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Archive for the ‘mama life hacks’ Category

Why so stingy with the writing space?

1. It is entirely possible to overbrine a bone-in turkey breast. Some call it curing. I call it too salty. Try 12 hours next year. 

2. Half a recipe of stuffing will be more than enough for three adults. We’re not THAT much of a carb family.

3. Maybe skip the mimosas, they made you really tired when it was crunch time. 

4. This chocolate pumpkin pie is a keeper. We did half a recipe and used 1/8 t. cayenne. Oh, and just pitch the four ounces of leftover evaporated milk, because nobody is going to touch that nasty stuff. 

5. This apple-sausage stuffing was really bready and bland. Start with Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix next year, and reduce the amount of bread. 

6. The pumpkin cinnamon rolls were tasty and easy (can’t find the recipe online, weird, oh well) but need a bit more punch. Add brown sugar and chopped pecans to the filling, and use orange juice and zest for the glaze base (though using heavy cream was very tasty). And look how pretty:

7. Put your Virgo issues in a drawer and let the kid make a mess when he helps cook. The beams of happiness are well worth a few minutes of cleanup.

8. The holiday tablecloth is in the linen closet, but it might be hidden under a stack of towels. But hey, if you want to spend half an hour looking for it in other places, go right ahead. 

9. Stop, look, feel, absorb. This day is magic. Bottle as much as you can. 

10. Turn off the Macy’s parade after the Rockettes; it’s just a three-hour commercial for Broadway and TV shows. With 8,000 commercials between the segments. Which are… commercials!

11. You were so right to decide against dusting. Nobody noticed, least of all you. Well done, you.

12. Exchanging breakfast pastries with a neighbor was really nice. Do that again.

13. If we settle on that Valpolicella next year, open it an hour before supper — it needs at least that much breathing time. 

14. Lactose intolerance never takes a day off. Pick up some Cool Whip, which you like anyway. Also, research substituting coconut or almond milk for the milks in the pie. Maybe do a practice pie just to be on the safe side. 

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imageDuring my years in the advertising industry (and yes it was exactly like Mad Men, suckers!) I picked up the phrase “pay yourself first.” I’ve adopted it as one of my Mama mantras, though in my world the payments are made in time and energy instead of money.

Case in point: I just quit one of the best bands I’ve ever been in. It was the perfect setup for me: someone else running it, two rehearsals or so a month, gigs 3 or 4 times a year. But even with that low level of involvement, I felt like I was scrambling to find the time to learn my parts. Shows were stressful because I never felt as prepared as I wanted to be. And since little kids don’t sleep in, I spent two days recovering from staying up past my bedtime.

So when the first “let’s rehearse” email of the year came through, I spent a few days pondering what to do. I loved rehearsing with the guys. All interesting, great musicians and lovely people. But that, I realized, was all I really loved about it. And meanwhile, projects I’ve been meaning to start have gone untouched. So I called the band leader, explained my reasons, and quit.

I pay myself first in small ways, too. One morning when the Boo woke me up at 5, I was feeling particularly harried. I set a ten-minute timer and told my kid I needed some privacy until the timer rang. And then I locked myself in the bathroom.

After my three-minute makeup routine, I set about filing my nails. Seriously, they were ragged. A couple of times, I heard him call for me from his room. I went on filing my nails. He came and knocked on the door, saying he needed me. I said I would be out soon. He went away, came back, knocked again. I repeated myself.

The timer went off soon after that, and it turns out my son had knocked because he wanted me to play a new, particularly silly game with him. So I did, wholeheartedly, which I wouldn’t have been able to do had I not paid myself first.

It’s impossible to say whether quitting the band will lead to me publishing my first book. But I know that taking even small bits of time for myself gives me the energy reserves I need to be a better mom. And obviously I can’t always pay myself first — no one can/that’s just life/suck it up.

But that’s why there are cartoons, darlings! And venting sessions with other parents! And wine!

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“If you get scared, you can come sleep with Mama.” (Important note: The Boo’s pronouns are still reversed. This is him telling himself he can come sleep with me whenever the fickle toddler spirit moves him.)

It was the night after I’d allowed the Boo to crawl into bed with me at 4 in the morning because he was sick and I just didn’t feel like getting up to tuck him back in. Now he was overtired, weepy and anxious, and I was regretting my slothful decision. I didn’t want to deny him the choice to come find me when he’s scared, but neither did I want him developing a musical beds habit. I knew it was time for a sales job.

Nobody talks about that when you have a baby, but they should. You are going to need to be a damn good salesperson at least some of the time, because saying “no” gets old — and tends to infuriate tired toddlers.

“Well,” I said above the crying, “Let’s go cuddle in your chair and talk about it.” I got him as close to horizontal as he could get in my lap in the glider we’ve almost outgrown. He was still crying as I began talking about how nice and cozy his room was and how much I like it.

“You have your elephant lamp up here, and your hot air balloons, and your airplanes. You have all your animal friends in your bed, and green dot blanket, and you have your ladybug. They’re all so nice. Your room is such a cozy place for a little boy to sleep.”

He calmed down enough that I felt he could handle being put back to bed. I had to sing him almost all the way to sleep, but he did fall asleep in his own bed. Maybe it was the last thing I told him that did the trick.

“Also, Mama snores. Really loud. You wouldn’t be able to rest at all.”

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You know to take your kid’s favorite snacks and some cool new toys. Here’s the rest of what I found useful during our 36-hour journey to India with our toddler. And even if you’re kid-free, the tips for adults may come in handy.

For the kid:

Buy That Book Up There Or another Richard Scarry paperback to whip out when the going gets rough. So much to look at and talk about, my kid still wants to look at it a month after seeing it for the first time.

Entertain Me Bring an iPad and kiddie headphones (so the kid can hear Mickey, and to limit decibels) and have the kid practice with them before you go. Even if you’re flying an airline that has personal entertainment screens, there will be times (like layovers) when it will come in handy. Load it with whatever videos and apps the kid likes. Then suspend all judgement about how much screen time is too much.

Pack Smart Pack a backpack, not a diaper bag, using gallon Ziplock bags to separate diaper stuff, extra clothes, books, etc. It’s a lot easier to find things that are already categorized and separated into bags that just slide out. Bring extra bags for, um, soiled items.

Clean Up Bring antibacterial wipes to swab everything your kid can reach from their seat as soon as you sit down: tray table, armrests, buttons, air vent, everything.

Mobility If your kid is under 5, bring the umbrella stroller. They will nap in it, you can hang your backpack on it, you can gate-check it. I never want to travel without one again.

Diaper Hack If your kid is still in diapers, prep for changes by putting each diaper in a plastic grocery bag. That way you just add a couple of wipes and the diaper cream to a bag, and you’re good to go. Might sound like overkill, but that way you don’t have to take the entire diaper bag with you into the microscopic airplane bathroom.

Wipe Hack Put a chunk of diaper wipes in a quart-size Ziplock bag. Much cheaper than a travel pack, and you can use them to wipe faces and hands, too.

Sweet Sleep After they clear the dinner trays, go through your kid’s bedtime routine, but include Benadryl. Don’t judge. Some sleep, even drugged sleep, is much, much better than no sleep. Just do a trial dose at home to make sure your kid isn’t one who reacts to that drug by getting hyper.

Hydrate Bring a leakproof sippy cup or sport bottle to fill with water or juice once you clear security. We ended up using a very small water bottle with a straw stuck down inside it, because I did not figure this one out ahead of time.

Under Pressure Lollipops and gummi bears are handy for equalizing ear pressure during takeoff and landing. So is a thumb, if your kid is so inclined.

Get Cozy A small, light blanket is good as an emergency changing pad as well as a pillow, or, duh, a blanket.

Good Grooming Bring the baby nail clippers if your trip is longer than a week. Those suckers grow fast, and do you really want to hunt down a new pair in Dhaka?

Security! Practice going through security by having your kid walk from one parent to the other, and if you think seeing Teddy going into the X-ray machine will disturb the kid, put it into your backpack as you prep for security. Also, empty any pockets on the umbrella stroller and get very, very good at collapsing it quickly.

Let’s Play! Stick a deflated beach ball and a few hunks of sidewalk chalk in your checked bag for simple fun at your destination. Our shy boy would roll the ball to visitors, and they would delightedly roll it back.

Wakey Wakey! To beat jet lag quickly, suck it up and keep naps to a normal length and get the kid outside as much as possible. This should shorten the adjustment. From a week to three or four days. At least that’s what happened for us.

For you:

Repeat After Me Here is your new motto: Whatever makes the kid happy. Here’s your other new motto: Chill, it’s an adventure. Toddlers are mood mirrors. Give them something fun to reflect.

Stretch Out Get bulkhead seats. Your carry-ons will have to go in the overhead bins for takeoff and landing, but then you’ll have tons of legroom because your kid’s carry-on can go under his stubby legs.

Feet First If your feet swell on long flights, get some compression socks, avoid alcohol, minimize caffeine intake, and chug water. I did all that, and this was the first time my feet did not turn into footballs. Which hurts, by the way.

Get Comfy You are going to sleep in your clothes. You want elastic waist pants. Preferably with pockets. And a long sleeved top or a pashmina, even in summer. Planes get cold.

Block It Out You will need earplugs and a decent sleep mask. Planes are noisy and bright and sometimes the people on them are noisy drunken jerks all night because of something called the World Cup. Pfft.

Double Duty Diaper wipes work nicely as makeup removal wipes (our kid uses the sensitive ones). And they don’t count as a liquid. If this grosses you out, put a few in a small ziplock bag and keep it with your toiletries.

Dr. Feelgood Bring an assortment of basic meds (Ibuprofen, Tylenol, Tums, Imodium, Benadryl for the kiddo, etc.) in an old prescription bottle and keep it in an easily accessible place. When you get the runs at 30,000 feet or your body aches from not sleeping, you’ll thank me.

Entertain Me! Carry an iPad, Kindle, or other reading device for yourself since the kid will probably be using yours. I loaded books from the library onto my phone. Not my favorite reading mode, but the carry-on was plenty heavy without a book in it.

Sleep? Ha! Don’t take a sleep aid, e.g. Benadryl. You’re not going to sleep much anyway because you’ll be waking up every time your kid flips over on the seat next to you. You don’t want to be groggy on top of being jet lagged. Sleep when you get there.

Get Greasy If you get a pat of butter with your meal, save it. You’ll want to slather it on your face to keep it from peeling in the dry cabin air. Kidding! But do wash your face and smear a bunch of good moisturizer on it before you attempt to sleep. If nothing else it’s nice to have one part of your body feel clean. And plane air truly is dry as hell.

Bon voyage!

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There are so many long stretches of parenting a small child that are absolutely mind-numbing in their repetitiveness that when you occasionally come up with a genius childrearing idea on the fly, it’s both a shock and cause for celebration.

I had one of those moments a few months ago when I asked the Boo to take me upstairs instead of telling him we had to go up. I have no idea why I did it, but he appeal to his budding independence was instant and dramatic — he seized my finger and practically dragged me up behind him. A couple of weeks ago, though, I came up with an even better trick, though once again I couldn’t tell you where the idea came from.

The Boo was being particularly disinclined to be happy about delaying his desires, which is to say, it was close to nap time on yet another butt-cold day in February and I needed to do a few more things before I could grant his wish to help him play at the sink. I pulled out my phone and opened the clock app.

“I tell you what. I’ll set the timer. When you hear the bells, it’s time for water play.”

He looked a little unsure about this timer thing, but he was pleased that I let him push the start button. Then I made a huge deal about the bells ringing and let him push the cancel button. Then I set it again to signal the end of water play, because he will seriously spend as much time as we let him “washing” dishes.

So now, instead of whining at me (my least favorite thing about my kid) when he needs to wait or stop doing something he likes, he submits to the will of the phone. Because, see, the command is coming from the phone — the provider of videos and games and general fun — not from me. And he doesn’t have it in him to whine at the phone.

Yet.

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Once I started writing a list of baby gear must-haves (here and here) I started thinking about all the stuff we didn’t use and lo, another blog post was conceived.

– Burp cloths. They’re not big enough if your kid is a serious spitter like ours was. Dish towels and cloth diapers were far more useful. Get about a dozen if your baby shows signs of being a puker.

– Receiving blankets. I still don’t understand what they’re for. They’re not really big enough to swaddle with, and you’ll have tons of cute blankets to drape over the kid. Get a 3-pack if you must, and then let me know if you used them, and what for.

– Bath thermometer. That’s what your hand is for. Though those ducks that say “hot” on the bottom if the water is scalding are awfully cute.

– Noisy toys. You know the ones. Lots of screechy songs and buttons and whatnot. Old-school teachers call them “busy boxes.” We have a coulple, and I suppose you can argue that they teach the kid cause and effect and build fine motor skills. But for the most part the way the baby plays with them is pretty mindless, as far as I can tell. Also, they are invariably loud, which pisses me off, because I kind of like the fact that my baby can hear, thanks. Caveat: A handheld “educational” toy can be great for keeping a baby happy in the car. This is why an Elmo counting and colors monstrosity lives in the backseat of my car.

– Microwave sterilizer. While we did use this for a while, our pediatrician told us it wasn’t necessary unless we were using well water or had a preemie.

– Baby grooming set. The comb was sharp, the bulb syringe was useless (they give you a good one in the hospital anyway) and everything else was poor quality. Just get a good pair of baby nail clippers (or scissors) and an adult comb that’s not pokey.

– Pacifiers. They give you the best ones in the hospital (Soothies — ask for extras), and many (including me) say you’re better off ditching them by the 6-month mark.

– Baby journal. We have a really beautiful one with a sweet little bunny on the front. Every two or three months I pull it out, marvel that I’m supposed to print photos to go in it, and put it back in the closet. Disclaimer: If you’re a Project Person, you will love it.

– Wipe warmer. Seriously? Warm them in your hands or armpits if you think the baby can’t deal with a split second of chilliness.

– Footie PJs with snaps. Trust me: At 3 a.m., in the semi-dark (because you don’t want to wake the baby any more than necessary), snap-closure PJs become a Rubik’s Cube made out of fabric With a greased weasel inside. Zippers, my friends. Zippers.

I’m sure there are more I’ll think of as soon as I post this…

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Friends! Does your baby wake up wet and sad every morning? Are his formerly silky haunches covered in a nasty rash because of it? Are you at your wit’s end trying to think of ways to fix the problem after going up a diaper size, which has never failed to stop leaks in the past?

Well fear no more, because help is here in the form of an old friend:

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That’s right, your old pal the bulky, nasty maxi-pad is here to save the day! Just cut off the wings, slit the back so the pee can get through to the diaper, and voilà! The baby may wake up slightly damp, but your days of flooding will be over!

By the way, they’re also great if your dog has had knee surgery. Super-absorbent and much cheaper than bandaging supplies.

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