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 www.ecostylebaby.com 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.


Saturday, November 8, 2008

Washing Cloth Diapers

When I first started using cloth diapers I probably read around 20 different methods that worked for different families. Almost all of them used a top-loading washing machine. Mine is a front-loader. I did find a few mentions of washing diapers in a front-loader and all were negative. I even read where some families buy a top-loader just for diapers if they already have a front-loader. I had neither the money nor the space for that, but I had already committed to cloth. I'm happy to say that it has been six months and I have an infant and a toddler in clean cloth diapers. If you are considering cloth, please don't let your washing machine stop you! Here is the system that works for us:

We have one large pail liner, but no pail. The bag just hangs off the side of the changing table with the bottom resting on the floor. If I change a diaper while the diapers are in the washer I have to set it aside for an hour. It doesn't bother me and I don't have a second bag sitting on the shelf to use for the one hour every other day that ours is being washed. The bag is for wet diapers and breast milk-only poop diapers. In the bathroom I have a diaper sprayer attached to the toilet and a kids beach bucket right beside it. Diapers with "real" poop are sprayed and put in the bucket until wash time.

When it is time to wash I dump the bucket in the washer. The bucket works well because I can reach in the washer with the whole thing and then dump it out, I don't have to touch the diapers. Then I take the pail liner and push the diapers out from the bottom, turning the bag inside out as I go and leave it in the washer. I run a rinse and spin cycle first, followed by the towel cycle (hot wash, high spin, heavy soil, extra rinse). My detergent is plain Tide powder (for HE machines) and I use a little less than half of the amount called for for a regular size load. Once a week or so I also put a cup of white vinegar in the fabric softener dispenser.

All of my covers, fleece liners, wipes, and pail liner go in the dryer on high for about 20 minutes and I hang the diapers. I do toss the diapers in the dryer the next day for about 20 minutes to soften up. No fabric softener on any of it, ever!

Most methods I read suggested washing no more than 12 diapers at a time. My front-loader holds bigger loads than a top-loader so I figured that would go for diapers too. I usually wash about 18 diapers at a time, but I have washed up to 22 with decent results.

If you're thinking about cloth, you may also want to check out how I make my wipes solution.

NOTE: When I originally posted this I left out the info on which wash cycle I use, now I think it's complete!


Thursday, November 6, 2008

baby-led weaning

i have always been confused about the best way to introduce solid foods - when to start, how often, how much, and how to wean from breast/bottle while all this is going on. lately, i've been seeing more and more on baby-led weaning (often shortened to BLW), so i decided to check it out. it is a concept developed by gill rapley, who is a nurse, midwife, lactation consultant and currently the deputy program director of UNICEF UK's Baby Friendly Initiative. the basic idea is to introduce solid foods by allowing babies to self-feed with finger foods, skipping cereals and pureed foods altogether. rapley argues that this is a more natural transition, as breastfeeding is essentially the first form of self-feeding. and what appears to motivate babies to first eat solid foods is curiosity, not hunger, so self-feeding allows for more discovery and more participation in the family mealtime ritual. self-feeding may also improve hand-eye coordination and even digestion by reducing the likelihood that babies over-eat. some of the benefits of BLW appear to be related more to the prescription of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life than to the notion of self-feeding per se.

but what i found really intriguing is the discussion of how a baby's ability to manage solid food (with her mouth, her throat and her digestive system) keeps pace with her motor development.
...babies are not capable of intentionally moving food to the back of their throats until after they have developed the ability to chew. And they do not develop the ability to chew until after they have developed the ability to reach out and grab things. The ability to pick up very small things develops later still. Thus, a very young baby cannot easily put himself at risk because he cannot get small pieces of food into his mouth. Spoon feeding, by contrast, encourages the baby to suck the food straight to the back of his mouth, potentially making choking more likely.

the priciples of BLW are pretty straightforward and easy enough to follow. i have found this site very informative, chock full of resources, practical tips and observations, as well as other people's stories. and, to give you the basics, here are rapley's "10 commandments", as presented in the guardian.
1. Start weaning at six months
The reason spoon-feeding became popular, Rapley says, is that people used to give babies food from as young as three or even two months - and at that age, they aren't ready to feed themselves. But current advice from the World Health Organisation and the Department of Health is that six months is the best age to start weaning as a baby's gut and immune system aren't ready for real food until then. And by that stage, says Rapley, they need the opportunity to feed themselves real food such as steamed (or lightly boiled) whole vegetables, strips of chicken, pieces of fruit or cheese sticks.

2. Sit your baby upright for meals
Choking is often a parent's biggest weaning worry - but, says Rapley, providing the baby is upright, and you make sure they have control over their food (don't put the food into their mouth - let them do it themselves), choking is no more likely, and may be less likely, than it is when a baby is being spoon-fed. Rapley says parents often mistake gagging - a retching movement that pushes food out of the baby's airway - with choking.

3. Offer, rather than push, food
"Humans are designed to regulate the amount of food they need, and that includes babies," says Rapley. At some meals they'll eat very little - at other meals, they'll eat more. The "clean plate rule" that many of us were brought up with is associated with over-eating in adults, she says. Allowing babies to eat what they want means they'll learn to choose the nutrients they need, and to listen to their bodies telling them when they've had enough.

4. Eat with your child
"Eating with people will ensure babies learn more than just how to handle food - they'll learn about taking turns, conversation and table manners. Treat them with the same respect you would any other mealtime companion," she says. That means not telling them what to eat, not wiping their faces and not washing up while they're still eating.

5. Expect a mess
"Mess is an inevitable, fun and important part of babies learning about food," Rapley says. Plastic tablecloths and sheets under highchairs are recommended.

6. Don't get emotional
"If you feel hurt that your child isn't eating the food you've prepared, think about why you're taking it so hard. The real reason might be that you have anxieties about whether you're a good enough parent, and that's the issue you really need to address. Babies don't use mealtimes to play out emotional mindgames, but adults may interpret it as that, because for us there are many emotional tie-ups with food."

7. Don't cut food up too small
Before they master pincer-gripping with their fingers and thumb, says Rapley, "babies need pieces of food that are big enough for them to hold in their fists."

8. Treat mealtimes as playtimes
"In the early days, when your baby is first moving from milk feeds to proper food, mealtimes are more about fun than about eating," Rapley explains. "Your baby will be getting enough nourishment from milk feeds. Food, at this stage, is almost a rehearsal for 'real' eating, and what you want to get across more than anything is a sense of enjoyment. As far as your child is concerned, food is there to be experimented with, played with, and investigated. And also, of course, to be tasted."

9. Don't give food to hungry babies
In the early weeks of eating finger food, says Rapley, "offering a hungry baby finger food is as irrelevant and frustrating as offering a hungry baby a toy". Instead, give them a milk feed first, then finger food so they'll be able to enjoy playing with the food, and experimenting with getting some of it into their mouth.

10. Watch your language
A lot of the language we use around babies and food isn't helpful, says Rapley. "Many parents say things like 'Here comes the train!' because they anticipate the baby won't want to eat the food. Encourage the baby to think of food itself as interesting and pleasurable, rather than associate it with negativity." Avoid labelling babies as good or poor eaters.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

recipes: autumn indulgence

this pumpkin cheesecake has become an instant classic and soon-to-be thanksgiving staple in our household. it has the consistency and tanginess of cheesecake with the flavor and spiciness of pumpkin pie. to cut calories, i made this with half low-fat cream cheese and half non-fat cream cheese. the initial high-temp cooking phase seems to help limit cracking, and bringing all the ingredients up to room temp helps a lot too. i was not a big fan of the pecan-graham crust (be very careful - that crust burns FAST at 500 degrees!), so the second time i just made a regular graham cracker crust (1 pkg (1 1/2 cups) graham crackers, finely crushed; 1/4 cup sugar; 1/4 cup butter, melted; combine, press into pan and bake at 300 degrees for 10 minutes). i also did not make the pecan praline topping, mostly because i was too impatient, but i think i prefer it simple with just whipped cream (and, really, pumpkin cheesecake isn't rich enough already?).

the big problem with this cheesecake is that it takes 5 hours to prepare - 2 hours to dry out the pumpkin, about 30 minutes of actual prep, and 3 hours of baking... PLUS the usual overnight chilling for any cheesecake. i found it worthwhile, but it definitely requires some planning. in the future, i will probably make two at a time and spread the wealth. it is a lot of effort for just one cheesecake, and pumpkin often comes in 29 oz cans, whereas the recipe only calls for 15 oz. i did find a quick alternative, but i haven't tested it yet. it is really quick - no bake, in fact. my guess is that it will be more like pumpkin pie and less like cheesecake.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My 18 uses for Dr. Bronner's Soap

Many people wonder what the 18 uses are that are mentioned on the Dr. Bronner's liquid soap label. I don't know all of the uses that the doctor had in mind, but here are mine.

  1. Hand Soap. Dilute with water and fill a foaming hand soap dispenser (thanks, joyce).
  2. Counter Top Spray. Dilute in spray bottle, clean the kitchen as you go!
  3. Floor Spot cleaner. I don't clean the whole floor with it, but it works great for little messes in between cleanings.
  4. Face wash. I like the Tea Tree for my face. Beware: if you don't have oily skin, you may find it too drying.
  5. Body Wash. I like the foaming dispenser in the shower too, but a wash cloth works well.
  6. Body Scrub. I love this so much, you can read why here.
  7. Baby Wipe Solution. I use a jar that holds about 25 ounces. Put in 1 Tbsp. aloe vera gel and 1 Tbsp. olive oil, fill with hot water and shake until gel is dissolved. Top off with water and 1Tbsp. Dr. Bronner's and swirl around to mix. Pour it over your cloth baby wipes. I use the baby mild soap for this. Don't shake to mix the soap because it will get too foamy.
  8. Baby Wash. Don't get it in your baby's eyes. I got it in my eyes once and it doesn't feel good.
  9. Hand-wash Wool Soakers. Wool soakers are covers for cloth diapers, for those of you who are wondering.
  10. Laundry Stain Remover. Works great, but I did have to treat twice on marinara sauce.

The following are uses I haven't tried yet but am planning to:

  1. Dog Wash.
  2. Car Wash.
  3. Face Scrub.
  4. Make-up Brush Cleaner.

A few uses that are a good idea but don't work for me:

  1. Shampoo.
  2. Laundry Soap.
  3. Toothpaste.
  4. Dish Soap.

How many more can you come up with?


Friday, October 24, 2008

Seven Ways to Cut Everyday Costs

Considering the state of the economy and the impending holiday season, I thought this might be a good time to share some of the ways my family cuts costs year round. Some of these started as ways to be a little more eco-friendly and ended up being big money savers, some were adopted strictly to save money.
  1. Don't buy convenience food. This takes practice, I haven't perfected it yet. You have to plan your meals ahead and make sure some of them are quick and easy to prepare. My 4 year old helps me make a big batch of granola bars from scratch each week for snacks. We don't buy anything that is packaged in individual serving sizes.
  2. Buy in bulk. We have a grocery store with a huge bulk section and the prices are amazing. Some of the things I buy in bulk: Three types of flour, Three types of sugar, All spices, Pasta, Rice, Nuts, Oats, Dried fruit, Chocolate chips, Yeast, Baking soda, Waffle/pancake mix(could make my own, but it's so cheap in bulk!), Parmesan cheese. That's just what I can think of off the top of my head. Most of our time in the grocery store is spent here.
  3. Don't go to or rent movies. We do go to the $2 movie theater in our city once in a while, they usually have movies right before they go to DVD. Other than that we know our tastes pretty well and just buy the movies we want to see.
  4. Be a one car family. The obvious savings here are the basic ownership costs of a second vehicle. The bonus savings are that when the kids and I get bored we can't just jump in the car and go buy our way out of boredom. We never feel stranded at home because if we want to make plans my husband can always take the bus to work, leaving us with the car.
  5. Reward kids with playtime instead of treats. If our kids can be semi-agreeable when we are out running errands we let them play on the climbing toy at Target (our Target is at the mall). Bribing them with a chance to play on the train is just as effective as bribing them with a toy and is totally free. We do all of our errands in one day and it is a lot to ask of the kids so some kind of bribe is usually necessary.
  6. Use cloth whenever possible. We use cloth diapers and napkins. Paper towels are only used for doggy accidents; dishrags or rags are used for all other messes. We save the cost of the products and we make fewer trips to the store so fewer impulse purchases.
  7. Use less laundry detergent. I had read this tip many times but I was a little scared to do it. What if my clothes weren't clean? How would I know? In hopes of not letting detergent build up in our diapers I finally tried it. I was not looking forward to taking a big whiff of what had been a poopy diaper only an hour ago. I had used a little less than half the recommended amount and my diapers smelled fresh! I use that amount on every load of laundry now.
These are some of the changes we've made that have had the biggest impact on our monthly budget. I'd love to hear some of your cost-cutting ideas in the comments, I'm always looking for ways to save!


Thursday, October 23, 2008


we recently took our first family outing to the pumpkin patch at circle s farms. we went with two other families, which have 5 children combined, so i learned a few things on our trip. first, when playing in the hay barn, children must (1) make sure that other children are clear of the slide before going down and, failing that, (2) keep their mouths closed when face planting in the hay, otherwise a parent may end up having to try to catch vomit while making their way out of the hay barn. children should also change clothes after the hay barn and before entering the house, unless you want to spend hours picking hay out of the carpet.

but my favorite tip of the day was a new way to keep kids warm: babylegs! these are exactly what they sound like - baby/toddler size leg/arm warmers. they are perfect for keeping little legs toasty, especially when you are holding your child and his/her pants ride and expose half of each leg. they can be easily stashed in a diaper bag and used on the go, are not as bulky as adding a layer of long underwear, and keep diaper changes easy. the website also suggests putting on babylegs and letting your babe run around commando-style to help clear up especially bad cases of diaper rash. i found a couple of good sales on babylegs at best dressed tot and my tots travel (also a great site to help you travel light with kids!).


Saturday, October 18, 2008

minty body scrub and homemade alternative

I recently splurged on the most wonderful body scrub! Bigelow Mentha Smoothing Body Buffer feels cool and smells refreshingly minty. It's a great wake up after a late night with my little teether. I also love that I can smell it on my husband from across the room for a little while after showering. With two people using it daily it will definitely go fast. The thing is, I am now addicted but don't want to buy a new tube every couple of weeks. The cost and all the plastic tubes going in the trash are both turn-offs. Today I mixed a little sugar and some Dr. Bronner's peppermint soap to try making my own version. It worked great! I don't want to make too much at a time because I don't know how it will last, but I think I'll start with a week's worth and see how it goes. Will the soap dissolve the sugar if I make a big batch and let it sit? For my test batch I just used as much sugar as I thought it would take for one shower and stirred in a little soap at a time until I got the consistency I was looking for. The bonus is that the store-bought one says to follow with body wash and the homemade version has the soap right in it, so one less step in the morning. I highly recommend the body lotion from Bigelow to keep the peppermint tingle going a little longer!


Friday, October 17, 2008

equally shared parenting

the new york times published an interesting piece - on father's day - about the division of labor in two parent families. the ideal of "equally shared parenting" is described as
[Both parents] would work equal hours, spend equal time with their children, take equal responsibility for their home. Neither would be the keeper of the mental to-do lists; neither of their careers would take precedence. Both would be equally likely to plan a birthday party or know that the car needs oil or miss work for a sick child or remember (without prompting) to stop at the store for diapers and milk.

and, in the next paragraph, it is summarized as, "Gender should not determine the division of labor at home." but what i think the article fails to recognize is that the former is only one possible way of realizing the latter. not playing into gender stereotypes does not mean that a couple needs to share everything equally. it's great that some couples have been able to make this work but, from an economist's perspective, it is not likely to be the best use of resources. the most obvious example of this is the observation that, even if two people working part-time could earn as much as one of them working full-time, this almost certainly will not be true in five years when promotions for the part-timers take twice as long or never come at all. and, a family doesn't need both parents to keep track of the same things... that is the whole point of division of labor, and the reason that it makes production more efficient.

i also think it is wrong to imply that "equally shrared parenting" requires equal amounts of time with the children (even though it would be great if more employers made that a real possibility). when only dad works, the parents certainly don't claim that all the birthday presents are only from dad, and we would think it horribly chauvinistic if they did. so, in keeping with that logic, when only mom stays home, the parents certainly can't claim that mom is the only one doing any parenting (not that being the provider of material goods is equivalent to being a parent). in fact, we wouldn't even say that birthday presents are "mostly" from the parent who earns more, so we shouldn't say that "most" of the parenting is done by the person who is home more. if we want society to have a broader definition of work, then we need a broader definition of parenting too. men and women need the same options and to have their contributions equally appreciated, not necessarily to actually do equal amounts of everything.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

new recommendations for vitamin D for kids

the american academy of pediatrics is recommending that children receive twice the previously recommended amount of vitamin D, 400 units (10 micrograms) per day. this includes infants who are breastfed, even if they get some formula (here is more on breastmilk and vitamin D), and teenagers who do not drink four cups of milk per day. vitamin D is
...important in preventing bone loss and fractures. Without it, our bodies can't properly absorb and utilize the calcium we take in. Vitamin D also helps maintain normal blood levels of phosphorus, another bone-building mineral. Vitamin D would be essential if it did nothing else, but researchers have discovered that it's active in many tissues besides bone and may play a role in warding off a range of diseases, including cancer, hypertension, and diabetes. (From "Vitamin D Recommendations" by the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide)

there are many ways to get vitamin D - sun exposure, 10-15 minutes per day without sunscreen, is enough for most people, but people with dark skin and those in less sunny climates need more. as far as diet, milk is a great source, but a child needs four glasses a day to meet the new recommendation. cheese, by extension, is also a good source but not exactly low in fat and sodium. many cereals are fortified with vitamin D, as are some brands of margarine, yogurt and orange juice. oily fish (including tuna, mackerel and sardines), beef liver and egg yolks are also rich in vitamin D. finally, you don't need to worry much about excessive consumption of vitamin D - the tolerable upper intake level is 1000 units (25 mcg) for infants 0-12 months and 2000 units (50 mcg) for children and adults. for more information, see the news release from the american academy of pediatrics and this fact sheet from the national institutes of health.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

more on non-toxic cleaning

yesterday, kelly posted on one of my favorite topics, and something i have been struggling with. oxiclean is biodegradable and great as a laundry stain remover and as a substitute for bleach. i also like it for cleaning bathrooms, but i have to say that nothing cleans a shower as well or as fast as tilex (toxic as hell though!). i tried switching to method cleaners for the kitchen and bathroom but found that they were not as effective, and it was really adding a lot of time to my cleaning regimen. the daily shower spray reduced spots and mildew, but did not kill the bacteria that shows up as pink discoloration on grout. the all surface cleaner required a lot more scrubbing and wouldn't get out even the easiest stains on my countertop.

so i'm still searching for eco-friendly cleaners. as far as non-toxic, i currently like the clorox anywhere hard surface daily sanitizing spray. i started using this because we got a lot of second-hand toys (and preemies are more susceptible and vulnerable to infection), but it has been great for the highchair too, and now we are going to start using it as our all purpose cleaner. my favorite new find is the shark steam mop. i use it to clean all my hard floors, and no cleaner is needed at all... just water! it is expensive (about $80), but totally worth it, in my opinion. i don't have to drag out a dirty bucket and mop (it uses a microfiber pad that you can toss in the washing machine, and you get 3 in the box), it dries much faster, and i can let the baby crawl around while i mop, as there are no harsh chemicals or dirty water.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Links: non-toxic cleaning

My house isn't that clean. I am the first to admit my shortcomings in this area. I have been especially bad lately and here are my lame excuses:
  1. I don't like cleaning
  2. None of my children are currently of the crawling/ face planting on the floor age

Baby 3 is dangerously close to crawling. Imagine the previously unexplored germs and dirt she will find in our home if I don't get busy! The only thing less appealing than seeing my baby lick the floor the way it is now is having her do it when the surface is covered in potentially dangerous chemicals. I've been looking around for some safe products to use throughout my house. Here are some that look good:

I don't know if I'm going to be able to even make it past Halloween before I break out these peppermint scented products from Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day. If you sign up to get their emails they send you a coupon code for $5 off a purchase of $25 or more. I really like their dish soap, but I wish I could buy a bigger size to refill my bottle.

Seventh Generation offers a wide variety of cleaning products. I have only tried the dish soap and it didn't work as well as Mrs. Meyer's for me. I think I'll try their toilet bowl cleaner next. You can print coupons from their website if you register.

I can't wait to try the Modern Mermaids products, the all-purpose concentrate is especially intriguing.

A separate post is probably in order to discuss all the ways I use Dr. Bronner's liquid soap. I love it. For now I'll just say that if something needs to be cleaned you can probably use Dr. Bronner's. I don't love it for washing dishes (apparently my current obsession?). I have ordered Dr. Bronner's Sal Suds to try on my dishes instead but it won't be here for a couple of days.

If you want to know exactly what is in your cleaners you could always make your own with vinegar and baking soda. You'll have a clean, healthy home and save some cash while you're at it!


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

reduce the risk of SIDS

a new study published in the october issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine suggests that using a fan to circulate air during sleep reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. the study was based on interviews with mothers of 185 infants who died from SIDS and mothers of 312 living infants of similar race and age. fan use during sleep was associated with a 72% reduction in SIDS risk, and the reduction in risk seems to be more pronounced when other risk factors (warmer room temperature, prone/side sleeping, co-sleeping, no use of pacifiers) are present.

click here for the complete journal citation and abstract.


Monday, October 6, 2008

Travelling light with kids

I am obsessed with travelling light. Specifically, I want to take my family of five on a trip bringing only carry-on luggage. Not just any trip, though. We're talking a week at a theme park resort with three small kids. That will be our next big vacation and it's a little over a year away, the kids will be 5, 3, and 1.5. Call me crazy.

My husband and I both love logistical challenges, so packing for family vacations is a bit of a thrill for us. We like to see if we can do better than the previous trip and we break it down on the flight home to make notes for next time. After our last vacation I started my carry-on obsession and I think if anyone can do it we can. It may be hard to get the baby to wear a backpack with all her stuff in it, but I think the other two will love it.

Research so far has led me to Babies Travel Lite, a service that allows you to order all your baby supplies and gear online and have it delivered to your destination. A truly brilliant creation! They have everything you could want and even cater to special requests. You can also arrange to use the box your order comes in to ship things home and possibly travel even lighter on your return. I love the idea of getting diapers, wipes, and baby food delivered because they will be used up during the trip. Items that I already have at home like pacifiers, spoons, and strollers I would probably not buy. What am I going to do with it when I get home? If you are visiting family or friends who don't have children in the home this could work out great. Check with them first and see if they will store it for you until the next time you visit. I would offer to let them share your baby gear with any of their other house guests when you aren't there, too.

Another option is to check for local baby gear rental companies in your destination city. You can rent big items such as strollers, cribs, high chairs, and car seats.

Not everyone is a frugal do-it-yourselfer like I am, but I plan on checking with my hotel to see if I can ship a box of baby stuff I already own to arrive the day before we do. I will put in a roll of tape and a return shipping label also so that we can buy way too many souvenirs and not worry about carrying it all on! I will only ship diapers and wipes there so I don't feel like I'm cheating on my carry-ons only goal, but the souvenirs are a must.

Here are a few other things I've done in the past to cut down on luggage:
  • Bring only one blankie/lovey plus one toy per child
  • Do laundry at your destination (it is actually nice at the end of the day to leave the kids in the room with dad and take a magazine to the laundry room!)
  • Let the baby sleep in the stroller- this is not as bad as it sounds. She was two months old and the stroller opened flat and was completely enclosed like a tiny bassinet. Our 21 month old son used the hotel's crib and we didn't have to bring one at all.

A final thought on packing light for children: You do not need to bring a travel size of every possible product you may need. Just bring enough to hold you over in a pinch- a couple band-aids, one pacifier if you have a baby who uses one, pain reliever only if you have a teether (definitely bring some for yourself, though!), diaper rash cream only if your baby is prone to rashes, you get the idea. The cost and space of bringing everything you could possibly need is likely greater than the cost of buying the one thing you really do end up needing. If you don't use something regularly at home there's a good chance you can make it through your trip without it.


Saturday, October 4, 2008

great computer tips!

david pogue, the technology writer for the new york times has put together a terrific little cheat sheet of tech tips for the basic computer user.  as someone who works exclusively on computers (and elects to spend more time on the computer blogging), i didn't think i'd find much that i din't already know... but i did! here are a few examples:
* You can tap the Space bar to scroll down on a Web page one screenful. Add the Shift key to scroll back up.

* Google is also a units-of-measurement and currency converter. Type “teaspoons in 1.3 gallons,” for example, or “euros in 17 dollars.” Click Search to see the answer.

check out the reader comments for more useful tips.


Friday, October 3, 2008

sales of the week

dr. bronner's liquid castile soap at the vitamin shoppe on amazon: $8.34 for 32 oz., regularly $14.59 ($6.99 for 16 oz., $4.28 for 8 oz.), in lavender and peppermint.  tea tree, aloe vera mild baby, almond and eucalyptus scents are also discounted, as are the bar soaps.

jack and lily shoes at cupcake.com: $14.00/pair ($28.00 regularly), styles and sizes are pretty limited.

20% off your entire order at ecostylebaby.com when you use the coupon code "oct08": earth-friendly products including two of my faves - moby wraps and fuzzi bunz.


Thursday, October 2, 2008

What would it take for you to give up your children?

There is nothing that could ever cause me to give up any of my children. I have a hard time even letting them out of my sight most of the time. Imagine my shock when I read this New York Times article earlier today about parents in Nebraska dropping their children off at local hospitals forever. Nebraska was the last state to pass a safe haven law. This kind of law is meant to prevent dumpster babies, but Nebraska's version applies to children of all ages. Basically, a parent can abandon their child at a hospital with no worry of prosecution. Fifteen children were left in September.

It makes me sad. I am sad for these children because they are old enough to know and (unconditionally) love their parents and to know that their parents are giving them up. They will have memories of their lives before they were abandoned. Some are teenagers. I was a less-than-perfect teenager, but I can't imagine my parents just washing their hands of me. I am sad for the parents, too. I'm sure they love their children. How desperate must one be to abandon a child after raising and loving them for years. Why can't these parents get the help they need? Maybe they don't know where to look, maybe it's not there, maybe they found it but still couldn't make it work, who knows. It is sad no matter what the reason.

I want to be outraged or angry. I want to say these parents never should have had kids in the first place or should have tried harder before resorting to this. I can't bring myself to be anything but shocked and sad. I want to hold my kids a little tighter and wish I could protect them from a world where things can go this terribly wrong.


a new use for breastmilk?

about a week ago, people for the ethical treatment of animals (PETA) asked ben&jerry's to replace the cow's milk in their ice cream with human breast milk. this was, quite obviously a publicity stunt, and it's old news, so why am i blogging about it?  to promote one of my favorite causes - milk banking!  the human milk banking association of north america (HMBANA) was established in 1985 to promote, protect and support d onor milk banking.  basically, moms can donate their extra milk to a local milk bank that meets HMBANA standards.  that milk is then screened, homogenized and pasteurized.  recipients are infants who cannot have their own mother's milk (perhaps because of inadequate supply, medication/medical condition) and who have a special need for human breast milk (digestive problems, failure to thrive, prematurity, allergies, etc.).  much of the milk is distributed to neo-natal intensive care units in hospitals, and other babies can receive donor milk with a prescription.

my daughter was born 7 weeks early and spent 5 1/2 weeks in the nicu.  luckily, i was able to establish a good milk supply, so she didn't need donor milk.  in fact, i had the opposite "problem" - i was strictly pumping for the first couple weeks and ended up with a big oversupply of milk.  at first i thought i'd save it for when i went back to work, but i soon discovered that, unless i bought a dedicated freezer, there was no way i could store it all and store it safely for that long.  so i became a milk donor.  but, i have to confess, it wasn't just our of the kindness of my heart.  the milk bank provided me with containers - which can get expensive, especially if you want to store large quantities for a long period of time - and lent me a fancy (hospital-grade) electric breastpump (medela's lactina plus - way nicer than what i could afford, and i ended up not having to buy a pump at all). i made my last donation when she was 10 months old and, altogether, donated about 1100 ounces.

so, if you are fortunate enough to have extra milk (remember that lactating burns lots of calories too!), please think about donating it.  it is very easy to become a donor.  you just need to go through a blood screening (at the bank's expense) and provide a short medical history.  the bank will also check with your physician and your child's pediatrician for approval.  many banks will also cover the cost of shipping your milk if there is not one nearby.  even if you just spend 10 more minutes each day pumping, that will make a huge difference for a needy baby out there.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Cost of Being Busy

Ask anyone how they are these days and there’s a good chance the answer is "busy." Family, household responsibilities, job, kids’ activities, hobbies, volunteer work, social events, the list of things a person can be busy with is endless. I think there may even be some people out there who are involved in a contest to see who can be the busiest, although I have no proof of it. What could the prize possibly be?

What is the cost of all this busy-ness? It is mentally and physically exhausting to be on the go from morning to night, for sure. How many of us consider the financial cost of our jam-packed calendars? Almost everything we do has a price tag on it. Do you drive a car to all of your activities? Are you involved in anything that requires some form of special clothing or equipment? Is it often easier to pick up food while you’re out rather than take time to cook at home? The costs involved in a busy schedule will, of course, be different for everyone. The biggest non-budgeted cost in my day used to be food for myself and the kids when we were out running errands. I tended to either be in too big a hurry getting out the door to spend time packing lunches or be totally wrong about how long my errands would take and find us still out at dinner time. I have made a real effort to plan our errand days very strategically around meal (and nap) times and it has made a difference in the bottom line.

Here are a few questions to get you thinking about where your busy schedule may be draining your budget:
  • How close are your activities to your home?
  • Are you missing out on any car-pool opportunities?
  • Have you bought equipment that you could have borrowed?
  • How many activities do your kids need to be involved in to be happy?
  • Do you regularly meet at a coffee shop or restaurant with someone you could just as easily see at your home, the office, a park?
  • Do you pay someone to do something you could easily do yourself if you had the time?
  • Are there activities that you create extra costs for? For example, I find it nearly impossible to leave my house without stopping at my favorite local coffee drive-through.
It may be worthwhile to take a look at your calendar. Maybe you can free up some time and money to do more things that are truly important to you.


how healthy are your home-cooked meals?

ever wonder how your lasagna stacks up against a big mac, nutrition-wise?  or whether mom's pot roast is more fattening than dad's chili?  i finally found a free online recipe analyzer that gives you the nutritional value of any recipe you put in - complete with calories, fat, sodium, vitamins and minerals, just like the labels on prepared foods.  the calorie count site (part of about.com health) also has lots of helpful tools for diet, nutrition and exercise (one of my faves is the unit converter... how many pounds of apples do i need to get 6 cups anyway?)


Saturday, September 27, 2008

money saving tip: banking without a bank

ING Direct offers checking and savings accounts that pay interest at a much higher rate than traditional brick-and-mortar banks, including on your checking account, even if you only have $1 in there!  the rate you get depends on how much money you have in the account (1.75% for less than $50,000, 3.3% for $50,000-99,999 and 3.5% for $100,000+).   and the interest rates are variable,  so they are updated periodically according to market conditions (4.25% about a year ago, 3.50% APY now).  the interest rates are high because there are no bank branches and no paper checks... everything is done online.  with an Electric Orange checking account you can pay virtually any bill online by entering the billing address and your account number. you can also send electronic or paper checks by entering the name and address (and bank account info for electronic checks).  there are no fees and no minimum balances.

last year, we used the account for 8 months and earned about $175.  this year, i figured out that i can earn a lot more interest by using a linked savings account and taking advantage of the free transfers.  the savings account pays 3.00% APY, which is also variable but does not depend on your balance.  so now i keep my money in an ING savings account and just transfer it over to the checking account the day before a bill is to be paid.  you can also schedule recurring transfers to make things easier.

now a couple of caveats/complaints.  you do get debit cards, but the ATM network is not that great.  so we still have our brick-and-mortar bank account for easy access to cash, and it allows us to keep paper checks on hand, just in case.  ING's bill pay system sucks - it doesn't allow you to get your statements  or even reminders online, so that makes online bill pay a lot less convenient.  you are also warned to allow 3-5 business days for payments to be processed, so this wouldn't be good for last minute types.  it also means that they get to cheat you out of a little bit of interest because there are a few days in which your money is neither in your bank account nor in the possession of your payee.  so, for very large bills, i arrange payments from the company's website, which usually requires less than one business day for processing.

oh, and rest assured - your deposits at ING Direct are FDIC insured.