Sunday, May 31, 2009

Toronto’s plastic bag tax starts tomorrow

Starting tomorrow stores in Toronto will have to start charging customers a $0.05/plastic bag tax, in accordance with a new city by-law.

Over the past year or so, I’ve been bringing shopping bags with me most of the time I go grocery shopping. I’ve also been making a special effort to take shopping bags to the mall or outdoor shopping districts. Sometimes it’s tough to anticipate just how many bags I’ll need in advance and what size is most appropriate.

Fortunately, I’ve been building up quite a collection. Seems like almost every retailer has a branded reusable bag for sale these days. Not to mention some help thanks to my sister and Mr. B. They’ve been buying me classic shopping bags during their travels.

I’m still drooling over an amazing reversible printed cloth bag I saw at Holts today but the $400+ price tag was way out of my range. And no, it wasn’t one among the sale items, which now are 40% off though June 18.

What’s your favourite shopping bag and what do you think of the new tax?
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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dandelion Mud Pie joins forces with Organic Abundance

I’ve been a fan of Dandelion Mud Pie since the beginning. It’s not 
because I shopped their much but I loved the concept and befriended the store’s owner... a very passionate woman named 
Helen Nestor. So, you can imagine my disappointment when I saw the for rent sign in the window. I thought Dandelion Mud Pie had joined the list of local retailers that became a casualty of the recession.

Sometimes it’s nice being wrong. Last week I got an email from Helen and Rebecca Morton, her new business partner and owner of Organic Abundance, an organic food market, announcing they were joining forces and sharing a space. Dandelion Mud Pie was moving to a more prominent position across Yonge St. and would no longer be hidden behind a pizza take-out counter. 

The grand re-opening is tomorrow. There will be all kinds of samples, goodies and giveaways. So, if you’re planning a visit to North Toronto consider stopping by and saying hello.

Grand Re-opening of Dandelion Mud Pie and Organic Abundance
free re-usable grocery bags to the first 20 customers
• draws for food/gift baskets
• free food samples

3279 Yonge Street (map)
5 blocks north of Lawrence, east side of Yonge

Fri., May 29:  10 a.m. - 8 p.m.

I’m hoping to visit. If you do, please let us know what you think. 

ChickAdvisor Recessionista ShopCrawl

ChickAdvisor is having another exclusive Shop Crawl with a twist... this time around it’s moving uptown to Yorkville.

The ChickAdvisor team has a great evening planned with discounts of up to 25% off at several stores, goody bags and even an after party where you can win great prizes. More details to follow.

Did you go any other ChickAdvisor Shop Crawls? If so, what did you think. Will you go again? Leave a comment.

ChickAdvisor Recessionista Shop Crawl: Bloor/Yorkville
Guided shopping with a group, or shop at your own pace
Discounts of up to 25% off at participating boutiques
Over $100 worth of free swag (each)
A private after party with a cocktail and snacks at Flow restaurant after the shopping
A chance to win some awesome prizes including a fashion walk-off for the best outfit purchased that night
Complimentary makeovers from our expert, Joy David-Tilberg will be available

Bloor/Yorkville (Toronto) shops including:
The Body Shop - In addition to providing discounts in store, The Body Shop is giving each of you two full sized products from their Moroccan Rose line.
Roots and Diesel - 25% off regular priced items and 10% off sale items
The Stillwater Spa Boutique - 20% off all products they carry in the boutique & each of you will get a $25 gift certificate towards services in the Spa! Brands carried in the boutique include Dermalogica, Kerastase, Babor, Jane Iredale, Pharmacopi and more.
Over the Rainbow and eleven Boutique - 20% off
Nine West - No tax on all purchases; get a free Nine West tote worth $25 just for visiting in store
Calvin Klein Underwear - 25% off regular priced jewelry, watches, sunglasses and hosiery and an additional 25% off sale items
Banana Republic and The Gap - 25% off regular merchandise
Capezio - 20% off all regular priced merchandise

Thursday, June 18: 6 p.m.-9 p.m.
plus admission to the after-party at Flow

How much?
Tickets $25 in advance
Buy now!
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Monday, May 25, 2009

Nursing in fashion

In this week’s baby bargainista column, Jenny discusses fashionable dressing for breastfeeding in public.

We’re lucky to live in a day and age when public breastfeeding is both legally protected and generally accepted, eliminating any barriers to this natural act. Any nursing mother can tell you that you quickly get over any lingering sense of modesty or decorum when faced with a hungry, screaming infant in a public space. The real challenge of public breastfeeding is finding a way to incorporate the need to occasionally whip out a boob while maintaining some semblance of a fashionable wardrobe.

Happily, there are more options than ever before. Nursing bras, for example, run the gamut from sports-style elastic to lacy underwire. Maternity stores such as Thyme Maternity and websites such as Milkface offer a variety of nursing shirts designed to make access easy and discreet. In addition to a good nursing bra and a few tops, I personally find the following nursing “accessories” indispensible:

1. A friend gave me the GoGoMama nursing tank and I love it. If you are lucky enough to fit into your pre-pregnancy shirts already and you need a way to cover exposed skin (for warmth or decorum) when necessity dictates that your shirt be lifted up or unbuttoned to nurse, the GoGoMama tank is perfect. The fabric is light yet clingy so that it can be layered under a long-sleeved shirt, t-shirt, or blouse.

2. Another happy evolution is the appearance of fashionably designed nursing covers (or “hooter hiders”) with beautiful patterns. Gone are the days when your only option for covering up baby’s mealtime was a flannel blanket festooned with duckies or bunnies. When I was expecting #2 I spotted a woman breastfeeding in a park cafĂ© with a gorgeous Bebe Au Lait cover; I asked her where she got it, promptly picked one up for myself and I absolutely adore it. I only wish I had a reasonable excuse for buying a second in another fun, fashionable fabric!

3. In the spring and fall, and even on chilly summer nights, a simple poncho or wrap makes a great, cuddly cover-up while breastfeeding. They’re rarely out of fashion, and if you already have a few in your closet that makes it that much easier to coordinate with your wardrobe. I’ve collected a few over the years, and find that there’s nothing so cosy as snuggling a warm baby underneath like my own little secret!

Do you have a favorite breastfeeding “accessory”?

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Twitter tees by Threadless

I get a lot of email from people asking me to blog about their companies or their clients. Most of the time, most of it either doesn’t interest me or isn’t a fit for Bargainista.

So, when I hear from a company I like and I’ve blogged about before, I usually pay attention. And when I hear from a company I like because it has partnered with another company I like, of course I’m going to share…

and Twitter have teamed up! You read that right. Today marks the launch of Twitter Tees by Threadless. Have a favourite tweet you want to wear? Want to turn your favourite 140-character-or-less expression into a t-shirt? Well now you have your chance.

Twitter Tees will feature tweets submitted and voted by Twitter users. Each t-shirt will be designed and produced by the awesome creative team at Threadless.

Two new t-shirts will be chosen and printed each week. And, just like the original Threadless community, if you’re tweet is selected, you’ll be rewarded – how’s US$360 and a US$140 Threadless gift certificate? But, you don’t have to initiate a tweet to reap the benefits either. As long as you’re on Twitter and you’re the first person to nominate someone’s tweet, you’ll get US$100 and a US$40 Threadless gift certificate. Sweet!

As the Threadless press release says,
“The Tweets collectively selected by Twitter users are sure to be fun, irreverent and emblematic of Twitter and its base of passionate users.”
Sounds like this will be fun. I’m curious to see if tweets will become more creative and how well Twitter Tees do compared to the original Threadless.

Is this a smart business decision or just a passing fad? Only time will tell. What do you think? Will you try and tweet your way to a Threadless tee?
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Monday, May 18, 2009

White noise for less puts baby to sleep

In this week’s baby bargainista column, Jenny shares how she found a white noise solution to lull her newborn to sleep without breaking the bank.

It’s midnight. You’re exhausted and dying to go to sleep – but your wee infant is (a) awake and ready to party, or (b) awake and screaming. All the usual methods of soothing the tiny baby – shushing, rocking, swinging, bouncing – have failed and you are desperate for a solution!

Does this scenario sound familiar? If you’re a parent, most likely yes. We recently went through a bout of sleepless nights with our youngest (she was about 8 weeks old at the time). After running through the list of what could be keeping her awake and fussy long past her usual bedtime (Was she hungry? Gassy? Needing a new diaper?) we were stumped.

Enter the Internet! We got online and connected with other parents to seek out a solution. A number of moms recommended a white noise machine – apparently white noise or static mimics the sounds baby hears in utero (similar to the familiar strategy of driving a fussy baby around the block – the quiet drone of the car’s engine coupled with gentle movement has been known to soothe baby).

However, we balked at spending upwards of $50 on a machine designed to create what was, essentially, static. Surely we could improvise something cheaper!

Luckily, from past experience we had a couple of tricks up our sleeves:

1. Running water can be very soothing – but once we filled the kitchen sink to our normal dishwashing level, if she was still awake we didn’t want to keep wasting a precious resource by running it constantly.

2. We unearthed a few Solitudes CDs from when our oldest was having difficulty settling, and the soothing sounds of new age music combined with waterfalls, rushing rivers, and babbling brooks worked like a charm – for a while. Then the problem became, what to do when the CD was over and the sound of silence woke her up again?

3. In the old days, we used to tune our radio receiver to a spot between stations. The static simulated the sound of rushing water quite nicely. However, what to do in these days of satellite radio?

Then we found This sanity-saving website offers free static or white noise, and the sound was close enough to the sound of running water to keep Girl #2 soothed. A well-placed laptop plugged in near her crib or bassinet was enough to keep her sleeping through. A fantastic freebie for frazzled parents!

What’s your go-to solution for soothing a fussy baby to sleep?

photo credit: Our Angel is Now Home by Ivan Makarov on flickr.
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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sweet treats at Sweet Flour

One of the advantages of spending a lot of time on Twitter is learning about new things, including new local businesses. At least those smart enough to take advantage of connecting with people (and potential customers and ambassadors online).

I know this will sound diametrically opposed to my weight loss efforts but I’m a huge cookie fan. So, a few weeks ago when I started reading tweets about a new cookie shop called Sweet Flour Back Shop, I paid attention. Sweet Flour’s founder Kim Gans was also on Twitter and started sending me DMs (private messages) inviting me to stop by.

It took a few weeks and some convincing but today I finally got my family on board. We decided it was a perfect day to spend time strolling along Bloor West Village. The outing wouldn’t have been complete without a trip to Sweet Flour.

Why Sweet Flour? Well, in my university days, I visited Steve’s and worked at Greg’s – I learned about mixings early on. Sweet Flour is all about made-to-order fresh baked cookies, muffin tops and granola. You can even buy a “shot” of raw cookie dough. How could I resist?

How it works
Start by choosing your cookie dough (today’s menu included original, peanut butter and oatmeal - I choose original)
Next, choose from 20 yummy mixings – (two are included in the price and you can add more for $0.50 each - my pics: semi-sweet chocolate chunks and cherries)
Watch a baker mix your custom cookie, pop it into a special oven and two minutes later, you’ll have a fresh cookie right out of the oven.
Enjoy! Pure deliciousness.

My younger son ordered a hot chocolate too, it was made from scratch using chocolate chunks. Honestly, it was the best hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted. He thought it was among the best he’s ever tasted but found it too hot and after burning his tongue, had to let it cool for 15 min. Perhaps Sweet Flour should follow the coffee shops and keep the temperature lower when making hot drinks for the kiddies.

I made a point of not asking for Kim when we arrived because I didn’t want us to receive special treatment. Once we had paid for our orders, Kim recognized me and introduced herself. She is just as lovely as her baked goods asked my son about his cookie and his favourite cookies because he might become the customer of the day. Sure enough, when we got home, he received this email – it made his day and his burned tongue was quickly forgotten.
“Thanks from Sweet Flour
Thanks for visiting Sweet Flour today. We want to let you know that the picture of you and your family will be up as our customer of the day on Tuesday. We hope you had a great visit.

The Sweet Flour Team”
We’ll be back and yes, the verdict was unanimous. It was worth the 1/2 hour drive.

There’s more to starting a new business than having a unique concept and service yummy treats. Making customers feel special is an equally important ingredient and it looks like Sweet Flour is starting off on the right track.

Check out my annotated flickr photos (same ones as in the slide show but with commentary).
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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

SWAP & Support Your Sisters

Remember Tamsin, my partner in the NutriSystem Challenge? In this guest post, she explains her latest project.

I've been hearing more and more chatter about clothing swaps. Magazines, friends, bloggers are all describing clothing swaps as the eco-cure for our shopping blues during the slow economy. Last month, I ventured to my first clothing swap -- hosted in Toronto by It was a lot of fun! Much more civilized scene than my girlfriend Sarah and I joked could have been. (Though, I would like to have seen better quality clothes...)

I was looking for fundraising ideas because I am joining a humanitarian mission to Kenya in 7 weeks. I thought it'd be a blast to host a clothing swap party where women from various social circles hook up to swap some serious style. I hope for this even to have a particular focus on quality.

Good News! Everyone is invited. (Participation is limited to the first 30 ladies - register now!)

You will love this if you have clothes that:
You adore but simply aren’t “YOU”
No longer fit well
Deserve better loving by another fashionista.

Swap & Support Your Sister – A Swap Style for a Fabulous Cause!
Make a $20 donation* and the idea is very simple: You mingle, while we organize by size.
Bring 3-4 under-loved or under-worn items (clothes, accessories, shoes) to the party and leave with 3-4 “free” fabulous finds for your closet!
A mirrored change space is provided

To maximize Swap Nirvana and ensure a great selection, all items MUST be:
High Style
Great Condition
Quality Label
Current (Less than 2 years old)

Snacks * Refreshments * Door Prizes

Support Tamsin’s humanitarian mission to transform the lives of orphaned girls in Kenya.

Friday, June 5: 7 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.

You (bring your girlfriends!) – arrive on time, as participation is limited.

146 De Grassi St. (map)
street parking

Register now!

If you have questions about the mission (I would love to tell you about it!) or clothing swaps (I had plenty of questions before my first swap!), you can email me (Tamsin) directly.

*Your $20 donation supports abandoned/orphaned girls in Kenya & tax receipts can be issued
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Monday, May 11, 2009

How to get a designer nursery look on a DIY budget

In this week’s baby bargainista column, you’re in for a treat as Rebecca Atkinson shares how she and her husband decorated the nursery.

One of the first things my husband and I thought about when we found out I was pregnant, was space. We had a room in the house which could be converted to a nursery, but it meant getting rid of our prized Foosball table, and also creating a new linen closet somewhere else if we wanted the baby to have somewhere to put her clothes.

After convincing hubby that we couldn’t just put the crib on top of the Foosball table (much like the old ping pong/billiards combos), the nursery renovation launched a giant project of our bedroom to create more storage so baby Atkinson could have her closet. We were forced to redo two rooms simultaneously, meaning our nursery budget shrank considerably.

Being big fans of the show Sarah’s House, and having recently watched the nursery episode we decided we wanted to recreate something similar (complete with two-colours and the alphabet on the wall), but on a DIY budget.

First stop was Michaels craft store, where I fell in love. I’m not normally a very crafty person, but it is full of so many cool things to get your creative juices flowing. First thing we looked for were letters. We found several options, but went with styrofoam ultimately because it was half the price ($1.50 per letter) of the same sized wooden letters.

We got very lucky with this project as my husband’s aunt was coming into town for a few days and she is one of the most creative people I know. We immediately asked her to come help show us the light so she gets a lot of credit for this post too.

Back at Michaels, we filled up our cart with several things: acrylic paint (because we learned this would go a long way, be easy to clean up and have virtually no fumes, meaning I could paint letters to my heart’s content). We also found the cutest vinyl wall art of safari animals which would be easy to remove without ruining the paint, should we decide to change the room down the road.

Having already found a bedding deal at Pottery Barn the colour scheme for the room was pretty much chosen for us; yellow and green. We then decided to add orange and light-blue accents. Although we’ve been told we’re having a girl, we also know you never know until the baby comes out. So we opted to still go as neutral as possible without making it gender specific – just in case.

As we were showing my husband’s aunt everything, she declared we’d found a theme – Alphabet Safari. This prompted Mark‘s next brilliant find, alphabet flash cards using animals. With all the fun stuff bought, it was off to buy the room paint and material for the plate rails so we could get started on this project.

We were excited to be able to recreate the designer’s look for less and to be able to say we did all of it ourselves (with help from said Aunt). Overall with paint and supplies (tape, brushes etc), we spent less than $350 on decorating (not including window coverings, furniture, shelving or accessories). You can see the finished look in my Flickr album and read our lessons learned below for some additional tips.

My next post I’ll tell you how we saved more money by reusing several pieces of hand-me-down furniture and updating them.

Lessons learned:
1. A trip through Wal-Mart later showed us many of the same items we picked up at Michaels for less (especially for paint and brushes), so when the budget is tight, make time to look around before buying everything at one store
2. If using Styrofoam, gently sand the letters as it will heanlp the paint stick better, and get rid of the cast lines.
3. Buying primed (MDF) which we did for the plate rails, doesn’t cost much more, but saves you a whole lot of time and fuss. And use a combination of industrial glue and nails to keep it on the wall. It’s also a lot cheaper than “real” wood options
4. Wallpaper paste can be used for so much more than wallpaper – and a little definitely goes a long way. It’s also not expensive and cleans up easily with water, too.
5. Allow plenty of drying time between coats – especially for letters; drying times suggested on paint are just that and depend on a whole lot of factors (including humidity).

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Back on the NutriSystem bandwagon

Kirstie Alley might be the most famous rebound dieter to tell her story this month but she’s not he only one.

Well, despite all your wonderful support, slipped into some of my bad habits again and gained back about half of the weight I lost last year.

Good news! A representative for NutriSystem Canada read my tweets and offered to replenish my supply. Despite my initial elation and subsequent resistance, I’ve been on the program the past three weeks.

Getting back on track hasn’t been without its bumps along the way. Once I finally submitted my order, it took six weeks to arrive. Unfortunately, for NutriSystem, the first order they were going to hand deliver, was stolen.

My order also came with several substitutions, some I wasn’t crazy about. I wish they had a means of communicating this to customers first. I’d prefer choosing my own rather than some stranger who doesn’t know my likes and dislikes. A few weeks later, I was told they’d be happy to exchange the food I didn’t want. What I wasn’t told was the substitutions were made because NutriSystem pulled breakfast and lunch bars containing peanut butter out of their inventory because of salmonella concerns. I wish they’d have told me that upfront instead of leading me to believe they didn’t have their act together when fulfilling orders. I found out by accident googling NutriSystem.

These days, people are asking about my experience so instead of fat-blogging, I’ll provide occasional reports about the program and what NutriSystem Canada is doing to improve its service.

As for me, I’ll try my best to have regular weigh-ins (ignoring the scale was probably the worst thing I could do – weekly weigh-ins would have helped me nip that weight gain in the bud). I’ve also been more active. The biggest challenge right now, is sticking to the programs. My willpower has been pretty strong but not as strong as it was when I did the program last year. And by the way, I’ve lost about 4 pounds. My goal is another 6-10 more and keeping it off.
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Saturday, May 09, 2009

Marks & Spencer busted

Marks & Spencer took out full-page print ads in several publications across the U.K. yesterday. Why? They were apologizing to women for a surcharge (approx. $3.50) on bras with DD cups or larger. (Read the full story in today’s Globe.)

There was such an outburst, Britain’s largest clothing retailer succumbed to public pressure and back-peddled on their policy. For example, to date,16,600 women joined a Facebook group called Busts 4 Justice in protest. Kudos to Marks & Spencer for listening to their customers. They decided to publicly apologize (hence the ads) and are offering a 25% discount on all bras for the next two weeks.

All this got me thinking about consumer activism and what we’ll tolerate when it comes to paying a premium on clothing (and footwear) according to size.

Don’t get me wrong, I instinctively thought there was something wrong with Marks & Spencer’s policy. But we pay a premium for larger sizes all the time. No one balks at stores specializing in clothing larger or taller women. Think about those stores charging higher prices for kids’ clothes as the size increases.

What do you think? Did Marks & Sparks cave too easily to pressure from a Facebook group or did they do the right thing? If you had been offended by a similar policy, would a public apology combined with discount be enough to restore your support? If not, what would it take?
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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Jack & Jill discount shopping night @ nathalie-roze & co.

JACK & JILL (co-ed) Discount Shopping Night
@ nathalie-roze & co. with special guest: Off the Cuff/Lee Romberg, known for his stash of carefully curated resale designer menswear.

An evening of deep deals for guys and dolls, plus nibbles from Sushi Marche & Dessert Lady as well as gratis refreshments (beer, wine & cocktails).
Save 15 - 70% off everything in the store, including fresh spring goodies from Dagg and Stacey, Snoflake, Paper People, Supayana, Baggage, Leslie Paul, SLO, Elladora, Melow, Ruby Redux, Embody and more.
Plus lunatic bargains in sales baskets (priced from $5 to $35).

Off the Cuff
will be bringing down a tempting medley of gently used and well-edited quality men’s shirts, jackets, ties, designer denim and swish sweaters from the likes of Hugo Boss, Etro, J Lindeberg, Pal Zileri. Diesel, Prada, Fred Perry, Canali, Gucci, Zegna, and tons more. Most items will be tagged at well below $100.

The first 15 guests will receive N-R & Co.’s always coveted goody bags crammed with handmade lovelies, beauty swag & other cool surprises (valued at $40+ each), plus gifts with purchase while supplies last.

Check out the raffle for various fab prizes, including:
a pair of Toronto FC tickets
a psychic reading
Hot Docs tickets
a stash of accessories donated by local indie designers.


Thursday, May 7, 2009
6 p.m.-9:30 p.m

Nathalie-Roze & Co.
1015 Queen St. E. (Leslieville)
Toronto (See map)

Parking on Queen and or Pape, bike rack out front, easy TTC-access

416 792-1699
Nathalie-Roze & Co. on Facebook
Off The Cuff on Facebook
Join this group and receive quirky fashion and guy-themed stories
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Choosing the right baby monitor – rely on other parents

This week’s baby bargainista is from Tamera Kremer. Tamera became a new mom of twin girls in January and in this post, she’ll share her quest for a baby monitor. She also blogs Eco City Mama.

When I found out I was pregnant with twins one of my main concerns was how I would be keeping track of them when I left a room! When I started looking into monitors I was truly overwhelmed… a plethora of choices out there, with video monitors seeming to be everywhere & the new hip thing for parents. With the abundance of choices, I had no clue what the right choice for my family-to-be was. It didn’t help matters that the majority of my friends with kids all had different monitors and no one seemed 100% satisfied.

The one thing I did know was that I was determined to not have the girls be “crib babies” and spend all their early days confined to one spot, in which case a video monitor didn’t seem to be the right answer (let alone trying to find the right angle to capture both girls on camera while they slept). I’d also heard from other parents that static was a big concern with their monitors – the last thing I needed was static waking both girls up in the middle of the night! Portability was also a concern as I wanted to be able to keep track of how the twins were doing wherever I was in the house, or if I ventured outside with my dog during the spring and summer.

Enter online reviews & feedback from other parents on the web.

I spent a lot of time on different websites trying to find what appeared to be unbiased reviews and ended up on Babies ’R Us where the highest rated monitor (13 reviews that appeared to be from real people) was a simple single unit, but with great features from Safety 1st. The reviews were glowing and the price point was reasonable. Static didn’t appear to be a factor, and with rechargeable batteries and 1000-foot range I was willing to give it a shot, even though, with shipping & taxes it pushed close to $100.

Several months in to using it and it’s been truly amazing and has lived up to all the reviews I read. I can leave a room and know the unit will pick up their lightest squeaks clearly, and when the crying inevitably starts the sound quality makes it feel like I’m in the room with them. I honestly cannot recommend this unit highly enough for a new parent – no bells and whistles, just clear sound & peace of mind!