Can I Have a Do-Over Please?

So I was in Wal-Mart’s baby section the other day picking up a bed guardrail and I was approached by a couple looking for useful gifts for a new mom. Of course, Scooby and Puppet were in tow, so I must have looked like a veteran. It got me thinking about how I would redo my baby registry. This is my new and improved list. I spared some of the usual items and just included my personal must-haves.

  1. Earth Mama Angel Baby products:  Breastfeeding essentials – Nipple butter, Booby Tubes, Bosom Buddies, Milkmaid tea; Postpartum Recovery essentials – Postpartum bath herbs for sitz, New Mama Bottom Spray (LOVE it), Bottom Balm.
  2. Baby bottles that convert to sippy cups, like BornFree or Avent. I love my Dr. Brown’s, but I’m stuck buying separate sippy cup, after cup, after cup.
  3. Bottle drying rack.
  4. Fast bottle warmer.
  5. An assortment of bottle and nipple brushes – because you will go through them like they are going out of style.
  6. Organic crib mattress. Why? I found that my guys have inherited my sensitivities to fragrance, fumes, and detergents.
  7. Organic sheets and blankets in bamboo, cotton, etc., for the same reason listed above.
  8. Organic crib guardrail covers – Babies get to teething pretty quick and our crib looks like we’ve been harboring a chipmunk.
  9. ERGObaby carrier and accessories (teething pads, cover, insert, pouch, and backpack) to save my aching back and keep baby close to my heart literally. They love to be worn.
  10. My Brest Friend – because Boppy just doesn’t cut it. I love how My Brest Friend cinches to my waist while supporting my back and arms and stays where I put it to help support Puppet while he is nursing. It even has a little pocket where I keep the baby nail clippers and an emery board, and sometimes the TV remote and phone.
  11. Folding bed guardrail for co-sleeping. Babies are bed hogs. I find myself dangling off the edge of the bed in the morning. It will keep me and him from falling off and you can use it when transitioning your child to their own “big kid” bed.
  12. Shopping cart cover – More sanitary to keep the germs away and comfy for their tushies too.  Mine even has loops to attach toys. Whohoo! No toys on the grocery store floor!
  13. Lots of zippered sleepers with feet. Babies just want to be comfy. An occasional cute outfit is cool for a photo op and outings. I just find sleepers so much easier on a daily basis. No lost socks either. I adore zippers because snaps suck at 3 a.m.
  14. Whisper-soft humidifier. Our little ones were used to a wet climate in the womb and I find the humidifier helps to keep their skin and mucous membranes from drying out at night. It also produces a little white noise which helps them sleep.
  15. Vitamin A&D ointment for those meconium diaper changes. That stuff is like tar to get off and this ointment helps create a thin barrier between their skin and the meconium, making clean-up a snap.
  16. Lots of thin receiving blankets and cloth diapers for burp pads, barriers, padding. I use these on top of my changing pad and under their tushies when they sleep as they are easy to wash.
  17. Head supports for car seat and stroller.
  18. Car seat/stroller strap covers. We have the ones with puppies on them. They are not only cute and protect their necks from the strap, but they support their heads when they fall asleep.
  19. Side-snap T-shirts for newborns. I find these less invasive and jarring to the newborn as you’re not pulling anything over their heads, like a onesie. God knows their necks are floppy enough. Also, I find it gives their healing bellybutton air and it’s not constricting.
  20. Beaba Babycook Food Maker – It’s too cool for school – steamer, blender, warmer and defroster to prepare fresh, healthy meals for baby in 15 minutes!!! Santa, I think you forgot our house this year. I want one of these so bad now that I have 2 children and my youngest is getting ready to start solids. I can hardly make dinner sometimes and this would help in efficiency and clean-up.

Living in the Cold–Or Not

I love snow. To play in, not to live in. I grew up in Southern California but in college and graduate school I lived in the Midwest. I spent 8 years in snow-covered Indiana, Michigan, and Missouri. And I loved the snow even at college. It wasn’t until I was working that I realized that walking around a college campus in the snow is entirely different than waking up every morning, warming up your car, shoveling your driveway, brushing off your car, de-icing your windshield, driving on often unplowed streets with ice, sliding around, etc. etc. Even going to the grocery store requires extra effort as you navigate a shopping cart over patches of snow or ice in the parking lot.

My favorite grocery store in Missouri was one where you bought your groceries and then they gave you a number, you went back to your car, pulled up under this protected area, gave them your number, and they’d load your groceries for you. It was like having a butler. Sort of. I’d love to have that here–not because it’s cold or snowy, but just because I’m lazy.

Noble Hall, Vermont College of Fine Arts

I just returned from 11 days in Vermont. Again, it was on a college campus, so even though it pretty much never stopped snowing the entire time I was there, I never really had to walk very far. That said, I dressed in layers, as normal people do in the snow, because while it’s really cold outside, people keep inside temperatures basically normal. Which was great, but it meant that in order to leave the building I’d have to put on my coat (and sometimes a sweatshirt or fleece under that depending on how cold it really was), hat, scarf, and gloves, then once I got back into the building I’d have to disrobe the aforementioned items.

I have to say, I’m very proud of myself–I only lost an item once and found it the next day.

But the snow really is cool. I do love it when I don’t have to work or drive in it. That’s why I love Train Guy’s family’s cabin in our local mountains. In an hour and a half, we go from wearing jeans and a shirt and maybe a hoodie to full-on snow gear. Any time I want to see the seasons we just head on up. I can get my snow on without the hassle.

It’s awesome.

Don't Let Life Get in the Way

I am having one of those nights where life keeps getting in the way. Bugster would not go to sleep for what felt like an eternity, even though sleep has been going really well for her lately.  The Big Cheese wakes up complaining her necks hurt — only to throw up a few minutes later.  An old friend calls, asking for insight on some big things going on in her life.  And, then Bugster wakes up crying and won’t go back to sleep unless I’m holding her.  And I can’t even think of lying her down.

This led me to some serious reflection.  The older we get, the more responsibilities we have.  And, with more responsibilities, we have more times when life gets in the way.  We had some friends over this weekend and took time to just relax. We cooked a relaxed, low-key meal and just took time to sit and enjoy one another’s company.  Last week, we met an old friend for coffee because it was all the time we could squeeze in.  But, the important thing was that we made time to get together.

With all the focus on new year’s resolutions, this time of year is usually about people thinking about themselves and what they can do to improve their looks, wealth, or love life. My charge to you this week is to turn some of that reflection outward.  Think about who has been important in your life and reach out to them.  Call up your friend you haven’t spoken to in a couple months just to say “Hi.” Schedule a weekend breakfast date with the girlfriend who needs a break from her kids as much as you. Do something to let your old friends know you still care — stop letting life get in your way.

Menu Planning for Moms on a Budget

Before Goose’s arrival, when we were a family of two, there was no such thing as planning meals in advance. After work, we decided on what we wanted to cook and someone went to the store, or we either hit the drive-thru or pulled out the take-out menus. We might have eaten anywhere from 6 to 10 pm. It was definitely not the most cost- or time-efficient method of feeding ourselves, but it worked just fine for a double-income, no kids couple. Now that I stay at home, our food budget is definitely tighter, but I still manage to feed my family very well on the money I have to work with.

For the first few months home with Goose, we ate a lot of takeout and meals my husband could throw together when he got home from work (he seriously ran the household during the newborn stage, bless him, while I was basically tied to the couch nursing day and night). After a while, I realized that we were putting a serious hurting on our budget as well as our health and all of this fast food and takeout would have to stop. I knew I wasn’t going to be capable of cooking a meal from scratch every night, but something had to change. I remembered how my mom, who needed to feed five kids and two adults on a tight budget herself, would make a weekly menu to plan our dinners. Then she would do one major shopping trip, the idea being that getting all of your groceries at once eliminates daily trips to the grocery store, which as we know can really add up. Adopting my mom’s strategy was my first step towards eating on a budget. I was proficient at cooking back then, but I wasn’t as into it and didn’t have a large repertoire of go-to recipes to pull from as I do now, so we ate a lot of repeat meals throughout the month, but we weren’t eating takeout daily anymore and we weren’t making multiple trips to the store, spending $30 here and there.

Once planning a weekly dinner menu became routine, I realized I could probably save a lot more money by creating my menu based on what was on sale at the grocery store rather than just whatever tickled our fancy at the moment. Step two towards becoming my mother – now I was scoping out the circulars. For example, if boneless, skinless chicken breasts and diced fire-roasted tomatoes are on sale, I know I can make a crock pot full of chicken tortilla soup (see below) for next to nothing, so that goes on the menu. When frozen tilapia is super cheap, I plan on oven-fried fish. Proteins are usually the most expensive component of a meal , so I generally look for sales on those foods first, then see which pantry and produce items are marked down that week. Not all of our meals come from the circular items, but by purchasing a little extra meat, pasta, and canned goods when they are on sale, I fill in with meals we want even when their ingredients aren’t wallet-friendly that week.

 I’ll pause here and admit I don’t have much patience when it comes to coupons. I live for online sale codes and I do scope out coupons for things like diapers and razors, but my coupon clipping and collecting doesn’t go much farther than what’s available in the Sunday paper, mainly because we buy a lot of store brand items that are cheaper than name brand even with a coupon, but also because I’m just too lazy to sort and keep track of coupons and sale cycles and all of that. There are lots of online communities and blogs devoted to streamlining the process and I know they are an excellent resource for lots of people but right now I am just not into it. I think couponing would be more worthwhile to us if we had more pantry space to allow us to really stock up, but we don’t, so my eat-mostly-what’s-on-sale approach is just more efficient for now.

 There are a couple of tips that have made the process even easier for me. First, take the time to compile a master list of all of your favorite, go-to main courses in Excel. I have mine divided into categories: beef, fish, chicken, pork, vegetarian, breakfast for dinner, pasta, soup, and miscellaneous (things like, um, chili dogs). Having this list really helps when your mind draws a blank when it comes to dinner ideas. I update it every time I try a new recipe that gets the thumbs up from everyone. Second, and this works for me but might not for everyone, is to go shopping by yourself (or send the more financially responsible partner). When I have Goose and my husband in tow, it seems like we spend a good 20% more than when I shop alone. I’m pretty good about sticking to my list aside from a treat or two, and my husband…is not. It’s not like I NEVER let him do the shopping (he had to when I badly sprained my foot a while ago, and the bill was astronomical, but I was grateful to not hobble around the store on crutches), but for the most part, that’s my gig. Besides, I go in the evening after Goose is in bed, when the store is generally pretty quiet, and I really enjoy my hour and a half of peace – it’s like my weekly little bit of zen. I do understand that some people like grocery shopping to be a family affair, though. I like the act of shopping as a family, just not the cost.

 Menu planning does take a bit of time – now that I’m accustomed to it, I spend maybe an hour on Saturday or Sunday morning reading weekly store ads online, asking my husband what he’d like to eat, writing up my menu, checking the cabinets, and then making my grocery list. But when you consider all of the trips to the grocery store saved, not to mention the money, it’s worth it.

 Here’s a little bonus recipe for a really easy and delicious (if inauthentic) crockpot chicken tortilla soup. My husband isn’t crazy about soup in general but has requested this often since I first made it, and Goose even devoured a bowlful the other night. It’s a fairly spicy soup but you can make substitutions if your family prefers something milder.

 Chicken Tortilla Soup

adapted from Tasty Kitchen

serves 8

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts

15 oz can of diced fire-roasted tomatoes with jalapenos (or just plain diced tomatoes in juice)

10 oz can red enchilada sauce

2 cups water

14 oz can low-sodium chicken broth (or homemade stock)

1 medium onion, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp chili powder

salt to taste (start with ½ tsp)

10 oz bag frozen corn

15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 or 2 bay leaves

 Mix all ingredients minus the black beans in the crockpot and cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 6-8 hours (I usually cook on low). An hour or so before serving, pull out chicken breasts, shred, and return the meat to the pot. Add the black beans and let cook until heated through. Beans can be added at the beginning, but they seem to make the soup less starchy if you toss them in at the end. Top individual bowls with broken tortilla chips, shredded cheese, sour cream, chopped cilantro, avocado, guacamole, and/or a squeeze of lime juice. Enjoy!

A Target Debit Card = Money in Your Pocket

If you’re anything like me, you may think of Target as your mothership.  I am there all the time, and I buy basically everything at Target.  This means I spend serious money there.  If you’re a Target regular like I am, you know there are regular offers to sign up for a Target REDcard.  I have always said “no,” because a credit limit at Target would be oh so very dangerous for me. 

Then, one morning, right before Christmas, this angel in red spoke to me from behind the cash register.  She told me about the Target Debit Card (also a Target REDcard).  It is not a credit card, requires no credit application, and takes money directly out of your checking account.  And, it comes with a 5% reward.  Every time you use the Target debit card, you save 5% off your purchase – instantly.  You can also register your Target debit card in the Take Charge of Education program, and Target will donate 1% of your purchase to the school of your choice. 

I got my card a few weeks ago, and the savings are racking up.  5% off every purchase is awesome!  And, enrolling is super easy, too.  I only had to give the cashier a blank check and answer a few questions while standing in line with my purchases. 

The Target Debit Card is reason #1,200,001 why I love Target.

For more information on the Target Debit Card, see https://redcard.target.com/redcard/content/rcw_benefits_tgt_rewards.

Potty Humor

So the potty humor hasn’t arrived full force yet but I am bracing myself for it. Lately my 5-year-old has been fascinated with big butts. He’s pointed them out to me a few times which prompted the whole, “don’t say that too loudly or you might hurt someone’s feelings” lecture again. I suppose I should be thankful he’s not the kid who loves to run around in his underwear all the time (that was my nephew). Some, like a certain relative’s family, openly embrace the apparent funniness that goes along with jokes about bodily functions. Said relative actually gave out whoopie cushions for one of his young daughter’s birthdays. They were a big hit, I heard. Too bad we lived too far away to attend. Really. Shucks. Darnit.

I know the gross out stuff is to be expected, especially for boys in the 5-7-year-old crowd but I’d rather not encourage it too much. Oh sure, I had my share of Garbage Pail Kid trading cards (Snotty Lotty was a favorite) but that is about as far as I ever took it. On the other hand, if I make too big a deal about it, it will just make the kid want to use it even more, right? And perhaps there’s a chance that my child will not even care for it. I doubt it. I anticipate big time giggles, etc. Rocky is a goofy boy, if armed with the right material, he will take it and run with it. I will have to think of some good distractions.

***The Gen X Moms are no longer writing as a group (too many scheduling conflicts) but you can continue reading about my adventures with Rocky on my new blog at:

http://www.jedismama.com

Traveling Internationally with Kids

by The German Teacher

I love both of the travel posts Gen X Moms Blog has posted before:  Flying With a Baby and Flying With a Toddler and always read them before we travel, to refresh my memory on the excellent advice given there.

 Since we travel internationally with Rosebud and Superdude, primarily to the United States from Germany, I thought I would share some of my thoughts on traveling internationally with children.  While it may seem daunting to fly and travel internationally with children, particularly for intercontinental trips, it can be done! 

 An international trip can be a great learning experience for a child, and offers them the opportunity think differently about what they know and the world around them.  I was 11 when I first traveled abroad with my parents, to the United Kingdom.  That experience was very enriching for my younger sister and me.  We still talk about our memories from that vacation.

 Apart from traveling to the United States from Germany with our daughter Rosebud, we have also taken her to London, Venice, and eastern France.  Already I have seen how much these experiences have interested her, and we are eager to share more travel experiences with her and her baby brother.

 The first step in planning an international trip is to reread both the travel posts I listed above.  As many times as we’ve traveled back and forth across the pond with Rosebud (six completed intercontinental trips now), I always find myself needing to refresh my memory on the excellent suggestions for flying with young children.  The second step is to research your destination and carefully plan, so that you have a good variety of activities tailored to your family’s age range and interests.

 Our international travel often involves a visit to family and friends, so it is a little different from traveling for pleasure with children, but the advice I wish to share applies to both situations.

 1.  If you are US citizens and are travelling internationally, all children will need a passport, no matter how young they are.  Keep in mind that when applying for a US passport for a minor (under 16), both parents need to be present when signing the passport application for the child.  A child’s passport needs to be renewed every five years.  If your child cannot sign for himself, the parent needs to first print the child’s full name, then sign next to the child’s name and write down relationship with that child (i.e., mother, father, guardian).

 Make a copy or two of your passport photo and signature page, and keep the copies in a separate location from the passports themselves.  That way, if a passport goes missing, you still have the passport number, which can help in acquiring a new one.  You might even consider leaving a copy of your passport with a relative.  In your passport, there is a page to record contact information, too.  Definitely write down this information, including your home address, but do it in pencil so that you can change the information later on.

 US citizens can also register their trip using STEP, or Smart Traveler Enrollment Program: http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/registration/registration_4789.html.  In case there is some sort of travel emergency that arises during your travel, registering with STEP alerts the nearest embassy or consulate.  Then, the consulate or embassy can offer you and your family assistance, should it be needed.  If a passport were to go missing while you are abroad, registering with STEP can make it easier to acquire a new passport.

 2.  Plan ahead and be sure to include plenty of down time for you and your children during your stay abroad.  This is especially important if you are dealing with jetlag.  To help your children and yourself adjust to a time zone change more quickly, stick to their regular schedule when possible.  In other words, have meals and naptimes occur at roughly the same time as at home if possible.

 When you arrive at your destination, try to spend some time outside to play or take a walk.  I find getting a little fresh air and exercise is one of the best ways to overcome tiredness after flying.  And, of course, little ones need an opportunity to stretch their legs after a long flight and day of travel. 

 Make sure you and your children keep hydrated and eat lighter foods while traveling, too.  To keep well hydrated, you might want to carry a refillable water bottle to fill in the airport, once you get past security. 

 If you can have a rest day with few activities planned on your first day, this is especially beneficial for kids.  This way, the kids can settle in, relax and feel comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings. 

 3.  Especially in European cities, child-friendly accommodations may not be available or easy to locate.  One alternative to consider, if you’ll be staying in one location for a time, is a vacation apartment or home.  Vacation apartments often include a kitchenette, which can help you save money and time.  Vacation apartments can be less costly than a hotel, depending on the length of your stay and the city.  

 Another option is to stay in hostel.  Many youth hostels offer family rooms.  If you want to keep down your travel costs, a hostel is usually less expensive than a hotel.  Hostels may not offer the same level of amenities as a hotel and you may not have the same level of privacy that a hotel offers, but on the other hand, hostels are a great way to meet other travelers.  This can be especially nice for children, particularly older ones.

 I hope that these tips I’ve shared are helpful and, if you’ve ever considered traveling abroad with your kids, will help you realize it is doable and well worth it.  Safe and happy travels, everyone!