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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Recycling Button Cell Batteries

My in-laws just picked up a new Fisher-Price toy for Tyler that included an insert for recycling button cell batteries. I couldn't help wondering about the purpose of the insert - after all, I'd never seen one encouraging me to recycle alkaline batteries used in toys. It turns out that button cell batteries contain mercury, which can be poisonous.

To find a recycling center for button cell batteries, Mattel (Fisher-Price's parent company) recommends the site Earth911 with these instructions:
  • Type your zip/postal code in the upper left hand box.
  • Click GO.
  • Click on HOUSEHOLD HAZARDOUS WASTE under the heading LOCAL SERVICES.
  • Click on MERCURY CONTAINING ITEMS, located in the first column of the Household Hazardous Waste box in the middle of the page.
  • Locate the nearest Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) Facility to take your Button Cell Battery (ies).

If there isn't a recycling center in your area, you can call Mattel at 800-432-5437 and they'll will send you a pre-paid mailing envelope to return the batteries.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I Really Don't Like Polenta

I've seen chefs make polenta many times on television but I've had it a few times at restaurants and not liked it. It seems like the kind of thing I should like, though, so I decided to try making it myself.

The first time, I bought a package of cooked polenta (like this one) from Trader Joe's, cut off slices and sauteed them. I still didn't like them.

Then last week I came upon this package of corn grits/polenta and it looked really appealing. So I pulled out my copy of Brilliant Food Tips and Cooking Tricks by David Joachim, which is one of my trusty reference cookbooks. I followed the recipe pretty closely (I skipped the fresh herbs since I didn't have any) and the polenta looked good. It was the right consistency and texture. I should have loved it. But I didn't.

Not to worry. I had a back up plan. I poured the polenta into a baking dish and put it in the fridge overnight. The next day, I cut out 1 1/2-inch circles and sauteed them in a tiny bit of olive oil. Again, they looked great - toasty brown patties made a little gooey on the inside from the Parmesan cheese. But I don't know what it is, I just wasn't crazy about them. It's not that they were bad - I ate quite a few of them. But I didn't love them the way I thought I should.

I think I'm going to give polenta one more shot - after all, I still have the package of grits/polenta and Clotilde Dusoulier's Crisp Polenta Triangles (with walnuts and Beaufort cheese) is mouthwatering. But I'm not holding out too much hope.

Even though I didn't love the sauteed polenta, I thought it would make great toddler-friendly food. You could also bake the rounds instead of sauteeing them to keep the fat content down. Add in a little bit of finely chopped spinach or finely grated carrot and your toddler will never know he or she just ate some veggies along with the corn and cheese.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Personal Parent Hacks Part 3

My previous parent hacks are here and here.
  • If your children's artwork is starting to take over your house because you can't bear to toss them, consider scanning them. You'll then have a digital version of the art without needing to set aside an entire room to house the masterpieces. We keep our favorites and give the rest to the grandparents and great-grandparents.
  • The next step up from the last hack is to create an image that combines several "lesser" pieces to make them more interesting. :)
  • If (like me) you don't like using permanent marker on your child's cups and containers (I have to label everything that Alex takes to daycare), use a small piece of painter's masking tape as a label. It will peel off easily and is very inexpensive. A $1 roll lasted for over a year and a half. (The masking tape is also great for labeling containers you put in the fridge or freezer.)

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Monday, May 28, 2007

The First Step Toward Gaining Control of Your Finances

I recently posted about tracking my expenses in Quicken, and I realized that I haven't mentioned that it's the single-most important thing we do to manage our money.

If you're serious about reducing your expenses and saving money, the single best thing you can do is keep a log of your spending. It's not easy - not so much because it's hard to record every penny you spend, but because psychologically it can be daunting to confront the truth about your spending. However, if you do this for a week, then take a look at your log and see where you can cut back, you'll most likely find that you can save hundreds of dollars with a few changes.

For example, many people spend more on eating out than they realize, whether it's picking up a bagel and coffee in the morning, grabbing a candy bar from the vending machine or cafeteria at work, or not appreciating how much buying lunch every day adds up. Some people are surprised at how much they're spending on clothes or even gas.

In our case, there have been some major changes in our spending since Alex was born. There's the obvious cost of daycare, but we also eat out a lot more and spend more on clothes, toiletries, and a small fortune on diapers and toys. It's also costing us upwards of $50 to gas up our Nissan Altima nowadays. I'll be the first to admit that we don't always stick to our spending plan, but tracking our expenses in Quicken makes it easy for me to figure out where we went astray and what changes we can make to stay within our budget. And that means increased savings, less debt, and more vacations.

When you're ready to take another step forward, check out Lifehack's tips for living on a tight budget.

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Breastfeeding Tyler - Update #4

See my previous posts on this topic here, here, here, and here.

As of my last update, the amount I've spent breastfeeding Tyler was $537. But as I knew it would, the amount has now exceeded my target budget of $600. I'm up to $657 after buying another two bottles of More Milk Special Blend ($110) and another package of Lansinoh Milk Storage Bags ($10).

A couple of notes about those products:
  • I could probably stop taking the Special Blend at this point, but I'm too afraid to risk my milk supply. Tyler will start solids very soon, though, and once he's nursing less, I'll probably take less Special Blend. Right now, an 8-ounce bottle lasts about three weeks. The liquid doesn't taste great (I add water to it and then down it in one gulp) but it's more economical than taking the More Milk Plus and Goat's Rue capsules (the Special Blend is simply a combo of the two products).
  • Medela now makes storage bags that attached to your pumping equipment so you can pump right into the bags if you're going to store your milk. If the bags work, they're super convenient. I'm not sure I'm going to try them, though, since a 25-count package of Medela bags is $10 at Target, the same cost as a 50-count package of Lansinoh bags.

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Law & Order: Special Letters Unit

Alex has recently begun watching Sesame Street, which I was surprised to discover is clever enough for adults. Case in point:

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Getting an MRI While Breastfeeding

With the caveat that you should always check with your doctor to get advice tailored to your specific situation, here's a little about my experience with getting a MRI while breastfeeding.

Actually, I needed two MRIs. I checked with Tyler's pediatrician and was told it would be fine.

And it was, for the first one.

But for the second MRI, a contrast agent was required. When I told the technologist that I'm breastfeeding, she said that I shouldn't breastfeed for 24 hours after getting the contrast agent because it contains a metal and they don't know how it affects nursing babies. My lactation consultant, Ellen Steinberg, also said I shouldn't breastfeed for 24 hours after getting the contrast agent. So, I had to make sure that I had enough breastmilk stored for 24 hours worth of bottles. Since Tyler weighs about 17 pounds, Ellen said he needed 30 to 40 ounces in a 24-hour period.

We were pretty diligent about giving Alex a bottle regularly but with the general chaos of our lives now, it hasn't been a high priority with Tyler, who's always taken a bottle if he was hungry enough, no matter how infrequently we offered it. And though I worried about whether he'd get enough to eat, he was a champ about taking the bottles, though he kept turning his head toward my chest and breaking my heart. I also frequently use nursing as a comfort/sleep aid (I can't help taking the easy route there) and living without that was hard, though I discovered that Tyler will now take a pacifier again (he'd stopped a couple of months ago).

It ended up being a total of 26 1/2 hours between nursings because I nursed Tyler at 7:30 a.m. on the day of the MRI, but didn't get the contrast agent until about 10:00 (it was injected in the middle of the procedure). I don't know who was happier about being able to nurse again - me or Tyler!

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Book Review: Chocolate & Zucchini by Clotilde Dusoulier

I've loved reading Clotilde Dusoulier's Chocolate & Zucchini food blog ever since I discovered it a couple of years ago. I tend very much to read for content rather than style, but there's something about the way Clotilde writes that I truly enjoy. So I was excited and happy for her when she announced that she was writing a book, which was released last week - two days too late for Mother's Day.

I own very few cookbooks and in fact, I deliberately keep my library to a bare minimum. I treat my cookbooks as reference books more than recipe books, since I get the vast majority of my new recipes from issues of Cooking Light. But I knew I had to have the book version of Chocolate & Zucchini as soon as it came out - not for the recipes but to just read.

The book is a lovely paperback - heavy paper and full of pictures but not bulky. It's Clotilde's style through and through - chatty, passionate about food, and extremely practical. I love that each recipe come with variation and substitution suggestions, a wine recommendation, time estimates, and an idea of how long the dish will keep. In my perfect world, such information would come standard with every recipe, especially the latter two bits of data.

I haven't had a chance to make anything in the book yet, though several recipes have caught my eye. When I first got the book, I read the opening pages - the introduction, notes about her cooking style, a list of her pantry items. I've now taken to picking up the book when I have a few minutes, randomly opening it to a recipe, and reading for pleasure. Each recipe comes with a story, so I get the full "Clotilde effect," as it were. Last night I read about Walnut, Pear and Roquefort Madeleines, as well as Chocolate-Dipped Hazelnut Marbles. Yum!

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More on Graco Customer Service

I posted previously that I ordered a new playard mattress from Graco. Well, it arrived last week, only one day after I received an email from them informing that it had shipped.

But I still give their customer service mixed reviews, primarily because it took five days for them to ship the item (though there was a weekend in between), and because they said it might take up to 14 days for my order to arrive. Obviously, my order arrived much faster than that, and I had the mattress a week after I had ordered it (I received the shipping email the day after the mattress was sent). And I paid only for standard shipping (expedited shipping was an additional $10). Nevertheless, I can't help thinking that my order should have shipped sooner (or they should explain why it takes so long to ship).

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Best Tip for Hosting a Baby or Bridal Shower: Pre-Addressed Thank-You Cards

As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently hosted a baby shower for a friend. She loved everything about it, but the thing she mentioned over and over again was the package of pre-addressed thank-you cards that I gave her. It was super easy for me to do, since I just printed a second set of invitation labels and affixed them to the thank-you card envelopes. All my friend had to do was write up her thanks, put return address labels and stamps on the envelopes, and send the cards out. (If you want to go the extra mile, you can put stamps and even the return address on the envelopes before you give the thank-you cards to the guest of honor.) My friend was thrilled that it was so easy, she finished her thank-you cards the same day as the baby shower!

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Update to my Review of the Combi City Savvy

A year and a half ago, when I posted my review of the Combi City Savvy, I had only been using the stroller for a couple of months. So I thought it was time to update my review to say I've come to hate it.

The positive attributes remain the same, but the negative ones have become magnified over the course of time. I hate the twisted straps - not to mention the fact that the connectors have slipped apart so that there were a few times when Alex wasn't strapped in at all. I hate the tiny little basket, which is essentially useless. And I hate the short canopy, which is also almost useless in our hot Southern California weather. I dread the thought of using the Combi even more than the thought of using the Graco Quattro when Tyler outgrows his infant car seat.

Yet I know I'm going to want a decent compact stroller for brief trips. The Metrolite takes up a decent amount of room in our sedan's trunk, so I'm really torn. I've heard good things about Maclarens but don't want to spend over $100, which also rules out Peg Peregos, another brand my friends rave about. I might just continue using the Combi, but I won't be happy about it!

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

More Parent Hacks

Adding to my personal list of parent hacks:
  • I got this one from an issue of Parents Magazine a few months ago: Instead of those flimsy vinyl mats they sell at Babies R Us, use a heavy duty office chair mat as highchair mat. It can be pricy, but buy the biggest one you can find (mine was about $60 at Staples). It's much easier to clean and doesn't keep flipping up.
  • The dishwasher is easiest for cleaning and sterilizing pumping equipment. But sometimes it can't quite get into the deep recesses of breast pump parts, like inside the valve - but a bottle nipple brush can!
  • If you are trying to get some computer time while holding your baby and he still cries, try substituting your chair for a fitness ball. It's not all that easy to bounce and type one-handed, but it's possible and at least baby won't be screaming in your ear.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Gerber Life Insurance: Is it Worth the Money?

Even before my oldest was born, I'd see those ads for Gerber Life Insurance and think how absurd it was. After all, children don't need life insurance because no one's depending on them - especially not term insurance. But I recently received a solicitation for Gerber's Grow-Up Plan, which is a whole life policy. Since we'd recently increased our own life insurance policies to provide for our new baby, I was intrigued.

A whole life insurance policy covers you for your entire life, unlike term insurance, which only covers you for a specified period. A whole life policy also builds cash value - the insurance company takes a portion of your premium and invests it. A whole life policy is considerably more expensive than a term policy, which is why most finance experts don't recommend them.

The Gerber Grow-Up Plan got my attention because the premiums start low, due to the young age of the insured, and stay the same for the duration of the policy. But when I calculated the cost of a year's premium on the maximum $35,000 policy for our two-year-old, it came to $305.76 (the monthly premium is $25.48). The policy would increase to $70,000 at age 21 and $350,000 at age 28. $305.76 per year for $350,000 of whole life coverage is a pretty darn good rate. Estimated quotes for a comparable policy from this aggregator are all over $1200 per year. And at least one expert feels that Gerber's rates are generally competitive.

However, the bottom line seems to be that the amount you'd pay out over the years to get to a $350K policy for just over $300 per year makes this investment a poor choice. As this Smart Money article points out, $100,000 in today's dollars isn't going to have the same value in 30 years. Additionally, whole life policies are generally not a good investment vehicle - in other words, the money paid for the premiums could be invested in other vehicles with a much better return.

As an example, if I were to buy a $35,000 policy at $305.76 per year for our two-year-old right now, I'll pay a total of $7949.76 over the next 26 years. Gerber doesn't say on their website how the cash value will be calculated or what the rate of return is, only that "The plan accumulates cash value and will continue to do so as long as premiums are paid. After 20 years, the cash value is equal to or greater than 100% of premiums paid." So that's a cash value of at least $8,000 after 20 years. I'm guessing this is a generous estimate, but I'll assume the money doubles in the next 6 years and that after 26 years, when our son is 28 and the policy value increases to $350,000, the cash value would be $18,000.

But if I took the $305.76 and instead of buying the whole life policy, made monthly contributions of $25.48 to a mutual fund with a conservative annual growth rate of 8%, I'd have over $26,000. If the mutual fund grew at the S&P 500's historical growth rate of 12%, I'd have over $54,000. (And I'd definitely invest the money in an S&P 500 index fund.)

My conclusion: Gerber's Grow-Up Plan is not worth the money.

But don't forget to take the money you might have spent on a life insurance policy for your child and invest it in a tax-advantaged education account like a Coverdell ESA or 529 plan instead!

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Tip for Entertaining the Kids

Parent Hacks offers this great tip for occupying the kids for a while: Dump out the entire toy box and let your kids rediscover some forgotten toys.

We do this all the time. I buy large boxes of diapers, and we save the empty boxes and store a majority of the toys in them. We leave out only Alex's current favorites, but he sometimes goes to the boxes and asked to go through them. This system keeps our house looking somewhat neat, makes it a lot easier to clean up, and provides easy entertainment.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Microfinance: A Worthy Cause

I've been down on my favorite charity, the USO, since the middle of last year, when my online donation was processed twice and my credit card was double charged. I only pressed the submit button once, so I don't know what happened. I emailed the USO and didn't hear anything back. Since the money went to a cause that I believe in, I didn't pursue the matter further. But I haven't donated to them since, either.

Instead, we're transferring our charity donations to World Hope International's Microenterprise program. Through articles like this one, Marc and I have become big believers in microfinance, which is the practice of extending small amounts of credit to poor people. (I first learned about microfinance when the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Muhammad Yunus, who founded the microcredit Grameen Bank.) Microfinance can eliminate poverty by extending credit to those who can't obtain credit elsewhere. For more on the subject, check out World Hope's FAQ.

Why World Hope instead of Grameen Bank? World Hope has a four-star rating at Charity Navigator, compared to three stars for the Grameen Foundation. And I liked World Hope's comparatively low rate of administrative and fundraising costs, meaning more of its money goes toward the programs themselves.

If you'd like to donate to World Hope, click here.

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Another Car Seat Warning

As I prepared breakfast this morning, I saw a report on the local news that chemicals on car seats could be harmful. Here's the online report that the local story came from. The local news station's report isn't on their website, but they said that the toxins are more likely to be a problem as the car seat wears out, so it's probably a good idea to make sure the plastic isn't cracking or thinning (which seems like a good idea for basic safety anyway). The online report also offers a couple of recommendations to minimize risk, including keeping car seats out of the sun as much as possible - I'm going to start covering ours with a blanket when I have to park outdoors, which I need to do anyway to keep the metal part of the buckle from getting too hot in the Southern California heat.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Tips From a Nutritionist

I haven't been too happy with my eating or my weight, and I really want to set a good example for my boys. So I asked their pediatrician for help and he hooked me up with a wonderful nutritionist named Nicole. Here are some of the tips she gave me:
  • Eat three meals and two snacks a day
  • A meal should consist of at least three food groups: a protein, a grain, and a fruit or vegetable
  • A snack should consist of two food groups: a protein and a fruit or veggie or whole grain serving
  • My job as a parent is to provide healthy food, and Alex's job is to decide how much he wants to eat
  • I had grown weary of Cheerios and oatmeal, so we had open boxes of Reese's, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Cookie Crisp by the time I saw Nicole. It seems obvious, but she suggested we have only one sugary cereal as an option, and also recommended I give Kashi Mighty Bites a try. (It's not bad, and Alex likes it.)
  • I'm an emotional eater, and I've been eating a lot of chocolate since Tyler was born because that's one of the major ways I cope with stress. So Nicole suggested that instead of reflexively reaching for chocolate, I pick a time during the day when I can sit down and actually enjoy and savor a treat. It's working pretty well - I still eat a little chocolate or other sweet during the day sometimes, but I eat a lot less knowing that I'll be able to enjoy something at the end of the day.
  • I already knew that I need to find another outlet for stress, particularly in the moment - something I can do instead of eat. I'm still working on this one, but I've discovered that if I can put Tyler down and pick up the Gameboy, my hands are too busy for me to eat.

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Some Potty Training Tips

We're really earning our potty training stripes right now, so I have a couple more tips:
  • Those expensive potty wipes for kids are worth considering. I used to think the companies were trying to brain wash parents into spending more money, and they definitely aren't necessary if money is tight. And if I had a daughter, I'd probably use regular toilet paper on her after she peed. But after a poop, the wipes make cleaning a little easier and I worry less about possibly hurting my child. And anything that makes the experience a little easier is worth it to me.
  • Take those bathroom rugs out. Especially if you have a boy, but probably even if you have a girl. Before we removed ours, the rugs in both bathrooms got peed on. And there was a close call with a bit of residual poop that fortunately landed on the linoleum instead of the rug. I figure I'll be able to have rugs in my bathrooms again in, oh, three or four years.
  • It is not easy putting a diaper on a child while he's standing up. We didn't think we were quite ready for pull ups, so we didn't use them. But then we had a couple of leaky diapers due to faulty fastening, all because of the difficulty in putting a diaper on a standing child. So our new strategy is to use pull ups if we're out of the house, so that it's a little easier to use the potty. But we still use regular diapers at home.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Update on Using my Mei Tai

Before Tyler was born, I posted about my new BabyHawk mei tai and how I planned to wear Tyler a lot.

Well, things don't always go as planned.

I loved the mei tai because, unlike the Baby Bjorn, it didn't hurt my back.

So of course, Tyler hated it.

For the first four months, every time I put him in he'd scream. I'd be able to keep him to a loud cry by bouncing along until he finally fell asleep. I thought - hoped - that he hated having his legs in the froggy position. I learned through Babycenter's Babywearing board that MeiTaiBaby makes a mei tai with an adjustable crotch. Desperate, since I needed to wear Tyler in order to be able to chase Alex, I ordered one with the snap tab extender for maximum adjustability.

It was better, but not nearly as much as I'd hoped. Tyler didn't scream quite as loudly or cry for as long. But I don't use either mei tai nearly as much as I had planned (and neither was cheap - each was close to $100). They serve their purpose when I do use them, enabling me to stay active with Alex when we're out and about on our own. I think they're a wonderful alternative to a Baby Bjorn and I would highly recommend them to anyone who wants or needs the option of wearing a baby. Plus, mei tais can be used much longer than most other baby carriers.

Both mei tais are easy to wash. I put them in a large mesh bag made for sweaters and wash them in warm water in the washing machine. To preserve their appearance and minimize wrinkling, I don't put them in the dryer. Instead, I hang them in the closet - the body goes on one hanger, and then I drape the long straps on a second hanger. I tug all of the straps flat, which helps keep them flat when I'm using the mei tai.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Keep a Few of These in Your Bag

When Alex turned six months, his pediatrician gave me a bunch of sunscreen samples, which I put into my diaper bag. They've come in handy whenever I've forgotten to put sunscreen on him before we left the house.

Unfortunately, I've used the last one.

I tried these sunscreen sticks, but they're too difficult to apply. It takes a long time to cover an area larger than a couple of square inches, and it's almost impossible to spread the sunscreen out by hand - especially on a squirmy toddler.

Fortunately, at a local baby shop last week, I picked up a sample of MD Moms Babysilk sunscreen. The sample was an individually wrapped towelette, which worked beautifully on Saturday, when Alex and Marc stood in the sun watching a demonstration at our local fire station. The sunscreen has a nice light scent and seems to have high quality ingredients. Marc's sensitive skin didn't react at all. At $7.50 for a package of 3 towelette singles, it's a pretty pricy product. But I'm going to pick up a few to keep in my bag.

If you know of any less expensive options, let me know.

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My Favorite Pocket Bibs

As Alex learned to feed himself, I tried flat pocket bibs like these but the pocket didn't catch half of the dropped food and they were a pain to clean and dry. The bibs I saw with pockets that stuck out looked a lot like these and I felt that they would be uncomfortable for Alex because they seemed extremely rigid and overly long. Then one day at Right Start, I saw these Baby Bjorn bibs. I love them! They're pretty flexible, not too long, and super easy to clean. In fact, I love them so much that I couldn't believe Right Start doesn't carry them anymore. The closest thing they (and Babies R Us) had were these Kiddopotamus bibs, which I didn't care for as much. We now have four Baby Bjorn bibs, which gets us through the day without washing since I sometimes don't get to the dishes til the end of the day. I can't recommend them highly enough.

Incidentally, I'm not as picky about "regular" bibs, like the ones Tyler wears to soak up all his drool. But I've come to prefer bibs like these, which velcro on the side of the neck rather than the back. The side velcro makes them a little easier to get on and off, particularly when Tyler's strapped into his car seat.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Keeping Your Child Safe in a Parking Lot

Parent Hacks offers two ways to keep your child safe in a parking lot while putting groceries away: (1) play "assume the position," i.e., have your child stand with his hands on the car and legs spread as if he were about to be searched; or (2) strap your child into his car seat before putting the groceries in the car.

Personally, I prefer to keep Alex in the shopping cart while I put the groceries away, but maybe that doesn't work as well with an older child. I also tend to carry Alex in parking lots if we're not using a shopping cart. As to parking lots in general, I have a friend whose two-year-old tended to take off until she was so vehement about the necessity of holding hands that it's the one place where he knows it's absolutely non-negotiable and never puts up a fight.

What do you do?

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Some Useful Info About Graco

When Alex was born, my in-laws purchased a Graco Pack N Play for us to use at their house. From the start, the middle fold in the mattress never lay flat and there was always a bump down the center of the playard. I never did anything about it because Alex hardly ever used the Pack N Play, so it wasn't a big deal.

When Tyler was born, however, we brought the Pack N Play to our house to use in our bedroom and he began spending a lot more time in it. The fact that the mattress doesn't lay flat has always bothered me but I finally decided to do something about it because Tyler can roll over and I'm afraid he'll get stuck in the gap at the ends of the Pack N Play that results from the mattress being raised in the center.

I started with the replacement parts page on the Graco website. There didn't appear to be any playard mattresses available, so I used the contact form to explain my situation and ask how I could obtain a new mattress. It turns out that if you enter the info requested at the right on the replacement parts page, the parts available for that specific item will appear.

I was pleased that I got a quick response and was able to order a new mattress. I was less pleased that there was no attempt to address the actual problem with the mattress itself. I explained in my email that this was a problem that had existed from the start, so a company with five-star customer service would have wanted to know more and perhaps even sent me a new mattress and asked for the old one so they could examine it. And if the Pack N Play were new, that's what I would have expected and would have asked for. However, because the mattress is two years old, I feel I've waived my right to complain. All in all, I think Graco's customer service is good, but not great (assuming the mattress arrives promptly and is the right one, etc. - I'll let you know).

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Great Tip for Photographing a Baby Who Won't Stay Still

The Practical Archivist has a great suggestion (along with a classic example) for getting that photo (sorry this one's too late for Mother's Day but it'll work for Father's Day!): disguise the mother as a chair.

Via Parent Hacks.

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Thumbs Up to Medela Customer Service

I mentioned a few days ago that I've been having trouble with the rubber plug on my Medela Pump In Style Advanced and that Medela was sending me a new faceplate. Well, the faceplate arrived yesterday and it was very easy to replace the old one.

The faceplate was apparently redesigned around the time that I bought my pump (which was purchased in early 2005), and it is in fact slightly but significantly different. There no longer two holes for the rubber plug when you are pumping both breasts. Instead, the part of the plug that you use when pumping only one breast just hangs. It seems to eliminate the potential for the problem I was having with the old faceplate. And, most importantly, I used my pump this morning and it worked great. So I give a big thumbs up to Medela's customer service.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Tracking Your Expenses in Quicken (Or Any Computer Program)

After I mentioned my pile of receipts in my post about letting go of perfection, I realized there was a simpler approach that would save me a lot of time. As I've said before, we charge almost all of our expenses to credit cards for the rewards. So I've decided to use our credit card statements to input our expenses. I still keep the receipts, but I don't have to go through each one individually (I separate the receipts for items paid in cash). This approach should save me hours at the computer. I only wish I'd thought of it sooner!

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Product Review: Fisher-Price Sound 'N Lights Monitor

Before Alex was born, my research into baby products made me concerned that any baby monitor we bought, particularly a less expensive model, wouldn't work in our house due to interference from our neighbors' homes. But I took the advice in Baby Bargains and started with a relatively cheap monitor, figuring that if necessary, we could always exchange it for the more expensive Philips monitor with multiple channels.

It turns out that we've been very happy with the Fisher-Price Sound 'N Lights monitor. Even with only two channels, it worked quite well with both Alex and Tyler. I liked that the receivers operate on both batteries and adapters, so I could plug it most of the time but let it run on batteries if I wanted to carry it with me around the house. The visual cues on the receiver are helpful if you're doing something that might prevent you from realizing that baby is crying. For example, with Alex, I used to get on the treadmill and leave the receiver where I could see it. I wouldn't be able to hear Alex cry while I was running, but I could see the red lights flare up. The transmitter and receivers are pretty hardy and have survived quite a few falls in our house (though we do have carpet) and the flexible antennas have really held up.

My biggest complaint is the horrible high-pitched sound the receivers make if they're on when the transmitter is turned off. That might happen with every other monitor, but I don't know since this is the only one we've had. My other major complaint is that the cord on the transmitter is quite short. I realize that this is for safety reasons, but it makes it difficult to plug it in to a low outlet and then rest the monitor on a higher surface. Since the cord was so short, we had to put the transmitter on the edge of the bookcase in Alex's room, and I kept knocking it off - but maybe they've lengthened the cord a bit since the version depicted in the picture looks different from ours, which was purchased in 2005.

Overall, I give this monitor a big thumbs up. It works well and is very affordable.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Trouble With My Medela Pump In Style Advanced

My Medela Pump In Style Advanced worked great after I had Alex and I couldn't recommend it highly enough. Naturally, I've been using it again after having Tyler, although I did replace the tubing and membranes before he was born.

For the last several months, though, the rubber part that you move depending on whether you want to pump one or both breasts has been slipping out, reducing the suction. I asked my lactation consultant, Ellen Steinberg, for a new part but she said I needed a new face plate. On her recommendation, I called Medela and was told that they've redesigned their face plates since I bought my pump and they would send me a new one for free. So, I'm now waiting for it. Hopefully, it'll be easy to install and will solve the problem. I'll keep you posted.

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Save Time and Money by Letting Go of Perfectionism

After Alex was born two years ago, I had to completely change my way of thinking. I was used to doing things "my way," which of course meant "the right way." There was little room for error, but I had the luxury of time back then. Once Alex arrived, my schedule was determined by his, and his didn't always match my needs - almost never, in fact. It wasn't easy, and I'm still working on it, but letting go of my need to be perfect was absolutely necessary for my sanity.

Instead of saying to myself, "I need to clean the house," I now try to say, "I need to vacuum the living room" and "I need to clean the downstairs bathroom." My house is never sparkling clean from top to bottom anymore, but at least it's moderately clean all the time. Because of this new perspective, I was able to terminate my cleaning service several months after Alex was born and keep the house clean myself (with Marc's help, of course!). I posted a while back about how FlyLady.com helped me achieve this.

Another way I save money by letting go of my need to be perfect is in the kitchen. We eat a lot more takeout now than we did before we had children, but I've learned to cook less-than-perfect meals so that we can still save some money on groceries and eat more healthfully. For example, I might make a main dish but serve baby carrots instead of a "real" veggie side dish. I also tend to serve the same meals when I do cook, instead of trying three or four new recipes a week like I used to. And when I do try a new recipe, it's one with relatively few ingredients and simple and quick cooking methods.

Letting go of my need to be perfect saves us money in a less direct way as well. I have a basket full of receipts next to my computer with expenditures that need to be entered into Quicken so that I can track our spending and see where our money has gone and whether I need to adjust our spending plan (aka budget). I used to input the data once every couple of weeks so that the receipts didn't pile up too much. But now, with so little free time on my hands, the pile is almost always sky high. If I tried to input all the receipts at once, I'd never do it. Instead, I grab a handful when I have the time and input just those. It's not a perfect system, but at least I know if our budget is still working.

Changing my perspective has enabled me to get more things done and save my family money in the process. This technique works in just about every area of life, too!

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Starting Solids (Again)

Now that Tyler is four months old, his pediatrician has given us the go-ahead to start solids. However, the American College of Asthma, Allergy, & Immunology recommends that the exclusively breast-fed baby not start solids until six months. So I've got a few weeks to prepare still, but I can't believe how much I've forgotten.

To start, here are the guidelines that our pediatrician provided:
  1. Start with 2 to 4 tablespoons of rice or oatmeal cereal mixed with breast milk (or formula) twice a day.
  2. A few days later, introduce some fruit also. He recommended applesauce, bananas, peaches, pears, plums and prunes.
  3. After a couple of kinds of fruit, introduce some veggies, starting with orange vegetables like squash, carrots, or sweet potatoes since they taste better, and then moving on to green vegetables.
  4. Go 2 to 3 days between new foods and call if hives or other serious symptoms develop within a half of hour of eating a new food.
That all seems very manageable, except for the tiny little fact that I made all of Alex's food and I want to make all of Tyler's food too (with the exception of cereal - for that, I'll buy an organic version). Being a foodie myself, I can't help but feel that homemade food must taste better (and I only use organic produce to make things as healthy as possible). But with Alex around now, I'm a little daunted about finding time to make Tyler's food. On the other hand, I have some experience under my belt and I'm hoping things like how long to steam the apples and squash will come back to me. I just need to get another set of Fresh Baby food trays, and I'll be all set. (I liked the Fresh Baby trays much more than the KidCo trays - I always had a very hard time geting the frozen cubes out of those.)

I already plan on doing one thing a little differently. With Alex's food, I relied on a regular food mill, and I'll definitely be using it again at first. But for reasons I can't articulate, I was always reluctant to liquify what Marc and I were eating and serve it to him. This time, however, I'm already thinking about the time I will save by serving Tyler what the rest of us are having. Therefore, once he's gotten used to solids and I'm pretty confident he's not allergic to most things that we eat regularly, I plan to puree our dinner in a Kidco Electric Food Mill, which several of my friends have raved about. I just hope he's as good an eater as Alex has always been.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

My Financial Education - Update #2: Postponement

See my previous posts in this series here and here.

It's not the first time I've been overambitious and miscalculated, and I'm sure it won't be the last. I just didn't realize how little free time I would have after Tyler was born, and now that he's not a newborn, I have even less time for myself. So I've decided that one of the many adjustments I have to make is putting off my financial education and shelving Personal Financial Planning: Theory and Practice and The Greatest Salesman in the World until I have more time to read, not to mention the mental capacity for learning. Hopefully that won't be too long from now, but in the meantime, I don't want to miss a minute of my boys growing up!

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Breastfeeding Wrist

In the same way that tennis players develop "tennis elbow," I seem to develop "breastfeeding wrist" after I have a baby. With both Alex and Tyler, a couple of weeks after they were born, I noticed a sharp pain in my left wrist that got worse and worse. When I first developed it with Alex, I mentioned it to my lactation consultant, Ellen Steinberg, who said it's actually a fairly common problem. A friend whose son is three months older than Alex mentioned that she also had pain in her wrist but I didn't realize just how common this problem is until I saw that KellyMom.com, my favorite breastfeeding site, addresses the issue.

The pain seems to be the result of breast massage and cupping the hand to support baby's head during breastfeeding and while holding him. Even though I was aware of the potential of this problem developing after Tyler's birth, I still wasn't able to avoid it. My friend, who's a doctor, described her problem as tendinitis and ended up getting a steroid shot to deal with the pain. KellyMom describes the problem as carpal tunnel syndrome. I've never been to a doctor to be treated for it so I'm not sure what the proper diagnosis is.

KellyMom recommends the obvious during breastfeeding, i.e., try to position baby so that you're not cupping your wrist. They also have a list of possible treatments that includes wrist splints (these helped me a little), ibuprofen (which my obstetrician recommended when I mentioned the problem to him; it didn't help at all), and acupuncture (I wish I'd thought of this after I had Alex; now it's too hard to get to my acupuncturist but it probably would help a lot). Another remedy that's not mentioned but that made the pain tolerable for me was the use of a high quality wintergreen essential oil on my wrist. (Disclaimer: I'm no expert! Check out the Essential Oils Desk Reference for more info.)

My breastfeeding wrist with Alex did eventually go away. When he was about five months old, I needed a steroid shot to calm down a severe case of eczema, and it ended up having the side benefit of almost completely eliminating the pain. I'm hoping that with Tyler, the pain will go away once he starts solids and is breastfeeding less and for shorter periods. If it doesn't, I guess I'll be visiting the doctor for a shot.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Product Review: Snack N' Play Travel Tray

When the folks over at Family Travel Gear asked me to review the Snack N' Play Travel Tray, I was delighted because I'd been looking for a product like this for Alex ever since we turned his car seat forward-facing. The concept is simple: a tray that can hold your child's books, toys and snacks to keep him from driving you nuts - er, I mean entertained - during car and stroller rides.

The Snack N' Play Travel Tray is basically a rimmed tray made out of heavy fabric with a buckle that goes around your child to keep it in place. I found that it made the car seat straps a little difficult to tighten since I had to strap the tray on first. (This wasn't an issue with a three-point harness stroller.) It's nice to have a buckle on each side of the tray so that it doesn't matter which side of the car the car seat is on. It appears the tray can be used with just about any car seat or stroller. A friend who tried the tray at my request said that her son didn't like having the strap around him so she used it without the strap at times, but I haven't had this problem with Alex, who sometimes asks for the tray even on short car trips.

My friend and I both found that toys tended to slide backwards toward our sons and end up on the seat next to them. I also discovered that Alex (at age two) can't maneuver a cup out of the side storage pocket. However, that might not be an issue with an older child. Because the tray is made of fabric, it can be folded for storage and actually comes in a fairly compact zipper bag (similar to the kind that comforters come in).

My biggest concern with this tray was safety, so I asked for more details about the claim that the tray had been "crash tested by a federally recognized laboratory" and "No concerns [were] noted." I was informed that the laboratory receives federal funding to conduct safety tests and can't be identified for contractual reasons, but that the test was conducted with a new car seat and a dummy. Additionally, the tray's inventor told me that the tray complies with ASTM safety standards and that several car seat technicians examined the tray and had no safety concerns. My personal, unprofessional conclusion is that the tray itself probably doesn't add any significant threat, but as the police officer who installed my first car seat pointed out, any object in the car can become a projectile in an accident and pose a serious danger. Therefore, I should remove all loose hard objects from my car, particularly those in the backseat. But I just can't bring myself to refuse Alex his diggers, forklifts, and garbage trucks.

The bottom line: The Snack N' Play Travel Tray is nice to have but by no means necessary. It probably would be most useful during extended car trips, when the need for entertainment is greatest.

Family Travel Gear sells the Snack N' Play Travel Tray for $19.99 (shipping costs vary by location).

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