Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sex Education

The Washington Post's On Parenting blog has a post by Brian Reid that brings up a lot of important points regarding parents' responsibility to teach their children about sex. Specifically, what do they need to know and how early do they need to know it? It's important for parents to realize early on that they are primarily responsible for teaching their kids about this aspect of life on Earth.

There's a lot in Brian's post to be discussed. One idea that I picked up from a friend and absolutely love is to find a good, frank, candid, smart book about human sexuality and keep it on a low shelf. It sounds like this would be a great supplement to an open and honest approach to parenting, as anything your tweenage kid is too embarassed to ask you they can look up in a book you approve of instead of picking up bonkers urban myths from their friends.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Chocolate Cake Mug

From the "How Could Something So Chocolatey Good Be Wrong?" department: The Wired How-To Wiki has an article about how to make a tasty chocolate cake in a coffee mug using only your microwave and these simple ingredients:

Hot cocoa mix
Flour
1 Egg
Oil and water
Chocolate chips (optional, but amazing)


My wife and I tried this last night, and the results are gooey and chocolatey and satisfying indeed. If you aren't much of a baker, just make sure you don't overmix it. Beat the egg before you add the dry ingredients and then just stir until everything is wet.

We found that you end up with an aesthetically pleasing, dome-shaped cake if you use one of those Friends style, gigantic, round coffee mugs. I found one in a box in my basement, next to a dishevelled-looking David Schwimmer. He moaned something to me along the lines of, "Does Rachel want to get back together?" and I silently took the mug and closed the lid.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Magic of Tractors

Our son has taken a liking to tractors, trucks, cars, riding mowers, and various other things with wheels. When we're out for a walk, he'll often point to passing cars and ask "Da?" to which we'll respond with the make and model. On a recent trip to great-grandpa's farm he was in heaven looking at the antique tractors. This led to the discovery of a great way to keep him occupied during those difficult, antsy times when we're all waiting for something or he's in a particularly squirmy mood in his car seat. Check the rack of free publications near the doors of your local grocery store for auto/truck/tractor trader magazines. The hundreds (thousands, perhaps?) pictures of cool vehicles in these magazines will enchant any kid who happens to be in an "everything with wheels is awesome" phase.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Frugal, Healthy Microwave Popcorn

Do you enjoy microwave popcorn, but are looking for a less expensive and probably far healthier way to enjoy this treat? America's Radio Sweetheart Jesse Thorn recently noted on the Maximum Fun weblog that you can make an easy snack by putting popcorn and a spritz of canola oil into a paper lunch bag and tossing it into your "radar range" for a couple of minutes.

For a little more initial investment, you can pop with little or no oil using a bowl specially designed for microwaving popcorn. I bought a Presto PowerPop a few years ago, and it continues to provide amazing popping performance. You should be able to find one for under 15 bucks. I use it without oil, then add some fat-free butter spray and salt after popping. Not only do I think this tastes better than what you buy in the bags, but you know for sure it isn't flavored with a cocktail of weird chemicals (that you didn't add yourself).

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Review: Tamagotchi Connection V5

A couple of months ago, this product was sent to me for review. Since the PR firm involved in promoting this toy was nice enough to provide me with one, I decided to go ahead and review it despite the fact that my own kid is not nearly old enough to be in its target demographic.

Remember those Tamagotchis from years and years ago? They were little, egg-like electronic devices with a pixellated representation of a cute little baby creature on a black-and-grey LCD screen. You pushed buttons to feed them, play with them, send them to the toilet, etc. I never had one when I was a kid, but I knew enough about them to understand this Achewood comic strip about a fictional toy called "Click Robot". This V5 is pretty much the same deal, only now it's an entire family of little creatures in your care, and they've added some features as well as an online component.

The basic functions of the toy are cute enough. The little things dance around and play as long as you keep them happy. The games that you play with them are fun, but quickly grow tiresome as there isn't much to them. Sometimes they get bored and demand that you "train" them. This involves picking from three provided activities and then watching your creatures do it. I "trained" them to make a paper airplane, and their pixellated expressions conveyed just how much this blew their tiny tamagotchi minds.

I think this would be an okay toy for a kid who wants a pet but whom you think needs a bit more experience with responsibility before they can take care of something for which there are actual consequences for neglect. They toy is kind of fun at first, but after a few days of responding to occasional beeps keeping the things fed and happy it grows tiresome.

The manufacterer also provides a website where your Tamagotchi family can interact with other such creatures in a worldwide, online community. I didn't even attempt to mess around with this. If this were actually my kid's toy, I would be quite annoyed that it was asking him to spend additonal time serving his Tamagotchi overlords via online games, etc. I think the company would be better off putting more effort into making the toy a more robust, self-contained experience rather than luring youngsters into an online "community" as so many toys, TV shows, and breakfast cereals are doing these days.


It's good that kids are comfortable using computers - I think it's a legitimate way to spend time learning, socializing and being entertained - but I don't like when I get the feeling that a marketing ploy is trying to stake a claim to as much of a child's time as possible in order to build brand loyalty. Some kids in my neighborhood have been working on building a fort of some kind in the trees beyond my backyard. At first, I was just annoyed to see kids out running wild and making a mess. On further reflection, though, I thought about how they were outdoors, enjoying the spring, working with their hands, cooperating on something, and using their imaginations. I remember such play from my own childhood, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to run around like that.

Good, bad, or okay: Okay!

Get a Free One: Since I got this thing for free and my kid is many years to young to play with it, I'd like to give it away to a Clever Dad reader. Please comment below and include your first name if you're interested. I'll choose one of the commenters at random and announce the winner on this site. Then you can email me your address and I'll ship you this lovely, pre-played-with toy that has been chewed on by my toddler.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Mother's Day Approaches

Mother's Day is this coming Sunday in the United States, and Garrison Keillor has these words to share in his column at Salon.com:

She knows when you're in trouble. And you will get into deep trouble someday. Count on it. Someone will file a lawsuit against you and subpoena your e-mail and it will all come flooding out, your dark secrets, your nefarious dealings, and your friends will cross the street to avoid you and your brothers and sisters will fade into the woodwork, but your mother will still love you. Like an old lioness, she'll come running even if you're 2,000 miles away.

Reading this, it really rings true with how my wife and I have come to feel about our own progeny. When you meet your baby for the first time, he's a tiny, little stranger and you wonder if you'll ever feel that overwhelming love that so many people talk about. After a year with our boy, we're absolutely dedicated to being on his side come whatever may. We never knew we could feel that way about anyone besides each other.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Breastfeeding Reflections from Clever Mom

Clever Mom contributes the following regarding breast milk:

Dr. Sydney Spiesel wrote about a recent breast-feeding study for slate.com. They studied breast feeding in Belarus, and discovered that breast feeding played no role in reducing respiratory infections (but did reduce diarrhea and eczema), and in no way affected the behavior of the child at 6.5 years, or the mother's satisfaction with her marriage and family. The author is shocked, I am not. Dr. Spiesel concludes that the child is likely to do best if the mother chooses a method of feeding that works best for the family.

I believe that breast feeding is best for babies, especially newborns. And I think that new moms should be encouraged to give it a shot, because it starts the baby out with a food that definitely will be easily digestible (there are lots of different kinds of formula because some babies can't digest/are allergic to regular formula.) It also saves tons of money, is better for the earth, and helps new moms drop baby weight quickly. But I think the health benefits are very overblown, and I think it creates far too much stress on inexperienced mothers to expect them to care for an infant, go back to work, and be a baby food factory all at once.

I think breastfeeding is likely easier than formula feeding for stay at home moms, but for me at least breastfeeding and working full time was far more stressful than it was worth. I realized that since I spent 2 hours a day pumping and cleaning pump parts, 9 hours working and commuting, and my baby slept for 12 hours I only spent a single hour a day with my baby. So when he was 7 months old I hung up my Medula and got an extra 15 minutes in the morning and hour at night with my sweetie (and I didn't spend my lunch holding bottles to my boobs.) Women flocked to the workforce in the 60s and 70s because they had the option of feeding formula, and I think women are turning each other into guilty slaves by demanding that if they go back to work they still must breast feed. Granted, I think it is great that employers are offering lactation rooms, but I don't like the currently predominate school of thought that you are only allowed to go back to work if you dedicate yourself to pumping full time and working full time.

So basically I think moms should try breastfeeding, but you should ultimately go with the feeding plan that works best for your family. I also think it is important to frequently reevaluate your decision, to make sure that "not a drop of formula will pass through my baby's lips" is really a goal that will make you and your family happiest in the long run.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Online "Free" Credit Reports Not Always So Free

American Public Media's 5-minute daily tech show Future Tense did an episode yesterday about Freecreditreport.com and similar websites (link goes to site where you can stream this episode). Several years ago, the U.S. federal government required credit agencies Experian, Equifax, and Transunion to put up the website AnnualCreditReport.com, where you can actually get a free, annual credit report. Since then, these same credit agencies have put up other websites with similar names. These other sites often include "free" in the web address, but they actually exist to try and sell you unnecessary, additional credit services that the average consumer doesn't really need. So, despite the advice of the singing pirate guy, you should probably stick with AnnualCreditReport.com if you want a report that is easy to get and actually free.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Saving on Regular Monthly Expenses

I'm a believer in taking stock of your regular monthly expenses and thinking seriously about what could be cut or reduced. What you find and the action steps you choose to take will vary depending on your situation. What my wife and I found a couple of years back is that it made no sense to keep a land line phone when we had a cellphone plan. We also found that we are people who can live without cable television and never really miss it. (In fact, we know that if we did have cable, we would be unable to resist the lure of watching pure garbage. I just can't take the risk of seeing more than one episode of VH1's Rock of Love.)

More recently, we found a way to cut our high-speed internet bill by $20. We're honest with ourselves when it comes to the fact that we are people who need the internet. A good deal of our information and entertainment comes from the web, and it's also rather important when it comes to our personal correspondence and shopping. We had been paying quite a bit for cable internet, and while researching other options we realized that our cable company offers a lower tier of broadband internet at a significantly lower price. This is still broadband - just slower than the 11 mbps he had been paying for. From the research I did, all of the things we use the internet for (YouTube, email, research, news) should still work fine. I just called them yesterday to make the switch, and I'm already feeling about $20 cleverer.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

"Benign Neglect" versus Overstimulation

This morning I listened to a recent edition of the BBC 4 radio program Bringing Up Britain (available to stream online here). The topic was one that I think all of us modern parents think about a lot when comparing our own childhoods to today's world: what is the right balance of free play (running around the yard, exploration without guidance, sitting around, thinking, "hanging out" with friends) to structured time (piano lessons, sports, band, speech team, baby swim lessons). This brings up a lot of other questions that I've only begun to explore on this website.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The First Windows-Open Day of Spring

Pictured above: A view of My Fair City, April 2004

Today was the fairest day so far this spring. It was sunny all day and the afternoon temperature reached 74 degrees. The only negative thing was a bit of a stiff wind, and even that - considering that every other aspect of the day was on its best behavior - was merely an exhilarating tousle of the hair. After picking up my son from daycare, doing some banking, shopping for groceries, and having a little snack with him at the dinner table, we both settled into the sort of afternoon nap a person remembers fondly years later. I found myself meandering easily in and out of consciousness in my sunny bedroom, intermittently aware of the sound of birds and my son breathing in the next room. A profound calm came over me. I realize this is something I feel every year, but only fully understand when I'm in the midst of it. This is the true beginning of spring. This is human life becoming easier, lighter.

While the boy still slept, I went to the kitchen to brew some iced tea.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Buying Toys From Consignment

I cannot put enough emphasis on how great it is to buy toys secondhand, be it from consignment stores, thrift shops, online auction, classified ads or what have you. I've mentioned before how babies grow out of things so quickly that used supplies and toys are often in great condition. Recently, realizing that our son wanted some independent practice in the art of walking, we stopped by a local consignment superstore and found a cute toy ice cream cart, which was the perfect height for our baby and had just the right amount of stability to help a beginning walker keep his face off the floor during those afternoon constitutionals around the living room. This was five dollars well spent, and it's in equal or better condition that the toys he plays with during his mornings at daycare.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Encouraging Independence

Something that I've had to actively remind myself to do, being a person who often wants things done a certain way, is to allow my child to do things for himself. This includes recognizing when he is potentially capable of doing something and then giving him the opportunity and plenty of time to do it. Eating with a spoon is an example of this. It is going to be a long time before my son is proficient with a spoon, and for now he mainly just makes a mess. However, I think it's important that he be able to play around with it, getting a feel for the spoon in his hand and a sense of what he can do with it. To do this, I have to temporarily set aside my need for things to be neat, tidy and done efficiently. It is absolutely worth it, though, when I watch him making a terrible mess with a bowl of applesauce and I look at his face to see how much this is challenging and entertaining him.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Sparks Will Fly

Here's an interesting science experiment that I recently conducted entirely by accident: Did you know that green beans will spark in your microwave? Supposedly, the veggie is so dense and the mineral content so high that you get a similar effect to that which takes place if you accidentally leave a fork in a bowl before heating it up. This is not a safe experiment to intentionally carry out in your home, so if you are planning to microwave some green beans, make sure you add some water to the dish, which seems to eliminate the weird effect.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Recipe: Toaster Oven Strawberry Shortcake

Ah, spring. What better embodies this happy time of year than supermarket shelves being stocked with fresh strawberries at sale prices? This amazing dessert got my wife through the last month or so of her pregnancy, and she often refers to it as the reason our baby is so sweet.

Ingredients:
1 cup low-fat baking mix (Bisquick or generic equivalent)
2 tbsp sugar
1/3 cup nonfat milk
1 cup thawed, frozen strawberries (optional, can substitute store bought strawberry syrup)
5 or 6 fresh strawberries

The Shortcakes:
Preheat toaster oven to 450 degrees. Whisk together baking mix and sugar, then stir in milk just until dry ingredients are moist. Drop onto ungreased baking sheet (makes 4 cakes). Bake for 8 minutes, or until just barely starting to brown on top.

The Sauce:
You can either buy strawberry syrup from the store (probably near the maple syrup and pancake mixes) or you can make your own healthier sauce by pureeing about a cup of thawed, frozen strawberries in a food processor or blender.

To Serve:
Cut each cake in half while still a bit warm. Put the bottom half on a plate and add some sauce and chopped, fresh strawberries. Place the other half on top and do the same. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream if you desire.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Fad Toys

There's a so-so article on Slate about the Webkinz phenomenon, and it causes me to think about how my kid will very likely want one of the irritating fad toys with which marketers so proudly assault children's growing minds. Webkinz has the added annoyance factor: the stuffed animal you buy comes with a completely unnecessary online component, which as far as I can tell is kind of like Warcraft for kids, only more demented and pathetic. The importance of instilling sales resistence in my child early has never been more clear.

It is a coincidence that I happened to be thinking about this right around the time a PR firm sent me a Tamagotchi V5 to review. Looking at the packaging, I see that this toy also wants to guide me to their online community. We'll see how I fare with this thingie. I'm hoping that, unlike what I've heard about Webkinz, the online games aren't mandatory for keeping your little pet alive - because that is seriously weird. Stay tuned...

Monday, April 7, 2008

High Chair Alternatives

Baby Cheapskate recently posted about the money you can save by skipping the traditional high chair and instead opting for a cheaper baby seat or booster that attaches to a regular chair. This is the setup we have, and we're very happy with it. An added bonus is that the seat is extra portable, in case you're visiting friends or relatives who don't happen to have anything of the sort in their home.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Baby Haircuts


Did you know that there are places that charge twenty bucks to cut a baby's hair? I guess people who cut a baby's hair have to put up with a bit more squirming and screaming than your average stylist (unless you figure in Medieval barbers), but I'm afraid I am just way too stingy to part with one score dollars for this service. Fortunately, my wife has bravely taken on the role of our little boy's stylist. She has no formal training, but she used to cut her roommate's hair in college, and has even had a go at mine from time to time.

The Washington Post's On Parenting wrote about this recently, mentioning the modern-day, expensive kiddie haircut establishments, while also noting that your ordinary, neighborhood barber might be a place for a simple cut. There are sources on the internet to help you learn to cut your child's hair, but I'm going to let you Google it. Searching for it yourself with give you a sense of accomplishment.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Craigslist and Baby Supplies

Thinking about all the costs associated with being a parent can be overwhelming. I remember feeling this way as my wife and I were preparing for the birth of our baby and doing the requisite research into just what kinds of things we needed to have in our house before this little person was allowed to set foot. One of the first things we learned (and we had an inkling of this already) is that you don't need most of what the Baby Industry tries to sell you. A lot of things are nice if you can afford them. Other things actually seem to be a lot more trouble than they're worth.

A very short list of things are absolute necessities: You need (you must have) a car seat, you need a safe place for the little one to sleep (though the industry really tries hard to sell you a Cadillac of cribs, which you don't need at all), you need whatever supplies will be involved in feeding her, some simple clothes, burp cloths, and a few other items. For a great way to calm yourself way down about the responsibilities and supplies associated with a new baby, check out the book Baby Love: A Tradition of Calm Parenting by Maud Bryt from your local library, or buy it online. This book will really put you on an even keel once What to Expect When You're Expecting sends you into a frenzy of terror.

The trouble with a lot of these things is that you'll use them for less than a year and then have to buy all new things for your now much larger baby. That's another thing you don't think about before actually having one: babies come in different sizes, and your baby will at some point be all of them. We found that a great place to get rid of these items and take in some extra cash for buying the next round of stuff is Craigslist. This, you may know, is super-easy, free online classified advertising. It beats eBay for a lot of the big baby stuff since the shipping costs on such items would be quite hefty. Sales are done informally and all your buyers are local, so you just need to arrange a time for them to stop by and hand you some money for a tiny baby swing that your now nine-month-old child could bend in half with his bare hands like Superman would a lead pipe.

A while back, my wife discovered an almost unbelievable deal on baby food. We stocked up, though we mostly made our own baby food, as this deal was literally almost free and it's always good to have backup if you can. Recently, after using some and giving a good deal away to other friends with babies, we sold what was left on Craigslist and actually made a profit. Okay, so this story is kind of a rare, extreme example of making money off your old stuff. Most of the time, you can only hope to get a little bit of your initial investment back to put toward something else your baby needs, but even so it's still well worth your while to look into it.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A Happy Side-effect of Coupon Shopping

My wife and I have been getting more and more into finding the best deals lately. We've been watching for sales on supplies we need and keeping our eyes open for coupons. This in itself can save you a lot of money, but I've found that it has an added side-effect that serves to keep more of our money in our bank account. When you go into a store specifically to buy a couple of sale items, carefully checking prices and flipping through your small handful of coupons, you are much less likely to pick up an item you don't need as an impulse buy. You just look at the price on something as small as a pack of gum and imagine it as the savings you worked so cleverly to secure suddenly disappearing at the last moment. Put into that context, you're certainly not going to let that happen!

Recipe: Cinnamon Scones

These are the greatest thing in my personal baking repertoire.

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold butter cut into pieces
1/2 cup Hershey's cinnamon chips
1 large egg
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 capful imitation vanilla extract (optional)

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees. Have a large, ungreased baking sheet set aside. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together thoroughly in a large bowl. Drop the margarine in and cut with 2 knives or a pastry blender, tossing the pieces with the flour mixture to coat and separate them as you work, until the largest pieces are the size of peas and the rest resemble breadcrumbs. Do not allow the butter to melt or form a paste with the flour. Stir in the cinnamon chips. Whisk the egg, cream, and vanilla together in a separate bowl, then add to the flour mixture. (Keep some of the egg mixture back - maybe about half a teaspoon. It will be used later.) Mix with a rubber spatula or what have you just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Gather the dough into a ball and knead it gently against the sides and bottom of the bowl, turning and pressing until most of the loose pieces adhere to the dough and the bowl is fairly clean. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and pat the dough into two 6-7 inch rounds, each about 3/4 inch thick. Cut each into 8 wedges and place at least 1 inch apart on the baking sheet. Brush the tops with the remaining egg mixture and sprinkle with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar. Bake until the tops are golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool on a rack or serve warm. Excellent with tea.

Adapted from the recipe for Classic Currant Scones found in the 1997 edition of The Joy of Cooking. For a lower fat recipe, substitute margarine for butter and half and half for heavy cream.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Easter Candy Clearance


I was pretty pumped this year to head out to the stores the day after Easter and reap the rewards of ridiculously discounted holiday candy. On Monday, I was disappointed to find that Cadbury Cream Eggs had already disappeared from the shelves of the three stores I checked. These were the only thing I was actually excited about, so I wasn't really keen on anything else available, what with 50%-off candy still technically costing money. Are the days of cream eggs being available on clearance after Easter over? Are the cream egg enthusiasts making a mad dash for the stores ahead of me? It would make sense, as these are one of the few holiday-specific candies remaining that hasn't made the effort to repackage itself for other holidays (I've never seen a Cadbury Cream Pumpkin). It also doesn't help that there is such a thing as Cadbury Orange Cream Eggs. Orange Cream? Has anyone tasted one of these (judging by the clearance shelves, the answer is no) and if so are they any good? They sound terrible, especially since the resemblance to cream eggs would inevitably invite comparison.

I did happen upon a bag of Dark Chocolate Peanut M&Ms, which was a rare and happy enough combination of M&M ingredients to be worthwhile. I'm hoping that today I'll stop by CVS after work and find everything to be 75% off, which just might be enough to induce me to buy a little, hollow, chocolate bunny. They have a little Peter Rabbit and he's holding a little, orange carrot. Aww!

Has anyone out there had any notable clearance Easter candy experiences this year?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Kid-Safe Music You Love

Tonight, I was searching the internet, hoping to find out who recorded the awesome steel drum version of Gary Numan's "Cars" that I heard in some teenybopper store in the mall. I am happy to announce that the artist is "The Katzenjammers" and you can listen to the track on Hype Machine by clicking here.

Then I said to myself, "You need a Clever Dad post for today. Take this information and make it into something about having kids."

"Okay," I replied.

And this is what I came up with:

If you're like me, there's a lot of music you enjoy that contains expletives, glorification of questionable behaviours, or confusing levels of irony. Now you have a baby, and you know there's a large chunk of your music collection that you feel you really shouldn't listen to while the kid is developing language skills or trying to develop mature and well-adjusted ways to interact with other humans. (Note: No, I do not listen to things that are completely in-SANE. I'm just saying there are some things that are mentioned in music that you'd like to put off explaining to your kid until he is at least potty trained.)

One way to continue to enjoy these songs in the presence of your adorable offspring is to track down instrumental covers of the tunes in question. What fun! Imagine the little tot dancing around in your living room with you to a family-friendly version of Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Relax" (weird example - don't know why I picked it). How sweet!

This having been said, as far as I know anyone at any age can hear Gary Numan's "Cars" with no ill effects or awkward situations as a result. Nonetheless, have a listen to the cover above. It's steel drums. That is AWE-some!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Toy Review: Oatmeal Can

Here's a classic toy you might remember from your own childhood, which is still available in stores everywhere! We've found that so far in our baby's life this is the toy that has had the most staying power. Interest in other toys waxes and wanes, but the oatmeal can is always on hand for playtime fun. Recently, my boy figured out putting things into other things. He also takes things out of things. When you're looking for a larger thing that other things can go inside, look no further than an oatmeal can.

Good, bad, or okay: Good!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Spring Cleaning, and an Epiphany Regarding Movies

I apologize for the unannounced absence at the end of last week. My wife and I took a couple of days off for spring cleaning as well as a genuine date. She's been reading the spring cleaning tips offered recently at MomAdvice's blog, which came in very handy as I tackled the fridge on Thursday.

We had a nice lunch and a matinee on Friday, and it was together alone time which we very much needed. One thing to note, though, is that the experience of going to a movie - though not unpleasant - made us rethink the economics of the whole endeavor. It cost us twelve bucks to go to a matinee. We didn't buy popcorn or candy or pop. It was twelve bucks for two people to go to a movie at one in the afternoon, and we still had to watch a steady stream of commercials before the previews started. And then the previews, instead of being a peek at movies we might actually want to see, were all advertisements for brutal torture porn. For less than twelve bucks, a couple could have an absolutely wonderful evening at a coffee shop or a nice drink and a game of darts in a pub. You could get a decent Netflix plan for twelve bucks a month. You could watch twelve RedBox new releases for that price. Yes, after this sudden realization, we may never again set foot in a movie theater.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

What's the Matter with Teens These Days?

According to this article at Salon, maybe teens are doing okay - or at least not as badly as the older folks lament. In particular, this commentary explores how the internet has changed things for kids these days. Teens spend a lot of time on the internet and you can't throw a wireless mouse these days without it bopping someone on the head who is in the middle of explaining that the net is melting young people's brains right out of their skulls. But, the author says, like anything else new and revolutionary, there is good as well as bad. Teens are reading. Teens are socializing in a broader world. Teens are writing about themselves without being forced to in a classroom setting:

Or is it the older generation that the Internet has seduced -- into the inanities of leveling charges based on fear, ignorance and old-media, multiple-choice testing? So much so that we can't see that the Internet is only a means of communication, and one that has created a generation, perhaps the first, of writers, activists, storytellers? When the world worked in hard copy, no parent or teacher ever begrudged teenagers who disappeared into their rooms to write letters to friends -- or a movie review, or an editorial for the school paper on the first president they'll vote for. Even 15-year-old boys are sharing some part of their feelings with someone out there.

What's interesting about reading this is that I feel I fall somewhere in between the older and younger generations described here. I was in high school when everyone started getting internet access at home, so perhaps I identify more with the teens in question than with the concerned adults. I think the internet has enriched my life in many ways and encouraged communication with friends that I might otherwise have lost. I believe my overall ability to express myself through words has improved during the years I have spent keeping various personal blogs.

Though my inner curmudgeon does rear its head whenever I see a cell phone commercial that shows teens mindlessly texting "LOL ROFL!" to each other. I am still one who thinks sometimes silence is better than communication. We need downtime to process all this new information we have access to, and understand our relationship to it, and make some personal decisions about what information we will seek out and what is not worth our time.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Solution for the Snot Moustache


Sometimes, when he has a bit of the sniffles, my baby boy wakes up with crusty, dried snot generously coating his nose and/or moustache area. You may know from experience that little kids do not have a lot of patience for having bits of their face scrubbed. You're short on time, but you don't want to leave the kid with this unsightly and uncomfortable mess on his face when you drop him off at daycare. I find that applying a bit of petroleum jelly to the area helps soften the crust. After a few minutes (get him dressed, get his shoes on) you should be able to wipe it off with a tissue or cloth.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Frozen Washcloth Makes Great Teething Toy

My baby has a couple of teeth and is probably working on more as I write this. An invaluable aid in this process has been the simple teething toy pictured above. Simply fold up a little washcloth, dampen one end in water and place in the freezer. Keep a couple on hand for those times when your little teether needs something to occupy his mouth and numb the pain.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Baby Food Cubes

We have been saving a lot of money on baby food (not to mention feeding our baby a far more appetizing and less processed diet) by making our own. I know you probably have your doubts about this one, but you really do not have to be an overachiever in order to do this. Here's what you need to do:

  • Dump a bag of frozen veggies into a microwave-safe bowl with a small amount of water and cook. It depends on your model of microwave, but I'd say try cooking on full power for about four minutes, stir, then cook another two minutes. My wife simply describes this step as "cook the bejesus out of them."
  • Grind the heck out of these using a food processor. You should make sure to have some water involved in this step too. You can also use a blender - those are just a bit harder to clean.
  • Dump the fine puree of veggie into a seperate bowl and get going on the next veggie. Meanwhile, a partner or friend can start spooning the puree into ice cube trays.
  • Freeze, remove from trays, store in bags.

You can also puree frozen berries into applesauce to make cubes of flavored applesauce. Just buy the big, giant jar of natural applesauce (not the stuff with sugar and corn syrup added). To keep this nice and easy, I feel I should provide another list of things you don't need to do:

  • You needn't use fresh veggies. I know the tremendous guilt involved in every parenting decision these days is making you think that you should only feed your baby fresh, organically-grown vegetables - and you can do this if you want - but you should know that it is unnecessary extra credit.
  • Once you've already established that your baby isn't allergic to any of the foods being used, then you don't have to clean or even rinse your food processor between batches.

When it's time for a meal, just put a couple of cubes of veggies into a little bowl and microwave for 30-60 seconds, making sure to break it up a bit with a spoon once it's been in there for 30. It appears that the fellow behind The Simple Dollar is also planning to do something like this, and a discussion of the merits of various methods has broken out in his comments thread.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

On Managing Puke

I apologize up front for the lack of a post yesterday, but my baby threw up on me... and on himself... and on about an acre of carpet in his bedroom.

I'd like to provide a couple of quick tips on dealing with baby vomit that have really helped us navigate our way through some very troubling situations:

  • Agree upon a rule in your household: If the baby throws up on you, you do not have to be the one to clean it up (barring unavoidable circumstances).
  • If you are alone in your house and the baby throws up all over you, get the soiled clothes off yourself and your baby, then immediately call someone. You need to talk to someone about this. Don't feel bad. This is a disgusting thing that has just happened to you.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Magnetic photography


With digital photography having come to dominate the home snapshot market, and memory getting more abundant every year, we take literally thousands of pictures of our baby. We went ahead and bought the 2GB memory stick so we could just snap, snap, snap away without concern. If you take this many pictures of your little tyke, you probably often print a few off for family, friends, and yourself through a service like Snapfish, Shutterfly, Walgreens, Walmart, etc. (I don't want to promote a specific one, though I think my wife usually goes with either Shutterfly, or the online photo service from HyVee: a local grocery chain.) This can lead to piles of photos building up in your house. Where do you put them all? I guess you could use the fridge, but that would lead to a mess of photos half-covered with a motley collection of magnetic fruit and other bric-a-brac, right?

What we've been doing is simply taping bit of magnet directly to the back of the pictures. You don't even have to go out and buy magnetic strips for this (though you can). Just cut up some magnets you've gotten from the bank, your realtor or some old magnetic schedules from a college sports team.

Pictured above: Our freezer door shows its enthusiasm for our photographic hobby.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Get a Free Toy With That Sandwich

Want an easy way to accumulate some of those fun, little toys that babies and toddlers use as fodder for their burgeoning imaginations? If you're one who takes the occasional meal at a fast food joint, get yourself the kids meal and ask to receive the toddler toy instead of the big kid's toy. Considering the concentration of calories in the usual fast food fare, you should probably be eating a smaller portion anyway. This is how we got the cute, little monkey above. Hey monkey! Put down that dang banana and drive, okay!

Friday, March 7, 2008

In the infirmary


(Cleverdad is not feeling well. He will return Monday)



The lovely ladies at daycare informed us that the baby has hand foot mouth disease, a common, mild illness that is likely almost over. The baby's doctors completely overlooked the symptoms that obviously pointed to this, and instead ordered chest x-rays and proclaimed it to be a combination of RSV (which he is too old for) and skin rashes due to poor babycare from his parents (which is insulting). And these clowns spent how much on medical school?

As for Cleverdad, he seems to have contracted some sort of nasty bug that gave him a fever of 104 degrees (he likely picked it up in the ER where the baby was getting his unnecessary radiographs). The combination of the fever and the body aches makes me very concerned that he has the flu. So far he hasn't shown any respiratory symptoms, aside from a slight cough, so hopefully he will wake up tomorrow feeling terrific. If not, Clevermom has a lot of work ahead of her.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

On Not Wanting to Find a Babysitter

I've been meaning to write something about babysitters, specifically how my wife and I haven't found an in-town babysitter yet. Not that we've been trying. We've tried to try, occasionally. We talk about how it would be nice if we could both go out with friends to a show or go to a movie just the two of us and leave the baby with a reliable person whose references we've checked. There is a desire on both our parts to get out and have a nice time once in a while without baby responsibilities, going places babies can't go: A nice, adult dinner-and-a-movie, or perhaps a burger basket in a downtown pub on a Friday night. However, there is also a lot of reluctance to actually spend that time away from our little boy.

So we'll talk for a while, whistfully remembering things we once did, lightly complaining about how we don't have family in town and it's hard to just take some time for ourselves, and planning possible dates. But then my wife expresses reluctance, and I can see on her face that she already misses the baby just by talking about it. I miss him too. I understand how she feels. This morning, she and the baby dropped me off at work, which is a change from our usual routine (another sick day from daycare, this time with his mom). As they pulled away from the curb, I watched my baby zip away from me in his rear-facing seat, craned my neck to catch one last glimpse of his face, and felt a brief pang of emotion, missing him already. I never really understood what the emotional connection to one's child would be like before experiencing it.

It isn't like we're really tied down with the little lad, anyway. We were both mostly homebodies to begin with, and he sleeps so well at night that we always have just-the-two-of-us time each night after baby bedtime. Also, it's not like either of us has a lot of friends, especially not nearby. And those friends we have are actually legitimately interested in the baby, so we don't really want to exclude him from the group.

I suppose we're eventually going to have to find someone we trust who can look after him. It's just difficult to start the process because we aren't in a hurry.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Easy Diaper Change Pack

I'm very much into simplicity, and the project below greatly simplifies the amount of stuff you have to drag along with you on short trips with your baby.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Sick Baby

I'm home with the baby all day today after we took him to the emergency room with a fever of 102F and constant moaning. He looked miserable and felt miserably hot. They ruled out a lot of bad things, which is relieving, and said it's probably RSV or some other viral infection. This morning, rest and baby ibuprofin have him feeling much better and he's taking a nap upstairs.

Skimming through parenting/lifestyle blogs for a few minutes turned up this post in Parent Hacks, which I mention because I think it is the first moment in my life that I've even considered the possibility that my boy won't want to drink water when he's a toddler.

Update: Baby is happier and temperature is down, thanks to good care and ibuprofin.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Review: Ministar Baby Shoes

These Ministar Baby Shoes, available at Target look like stylish big kid shoes but slip on like booties. They're a less expensive version of Robeez brand shoes, and I don't know why anyone would pay Robeez prices when they can get the Ministars. These shoes are awesome for our little wanna-be walker, whether he's cruising around the furniture or practicing his stride while holding mommy or daddy's hands. In fact, from what I've read, these are preferable to the expensive, scaled-down versions of complicated athletic footwear that are available for babies. A baby needs to have a "feel for the road", and those mini-Nikes are about as useful for walking as if your baby had hooves.

Good, bad, or okay: Good!

Friday, February 29, 2008

The Free Stuff Fairies LOVE Pregnant Couples!

If you and your significant other ever find yourselves to have a new baby on the way, make sure you get the word out to the people who send free stuff to new parents. When our insurance company learned of our impending parenthood, they sent my wife and I a big, fat tome: The Mayo Clinic Complete Book of Pregnancy and Baby's First Year. This did not feel like a freebie. It had some real heft to it and some very detailed and helpful content. As time went by, we followed along in the book with our baby's development and this led to much reassurance that we were, in fact, going to be capable parents.

Other folks - besides your parents, friends, and other loved ones - who should know about the little bundle of joy are all the usual suspects who make baby products you'll need: your Gerber, your Enfamil, your EvenFlo. Don't forget retailers, too. Many of these companies will send you either free stuff our valuable coupons - and even if you don't use the coupons you can trade them online! (Baby Cheapskate runs a Google Group for coupon traders.) From the company's point of view, this model makes a lot of sense, as they expect to soak a lot of money out of you once you're a parent and they want to get on your good side.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Little Trick to Make Parenting Magazines More Helpful

I was looking at an issue of Babytalk recently - one of the many free magazines available to new parents - and there was a nice article on how to make your weekends with baby less stressful and enjoy yourself. Sure, these magazines are full of advertisements for unnecessary, expensive products, but the content is often quite helpful and informative.

A trick I recently discovered to make them even more informative to the hands-on Clever Dad is this: When reading the articles, mentally replace the word "mom" with "dad" or "parent" wherever you see it. You'll find that suddenly these glossies are even more chock full of dad-appropriate information:

Magazine: Here are some tips to help moms on the go get things done while maintaining their sanity.

Dad: Huh? Oh, not for me, I guess...

Magazine (corrected): Here are some tips to help parents on the go get things done while maintaining their sanity.

Dad: Yay! That's me! I'm a parent!

It's a wonder the magazines don't just do this themselves and save me the mental energy!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Safe Ambience: LED Candles


Having a little one in the house has caused us to stop using candles altogether. It's not that you have to do this yourself, but since you have to be so careful with such things in a house with a child we decided just not to have them around. But we have often enjoyed the mood that candlelight can set, and would like to be able to achieve that without the open flame and the fumes. Enter modern technology! Now there are numerous different simulated candles available using LED lights.

To test this out, I picked up a two-pack of some cheap LED tealights at Hobby Lobby, and I think they're really cool. The ones I have are pretty basic, but they provide a pleasant, little glow and a simulated flicker (not perfectly realistic, but still nice). If you want to put a bit more money into this project, there are more realistic models available that use multiple LEDs for a brighter glow and better flicker, as well as models that are rechargeable.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Money Saving Tip: Use Less of Everything

What they say about portion control and weight loss can also apply to saving money: If you want to spend less, just stop using so much! I've been applying this school of thought to my own household by resisting the inclination to "fill up to the line" with such products as:

  • Laundry detergent - About 3/4 or 1/2 of the recommended amount works for your average load.
  • Dishwasher soap - Those receptacles built into the door of your dishwasher grossly overestimate how much detergent you're going to need. If your dishes don't have gobs of crusted on sediment, you can get away with about a tablespoon in each receptacle. Earn extra cheapo points by only using white vinegar as rinse-aid - and even then only occasionally.
  • Dish washing liquid - A little goes a long way. The bottle even says so!
  • Face wash - I always used too much of this stuff, until I saw how efficiently my wife conserved it. If you're doing it right, the company should have entirely redesigned the packaging by the time you're ready for a new bottle.
  • Meat - The recipe calls for one pound of ground beef, but you could get away with a half-pound or even a third of a pound.

Of course, there are those things this prinicple does not apply to:

  • Baby formula - As much money as it would seem to save on paper, I don't think it's a good idea to skimp on junior's meals. He's just going to need a certain number of calories to grow and that's that. Then he'll grow older and join the track team and he'll need like a bazillion calories. It cannot be helped, but think of his little smile as he waves at you while holding his 100-meter dash trophy.
  • Gasoline - You cannot make your car run for the same distance on less gasoline. You can't water it down. If you want to buy less of the stuff, you'll have to drive less somehow.
  • Prescription medication - I guess this second list is just a bunch of obvious stuff. I should probably stop writing now.

Monday, February 25, 2008

T-shirt Stencils Using Freezer Paper

This post on the blog Dabbled introduced me to a new technique for making custom T-shirts at home using freezer paper. First, you draw/trace a design onto a piece of freezer paper and cut it out with an Xacto knife.
You then place your stencil on the t-shirt, shiny side down, and iron it on. Use a brush to apply a liberal coat of fabric paint (make sure you dab it into those corners!).

Once the paint is dry, you can peel off the stencil to reveal your masterpiece. With a onesy like this, your baby will endear himself to you even in the growliest of moods!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Baby Swim Lessons

This past week, we started our baby on infant swim lessons. This is a prime example of one of those things that I hadn't even heard of before having a baby, had my doubts about when I first learned of it ("Really? Holding your baby in a pool? Wouldn't that terrify you?"), and then it turned out to be one of the best ideas of all time. The little guy loves it! He splashes around and laughs. His mom and dad get a lot of enjoyment out of it, too. It absolutely provides a reprieve from the winter doldrums. That's my recommendation for today: Baby swim lessons. Do it. It's great.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Getting a Baby to Nap

My wife and I managed to have our baby sleeping through the night before he was even six months old. If someone asked me what our trick was, I don't know what I'd tell them. I suppose we just used consistency: keeping bedtime at the same time every night, sticking to the same routine (bath, book, song, crib), planning ahead as to how we would handle nighttime crying and sticking to it.

However, we weren't as attentive to the details of how and when his daytime naps happened. When we was just a wee newborn, it was so easy. Numerous times a day, he would start to look sleepy and we would either rock him in our arms or put him in the swing. He'd be snoozing in no time. Eventually, he outgrew the swing and we switched to a vibrating rocker. We usually didn't have to use the vibrating function, we just rocked him a while and his eyes just couldn't stay open. We felt like nap geniuses: one in the morning, one mid-afternoon, maybe a later one if he looked tired and grouchy.

The next development would change things. The little guy became quite adept at keeping himself awake through a system of moaning and flailing. We could rock him through it and eventually get him to sleep, but it took longer and longer and we knew a sea change was approaching and we needed to adapt. One day, we realized he was impervious to the power of the rocker. I was disappointed that a system that had been working so well was now obsolete, but alongside this feeling was my pride in how much my boy had grown!

It was a good run, but now for the past several weeks we've had to get him used to napping in his crib. He's been fighting the change, but he does get himself to sleep after a good deal of protest (crying, yelling, crying). Wearied by the screaming, I tried to find some tips in the internet to make the afternoon nap go a bit more easily, and came across an article at Parents.com with some pragmatic advice. It's the same advice you hear everywhere regarding naps - no secret, works-every-time tricks - but I realize after reading it that it's about the only advice you can give, and it sounds very familliar: consistency.

He's upstairs in his crib, enjoying a good long nap right now. Today, he only fussed for about fifteen minutes, which is an improvement on his almost unnatural stamina of yesterday. I feel like maybe we never needed to use the rocker, and that perhaps it just delayed him in learning how to go down for a nap in the crib. But I wouldn't go so far as to call anything we did along the way a mistake, since we all came out of it okay. Naps happened, our baby is healthy and happy, and the three of us are learning every day.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Starting a Price Book

I've just started keeping a price book, and it's already paying off. Basically, you get yourself any sort of spiral notebook, memo pad, or whatever sort of dead-tree writing surface you're comfortable carrying with you to the grocery store. Then, you dedicate a page to each item whose price you want to track, and every time you shop you note what you paid for that item. To make it useful, you'll need to convert it to a per-unit price (per oz., per pound, per serving). As you build up a longer record of prices, it becomes easier to spot the good deals when you're in the store, or at home browsing this week's circulars in preparation.

Here's a peek at mine:

Why thank you; that is indeed an awesome price I got on Maxwell House Coffee. You know what rocks even harder? I went to their website and printed a $1 coupon, then went back to the store and got a 34.5 ounce can for $4.88.

The website Dollar Stretcher has several articles on how to make and use a price book. It also has a lot of other money-saving information from a variety of contributers, from the cleverly frugal to the absolutely nuts.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Saving Scratch on Diapers

An important part of my job as a half-time stay-at-home dad is saving the family some money. This includes watching for sales and using coupons. I consider myself to still be using super-saver training wheels, but I'm quickly learning from the master: my wife. Here's a deal she discovered on diapers at CVS (partially via Baby Cheapskate, partially via her own incredible moxie). Now pay attention, this has a lot of moving parts.

This week CVS has a deal where you get $15 back in CVS Extra Bucks when you spend $30 on participating products. If you don't have a CVS card, you should head to their website and sign up for one (though you might not have it in time to take advantage of this particular deal).

Do you see what one of those participating products is? Huggies jumbo packs! I picked up four to bring the price above $30. Now what else can I save?
Wellllll, sir, I'll tell you! We received an offer from CVS for new cardholders that gave us another $4 in Extra Bucks.
Wait! Wait! We aren't through saving! We received a couple of $1.50 coupons from Huggies in the mail and printed a couple of $1.00 coupons from coupons.com. Below, we see the receipt (The $4 in extra bucks isn't pictured - they're emailing it to me or something ::shrug::)

And then below we see the $15 I get back.

So that's $28.88, minus $4, minus $15, which equals 9.88 for 160 diapers. This is 6 cents per diaper. This is unheard of, especially since diapers recently went up in price.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Start Saving Craft Supplies

Even though our child is still just a baby and hasn't yet developed the requisite motor skills for gluing macaroni to things, my wife and I have thought ahead and started a craft materials collection. Here's a photo of one of several boxes of supplies we're saving for the future creative endeavors of our little Renaissance man:

It's never too early to build a cache of these things, so before you throw something out or recycle it, think about it for a moment in terms of whether something awesome could be made from it. A (very limited) list of such handy items includes:

  • Egg cartons
  • Coffee cans
  • Empty jars (If these are glass jars, you should set them aside in a separate box for items not suitable for younger crafters.)
  • Oatmeal cans (These also make great toys for baby. Our boy LOVES his Quaker Oats can!)
  • Random swag you get from the bank, your real estate agent, or drug rep family members that you have no practical use for (Calendars, stress-relievers, keychains, who-knows-what-else...)
  • and make sure you're saving your toilet paper rolls!

"Yay!"

Friday, February 15, 2008

Toaster Oven Chocolate Chip Cookies

Have you ever wanted a couple of fresh, homemade chocolate chip cookies, but didn't want to have two dozen of the things sitting around your house? This recipe uses your toaster oven and makes four cookies per batch: just enough for a fun, little snack.

1 Tablespoon butter
2 Tablespoons sugar mix
1 Teaspoon milk
3 Tablespoons flour mix
2 Tablespoons chocolate chips

Sugar mix
1/3 cup Brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla

Flour mix
1 ¼ cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda

  1. Preheat oven to 375. Mix together sugar mix and flour mix in separate containers.
  2. Cream 1 tablespoon butter and 2 tablespoons sugar mix
  3. Add 1 teaspoon milk, mix
  4. Stir in 3 tablespoons flour mix
  5. Add 2 tablespoons chocolate chips
  6. Form into 4 cookies and bake in 375 degree toaster oven for 8-10 minutes

Notes:

  • 1 tablespoon of beaten egg can be used in place of the milk, but milk is much easier
  • Sugar and Flour mixes can be stored sealed in the refrigerator
  • Perfect measurements are not necessary to make delicious cookies. Even little kids can help.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Exactly Where Does Your Tummy Ache?

Rebeldad Brian Reid guest-blogged for the Washington Post this morning about the trouble in determining if your child is too sick for school/daycare. This has become a familliar issue with us, as I'm sure it is with every parent. With a child so little, the extra concern is how well he has to be before sending him back in among the other little tots with immature immune systems.

This must then be weighed against the grueling experience of being home with a sick baby, who has probably given you his illness as well. I remember when my wife and I both caught a stomach bug from the baby. We were all home from work/daycare and you could not find a more miserable bunch. Each of us stammered around the house trying to do the minimum amount of work that needs to be done to maintain a functioning household, while also trying to keep hydrated and somewhat nourished. To top it off, the poor little baby wanted to be held and comforted all day, and his mom and dad's weakness and body aches made this impossible to maintain constantly.

In the end, I guess it comes down making the decisions that are best for the well-being of your child, however you interpret that. It's good to remember that taking good care of yourself is good for you baby as well.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Happy Moms and Dads Thrive on Novelty

I just saw this brief article in the New York Times about a couple of recent studies that back up something that my wife and I have learned in our time together: Your relationship with your significant other can be strengthened by doing new and interesting things.

Most studies of love and marriage show that the decline of romantic love over time is inevitable. The butterflies of early romance quickly flutter away and are replaced by familiar, predictable feelings of long-term attachment.

But several experiments show that novelty — simply doing new things together as a couple — may help bring the butterflies back, recreating the chemical surges of early courtship.

While a predictable evening in front of the TV or a cozy meal at a familiar restaurant have their place in a healthy lifestyle, you really do have to break the monotony from time to time. It's easy to spot local opportunities for this: museums, parties, a rock concert in a local bar, a picnic. The great thing about it is these don't have to be expensive or heart-stoppingly amazing.

This may not seem like parenting advice at first, but it's important to recognize that having mom and dad feel happy and fulfilled in their lives is good for the family as a whole.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Home Movies People Will Actually Enjoy

Modern technology has made it so that no one need be subjected to two-hour long video tapes of your child's baseball games, birthday parties, etc. Most consumer digital cameras these days can shoot video, thus eliminating the need for expensive and time-consuming video capture equipment. You can now just drop the videos onto your computer and start editing. I use Windows Movie Maker, which came free with my version of Windows XP. Mac users have a similar tool in the form of iMovie. While these aren't professional video programs, they're surprisingly robust software with which you can do a lot to pep up your home videos, cut a peewee sporting event down to a manageable highlight reel, or isolate just the funniest moment of your baby's first taste of applesauce. And if you're feeling creative, you can even add some special effects, like the fast-motion used in this Valentine's Day card for my wife:

video

You know, in a few months my baby will actually be moving that fast.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Bulldozer Cake


Here's a great idea for the construction equipment-minded boy or girl in your family. All you have to do is bake a cake from a mix, dig out a hole, frost it (messily), and plunk on Mister Dozer. For added effect, take a butter knife and carve out some treadmarks behind the bulldozer.