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.

Cheap but good

Categories: Beauty

15 Comments

Every so often, someone will do a post on things they will/won’t buy generic. I am strictly brand-name on things like lotion and body wash and conditioner—but I’m CHEAP brand-name, which seems like it could be its own category. Like, I buy only brand-name face moisturizer, but the brands I like cost less than $10 a bottle; that seems different than only using La Mer.

So today I’d like to talk about the things we like that are brand-name but CHEAP.

1. Dove Deep Moisture face lotion (photo from Amazon.com). I don’t have a link for this one, and it is for a panicky reason: I saw it on Amazon for, like, $40 a bottle by non-Amazon sellers, and there’s no way I’m linking to that crazy talk because it’s usually $7 a bottle. So I went to the Dove site to get a link from there instead and THE FACE LOTION IS NOWHERE ON THE SITE. Does this mean it’s…gone? I last bought it when it was on a good sale, and I got three bottles of it so I haven’t needed to buy it for a long time.
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Favorite craft gifts for kids

Categories: Books, Crafts and activities, Gifts, Toys

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What I laughingly call a “craft bin” at our house is in fact a tower of disaster: a bunch of stacking baskets (like these) that we got for free at the dump, filled to a teeter with the litter of a decade’s worth of “Just toss that in the craft bin.” Several half-used packages of card stock. Sheets of felt, partially cut into. Rubber stamps—where is the stamp pad? Stickers that came with charity pleas. A protractor that came in a kit of school supplies. Foam letters spilling out of a bag. Empty Play-Doh containers—what the heck? A package of beads, a package of jingle bells, a package of popsicle sticks. A bunch of craft books we always think someone will want to leaf through for ideas, but no one ever does. Clearly there needs to be a heavy cleaning-out, but this is the sort of area where as soon as I throw something away, a child wants it for a project.

Despite the oppressive nature of our own craft bins (and, as I know from babysitting and nannying, other people’s craft bins), craft supplies remains one of my favorite gifts for children’s parties. They’re the kind of gift that tends to pass parental inspection, even with all the things parents can object to (”girl” vs. “boy” toys, violent toys, toys that perpetuate beauty culture, toys from particular countries, princess toys, a certain brand of toys with an amusement-park tie-in, TV/movie-tie-in toys, “cheap plastic crap,” etc. etc. etc.), and in general they tend to be gifts that work no matter what the particular child is interested in: not every child likes crafts, of course, but statistically-speaking (and if you have to take a certain risk with the gift anyway), more of them like crafts than like, say, Bakugan.


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Easter baskets for grown-ups

Categories: Food, Holiday, Toothsome products (for grownups)

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I saw one of these fancy Easter baskets by chance, and now am dazzled by the idea that grown-ups can have Easter baskets too, with excellent fancy chocolate instead of the “chocolate-flavored candy” kind.


Godiva Enchanted Easter Basket (photo from Godiva.com), $85 with free shipping if you use code BUNNY.


See’s Deluxe Easter Basket (photo from Sees.com), $59.50 plus shipping, which they call the “Extra Large Family Basket” but I changed the name because I don’t want any lip about how many people ought to be sharing it.
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Thank you notes for children

Categories: Learning activities

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When Paul and I got married, I had to write all the thank-you notes for our wedding gifts. Not only had he not been trained to write them, he hadn’t been trained WHY to write them. Purely aside from WANTING to tell the person who sent the gift how much you appreciated their kindness and generosity, the thank you note is a practical acknowledgment: it says “Yes, the gift successfully traveled from you to me.”


(photo of Dinosaur silhouette card from Simplicity Papers on Etsy)

In the case of children’s parties, it communicates to the parents who were not there that the gift went as planned: it wasn’t lost under the table, it was opened with knowledge of who it was from, etc. And it is such an excellent teaching opportunity for one’s own child on a subject it’s hard to remember to lecture about and practice: kindness should be appreciated, and the appreciation should be communicated, and here is the practical information about what to put between “Dear ____” and “Love, _____”. Also, you may not play with the present until you’ve written the note, so get on it.
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Gift-wrapping so easy a child can do it

Categories: Crafts and activities, Gifts, Learning activities

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We have the kids choose presents for the other parent at birthdays and Christmas, because it’s such good practice in gift-selection techniques: “What would the other person like? Not what would YOU like, but what would THEY like? No, Daddy doesn’t like sour gummy worms, that’s YOU who likes sour gummy worms”—and so on.

Wrapping the gifts is a pain. I am not the “Patient Teacher” personality type, I’m the “Here, I Can Do That Faster and Better and Easier Myself” personality type. I try to overcome this because I know it’s important, but a person can only stretch so far. So Paul came up with what I think is the best idea ever for letting children do their own gift-wrapping without the parent losing his or her mind.
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Travel mugs

Categories: Toothsome products (for grownups), Travel

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I need a new travel mug, because mine broke. Which reminds me of how I GOT that travel mug. I was shopping with my mom at Target, and I saw a travel mug in the most gorgeous, almost ETHEREAL shade of pink. Glowing glossy pale pink. But it was only 30% off, and it was expensive to begin with so it was still well over $10, and most importantly I didn’t NEED a travel mug because I never used one. I dithered for awhile because it was SO LOVELY, but I didn’t buy it.

That evening, I was suffused with regret. WHY hadn’t I bought it?? Maybe I WOULD use a travel mug! How did I KNOW if I didn’t even TRY? Even though the Target was a half hour away and I’d need to bring kids with me, the next morning I went back to get the pink travel mug—and it was gone. I have two other Targets within reasonable driving distance, and I went to both of them over the next couple of days, but no luck. I looked online, at Target’s site and at any other site that carried that brand of travel mug: no luck. I whined about this to my mother at some length.

The next month was my birthday. One of my gifts was THE PINK TRAVEL MUG.
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Baking for Valentine’s Day

Categories: Food, Holiday, House & Home

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Already the requests are coming in: Can you bake for the Valentine’s Day class party? For the Valentine’s Day Family Fair? For the Valentine’s Day fundraising bake sale? For the class parties of your other three school-aged children? For the bake sales of their other two schools?

Why, YES. Yes, I can. I’m not going to make roll-and-cut cookies (I would rather volunteer to be in the fundraising dunk tank, in my bathing suit in front of everyone, YES I REALLY DO HATE MAKING ROLL/CUT COOKIES THAT MUCH), but I can still bake things in heart shapes. (Or, alternately, I can go to the grocery store bakery department and purchase them, then transfer them to baggies so it looks like I made them. But I am not going to get a post out of THAT.)

Wilton heart-shaped cake pan, about $10 (photo from Amazon.com). This is the classic. You can frost the cake in any pastel color, and if you can write with frosting you can write “LUV U” or any conversation-heart message. Or don’t write on it, it’s still pretty. Or frost it white and use red sugar around the edges. If you don’t want to buy a heart-shaped pan, use a round pan and modify the easy bake-sale Christmas tree cake: put it on a red or pink or white paper plate; and instead of a tree, rough out a heart-shape in red sugar. One cake mix makes two bake sale cakes.
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Non-toy gifts for children

Categories: Gifts, Holiday, House & Home

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There are times, like when I’m trying to kick a path through the playroom, that I feel like we can’t add even one more toy to this household and in fact would be well-advised to jettison fully half of them. This creates a problem five times a year at birthdays, and a problem-times-five at Christmas. I like to find gifts that are fun enough to be gifts, but that don’t have to live on the toy shelf (or floor, whatever).

1. Character (or otherwise special) bed sheets (both images above from Amazon.com). Bonus: if the child needs sheets anyway, and you spend $20 on Little Mismatched sheets that would have cost $10 if plain/boring, you’re making some of the money work twice: $10 sheets plus $20 gift = $20. (The Wonder Pets set is probably a better example of the kind of sheets a child would actually be happy with, but I got distracted by the ones _I_ would want for ME, and besides the Wonder Pets ones are more expensive so they don’t make my money-working-twice point as impressively.)
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Reader question: holiday shopping for children

Categories: Gifts, Holiday, Managing stress

8 Comments

Farrell writes:

How DO you do Santa shopping for all of your kids? Online? In store? Coupons? Buy throughout the year? Tips + strategy please; ’tis the season.

Ah! It does vary. When I’m not gift-shopping, just buying normal household stuff (sheets, towels, non-perishable groceries) my general shopping strategy is “Buy it before you need it, when you find it cheap.” I do this for stocking stuffers: little toys or novelty candies (pacifier lollipops and similar) go on clearance all year, and I especially have luck in the party-supplies section where I can sometimes find 4- or 6-packs of party favors on 75% off.

But that’s not going to work as well for presents: a child might like Bakugan in the summer but be totally over it by Christmas.
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Shopping with imaginary money

Categories: Babies, Food, House & Home, Music, Toys

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Do you guys play the “What if you had to spend $100 RIGHT NOW?” game at your house? We play it all the time at ours. It’s almost always Rob, the sixth-grader, who wants to fantasize about shopping, and I’m happy to play that game. Today’s answers (from me, clearly, because what he wants is video games):


John Derian nest coasters (photo from Target.com). I wish these were plates instead of coasters, since I never use coasters.
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