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Friday, August 31, 2007

Making Your Own Baby Food: Hardware

I really enjoy making baby food, in large part because I can introduce my child to foods that just don't come in jars, like cauliflower and red pepper, both of which he's liked. Making your own baby food doesn't require a lot of hardware, but it usually does require a fair amount of time, since it takes a while to soften the food enough for pureeing, milling or processing. Here are the items I think are helpful to have on hand:
  • Steamer: I like my Black & Decker food steamer, but you really don't need a separate appliance. Inexpensive alternatives include a traditional expandable steamer or a metal colander resting in a pot with a couple inches of simmering water.
  • Slow cooker: I love making dinner in my slow cooker, but it's also great for making baby food because I can leave food cooking for a long time - and sometimes foods take a long time to get soft enough for baby (like apples, peas, and prunes).
  • Food mill and/or Food processor and/or Blender: I actually have a large food mill, a 7-cup food processor, a 2-cup electric food mill, a 3-cup mini-chopper, a regular blender, and a hand blender. You definitely don't need all of them to make baby food. I use my food mill for applesauce, corn, peas, green beans, and anything that might have a component that should be removed before being served to baby. I use my large food processor for big batches of squash, carrots, peaches, etc. And I use my electric food mill for things I want to serve fresh, like avocados and bananas. I never reach for my mini-chopper or blenders when I'm making baby food. I would recommend the large food mill over a food processor since foods that can go in the food processor can also go through a food mill. But if you already have a food processor, you may want to consider Kidco's manual food mill. I've never used it myself but I've heard some good things about it.
  • Ice cube trays: Any ice cube trays will do, and they don't have to be specially made for baby food. Trays with covers are convenient if you want to leave the cubes in the tray, but I usually dump them into a labeled zip top freezer bag so I can use the tray for another batch. (I've reviewed Kidco and Fresh Baby trays here and trays from the Container Store here.)
  • Masking tape and a permanent marker: I've included these items in the list to emphasize how important it is to label the food before you freeze it. Trust me, it can be surprisingly difficult to tell peaches and pears apart, not to mention carrots and butternut squash, peas and green beans, and so on. Don't forget to write the date down too, since it's best to use the food up within 30 days or so, and always within 3 months (per WholesomeBabyFood.com). I also keep a list on the freezer door of foods that are inside along with the date that I made them so I know what needs to be used up.

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How to Read Blogs

I recently discovered that many of my closest friends haven't been keeping up with CFO simply because they don't read blogs regularly. So I wanted to share some blog-reading basics:

The easiest way to read blogs is via subscription, which lets you know when new posts are up so you don't have to keep checking the site to see if it's been updated. As far as I can tell, there are two kinds of subscriptions: RSS feeds and email.

You can check out Wikipedia's technical definition of an RSS feed. But all you really need to know is that RSS feeds enable you to view the most recent headlines and some or all of the posts of a whole bunch of blogs in one place, known as a feed reader or aggregator. That means you only need to go to one place to see which blogs have been recently updated. Almost every blog offers the option of subscribing via an RSS feed. Some popular readers are My Yahoo!, Bloglines, and Google Reader. I've been using My Yahoo! for almost ten years, but I am switching to Google Reader since I can read many blog posts in their entirety there, while Yahoo only allows me to view the first few lines.

Some blogs offer the option of email subscriptions, meaning you give them your email address and they send you an update with the blog's recent posts. You can also create an account at Feedblitz and sign up for email notifications of blogs that have an RSS feed, even if the blog itself doesn't offer the option of subscribing by email. (Note: I've recently begun offering subscription by email. You can sign up for a daily email of each day's posts here.)

To get started with your blog-reading, please subscribe to CFO via RSS or email, and then check out the "Links" section to your right to see the blogs that I read regularly. Before you know it, you'll be reading blogs every day!

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Making the First Day of School Easier

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers these tips for making the first day of school easier for your child:
  • Remind your child that she is not the only student who is a bit uneasy about the first day of school. Teachers know that students are anxious and will make an extra effort to make sure everyone feels as comfortable as possible.
  • Point out the positive aspects of starting school: It will be fun. She'll see old friends and meet new ones. Refresh her memory about previous years, when she may have returned home after the first day with high spirits because she had a good time.
  • Find another child in the neighborhood with whom your youngster can walk to school or ride with on the bus.
  • If you feel it is appropriate, drive your child (or walk with her) to school and pick her up on the first day.
Kindergarten is still three years off for us, but I have a few friends at work whose children will be starting school in just a week or two. I don't know who's going to have the harder time: the mommies or the kids! One of my friends did say that the kindergarten teachers do not allow parents in the classroom for the first few weeks, to give the children a chance to adjust to being in school.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Save Money by Using Your Toaster Oven

My toaster oven may be the hardest working appliance in my kitchen. I use it for everything - baking a couple of cookies, roasting vegetables, baking bread, cooking bacon, and more. I love that it doesn't require any preheating, and it doesn't heat up my kitchen the way my large oven does. This means I'm saving on the cost of heating my big oven as well as the cost of cooling the house back down.

If you don't have pans that fit in your toaster oven, you can do most things with a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil. But you may want to invest in a set of small pans like these:



I have this set and the pans fit perfectly in my toaster oven.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Swaddling Tips

I'd better share my swaddling tips before I completely forget what it's like to have a newborn:
  • Find a big blanket. Most receiving blankets will work for the first month or two, and then your baby will go through a growth spurt and you'll realize that he's busting out of the swaddle because there's not enough blanket to let you make the swaddle tight enough. I have friends who've found big blankets elsewhere, but the only one that I could find was at Babystyle.
  • Experiment with the top fold. We found that making a deep fold that was off-center toward the left was the best way to ensure a long tail for wrapping. But your swaddling technique might be different, so keep trying something new until you find a fold that really works for you.
  • In the same vein, Experiment with baby's position. I used to put my babies a little lower on the blanket and then do a half-fold across the body in order to really get their arms into the swaddle.
  • Consider leaving baby's legs unswaddled. It's usually arm-waving that startles baby awake, so when Alex and Tyler grew in length, we stopped pulling the blanket up. We didn't have a lot of blanket to work with anyway, after the deep fold at the top.
  • Make it tight. This was a little scary at first, but watching The Happiest Baby on the Block DVD helped a lot. The tighter the swaddle, the better baby will sleep.
  • Keep at it. A couple of weeks after Alex was born, we gave up on swaddling and were perfectly miserable from lack of sleep (all of us). But only a short time later, my friend Marilyn convinced me to give it another try and Alex finally slept like, well, a baby. That is, not for long, but he actually slept. Which was a huge improvement.
Don't forget to utilize the other S's from the Happiest Baby on the Block: side or stomach position, shushing, sucking, shaking (jiggling, really). These techniques will soothe any baby if done right, and they're especially great for dad to master since he can't just latch baby onto breast.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Save Money on Contact Lens Solution by Changing Your Lens Case

I've noticed that I use up my bottle of contact lens solution a lot faster than Marc does, and I finally realized that it's because he uses a different lens container. His looks like one of these:


I, on the other hand, have been using this one:


The one I've been using requires a lot more solution to fill the well. I just went to the eye doctor and got a free case like Marc uses, so I've switched to that one for my daily use. I'm now using less than half the solution each night. And since this type of case is inexpensive ($1.99), you'll make up the cost of the case pretty quickly.

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Baby Food: Slow Cooker Prunes

Sometimes baby needs a little help in the pooping department. This should do the trick.

Slow Cooker Prunes
Makes approximately 3 cups or 28 1-oz. cubes

1 lb. (organic) pitted prunes
6 cups water

1. Combine prunes and water in slow cooker. Cook for 8 to 10 hours on low or 4 to 5 hours on high. Turn off heat and let cool completely (I transfer the crock to the fridge for maximum food safety).

2. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the prunes to a food mill and run the prunes through the mill. Alternatively, transfer the prunes to a food processor and process until smooth (if you use this method, make sure there are no pit remnants before you cook the prunes).

3. Optional: for younger babies or if you want the smoothest puree, process the prune puree in a blender.

4. Divide the puree into ice cube trays and freeze. Don't forget to label with date and contents.

Note: Prune puree will not completely harden but will keep for 1 to 3 months in the freezer. Try serving with pureed pears, peaches, or bananas.

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Brilliant Hack: Let baby finger-paint with his food

Parent Hacks posted a great tip from a reader to let parents eat in peace at restaurants:

Put a drop of baby food on a tray and let baby play with it while you eat.

I instantly loved the idea, but we really don't eat out anymore. It's harder with a toddler than with a baby! But after I had fed Tyler in his high chair the other day, I realized that I could keep him content there by dropping a tiny bit of the leftover food on his tray and letting him swing his fingers through it (he did it instantly so there must be something instinctive about it!). I was able to work on dinner and clean up the kitchen a little bit before he got bored (I gave him another drop of food when he had thoroughly spread the first one out - his attention span lasted two drops, or about 20 minutes). What's particularly wonderful about this hack is that the mess is minimal. I'm going to be using it a lot.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Review: Fisher-Price Rainforest Peek-A-Boo Leaves Musical Mobile vs. Tiny Love Symphony in Motion Mobile

Before Alex was born, I did my research and registered for the Tiny Love Symphony in Motion mobile, which was highly recommended by Baby Bargains. We received it as a gift from kind friends, and indeed, there was a sticker on the box indicating the mobile had won some kind of award. There was an exciting moment when Alex was a few weeks old when Marc turned to me and said, "He's actually looking at it!"

When it came time to set up a mobile in Tyler's crib, we put the Symphony in Motion mobile up and Marc pushed the button to make sure it worked. He listened to the first five notes of Beethoven, turned it off, and turned to me, ashen.

Me: "What's wrong?"

Marc: "We can't have this!"

Me: "Why not?"

Marc: "It reminds me of when Alex was born."

You see, when Alex was first born, life was miserable for us. I was having such a hard time breastfeeding and trying to cope with postpartum depression. Alex was always hungry, cried all the time, and didn't sleep from 2 a.m. to 7 a.m. on a daily basis (I can still tell you the TV schedule for those hours). Marc did most of the childcare, since I was either pumping or crying, often both. It wasn't until Alex was about six weeks old that I started taking More Milk Special Blend, my milk supply finally met demand, we put Alex on a two-hour feeding schedule, and things started to look up.

All of this flashed through my mind as I watched the color slowly return to Marc's cheeks. "Okay, honey, let's go get a different mobile."

So off we went to Target, in search of a mobile that had the option of working without music. We couldn't find that option, but we found the Fisher-Price Rainforest Peek-A-Boo Leaves Musical Mobile, which had a "rainforest sounds" option. We took it home, installed it, and Marc let out a huge sigh of relief when he turned it on and heard leaves rustling and birds chirping instead of tinny, melancholy musical notes.

We had to take the mobile down a couple of months ago, since Tyler started pulling himself up, but we loved this mobile while we used it. It is easy to install, and has two volume options and three music options in addition to the rainforest sounds (though we rarely used those). The animals rotating around the mobile are cuter than the Symphony in Motion creatures (there was one monkey on Alex's mobile that had what can only be described as lobster claws for arms). It comes with a remote control that we never used, but which did turn the mobile on and off from a distance.

I think that perhaps the Symphony in Motion might be better for visual stimulation, with its bright colors and black and white contrast. The scraping sound of the plastic pieces that slide along the arms was grating to Marc and me, but it didn't seem to bother Alex (though who could tell), and perhaps its rhythm is intended to be soothing for baby.

I can't say that one mobile or the other was loved by the child that used it, although Alex frequently asked us to turn on Tyler's mobile. If I were to do it all over again, I would just start with the Fisher-Price rainforest mobile for the rainforest sounds option. You'll have plenty of toys that play awful music all too soon anyway.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

More Lead-Related Recalls

It's been all over the news, but in case you missed it, there were more lead paint-related recalls yesterday. The items in question are:Click through for the CPSC press releases, which include pictures and instructions for returning the product.

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Great Debate over at AFM: To Sell or Not To Sell?

I'm sorry I didn't have a chance to post this before I went to work this morning, but there's a great debate going on over at All Financial Matters in the comments to this post criticizing a post over at The Simple Dollar. To sum up, The Simple Dollar's Trent wrote a post advising a reader who was uncomfortable with the stock market plunge to take her money out if it would make her feel better, and then reinvest when she felt more comfortable. AFM's JLP has taken Trent to task for this advice, pointing out that the best way to maximize a stock market investment is to stay put for the long haul. The comments are full of people agreeing with JLP, Trent's response to JLP's post, JLP's response to Trent's comments, Trent's response to JLP's comments, and so forth.

It's interesting to see the strong emotions - especially Trent's, as he stands by his original position despite all the arguments to the contrary. I have to admit that while I usually read The Simple Dollar every day, I glossed over his original post because I'm not interested in the advice he's giving a reader about her investments. I have my investment strategy (index funds, dollar cost averaging, buy and hold) and I'm not looking to educate myself further right now (due to time constraints, as I've mentioned previously).

However, I think the biggest problem is that Trent never mentioned asset allocation. Based on her question, it sounds like the reader's 401(k) is entirely invested in growth funds. She asked if she should move some of that into a money market to wait out the stock market's losses, then reinvest when the market turned around. Trent told her that she shouldn't have an investment that's causing her to lose sleep - so maybe the biggest problem is really that he didn't answer her question. She didn't say that she was losing sleep, she was really asking if she should time the market to mitigate her losses in the growth stocks. In any event, investing entirely in growth funds is a bad idea - hasn't she ever heard of diversification? I think what Trent should have told her is that it would be a great idea to move some of her 401(k) money out of the growth funds - not into a money market, but rather into bonds. Her peace of mind needs to come from diversification - otherwise, she'll just end up stressed from not having any investments that are growing to meet her retirement needs.

This is also a great time to bring up Mapgirl's post on why you shouldn't trust personal finance bloggers. Very few bloggers are experts, and I'm pretty sure no bloggers owe a fiduciary duty to their readers except in extremely rare circumstances. We all just offer our own opinion, based upon on our personal beliefs and experience. But it's up to each reader to make the most of his or her own money.

The debate continues on The Simple Dollar in the comments here.

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Why Our Next Car Will Be New

Marc and I have decided to buy a car about a year from now. We'll be trading in our 1997 Honda Accord, which is getting old and getting a $500+ quote for repairs that aren't necessary but recommended every time we get it serviced. We've only bought one car since we've been together, a 2003 Nissan Altima that we bought new (and will be paid off (no surprise here) next year). Neither of us knows much about cars and we don't have a reliable mechanic. Nevertheless, with a whole year to prepare for our next car, Marc and I were open to the idea of buying used. After all, a brand new car would be worth less than we paid for it the moment we drove off the lot. And with a lot of dealerships selling "certified" used cars, it doesn't seem like it would be that hard to find a reliable used car.

This Cars.com article summed up our position nicely:
In the end, the decision to buy new or used boils down to what you can afford and what will give you peace of mind.
If we could find a used car that would still give us peace of mind, we'd be thrilled. However, our requirements for peace of mind when it comes to a car are pretty demanding - mostly because our knowledge about cars is so limited.

I was thrilled when golbguru posted his series on buying a car on Money, Matter & More Musings. I was less thrilled (though rather relieved) when I read his instructions for inspecting a used car. I could tell that golbguru was giving sound advice and that following his instructions would give us peace of mind. The problem was that I couldn't follow his instructions - I wouldn't know where to look or have any confidence that I was inspecting what I was supposed to be inspecting. Marc wouldn't be any more comfortable conducting such an inspection either. It was something of a relief, really. In order to buy a used car with confidence, we'd have to do way more research and preparation than we have the time or inclination for.

Now when we buy a new car next year, I won't have any twinges of regret (i.e., no thoughts like "I should have looked into buying a used car"). Instead, we'll spend the next year researching what car we'll buy (Marc's job) and financing options (my job - more on that in an upcoming post).

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Money-Saving Tip: Bust open a 12-volt battery

Twelve-volt batteries apparently contain eight button-cell batteries. This video over at Super Punch shows a 12-volt battery being surgically opened to reveal its contents. Who knew? (OK, probably some of you did, but I certainly didn't!)

Cost of the batteries at Amazon:

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Thrush: Risk Factors, Symptoms, and Treatment

Please keep in mind that I am not a doctor and that this post is intended as a starting point for breastfeeding moms. Sources for this post include internet articles, my own experiences, and my friends' experiences. If you suspect that you and/or your baby have thrush, please contact an expert.

A couple of my breastfeeding friends have been diagnosed with thrush, which is a yeast infection in mommy's breasts and/or baby's mouth and/or baby's bottom. Some factors like vaginal yeast infections and the administration of antibiotics during pregnancy or birth can increase the likelihood of developing thrush. It's extremely painful - one of my friends even compared it being in labor. Symptoms may include:
  • intense pain in mommy that lasts throughout the feeding and isn't improved by adjusting the latch or positioning
  • sudden development of nipple pain after a period of pain-free nursing
  • itchy, painful and/or red nipples
  • shooting pains in the breast
  • diaper rash that doesn't respond to usual creams or ointments
  • white spots in baby's mouth that can't be wiped off
  • clicking during nursing or a sudden change in nursing pattern
There are other symptoms, and sometimes only baby will have symptoms or vice versa. And, at least in my experience, having some of these symptoms does not mean you and/or baby have a yeast infection. In fact, at some point with both of my kids, I was convinced I had thrush and I was (thankfully!) wrong.

However, if you do have thrush, it's extremely difficult to get rid of. I think that's the worst part about it. Ideally, both mommy and baby will be treated at the same time. However, most pediatricians don't like treating mommy and most ob/gyn's don't like treating babies, so you'll have to at least call, if not see, both doctors. And some doctors won't treat an asymptomatic mommy or baby.

For treatment, generally, baby is prescribed Nystatin drops and mommy is prescribed Nystatin cream. Over the counter antifungal creams may be used on the nipples but must be wiped off prior to feeding; they can also be used on baby's bottom to treat a thrush-induced diaper rash. For more persistent cases, a doctor may prescribe diflucan for mommy. You may also want to consider live culture acidophilus, gentian violet, and/or garlic supplements. Additionally, you should air your nipples out as much as possible and sterilize all items that come into contact with baby's mouth (pacis, bottles, toys, etc.). Finally, milk that is expressed while mommy or baby has thrush may be fed to baby via bottle but not frozen since giving baby that milk after the thrush has been treated can cause a recurrence.

For additional information, you may want to check out the following links:

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Carpet Stain Removal Tips

This Curbly post has a couple of good links to sites with tips for removing carpet stains. Fabriclink has an alphabetical list of stains and instructions on how to remove them. 3M recommends their own product first, but also suggests alternative solutions for different types of stains.

Previously on CFO: Removing Stains

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Crockpot Portugese Bean Soup

We love the deep glaze on Honey-Baked hams, so I'll periodically buy a quarter ham so we can have sandwiches for a couple of days. The last time we did this, I was left with a sizeable bone-in chunk that I froze for soup, which I finally made yesterday. Delicious! (And super easy.)

Crockpot Portugese Bean Soup
Serves 4 to 6

leftover bone-in quarter ham
1 lb. Portugese sausage, cut into 1/2 inch slices (also known as "linguica"; substitute any spicy sausage)
2 15-oz. cans white kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
2-3 cups chicken stock
nonstick cooking spray

1. Coat the inside of the crock with nonstick cooking spray for easy cleanup. In the crock, combine ham, sausage, beans, tomatoes and carrots. Add enough chicken stock to cover most or all of the ham (depends on the size and shape of the ham and the size of your crock). Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours.
2. Before serving, remove the ham from the crock. Pull the meat from the bone and shred. Return to crock, stir and serve.

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Breastfeeding Tyler - Final Update (I think)

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

As of my last update, I was up to $657 spent on breastfeeding Tyler, $57 over budget. I've gone over even more, having bought another $110 on More Milk Special Blend and $4 on nursing pads. I think - hope! - that this is the last of my expenditures on breastfeeding, although I may need to buy another package of storage bags before I'm able to stop pumping.

A few new thoughts since my last update 2 1/2 months ago:
  • Target was out of Lansinoh nursing pads but had Gerber pads* on sale, so I picked up a package and they seem to work fine. They don't have a waterproof backing, soI definitely would not have worn them for the first few months of breastfeeding. But now they're perfectly acceptable and about half the price of the Lansinoh pads.
  • As Tyler eats more food, I'll naturally start nursing less and less. I plan to be done with daytime feedings around the time of his first birthday. But I'll let him self-wean after that point (although I definitely plan to be done by his second birthday at the latest!).
*Not available on their web site.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Changing the Way We Eat (Again)

I posted about a month ago that I was going to stop cooking most of the time because it added too much stress, what with child-care and time pressures. But after about a month of eating mostly take-out, Marc has voiced concern over the lack of vegetables in his diet. I haven't worried about it that much since I've been eating quite a few salads and Alex almost never eats veggies but eats a good amount of fruit every day. But Marc feels salads don't have enough nutritional value and he doesn't like fruit unless it's in a fruit-and-yogurt parfait. Which basically means we either start spending a lot of money on take-out so we can get food from upscale places that serve steamed veggies, or I start cooking more.

Can you guess which option is more appealing to me?

It helps that I like cooking, but I find it stressful and exhausting to cook under my current constraints. A big problem is that I have only 45 minutes to an hour from the moment we walk in the door after work until we sit down to eat (this is ideal, anyway - pushing dinner back means bathtime and bedtime get pushed back, which means cranky kids and less time for me to get centered before my ownbedtime). Another problem is that I can plan meals that don't require more than 40 minutes prep and cooking time but I need to plan those out ahead of time, and planning requires time, which I have very little of, which is the reason we started eating more take-out in the first place. Finally, even on weekends, I don't have more than an hour at a time to do some serious cooking so I can't really cook ahead for the week, or do a marathon cooking session to stash casseroles in the freezer, etc.

I'm adopting a few strategies to adjust to our new situation:
  • I will cook a few times a week, but still not every day. We'll continue to get take-out a couple of times a week.
  • will keep easy prep veggies on hand - pre-cut sweet potato sticks, edamame, and baby carrots are almost effortless.
  • Not everything has to be from scratch. Although I would rather make refried beans from scratch, I can save time by opening a can. And so on and so forth.
  • I'll use my slow cooker more than once a week. I think I can adapt the recipe MetaMommy recommended and will try it after I get some lamb and mint.
Do you have any other ideas?

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Blog Spotlight: The Happiness Project

I've been reading Gretchen Rubin's blog, The Happiness Project, since the beginning of the year. I came across it by happenstance, and I'm happy I did. Because one trait that I find immeasurably admirable is perseverance in the quest to become a better person. And I think that's what The Happiness Project is about. But here's how Gretchen describes her blog:
I'm working on a book, THE HAPPINESS PROJECT--a memoir about the year I spent test-driving every principle, tip, theory, and scientific study I could find, whether from Aristotle or St. Therese or Martin Seligman or Oprah. THE HAPPINESS PROJECT will gather these rules for living and report on what works and what doesn’t. On this daily blog, I recount some of my adventures and insights as I grapple with the challenge of being happier.
A good example of why I like The Happiness Project is a post from Friday called A key to happiness: ASK FOR HELP. Why? Because other people can help you solve your problems. Amazing. Gretchen wrote about solving a frustrating problem simply by asking for help, something that's all too easy to forget is an option and something that I sometimes find difficult to do.

Every Wednesday is "Tip Day." This past Wednesday, Gretchen shared her best tip for sticking to resolutions: charts that she uses to score herself each day on how she did. She also made her charts available by email. I received them and am trying to figure out what my resolutions are. In the past, I wouldn't have had trouble setting them out, but these days I need some time to think and that's pretty hard to come by these days.

If, like me, you believe that it's important to continue growing and to try to be a better person, then you should definitely check out The Happiness Project.

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

FDA Advisory: Nonprescription Cough and Cold Medicine Use in Children

A few days ago, the FDA issued a Public Health Advisory on Nonprescription Cough and Cold Medicine Use in Children. It's nothing new, but it's worth repeating - especially since summer colds are going around (in fact, poor Tyler's got one):
  • Do not use cough and cold products in children under 2 years of age UNLESS given specific directions to do so by a healthcare provider.
  • Do not give children medicine that is packaged and made for adults. Use only products marked for use in babies, infants or children (sometimes called "pediatric" use).
  • Cough and cold medicines come in many different strengths. If you are unsure about the right product for your child, ask a healthcare provider.
  • If other medicines (over-the-counter or prescription) are being given to a child, the child's healthcare provider should review and approve their combined use.
  • Read all of the information in the "Drug Facts" box on the package label so that you know the active ingredients and the warnings.
  • Follow the directions in the "Drug Facts" box. Do not give a child medicine more often or in greater amounts than is stated on the package.
  • Too much medicine may lead to serious and life-threatening side effects, particularly in children aged 2 years and younger.
  • For liquid products, parents should use the measuring device (dropper, dosing cup or dosing spoon) that is packaged with each different medicine formulation and that is marked to deliver the recommended dose. A kitchen teaspoon or tablespoon is not an appropriate measuring device for giving medicines to children.
  • If a measuring device is not included with the product, parents should purchase one at the pharmacy. Make sure that the dropper, dosing cup or dosing spoon has markings on it that match the dosing that is in the directions in the "Drug Facts" box on the package label, or is recommended by the child's health care provider.
  • If you DO NOT UNDERSTAND the instructions on the product, or how to use the dosing device (dropper, dosing cup or dosing spoon), DO NOT USE the medicine. Consult your healthcare provider if you have questions or are confused.
  • Cough and cold medicines only treat the symptoms of the common cold such as runny nose, congestion, fever, aches, and irritability. They do not cure the common cold. Children get better with time.
  • If a child's condition worsens or does not improve, stop using the product and immediately take the child to a health care provider for evaluation.
Via About.com: Parenting.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

I just signed up for PayPerPost

It's been a few months since PayPerPost sent me an email about signing up, and I've seen enough posts about it that I decided it was time to join. After all, one of the wonderful opportunities that blogging provides is a chance to make a little money. In fact, they're paying me $20 to write this post.

I do have a couple of gripes about their web site. I guess they're trying to be cute or different by using uncommon terminology - members are not "members" or "affiliates" but "Posties." That sounds ridiculous enough that I'm still not 100% convinced that they're actually referring to me. And there's something about the way the site is set up that's just not instinctive to me. It doesn't look right and it doesn't feel right, although I'm sure I could get used to it. It's just a matter of whether I feel I'm getting enough out of the site to make it worth my while to spend a lot of time on it.

Which brings me to an important point: as always, whenever I'm writing a sponsored post, I will clearly disclose that sponsorship to you. In fact, PPP requires at least some disclosure. I just want to assure you that I'll let you know if I'm being paid to write a specific post.

And of course, I'll select opportunities that I think will be of interest to you. I'll also let you know what I think of PPP in terms of making money. I always find it interesting to come across posts like that on other blogs, so I figure some of you would find it interesting as well.

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Tips for Cutting Birthday Party Expenses

I am guilty of spending several hundred dollars on each of Alex's first two birthday parties. We wanted to have big parties for him, inviting the entire extended family as well as all of our friends with kids. The parties were held at play spaces because our house is fairly small and in large part because we wanted the huge convenience of having someone else set up and clean up. And most importantly, we could afford it.

I haven't decided what we'll do for Tyler's first birthday in a few months, but I thought I'd share some of the strategies I used to minimize the costs of Alex's parties:
  • Minimize favors. With no offense intended to my dear friends who've gone the favor bag route, I personally prefer one useful item to a bag of small tchotchkes that are often major choking hazards. For Alex's first party, I picked up sand trucks at Target for 99 cents apiece. For his second party, I got a 3-pack of sidewalk chalk plus holder, also at Target for 99 cents each. I tied a ribbon around each package of chalk and attached a card that said, "Thanks for helping me celebrate my birthday!"
  • Pare your guest list. The play rooms we chose had a maximum number of kids built into the minimum price. By staying under that limit, I avoided paying extra. There was no maximum on the number of adults who could attend, which meant no extra fees for all of the family members who didn't have kids.
  • Have the party at a non-meal time. Although napping schedules play a big part in determining what time of day you'll have the party, you can save a lot of money by having the party between mealtimes. People won't expect to be served a lot of food, which means you can stick to just cake and juice/water. If you're feeling generous, you can put out a fruit platter and chips and dip.
  • Bring your own food. The place where we had Alex's first party didn't allow outside food, except for the cake, and it was poor quality for the cost. With the second place, we had to bring our own food, which helped keep costs down. The best price for a large birthday cake is at Costco, where a half-sheet cake is $15.
You may also want to check this SavingAdvice.com post for tips on saving on birthday parties.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Infrequent Bills Account

I posted recently about moving our emergency fund into a liquid CD account, and mentioned that we only put most of our money market into that account. We left a little more than the minimum required to avoid a monthly fee in the money market, and I found myself asking why I had left the account open. And then it hit me: I could now use the money market to park money for infrequent bills like our numerous insurance payments, property taxes, etc.

I'd read about the idea many times before. The concept is simple. You take all of your non-monthly bills, add them up, then divide by 12. That's amount of money you should be putting aside each month to pay for these bills.

I had tried to do this without a separate account, and just keeping the money in the accounts we pay bills out of. But it never worked - inevitably, I'd eventually need to tap our emergency savings to cover a large bill like the twice-a-year property taxes. But I didn't want to open yet another account just for this purpose. Well, now I don't have to open another account, I'm just re-purposing an account I already have. I'm very excited!

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Mattel's Latest Recall Involves 10 Million Toys

The huge recall of Sesame Street and Nickelodeon characters hasn't even been forgotten, and Mattel has already issued its next recall, this time for some potential lead poisoning but mostly for a potential choking hazard in the form of magnets. This recall affects almost 10 million toys: 7.3 million Polly Pocket dolls and accessories, 1 million Doggie Day Care play sets, 683,000 Barbie and Tanner play sets, 253,000 Sarge trucks (from the Cars movie), and 345,000 Batman and One Piece action figures. I can't believe it, but we actually don't have any of these. Whew!

Mattel's web site has pictures of all toys and instructions on what to do if you do own any of these items. You can see the official recalls on the CSPC site:

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Choosing a Private School

I’m sure I’ll talk more about this topic as my boys get older, but for now, it’s enough to say that we’ve decided that they will attend private school and that it’s going to cost a small fortune. Alex will start kindergarten three years from now, so I’ve begun seriously researching our options. I liked this post at Lifehack, which discusses factors to consider in choosing a private high school. I think they’re generally applicable to choosing any private school, and included one point in particular that I’m not sure would ever have explicitly occurred to me:
How long a honeymoon will you endure? As it will take one to two years of research, Shopping around and open houses to attend, your decision should be given some time to play itself out. Don’t let one negative interaction with one secretary undermine several years of thoughtful discernment. On the other hand, if you see a pattern of poor communication or worse yet, irresponsibility on the part of the school administration, a red flag may be emerging. I recommend giving the school one to two years of honeymoon time.

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How I Track Charitable Goods Donations

I took personal income tax law while I was in law school, and up until 2006, I always did my own taxes. This means I had a very clear understanding of IRS rules regarding the deduction of charitable goods. To have the best records (and therefore the greatest peace of mind), each item donated should be noted, along with its condition, value, date of donation, and recipient. (See IRS publication 526.) In practical terms, this means that I ought to be logging every T-shirt and sweater before it goes off to Goodwill. In practical terms, it means that over the years, I have donated items to Goodwill without logging them and therefore haven't taken the deduction because I can't back it up with proper records.

I've finally come up with a system for documenting every item we donate before it goes out the door. I keep a couple of paper grocery bags in a couple of different places in the house and toss things in when I decide I no longer want them. When the bags are full, I spread the contents out on the floor and take a photo - the way I would photograph a lot of items for sale on eBay. Then I grab an armful and log the items into a simple table I've created in a word processor (a spreadsheet would be even better, I just haven't gotten around to it yet). After I enter an item, I put it back into the grocery bag. When I'm done with one load, I get another armful, until all items are back in the bags and ready to be loaded into the car. I print out the table and attach the Goodwill receipt to it so I know which Goodwill receipt applies to which list. (Goodwill receipts simply note that you donated X number of bags or items in certain categories.) I file the list and attached receipt in my tax file and forget about it til tax time.

A few years ago, I did use the Its Deductible book to log and estimate the value of my donations, but the amounts were so much higher than I thought they should be, I just wasn't comfortable using them as the fair market value. But then, I tend to be quite conservative when it comes to deductions.

What do you do?

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Blog Spotlight: No Credit Needed

As part of the Blog Olympics, I'll be reviewing some of my favorite blogs. Some of them you might already know and some of them you might not.

I've chosen No Credit Needed as my first blog spotlight simply because I admire NCN so much. He was one of the first debt bloggers and has come a long way. He didn't just get himself out of debt and into saving in less than a year. He also started the NCN Network to give others a place to track their financial progress, whether it's debt repayment or savings. It's also a place to celebrate milestones, something people aren't always able to do in the "real world." You don't have to be a blogger to join, and you can be anonymous.

What really made me want to bring attention to NCN is his recent post, Introducing the No Credit Needed Notebook. Apparently, NCN is creating a free resource to help others get out debt. The first page, which he's made available in several formats, is a chart for estimating your debt situation.

If you're in debt and you're not sure how to help yourself, No Credit Needed is a great place to start. And even if debt isn't an issue for you, you'll always find something worth reading.

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Review: Kidco Electric Food Mill

I've been making all of Tyler's baby food and picked up some new equipment for it, including the Kidco Electric Food Mill. It's really a mini-food processor, but I like it better than my mini KitchenAid chopper because it does a much better job of turning the food into a smooth puree. (But it doesn't work as well as a good blender.) I also like that unlike my mini-chopper, the Kidco electric food mill doesn't have a tube with a hole in the middle. Instead, there is just a small stem for the blade to rest on. This set up makes it easier to get the food out. However, tiny bits do get under the plastic that the stem sits in and I didn't realize at first that the stem was removable.

The Kidco electric food mill is extremely easy to clean - I just rinse it out and throw all of the parts in the dishwasher. It's also extremely easy to use, though a little different than a regular food processor. With this device, you put the blade in, then the food, and cover. Then you put the motor on top and hold it down to turn it on.

As with all food processors, food goes flying onto the sides of the bowl. If you use the optional blending attachment, less food ends up on the sides, but you'll still need to scrape the sides down and whiz the contents again to get a uniform consistency. I use the small scraper that came with my mini-chopper or my small OXO spatula.

If you have a baby who tends to be gassy, I would recommend using this device with caution because processing foods until they're completely smooth tends to incorporate a fair amount of air, especially in fluffier foods like bananas. I've tried getting the air bubbles out by stirring vigorously with a spoon but it doesn't really work.

The two cup bowl is a nice size for smaller amounts of food, and this is the first appliance I reach for unless I'm making a large batch to freeze. I especially like this electric mill for food that doesn't freeze well, like pureed bananas and avocado. I'm sure this device will be extremely handy when Tyler starts eating meat and I want to puree a portion of our dinner for him to eat.

Bottom line: This is an extremely convenient product for making small amounts of baby food. However, it's definitely not a necessity if you already have a food processor, blender, or food mill.

Buy it from Amazon (affiliate link) for $24.99 or Kidsurplus (not an affiliate) for $19.19. (Note: I got mine from Kidsurplus with no problem.)

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Affordable Alternatives to Preschool

According to this Smart Money article, the average cost of preschool is $7,000 a year. I'm not the type to leave things like preschool research to the last minute so this wasn't news to me, but apparently the sticker price comes as a shock to some parents. And not surprisingly, there are parents who can't afford it.

The article suggests some alternatives to reduce preschool costs:
  • Parent Co-ops: "Parent co-op preschools are usually nonprofit organizations where parents take turns working in the classroom with the kids and teacher."
  • Family Childcare: "Family-child-care program guidelines vary by state and provider, so parents must do their due diligence when looking for a family child care home."
  • Home school: "Home schooling can prep a child just as well as for kindergarten as a traditional preschool."
One thing that's mentioned only obliquely is sending your child part-time, which can significantly reduce costs.

Another alternative to consider is bartering. Since many, if not most preschools are small, private businesses, you may be able to negotiate some sort of deal with the owner - say, serving as a receptionist in the office while your child's in school. One manicurist I know got a reduced rate in exchange for doing the owner's nails.

Via The Consumerist.

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Five Cheap Meals

All of these meals can be made for $10 or less (excluding common pantry items) and make at least 4 servings:

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Turn Common Discipline Problems into Games

I wish I could be this creative - second best is getting the ideas from others! This Parents article has six creative ways to tackle common discipline problems:
  • Problem behavior: Not listening. Solution: Crank up the music and play "freeze." You child will get used to stopping on command.
  • Problem behavior: Not sharing. Solution: Sit family members in a circle and practice taking turns with an undesirable item like a rolled-up sock. Everyone should hold the item more than once to emphasize "turns."
  • Problem behavior: Ransacking cabinets and drawers. Solution: Take a tour of the house and say with exaggerated gravity "Not for Alex!" or "For Alex!" depending on whether the area is off-limits. This also works well at hotels and friends' houses.
  • Problem behavior: Breaking delicate items. Solution: Use the "E.T." touch (as in the alien from the movie with his one pointy finger).
  • Problem behavior: Not receiving gifts graciously. Solution: Practice ahead of time by wrapping undesirable items, opening them, and coming up with something nice to say about each one.
  • Problem behavior: Inappropriate sillies. Solution: "Pocket" the sillies before entering a serious place.
This post is dedicated to my friend Patti, who also has a two-year-old runner - as in "runs off and doesn't stop when called to." I feel your pain, sweetie!

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Natural Ways to Erase Your Stretch Marks

Ah, stretch marks. One of the many ways in which your body remembers pregnancy long after you give birth. The good news is they do fade relatively quickly. The bad news is they never quite go away. This article suggests some natural ways to naturally erase your stretch marks:
  • grapefruit seed extract
  • vitamin E
  • rose hip oil
  • elicina cream
  • Neem balm
  • sandalwood oil
  • olive oils
I've also heard and read many testimonials to the power of frankincense oil, and I even used it myself for a while. However, the stuff is so powerful that it clashed with a prescribed medication and I erupted in an awful rash. So I urge you to use common sense and caution when trying any of these natural products and to consult your doctor if you have any concerns.

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15 Uses for Coffee Filters

I like coffee but I'm not addicted to it so I rarely make it at home. However, I do always have some coffee filters in a drawer, and now I know they'll get a lot more use. This was my favorite tip:
When making soups or sauces. Tie up flavorful, but unedible, ingredients - such as bay leafs, cinnamon sticks, woody herb stems – in a coffee filter and float while cooking for easy removal. The French call this a bouquet garni.
See the full list here.

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No Time = More Money

Since I've been back at work, I've noticed that there are small things I don't do (or do less of) in order to save time, which saves me money as well:
  • I refuse to spend time doing laundry on workday evenings unless I absolutely have to, so I'm only washing 2/3 the number of loads now.
  • I shave my legs twice a week instead of three or four times.
  • As I mentioned previously, I'm no longer washing my hair every day.
  • I watch less TV (it saves on electricity, but not on cable, which we don't pay).
  • I don't buy books anymore because I don't have time to read.
  • For the same reason, I only have two paid magazine subscriptions (Parents and Cooking Light).
  • Finally, I shop a lot less because I simply don't want to take the time to go to the mall. I keep asking myself, "Do I really need that?" and "Can I use something I already have?" I can't count the number of times I've talked myself out of going to the store.

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I'm Guest Blogging at AFM!

I'm honored to be filling in for JLP while he's on vacation for the next few days over at All Financial Matters, so be sure to check out my posts there. While you're there, don't forget to subscribe to the RSS feed - AFM is a great blog and you won't want to miss JLP's posts when he gets back from vacation.

And don't worry, I'll still be posting here too!

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

How to Teach Your Child Healthy Habits

Setting a good example is obviously the best way to teach your kids healthy habits like washing hands and wearing sunscreen, but it's still important to explain to your kids why it's important to do these things. Most kids learn best when taught the same thing in multiple ways, so instead of just telling your kids why healthy habits are important, Parents magazine has come up with easy experiments that show kids the consequences of not washing their hands, etc. Here are the habits they cover:

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Six Reasons to Take Control of Your Finances NOW

  1. Your health - My dad always said that my health should be my number one priority in life because without it, I couldn't do anything else, like take care of my family or go to work. And if you have money worries, you know that the stress is negatively affecting your health - you're having trouble sleeping, you're eating too much or too little, you may even be depressed. Additionally, research has shown that prolonged exposure to cortisol, the stress hormone, makes you more likely to store abdominal fat, which in turn makes you more susceptible to heart problems.

  2. Your kids - If you have kids, you've probably realized by now that they cost a lot of money. Diapers, food, clothes, toys - all of that takes money. Taking control of your finances will help you insure that you always have money for those things. Additionally, you'll be better able to save for their education. You'll also be more likely to buy life insurance and create a will in the event of the unthinkable.

  3. Your parents - More and more adults are moving in with their parents because they can't or don't want to pay for their own housing. Taking control of your finances will enable you to decide whether this is a wise decision instead of an act of desperation. You may also find, as you get older, that you are able to help your parents out rather than the other way around.

  4. Your future - Taking control of your money means spending wisely and not buying what you don't need or aren't going to use. No more outfits that end up at Goodwill with the price tag still attached - instead, that money can go into a mutual fund, compound until you're ready to retire, and turn into thousands of dollars.

  5. Save the environment - Many money-saving strategies have the added benefit of saving the environment. Turning off lights, driving your car for more years, and repurposing items you already own means less money spent and less natural resources consumed.

  6. Feel good about yourself - Taking responsibility for your finances will free you from fear of debt collectors and worry about whether you'll be able to afford a house or to retire. Instead, the knowledge of how much money is coming in and where it's going will give you a sense of control, something that's probably been lacking in that area of your life. And that sense of control will make you feel a whole lot better about yourself.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Impact of Brand Loyalty

I recently bought a personal hygiene item that I hadn't needed for a while (I don't want to get into TMI territory here), and it got me thinking about brand loyalty because it looked a little different (we'll call this brand "Brand A"). I'm sure the manufacturer would call it "new and improved," but it was enough of a difference to make me think about how long I'd been using Brand A - 15 years - and why I was so loyal to it. Fifteen years ago, I'd tried the different brands' version of this item and liked Brand A the best. And I've been using it ever since. I've always been happy with it and I have been so convinced that it's superior that I've never considered even trying a different brand to see if they've caught up. I always clip the coupon for Brand A when I see it in the Sunday paper and I always try to combine a coupon and sale for the best price. But there have been a few occasions when I've run out of Brand A and had to buy the product at full price.

How much has this cost over the years? Well, Amazon's price for Brand A's version of the item in question is almost 33% more than its price for Brand B's version. So I've possibly spent 33% more than I've needed to over the last 15 years simply because of brand loyalty.

To put things in perspective, this is not an item that puts a noticeable dent in my budget. But this experience has been an eye opener for me. You can bet I'll be looking for coupons and sales for competing brands' version of the same item and giving them a try (actually, I'll look for free samples online first). I'm also going to think about other brand loyalties I have that are causing me to spend more money simply because I'm operating on auto pilot.

What do you buy on auto pilot that you might be able to get for less money if you paid more attention to your spending?

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Siblings and Room-Sharing

We have a three-bedroom townhouse and no plans to move (staying put is a big part of our plan to reach our financial goals). Ever since we moved in, the smallest bedroom has been an office, though for the past several months, Tyler's been sleeping in it. Marc and I would really like to continue using the room as an office, but that, of course, requires that Alex and Tyler share a room. And now that Tyler has started to sleep through the night, it's time for us to think about how we're all going to make that transition.

I found this Parents magazine article on room-sharing particularly encouraging and helpful. I like the suggestion to keep toys of out the room so the first child who wakes up will leave the room in search of them instead of dragging them out and making a racket. We already use a white-noise CD for both boys, but I may increase the volume.

This Babycenter article reminded me that my friend said her kids (who are also almost two years apart) love sharing a room and actually sleep better together. That's what I'm hoping for. Wish us luck!

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Savings for Your Child

This post over at The Simple Dollar about starting a savings account for a new baby suggested putting away $5 or $10 a week for the child until adulthood. Trent did the math, coming up with numbers between $9,000 and $39,000, depending on the amount invested, the type of investment, and the age of the child when the account is given to him.

Since Alex and Tyler are still so young, I haven't quite thought through the system I want to use to teach them to manage their own money. I do plan on giving them an allowance, and teaching them to give, save for both short-term and long-term goals, and to spend wisely. But in the meantime, I'm not putting aside money for them to have when they're older. I'm taking any money that I'd give them and putting it in education funds.

But what I have done is open UTMA accounts for them, using money that was given to them or to us to spend on them. Marc and I agree that we can afford to buy the boys everything they need, and they have more than enough toys to play with. The best gift we can give them is to invest the money and let it grow into a much bigger gift than the original. Because the money is in a UTMA, each child will gain possession of his account when he turns 21. I hope that by then, wise money management practices will come naturally to them.

I like that what Marc and I are doing requires no extra investment on our part. We can continue to devote all of our savings for our children to their education; yet when they turn 21, they'll have access to a substantial sum of money that can help them buy a house or pay for grad school. Other ways to save "free money" for your kids are:
  • Sell their gently worn clothing and used toys and books.
  • Sell your own clothing and books if you're not wearing or reading them anymore.
  • Take the money you would normally spend on holiday and birthday gifts for your kids and invest most of it - especially if they're too young to know the difference.

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Reducing the Cost of Buying Organic

I prefer buying organic versions of many products, simply because I think that the fewer foreign particles in our bodies, the easier it is for our bodies to be healthy. But buying organic can be expensive, especially when it comes to meat. I have a few strategies for cutting costs, the biggest of which is to do most of my grocery shopping at Trader Joe's. Their prices are usually lower, the quality is excellent, and because they don't have sales, I'm not constantly worried about stocking up or stressed out about getting there before a deal expires (though I do stock up on certain items that they often run out of). Another thing I do to reduct the amount we spend on organic items is buy dairy products that aren't actually organic, but come from cows that weren't given the RBST growth hormone. (I do buy organic milk for Alex, though.)

For ideas, check out these articles:
You may also want to check out Rebecca's Pocket, where the author blogs about Eating Organic on a Food Stamp Budget.

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Managing Money as a Team

This post by FMF got me thinking about managing money as a family. As the kids get older, we'll bring them into the equation, but for now, it's just Marc and me making the decisions. And although I often write as if it's all "my" money, I'm always talking about our money (literally, since California is a community property state and everything earned during our marriage is legally split 50/50).

I may be the family CFO, but I never make decisions by myself. Marc and I always discuss how we're spending money, how we're saving money, how we're investing it, how we've provided for the kids, how much insurance we need, etc. My role is to do the research so I can explain our options to Marc and to carry out our decisions once they've been made. In between the research and the execution, though, Marc and I talk about what we want to accomplish as a family, what our priorities are, what our comfort level with any applicable risk is, and how we can best achieve our goals.

These discussions began before we were married; in a way, it was part of figuring out if we would truly be compatible for the rest of our lives. Back then, it was a little awkward to talk about money. But we soon came to realize that we share the same values and have the same goals. Marc is a little more averse to risk than I am, though we are both fairly conservative. We believe in living beneath our means, providing safety nets for our family through various forms of insurance, and spending money on education for our kids.

After the first few money discussions, it became clear that I would be the one handling our family finances. I enjoy managing and learning about money, I love bargain-hunting, and I like to plan ahead. But the main reason I had to be the primary money manager in our family was because I was the only one who felt compelled to balance our checkbook to the penny. If it was off by even one cent, I couldn't rest until I had gone back through the ledger and statements and found the source of the inconsistency.

Marc trusts me to keep him informed and to include him in the decision-making, and I would never betray that trust. We work together to grow our family's wealth, which makes for a happy marriage and an ever-increasing net worth.

How do you manage money as a family?

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

Millionaire Status: It's all about perspective

Boston Gal's Open Wallet turned me onto this NYT article about Silicon Valley Millionaires who feel they still don't have enough money and are working like crazy to keep up with the Joneses. If I had that much money, I'd just move.

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Friday, August 03, 2007

Tip for Adjusting to Your Child's Enrollment in Day Care

My best tip, hands down, for making your own adjustment to your child's enrollment in day care easier is this: Become friendly with the other parents. Exchange emails, report back on each other's kids, and discuss any concerns that come up. I'm lucky enough to work with the parents of many of the kids who go to the same daycare, and it's a huge help. For the first two weeks, every time I saw Tyler at daycare, he was crying when I got there and crying when I left. However, one mother who drops her kids off later in the morning than I do mentioned that Tyler seems so happy every time she sees him, which made me feel loads better. I didn't think he cried the whole time he was there (which my friend's daughter did when she first started), but I also know his caregivers have a tendency to understate the crying. It was such an enormous relief to hear from someone else that he was actually having a good time that I nearly cried.

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How to Survive Going Back to Work (Again)

I've been back at work for about a month now, and things are going okay. I can't really remember the nuts and bolts of going back to work after my maternity leave with Alex. I remember how I felt, but I don't remember what I did. I felt sad, depressed, lost, frustrated, overwhelmed. The typical emotions of a mother going back to work, even though it's (mostly) by choice rather than necessity. In retrospect, I think a big part of it was anxiety over not knowing what to expect.

This time, I haven't been very emotional about it and I think it's because I had a much better idea of what things would be like. I know how the kids' daycare works, I trust the teachers there, and I know Tyler will be fine. Which isn't to say that there haven't been some emotional times.

The hardest thing about going back to work has been time management. Well, actually, the hardest thing has been not forgetting anything when I walk out the door in the morning. The second hardest thing has been managing my time so that I am taking of everyone, including myself, the way that I'd like. In fact, I posted previously about how I'm now cooking less so that I have more ME time, which means I'm a happier wife and mother to be around.

I keep thinking that I need a checklist to consult before I step out the door in the morning, but I haven't gotten around to making one. What I have started doing is getting as much as possible ready the night before work. If I am making dinner, it's usually in the slow cooker, and I load up the removable crock at night so that all I have to do in the morning is pop the crock into the cooker and turn the power on to low. I get breakfast ready. I pack up the non-perishable items that we'll taking with us in the morning - things like work documents, blankets and extra clothes for the boys, and my breastpump. I put all perishables in the same place in the fridge so that I'm less likely to forget something. I also decide what I'm going to wear the next day.

This routine has worked pretty well for a couple of weeks now. The funny thing is, some of the things I'm now doing at night are things that I thought I couldn't do ahead of time. For example, I usually pack some fruit and yogurt parfaits for Marc and I to take to work, and a bowl of fruit for Alex. Preparing the fruit was the most time-consuming part of my morning routine, but the fruit wouldn't keep too well if I cut it up at night. Finally, it occurred to me to take a large baking sheet covered with a towel, and place the washed fruit on it - that at least would reduce the amount of prep time since I wouldn't have to wash the fruit. I started by leaving the fruit on the counter overnight, but the strawberries didn't seem to like it that much, so I cleared most of the bottom shelf in the fridge and leave the tray there overnight. I also discovered that the part of the strawberries in contact with the towel got mushy so I put a cooling rack between the baking sheet and the towel.

What I've learned is that I can make going back to work easier for myself by being adaptable. I take a hard look at the things that are stressing me out and ask how I can make things better. Being kind to myself in this way makes the transition to working full-time again easier because I am able to focus on the positive aspects of being back at work instead of the stress that it's causing.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Can you convert me into a thrift store shopper?

Lifehack's A Basic Guide to Thrift Store Shopping got me thinking. I haven't set foot in a thrift store since I was a kid. I know there are good deals to be had - not only from reading about the gems others have found, but also from knowing what I personally donate to Goodwill (things like brand new clothing that just isn't my taste (gifts) and appliances that work great but just don't get used). So I've compiled a list of reasons why I don't shop at thrift stores to see if I can be persuaded to try it as an adult.
  • I can get equally good deals by shopping sales at retail stores. With a discount off an already marked down price and a store coupon, I can easily pay a mere 30% of the full retail price.
  • It takes too much time to find what I want. You never know what you're going to find at a thrift store, which can be a good thing, but I don't have a lot of time just for browsing. And I certainly don't have the time to keep going back to the store to see if they've gotten what I'm looking for.
  • There isn't much parking available at the stores near us.
  • I don't like combing through a hundred items or more to find one that I like enough to buy. My memories are faded, but I seem to recall stuffed rounders of clothing.
If you're a veteran thrift store shopper, given my concerns, do you think I would find thrift shopping worthwhile?

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Tip for Saving Money When Paying Bills Online

When paying bills online, instead of printing out the confirmation page, take a screenshot of it. You'll save the cost of paper and toner, and you'll save the environment at the same time (and save yourself from having to shred the paper later on).

I discovered this tip by necessity because my computer isn't hooked up to a printer (I use Marc's computer when I need to print) and it's always bothered me that I haven't been printing all of the confirmation pages (not that it's been a problem, but I'm compulsive that way).

Get Screengrab for Firefox here. (Note: I couldn't find a free version for Explorer.)

P.S. If you're not paying your bills online yet, what are you waiting for? It saves time and money and is super easy to do!

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Mattel Recalls One Million Toys

Mattel has recalled nearly one million Fisher-Price toys representing various Nickelodeon and Sesame Street characters due to potential lead poisoning from the surface paints. You can check to see if you have any of the toys at either the Mattel or CPSC sites. The Mattel site has pictures of all recalled toys. It appears that they are only recalling toys purchased after May 1, 2007. The link for contacting them to receive a prepaid label to return a product appears to be broken (or may just be overwhelmed) as I write this. You can call Fisher-Price at (800) 916-4498.

Hat tip: GoodyBlog.

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CPSC's Top Five Hidden Home Hazards

Earlier today, the Consumer Product Safety Commission released its list of the top five hidden home hazards:
  1. Magnets - Since 2005: 1 Death, 86 Injuries; 8 million magnetic toys recalled. Today's rare-earth magnets can be very small and powerful making them popular in toys, building sets, and jewelry. As the number of products with magnets has increased, so has the number of serious injuries to children. In several hundred incidents, magnets have fallen out of various toys and been swallowed by children. Small intact pieces of building sets that contain magnets have also been swallowed by children. If two or more magnets, or a magnet and another metal object are swallowed separately, they can attract to one another through intestinal walls and get trapped in place. The injury is hard to diagnose. Parents and physicians may think that the materials will pass through the child without consequence, but magnets can attract in the body and twist or pinch the intestines, causing holes, blockages, infection, and death, if not treated properly and promptly.

    Watch carefully for loose magnets and magnetic pieces and keep away from younger children (less than 6). If you have a recalled product with magnets, stop using it, call the company today, and ask for the remedy.

  2. Recalled Products - Each year there about 400 recalls. CPSC is very effective at getting dangerous products off store shelves,such as recalled toys, clothing, children's jewelry, tools, appliances, electronics and electrical products. But once a product gets into the home, the consumer has to be on the lookout. Consumers need to be aware of the latest safety recalls to keep dangerous recalled products away from family members.

    Get dangerous products out of the home. Join CPSC's "Drive To One Million" campaign and sign up for free e-mail notifications at www.cpsc.gov/cpsclist.aspx - an e-mail from CPSC is not spam - it could save a life.

  3. Tip-overs - Average of 22 deaths per year; 31 in 2006 and an estimated 3,000 injuries. Furniture, TVs and ranges can tip over and crush young children. Deaths and injuries occur when children climb onto, fall against or pull themselves up on television stands, shelves, bookcases, dressers, desks, and chests. TVs placed on top of furniture can tip over causing head trauma and other injuries. Items left on top of the TV, furniture, and countertops, such as toys, remote controls and treats might tempt kids to climb.

    Verify that furniture is stable on its own. For added security, anchor to the floor or attach to a wall. Free standing ranges and stoves should be installed with anti-tip brackets.

  4. Windows & Coverings - Average of 12 deaths annually from window cords; average of 9 deaths and an estimated 3,700 injuries to children annually from window falls. Children can strangle on window drapery and blind cords that can form a loop. Parents should use cordless blinds or keep cords and chains permanently out of the reach of children. Consumers should cut looped cords and install a safety tassel at the end of each pull cord or use a tie-down device, and install inner cord stays to prevent strangulation. Never place a child's crib or playpen within reach of a window blind. The dangers of windows don't end with window coverings and pull cords. Kids love to play around windows. Unfortunately, kids can be injured or die when they fall out of windows. Do not rely on window screens. Window screens are designed to keep bugs out, not to keep kids in.

    Safeguard your windows: repair pull cords ending in loops and install window guards or stops today.

  5. Pool & Spa Drains - 15 injuries, 2 fatalities from 2002-2004. The suction from a pool drain can be so powerful that it can hold an adult under water, but most incidents involve children. The body can become sealed against the drain or hair can be pulled in and tangled. Missing or broken drain covers are a major reason many entrapment incidents occur. Pool and spa owners can consider installing a Safety Vacuum Release System (SVRS), which detects when a drain is blocked and automatically shuts off the pool pump or interrupts the water circulation to prevent an entrapment.

    Every time you use a pool or spa, inspect it for entrapment hazards. Check to make sure appropriate drain covers are in place and undamaged.
See the complete CPSC release here.

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