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.

Girls’ Easter dresses

Categories: Clothes

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One of my favorite of Elizabeth’s phases was her Dresses Phase. She liked to wear dresses almost every single day, and I loved to buy dresses almost every single day, so it was a happy partnership. Now she is in her Skirts Phase, which is nice too.

The best times of year to buy inexpensive dresses were: (1) Easter clearance, (2) summer clearance, and (3) Christmas clearance. The Easter/Christmas dresses were fanciest; I sometimes thought I should send a note in to Elizabeth’s teacher saying, “Don’t worry, it looks like $40 and dry-clean-only and parents-will-pitch-fit-if-paint-gets-on-it, but it was $8 and at home we’re letting her wear it in the mud.”

Tutu dress (photo from ChildrensPlace.com). Sleeveless dresses seem impractical, but they’re easy to wear over tights and a long-sleeved shirt.

Tiered gingham dress (photo from OldNavy.com). This could be a sundress, or a cute school outfit with white tights and shirt.
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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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Supplies for a sleepover

Categories: Elementary school kids, games

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Elizabeth has been invited to her first sleepover. I went on and on to the other mother about how she MIGHT be too nervous to accept the invitation—but it turns out Elizabeth’s fine and I’m the one who’s nervous.

I manage stress by shopping—or by pretend-shopping (I was glad to find recently that I am not alone in this). In this case I don’t think I actually need to buy anything: she can use an adult-sized orange-and-khaki sleeping bag we already own, and she doesn’t need new pajamas. But I had some fun putting together a pretend kit anyway.

Hello Kitty sleeping bag and backpack and Hello Kitty sleeping bag (photos from Amazon.com). At first I preferred the one on the left—but it’s more expensive than the one on the right, and comes with a backpack we don’t need. [The prices/sellers keep changing as I'm working on this. At first it was $40 for the one on the left and $20 for the one on the right. I'd re-do the search for "Hello Kitty sleeping bag" before buying.] I’m a little tempted to get her one of these even though she could make do with the one we have, just because the one we have is sooooo much bigger than she needs AND FINE, BECAUSE I LIKE TO BUY HELLO KITTY THINGS.

3-piece pajama set (photo from ChildrensPlace.com). Elizabeth has some footed sleepers, and she has some of the snug-fit cotton two-piece type pajamas, but it seems like the best would be the style with looser-fitting pants and a t-shirt. She has some of that type, and also some Nick & Nora button downs that would work well.
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Non-candy Valentine’s Day gifts for kids

Categories: Crafts and activities, Elementary school kids, Food, Gifts, Holiday, Toys, games

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I hope that this post will not give you the impression that I disapprove of candy at Valentine’s Day, or that I avoid it. FAR FROM IT. I give my own kids a candy gift, and I like that they come home with a little assortment of treats from school, too: it’s nice to have a candy holiday in between Christmas and Easter, just to keep the spirits up in the cold sad part of winter.

But I know enough from seeing/hearing OTHER people discuss it that not everyone is of the same mind. For those who are trying to avoid candy for various reasons but still would like to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a gift for the kids, here are a few ideas:

Sticky Mosaics heart box (photo from Amazon.com). I have mentioned Sticky Mosaics often enough that you already know we’re fans at my house. This heart box is a fun project we’ve also given as birthday-party gifts.

Hide ‘n’ Peek Chocolates game (photo from Amazon.com). If you look at the reviews, you’ll see that a lot of people thought this was a good Valentine’s Day gift for a child, and that unfortunately there is one main problem with it: the lid doesn’t fit on right. So it kind of depends on how important that feature is for the game to be a success. If you’re going to store it in a bin anyway (if you’re like me and wouldn’t want to assemble the toy every time you put it away, for example), it won’t matter—but it might be disappointing anyway.
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Games we can bear to play with children

Categories: Crafts and activities, Gifts, Keepsakes, Learning activities, Toddler gear

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I am breathing carefully and calmly through my nose as I think of playing board games with children: Monopoly, which goes on forever and makes children cry; CandyLand, which seems like it’s about to end and then someone gets sent back to the beginning.

I do have a few, a very select few, that I am willing to play. I look for a game that is fun for me as well as for the kids, and that doesn’t require me to hold way back in order to avoid trouncing my opponents.

Wits & Wagers Family (photo from Amazon.com). I prefer the grown-up version, which I first encountered at my brother and sister-in-law’s house, but the kid-friendly game is nearly as good. I am timid and suspicious of games, but this one won me over: it’s like Trivial Pursuit except you’re NOT SUPPOSED TO know the answers. The idea is that everyone will be guessing. The guesses are laid out in a row, and then everyone can bet on the likelihood that the guesses are correct; in this way, you can win points even if you didn’t know the population of Vatican City, or how many points an athlete scored in his best game. It ends up being a lot of fun and a lot of laughing, and as soon as I got home from that game night I ordered the family version to play with the kids.

Set (photo from Amazon.com). This game was recommended to us by one of the kids’ teachers, who had the kids make their own small decks to practice with. The point of the game is to find three cards that make up a “set”: the three cards can be different colors but the same shapes, or different shapes but the same colors, or all different colors/shapes. It took me a little while to catch on, but after that it was simple and addictive.
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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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What are your kids wearing for Halloween?

Categories: Elementary school kids, Holiday, Preschoolers

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My eldest child has outgrown Halloween. Or, more likely, he’s between the stage of trick-or-treating/dressing-up and the stage of re-discovering it in crowds of teenagers who make everyone clench their teeth as they go to door gathering free candy dressed in a garbage bag.

The other four kids are still interested. We have a loose costume policy, which is basically this: I vastly prefer they choose a costume from the bins of clearance costumes I’ve acquired over the years. But if a child earnestly and fervently wants a different and particular costume, I am willing to consider it.

What we usually do is start with the Thinking About It stage, which is where we are now: the children are considering what they might want to be, and I’m looking up costumes and going “THIRTY DOLLARS PLUS SHIPPING? For something you’ll wear ONCE??” I wish it were easier to know THE YEAR BEFORE what costume the child would want to wear the following year. I KNOW I saw Star Wars costumes on practically-giving-them-away clearances last year, but last year none of them were into Star Wars.

William would like to be Luke Skywalker (image from Amazon.com). Unfortunately, William is 5′4″, so he will probably need the adult-size costume, which is even more expensive than the kid one. Also, when he saw the image I just posted, he said, “If possible, I want to be the black costume, when he’s a Jedi.” At first I was dismayed, as we scrolled through page after page of Jedi costumes and all of them were “No, that’s Anakin.” But then we did an image search to see what LUKE’S Jedi outfit looks like…and it’s black clothes. It’s really just black clothes, plus a light saber. And William thinks he can make the wrist thing out of cardboard and tin foil. So that’s manageable: I can buy the light saber and make sure he has a black shirt and that’s it.
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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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