Milk and Cookies

with Kristen

I'm a mother of five, a bargain hunter, a recreational comparison shopper, and always trying to make more time - for me and for you, too. On this blog I'm sharing my favorite tools and finds to help make your work-life juggle a bit easier.

You can find my personal blog at Swistle.com.

Life-improving products, part 4

Categories: Beauty, Health and Safety, House & Home, Kitchen, Managing stress, Office

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(Continued from part 1, part 2, and part 3.)

Stearns Youth Life Vest (photo from Amazon.com). I’d been too scared to take the kids to any body of water other than a swimming pool, because I couldn’t imagine keeping track of them all at once in water that didn’t have walls and lifeguards. I’d be okay with the older two swimming around, but not the younger three: they still sometimes sink and thrash during their swimming lessons. Near the end of last summer I bought a life jacket to see if it would help the situation (I didn’t want to buy three and find out they weren’t any good), and it was one of the best purchases of my entire life. This summer I bought two more. We went to the lake, and the three little kids swam around to their hearts’ content, and I barely freaked out at all.

The sizing on this says 50-90 pounds, but notice that many of the reviewers strenuously object to that. The three little kids at my house are 6-8 years old and weigh in the 45-55 range, and these vests fit them just right with some room to grow (and fit Henry well last summer when he was 5)—but it’s hard to imagine the vests still fitting at 90 pounds.

Spinbrush Electric Toothbrushes (photo from Amazon.com). These are inexpensive enough (about $7 on sale at Target) that I have one for each of the kids. A 2-pack of replacement heads goes on sale for about the same price as the toothbrush. There are several different types of these; I try to get ProClean rather than ProWhitening, but I think we’ve had some of each without me noticing a difference.
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Life-improving products, part 3

Categories: Crafts and activities, Electronics, Fashion, Good causes, House & Home, Kitchen, Life balance, Office, Time savers

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(Continued from part 1 and part 2.)

CMS NeoPin Magents (photo from Amazon.com). These are not going to be everyone’s cup of tea: some people hate stuff on the fridge, and some people have non-magnetic fridges, and some people have kids little enough to eat magnets. But if you DO like having stuff on your fridge, AND your fridge cooperates with that, AND your kids are old enough to eat things from the inside of the fridge and not the outside, then these are GREAT: really strong, and also pretty. They claim to be able to hold 16 pages, and I wouldn’t be surprised: Paul recently used one to pin the remains of a pad of paper to the fridge. Because they’re kind of expensive for fridge magnets, they’d make a good gift for someone hard to buy for.

ZenniOptical.com (image from Zenni Optical). This site has revolutionized the way I think of my glasses. Instead of spending $200 at the eye doctor for a single pair of glasses boring enough to go with everything, I spend the same amount and get a dozen pairs of FACE DECORATION. Because the glasses can’t be tried on, I do allow for a number of failures—but if I get two good pairs for $100, I’m still way ahead of what I was spending before. And now that two of my kids are wearing glasses, I love Zenni even more: when a child breaks yet another pair, I just get out another pair from the stash. I also recommend their sunglasses: I waited until I’d found which frames I liked best from my first order, and then I ordered the same frames with prescription sunglasses lenses.
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Life-improving products, part 2

Categories: Electronics, Elementary school kids, House & Home, Kitchen, Life balance, Managing stress, School, School gear, back to school, organization

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Continuing with last week’s theme of life-improving products:

Wahl Haircut Kit (photo from Amazon.com). This was especially life-changing when the boys were younger: I could line up the four of them and save $60 in well under an hour. The first time I cut Toddler Rob’s hair was VERY SCARY, but I thought to myself, “If I make a mess of this, I can take him to the barber and have them fix it—or I can just shave it off and start over.”

Goody Small Claw Clips (photo from Amazon.com). I buy these from Target in a pack that has 5 of each color. I use them for buns or for other twisty styles, and they have revolutionized how I do my hair. My only complaint is that they come in mixed-color packs, when I only like the tortoiseshell ones. I’ve been thinking I should set up a local swap club, because surely there are other women who like the black ones or clear ones best.
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Life-improving products, part 1

Categories: Electronics, House & Home, Kitchen, Managing stress, Time savers, organization

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My parents’ ultimate praise for a new item or system is “It has IMPROVED the QUALITY of our LIVES.” Since this has been a shopping/product blog, I thought I’d devote my final four posts here at Milk and Cookies to products that have improved the quality of our lives.

Wireless freezer alarm (photo from Amazon.com). We bought a freestanding freezer around the time the twins were born. I kept coming downstairs to find the door slightly open, popsicles dripping from the top shelf to the bottom. This set of two alarms (it’s supposed to be one for the fridge and one for the freezer, but we have one in the upstairs freezer and one in the downstairs freezer) lets us know if the temperature is rising, BEFORE we lose the ten packages of meat bought on a good sale.

Taco rack (photo from Amazon.com). When it was just Paul and me, it wasn’t a big deal to balance the shells on a tray in that interlocking way that keeps them from cooking themselves closed. Now that we heat more than an entire package of shells at a meal, this thing saves us a great deal of frustration. It took me a long time to buy it because it seems really overpriced—but it’s been well worth it. AND, the four pieces of metal come apart, so it hardly takes up any storage space at all (I slide ours under the boxes of crackers in the cupboard).
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Tips for Surviving the Work/Summer Combination

Categories: Life balance, Managing stress, organization

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It’s too soon to call it, but I think summer is going to finish me off. Every day I think, “Here are the projects that need to be worked on today.” Every day, I fail: either I put in an insufficient amount of time, or I don’t get to any of them at all. I’m getting that “the water is rising” feeling.

This is WITH my usual techniques: signing up the most difficult child for day-camp; buying a few fun new things; breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth.

(Bananagrams ((photo from Amazon.com)) is the biggest hit so far. )

I think there’s a feeling that everyone (especially kids) DESERVES to have a 3-month vacation with tons of fun things every day: beaches! amusement parks! camping! And so it’s easy for parents to feel really bad that they’re not delivering on that—and maybe resentful, too, since they’re not getting it for themselves, either. But sometimes it doesn’t work out to spend a quarter of the year that way, and that’s okay too. School is out for the summer; work is still in session. And “Sleeping in, then playing outside as long as you want, then coming in and having lemonade, then reading comic books and playing video games all afternoon” IS a wonderful fun-fun-fun kind of summer, as is “Going to day-camp.”

Still, so far my work is not getting done, even after dropping the feeling that every day should be packed with summer fun. One trick I’ve had success with lately is imagining if someone else came to me with the same problem I’m having—what would I suggest they try?
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Summer sleep-away camp supplies

Categories: Elementary school kids, Health and Safety, Managing stress, Travel

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I am in a TIZZ about Elizabeth going to Girl Scouts camp this summer. I’m GLAD she’s going, and I’m glad she WANTS to go, but it’s a week and this is the first time and ack.

I HAVE been having fun buying things, though. She’s supposed to bring old grubby clothes, but she went up a size this year so all her clothes are new. So I went to Goodwill and bought a bunch of things for $1-2 each: shorts, long pants, t-shirts, a sweatshirt. And Target had a bunch of t-shirts and leggings at 70% off, so I bought some of those, too.

Other fun purchases:

Each girl needs her own mess kit. The Girl Scouts shop has a mess kit with a logo on it (photo from GirlScoutShop.com) for $25, but that felt a little high. I found the SAME mess kit without the logo (same brand, same color, same items even though the dunk bag isn’t in the picture) on Amazon for $15.84 (photo from Amazon.com).

When I was little, my grandmother gave me a pad of fold-and-mail stationery (photo from Amazon.com), and I remember thinking it was a mind-blowing concept. This sort of thing rarely has the same impact for the next generation (”I remember when we got COLOR TELEVISION!!”), but I found a pad of it at Marshalls and got it for her for writing letters home. She does like it, though the wow factor is, as expected, not quite as wowish.
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Shopping ideas for summer fun

Categories: Books, Crafts and activities, Elementary school kids, Managing stress, On the web, Toys, games

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Normally this time of year I’m buying a batch of Summer Survival Gear Treats. I like to buy a new CD for the driving back and forth to lessons and camp; a new outdoor toy or two; a new board game; some craft supplies; maybe a new video game.

This year, we seem to be all set. We’ve bought all the CDs, and/or the kids are too old for them now. (I’d like to get The Book of Mormon soundtrack because they’ve loved the few songs I’ve shown them on YouTube, but the lyrics to a lot of them are…not ones I want them singing absentmindedly next year in school.) We already own a Stomp Rocket and a plasma car and a hula hoop and some jump ropes and a scooter. We’ve got Skip-bo and Wits & Wagers and Scrambled States. Our video game shelf and craft bin overfloweth, and I just got a big bag of kid books from the library book sale.

I did buy one thing:

Webkinz Deluxe Membership (screen shot from GanzEStore.com), which gives access to a bunch of otherwise-locked games and merchandise and so forth on the Webkinz site. The tipping point for me was a sale: normally it’s $45 for a year’s membership, but June 10th-13th it’s on sale for $33.74. (If you want to get the 3-month one so it’s just a summer thing, it’s $11.24.) The year-long one comes with the ability to add other accounts for $5 each, so I got it for myself (*embarrassed cough*) and added the three kids who play Webkinz. It’s hard for me to explain how thrilling this has been for us, and in fact I find I’m reluctant to try to persuade you that this isn’t a very foolish thing to spend money on, and maybe we should just change the subject. But it was Very Exciting for four of us at my house, and the year-long subscription also comes with a free Webkinz pet (online version only, no plush version), a fawn I kept for myself. It also comes with a monthly batch of virtual money, so I am saving up for a Sun Fox. …Okay, NOW I’m too embarrassed to discuss it anymore. (SUN FOX FOR ME!)
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11 Gift ideas for Father’s Day

Categories: Crafts and activities, Electronics, Fashion, Fun stuff for grown-ups, Gifts, Guys, Holiday, Toys

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Last year I suggested we get together a list of what we’d resorted to for Father’s Day presents, so that THIS year we’d have more ideas to consider.

I continue to recommend the Click ‘n’ Dig Wireless Remote Finder (photo from Amazon.com). We’ve had it a year, and Paul still says “Best. gift. ever.” about twice a week. One of the four sensor thingies broke after being dropped one (1) million times, but we still had a spare so we just replaced it. We keep the remote itself nailed to the wall so it can’t get lost. If we broke another of the little sensor thingies, I would buy another set without even thinking about it.

Last year, Alicia mentioned getting a travel coffee press/mug (photo from Amazon.com) with fancy coffee, for good coffee at the office or on business trips.
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End-of-year teacher gifts

Categories: Fun stuff for grown-ups, Gifts, Keepsakes, School

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We did end-of-year teacher gifts our first few years of having schoolkids, but now I don’t typically do them. I’m more likely to put all the teacher-gift eggs into the December-gift basket.

But I do sometimes do something for end-of-year, especially if there’s something significant about the particular year/class. For example, last year one of my children’s teachers was retiring, and she’d taught another of my children as well. I had copies of “first day of school” pictures printed from both kids’ first days in her class, and enclosed them with a thank-you letter and a Target gift card and a card wishing her a happy retirement. (Forty years teaching first graders. Can you imagine? No, don’t try.)

Mid-year, I think classroom items can be a nice thing to donate—but at the end of the year, I suspect teachers just want to PACK IT UP. No more pencils, no more books, no more children’s dirty looks! I aim instead for things I think they might be able to enjoy over the summer. A gift card to Panera, for a time of year they might be able to go to lunch. A gift card to a book store, for a little recreational reading. A gift card to the over-priced-but-delicious ice cream store. A gift card to a place that sells iced coffees (photo from Starbucks.com), for keeping them cool in August when they’re reassembling their non-air-conditioned classrooms.
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Signs of spring

Categories: Beauty, Fun stuff for grown-ups

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Spring is such sweet, sweet relief. No more slushy boots, no more icy roads.

I’ve put away my nice warm boots and I’m back in Converse (photo from Amazon.com). So is the teenaged assistant at the kids’ karate class, which worries me: do Converse bridge the generations, or is one of us off our mark?

I like the Burt’s Bees tinted lip balms: I keep one in my pocket and use it like regular chapstick, but I like the little bit of color. When I bought the Sweet Violet (photo from Amazon.com), I’d expected a purpley color for fall—but it’s more of a lilac-pink, perfect for spring.
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