New Mamas--Use This

This is beautiful. This is eloquent. This is exactly what I would love for people to do when I have baby #2.

If you have a friend who just had a baby, consider trying one or more of these things: click here.

Kyna, would you like me to do any of the above? :-)


Wednesday Walkthrough

Today's walk takes us into your kitchen. While this tip may be obvious to most, it's the doing that is harder, so we'll talk about some easy steps to making this happen. We all know that cooking our own food is better than buying processed, packaged, quick-fire meals, but so many people shy away from making their own food for the simple convenience of it all. Here are some "baby steps" toward making your own food that you could incorporate one at a time for long-term success.

1. Make a grocery list with recipes in hand. Choose which recipes (or maybe it's more realistic to just do one a week to start with) you want to use for the week. I usually list the days of the week on one corner of my list with the recipes next to each day. Then make your list according to those recipes. Here's the key: ONLY BUY WHAT YOU'RE PLANNING FOR. If the kitchen's stocked with quick and easy meals, you'll always use those, and the fresh veggies and other ingredients will go bad in your fridge.

2. Find recipes that you're excited about--clip them from your magazines as soon as you see them; print them off the Internet right away; make a binder of recipes you want to try. All this will add for more motivation when making that grocery list.

3. Start with simple meals. Ask around for recipes your friends use that involve very few ingredients. 

4. Buy an easy-to-follow cookbook. The fancy cookbooks at places like Williams Sonoma leave all of our mouths watering, but when you look at the ingredients and instructions, you're left asking, "Wha?!" Find a book with ingredients you recognize and instructions you can follow. My favorite is Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything.

5. Avoid recipes that include processed ingredients (mixes that come in a bag, box or pocket). If you read the label on these products, you'll usually find stuff you want to stear clear of. On another walkthrough we'll talk about reading labels, but as a teaser, I can say this right now--packaged, dried products usually contain MSG, and you want to stay far far away from that.

6. This isn't a baby step, it's a big one. Throw the microwave away (or sell it on craigslist for an extra buck or two!). I know that sounds daunting, but get through the other steps before you even consider this one. We don't have a microwave, and you'd be surprised how easy (and healthy) it is to use substitutes for zapping food. Most of my leftovers I heat on the stove or in the toaster over. I pop popcorn on a whirlygig contraption and it takes less time than a microwave--plus no MSG! I have a kettle always ready on my stovetop for boiling water. I thaw frozen meats under running water (use cool water so bacteria doesn't have ideal conditions to grow--but plan for it to take a little longer. I put my meat in a sealed plastic bag in a bowl that catches the water, that way the meat is always surrounded by the water. Then I also don't have to run the water for the entire time; I just let the meat sit in the water for a bit, then run the water to freshen it up). 

7. This is my favorite: Watch the Food Network on a regular basis. Seeing someone else put the meal together always makes a recipe more feasible. Plus, all of the recipes you see on TV you can find on Food Network's website. And you can watch what they put in the recipe to see if it's ingredients you recognize. Best of all, they make it look so easy! My mom started making a lot more of her home-cooked meals because of Rachel Ray's 30 Minute Meals. "There's just something about how she breaks down the recipe and makes it easy to do." I can attest to the ease of her recipes--but a couple of disclaimers: 1) her stuff usually takes a bit more than 30 minutes 2) she loves to throw in one or two higher-priced ingredients, so sometimes her recipes get a bit pricey. But, if she empowers you, then it's all worth it, right?

All of these tips will help you take steps toward making your own food and avoiding processed packaged foods. Do you have any simple recipes you want to share with us? Feel free to post them in the comments box. We'd all love to try them!

Another Green Cleaning Tip

Just found this in my Real Simple magazine this morning: click here for more natural cleaning solutions.


Guest Blog

My first guest blog! Go check me out on Resa Design's blog. Then shop through her amazing store and buy lots of fun treats for your kiddos!

Baby Registry Help Series pt. 2

In the next few days I'll be going down the list of items suggested on a baby registry checklist and discussing how "essential" they panned out to be for me or my friends. Please, please, if you have your own personal experience you'd like to share, please comment at the end, so we can get the most comprehensive approach possible. If lots of people share, then it'll be like taking 10 of your best friends with you to register as opposed to just one :)

First, I was just on Babies R Us's website and they've got a new feature that I really like. There's a Baby Registry "Quick Start" option. You choose the type of mom you are (city, classic, experienced, trendy, working, or my personal fav, organic and earth-friendly) and they pull up a list of essentials that fit your lifestyle. I pulled up the organic one and I would only take a couple of things off the list. Here are my thoughts on what they've listed.

1. The swing. I didn't have great success with my swing. I know that every baby's different, so maybe the next one will love it. But, for me . . . and my sister-in-law, we didn't use our swings very much. In hindsight I wish I had used the money on another more essential big item. 

2. Bassinet. This is nit-picking, but I don't see the need for a bassinet and a co-sleeper. It's either one or the other, and a co-sleeper is much more convenient. We used a bassinet for our first baby, but that meant every time she woke up, we had to get out of bed, take her to the nursery, change, feed and then put her back down. With a co-sleeper (basically a safe extension of your bed) for those first few weeks, you'd have it all at an arm's reach and wouldn't be getting up as much. 

3. Even though I'm all about the Bob stroller, the Baby Planet is actually available in stores whereas the Bob is not. People are more likely to buy off your registry if they can find something in the store. People who buy items online are generally limited to out-of-town friends. This isn't the rule, but it's pretty common. If you don't want to spend your own money (or all of your gift cards) on a stroller, pick something that's in the store.

4. I actually have the "Nature's Purest" Playard and swing. The playard had worked great for me, and I've already talked about the swing. Some reviewers didn't like Nature's Purest because of the lack of stimulating colors, but I'm pretty sure my baby didn't notice. The playard also has an attachable bassinet and changing pad function. Many I know just set this up in their bedroom for the first few weeks. Three-in-one and it all fits next to your bed. That's another great money-saving option because you eliminate your need for a bassinet or a co-sleeper.

5. Parents of Invention--The Ultimate Organic Baby Sling--I've seen these a lot lately in the stores, but have never used one. Anyone have any input on this? I've heard that ring slings are nice because you can adjust them for the perfect fit. Personally, I like the simplicity of my sling, but it's all about preference.

6. Glider and ottoman--My hubby and I stumbled on this this idea. Skip the glider and go to your local furniture store. Instead of a glider, we got a Lazyboy small-frame recliner for the same price, and we LOVE it. It's so much more comfortable than a glider (no hard wooden areas to poke a tired, healing mama's body or baby's delicate body) and so much more versatile. I can pop up the footrest, I can rock, and I can sleep in it comfortably on an emergency basis. Plus, it's not a piece of furniture exclusively for a nursery--it can evolve with the child's room, or it can be added to the family room. I highly recommend a recliner!

7. As far as nursery furniture goes--be careful to check the type of wood it's made out of. Babies R Us and many other stores carry cheaper baby furniture, but a lot of it is made out of particle board. Particle board contains formaldehyde, and considering that most babies chew on their cribs at some point in the teething stage, you might want to pay the extra money and get a hardwood option instead.

8. Boppy--of the three that I tried, Boppy, My breastfriend, and an organic pillow, Boppy was the best. It's a convenient shape, easy to adjust, and the covers are easy to slip off and wash. Now that they have an organic cover, I'm definitely excited about getting a Boppy for baby 2!

9. Jumperoo--We opted out of a jumperoo, exersaucer, and the like. While it's convenient to have babies in a toy that builds their muscles, there's differing opinions about how they affect proper development. Since I'm a stay-at-home mom, I have plenty of time to play with Andie and help her use her own legs and feet, so I didn't need this. Plus, to my knowledge, they're all made from plastic, and we're trying to keep the plastic content low in our home. That's a personal preference. I know many, many moms who swear by these and couldn't live without them. But, if you're in the early stages of pregnancy and have some time to research--search around and find some studies about how these affect baby's development before you sign up for one.

10. I like all of the other stuff that's listed. I'd go ahead and add the clothing options, but again, if it's not easy to find in the store, you probably won't get it. From what I've found, people buy whatever clothes they think are cute, so they probably won't search through hundreds of clothing items for the exact match to what you registered for. The only help registering for clothes did for me was that it made people aware that I was looking for organic cotton. Because of that, I got a lot more organic stuff than if I had not registered for any clothes. Another thing to consider, from the time you register to the time your baby comes, all of the clothing options will have changed and most of what you registered for probably won't even be available anymore.

Again, please add your comments about these items. We all have knowledge that will help each other and, hopefully, save new moms some money and stress.

More Baking Soda Tips

My hubby, daughter and I were cruising the aisles of Barnes over the weekend, and I stumbled upon this book that I just had to share with you. It's called Arm and Hammer Baking Soda Over 100 Helpful Household Hints and right now it's on the clearance rack at Barnes! For $5 it talks about everything from cleaning to laundry to personal skin care and more that baking soda can do for you. If you were looking for something to help you get started switching cleaners, this is a great place to start.


Picnic Recipes

Spring break is over and warm weather is here. It's time to start planning to be outside. Here's a list of 101 recipe ideas for picnics by my favorite cookbook writer Mark Bittman.

See the list here.


Baby Registry Help Series

If you haven't read my article about baby registries, check it out here first.

Every. Baby. Is. Different. What works for you is inevitably going to be different for your friends. Some friends will find items that they "can't live without" that other people will readily cast off as a "waste of money." The best way to avoid needless purchases is to follow these two steps: 

1) Make a list of priorities. The things that are important to you, the items you've already envisioned yourself using on a daily basis, the things you can't wait to try--those are the ones to register for. Your enthusiasm for the product will drive you to try, try, try it. Some babies will never like it, but many babies will just need some time to adjust and will enjoy it. 
2) If possible, don't buy everything before the baby arrives. Gift cards are invaluable. Try to curb your excitement and wait to use them AFTER the baby arrives. Once the baby's here, you'll have a much better idea of what you need most. Plus, you can try things out with your baby (perhaps at another friend's house or a church nursery) before making the big purchases. This could save you lots of wasted expenses. 

That being said, here is the first installment of a list of things that I used and didn't use in the first few months. As I said in the article, ask a friend/bring a friend along when you register. Firsthand accounts are always invaluable.

1. Sling. I didn't like carrying around a car seat when my little one weighed less than the carrier. It was bulky and awkward. Plus, putting car seats on the top of grocery carts is a safety hazard, so that ruled out using the car seat while grocery shopping. I carried my baby everywhere in the sling. I grocery shopped, went out for dinner, spent time with friends, ran errands, etc. with very little fuss from baby girl. In her car seat, she was more likely to be startled by the noises and lights around her, but in her warm, cozy, dark sling, she took no note of the outside world and slept peacefully. I used the New Native Organic Cotton Baby Carrier and LOVED it. It was perfect for my tiny one. When she got bigger though, I had to switch to something else because it pulled on my back. (If you have a big baby, you may want to consider a different style.) 

2. Ergo backpack. Once little Andie grew out of the sling, we transitioned to this backpack. I literally had strangers stop me in stores and tell me to get the Ergo backpack after the sling. One lady told me that she could carry her toddler around in it and it didn't hurt her back--a far cry from the Baby Bjorn that many complain hurts their backs once the baby is bigger. The Ergo comes with an infant insert, so you could skip the sling and start with the backpack. It's a little bulkier, but very comfortable. I know this is a pricey investment, but, trust me, I've never heard a bad report. It's well worth the money!

3. The Bob. Another investment well worth the money. This stroller can go anywhere. The big wheels and built-in shocks make it a dream to push. We had no trouble at the county fair getting over large cords and wires spider veined across the ground; we went for a stroll on the beach in Cancun with no trouble, and I maneuver through grocery aisles and the mall with ease. Since I knew the Bob was a priority, I opted not to get a travel system, and we borrowed a used car seat from a friend. This took the $100-$300 we would've used on a travel system and freed it up for the Bob. With the second baby, I will probably get an infant seat that's compatible with the Bob and the infant seat attachment. It will just streamline our stuff. 

I can't say enough about how much I love this stroller. Plus, the area in front is sturdy enough for a tired toddler to catch a quick ride (hopefully eliminating my need for a double stroller later on). That being said, a friend of mine didn't like the "big fancy stroller" and opted to use an umbrella stroller because it took up less space in her trunk. This is where your list of priorities comes in to play. I imagined myself walking, jogging, etc. with my Bob. The umbrella stroller would not keep up. My friend imagined herself quickly transitioning from car to destination with only a quick helper to get her across the longer distances. Where do you envision using your stroller?

More to come . . .


Wednesday Walkthrough

My first weekly themed post!

Every Wednesday we'll take a stroll through your house to find one item to consider changing to make your home a healthier place. 

In my quest to become more organic and make my home a safer and cleaner environment, I quickly became overwhelmed with all the things to buy. I believe this is where most people get overwhelmed and give up. But I've found that What About Bob? says it best, "Baby steps." So, let's take one step at a time and see what you can do (usually saving some money)  and  feel empowered along the way.

Baby Step #1. Cleaners.

I've found that three basic ingredients pretty much clean my entire house. Baking Soda. Vinegar. Borax powder bleach. (Well, those three plus some warm water and a good rag :-) My cleaning closet is packed with an industrial bag of baking soda, a big jug of white vinegar, and a box of bleach. I don't think I've had to restock for months, possibly over a year--how's that for savings?

How do you use these three ingredients? Well, a good place to start is by reading How the Queen Cleans Everything. I found it on the clearance shelf at Barnes and Noble. If you want to save money, you can always check it out from your local library or you can buy it used online. Another free option is to go to her web page here and cruise through the tips. In the book Linda Cobb details easy ways you can clean stuff without using cleaners that are loaded with harsh chemicals and overwhelming fragrances. (And there are loads of web pages that offer natural cleaning solutions too.)

One of my favorite cleaners is the "Toughest Grout Cleaner" listed on her page under "Tips." I use it to scrub my bathtub, shower, tile floors, kitchen sink, etc. And all it takes are the three ingredients listed above. 

To give you an idea of how I clean, here's a quick list of things that I clean with these three ingredients:

1. Moping--a handful of baking soda and warm water is all I use in my mop bucket--deodorizes and, with a little elbow grease, cleans all of my floors. (I scrub with the Toughest Grout Cleaner just a few times a year when I want an extra clean shine.)

2. Dusting, base boards, etc.--a rag wet with water and rung out really well. 

3. Mirrors--warm water splashed on the mirror then wiped clean with a dry towel. If there are greasy smudges, then I spray it with a mixture of 1 part vinegar and 1 part water.

4. Disinfecting counters, toys, etc.--a mixture of 1 part vinegar and 1 part water sprayed on just about anything and rubbed off with a towel disinfects and deodorizes.

5. As stated above, bathtub, shower, tile floors, kitchen sink, etc. I scrub with Toughest Grout Cleaner. 

6. Shower curtain liners (another Linda Cobb tip): throw the liner in the washing machine, add some vinegar and some old towels and run it on a normal cycle. Voila!

7. Cloth diapers: I run my diapers through a cold cycle instead of soaking them. Then I run a hot cycle with a little bit of detergent. But when I want to go the extra mile, I do the cold cycle, then run another cold cycle with a handful of baking soda. During the rinse cycle I add some vinegar to neutralize the soda. And when it's all done, I run an extra cycle of just plain water. This gets all lingering odors out and makes them extra white.

That's it. Cheap. Easy. And the next time you're pregnant, you don't have to worry about switching cleaners--you're already safe and clean.

ps. Check out this blog for lots of fun giveaways, including many natural cleaning products--and if you win, they're free!


Easter Photos

Love. Those. Eyes. 

If you're in the Tulsa area, check out Quincie. She's got an Easter photo shoot special going on right now--live bunnies included. There are some more pictures on her website. Check it out here.

Weekly Blog Ideas Pt. 2

Did you see?! After I posted that I love Cup of Jo's Wednesday Giveaway. . .I won that week! I'm so excited! These are the bookplates that I picked out from Felix Doolittle--what a great name! What do you think?
I just love trees. Sigh.


Friday Funny

With all the buzz about the Kindle 2.0, I thought this was pretty timely.

Query Advice

Another great post to check out when starting the query game. Agent Jessica talks about what not to do in a query. It seems like these points would be obvious, but after years of grading high schoolers' essays/reports, I found that it happens more often than not that the "obvious" alludes many people. This is not to be condescending. It's simply a fact that people fall into a habit of doing the same thing over and over because it's comfortable. And it's not until someone is willing to speak the truth in love that we realize the rut we've fallen in to. I'm just as guilty as the next.

Read the post here


Handmade Books

I absolutely love these books. I want to stroke the pages and play with the lace between my fingers. How inspired.

Check out La Pomme's etsy site here for even more books. She even shares the story with each book, so you know which one will make your heart flutter the longest.


Weekly Blog Ideas

As this blog evolves, I'm discovering that inspiration is not always as readily available as I had hoped. But, as I follow an insane amount of other people's blogs, I've found a technique that some use that may spur on some new ideas. 

It appears that the trend for many blogs is to have a common theme/idea for a day of the week. For example, there's Nathan Bransford's "You Tell Me . . ." and "This Week in Publishing"; ResaDesign's "Mom Tip Monday"; Stacy Nyikos's "You Might Be a Writer If"; and, a recent discovery, Katydid and Kid's "Tech Tuesday." Oh, and I almost forgot my favorite, Cup of Jo's "Wednesday Giveaway."

So my brainstorm right now is centering on a weekly theme I could contribute to my blog. Should it be tips for writers? what I've found about getting published? mama guides? writermama anecdotes? mamas with freelance careers? simple, easy-to-swallow steps to living more healthy? recipes? pictures?

Any thoughts? ideas? What do you want to read? Faithful followers, what have you found as a common thread that you'd like to see more of? I'd love your input!


Food for Thought

Wow, lots of really good food for thought on how to make the use of your extra time these days (especially if work is slow). I love Seth Godin's blog. This one is especially challenging.


And the secret is . . .

. . . I'm published! Cross something else off my goals list. It's official. The magazine is Red River Family. The articles are on page 7. You can check out the magazine here. Then read page 7. Did I mention it's on page 7?

I am so excited! I feel like my writing career has actually begun. My editing career began long ago, but my paid writing career is here!!! 

I actually missed the call from the editor, so I found out via voicemail. My hubby takes all the credit because he's the one that noticed my missed call and brought it to my attention. 

I feel a speech is in order. I'd like to thank God first and foremost. I'd like to thank my hubby for all of the love and support and making sure I'm up to write each morning. I'd like to thank my precious daughter for inspiring me. I'd like to thank Peggy Fielding for kicking my booty and making me write every day and for teaching me the query format. I'd like to thank the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators for posting this job on their listserve. And for all the aspiring writers out there, I'd just like to say, you're not a writer unless you write every day. Thank you so much.

ps. sorry to mislead some of you who were waiting for a pregnancy announcement. I did get a kick out of your impatience to know though :)


The proof is in the pudding?

"The proof is in the pudding." What does that mean? Well, I know what it means, but where did that come from? I looked it up, and this covers it. Enjoy. 

Apparently, the original phrase is "the proof of the pudding is in the eating." Now, that makes much more sense. And I love eating pudding :)

Now, where is the story in this? I'm off to brainstorm :)

Happy Belated Birthday

I missed Dr. Seuss's birthday! So sorry. Andie and I have been delving into his rhyming genius lately. I have to admit, I take a deep breath before running through Green Eggs and Ham, but I'm always smiling at the end (usually because I made it through). Anyway, there's something to be said for rhyming (which I hate--ask any of my former English students) and newborns. They just love that singsong rhythm. So, for my baby, I enjoy rhyming . . . for now. As soon as we can move on to other books--we will!

Happy Birthday Dr. Suess!

And to tie in cooking. Did you know that there's a Green Eggs and Ham cookbook? Ew.