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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.

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 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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Managing stress, part 2 of 2

Categories: Managing stress

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Last week’s post:
1. Puzzles
2. Thinning out the list
3. Valerian root
4. Smoothies

This week’s post:

5. Lavender stuff (photo from BathAndBodyWorks.com). This is similar to the superfoods thing: I have FAITH IN THE RELAXING POWERS OF LAVENDER, and so even if it’s NOT working, it works because it makes me feel like I’m DOING something, I’m FIXING it. Plus, anything that instructs me to inhale deeply is going to help.

6. Doing each thing in the right time frame (photo from Amazon.com). If I write when there are kids around, it takes me about five times as long to do the same amount of work as if I write when there are no kids around—and as I’m taking five times as long, I’m also snapping and resenting and feeling awful.
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Managing stress, part 1 of 2

Categories: Managing stress

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Things are stressful right now. (Work/too-much-to-do kind of way, rather than personal/family-distress.) I feel like I’ve heard meditation and exercise and bubble baths and yoga advice mentioned a million, billion times; here are some of the other things I do (some of which may also have been mentioned a million, billion times):

1. Puzzles (photo from Amazon.com). I’m working on KenKen now; I’ve also done Sudoku. I find puzzles soothing and distracting: they take my mind off things, but also make my mind feel tidied up. They’re a good thing to work on in a waiting room, or if I have a few minutes between tasks. I like the feeling of a small accomplishment.

2. Thinning out—not necessary in order of priority. Sometimes when I am feeling very, very stressed, the issue is that I’m feeling all the many things I need to do buzzing around me in a cloud. And sometimes when that’s the case, there is a percentage of things that are low-priority but could be done in a short amount of time.

If I write down the twenty things I need to do, including even the small things like changing the battery in the bathroom clock or responding “Okay, I’ll do that!” to an email, not only does that let me stop rehearsing the list mentally, but also I can often do, say, five of the things in five minutes. Getting the list down from twenty items to fifteen makes a huge difference in how stressed I am—whereas if I’d done the things in strict priority order, I’d still be on the first item and still feeling the other nineteen looming.
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Long car trips: toys and other entertainments

Categories: Electronics, Entertainment, Managing stress, Toys, Travel

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My friend Heather is moving across the entire country with children aged almost-3 and almost-5. If I were her I would say that as “ages 2 and 4,” to maximize the Pity Factor.

She is looking for ideas to keep the children entertained on the trip. If your first suggestion is “NO DON’T DO IT AT ALL! Fly instead!! With the children in animal crates!!” you can save your breath because I already tried it. They will be in the car at least six days, and that is final.

I suggest we see if we can make this easier for her in any way. Donations of prescription medications would be excellent too, but I was thinking more along the lines of travel tips and toy ideas.

My tip, based on taking two much-shorter trips (1.5-days in the car each trip) with a 2-year-old and a newborn, is to plan to stop at places that have a play area or a grassy run-around area, and include in estimated trip time the amount of time it would take for the kids to run/play/climb for 15 minutes or so at each stop. Plus assume triple the number of stops needed with adults. This makes the entire trip take much, much longer.

My second tip is to save some stuff aside and not bring out everything on the first day of travel, or else the children will play frantically with all the toys on the first day and be bored for the rest of the trip. (This is a pointless tip, because if it were me, I’d be desperate enough on the first day to bring out anything, ANYTHING I had.)

Now for things to buy:

1. Fresh TV/movies. Heather tells me that they already have a DVD player for the car, so I suggest buying several new DVDs. …This doesn’t seem like it’s brilliant enough to suggest, but that didn’t stop me from suggesting the kids could run around at rest stops. Blue’s Clues (photo from Amazon.com) is one of the ones I got for the just-turned-2-year-old on my own trip, so it may be too young for the 2- and 4-year-olds—but anything, ANYTHING they would like that wouldn’t be intolerable for the adults.

2. Water-drawing thingie. The H-2 Whoa is the one we had. It’s two-sided, so by the time you finish drawing on the second side, the first side is mostly dry and ready to use again. But if I were buying now, I’d buy the travel-sized Aqua Doodle (photo from Amazon.com). (In fact, I DID buy it, and we still keep it in our car. I like it less because it has pre-printed rainbows/grass on it, which can kind of ruin an outer space drawing. But it IS more sensibly compact.)
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Small treats

Categories: Life balance, Managing stress

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January is one of the more dismal months. No more decorations. Back to the regular routine. Diets and exercise. Bills. There’s MLK Jr.’s birthday to look forward to, of course, but other than that it’s just one long stretch of deprivation and paying the piper.

This is why I recommend that January be a month of small treats. “Small” because it’s a month of many kinds of restrictions, and we are not going to get anywhere by thwarting all of them. “Treats” because if we don’t find ANY small way around those restrictions we’re going to lose our will to live.

(And make sure you price it right: if it’s something you’d need buy anyway, the treat is only the amount EXTRA it costs. That is, if your regular fabric softener is $6, but the scent you really love is $8, buying it is only a $2 treat, not an $8 treat. If packing a lunch would cost you $2, but buying a lunch is $6, buying it is only a $4 treat, not a $6 treat.)


(photo from MrsMeyers.com)

Treat Idea #1: A nice smell. If you have perfume you don’t usually wear, wear it sometimes. Or buy a new candle, or get some perfume samples to try, or choose a new hand soap, or a new air freshener, or a new fabric softener. We are not thinking BIG here: even very small and ordinary things can be cheering.
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