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The Year of the Tiger!

Posted by flsquared on February 22, 2010

This weekend, we decided to attend the “Biggest Chinese New Year Parade” in Manhattan.

Armed with a 15% off coupon, I traveled down to the BabiesRUS store in Union Square to check out the umbrella strollers.  It was about time we got one, and we would definitely need it for the subway ride.  As with any “big box” retailer (but especially with BRU), I immediately started to get overwhelmed with the choices and quickly slunk out without buying anything.

I perused the Union Square Greenmarket (and bought a huge bag of $1/lb local apples) to calm myself.

Then I went home and checked out Craigslist.

Lucky for me, I found a great used Maclaren Volo for $40.  SCORE!  (Oh, and by chatting with the woman selling the stroller, I made a new friend in Brooklyn!)

Bright and early Sunday afternoon, (40 degree, sunny weather!) we met some friends to see the dragons dancing and floats passing by.  I am kicking myself as I forgot my camera, but it was amazing!  The kids enjoyed the people watching, scooping up confetti and throwing it at each other, (I’m not sure how much they actually saw of the parade), and just seeing Mama and Papa happy.  We even popped into a crowded Dim Sum restaurant and stuffed ourselves while they ate and played with chopsticks.  We ended the day by going over to Union Square and hanging out at the playground (and buying a few bottles of “3 buck chuck” wine at TJs).  The subway ride was uneventful and I was actually able to carry the little guy up and down the stairs myself with the new, lightweight stroller.

After we had gave the kids dinner and put them to bed, my husband turned to me and said “What a great day!”  I totally agree.

For me, the best part about the day was exploring a new part of the city and seeing everyone have a good time.  Amazingly, there was no (well…, okay, very little) crying, fear of crowds, or explosive diapers.  Days like these bring our family closer and open the door for new events and experiences to further strengthen that bond.

Oh, and bill for the day?  $2.25 for the subway and $25 for 4 at the Dim Sum (and believe you me, the kids eat as much as I do!).  Not bad!

Posted in activity, family, happiness, holiday, saving money, simple living | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Watching TV Linked to Higher Risk of Death

Posted by flsquared on January 13, 2010

Tuesday’s WSJ reported that Watching TV Linked to Higher Risk of Death.  According to the Australian study, watching 2-4 hours of TV/day increased your risk of death by 13%, and watching more than 4 hours increased it by 46%.  Wow.  They also specified cardiovascular disease:  watching TV for 4+ hours increased this risk by 80%.

The interesting part of this study is the solution.  The researchers don’t say that you need to participate in “hard core” exercise (in fact, the participants in the study averaged 30-45 minutes of exercise/day).

Instead, their worry is that becoming a couch potato reduces “incidental moving around”.  This goes for other sedentary activity (oxymoron, anyone?) such as surfing the net (duh!), reading a book (hmmm…), or taking the train to work (!).  After an entire day of inactivity, your HDL levels can fall 20%.  Wow.

Honestly, articles such as this one just reaffirm to me our decision to move to Manhattan.  Sure, we’re tearing our hair out trying to keep our bills down and we go a bit stir-crazy in such a small space during the winter, but perhaps that’s the point.  It makes us get creative and get moving.  We simply can’t afford the luxury of a huge place with luxuries that would entice us to stay in all day.  Even take out gets expensive so we hoof it over to the grocery store and the make our meal.  And you know what?  All of that movement and activity seems to make us happier!

Speaking of, I am going to sign off, bundle up the kids, and take advantage of the two whole hours of sunny 34 degree weather this afternoon!

Posted in activity, happiness, simple living | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Goodbye to the Family and Hello to 2010!

Posted by flsquared on January 9, 2010

Just 10 minutes ago, I closed the door and said goodbye to my inlaws.  They arrive and leave like a hurricane, bringing and taking with them so much emotion, noise, and activity.  And since they live in Spain, we don’t get to see them often.  They will be missed and we’re already counting the days until our next visit this spring or summer.

*sigh*

But on to 2010!

For me, 2009 was a tough year, filled with a lot of hard work, little sleep, sick kids, 3 apartment/city changes, new jobs, etc. etc.  I took theHolmes-Rahe Stress Test and scored a 320 just for last year! where a score of 300 puts you at risk of illness.  If you take the test as read (24 months) I score nearly 500.  Ouch.

Lucky for us, 2010 brings with it a year of stability:  my husband has started his new job, my eldest son has been accepted to a NYC preschool (no small feat!) beginning next fall, and my youngest is moving out of the baby stage, and into the toddler stage which I adore!  We love our new apartment and neighborhood, and have started to make some new friends.

I love to make resolutions with the new year.  It helps me gather my thoughts and set the tone for the next 365 days.  A few days ago, I reviewed my resolutions for 2009:

Theme:  Finish projects that I have started!
(Resolutions in no particular order)

1.  Knit a blanket for each of the kids and finish ours
Status:  I “outsourced” David’s blanket to my MIL (complete) and am 80% finished with Victor’s.  Our’s remains unchanged at about 70%.

2.  Organize our digital photos
Status:  unchanged

3.  Understand ipod and download music
Status:  spent a number of hours to figure out mac-ware (I’m a PC-girl) and downloaded a number of CDs to my ipod.  more to go!

4.  Camera:  take a class/read a book to take better photos
Status:  unchanged

5.  Read a book in Spanish
Status:  unchanged

6.  Read “The Name of the Rose” (long story!)
Status:  unchanged

7.  Organize photos/memorabilia into scrapbooks or whatever
Status:  5% organized

8.  Organize Recipes
Status:  15% organized

9.  Organize professional / social contacts
Status:  unchanged

10.  Organize email
Status:  50% organized

11.  Clean up info on old laptop and save to CD
Status:  95% complete (saved to flashdrive–need to transfer to CD)

12.  Study French
Status:  swapped 1 class

13.  Blog 2x/week
Status:  more or less….

As you can see, my completion rate hasn’t been so great.  Quite frankly, I think I underestimated how much time and energy two little creatures take out of you.  Add in all of our other major life events and I’m surprised I get anything done at all.

So my 2010 resolutions?  2009, Take 2!  The only additions will be:

14.  Keep up with monthly budget

15. Get caught up on pile o’ magazines/newspapers

16.  Begin to take over some responsibilities from my husband (paying bills, medical invoices, etc) in the 2nd half of the year.

17. Take time to enjoy my family, friends, and just be by myself. Live in and experience the moment!

Perhaps my accountability to you will help me complete these projects over the next year. I’ll keep in touch and let you know how it’s going!

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New Year’s Challenge: Live Life Like in the 1980s

Posted by flsquared on December 28, 2009

First of all, I hope everyone had a fantastic holiday!   With my inlaws in town for a few weeks, I have been doing my best to stay off of the computer and just enjoy my family.  I did get an itch today to write a bit on the blog so here I am.

Recently, one of my friends posted this article to Facebook: 7 Reasons the 21st Century is Making You Miserable. With a title like that, how can you not check it out?  It was a fantastic article, and one I hope to not just learn from, but act upon.

Until having moved here, I thought that the average New Yorker would have more interaction with people than those living in the ‘burbs.  After all, just the act of leaving the apartment brings you in contact with people.  Now I know that my assumptions couldn’t have been more wrong!  I have been floored at the number of services that you can receive without leaving your house:  the internet brings groceries and take out to your door, a phone call will pick up and deliver your laundry, a doorman will even bring your packages to your apartment so you don’t have to sign for them.

It is all to easy to stay in the comfort zone of texting instead of calling, sending emails instead of stopping by to visit with someone, or even writing on someone’s wall instead of sending a email or *gasp* a card in the mail.  It’s easier to send a check in the mail to a charity (especially since many times it seems like they’d rather have the cash) than donating an hour of your time and service.  Why risk feeling awkward?  Why risk having a “real” conversation and someone finding out that we are not so clever in person as we are over email and 140 character length twitter updates?

Of the entire article, I believe that #4 most rang true for me.  When I first joined Facebook, I was excited to re-connect with many old friends and classmates.  I had moved from Maryland to Florida when I was 12 (a horrible time for a dramatic change for a girl, made worse as even long distance calling was prohibitive for my family, not to mention airplane flights) and I always wondered what had happened to my childhood friends.  However, after a bit, reading the updates and writing some of my own, I realized that nothing had changed–we all still had our own lives and we were not “friends” but more a curiosity.  It would take more effort than a few emails to reconnect, and the friendships would have to start from zero.   Uff!  But that is just too much effort!

My challenge to myself (and you!) is to get out of your comfort zone:  Turn off the computer and TV, stop texting and get out!  Make personal contact with people, no matter how strange it may feel.  Drop by at a friend’s house and have a conversation.  Ask a neighbor for some sugar and bring them some cookies in return.  Take a walk and notice the people that you pass.  Volunteer at a soup kitchen.  Don’t avoid the annoying guy.  You may surprise yourself with how good human contact makes you feel.

Posted in activity, challenge, environment, happiness, philosophy, simple living | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Clutter Costs: The Case of the Missing PJs

Posted by flsquared on December 13, 2009

I have admitted it before that I am an unabashed packrat.  I buy very little, but I have difficulty letting things go.  Coupled that with our living in a teeny Manhattan-sized apartment and my tendency to overestimate my free time and energy and thus begin (and not finish) projects, we have a full house.

It’s a slooooow work in progress (I work on projects and de-clutter about 15 min/day after my husband comes home), but since it doesn’t interfere with daily living it doesn’t bother me too much.

Well, let me say that it normally doesn’t interfere with daily living.

Here’s what happened a couple of weeks ago:

My oldest son’s PJs were starting to look a little small.  This summer, my mom scoured the garage sales for clothes for her grandchildren and brought up a few pairs of 3T pajamas.  Damned if I can find them anywhere!  I have looked high and low, emptied boxes and suitcases, searched closets and under the bed and they have just disappeared!

It is the worst feeling of frustration to know that you have stored something that you need and you just can’t find it.

After spending a total of probably 3 hours looking for them (care to put a cost on that lost time?), I decided that I needed to streamline the boys’ things.  I put old clothes and toys in bags and put an ad on Craigslist and Freecycle.  We got rid of 4 huge bags of stuff that was just sitting in the closet as well as our car seat travel system!  Hurrah!

I wish I had a happier ending and could tell you that after all of this purging I found the PJs but they are still missing.

The good news?  When I do decide to give up the search and rescue mission, I can use my $110 that I made from the purge and buy some new ones.

The bad news?  I sure would have rather used that time and money for something else!

Posted in baby, clutter, money, organization, saving money, simple living, toddler | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Thank You!

Posted by flsquared on December 13, 2009

Just a quick thanks to all who sent emails and comments about my son’s illness.  He is doing much much better and now we are focusing on his crankiness due to his incoming molars (it’s always something, right?).

Thanks again for all of the warm thoughts and I hope that I will be blogging more regularly from here going forward!

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A Short Pause

Posted by flsquared on December 1, 2009

I’m having to let the blog go for a few more days as things have been a bit chaotic at home.

Just before the Thanksgiving Day holidays, my youngest son got sick and had to be hospitalized for a few days.  He is doing much better, but we are still recovering from lack of sleep and being scared out of our minds.

Needless to say, it has been difficult to keep up with the blog.  I miss writing and hope to be back up next week.

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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?

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 »