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Archive for November, 2009

Toddler Tip: 10 Quick and Easy Ways to Toddler Proof Your Holiday Destination

Posted by flsquared on November 22, 2009

With the holidays and family get togethers coming up, one thing that I dread is predicting how my babies will stay safe in a hotel or someone else’s home.  Especially when that someone else does not tend to have many visits from babies and toddlers.

I put together a list of quick and easy ways you can temporarily toddler proof for your holiday stay while someone takes your little darling for a quick walk around the block.  Of course these are not 100% fail proof, but they may give you a few extra seconds to respond before your baby gets in trouble.

1. Quick scan:
**Get down at your toddler’s level and do a quick scan of the area to see where s/he could get into trouble.  Is there a heavy coffee table?  A delicate vase?  See what you can remove, relocate, or just be aware of.

2.  Cleaning products:
**Take a quick look in the usual areas:  under the kitchen and bathroom sinks, laundry room, etc (or just ask your host) so you can know where they are.  Close doors to these areas where you can.  If they are in common areas (or you are afraid that your toddler will wonder into these areas unsupervised), see if you can put the products up high, out of reach.  For example, I keep my cleaning products above the refrigerator and on the top of my closet.

3.  Bathroom:
**Keep the door closed and the toilet seat down.

4. Cabinet doors:
**Knob doors:  Loop one end of a rubber band around the knob, give the band a twist and loop it around the other knob.  If it’s loose, just wrap it around the knob a few more times.

**Handle doors:  slide a wooden spoon through both handles until the spoon piece “locks” against the handle.  Take a rubber band and loop it around the spoon end.  Give a twist and slide the end of the band over the other end of the spoon.

**Glass doors (for example the “push open” doors on entertainment centers):  if paint and finish are not an issue, I have used packing tape to tape the door(s) closed.  You can also use duct tape, but since packing tape is clear, it’s more difficult for little fingers to pry it off.

5.  Kitchen Stove:
**Most stoves will allow you to remove the knobs from the burners.  You can do that whether or not the stove is in use.  Just keep them handy in case you need to adjust the burners.

**Make sure to keep the handles of pots and pans turned inward and away from little searching hands.

6.  Bookshelves:
**We all saw the Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives where little ones got in trouble with bookshelves.  I spent a nightmarish summer in a sublet apartment chasing after my crawling son who was attracted to the shelves like a moth to a flame.  If any look like they would be interesting to climb, see if you can slide a chair in front of them or block them off altogether.

7. Stairs:
**I have been known to park my stroller in front of the stairs. Make sure to close (and lock) stairs to basement, attics, etc.

8.  Fireplace:
**Wrap a few towels or a blanket around a brick/stone fireplace footing.

9.  Patio / Balcony:
**Keep the door closed and locked.

10.  Bedroom:
**If you are staying the night and your toddler will be sleeping in a big boy bed, put a second mattress (or at least a few blankets or sturdy pillows (such as from the couch) to soften their fall if they slip out of bed.  In a pinch, I have used a few chairs with their backs to the bed to serve as railings and prevent the fall.

What did I miss?  What other ways do you baby and toddler proof an unfamiliar setting?

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Posted in baby, family, safety, simple living, toddler | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Battle of the Laptop (or how to keep the focus on the kids)

Posted by flsquared on November 18, 2009

Toddlers are exhausting.  They have endless sources of energy and fear nothing.  No matter where they are or what they are doing, they always seem to find exactly what they should not touch, and put it directly in their mouths.  Or what they should not climb, and not only climb it, but try to jump off….head first!  Just physically and mentally exhausting.

I remember reading an article sometime last year that one of the reasons that Facebook is so popular with new moms is that it allows you to catch up with friends (or at least read their status updates) in 30 second increments.  Which is approximately the free time you have after re-directing your baby from climbing up onto the dining room table to eating the TV cable.

The problem with these 30 second intervals is that they become addictive.  First, you are reading an email or two every few hours, and slowly but surely you are creeping over to check for any sort of outside stimulation every 10 or 15 minutes.

What I have found is that when this happens, I start watching the clock as the day passes so very slowly, the kids are cranky and vocal (read:  crying, tantrums) for attention, and there really aren’t that many interesting FB updates, emails, or blogs to read.  (At least ones that you can intelligently digest in 20 seconds or less).

Instead, when the laptop is out of sight, the kids and I (and my husband, if he his home) spend quality time together and enjoy it all the more. I focus 100% on them (okay, 90%), instead of stealing glances at the inbox, and have a great time.  And time just seems to fly by.

So why does that pesky laptop seem to migrate to our dining room table more often than not?  Easy.  There are things to do: emails to answer, plans to make, weather forecasts to check, library books to renew, etc.

My new challenge to my husband and I is to put focus back on the family.  I challenge us to keep the laptop out of the common area during all but 2 hours/day, while the kids are awake.  Believe me, this will be tough for us.  And I have yet to break the news to hubby.

I will let you know how it goes.  Wish us luck!

In the meantime, I would love to hear how you minimize distractions in common areas of your house.  How do you keep your family tuned in to each other during family time?

Posted in activity, baby, challenge, family, happiness, philosophy, simple living, toddler | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Oprah called me a hoarder!

Posted by flsquared on November 15, 2009

OK, OK, before Oprah gives me a lecture (does Oprah read this blog???), Oprah herself did not actually call me a hoarder.

About a month or so ago, Oprah had another show on hoarding.  I didn’t actually watch it (we don’t have cable — we only use our TV for watching movies), but I did go to her website and take a look.  These shows on hoarding are a bit like watching a train wreck–you just can’t peel yourself away from the extreme chaos of it all.  Also, as a packrat who has been living for the last 15 years in small spaces, I feel much better about myself and my home when I realize that the clutter I worry about is not nearly to the scale of problematic.

Or so I thought.

Oprah included a quiz:  The Hoarding Self-Assessment.  After asking about 15 questions, you receive 3 scores:  clutter (I scored a 6, which is “mild”), acquiring score (I scored a 3,  also “mild”), and a difficulty discarding score (I scored a 12, which is on the high end of “moderate”).

Concluding the explanation of any “moderate” trait that you have, they suggest that you consider working with a mental health professional to work through your problem.  Ouch!

Admittedly, I have a problem with letting go. Because of this, I try to limit the things that come into our apartment.  I know that once they come in, it’s difficult for me to part with them.  I don’t like the idea of things going into a landfill — I abhor the idea of “disposable living” — so I like to find a home for things that we no longer need.  This can be another family that we know or not (via freecycle or craigslist), a charity, or a recycle bin.  Once things “wear out” and we can no longer find a use for them, I do feel peace about throwing them away.  But since we limit what comes in, “things” are not such a problem.

My biggest challenge is processing information.  I like to make sure that I will not need something before I toss it.  For example, I have a box of old magazines that I have not had the chance to read and 1900 odd email messages in my inbox that I haven’t deleted/filed.  Sure, some of these items have been around and unopened for a few months, but I am paralyzed and just unable to just toss or delete them.

As challenges go, running a close second are unfinished projects.  I have great intentions, but not a lot of energy and extra time these days.  I truly feel that as my kiddos get older (maybe this summer or next year?), I will have more time to dedicate to these projects.  For example,  I have some old mixed tapes that I want to listen to and digitally download the songs I like.  I have a number of books that I haven’t read.  A box of yarn sits in the closet ready for knitting projects (okay, 2 boxes and a small bag).  And don’t get me started on my scrap book photos.

I actually came across an interesting post last night on the blog “Organize More, Stress Less” called 56 Things You Can Toss Now.  What a great list.  I recently got rid of probably a dozen items on the list, but still have 9 others.  I don’t know if I will be able to part with them yet, but it got me thinking.

How about you?  What are the items that you feel most conflicted about letting go?  How do you convince yourself to let go of these things (or hold on to them?)  I would love to hear your success stories.  Inspire me!!!

Posted in clutter, organization, simple living | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

Meat as a Side Dish Recipe #5: Almost-Vegan Butternut Squash Soup (a footnote)

Posted by flsquared on November 14, 2009

I will add a link to this post, but I wanted to let you know that I made the soup again and it did not turn out so well. Since I had forgotten to take photos (and because it was so yummy), I decided to make another pot this week.

It was absolutely delicious.

But it wasn’t as “pretty”.

The first soup was orange and just looked like the inside of a pumpkin.  Absolutely beautiful.

This soup was brown like apple butter.

I racked my brain and realized my failure and then I realized–I forgot to add the lemon!  (and, worse yet, I forgot to add it into the recipe!!!)

Whenever you cut up apples, they oxidize and turn brown.  But a splash of lemon helps prevent this.  Here’s an interesting article from the Washington Post that explains this phenomenon.

So lesson learned:  add a half lemon worth of juice into the pot along with the apples and you will have a beautiful soup!

Posted in budget, food, recipe, simple living | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Toddler Tip: Veterans Day Crafts

Posted by flsquared on November 10, 2009

My boys and I attend a pre-school-like class twice/week where the caregivers rotate bringing in the snack and preparing a project for the kids.  The toddlers range in age from 20-25 months (not including my David, who usually is so happy to have the playroom to himself he doesn’t want anything to do with the craft!).

Today was my day.  And let me just say that I stress waaaaay too much about the craft.

This nervousness is not unfounded–the last time I was in charge of the art project, I brought in egg cartons and pipe cleaners to make little spiders and caterpillars.  After 5 minutes, the instructor whipped out some stamp paints with stencils.  So what if the mamas and nannies were doing most of the work!

(Ours turned out very cute though–who doesn’t love googly eyes??)

aaaaaaablog 003

Hoping to avoid another embarrassment, I did about 2 hours of research last night on different crafts that toddlers and pre-pre-schoolers may enjoy doing to learn about Veterans Day.  Here are my favorites:

**  Enchanted Learning shows how to make a 3-D American star.

**  DLTK has two cool wreath ideas:  rememberance hands and poppies.   I especially love the hands wreath because one of Victor’s favorite activities is to have me trace his hand, and for him to trace mine.

**  The “Love To Learn Place” Suggested writing a letter of thanks to Veterans and sending them to VFW Hall.  One idea I had would be to draw a picture or decorate a flag and send it in to the Vets.

**  First School had a turkey and flag coloring page (Veterans Day and Thanksgiving!)  and a “My First Flag” activity where you use finger paint to make thumb prints for the stars on the flag.

In the end, I decided to go with something straightforward and easy.  I chose the “My First Flag” activity, but we glued foam stars and stickers onto the flag and colored a bit.  It was a bit hit!  There was no cutting, and lots of gluing (these guys love to glue!).  Most importantly, it was something that could be somewhat completed during their less than 2 minute attention span.

Here’s how ours turned out:

aaaaaaablog 002

(Oh, and it was Victor’s idea to not just sign his name, but to sign his brother David, Mama, and Papa.  What a sweet guy!)

I would love to hear from you–what projects are you planning on doing for Veterans Day?

Posted in activity, art, frugal, holiday, simple living | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Simple Pleasures: Say Goodnight

Posted by flsquared on November 9, 2009

Last night, shortly after putting my 2 year old into bed, he called me back into the room.

I was surprised.  He has always been a good sleeper, rarely making a big fuss at bedtime.  I opened the door and walked back into the room, hoping it wouldn’t be one of those nights.

I sat on the floor by his bed and stroked his hair and whispered, “What’s up?  It’s time for bed.”

Smiling, “Mama!”

“Yes?  It’s time for bed, sweetheart.”

He looked at me for a moment.  “Victor happy.”

Until that point, it had been a normal day, nothing special.

Or so I had thought.

Upon hearing those two words, my heart filled, and I knew I would remember this day forever.

Posted in baby, family | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Can a Family of Four Live on a Salary of $150k in NYC?

Posted by flsquared on November 8, 2009

This was the title of an Urban Baby discussion last week that really got me thinking.  My quick answer was a resounding “Yes, and well!”, but many of the posters did not agree.

I suppose what surprised me the most was the tone of the responders.  They seemed to say: Don’t do it!  You will be sacrificing too much!

For me, it’s a given that if you live in Manhattan, you will, most likely, be living in a small apartment.  Even the “big” apartments are small.

On the other hand, in just 5 or 10 minutes walking you can find yourself in a park, a museum, a library, etc.  During the summer there are more festivals than you can imagine.  As the winter is closing in, it’s more difficult to find free activities but they are there.

For us, our major expenses are rent, health insurance, and food.  Next year, preschool will be included in that list.  We also try to go to Spain and Florida once/year to visit family.  Everything else that we spend money on is minimal and we don’t spend even close $150k/year.

We no longer have a car (and all that goes with it), our utilities are next to nothing, and entertainment is cheap.

I will say that I totally understand how you could spend even double that amount and feel like you are living a humble life.  Between eating out, endless forms of entertainment, preschools that cost more than my college tuition, nannies, housekeepers, etc, etc, etc. the money can just slip through your hands.

I have a friend who probably earns triple what we do and honestly feels poor.  She lives 2 blocks away, in a very nice, but not super-fancy, building.  She does not wear designer clothing or go out every night.  She has a part-time “mother’s helper” and someone to clean her apartment once/week.  They have a car and go away at least once weekend/month.  Nothing all too extravagant here, right?  Especially when she compares herself to her friends who have private jets and rent a place in the Hamptons for $30,000.

Saving (or just not spending) money in this town is hard work, but it is very doable.

I think the key to it is both simple and extremely complex.  Be happy from within.  Don’t compare yourself to others.  Be content with your choices, and don’t even notice the Jones’.

What are your thoughts?  Am I missing something?  What are we sacrificing that everyone else seems to need?

Posted in family, frugal, money, saving money, simple living | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

My 15 Minutes: of Fame and Freedom

Posted by flsquared on November 7, 2009

First for the “Fame”!:

Yesterday, I was surprised to receive a note from WordPress that my Toddler Tips had been chosen as one of their “Freshly Pressed”:

superblog

How exciting!!!  I hope all of my new viewers are enjoying my posts, and that you will stick around for our adventures to come.

And now for the “Freedom”:

My youngest just turned 1 last week.  I think something happens to our boys when they hit that magic first birthday.  It seems like a switch is flipped and are immediately more independent and just happier in general.  Which, in turn, means that Mama is a bit less exhausted at the end of the day….and thus my 15 minutes of “free time” before I crash for the night.

So what should I do with this newfound luxury?

15 minutes is not a lot of time, but I do want to take advantage and take some time for myself to relax and recharge.

Here are some ideas that I have, in no particular order:

1.  Browse through a (non-child-related) magazine or read a few pages of a book.
2.  Take a walk.
3.  Chat with my husband about something non-work, non-child related, just like the “old days”.
4.  Organize and continue unpacking (we’re now at the 10-box-post-move state…if we’re not careful, those boxes will still be full until our next move!).
5.  Bake cookies or other treats (probably more than 15 minutes, but perhaps I can prep as I am cooking dinner?).
6.  Have a glass of wine or tea and just be one with my thoughts.
7.  Call up / email a friend I haven’t talked to in a while.
8.  Continue knitting the blanket for David.
9.  Clean something.
10.  Go to sleep early.

OK, I just nixed the two “work related” items that escaped my fingers before I thought them through.

What do you suggest?  What sort of things do you do when you only have 15 minutes?

Posted in activity, simple living | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Toddler Tip: Displaying Art Projects

Posted by flsquared on November 6, 2009

Now that my oldest boy is 2, he is constantly painting and coloring and creating all sorts of masterpieces with stickers. But where should we display them?

Posting them on the fridge won’t work:  I’m not a big fan of the cluttered look.  However, more importantly, while he enjoys taking a look at them from time to time, his little brother enjoys eating them more often than not.

I don’t have the energy or patience to create one of those crazy post-your-toddler’s-artwork display centers they talk about on TLC.

And, living in NYC, if there was a “big box” store solution, it would be beyond us.  Plus, money is tight and I’d rather improvise in some way.

After scratching my head for a bit, and collecting a number of projects in a box until I figured it out, I came across the perfect solution in my gifted subscription to Family Fun magazine (November 2009 issue, tip given by Heidi Hadfield):

Tape your favorite projects to the inside of your kitchen cabinets!

aaaaaablog

Awesome!  Everything is tidy, and yet when we want to take a peek at his artwork (or need to grab a bowl), we just open the cupboard.  It’s also a hit with Papa, who loves to come home, grab a snack, and check out what the little ones created today.

Posted in family, organization, saving money, simple living | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 29 Comments »

Budget Update: It’s working!!!

Posted by flsquared on November 2, 2009

As you may remember, my family started living on a budget shortly after moving to Manhattan.  This has been a tough adjustment for us as we are not at all used to tracking expenses, but it has definitely been eye-opening.

In the budget, we only included my husband’s base salary as we are hoping to save his bonus outright.  Our hope is to save 10% of the post-tax base salary, but we will be happy if we just break even and don’t touch our savings or his bonus.

Here’s how we’re doing:

August:          saved 9.7%
September:   saved 13.4% (!!!)
October:        overspent 1%

NOOOOO!!!!

On the upside, we are net saving about 7% which is not too bad.

Additionally, we also made some big purchases this month like a membership to the Children’s Museum and NYC Rec Center as well as a big $225 application fee for Victor’s preschool next year.  We should definitely save some money this month as we went crazy buying food (nearly $600 this month) at the local grocery store’s huge Columbus Day sale.  Our cupboards, fridge, and freezer are bursting at the seams.

On the whole, I do think that tracking our expenses and being accountable to them is working. It’s difficult to spend money consciously, but it sure does help!

Wish us luck that we get back into the black next month!!

Posted in budget, frugal, money, saving money, simple living | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »