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Friday, September 30, 2005

Safer Foods

I recently read the following tips for reducing contaminants in your food, even if you don't buy organic:
  1. Wash all produce. (Even if you are going to peel a fruit, cutting through the skin can transfer bacteria to the inside of the fruit.)
  2. Consume low or nonfat dairy and lean meat, because contaminants tend to be more concentrated in fat.
  3. Buy wild salmon, which is less polluted than farm-raised salmon, light canned tuna rather than white or albacore, which has more mercury.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

How Time Flies

For something new to begin, something must end. - Kris King

Earlier this month, the two-month anniversary of my first miscarriage passed by almost without my realizing it. Two years ago, that loss became a defining moment in my life. It was the start of one of the most difficult periods in my life, one that actually became worse after I lost my second pregnancy and sank into a depression that I could not have emerged from without professional help (thank God for good therapists).

And yet, as someone who has suffered her own losses once pointed out to me, without my two lost pregnancies, I would not have Alex. And I cannot imagine life without Alex anymore. The last six months have been so full - full of life, laughter, anguish, sleeplessness, and most of all, joy. All of the heartache and tears were worth what I have now.

My maternity leave is coming to an end, and something new is beginning, though I'm not quite sure what it is yet. I'm beginning to feel anxious about the transition, even though deep down I know that we'll all be fine. And this blog will be fine. It has been my "other" baby during the last four months, and has also been a source of great joy to me for many reasons. I intend to keep posting, although I won't be able to post as regularly as I currently do. I hope you'll stick with me for this new adventure.

5 Ways To Motivate Yourself To Get Out Of Debt

If the thought of paying off your debts is simultaneously appealing and overwhelming, these tips may help you get started or keep you going:

  1. If you have one debt that's significantly smaller than the others, tackle it first, even if it has a lower interest rate. You'll feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment - and relief! - when you pay that debt off.
  2. Rank the debts in the order you are going to pay them off - you can continue to pay off the smallest debt first, or put the debt with the highest interest rate at the top of your list. Use whichever method gives you the greatest sense of accomplishment, because that's the one you'll stick with. Put all of your extra money toward the first debt and pay the minimum on the other debts. When you pay off a debt, the next month the money goes toward the next debt on the list.
  3. Make as many payments toward the principal of the loan as you can. If you receive a monetary gift, send in an extra payment. Hold a garage sale or sell some stuff on eBay. (Click here for tips on holding a successful garage sale.) Sell books you're not going to read on Amazon (see my previous post about selling on Amazon for more info). Take old clothes to a consignment store or donate them and apply the money you saved on taxes toward your loan.
  4. Use's loan calculator to figure out your repayment schedule and print it out - each month, you'll be able to see the balance of your loan go down.
  5. Set mini-goals and reward yourself. Make a list of little, affordable rewards, like a massage. After you pay off one debt, use the money that you used to put toward that bill to treat yourself. The month after that, start applying the money to the next loan on your list.

Note re. methods #2 and #3: Make sure your lender applies all payments in excess of the minimum toward principal. Some lenders apply extra payments as if they were simply advance payments (i.e., the next payment(s) due), which doesn't reduce the principal and consequently, the interest that you pay.


Wednesday, September 28, 2005

An Introduction To Solid Foods

This has been a hot topic among my mommy friends lately, as most of our babies have begun eating solid food. Every pediatrician seems to say something different, and every book seems to say something different as well. Some doctors suggest a pretty set schedule, others hardly address the issue at all.

Alex's pediatrician gave us some guidelines that I shared with one of my friends whose doctor is apparently very nonchalant about solids, and I thought I'd post them here in case there are other parents wondering what to do:
  • Start with cereal - rice, oatmeal, barley. Feed 2-4 tablespoons of cereal mixed with milk 2 times per day.
  • Next add fruit - apple sauce, bananas, peaches, pears, plums, prunes.
  • Next vegetables - squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, then green vegetables.
  • Feed cereal and half to three-quarters of a 4 oz. jar of a fruit or vegetable in the morning and afternoon/evening.
  • Wait 2 to 3 days between new foods.

I basically followed our doctor's guidelines, but adjusted it to what felt right for us. For example, I had read that a new food should always be introduced in the morning so that you have all day to watch for signs of an allergic reaction. At first, I thought it was weird to feed Alex a vegetable in the morning, until I realized that he doesn't know any better.

I had also heard that vegetables should be introduced before fruit because babies can become used to the sweetness of fruit and consequently find vegetables unpalatable, but on the other hand, I had heard that the order in which foods are introduced doesn't matter. I compromised and started with a vegetable, and have alternated vegetables and fruit as the new food of the day.

I'll be posting more about feeding solids in the coming days, so if you have a specific question, please email me and I'll see what I can find out.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Peace Of Mind On The Road

On our way home from our morning run (Marc) and walk (me) at the park this past weekend, we got a flat tire. We pulled into a gas station and called AAA. A truck arrived in about 10 minutes, and we were on our way home less than 10 minutes after that. It was a good reminder that AAA is one of the best bargains around. For less than $75 a year, Marc and I have peace of mind when we're on the road.

I know there are a lot of other options out there for roadside assistance, and I think everyone should have a form of it. My previous car insurance company provided this service, although I kept my AAA membership because I know they're reliable. If the service you choose doesn't come with a wallet-size card with the telephone and membership numbers you need, make your own. You never know when you're going to need it.

Going The Extra Step In Teaching Kids The Value Of Money

This morning on Good Day LA, there was a brief story on a teacher at a school in West Hills who promised his fourth grade class that if they raised $1,000 for Katrina victims, he would shave his head. They did and he did. I thought it was nice to see an adult keep his promise to kids.

Dorothy Lucey reported that the entire school raised over $8,000 for Katrina victims. I wondered if the money would be donated to the Red Cross, which seems to be the default for such donations. You might recall, though, that after checking Charity Navigator, I decided my money would be better off with Americares (because their administrative and fundraising costs were much lower).

Moreover, despite a front-page LA Times story about his 30-year history of faking credentials to gain prominent jobs, the Red Cross hired a man named Fred Brito as chief development officer in Pasadena, where he would have overseen fundraising of an area that covers 30 cities if he hadn't been exposed before the end of his probationary period.

I think it would be a terrific lesson in money management if the teachers at the elementary school would present all of this information to their students, and discuss how to distribute the money with them. Maybe the students would decide that the money should go the Red Cross anyway, because their reach is so great and their history of doing good is well-documented. Maybe they would decide to donate the money to Americares or another organization. Or maybe they would decide to split the donation among several groups. No matter the outcome, the lesson about charity and compassion would be extended to encompass research, analytical thinking and money management. Now that's worth teaching.


Cornbread Pizza

This is another one of Marc's favorite recipes. The ingredients list is long, but half of it is for the cornbread. You can use half of a package of prepared cornbread mix instead.

Tex-Mex Cornbread Pizza
Serves 6

1/2 cup whole wheat pastry, white whole wheat or all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 pound lean ground beef
1 1.25-oz package taco seasoning (I'm partial to Taco Bell brand)
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup shredded jack cheese
3 cups mixed lettuces, shredded
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 avocado, diced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a medium nonstick skillet or a 9-inch pie plate with nonstick spray.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl or measuring cup, combine the buttermilk, oil and egg white.

3. Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

4. While the cornbread is baking, brown the ground beef over medium high heat. Drain the beef, return to heat and add water and taco seasoning. Stir frequently until well combined and water has mostly evaporated.

5. Pour the beef mixture over the cornbread and sprinkle cheese on top. Bake for 15 minutes or until cheese is melted. If desired, broil for 2 minutes to brown cheese.

6. While beef and cornbread are baking, combine the lettuces, tomatoes and avocado in a medium bowl. Drizzle olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper onto the vegetables and toss.

7. Cut the cornbread pizza into wedges and serve topped with the salad mixture.


Sunday, September 25, 2005

Pizza Day!

Tomorrow is Pizza Day at Slashfood, so tonight we experimented with grilled pizza dough for the first time. I selected two Cooking Light recipes, White Pizza and Chocolate Pizza with Apricot Preserves and Bananas. Of course, I couldn't just follow the recipes, so here's what I did:

The recipe for the Chocolate Pizza included dough from scratch, so I took my own advice and substituted whole wheat pastry flour for all-purpose. I also didn't feel like kneading for 10 minutes (in large part because I don't have a good surface for it) so I used my stand mixer with the dough hook. The recipe said the dough would be sticky, and it was, but in the end, I had six nicely elastic rounds of dough (the recipe called for five rounds but I made six - four for the White Pizza and two for the Chocolate Pizza).

The White Pizza called for a prepared pizza crust like Boboli, but I used the dough from the Chocolate Pizza instead. I made four rounds, each approximately 6 inches in diameter, and Marc grilled them for two minutes on each side. He brought them in, and I mostly followed the recipe directions, although I added slices of Trader Joe's Beef Prosciutto for some protein and flavor. I also used beefsteak tomatoes instead of plum because they looked nicer at the market. I baked the pizzas at 375 degrees (instead of the 425 called for in the recipe) for 10 minutes.

For the Chocolate Pizza, I substituted strawberry jam for the apricot preserves because that's what I had on hand. It had the unintended effect of making a real mock-pizza, with the jam taking the place of tomato sauce. Although the recipe called for the entire pizza to be prepared on the grill, Marc grilled the dough and then I finished the pizzas off in the oven.

I'd call this dinner a successful experiment, if only because we managed to grill the pizza dough - something I had thought about but always been afraid of doing (I had visions of the pizza dough falling apart and slipping through the slats on the grill). Now I need to work on the taste of the dough, because it needs a little more oomph. Maybe some herbs or cheese if the pizza is savory, and some honey if it's sweet. When's the next Pizza Day?


Tips on Saving Energy and Water

These tips were included in my Los Angeles Department of Water & Power bill:
  1. Turn off lights and equipment when not in use.
  2. Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact flourescent lamps where appropriate.
  3. Close drapes, shades and blinds to reduce extra heat from sunlight (or open them in cold weather) and check your home for adequate insulation.
  4. Plant shade trees to reduce heat gain in the house and help with water runoff.
  5. Install and use ceilings fans or whole house fans.
  6. Set the air conditioner to 78 degrees in the summer and 68 degrees in the winter.
  7. When adding new plants to your yard, use native or other drought-tolerant plants.
  8. Clean or replace air condition filters every month.
  9. Regularly brush or vacuum the condenser coil of your refrigerator and check the door gasket for a tight fit.
  10. Buy appliances with the "Energy Star" label.
  11. Check your sprinklers for leaks and make sure you are not watering the sidewalk or street.
  12. Do not water lawns on windy days or during the hottest time of the day, when the evaporation rate is high.


Saturday, September 24, 2005

Breastfeeding Task Force of Greater Los Angeles

The website for the Breastfeeding Task Force of Greater Los Angeles has some good resources about breastfeeding, and not just for women in LA County. There is also some information on breastfeeding's economic benefits to an employer as well as information on the California Lactation Accommodation Law.


Friday, September 23, 2005

Random Money-Saving Grocery Shopping Tips

  1. Shop the perimeter of the store, where the fresh items are (like produce, dairy, seafood, meat, the deli and the bakery). Items in the center aisles tend to be processed, less healthy, and more expensive.
  2. Have a list and stick to it.
  3. Don't go when you're hungry.
  4. Check the weekly circular from your favorite supermarket and use manufacturer coupons on their loss leaders (items that are priced really low just to get customers in the door).
  5. Buy the store or generic brand, but be aware that when a name brand item is on sale and you have a coupon, it is often cheaper than the store or generic brand.


Going Back To Work As A Nursing Mom

I mentioned earlier this week that I'll be going back to work next month, and I've been getting ready for all the pumping that I'll be doing when that happens. I've taken my own advice and purchased extra pumping equipment - shields, valves, connectors, etc. - as well as a hands-free pumping bra from my lactation consultant, Ellen Steinberg. The company that makes these bras also has a handy back-to-work checklist (I hadn't thought to leave an extra nursing bra and clean shirt at work, although when I read the tip, I thought, "Doh!").

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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Reducing The Cost Of Formula

The other day, one of my friends who is done nursing and is now formula-feeding her baby said that one reason she regretted giving up breastfeeding is the exorbitant cost of formula. I have quite a few friends whose babies are formula-fed, and I've finally given away all of the formula samples that had been sitting around and were never going to be used. (I did take the advice of my friend Karen and kept some formula for the earthquake kits.) But since now all I can do is give out the occasional coupon, here are some tips on reducing the cost of formula:
  1. Make friends with moms who are breastfeeding. I know I'm not the only one who was eager to give those Enfamil and Similac samples away.
  2. Ask friends for coupons. Now that I know which of my friends uses which formula, I always give them the coupons that come in the mail. You can also swap coupons with friends who are feeding their babies a different brand of formula.
  3. Sign up with the formula manufacturers and they'll put you on their list for coupons. Click for Enfamil, Similac, and Nestle Carnation.
  4. Do the math. This technique actually works for any product and will itself be the subject of a future post, but here's the quick version: Take a small notebook to each store where you buy or might buy formula and write down the cost and number of ounces for each can. At home, sit down with a calculator and divide the cost by the number of ounces to get the cost per ounce. Keep this information handy and revisit it when there are sales or you have coupons. Your goal is to always pay the lowest cost per ounce possible, so you might very well find yourself going to different stores each week.
  5. I don't know much about this, but it was suggested when I mentioned that a friend's baby hates the taste of formula now that he eats so much "regular" food: When your baby is a little older, say around 9 months, and is eating several meals of solids a day, ask your pediatrician about switching from formula to fortified rice milk.

I hope these suggestions help those of you who are paying for formula!


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Comfort Zone

The most recent post on Mom in the Mirror about yay-sayers and nay-sayers reminded me of a book I read when I had just graduated from high school called Life 101. There's a concept in it called "The Comfort Zone," and the basic premise of the book is that one must continually seek to expand one's comfort zone in order to be happy.

I've generally found that premise to be true, and have tried to live according to it my entire adult life. It would seem, though, that nothing can expand my comfort zone quite like having my first child. I was thinking about this the other day - ever since Alex was born, I've been constantly doing new things and meeting new people, all because of him.

It started with the support group run by my lactation consultant, Ellen Steinberg. I wasn't comfortable leaving the house alone with Alex to drive 20 minutes to her house, but I did it because I needed to hear the stories of the other women there and know that I wasn't alone. (This was back when (1) I was still terrified of this cute but unpredictable creature who had completely turned my life upside down and inside out, and (2) Alex would wail loudly and inconsolably in the car for the duration of the trip.)

I became friends with the women in Ellen's group and we started getting together on our own. When I was too afraid to drive with Alex to a couple of our outings, sweet Arlene picked us up and took us with her. Since then, Alex has learned to fall asleep in the car, and I have gotten used to driving to new places. I've also gotten used to meeting new people, something that's never been very easy for me. I'm even taking a Kindermusik class with Alex, all because I believe it's good for his development.

And then there was this blog. I barely knew what a web log was when Alex was born, but this blog has turned into my favorite "me" activity. I've always wanted to share all of the things I've learned throughout the years, and this is the perfect way for me to do that. And who knew I'd be able to master some rudimentary html?

I've done more in the six months since Alex was born to expand my comfort zone than I did during the preceding two years, when I focused my energy on starting a family. I have a feeling that this little boy has only begun to change my life - and me! - for the better.

Pan-Fried Tofu

This is one of Marc's favorite recipes:

Pan-Fried Tofu
Serves 3

1 container extra-firm tofu (14 oz.)
1 egg, lightly beaten or 1/2 cup Eggbeaters
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar

1. Drain the tofu and wrap it very tightly in a clean dishtowel. Put the tofu on a plate and refrigerate for 4 hours.

2. Cut the tofu into 6 slices.

3. Combine panko, salt and pepper in a shallow dish. Preheat the sesame and peanut oils in a large frying pan over medium high heat.

4. Dip the tofu slices in the egg, then in the panko mixture.

5. Gently place the breaded tofu slices in the frying pan, and cook for 4 minutes on each side or until golden brown.

6. While the tofu is cooking, combine the soy sauce, vinegar and sugar in a small bowl or measuring cup.

7. Drain the tofu on paper towels. Serve over a bed of greens and/or soba noodles with the sauce.


Saturday, September 17, 2005

Product Review - Combi City Savvy Stroller

Every time I use my Combi City Savvy Stroller, one of my friends comments on how great it is, so I thought a review might be helpful. This stroller's positive attributes are important ones: it's compact, extremely lightweight, easy to open, easy to close, easy to steer, has a 5-point harness, and fully reclines. It's also quite sturdy, even though it's light. The seat cushion is washable, although I haven't needed to wash mine so I can't tell you about that yet.

Here's why I think you won't want this to be your only stroller: there's no cup holder or place to put your keys, the basket is quite small, the harness straps are thin and twist easily (although the twists are usually covered by the padding that protects baby's neck), and the canopy is small and doesn't come down very far.

The Savvy is great for going to a friend's house, quick pit stops where I don't need a place to put anything, or when I need a lot of space in my trunk. I also take it to the mall when I want a deterrent to keep me from spending money. For other adventures - especially walks - I use my larger stroller with all the features that the Savvy doesn't have.


Thursday, September 15, 2005

"Bottle Sippers" Pull-Up Bottle Caps Recalled

About 500,000 "Bottle Sippers" Pull-Up Bottle Caps have been recalled because the pull-up valve can detach, posing a choking hazard. Click here for the press release.


A Better Way To Give

I just found out about Charity Navigator, which provides information on thousands of charities, including their financial health. I'm always interested to know how much of my donation goes to actually fund the activities I want to support, and how much of my money is used to raise more money and pay salaries. Because of the information I found on Charity Navigator, I will now be donating money to Americares instead of the Red Cross to help Hurricane Katrina victims.


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Hearty Oatmeal With Cranberries

We've had below-normal temperatures here in Southern California, and it's put me in the mood for one of my favorite cold-weather breakfasts.

Hearty Oatmeal with Cranberries
Serves 1

1/2 cup oatmeal
1 cup water
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons dried cranberries
2-3 tablespoons brown sugar

Combine all of these ingredients in a large microwave safe bowl* and microwave on high for 3 1/2 minutes or until the oatmeal is the consistency you want it to be. Stir in brown sugar.

You can substitute fat free milk for the water if you like the taste and want the extra calcium. You could also reduce the amount of brown sugar.

*Use a smaller bowl at your own risk. I can't count the number of times my oatmeal has boiled over!


Sunday, September 11, 2005

Easier and Healthier Microwave Popcorn

Popcorn is a great snack - it's tasty, counts as a whole grain, and has 7 grams of fiber per 3 tablespoons (unpopped). Did you know that you can make your own "microwave" popcorn? For some reason, I always thought they did something special to the popcorn in those ready-to-pop packages, but it turns out all you have to do is put 3 tablespoons of popcorn into a lunch-size brown paper bag, fold down the top a couple of times, and microwave it on high for 2 minutes (I'm sure cooking times will vary depending on the power of your microwave oven).

I like it plain or with some grated Parmesan cheese, but you could add anything you want to season it the way you like it.


Saturday, September 10, 2005

Product Review - Infant-to-Toddler Reclining Feeding Seat

On my friend Kimberly's recommendation, I got this portable high chair to take to restaurants for Alex to sit in. It fastens securely to a kitchen or dining chair, has a nice reclining feature for younger babies, and a tray that's not pictured. My only real complaint is that the tray angle is dependent on the seat angle - since Alex can't sit up unsupported, we have to recline the seat, but that means the tray is also angled, rather than parallel to the floor. Basically, the tray will be useless until Alex can sit up straight, which is a bummer because the tray would be handy when feeding him when we're out and about. Other than that, I'm thrilled with the seat, which is light and easy to carry around. It will save us from germy restaurant high chairs, and can be used as a booster seat too, so we'll be using it for years.


Thursday, September 08, 2005

Pottery Barn Kids Spindle Cribs Recalled

Pottery Barn Kids has recalled the Spindle Crib, model number4825402, which was sold from January 2004 through July 2005, because the front rail can loosen and detach. Click here for the press release, which includes a picture of the crib.


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Cauliflower Smush

I think this might be Marc's favorite veggie dish (he named it, too). It's a good substitute for mashed potatoes.

Cauliflower Smush
Serves 4 (side dish)

24 oz. cauliflower florets
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup plain nonfat yogurt
dash of hot sauce
salt and pepper to taste

1. Combine the cauliflower and chicken broth in a microwave-safe dish and microwave on high for 7 to 8 minutes, until very soft.
2. In a food processor fitted with the blade, combine the cauliflower and remaining liquid, butter, yogurt and hot sauce. Blend until the mixture is smooth. Taste and season with salt and pepper as desired. Blend again. Serve warm.


Sunday, September 04, 2005

Yogurt Berry Parfait

A few weeks ago, Marc and I ate at a Corner Bakery Cafe for the first time. The food was decent, but not spectacular (similar to Panera Bread, actually). The best part by far was the Mixed Berry Parfait, which consisted of granola, vanilla yogurt, blueberries and strawberries. It was so good and simple, I was inspired me to make my own version at home:

Yogurt Berry Parfait
Serves 2

1 cup Yummy Granola, divided (any crunchy granola will do - I like Trader Joe's Maple and Pecan Granola)
1 cup vanilla yogurt, divided
1/2 cup blueberries
1/2 cup quartered or sliced strawberries

1. Spread 1/4 cup granola on the bottom of two clear bowls or glasses. Top with 1/4 cup of vanilla yogurt.
2. Combine the blueberries and strawberries in a small bowl, then pour half on top of the yogurt in each bowl.
3. Top the berries with 1/4 cup of yogurt, followed by 1/4 cup of granola.

*For an extra boost of omega-3's and fiber, add a tablespoon or two of ground flaxseed.


Saturday, September 03, 2005

Thin Mint Knockoffs

A few weeks ago on the Food Network, I saw Sandra Lee make a version of the Girl Scout Cookie Thin Mints. Basically, she took some chocolate chips, melted them with a bit of shortening and peppermint extract, and dipped vanilla wafers into the mixture. It looked too easy, but that's why her show is called "Semi-Homemade."

Thin Mints have always been my favorite Girl Scout Cookie, so I've been thinking about trying the homemade version ever since I saw the show. I got around to it a couple of days ago, but I did it a little differently: I used organic vanilla wafers (the Nabisco ones have trans fats), therapeutic-grade essential oil of peppermint, and Ghirardelli dark chocolate. I had to put them in the freezer to solidify the chocolate (but I live in Southern California, so you might not have to if you live somewhere cooler). They came out delicious - crispy, chocolaty, and minty. I might make these to give away around the holidays.


Thursday, September 01, 2005

Product Review - Medela Quick Clean Micro-Steam Bags

My friend Karen turned me on to these microwave sterilizing bags from Medela. I got them for the trip to Hawaii, but I've found myself using them at home - they're great! To use them, you put your pumping equipment in the bag, add water, and microwave on high for 1 1/2 to 5 minutes, depending on the power of your microwave. You pour out the water using the hole on one side, then carefully open the bag. I think this is the easiest way to sterilize the tubing from my breast pump. The bags can also be used to sterilize most bottles, nipples and pacifiers. The best part is, they're reasonably priced - I got a box of 5 bags at Target for about $5, and each bag can be used up to 20 times.

I try not to be overly paranoid about sterilizing, because I know a little exposure to germs is actually good for Alex's long-term health. I also keep in mind that the pediatrician said hot water and soap gets everything clean enough, and I try to remember to microwave the kitchen sponge on high for a minute every day to kill any bacteria growing inside. But I think it's important to sterilize everything at least once in a while, and sometimes I don't have a full load in the dishwasher. That's when these bags really come in handy.

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Take Advantage Of Customer Service

Poor customer service is one of my biggest pet peeves, but I've found that a legitimate complaint made politely often gets results. Here are a few examples:
  • upgraded my order to second-day UPS delivery when they repeatedly delayed shipment of an item.
  • Dannon sent me coupons for free bottles of water when a six-pack that I had purchased included an empty bottle.
  • SKS Bottle & Packaging included the wrong shrink wrap in my original order, so they sent the correct one without any additional charge.

Almost every company has an 800 number, or better yet, an email address, which makes contacting the company easy. Here's an article with tips on composing your complaint. I try very hard not to attack the company and instead to give them a chance to correct the problem.

Additionally, any time you call a customer service number, get the representative's name and write it down. Do this every time, whether you're calling your credit card company, your cell phone service provider, your health insurance carrier, etc. Also write down the date that you called and what you were told. This makes it easier to follow up should a problem arise in the future.