Book: Bilingual By Choice: Raising Kids in Two (or More!) Languages, by Virginie Raguenaud

Book: Bilingual by choiceTitle: Bilingual By Choice: Raising Kids in Two (or More!) Languages
Virginie Raguenaud
Source: Veddma library
Available online

Notes: The first eight chapters (out of ten) of this book are devoted primarily to the discussion of why it is beneficial to be bilingual, why it is important to retain your heritage language and teach it to your children, and why being bilingual is not unpatriotic. The author’s target audience is clearly the American readers, and she repeatedly uses Barack Obama’s family as an example of why being bilingual does not imply you are a poor Latino immigrant. It is quite baffling to read about the social and political obstacles people face in the US, since in most European countries and in Canada knowing more than one language is a norm, and is widely recognized as an asset in many areas of life.

If you know that you do want to raise your children bilingual, the only really useful information is contained in the last two chapters of this book. Here is where the author actually suggests some activities you can do to expose your children to the chosen language and culture. Some of these activities are US-specific, some are only available in the most widespread languages such as French and Spanish, and yet others are simply things to do with children to which you can (after some research) provide a running commentary in the target language.

The author also keeps switching the assumption for her statements from being applicable to an immigrant family in which all members have to learn a new language, to an assumption that each parent speaks their own language. The problems arise when among suggestions of what to do with children the assumption is made that the language being taught to them is known to every family member. However, if a family member does not speak that language, things like having family game nights become a not-a-whole-family affair, thus limiting the possibilities of language-related activities to engage in as a family even further.

Some of the interesting suggestions are:

  1. using the target language to narrate your activities, such as laundry sorting, car repair, gardening, cooking, child’s hobbies etc.;
  2. singing;
  3. reading;
  4. stargazing with narration;
  5. postcard exchange and Skype sessions with far-away family members that speak the language;
  6. bringing the language into the environment: decorating the room with words, putting stickers on household objects with their names, getting placemats with words, putting a saying in the target language on your child’s t-shirt (letting them select the saying), doing sidewalk art;
  7. bilingual babysitters, hosting an international student, reading bilingual newspapers, participating in essay contests, and family poetry nights;
  8. entertainment in the target language, including Sesame Street Around the World, films, videos, songs on the child’s iPod, children’s books;
  9. acquiring bilingual dolls, or a pet that you claim to the child can only speak the target language;
  10. online activities, such as Internet radio, videos, news, free online courses;
  11. activities in the community, such as tours of museums, fire stations, hospitals, the zoo, aquarium, farms, construction sites, recycling centre, etc. with a narration by a language speaker;
  12. free movies at the university in your target language;
  13. summer language camp, boy/girl scouts;
  14. trips to the country of the language origin.

The book can benefit from proofreading: there are a few places where the sentences do not make sense due to mixed grammatical tenses. Even on the cover there is a syntax error: I am assuming that the word spelled as “семъя” is meant to be “family” in Russian, which is correctly spelled “семья”. A slight difference that might not be noticeable to a person unfamiliar with the language, but shouldn’t that warrant a proofreading by someone who is?

Overall, I found the book quite repetitive on all the benefits of bilingualism and lacking in practical information on how to actually proceed raising children in more than one language.

Самоучитель для продвинутых родителей, by Милана Касакина

Book: Самоучитель для продвинутых родителей: Счастливый дитёнок - без запар и пелёнок.Title: Самоучитель для продвинутых родителей: Счастливый дитёнок – без запар и пелёнок.
Милана Касакина
Source: Veddma library

Notes: The books carries on with the metaphor of a child being a “device” you acquire and this book serving as a manual to learn to operate that device. The metaphor is somewhat poor and the author over-stretches it by using computer user jargon everywhere possible, whether it is appropriate or not. It also involves a discussion of a child as a financial project. The fact that the book starts with that and brings up material reasons for having a child leaves a bad taste: as if most people who are planning or wanting to have children look at them primarily as a financial burden or a way to gain materially.

The author makes several swooping generalizations that make it hard to take the book seriously and undermine the sensible statements. Among those generalizations are:
– all illness in babies is because of the parents (the example here is author’s ears hurting in childhood because her parents were arguing all the time causing this psychological illness);
– babies should never cry (aside from pure communication that gets attended to immediately) – if they do it is the parents’ fault;
– babies must and do love being in the sling all the time;
– babies fall asleep easiest when placed right next to the mother in bed (have you ever tried it with a baby that wants to play/kick/talk or cannot fall asleep and gets increasingly cranky because of it?);
– everyone (except for those genetically disposed to obesity) recovers their pre-birth weight easily in about 2 months without fitness or diet (several models are brought up as examples); and so on.

Add to that the constant equating of a woman in the family with the housewife role (cooking and cleaning) and the man with the breadwinner role, as well as the overall style of the book being that of Internet writing (with capitals for emphasis, deliberate misspellings of words, smiley faces, etc.) and the book ends up resembling a blog full of ramblings by one woman, radical in her approach and preaching a narrow set of values.

The author also regards the practice of women working for years on their dowry as a very sensible way for a young bride to behave and the dowry being the primary factor in selecting a wife. She lovingly discusses the marriage as arrangement between the parents of the couple, and the family being the “mafia” that always stands behind its members and in which everyone helps everyone, working together for the good of the entire family. She revels in the families with many children, describing how great it is when brothers and sisters help each other in life and their parents in old age. This, she claims, is the only way to have a functional family. Although, somehow, when praising a family for having 10+ children, nothing is said about what the mother’s life is turned into, with constant housework and childrearing. That, apparently, is a minor point not worth mentioning.

Putting aside the statements mentioned above and the writing style, the book does cover some good parenting practices: breastfeeding, baby-wearing, co-sleeping, not constantly saying “no” to the child, exposing them to nature, teaching them about responsibility and self-reliance, not being obsessed with hygiene by sterilizing everything, not using pacifiers, not lying to the child, and not overloading them with educational material to raise a genius.

Overall, not a great book: it would be OK as an online series of articles, but to be a good book, it would need more information about the author’s background except for separate anecdotes of her childhood, more research, better justifications of particular practices than “it’s the only (or the best) way”, useful references (as opposed to “google it”), and of course the literary style needs work.

Book: The Philosophical Baby, by Alison Gopnik

Book: Philosophical BabyTitle: The Philosophical Baby
Alison Gopnik
Source: Veddma library
Available online

Notes: The book discusses the current research into the minds of children and compares the results with what we know about consciousness and perceptions of adults. The author describes the benefits of imaginary companions and imaginary worlds and their role in developing the human ability to think causally. She discusses “the work of play” referring to the children’s activities that adults perceive as fun whereas they are an important function from an evolutionary perspective.

The author discussed many experiments, including the one that shows that young children learn of other people’s preferences even when they differ from their own, and are eager to satisfy those preferences if given the means. Research also shows that even though children remember things that happen during their day, they might respond with “nothing” when asked to describe it. However, when asked about particular events, children may become very animated while talking about them, showing that they do indeed remember them in detail, but need a cue to retrieve the memory.

Children as young as eight months old are sensitive to statistical probabilities, expecting things to behave as they have behaved previously. Children also assign human characteristics to things that seem interactive: they assume that a blob that beeps in reaction to their actions has desires and intentions, and try to help it fulfill those intentions if possible.

Up until about four years old, children do not have an “inner autobiographer”, an ability to link their past, current, and future selves into a continuum of events experienced by the same person. Instead they only have an episodic memory. They live in the current moment and do not have much of an inner monologue about past events and future possibilities.

The author states that the research suggests that our childhood experiences shape our adult lives. However, this does not necessarily happen in a Freudian sense where having abusive parents causes one to become an abusive parent. Whereas that is a possibility for some, others analyze their childhood experience and strive not to be like their parents, thus breaking the abusive parenting cycle. Babies also shape their parents’ lives: a sad mother makes for a sad baby which in turn makes the mother even more sad.

When adults focus their attention during meditation or place themselves in a situation where everything is unfamiliar and thus needs constant attention (such as during travel to places with cultures significantly different from their own), they occupy a certain state of consciousness that is very similar to the state a baby experiences every day. Things that are new grab a baby’s attention just like they do an adult’s attention, and since there are many more unfamiliar things in a baby’s environment, babies occupy this state for a much larger percentage of their wakeful hours.

The babies have different styles of attachment: secure babies know that their needs will be met and feel fine with a caregiver leaving occasionally, as they know that the caregiver always comes back; avoidant babies tamp their emotions down and do not cry during separation as they know that the crying will most likely lead to a caregiver being angry thus leading to more grief for the baby; anxious babies cling to their caregiver upon their return and might get angry at the caregiver and throw their toys at them at the same time to express their unhappiness; whereas disorganized babies never develop any consistent expectations at all. Babies as young as twelve months can make predictions about love (whether a parent in the film will react with love or annoyance to a crying baby).

Children also make a distinction between breaking arbitrary rules and inflicting serious harm. Children know the difference between intentional and unintentional actions, and they are both empathic and altruistic by the time they reach eighteen months of age.

The book also notes the absence of motherhood and childrearing themes in most philosophical writings.

The author tries to make the book appeal to a common reader, keeping scientific terminology to a minimum and referring to several examples multiple times to illustrate the concepts. There are a few references to popular culture, including a reference to the Matrix (Neo’s “wow” reaction) and to the Dax symbiont from Deep Space 9 (whom the author mistakenly calls Jadwiga instead of Jadzia). Sometimes these attempts to bring the concepts to the reader seem simplified a bit too much, abstracting away quite a few details of research. Perhaps the book would have benefitted from more information and less interpretation.

Overall, quite an interesting read with good examples, interesting experiments, and clear delivery.

Book: Montessori: A Modern Approach, by Paula Folk Lillard

Book: MontessoriTitle: Montessori: A Modern Approach
Paula Folk Lillard
Source: Veddma library
Available online

Notes: This book describes the work and ideas of Maria Montessori and their application in the educational system of today (the book is written in 1970s). The author tried to convey Montessori’s ideas in Montessori’s own words by including many citations from the original works.

The book is poorly structured. It appears the author was trying to write a book in the style of a scientific paper: it is littered with citations and references. However, as a result it has shortcomings of both: the flow of the narration suffers due to all the references and thus it does not read easily as a book; yet the chapters are very long and there are no sections and sub-headings, so it does not present ideas in a well-defined structure like a good scientific paper would.

I was able to grasp some basic ideas of Montessori education: providing a child with a wide variety of materials to explore and giving them freedom to pick whatever projects they want; gently introducing new materials without forcing the child to work with them; providing ways for the child to learn letters by touch and master hand-eye coordination thus effectively allowing them to learn how to write before being able to read. The system also assists in development of different senses (touch, sight, etc.) separately. I would have probably learned and retained more if the information was arranged in a more logical way.

I would not recommend this book to those who is interested in getting a basic understanding of Montessori education.

Book: The Babytalk Insider’s Guide To Your Baby’s First Year

Book: Your baby's first yearTitle: The Babytalk Insider’s Guide To Your Baby’s First Year
Stephanie Wood and Kitty O’Callaghan, contributing editors, babytalk magazine
Ottawa Public Library
Available online

Notes: This book’s main message, it appears, is to calm the parents down by telling them not to stress about pretty much anything except putting the baby to sleep on their back and using a car seat. Everything else is justified: to breast- or formula-feed, whether to use a pacifier,  whether to prop the bottle, – anything and everything is a parents’ choice and they should not feel guilty about it. While this is generally a reasonable approach, it means that for those of us who have already made a choice, parts of the book dealing with the practical implementation of the alternative are not useful. It also does not make the process of making the decision much easier, since “no matter what you do it’s ok”.

The book covers lots of issues and provides so much information that it is overwhelming. Unless it is used as a daily reference, there is no way to remember all the details. Also, I’m getting a bit weary of seeing certain information in each and every baby-care book, such as “picking a safe crib” or “buying a proper car seat”. Yes, these things are important, however, with safety requirements changing somewhat frequently, the best thing to do is to consult a knowledgeable person at the store that specializes in car seats or cribs and to read up on the current industry guidelines on the sites of the organizations that create and maintain those guidelines. These are one-time purchases requiring a short period of research that certainly does not spell out a large portion of “your baby’s first year”, whereas such areas as feeding and everyday caring for a child do.

Some assumptions made by authors did not agree with me much, such as “you love showing off your baby, opening all those adorable gifts, and recounting your delivery room war stories” or “unlike sex, however, you will actually miss your sleep”. Way to apply swooping generalizations to a variety of women’s personalities.

The chapter about staying at home versus going back to work does provide a good discussion of the “grass is greener on the other side of the fence” phenomenon. The chapters that cover health issues are overwhelming – it might be better to refer the reader to a good medical encyclopedia focusing on the health issues that can arise in the first year. Otherwise, by the second page of the lists of symptoms the conditions start to blend together, and it seems that your baby has symptoms of all of them.

Overall, not the greatest book to have as an overview of the issues or as a detailed reference, as it is trying to be both.

Book: Sign with your baby, by Joseph Garcia

Title: Sign with your baby: How to communicate with infants before they can speak
Joseph Garcia
Ottawa Public Library
Available online

Notes: This is a useful book for people who want to start signing with their babies. It outlines in a straightforward manner the benefits of sign language (in this case ASL) to infants that do not yet talk and the order in which to introduce the terms. The author also covers ways to combine terms, how and when to introduce a sign, and how to create games using the signs a child learned.

The second part of the book is a dictionary covering a variety of terms together with their signs. It appears the book would be even more useful combined with the DVD produced by the same author, and perhaps the index cards that are available on the author’s site ( As it stands, I only had access to the book, and as the earliest age the child is able to remember the signs appears to be 7 months, I might have to come back to it when the time comes.

Book: Baby Massage for Dummies by Joanne Bagshaw and Ilene Fox

Title: Baby Massage for Dummies
Joanne Bagshaw and Ilene Fox
Ottawa Public Library
Available online

Notes: This book describes advantages of baby massage for a child’s physical and emotional development, bonding with the caregiver, and as an aid in treating various ailments. Besides discussing the benefits and the overall principles of massage, the book covers specific techniques to masssage babies with normal development, premature babies, babies with fetal alcohol syndrome and other developmental problems, as well as those exposed to HIV.

The most useful information besides the techniques themselves, are the suggestions of massage timing (as related to bathing, sleeping, changing, and other routines) and the sequences of techniques most appropriate to different situations, developmental stages, comfortable level of stimulation, etc.

The book would be more useful if they provided the techniques in an easy-reference format such as cut-away cards, for instance, as flipping through the book while trying to keep a squirming baby in place and massage them, is not the most practical thing to attempt.

Book: How to Have Your Second Child First, by Kelly Colburn and Rob Sorensen

Title: How to Have Your Second Child First: 100 Things That Would Have Been Good to Know the First Time Around
Author: Kelly Colburn and Rob Sorensen
Veddma library
Available online

Notes: Second time parents have to juggle responsibilities of taking care of more than one child at the same time. This naturally cuts down on the amount of attention given to each child compared to constantly attending to the needs of a single offspring. Thus this book encourages the first time parents to relax the strict rules and expectations of how the child should be brought up, rest more, not to sweat the small stuff, and not to hover too much over their first child.

This book is full of tips from second time parents outlining the areas of childcare where shortcuts can be taken, as well as tricks that will help parents in social situations. Among other things, the authors cover:

  • sleep and night time noises,
  • breastfeeding issues,
  • support system,
  • sterilizing baby equipment,
  • combining laundry,
  • food, rest, and relaxation for grown-ups,
  • being able to party,
  • parental comfort zone,
  • dealing with tantrums,
  • baby classes,
  • the witching hour,
  • everything being a stage that will pass,
  • bathing and playing with the baby,
  • dealing with lack of productivity and “not doing anything all day”,
  • not overpacking for outings,
  • dealing with relatives and relationship issues,
  • trusting your instincts,
  • experimenting,
  • discipline,
  • TV and licensed characters exposure,
  • solid food introduction,
  • baby toys and childproofing,
  • accomplishing things while the baby is awake,
  • dining out,
  • traveling by air,
  • and keeping a sense of humour.

The book is packed with useful advice aimed at lowering the parents’ stress level and allowing them to enjoy parenthood the first time around.

Book: My Mother Wears Combat Boots, by Jessica Mills

Book: My mother wears combat bootsTitle: My Mother Wears Combat Boots: A Parenting Guide for the Rest of Us
Author: Jessica Mills
Source: Midwifery Collective
Available online

Notes: A very thorough, well-researched, and informative book written by a punk musician and activist interested in raising her child in a way that promotes free thinking and discourages consumerism. This book is so full of useful advice and links to more information that making notes on it would result in me writing an article having the length of half the book itself. I found it so useful that I have decided to buy a copy of the book (I had borrowed the one I read).

The topics covered include medical birth interventions, newborn care, breast-feeding, co-sleeping, babywearing, cloth diapering, gender-coding, battling isolation, going back to work, exploring thrift stores for clothing, selecting first foods, weaning, setting up a “yes” environment for the child, organizing cooperative childcare and schooling, breaking the gender stereotypes of parental roles, TV exposure, touring with a child, cursing, discipline, disagreements with the child on fashion, safely marching in protests with children, setting up an art centre at home, critical analysis of marketing and media with a child, and getting away for a break without a child.

The book also contains several interviews of band members that toured with their children, and accounts of the author’s travels with her child. The resources section includes many links (in addition to those scattered throughout the book) and documentation samples for establishing cooperative daycare and school.

The New Mom’s Companion: Care for Yourself While You Care for Your Newborn

Book: Green Baby, by Susannah Marriott

Book: Green BabyTitle: Green Baby
Author: Susannah Marriott
Source: Midwifery Collective
Available online

Notes: This book is packed with generic statements, statistical quotes, and once in a  while some useful tips regarding baby-related cleaning, diet, diapering, toy selection, etc. Each section starts with a description of the most significant ecological problems regarding a particular area of parenting, and goes on to more specific suggestions on what constitutes “light” to “heavy” green choices.

Clothing: the author suggests hemp, bamboo, wool, and organic cotton as best fabrics. For washing clothing, use 40°C for most loads, cold water for woolens and delicates, and 60°C for heavily soiled items. Line-dry the clothing in the sun when possible (yeah, that works well in Canada in winter).

Food: eat organic whenever possible to avoid pesticides and other additives. Start baby on finger foods instead of purees: less likely to be fussy eaters as they learn to cope with texture and taste of real foods instead of sweet bland purees. Try food cut in a “french fry” manner for easy grasping: steamed broccoli or carrot, roast squash or a hunk of “real” bread perhaps smeared with some hummus or avocado. Eat as a family – no TV, no books or toys, eat the same food as your child.

To make a puree:

  1. Wash produce, scrubbing well with a specially designated brush, peel all non-organic orchard fruit and root vegetables, remove seeds or pits, or core fruit;
  2. Steam for a few minutes until quite soft but not falling apart, or simmer in a scant amount of water;
  3. Grind with the hand-powered mill;
  4. Spoon enough for one meal into the baby bowl, adding milk or cooking water if necessary;
  5. Store remainder in the fridge in lidded glass jars for up to two days or freeze immediately in a non-plastic ice-cube tray (label with date, use within 6 months).

Organic must-haves:

  • dairy foods – fat-soluble toxins accumulate in them easily;
  • meat – free of non-therapeutic antibiotics and growth-promoting hormones;
  • fruit – isn’t waxed or dosed with fungicides after harvesting;
  • salad leaves – non-organic lettuces are sprayed with lots of pesticides, washed salads are chlorine-rinsed;
  • oily fish – wild salmon and organically farmed salmon and trout contain fewer PCBs;
  • sugary foods – normally sugar beets are heavily sprayed and sugar can production is very polluting;
  • bread – free from flour- and dough- improving artificial chemicals and bleaching agents;
  • whole grain – free from pesticides.

Ingredients to avoid:

  • soy – may be GM without being labelled as such, unsustainable production;
  • sweeteners – saccharin is listed as an “anticipated carcinogen”, aspartame can be neurotoxic; high-fructose corn syrup has been linked to diabetes;
  • trans-fats (“partially hydrogenated fats”) – no nutritional value, associated with heart disease;
  • synthetic dyes (especially FD&C Yellow No. 5, FD&C Yellow No. 6, and FD&C Red No. 40) – when mixed with the preservative sodium benzoate these are linked to hyperactivity in children;
  • preservatives – are associated with health risks: BHA, BHT, sodium nitrite, sodium nitrite, potassium nitrate, sulfur dioxide, sodium sulfite, sodium metabisulfite, potassium metabisulfite, MSG.

Superfoods for breastfeeding:

  • fruit and vegetables (more than 5 a day) – green leafy, orange, red, yellow;
  • oily fish (twice a week) – smaller fish with fewer toxins: sardines, herring, anchovies;
  • whole grains (organic loaves, organic oats, spelt);
  • dairy produce (especially yogurt) – organic, free from hormones.

Dirty dozen” when it comes to pesticides (better to buy organic):

  1. peaches,
  2. apples,
  3. bell peppers,
  4. celery,
  5. nectarines,
  6. strawberries,
  7. cherries,
  8. lettuce,
  9. grapes,
  10. pears,
  11. spinach,
  12. potatoes.

Easy crops to grow on your own:

  • tumbling cherry tomatoes in hanging baskets;
  • potatoes or garlic in half-barrels;
  • carrots in large pots;
  • lettuces and green onions in a window box;
  • blueberry bushes in pots of ericaceous soil;
  • soil-planted apple trees native to the region;
  • basil raised from seed on a window sill (incredibly difficult to keep alive to my knowledge);
  • alfalfa sprouts in a jar.

Cleaning products to toss:

  • cleaning fluids containing glycol ethers, terpenes, or limonenes (pine or citrus scents) – they create toxic air conditions in confined space;
  • air fresheners – babies exposed to them are more prone to ear infections and diarrhea;
  • chlorinated ingredients – chlorine reacts with organic materials to create compounds hazardous to the environment;
  • anti-pest products – likely to contain pesticides;
  • antimicrobials – don’t clean better than soap and water, banned in some hospitals as it is feared they lead to superbugs;
  • aerosols – neuro- and reproductive toxins and respiratory irritants are blasted directly into the respiratory tract.

Green cleaners:

  • white vinegar – dilute with water to make a wipe for surfaces, glass, and tiles, or use full-strength to unclog showers and sinks;
  • lemon juice – degreases and bleaches cutting boards and surfaces;
  • salt – scouring baked-on food or washing dishes;
  • spices – simmer a handful to scent your home (cinnamon sticks, cloves, fresh ginger root, cardamom seeds, star anise, slices of lemon, lime, orange);
  • bicarbonate of soda – mix into a paste for sinks and tubs or sprinkle into the toilet bowl, add white vinegar, and scrub;
  • microfiber miracle cloths – dampen and rub: need no solvent or detergents to clean grease and stubborn stains, wash in the washing machine when dirty;
  • wet-dusting solution – mop with liquid Castile soap, then rinse with water plus 10 drops essential oil of grapefruit;
  • raise a plant – many broad-leaved house plants neutralize airborne toxins like formaldehyde and benzene;
  • shake and vac – sprinkle bicarbonate of soda over carpet, leave for a couple of hours, then vacuum;
  • toilet-seat spray – add 10 drops of antibacterial tea tree essential oil to water in a mister, shake, then spritz.

Washing the baby – “topping and tailing”:

  1. Undress baby to the waist, wipe face and around neck creases with a damp, warm washcloth, dry with a warmed towel. Wipe each eye from centre outward with moistened cotton balls, repeat on nostrils if necessary.
  2. If baby’s hair needs freshening up, dampen the washcloth and wipe from the front of the head to the nape of the neck, pat dry with a warm towel.
  3. Wipe the baby’s hands and under arms with the washcloth, pat dry. If baby has areas of dry skin, rub on some organic olive oil. Clothe the upper body.
  4. Undress baby from the waist down. Moisten another washcloth, wipe the bottom from front to back. Pat dry with a towel then rub a little of the olive oil on any areas of diaper rash. Put on a clean diaper and dress the baby.

Natural soothing strategies:

  • darkness during the night and outdoor light in the day;
  • constant noise or music rather than silence;
  • swaddling;
  • ambient temperature (20°C) with bedding of one sheet and two layers of blanket;
  • daytime naps;
  • a set bedtime;
  • bedtime routine teaches a baby to anticipate sleep;
  • put baby to bed still awake so they learn to drift off without you and be able to do that at night.

Toys: Clean toys with the child so they learn the importance of taking care of their things. Avoid battery-powered toys (hard to recycle) and electrical toys that guide the child to press buttons or have right/wrong answers (may discourage creativity, undermine basic motor skills, and shorten attention span). Only plastic that can be recycled is marked with “2”, “4”, and “5”. The rest cannot be recycled and will spoil all the other plastic in the same batch.

Green toys:

  • Lego – indestructible, free of phthalates, no-PVC policy;
  • Playmobil – no-PVC policy;
  • Käthe Kruse dolls – handcrafted form wood, can be repaired;
  • Brio train set – choose wood, but all Brio products are PVC-free;
  • IKEA toys – PVC-free, free from iffy woods and dyes;
  • wooden dollhouse, fort, or puppet theatre – collecting the accessories and dolls separately adds to the adventure;
  • metal construction toys – durable and can be added to.

Key features of green books:

  • FSC certification – paper has been sourced from responsibly managed forests;
  • greener inks – soy- and vegetable-based;
  • water-based glues – safer;
  • less bleaching – processed chlorine-free (PCF), which substitute oxygen-based compounds instead;
  • avoid plastic – tend to be made from nonrenewable petrochemicals made flexible with phthalates.

To stay safe in the sun, avoid sunscreen (penetrates the skin) as opposed to sunblock (usually contains zinc or titanium dioxide that sit on the skin’s surface deflecting the UV rays, usually turns skin white). The best alternative is a wide-brimmed hat and coverup breathable clothing. Hemp is naturally UV-resistant. Give the child sun-protective fruit and vegetables (red, orange, yellow). Use a sunshade, and plan outdoor play before 11am and after 4pm when the sun is less strong.

Book: The New Mom’s Companion, by Debra Gilbert Rosenberg

Book: New Mom's CompanionTitle: The New Mom’s Companion: Care for Yourself while You Care for Your Newborn
Author: Debra Gilbert Rosenberg, L.C.S.W. with Mary Susan Miller, Ph.D.
Source: Midwifery Collective
Available online

Notes: The author is a social worker and a mother of three. The book is organized as a series of questions from women on a particular topic, and the author providing an answer and/or advice on dealing with the issue raised in the question.

The book is broken into two parts: one that deals with issues that first-time mothers face with their changing self: their psyche and their bodies; and the second one dealing with the changes in relationships with the partner (the writer assumes a husband), the extended family, and friends.

I did not find the first part particularly helpful. In essence, the author dismisses most of the issues that are brought up that have to do with physical changes as something to be unconditionally accepted since “this body gave you a child, so be thankful” even if you have to endure some discomfort/pain/disfigurement. I realize that the approach of many social workers is to reassure the person that everything going on with them is normal; however, that does not make for a useful perspective for anyone who’d like to be more than complacent about the issue.

In answer to several questions (like changes in a woman’s appearance) she reassures the reader that the only people who notice the change would be the woman herself and her husband, so no need to worry. Perhaps, my internal dialogue is significantly different from most women, but it seems to me that myself and my partner are the most important people in this, so the statement that no one else might notice the changes is meaningless: I’m the one to live in this body, so I am the one that has to be comfortable with it, not some random person on the street.

Her suggestions on the practical side of things are more useful: tips on streamlining your day, trying to be productive while taking care of the baby around-the-clock, dealing with a switch from full-time work to staying at home, and so on.

Things to do while at home with the baby to not feel completely insane include:

  • reading,
  • using Internet to connect with people,
  • going out with the baby (zoo, museum, coffee house, mall),
  • going back to work part-time or volunteering,
  • resuming an exercise routine,
  • seeing friends,
  • having a weekly baby-free outing (good luck finding a baby-sitter),
  • doing personal projects (either new or existing hobbies).

Things to try maximizing your efficiency:

  • be clear what is urgent and what is not;
  • break jobs down into smaller pieces that can be done separately;
  • keep a list for a week of what activities you perform every day to discover and exploit patterns in baby rhythms if any;
  • keep separate running lists for grocery (update once you run out of an item), hardware, drugstores ready to be brought for shopping trips;
  • use daily, weekly, monthly and “whenever there is time” lists;
  • combine tasks when possible;
  • have several stations with started projects, so you can get to any one of them without a long setup/cleanup time and do a bit at a time;
  • buy things in bulk when possible to save time and money.

Things to try keeping the baby occupied long enough to be able to complete a project:

  • use a ten-minute rule – if you pay attention to the baby for ten minutes, they often will be content to amuze themselves for another half-an-hour or more;
  • have designated toys for special situations (such as pulling out a particular stuffed toy only when you are on the phone: this will keep the toy novel enough and allow you to complete the activity);
  • talk to the baby while you work.

Things to try being on time:

  • plan outings ahead of time considering baby’s nap, feeding and being pleasant times;
  • add 15 minutes to your travel time to load/unload the baby and their stuff into/from the car;
  • pack/update your diaper bag the night before;
  • do not carry a separate purse;
  • suggest a time interval instead of exact time for a meeting;
  • plan your route in advance;
  • don’t plan activities in which promptness is essential;
  • plan to arrive at least 15 minutes early to deal with any emergencies;
  • plan with geography in mind: the fewer times you need to load/unload the car the better;
  • use delivery, drive-through, Internet, and mail whenever possible to save yourself time;
  • when the baby fusses, leave whatever you are doing – feed or comfort the baby and then come back to the activity once the baby is peaceful again.

The second part of the book dealing with relationships seems a bit more helpful (at least the inter-partner relationship tips) than the one dealing with physical changes, as it contains more practical suggestions on how to adjust to the new schedules, roles and responsibilities while keeping everyone involved relatively sane. Most of the extended family conflicts are reduced to the mother or mother-in-law being either too intrusive in their help, not able to help due to health/distance, or being appreciative of your own mother once you become one (not sure why this one is an issue and why people need special instructions on how to deal with it). Social relationship section can be summed up as: whoever your real friends are they will survive the time while you are preoccupied by ensuring your baby’s continued survival, the other ones were not real friends.

The book ends with a smaller section dealing with issues of abuse, adoption (inter-racial, by straight and gay couples), medical issues with the baby and people’s comments about all of the above. The general advice here seems to be that it’s no one’s business and you are free not to answer any questions or to only answer them with minimal detail or humour. The important thing to remember, is that if the comments/questions are made in the presence of your child, your response will have as much if not more influence on your child’s sense of self and understanding of the situation as the comment itself.

Overall, the book is a bit preachy and resembles a session with a psychiatrist, but then that appears to be the goal of it. Aside from quite a bit of repetition in questions and responses, there are some good tips if one is willing to dig for them.

The New Mom’s Companion: Care for Yourself While You Care for Your Newborn

Book: The Perfect Baby Handbook, by Dale Hrabi

Book: The Perfect Baby HandbookTitle: The Perfect Baby Handbook: A guide for excessively motivated parents
Author: Dale Hrabi
Source: Ottawa Public Library
Available online

Notes: This book is supposed to be a “whimsical parody”, a satirical look at the parents that load the baby’s life with all kinds of stimulation, in order to achieve “perfection”. The author manages to stretch the joke into a 144 page book full of illustrations, graphs, and tables. It is mildly amusing for about the first five pages, after which the jokes become quite repetitive.

So, the book is largely irrelevant to parenting and at the same time not very engaging as a “hilarious, highly visual satire of childrearing” as it is described by some reviewers.

The New Mom’s Companion: Care for Yourself While You Care for Your Newborn

Book: Baby Laughs, by Jenny McCarthy

Book: Baby LaughsTitle: Baby Laughs: The naked truth about the first year of mommyhood
Author: Jenny McCarthy
Source: Ottawa Public Library
Available online

Notes: This book is full of justifications of an “average person’s” complete lack of knowledge of how to deal with a baby, the mother’s changing body, and the family’s change in roles. The author is trying to be funny, but most supposedly humorous statements come across as obnoxious and overstated.

The author’s delivery was described as three and a half hours of pushing with everyone around her chanting “push!” (an enlightened approach) while she didn’t feel anything due to an epidural (which she calls a “one great thing about all of this”), followed by trying forceps and vacuum, and ending up as an emergency Caesarian. She did not breastfeed due to concerns with breast implants. The circumcision decision was made on the basis “like father, like son”.

This discouraging beginning of the book was compounded by the description of the baby’s father handling the baby in a rough manner due to the husband “not quite understanding the concept of wobbly-head baby”. The examples mentioned were tossing the 2-week old baby into the air, rolling on the ground wrestling with a 3-week old baby to “bond by doing some wrestling moves”, wheeling the 3-week old around on a skateboard, and so on. I’m sorry, but the level of ignorance here is a bit overwhelming.

The rest of the “insights” were dealing with changes in lifestyle, being confused by baby care, dealing with extended family, body image, etc. Most of the information presented is quite obvious and falls within the domain of common knowledge.

Overall, a pretty useless book, possibly more interesting to people who wish to peek into a life of a celebrity than learn anything useful regarding baby care and postpartum.

The New Mom’s Companion: Care for Yourself While You Care for Your Newborn

Book: Bonsai, by Fiona Hopes

Bonsai by Fiona HopesTitle: Bonsai
Author: Fiona Hopes, photographs by Deirdre Rooney
Source: Veddma library
Available online

Notes: The book starts with an overview of the tradition of Bonsai in China, Japan, other Asian countries, and the Western interpretation of the art. It covers briefly the design principles of Bonsai, such as the “two thirds rule” based on the mathematical ratio phi (1:1.618), scale, proportion, balance, light and shade, tone, colour, texture and pattern, rhythm and movement.  It goes over the classical Bonsai styles, tools and techniques needed to prune and shape Bonsai, and includes a brief listing of species that work well, as well as pruning techniques and basic care tips throughout the year.

After the introduction, the book focuses on four groups of trees: conifers and evergreen trees, deciduous trees, evergreen shrubs, and deciduous shrubs. Each tree listing is accompanied by a photo, brief description, and quick reference of best styles and sizes, general case, training techniques and common problems.

The author insists that the art of Bonsai is an outdoor art, making an exception for tropical trees which would have to be kept indoors and provided with the correct level of humidity. The overall impression I have gathered is that in Canadian climate with harsh winters (and in Ontario incredibly hot and humid summers), cultivating Bonsai trees would constitute quite an undertaking. The author suggests moving the trees into a shed or a garage to protect them from the elements in the extremely harsh weather, but not bringing them indoors, which implies a need of an external structure being available for that purpose. If one was to pursue this further in Canada, it seems it would be a good idea to find literature that deals with the specifics of the local climate, as well as perhaps find a local organization of Bonsai cultivators to learn of possible workarounds.