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Friday, June 29, 2007

Thanks to the Anonymous Commenter who Directed Me to These Trays!

I just wanted to send a special shout out to the anonymous commenter who told me about these ice cube trays from The Container Store. They're awesome! Of course, it's perfect that there's a cover - but the cubes are so much easier to get out than with my other covered ice cube trays. And you were right, the smaller size of the cubes makes it easy to combine a couple of different kinds of food. So, whoever you are, thank you!

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Lead Poisoning: Yes, it's a huge problem, but you probably don't need to worry so much

The reason potential lead poisoning is a common reason for product recalls is that even at very low levels of exposure, it can cause, among other problems, reduced IQ, learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and stunted growth. At high levels of exposure, it can cause mental retardation and even death. (See the National Safety Council's Lead Poisoning factsheet for more info.)

Even though Alex doesn't have any of the recalled wooden Thomas trains, I became concerned since he plays with a huge number of metals toys made in China (mostly Bob the Builder Take Along vehicles). (See The Consumerist's Chinese Poison Train series for more on the connection between product recalls and China.) So I took Alex in to have his lead levels tested, and I'm happy to say that the results were normal (as his pediatrician assured me they would be). I'm glad to have the peace of mind, but I learned yet again that I worry a lot more than I need to (and it was no picnic doing the blood draw, let me tell you!).

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Veggie Booty Recall

ALL lots and sizes of Veggie Booty have been recalled due to possible salmonella contamination. Here are links to the news article, the FDA news release, and the manufacturer's recall page. If you have Veggie Booty on hand, you should dispose of the product, then return the empty bag to the store where you bought it or mail it in for reimbursement or a product voucher (the manufacturer's letter is a little vague, but I'm inferring that you can choose between reimbursement (i.e., a refund) from the store (you will probably need your receipt), or a product voucher from the manufacturer). The manufacturer's mailing address is:
Robert’s American Gourmet
P.O. Box 326
Sea Cliff, NY 11579
Don't forget to include your mailing address if you send in the empty bag. They are also asking for a receipt "if possible." If you have any questions, you can contact the manufacturer at 1-800-626-7557.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

How to Buy and Store Produce

I love buying fresh produce, especially at this time of year when there is so much. But it's sometimes a challenge to use it all up before it goes bad. Here's an article with some good suggestions on choosing and storing produce once you get it home. A couple of notes from me: overripe bananas can be frozen and used later for smoothies and baking; and cherry or grape tomatoes can be stored in the fridge. They might lose a little flavor, but because they're so small, you're less likely to notice any mealiness (I haven't yet) and they last quite a bit longer (especially since I buy organic tomatoes and they mold quickly in the Southern California heat).

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Monday, June 25, 2007

How To: Get Kids to Clean Their Own Rooms

I look forward to the day when I can send Alex to his room with instructions to "clean it." I've saved this link for that day - it's instructions for me on how to give instructions to Alex that will actually get results!

Via The Consumerist.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Fancy Finger Foods

I'm a little bit behind on my reading (no surprise there!). From the May issue of the now-defunct Child Magazine (though it still has a website):
  • Mini Frittatas: Combine three eggs with spinach puree and bake in mini-muffin tins at 325 degrees for 15 minutes. (Use only the yolks for babies under one year of age.)
  • Banana Bites: Roll diced banana in infant cereal to make the pieces easier to pick up. (Actually, this would also be a good use for cheerio crumbs too!)
  • Pancake Stars: Add pear puree to egg-free batter; cut cooked cakes into bits or shapes.
  • Baby Asparagus: Steam tips until very tender. (Roast them at 425 degrees for about 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the size, for extra flavor.)
  • Peachy Crackers: Liven up pieces of flaky cracker with a dip of peach puree.

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Tips for Creating Restaurant Meals at Home

Not Made of Money posted about recreating their favorite restaurant meal at home and gave a few helpful tips about doing it yourself. Here are my tips on the topic as well:
  • The next time you're at the restaurant, ask what's in the dish. Don't say you're going to recreate it at home, but your server should be able to tell you most, if not all, of the ingredients. (You can always claim various food allergies/sensitivies to get a list of the ingredients if they're not forthcoming - it's not that unusual: my grandmother won't eat garlic.)
  • Copykat.com has a decent list of chain restaurant recipes so you might want to check there first.
  • If you're making a complicated meal, start slow. Recreate your favorite part of the meal and serve it with dishes you're familiar with and comfortable preparing. This will help ensure all components are ready at the same time and that you're not sitting down to eat three hours after you'd expected.

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Save the Earth One Small Step at a Time

Having kids has made me more environmentally conscious. I'm not about to switch our house over to solar power or buy a hybrid vehicle when we're not due for a new car, but I look for little things that I can do. Here are 10 easy ways to conserve resources (and save money - it's nice how they often go together):
  1. Find other uses for your grocery bags. I always carry plastic grocery bags in my diaper bag for disposing of diapers. I also put a plastic bag on the kitchen counter to collect veggie scraps, egg shells, and other discards while prepping meals. (I don't garden - otherwise I'd save the organic scraps for compost.) Paper grocery bags are great for transporting things (I use them to tote things like lunch or large files to and from work). I also keep a paper grocery bag in an inconspicuous corner of my house to collect things to be donated to charity. When it fills up, I put out another bag, and after a few bags have accumulated, we drop them off.
  2. Run several errands at once to minimize gas usage. I plan my trips so that I take the most efficient route (which also saves me time). I love the idea of walking or riding a bike, but only the post office is within walking distance of my house.
  3. Run full loads in the dishwasher and washing machine. The dishwasher is actually more efficient than hand washing, so you don't have to feel guilty about using it. (I have to admit, though, that I've been known to run half loads just to get the kids' stuff sterilized.) And don't stuff the washing machine since that will reduce the effectiveness of the agitation. Just use less detergent instead.
  4. Use cloth grocery bags or reuse paper/plastic ones. I need to work on this one since I have plenty of paper grocery bags stored up that I always forget to take with me.
  5. Turn off lights in unused rooms. This one truly is a matter of habit and one we're pretty good about. An older child could be designated "light monitor" in charge of making sure unneeded lights get turned off.
  6. Reuse paper. Paper with blank space is great for lists or drawing. Junk mail can be used as packing material. The Sunday comics can be used as wrapping paper (twine makes a nice "ribbon" to give it a finished look).
  7. Swap with friends. Instead of buying new toys or DVDs, swap with friends for a set period of time. The kids in both families will have "new" toys to play with or movies to watch and both sets of parents will save money. For the adults, have a clothes-swapping party. Get your girlfriends together for a potluck and tell everyone to also bring clothes and accessories that don't fit or that they don't wear anymore.
  8. Shop at farmer's markets or buy locally grown produce. You'll be buying produce that's in season so it will be reasonably priced (and taste good too). The environment wins because less energy was required to bring the produce to you (due to the shorter distance). And some farmer's markets have family activities (one near us regularly has a pony ride).
  9. Make your own (natural) beauty products. It's easy to make your own masks, scrubs and conditioners. Also, consider using fewer products and less of them. You'll spend less money and generate less waste that ends up in landfills.
  10. Give to friends and to charity. When you no longer need something, if at all possible, give it away. Friends with (especially babies) will love getting your child's gently worn clothing. Ask around to see if someone else can use your old couch, or list it on a site like Craigslist. The Salvation Army is one charity that will pick up bulky items.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Good Reminder: Play to Each Child's Interests and Strengths

This article about a mother who taught all of her children to succeed in school is a good reminder that it's important to keep each child's individual interests and strengths in mind. Tyler's still so little, but I can already identify differences between him and Alex. And while I know both Alex and Tyler will inevitably be shaped to some extent by their environment, I have promised myself to do my best to allow their sense of self to develop as independently as possible so they can truly be *Alex* and *Tyler* and not someone who is the result of fear or insecurity. This is a good metaphor for our family:
A family is an ecosystem, with each organism striving to find a niche. In a family with several children, it takes a tuned-in parent to give each child the space to follow his or her own light. Once that happens, neither competition -- nor the fear of competition -- controls the direction they grow in.

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Safety Tips for Choosing and Using a Stroller

Tyler is ready to move out of his car seat when it comes to strollers - he's sitting up, he's very interested in looking around, and he gets restless being strapped in so a regular stroller would make it easier to pick him up. As I've mentioned before, we have a Graco Metrolite that I purchased specifically for Tyler. We also have a Combi Savvy that we got for Alex, which I've come to hate.

Because I hate the Savvy so much, I've been toying with the idea of buying a new stroller. I'll probably wait to see how our current situation works out, but in the meantime, I've found some safety tips to keep in mind at the JPMA website:
  • Select a stroller with adjustments that reduce the size of seat openings in the front to prevent your baby from falling out when seat back is reclined into the flat position.
  • Make sure the stroller has a base wide enough to prevent tipping, even when your baby leans over the side.
  • If the seat adjusts to a reclining position, make sure the stroller doesn’t tip backwards when the child lies down.
  • Always secure the baby by using the restraint straps.
  • Don’t hang anything over the handles. If your stroller has a shopping basket, it should be low on the back of the stroller or directly over the rear wheels.
  • Use the locking device to prevent accidental folding (i.e., make sure the stroller clicks into position when opened).
  • Use the brakes when stroller is stationary.
  • When you fold or unfold the stroller, keep the baby’s hands away from the areas that could pinch tiny fingers.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

What to do With Those Digital Photo Proofs: Make Personalized Cards

Whenever I have digital photos printed, I get a proof sheet with tiny versions of the photos. I've never been able to bring myself to throw the proofs away, but I didn't know what to do with them either. Finally, I found the perfect use for them: cut the pictures out and make personalized cards with them. This is especially great for grandparents.

The photo to the right is of the Father's Day card I made for Marc. Here's how I made it:

Items needed (all of these can be found with scrap booking supplies or at an office supply store):

one 8 1/2 x 11 inch sheet of white card stock, cut in half the short way
one sheet of colored paper
double stick tape or photo mounting squares
foam mounting squares
proof sheets with the photos you want to use cut out
acid-free stickers and/or pens, optional

Steps:

1. Fold the card stock in half to make a 4 1/4 x 5 1/2 inch card.

2. Cut or tear the colored paper to make a rectangle that will fit on the front of the card. Attach the colored paper to the card using the double stick tape or photo mounting squares.

3. Attach the foam squares to the back of the cut out proofs and affix to the front of the card. (You can cut the foam to fit the photos.) If desired, create a personalized message with stickers or pens.

Note: You can find envelopes to fit your card at stationery or office supply stores - look for No. 5 1/2 invitation envelopes.

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Recipe Reviews: Chocolate & Zucchini's Crispy Polenta Triangles and Croque-madame

I finally made a couple of things from the Chocolate and Zucchini cookbook. Here are my thoughts:

Given my previous encounters with polenta, I was cautiously optimistic that the Crispy Polenta Triangles (pages 142-143) would finally show me why the dish is so popular among chefs. I'd say the recipe succeeded - sort of. I did omit the walnuts because I was serving the dish to Alex and I am still cautious about giving him nuts despite his showing no signs of a nut allergy, but I don't think the omission affected the quality of the dish. Quick recipe outline to give context to my thoughts: Whisk the polenta into a water-milk mixture, cook until it is very thick, add some oil, herbs and cheese, pour it into a baking dish, refrigerate to let it set, cut into triangles, sprinkle with cheese, and bake until crisp.

The polenta took a lot of work, since I used stone-ground polenta - or, more accurately, it took a lot of time. The work came in holding Tyler on my hip and trying to keep him happy until the polenta was ready to be poured into the baking dish to set. Although the recipe said stone-ground polenta would take about 30 minutes to reach the proper consistency, I gave up after 40 minutes and poured the mixture at that point. It was close to pulling away from the sides of the saucepan, as Clotilde instructed, but not quite. However, Tyler was cranky and hungry and the mixture was thick enough that I couldn't whisk with just one hand. Once baked, the polenta was delicious out of the oven, with a creamy consistency and nutty flavor from the Comté cheese (I couldn't find Beaufort). But although Clotilde said the triangles could be served immediately or at room temperature, they were disappointing at room temperature - the consistency was no longer creamy, the flavor dimmed, and the melted browned cheese looked like a sad blanket. The bottom line, though, is that when first done, this dish persuaded me that I could learn to like polenta under the right circumstances. And I'll definitely make this recipe again.

The other recipe I tried was the Croque-madame, a variation of the Mini Croque-monsieur (pages 148-149). I had read the recipe a while back and made a mental note to make it sometime - it's the kind of sandwich Marc loves. I remembered it as I was racking my brain for something easy to make for dinner without going to the market. Quick recipe description: Clotilde describes Croque-monsieur as "the French grilled cheese, made with Gruyé cheese and brine-cured ham on white sandwich bread." Top the sandwich with a sunny side up egg to get Croque-madame. I substituted prosciutto for the brine-cured ham because that's what I had on hand (I removed the fattiest parts of the prosciutto) and used the Comté that was left over from the polenta recipe. With the cheese already grated, it was a super fast and easy recipe to make. The sandwiches browned beautifully and were delicious with the egg on top. I'll definitely be making this again.

As a final point, I want to highlight the best thing about the recipes in this book: the notes that accompany each recipe. For the polenta, I didn't have any herbs de Provence, but I followed Clotilde's substitution of a blend of dried rosemary, basil, oregano and thyme, all of which I had on hand. Clotilde's note also helpfully indicated that Comté or Gruyé could be used instead of Beaufort, and that the walnuts could be omitted as a variation (she also suggests substituting Parmesan and pine nuts for the Beaufort and walnuts). For the Croque-monsieur, as I've noted, she provides directions for creating a Croque-madame instead. These kinds of notes make the book very easy to cook with - and the recipes are proving to be delicious!

See my previous review of the Chocolate and Zucchini cookbook here.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

What to Expect Regarding Your Relationship With #1 When #2 is Born

I'm certainly no expert in this area, but since my friend who recently had her second child seems to be experiencing the same feelings I did, I thought it might be useful to share what I went through (and am still going through).

The time in the hospital was the start of an uncomfortable distance between Alex and me. Although Marc was a much more involved dad than most, I was still #1 (barely). But that changed while I was in the hospital, even though I was only there for two days. Marc spent most of that time caring for Alex while I took care of Tyler in the hospital. It was heartbreaking for me that Alex wanted no part of me while I was in the hospital bed (but at least he was interested in his baby brother and even smiled for the camera).

When I got home from the hospital, Alex was incredibly distraught that I couldn't pick him up. Perhaps I should have prepared him for that, but I'm not sure how much he would have understood back then, when he wasn't even two. My inability to pick him up was the most upsetting part of my return home, for both of us, I think - even more than the fact that I was often unavailable due to nursing Tyler. I mourned the loss of my relationship with Alex. And the distance between us grew greater.

Because I spent so much time taking care of Tyler, and correspondingly, Marc spent much time with Alex, Alex naturally thought of Marc as his primary caregiver and turned to him for attention and cuddles. Even though I understood the reasons for it, my heart still ached every time Alex turned to Marc instead of me, especially when I was available.

When Tyler was a couple of weeks old, I took Alex to a playdate with two friends and their sons who are about Alex's age. I felt like I had my relationship with Alex back, and that made me so happy I wanted to cry. But it didn't last, and over the next few months, our relationship see-sawed from distant to close, and back again. When our relationship was distant, I cried often and had to remind myself that it wasn't personal. Alex's reason for being isn't to make me happy. Rather, it's my responsibility to help Alex grow up to be a happy, healthy, contributing member of society.

I've yet to become #1 again, since Alex still spends a great deal of time with Marc, but about the time Tyler turned four months old, I began to feel less hurt. Alex and I simply have a new relationship - Daddy is still #1, but Mommy is pretty good too. I've come to accept that things will never be quite the same, but in its place I have two beautiful boys now, and I get to watch their priceless interactions. In the end, I'd call it a net gain.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Finding the Motivation to Continue Breastfeeding

A new report that breastfed babies are less likely to develop sleep disorders got me thinking. I haven't had too much trouble breastfeeding Tyler, but I had lots of trouble at the beginning with Alex. When my doctor walked into the exam room at my two-week follow-up appointment after Alex was born and asked how I was doing, I burst into tears. I had some postpartum depression that I think was a result of the emergency C-section but it was compounded by the difficulty with breastfeeding.

Yet, no matter how many times Marc told me it was okay if I gave it up, no matter how many times I thought about giving it up, no matter that the pediatrician said Alex would be fine on formula and it was more important that he had a healthy, happy mommy, I couldn't bring myself to do it. I was less concerned with bonding than with the health benefits of breastfeeding. It didn't occur to me at the time, but in retrospect, I think perhaps my two miscarriages made me determined to do everything I could to ensure Alex's health. In any event, it was incredibly important to me to breastfeed Alex for one year (we actually made it to 14 1/2 months).

If things aren't going well, it's important to take a few minutes to figure out what's really important to you (maybe in the shower since that's probably the only time you have to yourself when caring for a newborn). There are a lot of reasons women want to breastfeed. Identify the one or two that are most important to you and ask yourself if they're important enough to keep going. Hopefully they are, and you will be able to get through the next few weeks by focusing on them (things got easier for me at about six weeks and I never thought about quitting after that).

But if the honest answer is that they're not, then give yourself permission to stop - a lactation consultant told me once that sometimes people come to her for "permission" to stop breastfeeding and she gives them the information they need to make their decision. After all, we all have to do what's right for us and our children - and no one else can tell us what that is.

Hat tip: Dot Moms

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A Frugal Mindset

I didn't think I qualify as frugal, given how much money I spend to make my life easier (disposable diapers instead of cloth, take-out several times a week for lunch or dinner, generous use of air conditioning in Southern California heat, etc.). But maybe I qualify as semi-frugal, since I do regularly practice Dawn's Frugal for Life Habits. I almost always research big purchases (I didn't research my new stroller but I am currently researching our next car seat - and I thought I knew what I was doing with the stroller). I also look for less expensive alternatives, and I've always got my cell phone out for the calculator function when I'm shopping (yes, that's me standing in the baby aisle figuring out the cost per diaper). And I ask myself if I can use something I already have or if I really need/want what I'm buying. On the other hand, I prefer buying new (cars especially - I just don't trust myself to buy a reliable used car and I don't have a mechanic I can trust that much either) and I'll spend money because I like things to look nice (we've just purchased some new bedding for that reason - our old bedding was dark blue; this brightens up the room considerably).

I agree completely with Dawn that developing frugal habits is key to being frugal. And as the habits become second nature, you'll see the result in the bottom line of your net worth.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Toddler Activity: Rice Box

I saw this in a MothersClick newsletter and loved the idea:

Fill a large plastic container with uncooked rice. Under the bed storage containers work well (I have one similar to this - it's small enough to carry so I can store it in the garage and bring it out for play). You can buy huge bags of rice at warehouse stores like Costco.

Give your child anything she might use to play with sand. Shovels and cups are a good place to start. Bury toys for her to find. And take the opportunity to teach her new words by identifying the objects she's playing with.

To make clean up easier, place the container in the middle of a large blanket. Keep a handheld vacuum nearby too.

A final tip from the article: Tell your child before she starts playing that the rice must stay in the box and utilize the "three-strike" rule.

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Praising Your Child the Right Way

A couple of months ago, I posted about how praising your child's efforts rather than intelligence aids your child's development. My Bits of Understanding newsletter a couple of weeks ago had some great tips along the same lines:
  • Be specific.Use descriptive words and identify the precise action that impressed you. For example, instead of saying "That was good," say, "I liked the way you shared your toy with Tom. I know you didn't want to, but look how happy he is."
  • State something positive before something negative.
  • Notice little and subtle things. For example, say "Thank you for staying still during that diaper change."

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Leaving the Kids at Home: Baby Sitter Prep List & How to Hire a Nanny

Leaving the kids at home is tough. I know, because I don't do it very often. But if you take the steps outlined in the following articles, you'll have a lot more peace of mind. Maybe you'll even be able to take some time for yourself (hmm, a spa mani-pedi might be in my near future).
  • BABYSITTER: Before you leave your kids with a babysitter, check out this article for things to do ahead of time. Item #1 (a list of emergency contacts) is especially key. The next list, about hiring a nanny, also has some good tips if you're using a sitter you don't know very well.
  • NANNY: This article is full of tips on how to find a great nanny, including getting the qualities you're looking for and how to run a background check. It even concludes with a list of what not to do once you've found the perfect nanny. Once you've hired a nanny, you may also want to consider attaching a "How's My Nanny?" license plate to your child's stroller.

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Homemade Pop-Up Cards

Directions for making this card and many others are available on Robert Sabuda's website.

You might recognize Sabuda as the author of many elaborate and popular pop-up books like Encyclopedia Prehistorica Dinosaurs and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Not surprisingly, Alex loves these books. Equally unsurprisingly, he's destroyed them (we had at least some of the books before he was born - they weren't intended for him when we got them). At least they've been good teaching tools - we've taught him new words, and used the books (with some success) to convey concepts like gentle and looking through a hole (when Alice falls through the rabbit hole in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland).

Hat tip: Thingamababy

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Baby-Related News: Thomas Toys Recalled & New Use for Baby Monitor

  • Wooden Thomas & Friends toys have been recalled for lead poisoning. See the official recall here. As The Consumerist points out, most of the product recalls in the U.S. are of items manufactured in China. I'm thinking it might be better policy at this point to avoid buying toys made there (not sure if that's possible, but I'm definitely going to try).
  • A video baby monitor picked up a feed from the shuttle Atlantis (and has apparently continued to show the space shuttle instead of the baby). Too bad the article doesn't identify the monitor, although I'm not sure if this actually constitutes good press.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Maximizing the Taste of Baby Food

As I've mentioned previously, I'm committed to making Tyler's baby food, just as I made Alex's. But while Alex had the benefit of my time, Tyler has the benefit of my experience and I think he's getting better food for it. For example, following the directions in several sources, I steamed a lot of Alex's food. But steaming doesn't really do anything for taste. So for Tyler, I'm trying to bake as many foods as possible to caramelize the sugars and boost the flavor without adding any seasoning (yet). So far I've baked sweet potatoes (in the toaster oven) and made applesauce in the slow cooker. Of course, the best way to provide great flavor is to buy what's in season and serve it as is - I'm serving pears, bananas, and avocados that way.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Staying Home with the Kids

Every one of my friends who has become a parent has either decided to stay home with the kids or at least thought about whether they could afford to do so. Here's an article that considers three ways of staying home: (1) quit work completely, (2) work part-time, or (3) free-lance from home. If you're thinking about staying at home, I highly recommend Miserly Moms, a fantastic book that I've previously mentioned. The author, Jonni McCoy, discusses how you might not be making as much as you think you are (thereby reducing the impact of the loss of your income), as well as ways to reduce your spending.

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Have You Tasted the Water in Your Child's Sippy Cup?

There have been times when Alex refuses to drink from his sippy cup even though I know he's probably thirsty. I don't always think to check the taste of the water in it, but when I do, it usually does taste funny, which explains his refusal. It occurred to me that maybe the soap on the valves wasn't completely washing off in the dishwasher, so I started rinsing the stuff in the baskets after the dishwasher stopped running. It seemed to help, but we still had the same problem once in a while. Finally, I switched to the First Years cups pictured, which have a built-in valve that avoids the soapy-taste problem. Caveat: I've noticed that they sometimes leak, so I'm careful to tighten the lid and keep them vertical when they're in my diaper bag.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Fun and/or Romantic Tips

You can use these tips with your kids to have fun or with your honey to have fun plus romance. ;)
  • Tie a small gift to one end of a ribbon or string and tie the other end to the bottom of the garage door. When your loved one comes home, the gift will go up with the garage door and they get to have a few moments of gleeful anticipation.
  • Write a message with an anti-fog cleaner like Rain-X on the bathroom mirror or shower doors. When your loved one takes a shower, the mirror or doors will fog up, except for the part where you wrote your message, making it appear.
  • Cut out small hearts, write an appropriate message for your loved one on each one, and hide the hearts to be found at unexpected moments. For example, I've hidden these in shoes and jacket pockets.
  • In the same vein, put a note in your loved one's lunch bag for work or school. The note can simply say "I love you," or have a joke that can be shared with others at the lunch table.

Via TheRomantic.com and The Dollar Stretcher.

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Parent Hacks: TV, Picnics and Sunscreen

Find my previous parent hacks here, here and here.
  • If you're afraid to watch television because the sound might wake up your child, turn down or mute the sound and use the closed captioning feature. If I'm in the same room as my child, I will also dim the picture using the brightness function.
  • I always use disposable changing pads for diaper changes, but I've found that the non-disposable kind that come with your diaper bag make a good surface to sit on at picnics or park outings where the ground might be a little damp.
  • Although I like the convenience of individually packaged sunscreen towelettes, I'm not crazy about the price. I realized that I could just pour some of our regular sunscreen into some snack-size zip top bags, seal them, put those bags into a sandwich bag, and keep that in my diaper bag. Then if I forget to put sunscreen on before we leave the house, I can poke a hole in one of the snack-size bags, squeeze out the sunscreen inside, and apply it without a big mess.

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Great Question for Each Well-Child Check-up

Parent Hacks has a great tip for well-child check-ups at the pediatrician: End each appointment by asking what the most common injuries and ailments are in the upcoming age range.

Another question you might want to ask your doctor at least once: Which emergency room should I go to if that's necessary? There are three ERs very close to my house so it's good to know which one our pediatrician prefers.

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

Things I Want to do in the Kitchen With my Boys

Sine I mentioned my list of fun food things I want to do with Alex and Tyler when they're a little older, here's what's on it so far:
  • Bake bread from scratch.
  • In the same vein, make pizzas, including the dough, from scratch.
  • Make ice cream from scratch (i.e., in the ice cream maker, not in a bag).
  • Dye Easter eggs with homemade dyes.
  • Make our own cheese.
  • Make our own butter by shaking a jar of heavy cream.
  • Make our own nut butters by pureeing nuts in the food processor.

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Ice Cream in a Bag in 5 Minutes

I have a list of food activities I want to do with my boys when they're older and making ice cream is one of them. But I was thinking with the seldom-used ice cream maker we got as a wedding present, not shake-in-a-bag ice cream. I'm guessing it won't taste as good, but it'll make up for that with fun.

Ice Cream in a Bag

1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup milk or half & half
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
6 tablespoons rock salt
1 pint-size zip-top plastic bag
1 gallon-size zip-top plastic bag
Ice cubes

1. Fill the large bag half full of ice, and add the rock salt. Seal the bag.
2. Put milk, vanilla, and sugar into the small bag, and seal it.
3. Place the small bag inside the large one and seal again carefully.
4. Shake until mixture is ice cream, about 5 minutes.
5. Wipe off top of small bag, then open carefully and enjoy!

Tips and more ice cream recipes here.

Via Super Punch.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

Inexpensive Way to Make Your Cell Phone Identifiable

Marc and I just got new cell phones on a "buy one, get one free" deal. Of course, the phones look exactly the same. I noticed at the Verizon store that they were selling little gem stickers to decorate phones, and the stickers reminded me that I had a pack of fingernail decorations at home. I used a little flower to make my phone instantly recognizable - looks cute, too!

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Handy List of Last Month's Recalls

Z Recommends has a handy list of child-product recalls in May. Via Thingamababy.

Sign up for email notification of recalls from the CPSC here.

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Tips for Saving Money on Groceries

These tips from Yahoo are a good starting point for saving money on groceries. To take it a step (or two or three) further, you can also do the following:
  • Keep a price book, which will enable you to recognize a good (or great) deal when you see one.
  • Check out several different grocery stores in your area and figure out what is cheaper where. Personally, I've decided that I'd rather pay a little more for the convenience of shopping at only one or two stores, but I could save some money if I hit a bunch of different stores each week for their deals - which brings us to the next tip ...
  • Check the weekly store circulars that come in the mail. Then plan your list to include loss leaders, especially those items for which you have a coupon. Your price book will come in extra handy here.
  • You'll probably save a lot of money if you buy most of your toiletries and non-food items at stores like Target rather than the supermarket - unless there's a sale, you have a coupon, and the store offers double (or triple) coupons. In that case, you can not only get a great deal, you can sometimes get items (like toothpaste) for free!

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Most Important Factor for an Easy C-Section Recovery

The May issue of Parents Magazine had an article about the increased number of c-sections performed in the U.S. Since I've had two c-sections, I read the article with interest, particularly the discussion about recovery being more difficult after a c-section than a vaginal birth:
Because almost twice as much blood is lost during a c-section than during a vaginal delivery, medical complications are common. Up to 30 percent of c-section moms develop postpartum infections, and they're twice as likely to be rehospitalized due to surgical tears and blood clots. A study published in the September 2006 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology found that women who opt for an elective cesarean have three times the risk of dying from complications of anesthesia, infection, and blood clots than those who choose vaginal delivery. Walking, sneezing, laughing, or simply shifting positions can be painful for weeks. And many women find that breastfeeding is especially challenging because the tender incision site makes it difficult to nurse comfortably.
I had a fairly easy time after both my surgeries. Although insurance companies will cover four days in the hospital after a c-section, I stayed for only three days after having Alex and two days after having Tyler. I simply hated being there and my doctor was perfectly sanguine about releasing me. We have quite a few stairs at home, but I never had any trouble with them after getting home, and the pain was manageable with regular doses of Vicodin for about 10 days.

I was surprised to discover that my experience is pretty different from most of my friends who've had c-sections. They told me the pain was unbearable, they had trouble getting around, and their scars really bothered them (mine is minimal and has never bothered me). As we've compared and contrasted our experiences, I've come to realize that our doctors seem to be very different. Some of us have doctors who are more likely to use the latest technologies while others have doctors who like to go with what they are comfortable with and have confidence in.

After hearing what my friends' doctors did and from a few comments by some nurses, I eventually concluded that my doctor was an excellent surgeon and totally up on the newest medical developments. And although I have no scientific basis to back this assertion up, I believe the most important factor for an easy c-section recovery is the quality of your doctor. I only learned just how great my doctor was after I had my babies, but I think the best way to find the best doctor in town is to ask around. Ask your friends, of course. But also ask doctors and nurses if you can. I did know even before I had Alex that other doctors are patients at my doctor's practice, and that was always reassuring. And I needed all the reassurance I could get when it came to childbirth.

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Monday, June 04, 2007

"We're on a Budget"

I'm not sure where I read this terrific idea - probably one of my wonderful weekly Dollar Stretcher newsletters. If you don't want to buy what your child is asking for but don't want to lie and say you can't afford it, instead say, "We're on a budget." Not only are you telling the truth, you're also teaching your child the important skill of money management. I already use the phrase with Alex even though he's too young to understand, and I'll be using it for many years to come.

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A Different Kind of Activity Book

The Dangerous Book for Boys is apparently a huge seller in Great Britain, though I hadn't heard of it until reading an article that said the book is as politically incorrect and fun as it gets for boys. Activities include how to tie different knots, make a periscope, and oh yeah, hunt, kill, skin and cook a rabbit. The book also includes stories about heroes, battles, astronomy and other topics. The general gist of the book seems to be that boys should be allowed, even encouraged, to do those activities that boys have done throughout the ages.

It might be politically incorrect to say that we should raise our boys differently from girls. But ever since Alex started selecting his own toys (construction vehicles) and expressing his own interests (garbage trucks), I've been convinced that, generally speaking, boys and girls naturally gravitate toward different toys and activities. And I don't believe in fighting those tendencies but in using them to teach my children the important values in life. So I'm looking forward to using this book or something similar with Alex and Tyler some day - this particular one is for kids in grades 4 through 8, and at least in England, there are now a bunch of knockoffs.

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

Cute Kids Party Idea: Cookie Monster Cupcakes

These Cookie Monster cupcakes would be a huge hit at a toddler party. If I have the time, I'd like to make them for the next birthday party but we'll have to see about that. I think any kind of cupcake would be okay - yellow, chocolate or white. Then frost with a white frosting, cover with blue sprinkles, and add two small dollops of the same white frosting topped with chocolate chips or brown M&Ms for the eyes. Shove a bite size cookie into the "mouth" and you're done!

Via Super Punch.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

Don't Forget Those Emergency Diaper Bags

This post is a friendly reminder to keep emergency diaper bags in your cars and to keep them well-stocked and up to date.

As you might guess, this post is inspired by a recent incident in which my emergency diaper bag came in handy. Fortunately, there were plenty of size 5 diapers and wipes, which is what I needed. But I also found size 1 diapers for Tyler in there (and he's been in size 3's for a couple of months now!) and Alex's emergency outfit was a couple of sizes two small.

The lesson: Update all diaper bags regularly.

As for when to update the bags, do it when your child changes diaper or clothes sizes. But don't just swap out the diapers or clothes - take the time to make sure the wipes are still wet, that you haven't taken out a blanket without replacing it, etc.

A few tips:
  • Put a real package of diaper wipes in the bag, not one of those Especially for Baby cases that everyone has in their regular diaper bag because the wipes will dry out. A Kirkland brand package of wipes from Costco would work well. I buy boxes of Huggies wipes from Babies R Us that contain two large refill bags of wipes. I put bags that are about half full into a zip top bag and put that in the emergency diaper bag - the wipes stay nice and moist that way.
  • Disposable changing pads for beds like these are larger than the disposable changing pads for baby, and cheaper too.
  • Sunscreen is a must, for the times when you make an unplanned trip to the park or you forget to apply it at home. I like these convenient towelettes.
  • Don't forget to add a nonperishable snack. My favorite is Nature Valley Granola Bars, but small bags of Goldfish, pretzels, or animal crackers would also work well.
  • I always have a couple of blankets in the diaper bags (a good use for receiving blankets once your child is no longer an infant). They come in handy when it gets colder than you expected.
  • Finally, consider keeping the clothes in the diaper bag a size or two bigger than what your child currently wears. Because you might not remember to update the diaper bag after all ...

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