Sunday, April 30, 2006

Recommended Reading

by request

I'll be honest, I don't have a lot of 'parenting' books on my shelf. Since I have studied families, child development, and education, I have read a lot about these subjects. And I have been a parent for almost ten years, so my past experience is enough to write a couple books. Additionally, other parents and the internet are fabulous resources. I do own a few books--mostly reference books on pregnancy and breastfeeding.

But I do have some books that I highly recommend.

Our Babies Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent
by Meredith Small
This book is a must for any new or vetern parent. Read this one as soon as you realize you want to or will be a parent. Small takes the reader through several aspects of parenting (e.g. feeding, sleeping, play) in relation to cultural traditions of many cultures including the US. This book allows you to think critically about your parenting choices and why you make those choices. Its great book to read to reflect upon yourself as a parent.

Entertaining and Educating Your Preschool Child
by Robyn Gee and Susan Meredith
A good book to help you figure out what to do with that bundle of joy. It answers the question of 'how do I play with my child'. Including developmental information for ages 0-5 years, this book describes numerous activities to do with your child to foster his development. It is super parent-friendly.

The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Baby Sleep Longer
by Harvey Karp
This is a nice book to learn how to relate to your child and make her feel good. Written by a pediatritcian, he clearly explains why and how to soothe your baby.

The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night
by Elizabeth Pantley
This book is an interesting perspective on sleep. It includes information on babies' sleep cycles and many options for getting some sleep (including co-sleeping). Be warned, this technique takes hard work--like any sleep training, and strong consistency. It also may work for one baby and not the next (like in our house).

The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know about Your Baby from Birth to Age Two
by Martha and William Sears
I like Dr. Sears' books and perspective on parenting. He utilizes 'attachment parenting' as his major philosophy. Again, this perspective may not work for your family or every child. His website is

First Meals: The Complete Cookbook and Nutrition Guide
Annabel Karmel
This is a good book to to guide you through making your own baby food. Although there are some questionable recommendations from my perspective (I don't push solids too much until the babies are 9-12 months old and I avoid dairy the first year); there are a lot of fun and great recipes for all ages.

You should know by now that I love the library. So, I urge you to go and spend some time in the baby book section. There are a lot and you should find books that match your personality and outlook on parenting as well as your baby's temperment. Do not feel obligated to follow all of anyone's advice. Do what you feel is best.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Bring the Restaurant Home

We don't eat out much. But we miss a couple things from restaurants--soup and salad bars. We love to have soup and salad dinners--they are healthy and economical. So here are some ideas to bring the 'restaurant-style' home.

Fake-Out Cream Soups
This recipe is for Cream of Cauliflower Soup or Cream of Brocolli Soup but its a lot healthier and super fast. Pureeing soups gives a creamy texture without adding lots of cream--actually no cream. Simply topping soup with cheese instead of adding it while cooking, reduces the fat as well.

2 tablespoons olive oil or 1 tablespoon oil and one butter
1 medium onion, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 head of cauliflower or 1 bunch of brocolli, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
4 cups broth or water (if using water, simmer extra 10 min)
1 cup shredded cheese

In large pot, heat oil. Add onion, carrot, and celery. Sautee five minutes. Add garlic and cauliflower or brocolli, and salt and pepper. Cook 5 minutes. Add flour and stir well. Cook 5 minutes. Add liquids. Cook on high and cover. Bring to a boil. Drop heat to low and simmer 5 minutes. Using immersion blender, puree soup (or ladle into blender and puree in batches). Leave some vegetable chunks. Ladle servings into bowls and top with 2 tablespoons cheese.

Makes 6 servings.

*You can also make Baked Potato Soup by adding 3 baked potatoes (leftover or made in microwave so save time). And so not puree but use a potato masher to smooth out soup. Top with cheese, bacon, and green onions.
**Experiment with adding spices or fresh herbs to change flavors. Cummin, curry, cilantro...

Great Fruit Salad
Your favorite fruits (we like apples, berries, bananas, melon)
Add chopped nuts--almonds are great!
Add minced mint and ginger
Add the rind of one lemon or lime and its juice

Super Salad
Start with your favorite greens. Add as many fruits and veggies as you like. Here are some of our favorite combos.
*Apples, dried cranberries, almonds
*Carrots, peas, avocado, almonds
*Veggies, nuts, dried ramen noodles
*Pears, nuts, blue cheese, raisins
*Peas, pesto
*Brocolli, carrots, peas, apples
*Beans (chickpeas, kidney beans, green beans)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Little Things

When people ask me how I am, I almost always answer with either "busy" or "tired". Things get so crazy around here sometimes. Soccer practice, PTA meetings, meal preparation, shopping, laundry, vacuuming... Having three kids different ages is definately a challenge. Each child needs such different things. Our nine-year-old needs to research her science project. Our two-year-old is potty training--enough said. And our baby is learning to use his body to obtain and eat everything in the house.

So through all this chaos, you have to sit back and enjoy it. So here is a list of ten things that happened in between and during the chaos that make it all worth it.

1. Our 8-month-old finally figured out how to crawl and can now smoothly transition from laying down, sitting, crawling, and standing!
2. My husband mistakingly dressed the baby in our 2-year-olds clothes and vice versa. And neither one cared.
3. Our daughter sweetly helped our two-year-old during his first Easter egg hunt.
4. Our daughter played goalie at her soccer game.
5. We have an owl in our yard and we all stop and listen to it.
6. Our two-year-old helped feed the baby cereal.
7. It was nice enough to play outside--so we are out every day!
8. The kids all sat and played musical instruments together.
9. Our two-year-old learned how to say our last name (which is a complicated one!).
10. Our daughter made us a ceramic toothbrush holder in art class. She hid it from us in a gift bag to find with our Easter baskets.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Playing with your child on the cheap

Have you been to the toy store lately? There are SO many toys now. I swear when we were kids there were not as many toys and for sure, our household didn't have that much. After the holidays, my kids had so much and I couldn't believe it. To be honest, I don't remember a lot of my childhood toys. I am sure my parents and relatives provided tons of things to play with but actual manufactured items....I had dolls and stuffed animals. I even asked my mother about it and she couldn't remember any of my specific toys either. However, my mom and I can clearly remember my brothers' toys including He-Man stuff (we had the Castle Greyskull and this really smelly skunk-man) as well as a bunch of Star Wars toys. Perhaps I was the forgotten third child or it was assumed I wanted to play with my brothers' things, or perhaps I played with other things such as soup cans, boxes, pots and pans, and books.

My kids have lots of toys. A lot of things that require a lot of batteries (batteries make a good baby shower gift!). My son has dozens of trucks and trains and cars. My daughter has so many Barbies (30 at one point) and little craft kits (beads all over!). Even the baby has a lot--but his favorite toy for awhile was a washcloth. And even though our two-year-old really loves his train set...the kids love the simple things such as paint, blocks, empty boxes, dancing, playing outside, cooking, coloring, and reading. So I have vowed to do a major downsize of your toy stash this spring.

To that end, I thought I would share some of our favorite activities and toys that are fun and inexpensive.

1. Cheesy Sticks
This is a favorite that I picked up from a developmental therapist.
Take an empty and clean parmasan cheese container and 10 or so popsicle sticks. Allow your child to put the sticks into the top of the cheese container. Start with the lid off. Then progress to the large opening side...then the three small hole side. This will work on the child's fine motor skills or hand and finger skills as well as hand-eye coordination.
By using colored sticks or writing letters, pictures, or numbers on them--the child can sort them ('find all the blue sticks'), make a pattern ('let's do a pig stick then a sheep stick'), or count them as he puts them in.

2. Bouncy Ball
Who doesn't like to play ball. Go out and invest in an exercise ball or pilates ball. Make sure to get one that best fits your size. This is a great thing for everyone in the family. My husband prefers to bounce on the ball than rocking in a rocker when dealing with a fussy baby. It is also great to restore your core muscles after the baby (just sit with your baby and make circles with your hips). I love to exercise with it...but that's a different post.
*Sit on the floor with the ball in between your legs.
1. Lay your baby on top of the ball on his belly. Gently bounce the ball. (this will strengthen the baby's upper body and its fun!)
2. Roll the ball slightly so that the baby almost is standing on the floor, you holding his hands over the top of the ball, and then roll him back to the top (like #1).
3. Sit the baby on the top of the ball. Hold either her torso or top of the thighs. Gently bounce the ball (this is help strengthen your baby's core so that she can sit by herself).
4. Have the baby sit in your lap. Pat the ball with your hand. Help your baby pat the ball. Take turns patting the ball. (this will encourage turn-taking and imitation).
5. Sit with your baby close to a wall--a few feet. Roll the ball with your baby toward the wall (it will bounce back). (this is help your child learn to predict).

3. Paint
Most kids love painting.
You can make paint out of lots of things:
Jello (with just enough water to make a thick paint)
Pudding (with just enough milk...)
Powdered tempera paint (you can make it as thick or thin as you want)
Dish or hand soap with food coloring
Yogurt with food coloring

Try painting outside or in the bath tub for easy clean up.
Paint on old wrapping paper, paper bags, construction paper, the sidewalk, bath tub.

4. Box town
We always have boxes around. Let your kids do whatever they want with them. Or help them (for younger kids, you can do it and surprise them one day). Make them into cars, trains, planes, houses, mail box, refrigerator....the possibilities are endless.
I usually limit the lifetime of our box creations to 1 week--that's about how long I can stand to have a big box in the living room or bedroom.

5. Kitchen Fun
By now you realize we spend a lot of time in the kitchen. And hopefully by now you have reorganized your kitchen so that it is safe for the kiddos.
1. Pull out the pots and pan and wooden spoons and make a drum set for the kids.
2. Have them organize the pantry for you--soup in one spot, pasta in another.
3. Have them help make a grocery list--have them check the pantry, what's missing, count what you have.
4. We have lots of fun magnets and magnetic toys on the frig and dishwasher.
5. Kids can stack boxes or can to make a castle out of cans.

Some good resources...
Entertaining and Educating Your Preschool Child by Robyn Gee and Susan Meredith (a great book for 0-5 year olds (one section for 0-2 1/2 years; one for 2 1/2-5 years) including what to use in your house to foster development).

Parenting Magazine--they have a section each month on ideas to use recycleables (e.g. toilet paper rolls, milk jugs, paper napkins).

Thursday, April 06, 2006

State of the Household Address

by request

We made the decision for me to stay home with the little ones while my husband works a full-time job. This puts us on only one income. Therefore, maintaining a tight budget is extremely important. Here are some things we do to keep our expenses low.

1. Food
It is estimated that Americans' second largest monthly expenditure is food (after mortgage or rent). (some of these tips are from the Chicago Tribune--although I unfortunately cannot find the article again)
*We don't eat out much. In addition to having three kids who won't sit for more than 20 minutes at a restaurant...eating out is terribly expensive (this includes driving through, ordering in, or stopping by). Additionally, making food at home is faster. By the time you decide on what everyone wants, order, wait, drive home, lay it out on the could have made a simple and healthy meal.
*If you do eat out....don't order drinks. Water is good for you and free.
*Order a meal and only eat half (this will save your waistline too!). Save the rest for lunch.
*Many restaurants offer 'kids eat free' program. Do some research and find which do and don't.
*Also, look in those advertisements you get in the mail (that I often recycle). They often have coupons for local restaurants.
*Be a conservative tipper--unless the service is excellent, don't feel bad to keep it at 15%.
*Don't order food for your 2 year old unless you think he will actually eat it. Otherwise, ask for an extra plate and give him some of yours (this is NOT meal sharing and it should not cost a thing).
*Make it at home!!!
I love coffee but paying $3 for a latte is silly and is now a nice treat once in awhile. Instead I make a cup at home for pennies.
I make our own babyfood, baked goods, pasta sauce, soup, chinese, pizza....

*I am a great shopper.
*I read through the grocery store's weekly advertisement before going to the store (its online at our store). Most of the items on the ads are at great prices (often a loss to the store). So, stock up. I used to think...why do I need 10 bottles of apple juice. But...if you buy them when they are 10 for $10 and use them as will save about $1.50/bottle. Cereal is a good one to stock up on as well.
*Try to shop alone. The more people with you, the more requests and impulse buying will occur.
*Buy an extra freezer and buy meat when its on sale and freeze.
*Coupons are only worth it if you would normally buy the product anyways.
*I also almost always buy the store-brand. I am picky about a couple of items (shampoo, mac and cheese) but otherwise, its always cheaper (even when the brand name is on sale)
*Also, I buy reduced-priced baked goods. Our grocery store bakery puts 'old' baked goods half-off after a day. They are still fresh and taste better that they are cheaper. Our store also reduces the rotissary chickens after 7pm (pick one up with your milk and have the next day).

2. Beauty
*Ok, if you know me personally, you know that I am not exactly a beauty queen. I am very simple in my fashion and beauty regime. So, I cut back on make-up, hair products, and perfume (I don't use them really--I do wear make-up but not on a daily basis). I also do not color my hair--which saves me tons of money!
*As for haircuts....I do them at home for everyone but myself. We invested in a set of hair clippers ($15). I cut my husband's hair with the clippers and my son and daughter's with a good pair of hair sissors (that came with the clippers). I go to a hair stylist to get my hair cut a few times a year--and mostly to the discount places.

3. Clothes
*My kids birthdays are in the fall and then its holiday time--so they all get enough clothes to get them through most of the year. But we always have to get summer stuff.
*I use any gift cards I get for their birthdays and Christmas in the spring. I also watch out for some good sales at the stores.
*I try to buy clothes that are a bit too big--so they might fit the following year as well. Our poor baby simply wears almost all hand-me-downs from his big brother. I also buy winter coats for the kids every other year and at the end of the winter (for the following year). Around February, stores put everything on clearance (you can do the same in the summer for swimsuits--but those are harder to predict the size).

As for my husband and I, we really don't buy too many clothes for ourselves. Around twice a year, I take an Old Navy shopping spree and my husband's buys a new outfit for work.

Also, don't feel bad asking a friend or family-member for hand-me-downs or shopping at Goodwill. Kids go through clothes super fast! You could probably fill an entire room in your house with all the clothes they will wear in 18 years.

4. The Library!!!
I know I have mentioned it before. Go get yourself a library card. You can get books, movies, music, newspapers, magazines.....for FREE! I used to be a Barnes and Noble junkie--but now I have a hard time spending money on any of that since I know I could get it from the library. Plus its a great place for family fun!
5. Gift-giving
*This may sound cruel but...we don't give our baby gifts. He doesn't care if gets something under the tree from Santa or for his birthday. And if we do get the youngest something, it is always very practical. And we don't get our older kids much either. They get a few gifts at Christmas and their birthdays but we have enough family and friends that they get tons of stuff. We try to do more 'experiential' giving--like a special activity or dinner for their birthdays.
*This may also sound bad but...we don't give expense gifts to anyone. Bottom line...we can't afford it. We make a lot of gifts (framed kid art is great!) and try to spend time with people. My husband and I get each other modest gifts or make each other something (like dinner without the kids).
6. Penny-Pinching
I do a couple penny pinching things that I hope save us money but I don't even have time to find out.
*Turn off the lights. If you are not in the room, turn it off.
*Turn off the computer. My husband leaves it on all the time--just in case (of what, I don't know). But if you aren't using it, it will save energy and not give off any extra heat that you don't need.
*In the the drapes or blinds. Let the sunshine heat the house. In the summer...keep them closed to keep the heat out.
*Run your ceiling fans.
*Take shorter showers or double up (I will take a bath with the babies--hey what other time will you get a chance to soak?).
*In the summer, use your microwave, crockpot and George Foreman grill instead of the oven. It will keep things cool (and thus not cause the AC to charge on).
*Really measure your laundry detergent. Why waste a bunch if you are only doing a small load (like any of us have 'small' loads of laundry!) And wash on cold.
*Buy the cheaper diapers and wipes. Who needs Supreme? Or use coupons.
*Order free samples. If I see a product I already use on TV offering a free sample, I order it. Its FREE! If you are flexible with your brands, you could get a lot.
Let me know what you do to save money! There are always new ideas to try!
next (cheap) toys and activities with the babies!