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.