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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Must Have Product: Sally Hansen Diamond Strength Instant Nail Hardener

I have a nail that's completely messed up right now (long story) and I recently began to worry that it was just going to break in half. I happened to have an old bottle of Sally Hansen Hard as Nails and had been putting that on the nail, which seemed to help. But I left the bottle at work over the weekend, only to have the polish start peeling off on Saturday. Fearful that the nail would snap, I picked up a bottle of Sally Hansen Diamond Strength Instant Hardener. I love this stuff! My nail feels as strong as my other ones now. I think every household should have it for any kind of broken nail. I know we'll never be without it.


Note: I got my bottle at Target for $4.89 plus tax.

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Tips for Getting Great Retail Deals

This week's Dollar Stretcher has a wonderful article with tips on how to get the most out of your retail shopping. Here are the highlights (click through for more details):
  1. In most stores, clearance prices are marked at the beginning of the month (and, for stores that have tiered reductions, the lowest prices are marked at the end of the month).
  2. At stores that use the yellow ticket-red ticket method, the best time to buy is when the yellow ticket reaches its highest percentage off.
  3. Most retail stores have an unpublished policy to honor sale prices the day before a sale begins or the day after a sale ends.
  4. Even if you are past the stated time limit for a price adjustment, most retailers will give you the price adjustment if you ask.
  5. BOGO (buy one, get one half off) is really just a 25% off sale.
  6. Shopping Day Savings Passes, which are coupons for 10-20% off all of your purchases that day, are usually available at customer service desks.
  7. Seek out "Ad Setters," the people with scanners who are setting up for upcoming sales - they'll be able to tell you when an item you're interested in will be at its lowest price.
  8. Ask for discounts on damaged goods, especially when the damage is only on the packaging.
  9. Tell the cashier if you forgot your extra-savings coupon and they will probably apply the discount. (I've done this before at Borders with success, although the cashier always says something to the effect of, "Just this once.")
  10. Look for last season's "back stock" items at the next seasonal clearance sale.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Get Off Your Butt and Take Control of Your Finances!

A couple of my favorite personal finance bloggers highlighted Liz Pulliam Weston's article, The big lie about credit card debt. What got my attention was the study she quoted. One of the study's findings was that
Americans dislike the card they have . . . but don’t search for a new one. Over half of credit card owners feel they are living with a card that’s not right for them. Yet, they don’t like any of their options for finding a new one. Americans are universally dismissive of the offers they receive in the mail, with nearly 90 percent saying they shred the promotional offers or throw them away. Only one in five has actively searched online for the credit card best suited to their needs. Worse, Americans admit that they spend more time comparison-shopping for everything from electronics to cell phone plans than they do reviewing credit card enrollment terms.
I find these results so sad and infuriating because it's so easy nowadays to find information on just about anything related to personal finance. I'm not sure how you get someone who isn't interested in helping themselves to help themselves, though.

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Save Money by Changing Your Own Door Locks

When we first moved into our house, one of the very first things we did was have the door locks changed by a locksmith. He must have used cheap locks, though, because for the last couple of weeks, our keys have been difficult to get out. Obviously, we weren't going to use the same locksmith again, so I asked a friend who manages an apartment building for a referral and he told me that he changes the locks himself.

Say what?

It just never occurred to us that this was a DIY kind of project. Of course, I immediately asked our friend for more details. He said that there's a section for locks at any home improvement store, that the prices varied widely but the sizes were pretty standard, and installation was extremely easy. Marc went to the store without me and came home with a deadbolt lock and a doorknob lock. He confirmed that prices were all over the place, so he just grabbed a couple that looked good enough for a total of $29.21, including tax.

It took Marc and his dad about half an hour to install both new locks, which work quite nicely.

After the fact, I did a quick web search for door lock reviews or recommendations and couldn't find anything helpful. It actually made me feel better to know that there wasn't a particular brand we should have purchased, and that we saved about $100. (I seem to recall the locksmith bill to be about $110 and this was over five years ago so I'm sure it would have been more if we'd had one come out.)

One of the unexpected benefits of this experience: our new brushed nickel locks look a million times better than the old brass ones.

Link: How to Change a Lock

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Spend Money, Be Happy

I post a lot about saving money, but it's important to spend it, too - on the right stuff. This post from The Happiness Project offers some good examples. This was my favorite sentence:
For happiness, you're better off using your money to have a great experience than to gain a possession.
Marc and I were just talking about this sort of thing. We're aquarium members, and Marc noticed in their magazine that they have a "spend the night" program. The slumber party for a group of kids was pretty pricy ($1200 for a group of twenty that includes a minimum of 2 adults), but the family event was $200 for a family of four. Not exactly cheap, but definitely not out of our budget. We agreed that we'd probably do it once Tyler hits the minimum age of five because it's the sort of "remember when" experience that we'll cherish forever.

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Organizing/Cleaning Games

Here are some suggestions to help make organizing, cleaning, or just about any project a little more fun:
  • The Task Bowl - Take 10 small pieces of paper and write down a task on eight of them. On the other 2, write down a fun activity. Fold the papers in half, put them in a bowl, mix them up, and pull one out. Complete the task or activity, then reach in for another piece of paper and repeat until all 10 pieces of paper are gone. This is best for small tasks and activities that you can accomplish in a fairly short time span.
  • Sticker Chart - You probably know all about sticker charts if you have kids, so how about making one for yourself? Give yourself a sticker for each task you complete and give yourself a treat when you accumulate a certain number of stickers.
  • Beat the Clock - Set a timer and challenge yourself to accomplish a task or set of tasks before the timer goes off. Alternatively, the time limit could be set by a certain number of songs played on the radio or the length of a CD. Even if you don't complete the task, you've gotten off to a good start and will be more likely to finish (and you can always re-start the timer).
  • Swap tasks with a partner or family member. You can each agree to do something the other person hates doing (for example, in our family, Marc cleans the bathrooms and I vacuum).
Adapated from the latest issue of the Get Organized Now newsletter.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Easy, No Mess Omelets

I found this tip on the America's Cheapest Family site. I can't wait to try it sometime to see if it really works:
This works great-it's an easy way to prepare several omelets without waiting for the frying pan to be available. First, start a large pot of water up to boil. Then have each person write their name on a quart sized plastic freezer zippered bag. Crack two eggs into the bag and shake to mix them up. Set out bowls with various toppings in them: cheeses, ham, onion, green pepper, tomato, hash browns, salsa, etc. Each person puts their favorite toppings into their bag. Remove all air from the bag and zip it up securely. Place the bags into rolling, boiling water for exactly thirteen minutes. You can usually cook six to eight omelets in a large pot. If you need to do more, use a second pot or do two rounds of cooking. Open the bags and the omelet will easily roll out. The first time you do this everyone will be amazed. Serve with fresh fruit, coffee cake and conversation.
Update 8/6/07: Judy at GoodyBlog just told me that according to Ziploc's web site, their bags aren't safe for boiling.

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Make Puppets out of Rubber Gloves

My rubber kitchen gloves always get tossed before they are worn out because I inevitably get a tiny hole somewhere that allows water to seep in. So I love this idea on scribbit: cut off the fingers on rubber gloves and turn them into finger puppets using googly eyes, buttons, and anything else your child thinks appropriate.

Via Goodyblog.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Bookplates for Giving Kids' Books

I love giving books as gifts, and this printable bookplate at Nested will make it easy to personalize the books. Having been the recipient of several loads of kids' books, I recommend that when giving multiple books at once, you should personalize only one or two true favorites and leave the others alone. That way, when the time comes for the recipient to pass the books on to a friend, the library or Goodwill, she won't have to spend a lot of time ripping the bookplate out and very likely damaging the book.

Via Goodyblog. Photo from Nested.

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An Assortment of Great Money-Saving Tips

I came across a site called America's Cheapest Family, which had a long list of money-saving tips. I just had to share some of the highlights (I've rephrased them for conciseness and clarity):
  • To keep clothes from slipping off plastic or wooden hangers, take a rubber band and wrap it around each end of the hanger.
  • The Scholastic Book Club order forms that your kids bring home from school always have one or two $0.95 books listed on the front. Stock up on these to use as gifts.
  • Buy Christmas wrapping paper when it’s 50% to 75% off at after-Christmas sales, but look for solid colors or prints that aren't exclusive to Christmas. You can use the paper all year long. You can also turn the paper inside out and use the white side to wrap a package for mailing. (My caveat: Make sure the paper you are buying is of decent quality. I have a number of inexpensive rolls that I dread using because the color rubs off all too easily, and the paper will tear at the slightest pressure - for example, when I'm pulling it tight around a box corner that's not even pointy.)
  • When you go to the grocery store, put a basket in the cart and put anything that you want to get but that's not on your list in the basket. When you're ready to check out, your impulse purchases will be easily identifiable and you can decide if you really want them. (This would work really well for discount stores like Target, too.)
  • To remove permanent marker from a white board, write over the marker with a dry erase marker and then erase both.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

What are Your Favorite Kids' Books?

I'm not sure what to think about Parents.com's list of The 50 Best Children's Books. I've only heard of 10 of them. I think that's primarily because my oldest is not yet 2 1/2 and the books are for kids ages 2 through 8, so I just haven't been exposed to these books yet. Or maybe not - many of them are old enough that they could have been a part of my childhood but I've never heard of them. Take a look at the list and tell me what you think.

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A Radical Way to Save Money on Haircuts

I've started an experiment. The last time I cut my hair was back in November or December of last year, not too long before Tyler was born. It still looks okay, and since I don't color, highlight or perm it, it's pretty healthy. But it's getting quite long and I keep thinking about getting it cut. There are two things stopping me: (1) the two-hour commitment; and (2) the $100 price tag. Before you say anything, yes, I realize that I could get my hair cut for a lot less money, but I've tried that and been unhappy (the last time I did it, about a year ago, I walked out of Supercuts in tears). So if I'm going to get a cut, then I'm going to the one guy I know will give me a cut I'll be happy with.

But I recently thought of a way to keep myself from going for a while longer yet (inspired by this post by Mapgirl): donating my hair to Locks of Love, which is an organization that takes donated hair and turns them into wigs for children who have lost their hair.

Here are their guidelines for donating hair:
  • 10 inches measured tip to tip is the minimum length needed for a hairpiece.
  • Hair must be in a ponytail or braid before it is cut.
  • Hair must be clean and completely dry before it is mailed in.
  • Place the ponytail or braid inside of a plastic bag, and then inside of a padded envelope.
  • Fill out the hair donation form, or write your name and address on a separate sheet of paper and include inside the envelope.
  • All hair donations must be mailed to Locks of Love at: 2925 10th Avenue N, Suite 102, Lake Worth, FL 33461.
I think it'll take another six months or so for my hair to get long enough that I can donate and still have shoulder-length hair after the cut. Can I do it? We'll see!

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Minimize Your Grocery Expenses

Last week, My Two Dollars asked How Much Do You Spend On Groceries? and today he posted the results, which included a pretty wide range: from $25 per week for 2 adults to $265 per week for 2 adults and 6 children. That, of course, begs the question (which David asked): How do you feed 2 adults on $25 per week? It's entirely possible that they spend so little at the market because they eat out a lot. But it's also possible that they shop, cook, and eat wisely. Here are the strategies that could get your grocery bill as low as theirs:
  1. Plan weekly menus around grocery store sales. In my neighborhood, the weekly grocery store circulars arrive in Tuesday's mail and the prices listed are good Wednesday through Tuesday. Take your circular(s), see what's on sale, and then decide what you will serve in the coming week.
  2. Minimize the amount of meat you serve, since that's usually the most expensive item. What meat you do serve should always be bought at a very low price. In order to make this possible, you can stock up when you see a great deal (you'll need freezer space for this, though), or find out when the store marks down their meat.
  3. Shop at several different stores to get the best deals at each one.
  4. Rely on inexpensive staples like potatoes, eggs, and beans.
  5. Make as much as possible from scratch - especially things like bread, where the ingredients themselves are quite inexpensive.
All of this put together would really save a ton of money. It's also quite time-consuming, which is why I don't do it myself. But I know the day will come when I have enough time to make this a priority. In the meantime, we'll pay extra so that I can stay sane :D

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ParentWonder's 101 Child Safety and Childproofing Tips for Parents

I don't know how anyone finds the time to make a list of 101 things, but you can find this handy checklist here. I've only skimmed the tips, but this one caught my eye:

28. Cover the bathtub spout with an inflatable safety gadget to prevent bruising and burns.

The first spout cover we got didn't fit well and our current spout cover doesn't seem to offer much protection. I might give this one a shot.

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Redeem Your Rewards Before You Close a Credit Card Account

I just learned the hard way, so I'm passing on my $25 lesson to you:

Before you close a credit card account, redeem any rewards available to you.

Here's what happened in our case: Marc and I recently decided to switch rewards cards, and opened a new credit card account and closed the old one. It never occurred to me before we closed the old one to redeem the points for a $25 gift card and of course, now that the account is closed, the points have vanished. (Believe me, I did try to redeem them when I was paying the final bill and saw the points total at the top, which was my mental trigger. After I logged in, the screen said something like: Would you like to open a different type of account to earn points?)

I hate wasting money, but fortunately, the lesson wasn't too expensive. After all, the whole reason we were switching cards was because we didn't use the original card enough to accumulate many points.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Selling Clothes on Consignment

Ever since I started reading The Dollar Stretcher, I've been intrigued by consignment stores as a place to sell clothes for cash. (See this article from 2002, for example.) One reason I haven't done it is that I don't think my own clothes are consignment-worthy. Except for rare occasions, I don't buy expensive brand-name clothing, and I don't own many clothes in the first place. But the idea that one could walk into one's closet, pick out some stuff, and make cash from it is pretty appealing.

Today, I came across a great guide to selling children's clothes on consignment at Baby Cheapskate. I love the guidance she gives when it comes to quality: Ask yourself if you would give the item you're considering as a gift. If yes, it's consignment-worthy. She also has good info on the different ways consignment stores can work and how to find one in your neighborhood.

Alas, at this point, I have only a few pieces of kid's clothing that are consignment-worthy. (I am pretty ruthless about decluttering - no matter how nice the item is, if the kids won't be comfortable in it or won't wear it for some other reason, I pass it on to someone else.) But I still find the idea appealing!

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Fast & Easy Pink Sauce

This is the easiest, fastest pink sauce of all time. Perfect for weeknights.

Fast & Easy Pink Sauce
Makes approximately 4 servings

2 cups jarred marinara sauce
3/4 cup half and half
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a medium saucepan, combine the marinara sauce and half and half over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Turn off the stove and stir in the cheese. Serve over ravioli or other pasta.

Note: Half and half and cheese measurements are approximate and to taste. depending how tomato-y you like your sauce.

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Sneaky Vegetables

I've posted before about slipping veggies into your child's mouth without him knowing, and the June issue of Parents had similar ideas:
  • Combine a 21-oz. box of brownie mix with 3 large eggs, 1 cup of sweet potato puree and 3/4 vegetable oil, and bake according to package directions.
  • Added 1 cup of shredded zucchini for each pound of ground meat when making burgers.
  • Add 1 cup of cauliflower florets when boiling potatoes and prepare your mashed potatoes as usual. You could also substitute my Cauliflower Smush for mashed potatoes.
  • Add 1 cup of pumpkin puree for each cup of marinara sauce before serving the sauce over pasta or using in lasagna.
  • Add frozen peas and carrots to cream soups.
  • Combine a 6.5 oz. package of cornbread mix, 1 large egg, 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and a 6 oz. jar of butternut squash baby food, and bake according to package directions.
You can also sneak veggies into smoothies (carrots and spinach work well), mix carrot juice into orange juice, or make a Chocolate & Zucchini cake.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

"Scrapbook Shortcut"

The June issue of Parents had a brilliant reader tip for non-scrapbookers who want a little bit more than an album filled with only pictures, or for those who simply don't have time to scrapbook:
I write down little things I want to remember on index cards that I decorate with stickers. Then, I put all my photos in inexpensive slide-in photo albums. I include a card every few pages as a way of telling the story behind the photos.
You can make your notes fancier by printing them out in different fonts on the computer and using simple scrapbooking techniques by framing the notes, cutting out little shapes in the notes, etc. I also think this would be a fabulous gift for grandparents and great-grandparents - in fact, I think that's what ours will be getting for the holidays this year!

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When Should Your Preschooler Lose His Nap?

Some of my friends say their two-year-olds are ready to give up their nap because they refuse to go to down. So I did a little research and learned that most toddlers aren't ready to give up their naps until they're about four years old (and certainly not before age three). That said, there are several ways you can try to get a resistant toddler/preschooler to go to sleep:
  • Try to schedule naptime at the same time every day - with children who nap once a day, after lunch is a good time. A consistent routine will help the transition to sleep.
  • Have your child sleep in the same place as he sleeps at night, since he already associates that place with sleeping. Alternatively, Dr. Sears suggests you can create a "nap nook," since your child may be more receptive to napping in a special "retreat."
  • Use a shortened version of bedtime for naptime. Whether it's reading, singing or something else that you do at bedtime, doing it at naptime will cue your child that it's time for sleep.
  • Another way to get your child to sleep is to take a stroller walk or go for a drive, though this only works if your child makes the transfer to her bed. (Alex doesn't so this one would never work for us. And I'm sure sleep training experts are cringing madly at this suggestion but sometimes you just have to do what works.)
  • With an older toddler/preschooler, you may want to consider foregoing the nap and moving bedtime earlier.
  • When your child is ready to give up her nap, consider instituting "quiet time," or as one of Alex's teachers called it, "rest your body time." Your child can just lie in bed, or sit on her bed or in her room and read books or do some other quiet activity for an hour, while you get a chance to recharge for the rest of the day.
And in case you were wondering, you can find Babycenter's "How much sleep does your child need?" chart for ages two through eight here. The chart for babies is here.

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

All Home Pregnancy Tests Are Not Created Equal

Thingamababy's recent posts about home pregnancy tests has brought back some memories for me. After I had my first miscarriage back in 2003, I became obsessed with getting pregnant and staying pregnant - and of course, the first important piece of hardware was a home pregnancy test (HPT). I learned that HPTs work by detecting the pregnancy hormone, human chorionic gonadotrophin (hcg), in urine. The first morning urine contains the highest concentration of hcg so I learned to take the test as soon as I woke up. Although HPTs are qualitative rather than quantitative tests (i.e., the tests can only detect the presence of hcg but not measure how much of it there is), some HPTs are more sensitive than others.

Back in 2003, First Response was one of a handful of tests (and the most widely available) that tested hcg levels as low as 25 mIU (milli-international units per milliliter). Most widely available tests at that time detected minimum levels of 40 mIU. You can imagine how many First Response tests I went through until I finally got pregnant with Alex (and even then, if I recall correctly, I repeated the test one or two days after I got my positive HPT just to "make sure").

It seems that HPTs have gotten better in the last four years, however. This chart, which I checked obsessively back in the day, lists the hcg levels that HPTs are able to detect, and the number of tests claiming to detect low levels of hcg has exploded. I would have been all over the tests that claim to detect levels as low as 10 mIU.

An HPT can only detect hcg after implantation occurs. Implantation usually occurs by 10 days post-ovulation (dpo) but implantation often occurs after 10 days and a negative HPT at 10 dpo does not mean a woman isn't pregnant. A woman who's not pregnant would get her period at 15 dpo, so 15 dpo is the "first day of a missed period." (No, you're not crazy if you test every day starting at 10 dpo. I wouldn't test earlier than that because you'd really be setting yourself up for disappointment. But if you couldn't wait, I'd certainly understand how you feel.)

For some bizarre reason, anecdotal evidence indicates that some women don't respond to certain tests. For example, I knew one woman who never got a positive result on with a First Response test even when her Clearblue Easy test came out positive. (And I think that was back in the day when Clearblue Easy didn't detect 25 mIU so at that point, any test should have been positive.)

Finally, I leave you with a cautionary tale. If you stare too long and hard at the stick, you will eventually see a VERY faint line and ask yourself, "Is it? Could it be?" And especially if it hasn't been more than 15 minutes since you took the test, minimizing the possibility that it's an evaporation line, you may very well convince yourself that you are pregnant. I hate to break it to you, but I'm telling you because I wish someone had told me: You're probably staring so hard that you're seeing the line that would have appeared if the test were positive. And that, I think, is the benefit to digital HPTs - there's no "Is that a line?" false hope. Digital tests may be more expensive, but I wish they'd been around in 2003. The HPT companies would have made a lot more money off of me.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

One Million Easy-Bake Ovens Recalled

One million Easy-Bake Ovens have been recalled due to potential burn hazards. Children can insert their fingers into oven's front opening, and their fingers can then get caught, resulting in burns. There was a repair recall in February, but since then, 77 burns have been reported, and one five-year-old received a burn serious enough to require amputation.

All ovens with model number 65805 on the back should be returned for a voucher good toward another Hasbro product. To receive a prepaid shipping label, call 800-601-8418 or use this form. Customers who previously contacted Hasbro about the repair recall will automatically be sent a box with prepaid shipping for the return of their Easy-Bake Ovens.

You can see the official recall notice here.

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Crib Safety Tips for an Older Infant

Now that Tyler is pulling up, it's time for us to lower the mattress and remove the mobile. I found this handy checklist to make sure we keep Tyler safe:
  • Lower the mattress so that when your child stands, at least 2/3 of his body is below the crib railing.
  • Make sure all screws and connections are tight to make sure the crib can withstand movement from a bigger and more active child. This is especially important if you've moved the crib since it was assembled.
  • Remove any small objects your baby may be able to reach through the slats of the crib.
  • Keep the crib as empty as possible since your child can use stuffed animals and toys for a boost over the rail.
  • Ensure that nearby furniture is steady, not wobbly or tip-able.
  • Don't place the crib close to any curtains or blind cords that baby could pull because the cords are a choking hazard.
  • Take down any mobiles that she could reach and pull down.
I would add to the checklist that you should remove any bumpers since your child could use them to boost himself over the rail.

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Changing the Way We Eat

After some discussion, Marc and I have concluded that I need to cook less so that I can have some ME time and both of us won't go bonkers (though I remain committed to making all of Tyler's food). I'm sad about this, because I love cooking and I'm worried that it will have a negative impact on our ability to save and on the nutritional quality of our diets. But, there are some steps I am going to take in order to minimize the negative impact of this change:
  • Buy little to no-prep foods at the store, like cold cuts and frozen pizza. I should be able to find products with minimal amounts of additives at Whole Foods (I've checked Trader Joe's and their frozen foods are packed with extras).
  • Get food from slightly more upscale places like Baja Fresh, Corner Bakery, and CPK. The food will cost more but will be healthier than a steady diet of Burger King and Carl's Jr.
  • Reduce the costs of "upscale eating" by eating only half a meal at a time (saving the other half for the next meal) and filling in with store-bought fruit and veggies.
  • When I do cook, which will probably be about two times a week, I'll continue to make meals that result in plenty of leftovers.
  • I also want to use this as an opportunity to be more adventurous and try some foods and cuisines we usually don't think about just because they're not in our comfort zone - it will help increase the nutritional variety we're getting and broaden our palates.
If you have any suggestions I haven't thought of, I'd love to have 'em!

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

How Much is Your Privacy Worth?

I've been seeing a lot of posts in the blogsophere about getting free money by opening new credit card and bank accounts. See posts here, here, and here for examples. In the same vein, one of my favorite money bloggers has written in the past about using 0% promotional offers to make money by maxing out the credit card and parking the money in a safe place to earn interest.

I admit, the deals are tempting. After all, it's free money. The money is given by the credit card company in the hope that the new card-holder will use the card often, charge a lot, and make the company a lot of money. And there's a lot of competition out there, hence the incentives.

But I've never taken the plunge. It's not that I'm afraid I'll rack up some debt. We pay our credit card bills in full every month and we will continue to do so.

The reason I've never opened a new account is that none of the deals I've come across are with a company I already have a card or other relationship with. And I hesitate to give my personal information to a company I don't intend to remain with. My social security number, address, birth date, employer, income and all sorts of other good stuff will remain in their computer systems for perpetuity. If they get hacked at some point, that information could fall into the wrong hands. And we all know what a nightmare it is to clean up a blight on your credit report. I don't mind sharing my personal information with companies I do maintain long-term relationships with. Which is why I probably would apply for any great bonus deals those companies offered. But at least for now, I prefer to minimize my risk of identity theft by minimizing the number of institutions that have my personal information.

There are a gazillion sites with tips on how to minimize your risk of identity theft. Listed below are just a few:

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Teaching Your Child to Delay Gratification

Life is so hectic that delayed gratification is not as high on my list of priorities as I wish it could be. When I tell Alex that he needs to wait, I do it out of necessity rather than as a teaching tool. However, I do think that delayed gratification is extremely important and I really like the experiment mentioned in this letter at All Financial Matters from a mother to her daughter about saving for retirement:
When you were a little girl I did an experiment with you. You didn't know about it. I put a marshmallow on the table and told you that if you waited for 10 minutes until I got back and didn't eat the marshmallow while I was gone, I'd give you two marshmallows when I returned. But if when I came back you had eaten the marshmallow, I wouldn't give you a second one.

What did you do? You waited until I got back. And then I gave you two marshmallows which you promptly devoured with a big grin on your little face.
I'll probably wait until Alex is a little older to do this with him, but I think I'll do it repeatedly over time (varying the reward) to reinforce the point that good things are worth waiting for.

Note: The letter is long but worth reading and using as a model for your own letter to your children.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Impact of Your Child's Name

The Digerati Life has an interesting post about the ways in which a name can affect the way a person is perceived in terms of their career prospects and their likelihood of success. What I got out of the post is that if you want your child to have the most open doors in life, you should give them a fairly common but not overly trendy name. If you want your child to explore less traditional avenues, then you should consider an unusual name.

Personally, I think it's nice having a common name that's not overly popular - everyone knows how to pronounce it and you're generally not singled out simply because of your name. I'm sure my attitude is because I have a very unusual middle name and although I like that it's special, I hated having it pointed out because it felt like an invasion of privacy for someone to want to know how to spell it, how to pronounce it, what it means, etc. (especially if I didn't know or like the person who was asking but felt that it would be rude not to respond).

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Tips for Feeding a Picky Child

Here are some tips on handling a picky eater from Parents.com:
  • Serve age-appropriate portions. Give toddlers portions that are one-fourth to one-third the size of adult portions.
  • Offer new and unfamiliar foods, but do so in small portions and don't insist that your child eat everything. In fact, when a food is served for the first time, let your child know that you only expect him to sample it and that he may spit it out if he doesn't like it. (We do this all the time and it works quite well. We tell Alex that if he at least tries a new food, then he can have what he's asking for. More often than not - especially if the new food is not a veggie - he'll like it and start scarfing it down.)
  • Serve your child's old favorites -- or at least a familiar, acceptable food -- at each meal. If you want to add a dish that your child has not shown much interest in before, pair it with something she likes.
  • Serve a small dessert with dinner. The dessert will stimulate her appetite, making her more willing to move on to more nutritious fare.
  • Don't worry if each meal is not nutritionally complete. (Your child's body will absorb the nutrients it needs.)
  • Don't use food as either a reward or a punishment. If you bribe your child to eat her spinach so that she can have a "yummy dessert," you inadvertently reinforce the idea that sweets are better than nutritious food. If you reward good behavior with a treat, you teach an unhealthy association between food and positive feelings. Likewise, if you threaten to withhold a food treat for any unacceptable behavior, you teach that food can be used as a weapon, an idea that even a young child can internalize and use at future meals. (I actually don't think there's anything wrong with "eat your spinach first." I think it's only realistic to admit that dessert is more (usually) desirable than veggies - I just want my boys to learn that they need to eat in balance.)
  • Don't prepare separate meals for your picky eater. (This is probably good advice for older kids who understand that they can manipulate mom or dad into giving them a special meal, but I made separate food for Alex almost every day until he was about two because he just wasn't ready to eat what Marc and I were eating.)
  • Don't make enticing foods your child sees others enjoying completely off limits. Allow her the occasional candy or soft drink to avoid making these foods seem even more enticing. (This is definitely true. My mom forbade me from eating Oreos when I was a kid and after I grew up and could buy my own, I went through a massive Oreo binge until I realized that they'll always be there.)

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Monday, July 16, 2007

One of These Cookies is Not Like the Other

A few years ago, I tore out a series of recipes for chocolate chip cookies from an issue of Martha Stewart Living. There are recipes for "Soft and Chewy," "Thin and Crisp," and "Cakey." (There's also a variation for a cookie tart.) I decided to make all three and compare and figure out my favorite type of cookie.

The Soft and Chewy is the classic chocolate chip cookie, soft in the middle and slightly crispy at the edges - the recipe on the back of the Tollhouse bag would probably fall in this category. The Thin and Crispy were my favorite, crunchy on the outside (because of the extra sugar and butter) but still soft in the middle. The dough spreads more so fewer cookies fit on the baking sheet at one time. The Cakey cookies contain less butter and are denser than the other versions - although I love cakes, I like them to be moist and airy, so this was my least favorite.

I thought it was a fun project making all three versions and then comparing. All three doughs froze well, even the Thin and Crispy version with its extra butter. (Form them into balls, put them on a baking sheet, and freeze until solid. Transfer to a zip top freezer bag, label and store. Take out as many cookies as you want to make and bake at 350 degrees, adding a couple of extra minutes to the baking time.)

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Keep Your Old Cell Phone When You Upgrade

Marc and I recently upgraded our cell phones (we have a family plan with Verizon) and got two new phones for free by renewing our contract. The contract had expired quite some time ago and we waited until a good quality phone (i.e., one that was small, had a camera, and got particularly good reviews for the actual phone function) was free (except for tax). Of course, it was free with a rebate, but you can't win them all. At least the rebate arrived in about 4 weeks with no hassle.

Now that we have kids, it seems all too possible (probable?) that something will happen to one of our phones at some point. And we didn't want to be stuck in a contract and therefore obligated to buy either a cheap, crappy phone or an expensive but good phone, so we added phone insurance to our contract for $5.99 per month for both phones.

Earlier this week, the information on the phone insurance arrived and I took a quick look at it before filing it. Whoa! On the first page, the steps for filing a claim are outlined and step 4 said to have a credit card available to pay the $50 deductible. So on top of paying $6 per month, we'd have to pony up a $50 deductible to repair/replace a phone. No way.

And then I remembered a post by NCN in which he discussed replacing his broken cell phone with his old one at no cost. Brilliant! So I'm making sure we keep our old phones in a safe place and canceling the phone insurance pronto.

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Gerber Organic Cereals Recalled

Gerber is recalling all packages of its Organic Rice and Organic Oatmeal cereals because there are clumps that may not dissolve and therefore pose a choking hazard. Gerber's press release is here (pdf). I couldn't find anything about it on the FDA website.

Via The Consumerist.

Update 7/17/07: FDA notice.

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Does Your Baby Need Water?

This is actually a question I'd never asked myself until it was asked in the most recent WholesomeBabyFood.com newsletter. They quoted Dr. Sears, the author of many popular baby books, who says that breastfed babies don't need extra water but formula-fed babies might (read his complete answer here). A certified lactation consultant gives a similar answer here. And Dr. Jay Gordon (he's often quoted in parenting magazines) agrees - he makes the point that with breastfed babies, it's the mother who needs extra fluids so that she can make enough milk.

Personally, I can't recall giving Alex water until I wanted him to learn to use a sippy cup - probably around nine months or so. I think the most telling thing is that their pediatrician has never brought it up, which must mean he doesn't think Tyler needs extra water. However, Tyler finds Alex's sippy cups so fascinating that I admit I've begun giving him a tiny amount of water in valve-less cups just so he can have his own. I'm pretty sure he gets absolutely no water but it's a fun activity that keeps him occupied and in one place for at least a few minutes.

Just in case, here are the symptoms of water intoxication in babies and children, and here are the symptoms of dehydration.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Party Idea: A Chocktail Party

Here's an idea older kids will love: a Chocktail Party. To make it a truly special occasion, specify a dress code on the invitation (semi-formal, cocktail, or festive attire), and arrange an elegant buffet by varying the height of the serving platters with cakestands and tiered plates, using real plates and utensils (or buy clear plastic plates and silver plastic utensils, available at party supply stores), and serving drinks in stemware.

Suggested menu:
Finally, here are some tips for getting out chocolate stains:
  • Let the chocolate harden (put in fridge if necessary). Remove as much chocolate as possible with a dull knife or spoon.
  • Rinse the stain and rub in laundry or dishwashing detergent. Let stand for 5 minutes and rinse. (Work on the inside of the fabric to avoid damaging the appearance on the outside.)
  • Repeat the last step several times if necessary. You can also try soaking the stain in milk or heavy cream. If an oily stain remains, use a commercial stain remover and wash normally.
  • For carpets, scrape as much chocolate off as possible. Layer some paper towels over the stain and lightly run an iron on the lowest setting over the paper towels. Move the paper towels and repeat until the stain is gone (replacing the paper towels as necessary). You want to get the chocolate just melted enough to absorb into the paper towels but not so soft that it spreads on the carpet. Follow with a stain remover or a small amount of dishwashing detergent and blot dry.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Ten Tips for Raising a Happy Child

Parentcenter has ten good tips for raising a happy child:
  1. Learn to read the signs
  2. Make room for fun
  3. Help them develop their talents
  4. Healthy bodies, happy children
  5. Let them struggle with problems
  6. Check in with your child
  7. Allow them to be sad or mad
  8. Be a role model
  9. Teach them to do meaningful things
  10. Get help
Click through for advice on how to implement the tips, plus tips for cheering up an unhappy child.

I had a revealing moment regarding #7 the other day. Alex didn't want to go to his grandparents' house and kept insisting (read: wailing) that he wanted to stay home and watch Bob the Builder. Telling him that he could watch Bob, play with his riding loader, and go in the pool at at his grandparents' house made no difference. I found myself telling him I was sorry but he had no choice, and then I realized I wasn't communicating as well as I could be. So I paused, then said, "You don't want to go to Grandma and Grandpa's. I understand that you don't want to go to Grandma and Grandpa's. You would rather stay home and watch TV here. But I'm sorry, we have to go because we promised them that we would come over." Then he paused in the midst of his wailing, and I offered him a (small) new toy car in exchange for his cooperation, acknowledging that leaving the house required some sacrifice on his part. The rest of the afternoon went smoothly and I learned a valuable lesson about the importance of respecting Alex's feelings.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Build a Better Sandwich

I love sandwiches, and Cooking Light has some great tips on sandwich making. Click through for details on their suggestions. I've added a few of my own suggestions below.
  • Fire up your vegetables. - If you don't have time to grill, you can buy already grilled vegetables at Trader Joe's (it's with the pre-made salads). And of course, jarred roasted bell peppers are available just about anywhere these days.
  • Experiment with cheeses. - Many supermarkets offer a wide variety of cheeses but the exotic ones can get pricy. Again, I recommend Trader Joe's - they have a good selection at great prices. Better yet, find a store that specializes in cheese. They will often let you sample the different cheeses and recommend accompaniments.
  • Gain from other whole grains. - I love experimenting with breads in my sandwiches. One of my favorite sandwiches is a grilled cheese made with Whole Foods' Organic Old World Muesli Bread.
  • Choose better meats. - I like Boar's Head brand meats, and some of the nitrate-free deli meats at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. Don't forget about fish, too. I made an anchovy sandwich last week from Chocolate & Zucchini that was delicious!
  • Spread on flavor. - I love my Easy Thousand Island Sandwich Spread (which admittedly isn't particularly healthy - but it is delicious!) and my Avocado Mousse. I also like using olive oil instead of mayo.
  • Make a loaf last. - Eventually, I hope to make all of our bread from scratch. Well, maybe not all. But a lot. (Why? Because it's fun!) In the meantime, I buy par-baked rolls and bake them in the toaster oven two at time for a freshly baked taste.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Tip for Cutting Your Shampoo Expenses in Half

I've found an unexpected benefit to growing old(er): saving money on shampoo by washing my hair less often. When I was younger, I had to wash my hair every day because it would get so greasy if I didn't. But I realized a couple of weeks ago that I'm in my thirties now and that my body has changed. I can actually skip a day now, so I'm washing my hair half as often as I used to. It not only saves me money on shampoo, it also saves me time (which is at least as important to me as these days).

Other suggestions for saving money on shampoo include:
  • Use half the amount of shampoo.
  • Diluting the shampoo with water.
  • Mixing an inexpensive shampoo with a salon brand. (You could also alternate the shampoos.)
  • Use your shampoo to wash your body as well - just take your soapy hands and move down. (OK, this one doesn't actually save you money on shampoo, but you'll save on soap or body wash costs instead.)
  • If you have light-colored hair, you can brush some baking soda through it to absorb the oils instead of washing. This is apparently great for when you don't have time to shower post-workout. (I wouldn't know - I don't have light-colored hair and can't even remember what a workout is.)
Note: I haven't tried all of these tips. Most of them I've read in newsletters, posts and articles on frugality. So if you try one, let me know how it worked for you!

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Boredom Bowl

The most recent edition of the Bright Kids newsletter had a great idea: the Boredom Bowl. Everyone takes small pieces of paper and writes down every free or very cheap thing to do that they can think of - visiting a pet store, going to the library, playing a round of mini-golf, etc. Then you fold up the pieces of paper, put them in the Boredom Bowl, and when you're bored (or rather, when the kids say over and over again, "I'm bored, Mommy"), you pull out the bowl. Someone picks out an activity, and then you go do it.

(Of course, the alliteration in "Boredom Bowl" is appealing but it really makes more sense to use a jar with a lid for easy storage.)

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Make Your Own Paper

I'm putting this on the list of cool things to do with the kids when they're a little older: papermaking. (Although Marc tells me the boys won't find it cool. They'll say "Why bother?")

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Eight Random Things About Me

I've been tagged! By Super Saver over at My Wealth Builder to share eight random things about me. But first, pursuant to the rules, I'm posting the rules:
  • Each player must post these rules first.
  • Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
  • People who are tagged need to write on their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
  • At the end of your post , you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
  • Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.
And now, eight things about me:
  1. I loved hair metal when I was growing up and watched Headbanger's Ball religiously for years.
  2. I'm a total Star Wars geek. Episode Three is the last movie I saw in a theater.
  3. I once worked for a major league baseball team and watched an entire eighteen inning game. But my favorite sports are actually football and tennis.
  4. I had two miscarriages before Alex was born. It was one of the darkest periods of my life and I needed a counselor to help me go through the grieving process in order to come out alright. If you know someone who's suffered a loss, this site has a helpful list of what to say and what not to say to them.
  5. My dream vacation is a cruise to Alaska.
  6. I'm terrified of snakes.
  7. I've started baking bread from scratch. (A post about that is in the works.)
  8. I was dreading going back to work recently but the transition was actually pretty easy for me, completely unlike when I went back to work after Alex was born, even though I took exactly the same amount of time off. (A post about going back to work is also in the works.)
And now I'm going to break the last rule. I'm not going to tag anyone else but if you wish I had tagged you, consider yourself tagged and post a comment with a link to your post.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

BabyHawk vs. Mei Tai Baby

As I've mentioned previously, I now own two mei tai baby carriers, one from BabyHawk.com and one from Mei Tai Baby (pictured). I love both carriers, and now (finally!) so does Tyler. However, there are some differences that affect when and how I use them.
  1. Mei Tai Baby is known for its wonderful adjustable crotch. I ordered the full snap tab and minimized the crotch area for Tyler until just a couple of weeks ago, when I began using the middle snap. I believe he hated having his legs in the "froggy" position, and until he was about four or five months old and able to comfortably fit in a full-width mei tai, the adjustable crotch was the only way I could wear him. The adjustable crotch feature was therefore a lifesaver for me. Until a couple of months, I used my Mei Tai Baby exclusively because Tyler simply wasn't big enough to go into the BabyHawk with his legs hanging out.
  2. The Mei Tai Baby is more breathable than the BabyHawk so it's a better summer carrier. The Mei Tai Baby is a nice cotton material that's not too thick and firm but soft. My BabyHawk, on the other hand, is a thicker, stiffer material and has a gorgeous minkee lining that's super soft and feels wonderful but makes the mei tai pretty warm. (Because Tyler was born in December, I thought the minkee would be nice during the colder months. It never occurred to me that he'd hate the carrier and that I wouldn't be able to use it regularly until it was already hot outside!)
  3. Because the non-minkee material on my BabyHawk is stiffer than the material on my Mei Tai Baby, the straps stay flat better at the side. Flat equals comfort (i.e., no digging into my sides).
  4. Both mei tais have padding in the straps at the shoulder, which makes them a little more comfortable. However, the BabyHawk is a tad bulkier. Both mei tais are extremely comfortable to wear - a world of difference from the Baby Bjorn that I had with Alex (and which I never used). If my back starts to hurt, I just tug the straps slightly to adjust them and it's all better.
  5. The BabyHawk has a wonderful headrest, which means it comes up higher behind Tyler's head. This was particularly reassuring when Tyler's head control was questionable and I worried that he might fling his head back without warning. I love this feature as much as I love the adjustable crotch on the Mei Tai Baby and wish that I could combine the two for the perfect mei tai. However, now that he's older and likes to look around, I think Tyler himself is less fond of this feature than I am since it impedes his view. I've folded it down at times but I don't think it helps that much. It turns out, though, that Mei Tai Baby offers a removable headrest. At $25, it's a pricy extra but would combine my favorite features from each of these mei tais nicely.
  6. They have very different fabric selections. That's what attracted me to BabyHawk first since they offer a camouflage pattern. I wasn't crazy about the Mei Tai Baby patterns but they're the only ones who offer the adjustable crotch.
  7. A basic Mei Tai Baby is less expensive (about $70) than a basic BabyHawk (about $80), though both have options (such as Mei Tai Baby's adjustable crotch) that can quickly add up.
  8. Finally, both mei tais are super easy to wash. I put them in a large lingerie bag and then into the washer. I machine wash them, but hang them to dry, taking care to flatten the straps.
So which do I like better? Neither! I love them both, and I'm glad I have two carriers so that I can keep one in the house and one in the car. But, if I could only have one, I would have to pick the Mei Tai Baby simply because I live in hot Southern California and the Mei Tai Baby is more breathable.

Keep in mind that there are other great mei tai brands out there, too (Kozy Carrier is one that's extremely popular). If you want to learn more about baby carriers, a good starting place is The Babywearer, which has information on just about every kind of carrier out there.

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Tip for Skipping to DVD Menu

This might be common knowledge, but my tech-savvy husband and I recently discovered that with many DVDs, you can skip all that preliminary stuff and get to the menu screen faster by pressing the skip button every time a warning or ad starts to play. It doesn't work with all of them, but it sure helps cut down on Alex's repeated requests to "watch Diego, Daddy."

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Banish the Stay-at-Home Mom Blues

I've just gone back to work after six months of maternity leave and while I enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom for a while, I'm also enjoying being back at work. American Baby has some tips on coping with the stress of being a stay-at-home parent. But before we get to their tips, here one from me: It's normal to feel stressed! So don't stress about the stress. :)
1. Be proud of what you're doing. . . . Staying home with squabbling, screaming kids is no picnic. Give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back and try to put things into perspective: Your children are only young once, and you can always reenter the workforce later.
2. Get -- and stay -- organized. You might think that moms who have no office to go to in the morning don't need to keep a strict schedule, but this couldn't be farther from the truth. Kids (and moms) thrive on routine. . . . Keeping your house in order will also help you stay sane.
3. Make your relationship a priority. Even if you're the most dedicated mom in town, if your marriage is suffering your kids will suffer, too. . . . Plan some alone time every night. Move your kids' bedtimes earlier if necessary.
4. Make time for yourself. It is perfectly OK to put your feet up and just relax. . . . Most importantly, make time to see your firlfriends.
I think all of these tips are great ones. If you're really going through a rough patch, focus on #4, especially on getting together with friends who are also stay-at-home moms. They can relate completely to how you feel and make you feel normal and give you lots of hugs and coping tips. And if you don't have friends who also stay at home (yes, it happens), make some! Support groups and play groups are great for meeting other moms in real life, but you can also find support in online communities. Try the forums at sites like Parents.com and Babycenter.com.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Homemade Baby Food Techniques

As I've mentioned previously, I'm making all of son's baby food. So I thought I'd share some of my basic techniques.
  • The easiest way to make your own baby food is to take a perfectly ripe fruit (like a peach, pear or banana) and puree it in a food processor or blender.
  • There are several ways of cooking foods for baby. I bake sweet potatoes in the (toaster) oven, stew apples in the slow cooker, and boil peas and corn. Once they're super soft, I run them through my food mill, which removes any skins and seeds, and turns the food into mush. This product is perfect for babies who can handle some texture.
  • For greater smoothness, you can process the "mush" in a food processor, adding some cooking liquid or breastmilk if necessary to achieve the desired texture (just remember not to microwave any foods containing breastmilk, since it will destroy the beneficial components of the milk).
  • For the smoothest puree, process the "mush" in a powerful blender.
  • Freeze baby food in ice cube trays or small plastic freezer-safe containers. Don't forget to label with the date and contents.
  • If you use ice cube trays, once the food is hard, pop the cubes out into a zip top bag, label, put into another zip top bag, and store. Then wash the trays and use them again for another batch. Using this method, you can quickly build up a varied selection of baby food in your freezer.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Save Money by Buying More?

Money Ning has an interesting post about saving money by buying more food at the grocery store. The example he gave is of buying a $13.49 bag of frozen precooked chicken wings. He pointed out that having the chicken wings at home makes it less likely that his family will eat out. It may not be the same as cooking a home-cooked meal, but if they're too busy, or as he frankly admits, too lazy, food is easy to come by - maybe even easier than eating out since the food is already in the house.

Money Ning got me thinking. I tend to think that I *should* cook from scratch because it's healthier and less expensive. When I do use prepared items, they are usually fresh (so we're not getting preservatives) or at least a healthy version in some way (organic chicken stock, for example). Now that I have two little boys, though, and especially now that Tyler's eating solids, I think that I will have to more seriously consider buying more prepared ingredients and taking more shortcuts in my cooking. But you can bet I'll be scrutinizing those labels to make sure we're still eating pretty healthfully.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Make Great-Looking Gift Boxes out of Cereal Boxes

I love saving money but I also love giving gifts, and there's nothing I love more than taking a great gift that I got a great deal on and making it look even greater. These cool boxes look like they'll fit the bill, especially with a pretty ribbon. Plus, I love the idea of recycling cereal boxes and helping the environment! (Especially since we go through a lot of cereal in our house these days.)

Also via Craftzine.

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Removing Stains

Although Zout came out as the top commercial stain-remover, it wasn't very effective against lipstick and coffee. And as the writer who ran the test noted, there are different kinds of stains - protein-based, oil-based, etc. So, if you want something more targeted for your stain, here are a few places to check out for stain fighting tips:

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Tip for Learning the Lyrics to Kids' Songs

I don't know about your kids, but Alex loves the songs from the shows he sees on TV. Thus far, I've learned the full lyrics to a half dozen Wiggles songs, the chorus to another dozen or so Wiggles songs, a few verses to various Sesame Street songs, and the opening theme to Bob the Builder. All too often, Alex will ask me to sing a song I don't know the lyrics to, but I've figured out an easy way to learn them. I had activated the closed captioning on the TV so I could watch while he was sleeping, and had left it on when we turned on the Bob the Builder movie, Built to Be Wild. The songs in it are actually pretty good, and the closed captioning functioning showed the lyrics just as if we were at a karaoke bar. Now I can learn the words that I couldn't make out to sing to Alex (and hear the whole song in my head instead of just the chorus when I go to bed!).

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Avocado Mousse

Avocado Mousse

one ripe avocado, pit and skin removed

Puree avocado in a blender until smooth and creamy.

That's it? you ask. Well, yes. It's that easy and that delicious. Try it as a sandwich spread. Unlike avocado slices, this mousse will actually stay in your sandwich. Or serve it as baby food. (Which is actually how I discovered this wonderful concoction.) Add some salt, pepper and lemon juice and you have a simple guacamole. I'm sure there are a million other ways to use this so go crazy!

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Picnic Tips

It's actually too hot in Southern California for picnics during the summer (at least in the part where I live) but the idea is an appealing one. And I like indoor picnics even better than outdoor ones anyway. So I've compiled some tips of having the best picnic possible:
  • Pack light. Don't bring enough food to have leftovers, and unless you're going for romance, leave the china and glasses at home. If you don't want to use paper goods, pick up some reusable plastic dishware (I've seen some nice ones on sale at Target recently).
  • Chill food thoroughly before putting it into a cooler.
  • Bring foods that tend to be less perishable, like a potato salad with an oil and vinegar dressing instead of mayo.
  • Don't forget to bring plenty of napkins, wet wipes (diaper wipes work well), hand sanitizer and sunscreen.
  • Make your cooler as cold as possible by filling it with ice water, closing it and letting it sit for five minutes. Dump out the water, quickly wipe it with a towel, and pack efficiently. Cold air settles, so put your ice packs on top, with perishables on the bottom. Frozen drinks can double as ice packs, so long as you don't need to keep anything cold on the way home. Full coolers stay cold longer so don't leave a lot of empty room (fill extra space with frozen water bottles if necessary).
  • If possible, put the cooler in the passenger compartment of your car, which won't be as hot as the trunk.
  • Toss any food that's been left out for more than one hour.
  • If you have changing pads that came with diaper bags you no longer use, you can use them to sit on - they're generally easy to wipe off, and will keep your clothes from getting dirty or damp from the ground.
  • Some picnic menu suggestions from Cooking Light.
  • Make an origami picnic basket out of a tablecloth.

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