning for Toddlers

Weekday dinners for the twins requires some serious menu planning from my end. I work downtown and with my commute, I have a 20 minute window in the evenings to get dinner ready for my toddlers before they organize a massive riot. What works for me is to prepare their dinners on Sunday nights and store in the fridge. I have 2 divided plastic bowls that I use for this. 


Each weeks menu plan consists of:

  • 2 carbs: Could be barley, rice, pasta or beans. I'll be trying roasted potatoes next week.
  • 2 proteins: In the past we've had sausage, chicken, boiled eggs and grilled fish. This week, I'm offering the girls beef for the first time in a long time
  • Vegetables: I either steam  the vegetables separately or mix into the carbs
How does it work? Everyday dinner for the girls consists of a carb, a protein and vegetables. They also get fruits at the end of the meal. With 2 of each food category, I'm able to "mix and match" the dishes so each dinner looks a little different from the last. Here's an example of this week's dinner bowls

There's barley with beef and mixed vegetables, white rice that will be served with some sort of tomato-based sauce (we always have this on hand as it's a staple of the Nigerian diet), steamed carrots, steamed sausages and corn on the cob. 

Pantry staples to have on hand: Spaghetti sauce, shredded cheese and tuna. Most of the grains and pasta can be cooked plain and mixed with spaghetti sauce and a protein to create a toddler dish in 5 minutes.  

Everything in those 2 bowls has been eaten with gusto by the twins in the past. They've also been flung at the wall with equal gusto in the past. I can't predict if they'll eat or not, but I try to have a plan in place for our weekday dinners. 

The bowls I use are the Ziploc brand divided containers available (~$7 for 2 bowls) on Amazon.com


Linking up with Laura of orgjunkie's Menu Planning Monday and Works for me Wednesday

Buying Used Toys for Toddlers

After having spent the last one month shopping for toys for my toddlers, I've learnt a thing or ten when it comes to buying used toys.


Where to buy: Garage sales, parents of multiples sales or from online classifieds like Craigslist and Kijiji


10 Tips for Buying Used Toys for Toddlers

  1. Decide what you will and won't buy used. See my list here
  2. Skip the battery-operated toys that the sellers didn't bother to put batteries in (usually a bad sign)
  3. Push all buttons and levers on the toy to make sure they're functional. The Bruin musical piano I bought at the garage sale has half the buttons not working. That confuses the kids when they're playing with it and annoys me
  4. Be willing to negotiate on price when buying from individuals but not too much. A seller might be willing to drop 5-10% on the price. Just depends on how badly they want to get rid of the toy. By the same token, don't contact a seller unless you're willing to pay the listed price if it's not negotiable
  5. Decide how much discount you're looking for on buying used versus new and stick to it. Some used toys are overprices. For me, I don't pay more than 50% the cost of the brand new equivalent toy
  6. If buying online, be conscious of the distance between you and the seller especially if you live in a big city. Sometimes the toy is not worth the driving hassle
  7. If the toy is listed online using stock photos, ask questions about the condition of the actual toy
  8. Check the online seller's other sales listed. You may find that they have more than one item you'll like to purchase and that'll save you gas. Additionally, they may be more flexible with the price if you're buying more than one item
  9. Clean all toys once you take possession. For me, that involves either a spin in the dishwasher or a wipe-down with vinegar and water
  10. Only buy what you need. It's easy to get carried away and end up with a house cluttered with more toys than your kids can play with. I should know. I went out to buy a play kitchen and came home with the kitchen, 5 gallons worth of kitchen accessories AND a toy washing machine AND a little picnic basket. The seller was cleaning house and I couldn't find the "N" words in my dictionary
Bonus Tip: Check reviews of the big ticket items on Amazon or Toys R Us. Cheap is not a deal if it's useless. New or used, it's always a good idea to buy items that are well rated by other parents. 

Linking up to Works for me Wednesdays

New vs Used Toys for Twins

I had my first real foray into the world of "garage sales" last month when I attended the very well-organized Twins, Triplets and Multiples sale here in Calgary (big ups to my friend Ms Ginger who's part of the organizing committee and I finally got to meet). I was surprised at the amount of toys available for resale and have to confess I argued back and forth with myself on the new versus used toys scenario. Here's how the argument played out in my head


New Toys: 

  1. Are more expensive
  2. Are safer. If it's been recalled, it'll be pulled from the shelves of all reputable retailers
  3. Are healthier - I'm sure it's had no contact with any other bodily fluids but my child's
  4. Bring the thrill of opening something new
  5. May end up being bait-and-switch. The toy itself is inexpensive but the accessories cost much
Used Toys:
  1. Are cheaper
  2. Are usually sold complete with accessories so no looking for that special piece
  3. May not be in good working condition  
  4. Are not covered by warranty and usually cannot be returned
  5. Make me wonder if I'm being a cheap parent and taking the frugal thing too far. After all, "don't my kids deserve the best new things?"
In the end, new and used both have their pros and cons. I concluded that since my twins have been in a public daycare since they were 6 months old, they've be playing with toys that are not new anyway so what's the difference if the used toy is at home or in the daycare? 

With that being said, I still have a list of toys I would buy new and toys I won't.

Toys to buy new
  • Plush toys 
  • Computer like electronic toys that HAVE to be in good working condition to be fully enjoyed
  • Anything for a baby under 9 months. From 9 months they're crawling and putting all sorts of things in their mouth anyway
Toys to buy used:
  • Any toy that can be cleaned in a dishwasher
  • Big, expensive plastic e.g play houses, picnic tables, outdoor activity centers, wagons, play kitchens etc
  • Well-made brand-name toys that are really expensive in retail compared to similar toys; think Educo, Melissa and Doug and other eco-type brands

That's my take. I had fun at the sale and have enjoyed getting some good deals on toys this summer. Now that the girls are active toddlers, there's a lot that I want to give them and I'm glad not to have to pay full-retail for everything. 

Obviously this is toy week on mytwintopia. (Have you noticed I try to have weekly themes). Later in the week, I'll be sharing my tips on buying toys for less. 

Linking this post to Capri + 3 for Multiples Monday

Favorite Toys for 18 Month Old Twins

There's been some changes to the list of the twin's favorite toys from my last update when they were 9 months old. Today, the list of favorite toys at 18 months old looks something like this
  1. Fisher Price Musical Activity Table- This is the only toy that was on the 9 month list and is still a perennial favorite. There's so much to do on this table, the girls never get bored. They even switch it to spanish language sometimes and repeat the colors in spanish. As toys go, this has proven to be a solid investment
  2. Bruin Musical Piano - I got this at a garage sale and the girls never tire of putting it on my lap and banging away their musical masterpieces
  3. All real and toy mobile phones
  4. Playskool Explore and Grow Busy Ball Popper: They love this popping toy and it's sister elephant. It's another deal I got at a garage sale. I only really really wish that Playskool had included a volume control button. Think 15 continuous minutes of obnoxiously loud circus music
  5. Rubber balls of various sizes: They're learning to throw (a milestone for this age according to Babycenter) and enjoy playing catch games with the balls we have at home. Most Walmarts and dollar store type places have these big towers of rubber balls in the toy section. You just have to choose the size and design you'd like to have
  6. Educo Maze: This is not top of the list but it captures their attention for a few minutes at a time. It's what I consider a "thinking" toy as they have to sit still and try to move the wooden balls from one end to the other. As a mom bonus, I like the fact that it's handmade in Canada. I can't find an exact picture online but it looks similar to this.
     
  7. Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Love to Play Puppy: Sugar adores this puppy. We've had this toy since the girls were 8 months old, but back then they absolutely feared and hated this puppy. Not anymore. As they are at the stage where they're learning the names to different body parts, they love pressing the puppy and hearing the different names. As a bonus, this puppy says "I love you" so now both girls say "I wa wi" (that's I love you in toddlerspeak) and tap their chests while saying it. *Heart melting*
  8. Dress-up items of clothing: They love to play dress-up in the daycare and I regularly pick them up in green oriental pants and red velvet dresses

Bruin Musical Piano
The talking puppy
Ball popping toy
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