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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.

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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Gift ideas for guys

Categories: Books, Clothes, Food, Fun stuff for grown-ups, Gifts, Guys, House & Home, Kitchen

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Gift ideas for guys seem to fall into the same category as gift ideas for teenagers: with so few ideas, sharing what little we have can only improve matters. So here are some of the things I’ve given Paul recently, in case they’d work for your guy too:

Cooking for Geeks (photo from Amazon.com). I was irritated but affirmed when I bought this for Paul for an upcoming holiday and then saw he’d checked the same book out of the library.

Paul kept complaining about (and breaking the handles off of) my “sucky” measuring cups, so I did a post asking for advice on a good manly set. To my surprise and dismay, the comments section filled up with suggestions for measuring cups that cost about triple the amount of money I’d had in mind. But I thought about it and got used to the idea that maybe better quality = costs more, and then there was a sale combined with a free shipping deal, and so I bought him a set of the Williams-Sonoma measuring cups and spoons (photo from Williams-Sonoma.com)—and Paul LOVES them. On the next gift occasion, he hinted that he would also like the odd-sizes set, so I got him those too. (He was slightly cheesed that the two sets of measuring cups don’t nest together, but it wasn’t a big deal.)
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Gift ideas for a 1-year-old

Categories: Baby gear, Books, Gifts, Toddler gear, Toys

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My nephew recently turned one, which is hard for me to believe but the evidence sits before me. Recently there were requests for gift ideas for a one-year-old, so I took notes at his birthday party.

Pewi YBike Walking Buddy and Riding Toy (photo from Amazon.com). This is a very stylish looking riding toy. And if the child stands facing it, it’s also a sturdy walker.


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Birthday party gift ideas for a 14-year-old

Categories: Books, Crafts and activities, Gifts

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My teenager was invited to a birthday party last week. This was new ground. It was the first party without a paper invitation, the first party where I’ve wondered if there would be chaperones and whether I might like to call the parents to see if our philosophies match on topics such as liquor and supervision.

The gift was its own problem. Littler kids like a lot of things, and there are a lot of other things they’d enjoy trying even if they didn’t end up liking them. If I’m in doubt, I feel like I can always fall back on a Melissa and Doug coloring/sticker bundle and fancy coloring implements.

The older kids at my house are definitely harder to buy for, and SOMEONE ELSE’S older kid seems almost impossible. And what if presents aren’t really COOL anymore, or the wrapping paper is stupid, or the gift is embarrassingly too young (”Here, sonny, I got you this jigsaw puzzle of puppies!”). *fret fret fret* But eventually I thought I would just try to do what I would do for my own 13-year-old and not worry too much about it—and if I made some sort of Grievous Error, Rob could just roll his eyes and say “MOTHERS!” and the other boys would make scoffy noises and say “I know, right?”

Prismacolor Manga Colored Pencil Set (photo from Amazon.com).
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Road trip supplies for older kids

Categories: Books, Crafts and activities, Fashion, Learning activities, Travel

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Paul has started a new annual tradition of taking the two older kids on a road trip each summer. Here are some of the supplies I bought for them this year, when they were ages 11 and 13:

The Hunger Games trilogy (photo from Amazon.com). Both kids read the first book, but we’ve spent the rest of the summer on the library waiting list for the second one. This was the perfect moment to finally give in and buy the set. And there was no fighting over it, because one kid wanted to re-read the first book before reading the second one, and the other kid didn’t.

Brain Quest for the Car (photo from Amazon.com). We’ve loved these Brain Quest cards for littler kids; I hadn’t realized they had sets for older kids. I first considered the set for 7th graders (one child is going into 6th, the other into 8th), but this car-trip set seemed more fun. I worried it might be too young for them (it’s marked ages 7-12), and probably would have gotten the America set (ages 9 and up) if it hadn’t had a predicted shipping delay.
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Gift ideas for a 7-year-old (or two 7-year-olds)

Categories: Baby gear, Books, Fashion, Gifts, Toys

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The twins turned seven, and for me it meant not just “O MY BABIES ARE GROWING UP” but also “O MAN THIS IS A LOT OF PRESENT IDEAS TO COME UP WITH.”

One of the more surprising successes was a calculator (photo from Amazon.com) for Edward. He’d kept stealing mine, so I wondered if he might like to have one of his own—and although his first reaction was not quite the level of THRILL a person might be looking for in a birthday gift reaction, he’s played with it nearly every day since.

My parents bought LittleMissMatched socks (photo from LittleMissMatched.com) for Elizabeth. I had the fun of choosing, so I chose all from the buy-3-sets-get-1-set-free section, to reduce the pain of paying THREE dollars PER sock PLUS shipping. This was a great gift idea for grandparents, because I KNEW Elizabeth really wanted the socks but I was having a hard time getting over the hurdle of the price (and the SUPER annoyance of not being able to use a free shipping code on an order containing buy-3-get-1). My mom: “Pish! They’re perfect! Let’s order them!”
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Unusual board books

Categories: Baby gear, Books

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One of my favorite gift ideas for a new baby is a stack of board books I liked reading to my own kids: it’s a sentimental gift but also a practical one. I was looking at candidates for that very sort of gift, and I kept running into…unusual board books. Many of them seemed like they’d make great amusing gift ideas for the right recipients—but I’d need to go see them in a book store so I could make sure they were as good as their covers.

Baby Mix Me a Drink (photo from Amazon.com). I hadn’t realized until I went in search of a photo/link that the author Lisa Brown is married to Lemony Snicket. We bought a couple of these books a few years ago so I SHOULD know what I think of them, but all I remember is that we thought the titles and the whole concept were funnier than the actual books, but that the actual books were also funny and appealing. They make nice shower gifts, or a book to mix in with some that are more for the baby.

Star Trek Book of Opposites (photo from Amazon.com). This seems like it would be a good Father’s Day gift for a new dad. (Or of course for a mother who’s a Star Trek fan, but Mother’s Day has passed.)
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College graduation gift ideas

Categories: Books, Gifts, Kitchen, Milestones

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Vanessa asked if I’d do a post on college graduation gifts. At first I misread the request as high school graduation gifts, so I was all, “Hot pot and a box of Ramen! X-long sheet set! Gift certificate for pizza place near dorms!”

College graduation is a little trickier, because the way people live in college (and their plans for what’s next) can vary so much. It’s similar to buying a wedding gift, where it depends if the couple are leaving their parents’ houses for the first time, or if they’ve been living together for years, or if they’re combining two households. Some college kids live in the dorms the whole time, so they could use “first apartment” gifts. Other kids get an apartment at some point during college and so they pretty much have everything—oh, except the coffee pot belongs to this roommate, and the silverware belongs to that roommate, and the furniture was all found at the curb, and actually they do kind of need new-apartment stuff. Some kids are going to move back in with their parents for awhile; some are launching off next week to a new job in another state.

So my first recommendation is to take the post-college plans into consideration, and see if you can buy something that would be useful for that. Helpful! The old “Hey, how about buying them something they’d like and/or could use!” gift suggestion!
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Gift ideas for pretty much absolutely anyone

Categories: Books, Crafts and activities, Food, Gifts, Good causes, Holiday, House & Home, Kitchen, Office

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Every year, EVERY YEAR, I feel like it is wayyyy too early to discuss gift ideas / holiday china / holiday cards and so everyone will be annoyed because DEAR HEAVENS SWISTLE IT’S ONLY HALLOWEEN—and then every year I am sitting here with only two Wednesdays left before Christmas, thinking, “There’s no tiiiiiiiiiime! There’s no tiiiiiiiiiiime!!” Still on my post list: gifts that have to work for an unknown recipient, food gifts, holiday cards, holiday china patterns, a holiday craft a child can make as a gift and it’s something a non-related-to-the-child person might even WANT, gift-idea books for children, gift-idea books for adults, good general DVD gift sets, puzzle brand comparison, teacher gift ideas, stocking stuffers, gift ideas for 4/6/10/12-year-olds. We can pick two of those. And by “we” I mean “me,” because by the time you read the first of the two posts (this one), I’ll already be working on the second one. So. Next year don’t be surprised if I start the discussion in October.
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Favorite Christmas children’s books

Categories: Books, Holiday

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Henry and I have been working on a project: each week at the library, we get a large stack of books from the Christmas section, and then we read them and see what we think of them. Here is what we have learned: there are a lot of crappy books in the Christmas section.

I had thought that we’d have to narrow down our favorites to fit them into a reasonable-length post, but in fact the problem has been finding ENOUGH for a post. There are tons of good Christian Christmas nativity-story books, but I was looking for books more about the general holiday: the presents, the tree, the carols, the cookies, the stockings. It was okay if there was a little bit of Baby Jesus (like if the family in the book went to a Christmas Eve service), but we ruled out all the books where that was the exclusive deal. After that, the problem was just that so many books weren’t any fun to read, or were unbearably cheesy, or didn’t make any sense, or just barely related to Christmas at all.

For example, Madeline’s Christmas is weird, and not about Christmas, and it introduces a magical theme into a series I think of as being realistic. (That is, in the Madeline books a child might have surgery or be rescued from a river, but a child does not fly around on a magical carpet. Madeline’s Christmas shakes up that expectation.) Christmas Cricket started out totally charming me with both the pictures and words, but then veered off into lying to children about how cricket chirps are “angel songs,” while I was still thinking “NO, there is just a CRICKET living in your CHRISTMAS TREE, and you are going to end up going BERSERK because those things DO NOT SHUT UP, and now you won’t even be able to get RID of it because you have convinced your child that it is an angel. WAY TO GO.”

Well. We did find a FEW we liked.

Merry Christmas, Merry Crow (photo from Amazon.com). A crow flies hither and thither around a town, gathering a bunch of little items: a lost toy car, the ribbon decorating someone’s mailbox, a scrap of paper, a piece of orange peel. It turns out (spoiler alert!) he’s decorating a Christmas tree for all the animals to enjoy. This was a fun book to read and look at: the crow is sometimes drawn hugely close-up and sometimes tiny and hard to find, and there are Christmas activities (shopping, parade, church service) in the backgrounds.
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