Friday, November 27, 2009 Gear

A girlfriend of mine is pregnant with her second baby. She asked me for insights on any must-have gear for her expanding brood. One of the great joys of second+ kids is the opportunity to reuse all of the stuff you've hoarded since number one came along. Especially since the rumours about how fast they grow are true: average life span of kids' gear is painfully short. Once you're beyond rookie status, you also have a more seasoned eye for what you *need* to make life with babies easier.

One thing is certain: with more kids, moms have more stuff to carry. Hence, the genius of the MommyHook. It's a sporty carabiner type item that allows you to hang your shopping bags and what-have-yous on your stroller.

Speaking of strollers...among the greatest disillusionments of motherhood is the realization that no one stroller can do everything you need it to. Most moms I know have an infant car seat adapter for quick wheels-on-demand in the early days; a heavier-duty model for jogging or other more active applications; an umbrella stroller for light-weight travel once kids are sitting up on their own; and any number of other wheelie options. Once you have a second kid, add a double or sit-and-stand tandem stroller to the arsenal. We got one (I liked the Baby Trend version best) and it's fantastic for both the baby and our "I'm NOT a baby!!" kindergartener, unless they both want to sleep. Told you nothing was perfect.

There's a fantastic web site that helps parents navigate the baby gear landscape. Think of it as the TripAdvisor of kids' stuff. The Baby Scoop provides a forum for parents looking to share their experiences with a wide variety of products. And while you're surfing, always check Craigslist and other online swap shops before taking the plunge. Second hand can save money AND come along with some nice tips from the previous owner.

A mom in my neighbourhood asked me if we knew of a good kids' dentist. We've just switched over to Dr. Christine Binert & Associates in the Danforth Village and are very happy with the care and service they provide.

Today, we took the whole family over. Our little girl, who remains toothless at 3 mos of age, was the only one spared a check-up this time (they gave her a teething ring anyway), but our 4yo had his first cleaning and exam, and he did great!

The office is located in a house, a comfy departure from medical arts buildings, and it's decorated enthusiastically with festive holiday stuff, making it even more welcoming. They offer terrific incentives for kids, giving them the chance to win all kinds of treats: even a new bike is up for grabs for kids who brush and floss as promised. Every visit includes a trip to the Dentists' Treasure Chest for a reward, too.

Friendly staff, capable dentists and hygienists, homey atmosphere, and TVs on the ceiling? Now that's worth smiling over!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sometimes, my friends ask me what they should eat for lunch. Sounds crazy, but really, they're just bored... and smart, cause they realize that I spend a lot of time considering food. Today's lunch was delightful. I hope it inspires you to eat something great today.

Toasted whole wheat bagel with whipped cream cheese, scallions and gorgeous smoked Tandoori Georgian Bay Whitefish, with a bowl of Butternut Squash and White Bean puree. Um, delish!

The fish came from the superlative Akiwenzie's Fish & More of Wiarton, Ontario. You can find this deliciousness (along with their amazing Honey Garlic smoked fish and fresh filets) at the Wychwood Barns and Dufferin Grove Farmers' Markets this winter. Audit

Ever wish you could get some help paying for home improvements? Want to make your home more energy efficient but concerned about the expense? If you're planning to do any renovations or upgrades to your home, make sure you get a Home Energy Audit first. Both the Canadian Federal and Ontario Provincial governments have generous rebates available for homeowners who make their homes more efficient. Don't leave money on the table!

When we bought our house 2 years ago, we knew we'd have to replace the furnace sooner than later. Luckily, we had a friend in the HVAC business who was able to improve our system affordably, but even better, he insisted we get an audit to make ourselves eligible for potential rebates. Are we ever glad we did. Turns out, we'll get over $2,000 back from the government, we have a greener, better functioning heating and cooling system to keep us comfortable, and we've added tangible value to our home.

Here's how it works. You book an auditor (many referrals available through the government online, plus a recommendation posted below) and they come out to do an initial review of your house and its systems. The cost is around $300, but this initial audit itself is eligible for a $150 rebate. You then have 18 months to make any necessary improvements or upgrades and the auditor returns for a post-improvement check. This secondary audit costs another $150. The auditor confirms your eligibility and then (best part!) they complete all the necessary paperwork on your behalf. Your rebates, if any, will just appear in your mailbox 90 days later, like magic!

For more on the Ontario Home Energy Savings Program, visit

For info on the Federal EcoEnergy Retrofit Program, check out

Green Alliance (auditor) can be booked by calling 416-903-7285.

Dan O'Brien Heating, Air Conditioning, Ventilation can be reached at 416-429-9139.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Among my favorite moments in history is the time I served as pocket concierge to a friend who was in Philadelphia on business. He had never been to the City of Brotherly love and brother, it's a town I love...I was happy to oblige.

So he'd txt me from his 'berry...and I'd txt him back. Where to get a good cheesesteak, how to order it like a local, what beers to try, where to have dinner, where to get his kids a souvenir of the trip and so on, and so on. He felt like a local, I felt like I had a vicarious visit to one of America's finest cities...he sent me a pic of his 'steak. Right on.

Cheesesteaks (Center City): Carmen's or DiNics: Reading Terminal Market, 12th & Arch. Order it "wiz-wit"= with cheez whiz and fried onions (make the trek to Pat's King of Steaks on 9th Avenue if you're really serious about Cheesesteaks)
Beer: Yuengling Lager; Blue Point Toasted Lager (admittedly a NY brew)
Dinner: Alma de Cuba: 1623 Walnut Street (one of innumerable GREAT restaurants in Phillly)
Kids' Stuff: Born Yesterday: 1901 Walnut Street/Rittenhouse Square Shopping

Got a series of, oh, a dozen emails from a friend this week asking for tips on a local toy warehouse sale. Location, hours, highlights, brands available, methods of payment, parking...she covered the gamut. She asked what time she should go, what she should buy, whether this toy or that toy was there, what I bought, what I paid, what my kid is asking for for Christmas. Girl was serious. I like that.

So here it is: if you want to go to the Samko sale...go early, park where you can, leave your coat in the car and your kids at home, buy what you like and can afford. Happy holidays.

Samko-Miko Toy Warehouse Sales:

My cousin lives in Singapore. He was once in Toronto and had an hour or two between meetings. He was looking for shoes. Not sporty shoes. Not dress shoes. In-between, smart casual shoes. He called on me for advice. to the rescue!! Within minutes I had him on his way to several in-between-shoe-retailers within a short walk of his home base. He was delighted and was sort of, well, born.

B2: 399 Queen Street West/Eaton Centre
C Squared: 365 Queen Street West
Get Outside: 437 Queen Street West
Aldo: First Canadian Place, King and Bay Streets