Thursday, April 2, 2009

adventures in storage: family room

it's taken 16 months, but we've finally updated our family room to accommodate a family, which includes a young child who needs to play in the same room that we are in. so the challenges were not only to find affordable, attractive storage containers, but also to find containers that are kid-friendly and that will keep their contents - including large bulky items - mostly hidden. unfortunately, i don't have any "before" photos, but here is what we ended up with.
  • 3-shelf bookshelf in espresso finish from target ($80, $64 on sale). this is very sturdy with all wood components (not particle board or mdf), and the trim is actually quite well done.
  • traditional bolga basket from overstock ($47 for 3, these are now sold out... but this site has a good selection of fair trade baskets at reasonable prices). we use this for a small supply of diapers, wipes and cream.
  • woven square baskets (12"x12"x10") from tj maxx ($20 each... these are obviously a one-off find, but i did find these baskets at target, which have approximately the same dimensions). these are for small toys and are sturdy enough to withstand repeated yanking off of shelves and throwing in of toys. our daughter was constantly getting into whatever we tried to put on the bottom shelf of the bookcase, and it finally struck me - why not put baskets there to hold her toys?
  • a storage ottoman also from target ($80, $60 on sale). this is for large, heavy and/or bulky toys. the lid is very light, and the hinges keep the lid right where you put it, which means no little fingers get pinched. it also adds a bit more seating when we have people over.

the ottoman and the square baskets hold a surprisingly large amount of stuff. even more important, they give us (and, eventually, our kids) a clear limit on the quantity of toys in circulation, or at least in our family room. they also make clean-up a breeze because everything has a home, but not necessarily a specific place that it has to be.

so, the grand total to get all our daughter's toys and a few basic supplies tucked away, leaving our family room presentable (and not obviously overrun by children) was about $180. maybe not the cheapest option, but something that fits our decor and that we can be happy with until our kids grow out of this stage.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

the case against breastfeeding?

this piece by hannah rosin has been tearing through the blogosphere, or at least the feminist and mommy blogs. i think the article is best summarized by this, from the lead-in: “…is [breastfeeding] this generation’s vacuum cleaner—an instrument of misery that mostly just keeps women down?” rosin points out that, despite all the public health campaigns and pediatric prescriptions, the evidence on breastfeeding is far from overwhelming. the benefits that have been found are marginal at best. and, yet, breastfeeding has become, “In certain overachieving circles, the ultimate badge of responsible parenting.” the problem then, is that,
The debate about breast-feeding takes place without any reference to its actual context in women’s lives. Breast-feeding exclusively is not like taking a prenatal vitamin. It is a serious time commitment that pretty much guarantees that you will not work in any meaningful way.

so, when it comes to breast-feeding, women are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. but, once you cut through all the sensationalism and all the incendiary comments, i think rosin misses the most important point of all.

changing public opinion so that we are no longer damned as bad, neglectful mothers if we don’t breastfeed is a red herring. the only thing it can do is assuage a guilt that rosin argues we shouldn’t even be feeling. it does not give working mothers any new options; it does not make co-parenting any easier; it does not even promote equity among the sexes. as rosin and moms and dads everywhere know, parenting is inconvenient. and it is hard. we all weigh the costs and benefits of our decisions and then do the best that we can. and we all draw our lines in the sand for what qualifies as “bad parenting.” maybe rosin is right that lines should be redrawn around breastfeeding. but this is a zero sum game here – if one doesn’t need to feel bad about not breastfeeding, then employers don’t need to make any accommodations for mothers who do want to breastfeed. if one doesn’t need to feel bad about spending only a few hours a day with his/her children, then employers don’t need to make any accommodations for parental leave or flex time. what is really at issue here is the age-old question of equality versus equity: have women really succeeded if we can do the same things men can do, but we have to do them in the same way that men do? what rosin wants is to feel good about not breastfeeding, but what she is pointing out is that often times women lack the options to make their own choices about breastfeeding. even worse, she is jeopardizing the gains that have been made to accommodate breastfeeding in the workplace and in our culture.


Friday, March 6, 2009

language development and... strollers?

a recent piece in the new york times documents a linkage between social interaction and a child's orientation in a stroller.
When traveling with their babies in forward-facing strollers, caregivers were observed speaking to infants in only 11 percent of cases, while the figure was 25 percent for those using toward-facing [rear-facing] strollers, and even higher for those carrying children or walking with them.

moreover, this appears to be causal and not an artifact of self-selection (i.e., chatty parents choosing rear-facing strollers).
In a follow-up exploratory study, we gave 20 mothers and infants aged 9 to 24 months a chance to try out both stroller types, and recorded their conversations. Mothers talked to their children twice as much during the 15-minute toward-facing journey, and they also laughed more. The babies laughed more, too.

admittedly, these are small samples (the first study included only 2700 observations) that are unlikely to be representative. still, i find the results very provocative... in no small part because the article (i should note that it is an opinion piece, not a news piece) also states that,
Neuroscience has shown that brains develop faster between birth and age 3 than during any other period of life, and that social interaction fosters such neurological development.

i certainly wouldn't go so far as to say that using a forward-facing stroller inhibits child development, nor would the author, i suspect. but it does make me think twice about the various "things" i use to make life with my child easier, and what the trade-off might be between that convenience and what is best for my child. of course, we now have all sorts of things that could perhaps offset any negative effects of a forward-facing stroller and, potentially, do more to encourage development than i could with my idle chatter anyway.

in the meantime, i'll take this opportunity to plug baby-wearing (my favorite options are the moby wrap, the wallababy solarveil ring sling, and the pouch-style hotsling) and say that riding in the back seat with my 16 month old in her still rear-facing carseat is really for her neurological development, not because i'm spoiling her!


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

meal planning and my kitchen staples

our November WAHM of the month mentioned how important it is for her to plan meals and go grocery shopping with a list in hand. i couldn't agree more, having been, for most of my adult life, one of those people who has to go to the store every time i want to cook dinner (sometimes even more than once). now that we are busier with work and parenting, and cost and nutrition have both moved up on our priority list, we try to sit down every weekend and make a menu-grocery list combination. when i am feeling adventurous, i look for inspiration from food & wine, real simple, and parents magazine. when i am more focused on cost-cutting, i sit down with the grocery store circulars and plan around what is on sale. i have also found that, in order to get help with the actual cooking part, i have to get hubby to sit down and work on the menu with me. otherwise, we either end up with a menu of all "my" recipes that he, of course, couldn't even try to duplicate or my selection of "his" recipes that he doesn't "feel like" making.

of course, the organized menu planning and grocery shopping don't always happen. so i also try to keep a few staples on hand that can be put together into a quick, easy and (moderately) healthy meal.
  • chicken, any cut, can be taken straight from the freezer and boiled and shredded. then you can saute it with taco seasoning, wrap it up and bake with enchilada sauce, or mix it in to a salad (some of my faves include cold peanut, chicken, cucumber and soba noodles and chinese chicken salad).
  • fish is also one of our staples because it thaws very quickly (10-15 minutes in cold water). we use salmon for pan-searing (try it with creamy dill sauce, honey and soy glaze, or a raspberry reduction). mahi mahi is great for fish tacos with mango salsa, and cod is good for curry (or use prepared sauce in a jar for a really quick meal).
  • boca burgers are frozen and can be prepared just as well in the microwave.
  • frozen skillet meals (try bertolli or bird's eye) are inexpensive (around $6-$10 for family size) and super fast and easy but often high in calories, fat and sodium, although i think they are still better than fast food. adding in frozen veggies or some greens (spinach, chard, etc.) is an easy way to make them healthier and more balanced.

we'd love to hear your favorite quick and easy dinners, especially those that can come out of the freezer or pantry when you're in a pinch.


Monday, December 1, 2008

budget-friendly gifts without going to the dollar store

There are some things that are great to buy at the dollar store. Bubbles, sidewalk chalk, stickers, coloring books... I'm sure there are more that I can't think of. One thing I don't think should come from the dollar store is gifts because you always get what you pay for. Money is tight this season for a lot of us and the temptation may be strong. Here are my ideas for meaningful gifts that don't cost much.

  • A book from the used bookstore. Possibilities include: your favorite classic novel, her favorite, a biography of someone she admires. The key is to put thought into it and choose something meaningful.
  • Put together a small photo album of an event or period of time that was special to the two of you and include a letter detailing your memories and why it was special to you.
  • Watch her kids. Not later, but now when she's busy with all her holiday preparations. Take it up a notch by helping the kids put together a dinner to freeze and bring home for another night. Take pictures of the kids working in the kitchen (proof that they can wash dishes?) and put in a small album to give mom. You can wrap the photos to put under the tree if you want her to have something to unwrap.
  • Give her a collection of recipes for all the dishes you make that she raves about and include a non-perishable specialty ingredient for one of the recipes. You could also wrap it with a small kitchen tool if the recipient doesn't have a fully-stocked kitchen.
  • Do you make any crafts that would make good gifts? This isn't always a budget gift, depending on your craft.

I believe the key to giving a great gift is thoughtfulness. Think about who the gift is for. What is she passionate about? How does she spend her spare time? Almost anything you'll come up with will have giftable options in many price ranges. It is a good idea to do your thinking far from a store, you don't want to limit your creativity by only considering what you see in front of you. Start now! It is very hard to use this approach for last-minute gifts. You can either spend time or money to come up with a great gift, but if you don't spend either you're stuck with the dollar store!


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

November Featured Work-at-Home-Mom: Kim Stinson!

Kimberly Stinson is the owner of EcoStyle Baby, Inc. Kim has two boys, aged 2 ½ and 9 months. She lives in Clearwater, Florida with her husband Jason. EcoStyle Baby is a retailer of earth-friendly goodies for baby and family (including Fuzzi Bunz diapers, wood toys by Melissa & Doug, and the Buggy Blankie - an EcoStyle Baby exclusive!). We love EcoStyle Baby because Kim tests (and vouches for!) all the products and makes sure that they are produced in an environmentally friendly and socially responsible way. EcoStyle Baby is also committed to donating a portion of its profits back to the community.

Kim has graciously agreed to answer a few questions for our readers:

Why did you decide to start your own business?
I started EcoStyle Baby as a result of being a disappointed consumer. After discovering there was no diaper service locally, I started to research use-at-home cloth diapers. That lead to research on why I should chose environmentally friendly baby products for my own use. Then I had a hard time finding great responsible products. I thought I could fill a void in the market.

What’s the Buggy Blankie?
When my oldest was just a baby, he often fell asleep during our outings. I hated to take off the warm blanket just to get the 3 point harness off. So my mother and I designed and developed a stroller blanket that solves the problem of transferring a little one from stroller to house without having to take off the warm, cozy blanket. And viola, the Buggy Blankie was born. We sew ourselves using quality fleece. It comes in two sizes: infant and toddler.

What’s your favorite part of being a WAHM?
I love to help other moms. I’ve amassed knowledge and experience with my own kids. So, whether it be finding the right size Hotsling or teaching a mom about why wood toys are better, the moms and their babies are the reason I do this.

What advice would you give to moms seeking to become a WAHM?
Have a solid business plan. I hear of too many moms who don’t do all their homework first. There’s a lot to know about running a business; the products, the taxes, the regulations. Once you get all the details worked out, go for it. It’s rewarding to do something for your family that you enjoy.

What are your best home economics tips?
Meal planning is important. It helps keep order and helps keep our food budget down. Shopping without a list is chaos for us.

Staying tidy is key for my household. We don’t overload our kids with tons of toys (that they don’t really even need) which helps with cleanup time. It never takes more than a couple minutes to get the whole house tidy. Then I don’t feel overwhelmed by it all.

I also am a big fan of clean. I was having a hard time keeping up with all the housework after the second baby arrived, so I decided to splurge on a housekeeping service every other week. It’s amazing how much time I save and don’t have to stress about a clean shower!

There is always a bargain at EcoStyle Baby, and there’s almost always something on sale (toys, puzzles, organic clothing, books). But, for our readers, Kim is generously offering a 15% discount on your entire purchase! So be sure to visit and use coupon code Holiday2008 at checkout.


Monday, November 17, 2008

keeping it all in perspective

my mom once told me, while i was complaining about the various little difficulties in my life, that if my problems could be solved with money, then i should consider myself very lucky. i've always been fortunate to be comfortable, financially, and i certainly don't want to minimize the challenges faced by those who struggle to meet their basic needs. but what my mom said really made me re-think how i spend money and why i try to save money.

because i am an economist by training, let me explain in economic terms: the opportunity cost of buying/doing something is what i give up in order to buy/do that thing. everything has an opportunity cost and, in most cases, it is not just a monetary cost. for example, you might think of the opportunity cost of getting take-out for dinner as just the $25 that could be spent on something else. but, in fact, the full opportunity cost would be less, because i "save" the time i would've spent cooking and cleaning and the marital strife caused by arguing with hubby about who makes dinner more and who should've made dinner today.

so, now, if something is really bothering me, and i can use money to resolve the issue, instead of assuming that i can't afford it, i think about what purchases i would have to forgo and whether i want those things more than i want this particular problem to go away. next time you have to make a decision about what to buy or what to do with your precious time, try taking a moment to reflect on what you are really giving up and what you are really gaining, and see if that gives you a little different perspective.