Saturday, September 26, 2009

These are a Few of My Favorite Things

When I was expecting my first child, almost nine years ago, there weren't a whole lot of choices in the world of baby gear. Things were either navy blue, pastel, or Winnie the Pooh. This may be part of the reason for the span of six and a half years between baby #1 and baby #2. It was well worth the wait! Baby gear and products have come a LONG way. Maybe you are expecting your first child and have no idea what's in store or – like me, you've had a large spacing in between kids and aren't aware of the wonderful new items. I want to help!

A few days ago, I spotted a new mom sporting a denim Pooh and Friends diaper bag and pushing what appeared to be a 95 pound stroller (with squeaky wheels the size of dinner plates). I was instantly saddened. Didn't she know there were other options? I was tempted to casually cross her path and enlighten her. She turned toward me and I couldn't help but notice she was wearing a Winnie the Pooh sweatshirt, which I assumed to be of her own free will. "Let this one go", I told myself. "It's too late for her". Still – if I can get the message out to just one person, I will have made the world a better place. So here it is – my own personal favorite baby and kid products.

Maxi-Cosi Priori Convertible Car Seat

This is one of the nicest looking car seats around. The colors are fun and it's not as bulky as other convertible car seats, should you need to transfer it between cars or travel with it. The seat cover is washable and a cup holder (for baby) is included. My favorite feature of this car seat is the fact that you can recline it after the seat has already been installed. Baby falls asleep on the road and his/her head is slumped forward? No problem! Reach back (keeping eyes on the road), pull lever, and ease the seat back. There are also slots on the side to secure the straps while you load baby into the seat – no more tangled straps. This retails for $129 to $199. From birth to 40 pounds. Converts from rear facing to forward facing when baby reaches 22 pounds and one year old.

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Twilight Ladybug

This is one of the cutest products I have seen. This is intended to be a sleep companion for ages 2 to adult. The ladybug "shell" illuminates stars and constellations on the walls and ceiling. It has three colored lights – red, blue, and green. It comes with a guide to the constellations. It also has an automatic shut off. My toddler loves this although I have to be honest – it doesn't really help her sleep. She gets too excited by all the lights and colors, but it's still a great product. The Ladybug is a variation of the original Twilight Turtle. They now make a Sea Turtle as well. Retails for $34.

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JJ Cole Bundle Me

The Bundle Me is basically a stroller/car seat cover. It comes in two sizes: Birth to one year and one to three years. I have and love both. If you have ever tried to buckle a baby into an infant carrier while they are dressed in a snowsuit, you will appreciate this product. It comes in many colors and several levels of thickness. There is a fleece lined one for winter and a moisture wicking lightweight one for spring. It protects baby from cold, rain, wind, snow, and sometimes….well-meaning cheek-pinching strangers. Retails for $29 to $70.

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Skip Hop Splash

Sure it looks like an ordinary bottle drying rack, but you'd be surprised at what a spacesaver this item is. It has three levels of drying space and plenty of room for bottles, rings, nipples, binkies, bottle caps, sippy cup parts etc …The bottle brush is included. Comes in red, white, or blue. Still useful long after baby has moved on to a regular drinking cup – holds eight champagne flutes. Retails for $30

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Phil & Teds Me Too

The Me Too is a portable lightweight hook-on high chair. To be used from 6 month to 40 pounds. It's easy to clean – you can even hose it down if you need to. It has nice clean simple lines. It comes in red, blue, and black. It folds flat and weighs 2.2 pounds – you can easily pack it up for that family vacation. My only advice it to make SURE you attach it to a stable table. Restaurant table? Yes. Folding card table? Probably not. Retails for $50.

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The First Years insulated sippy cup

There are a lot of sippy cups to choose from and many of them are cuter than these, but you know what won me over? TWO PARTS. Cup and lid. The valve is built into the lid. When you are washing sippy cups several times a day, these things matter. With these cups, there are no spouts, valves, or straws to deal with. And yes – they are BPA free. Retails for $9.99/two pack.

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The Snack Trap

This is exactly what it sounds like. A plastic cup with two handles and a lid that little hands can easily reach into. Fill it up with Cheerios and shake it around a bit – not a lot of spilling going on. I only wish I had these sooner. I have enough cheerios on the floor of my backseat to feed the family breakfast for a week. These are more environmentally friendly than sandwich bags, and MUCH easier for kids to use. They come in many colors and designs. The handles make it that much easier for babies to hold. Retails for $5 each, but I managed to get two for that price at Target.

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Travel n'Doodle

This is a lifesaver for car trips, waiting rooms, and airplane rides. This drawing pad uses a refillable water filled pen and has two blank pages for doodling. The "ink" disappears as the water dries. There is a little elastic holder for the pen and a Velcro strip to close up shop. My advice is to have a back-up pen handy. It's very slender when folded and easy to tote around in the diaper bag. Or for your toddler to carry it on their own. Yeah, right.  Retails for $20.

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Horizon Organic Milk Boxes

Four available flavors: Chocolate, Vanilla, Strawberry, and good ol' plain lowfat milk. You can use the straw that comes attached, or lift open the spout and pour. Needs no refrigeration. Great for travel and camping. For children of all ages – also great for a bowl of cereal on the go. I usually take a few of these on the airplane (liquid restrictions are a bit more lenient for children). You can find these individually, in three-packs, or boxes of 18. retails from $1.99 to $24. I find mine at BJ's Wholesale Club for $13.99/18 pack. sells the same for $23!

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Skip Hop Duo Diaper Bag

There are SO many diaper bags to choose from – I cannot possibly tell you which one you should buy. I just want to share some features that you may want to look for. I happen to have the Skip Hop Spark which is Target's version of the Duo. I couldn't pass it up. I am a sucker for a good deal and they were practically giving them away. I figured I would grab one and use it in the meantime while I figured out which more permanent diaper bag to purchase. Two and half years later – I am still toting around my clearance purchase from Target. Appearance wise, the bag is nothing special. It's durable and comes in many colors and different designs. It has plenty of bottle holders and includes a changing pad, but what I LOVE about this bag are the stroller buckles. I don't care if you have the hottest looking diaper bag in town – it's a pain to carry one while you are pushing a stroller. Sure, you can stow it in the stroller basket, but it's a hassle to have to retrieve it every time your baby needs something. The Skip Hop bags have buckles that allow you to hang the bag from the stroller. Yes, of course you can throw pretty much any bag over the stroller handle, but having the buckles is much much better. I have ripped a few stroller handles by hanging other diaper bags from them. Retails for $19.99 to $199.

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Fleurville Slip Not

A very smart mom came up with this one. If you have a fancy shmancy diaper bag that does NOT have stroller buckles, these Slip Nots loop around stroller handles  allowing you to hook your diaper bag, purse, or shopping bag with a simple click. Retails for $20.

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Zooper Waltz Stroller

This is probably one of my favorite strollers. It's intended to be used from birth to 55 pounds. It accommodates almost any make of infant carrier and comes in a variety of color combinations. I have it in Wheat which is beige and brown with pink piping. The stroller features a built in bassinet, full one-handed recline, HUGE canopy, and equally huge storage basket. They throw in a lot of extra stuff with the stroller: foot muff, insect netting, rain cover, snack tray (for bebe), cup holder (for parents). It also features adjustable leg rest and auto locking flat fold. The steering on this stroller is top notch – can you tell I love this stroller? For all its features, the price can't be beat. It retails for $299 to $389. I will say that I bought mine for less than that on a well known auction site, but I don't recommend it. What I didn't know at the time was that most stroller companies will not honor the warranty on items purchased on certain auction sites.

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Valco Buggster

If I had to choose between this stroller and my Zooper, I just don't know. Hopefully it will never come to that. This is a three wheel "luxury" stroller. It is not a jogging stroller. It's made for around 3 months old to 55 pounds and I have yet to see someone else with my stroller. They are super popular in the UK and Australia, and became available in the US about 2 years ago. The steering on this stroller is amazing – you can literally steer it with your pinky. It comes with some extras – foot muff, sun shield, rain shield. It has an umbrella style fold so it takes up very little space. The seat is practically a double wide – and the stroller reminds me of a jacket I had in the 80's…lots of zippers in random places. It's lightweight, thanks to an aluminum frame and is a snap to travel with. Valco also makes a coordinating bassinet available for separate purchase. It comes in black, red, pink, and orange. I wish it came with a cup holder, but Valco makes one that fits the stroller well. Also, the storage basket is a tad on the small side, but because of the umbrella style handles, you can hang your shopping bags there – even though the company says specifically not to. Nothing bad has happened yet. Retail price $260 to $395.

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You should know that shopping for a stroller took me about five times as long as shopping for a car. I don't know why, it just did. And I have to say that I learned more than I ever thought I wanted to know about strollers from The Strollerqueen. Janet McLaughlin. The lady knows her stuff and I highly recommend her reviews and advice. And if you are still confused after reading all her reviews, she will provide a stroller consult for a very low fee. AND, she attends the big baby product convention in Vegas annually and knows what's in the works before they hit the store shelves. I love her and I don't think she is crazy at all for having a third baby so she could continue to surround herself with strollers. Really. She did. He's called Strollerprince 2.0!

I also want to mention that I am not paid to endorse any of these products. Recently, my husband informed me about mom bloggers being under attack for featuring advertisements on their blog sites, disguised as product reviews, which is obviously very misleading. I have purchased all of the products I have reviewed on my own and with my own funds. I have never been approached by a company to endorse their product, but I wouldn't be totally against the idea (hint hint). I mean, if a sponsor wanted to have me try out a product, I would review it with honesty and integrity, and would be happy to keep such a product in exchange (hint hint). Or even cash money (hint hint). But only if I liked and believed in the product, of course.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Was it something you ate?

How many times have you heard "there's some kind of stomach bug going around"? And how do you know if it's a stomach bug or a food safety issue? Well, you don't always. BUT - if you do what you can to minimize food safety blunders and teach your kids (and adults) about basic hygiene, you are taking proper steps to keep the family healthy.

These days, families are doing what they can to save money, but really - eating unsafe food in the interest of not "wasting" is never a bargain. When in doubt...throw it out!

September is back to school month for many children, my own included. September is also National Food Safety Month and who doesn't love a quiz? Think you know all about food storage and safety? Take the quiz and refer to the answers below to see how well you did. Good luck!
1) True or False? Milk is safe to consume up to one week past the sell by date.

2) Apples will stay fresh in the refrigerator for:
a) 2 weeks
b) 10 days
c) 6 weeks
d) 3 months

3) The best place to store a banana is:
a) Refrigerator
b) Pantry
c) Countertop
d) Banana hook

4) Cooked food can be left at room temperature for:
a) 1 hour
b) 2 hours
c) 30 minutes
d) 3 hours

5) True or False? Peanut butter must be refrigerated after opening.

6) In general, leftovers should be eaten within:
a) 4 days
b) 1 week
c) 5 days
d) 2 days

7) Deli counter cold cuts should be used within:
a) 5 days
b) 14 days
c) 7 days
d) 10 days

8) True or False? If you find mold on your bread, it’s okay to cut it off and still eat the bread.

9) True or False? Once you slice fruit, it needs to be stored in the refrigerator.

10) The best place to store watermelon before eating is:
a) Refrigerator, whole
b) Countertop
c) Outdoors
d) Refrigerator after slicing.

11) The best place to thaw frozen meat is:
a) Refrigerator
b) Microwave
c) Countertop
d) Bowl of cold water

12) True or False? Eggs can be used up to 1 month past the sell by date.

13) True or False? It is okay to microwave leftovers in a take-out styrofoam container.

14) True or False? It’s okay to save a meat marinade (after the meat has soaked in it) and pour it over the cooked meat.

15) If you leave a restaurant with a doggie bag, it should be refrigerated within:
a) 1 hour
b) 2 hours
c) 3 hours
d) 30 minutes

16) True or False? You should let hot foods cool before putting them away in the refrigerator.

17) True or False? All fresh fruits and vegetables need to be scrubbed with soap.

18) True or False? After a 3 hour long power outage, you must throw away the contents of your refrigerator.

19) True or False? Refrigerated food from the supermarket needs to be transported home within one hour.

20) True or False? It’s okay to cover food with plastic wrap when microwaving.


1) True. Experts say milk is safe to drink up to one week past the "Sell by" date. However, some milk containers have a "use by" date rather than a "sell by" date. Always take note of that information and never rely on the "smell test" to determine milk's safety.

2) D. Apples will keep for 3 to 6 months in the refrigerator. Store them in the fruit compartment at low humidity.

3) A. The best place to store a banana is in the refrigerator AFTER it is ripe.

4) B. Cooked food can be left out at room temperature for up to 2 hours. After that, bacteria starts to grow rapidly. In warm weather (think picnics and barbecues), shorten that time limit to 1 hour.

5) False. In general, most peanut butters do not need to be refrigerated after opening. Check the label to be safe and take note of the expiration date.

6) A. Leftovers should be eaten within 4 days. If you don't think you will get around to eating them within that time, freeze immediately.

7) A. Toss after 5 days. Pre-packed cold cuts should be used within 10 days, provided they are sealed and stored properly.

8) False. If you find mold on your bread, toss it out. It's OK to slice mold off hard cheeses, cured meats, and firm fruits and vegetables. Anything else with moldy parts should be thrown away.

9) True. Once you slice fresh fruit, it needs to be refrigerated in a sealed container or bag. It should be used within 3 to 5 days.

10) This is sort of a trick question. The best place to store watermelon is whole, in a cool place away from direct sunlight. It will be good for up to 2 weeks. Watermelon contains lycopene, which is a powerful antioxidant. Storing watermelon in the fridge can lessen the amount of lycopene. If you love eating your watermelon chilled, slice it and place in the fridge for an hour before eating, for maximum lycopene benefits.

11) A. The best place to thaw frozen meat is in the refrigerator. A cold water bath would be 2nd choice, but change the cold water every 30 minutes. 3rd choice would be the microwave. Countertop defrosting is not recommended.

12) True. Eggs are usually safe to eat 4 to 5 weeks after purchase. As with milk, take note of whether your eggs have a "use by" date or a "sell by" date.

13) False. Styrofoam containers can leach chemicals or even melt into your food. Check the label on the container - a few are safe to microwave, but in general, it's best to transfer to a plate before re-heating.

14) False. Never use meat marinade to cover the cooked meat, unless you bring it to a complete boil first. You can also make some extra marinade before placing your meat into it and store that separately to use as a sauce on the finished product.

15) B. Restaurant leftovers should be placed in the fridge within 2 hours from the time the cooking is complete. Account for the time the food spends on your plate, transport time etc...if you lingered at the restaurant for an hour after your meal, that grace period is significantly reduced.

16) False. Hot foods do not need to cool before being stored in the fridge. While that method was commonly used years ago, modern day refrigerators are equipped to handle the introduction of a hot item without issue.

17) False. Rubbing fruits and veggies under running water with just your hands for 30 seconds is sufficient. You don't need to break out the scrub brushes and suds.

18) False. If you have an extended power outage, your refrigerator contents are safe (with the door shut) for 4 to 6 hours. Freezer contents are okay for 24 hours.

19) True. Purchases from the supermarket need to be refrigerated within 1 hour. 2 hours is the absolute maximum. If the weather is warm, you should transfer the foods ASAP. In warm weather, the temperature of your trunk can easily reach 100 plus degrees.

20) True. Check that the plastic wrap is microwave safe, however, try not to allow the plastic to touch your food.

These food facts, plus countless others can be found at: