Saturday, October 31, 2009

Tips for keeping the family car clean

At this very moment I am sitting in one of those car detailing places. It’s odd because it is pouring outside, the kind of gray, endlessly rainy days that we’ve had here for the past month. Not surprisingly, there is no line. I even got a discount on the service. My reason for being here? I’m headed out tomorrow for my first chaperoning-at-a-field-trip experience at my son’s Kindergarten. And I’m terrified, so I’m going to be as prepared as possible.

Another messy car culprit - the morning sugar-and-cream coffee!

Another messy car culprit - the morning sugar-and-cream coffee!

First, we mothers are to meet at the front of the school at 8:20 a.m., where we will caravan together behind the school busses transporting our kids to the pumpkin patch 45 minutes away. We’re not allowed on the bus, nor are we parents allowed to transport kids to the school function. Both make sense to me.

My first bout of intimidation comes in that I’m sure we parents will double or triple up for the drive up. No sense in each of us taking separate cars. So I’m having the car cleaned just in case someone I barely – if at all – know happens to get in my car.

I used to keep my car clean. Granted, I rarely got the oil changed or took the car in for regular maintenance. This was in the days before Rick, when I was single and money was better spent on clothes than car repairs. But the inside of my car was clean. No trash piled up on the floor, no food crammed in the built-in cigarette/trash thingies, no wads of gum rubbed into the floor mats. My car was clean enough to eat in, though I rarely did.

And then came Truman, my darling almost-6-year-old. Now my car is a trashcan on wheels. Today I handled all that crap – which was pretty repulsive in some parts – and tossed it in the real trashcan. What was left over was billions of bitsy bits of trash parts too small for my fingers to effective snatch, bottle tops, and juice pouch straws literally stuck to the seat. (The trade off here is that my car is regularly maintained now with new tires every whatever miles and fresh oil too often than I think it needs.) Regardless of its pristine maintenance record, I knew I had to pony up the cash and see a professional about the mess inside my car.

I have an obsessively clean and organized friend whom I don’t fault for that. She has two kids – one older and one younger than mine. And yet, her car is never a mess. I asked her for some tips on how she does it, and she offered me some pointers, which I’ll share below. But just as sure as it’s raining outside, I know in my heart of hearts I will now follow them. But maybe you will, so here they are:

- Put a trash bag or a console-sized trashcan in your car and actually use it for trash. Then remember to empty it often.

- Every time you get out of the car – at home, walking into a store, stopping to get gas – remove the trash and throw it away in the closest receptacle.

- Once a week or so, remove toys and books from the car and return them to the house. You know as well as I that kids are only interested in toys when they first appear in the car, rather than those that have sat in there for months on end.

- Invest in some of those car organizer things. You know, those over-the-seat things with pockets and pouches where, ideally, your kid can store books and toys and coloring supplies. The problem is getting your child to return the toy to the pouch after he’s finished playing with it. Other storage jewels include those that can fit under the seat, or on the floorboard under little ones’ feet, or in the trunk but hold valuables like wet wipes and maps and band-aids.

- Have an emergency clean-up kit. This can fit into one of those organizing containers you invested in, above. Stock it with wet wipes, a bottle of water, soap, all-purpose cleaner … stuff like that. Then remember you have it when big messes occur, hence cleaning them up before they become sticky, gooey, gross gobs of goo.

Photo, JWJourney

Friday, October 30, 2009

tips for guilt-free childless vacations

My husband and I just returned from a night out of town away from the stresses of our jobs and the wails of our little boy. I’m pathetic when it comes to leaving my little boy, even for one night. Yet, the minute I pull out of the driveway with my packed bags in tow, I feel the weight of responsibility lift. It takes no time to fall into the pattern of sleeping late and find a little peace.


U2 from the nosebleed seats

It’s been years since my husband and I have vacationed, just the two of us. But we’ve been planning this trip for months – since my husband heard U2 would be performing in Atlanta. We purchased our nosebleed section tickets (that’s what we get for waiting two days to decide to go), booked a luxurious suite at an amazing B&B, and made reservations at perhaps the best restaurant in town, where, by the way, we dined with a celebrity. (OK, so he was at the table next to us, does that count?)

It seemed a little easier to leave this time. I’ll credit some tips I picked up these past few weeks:

Leave the guilt behind.
There are countless benefits to vacationing without kids. Relationship experts say that marriages get stronger when spouses slip away together. “You get to focus on each other without interruption,” Charlotte Shoup Olsen, Ph.D., an associate professor with the School of Family Studies and Human Services at Kansas State University, said in an interview with MomsToday. “To keep really connected to each other, couples need to know what is happening to the other person.”

Experts agree that getting away from the daily stresses, like laundry and lunch packing and dinner making and job deadlines, makes us adults more pleasant to be around when we do come back to town, which in turn benefits the children who have to deal with us. So, why carry around guilt for taking some much needed time off from the kids?

Disrupt your child’s life as little as possible.
When my son was 3, we left for a week to care for my dying grandfather. Leaving my son was torture. I worried that he couldn’t understand why Mommy and Daddy left, and communicating it to him seemed impossible. But we prepared the best we could, arranging for his grandparents (with the help of his sitter) to keep him on a schedule he was familiar with. That included regular naps and snack times as well as visits to his part-time preschool.

Now that he’s older – nearly 6 – he understands what we mean when we say we’ll be home Wednesday. We can talk to him on the phone and tell him how much we miss him. We also encouraged his grandparents to keep to his schedule, which included introducing the grandparents to that machine known as “carpool line” and transporting their grandson to his weekly soccer game.

Take Precautions.
Sure, you don’t want to think about you children getting sick or hurt while you’re gone. But just in case, it’s best to be prepared. Set out your children’s insurance cards, leave the number to their doctors offices, and leave contact information for relatives or friends who can step in the event of an emergency or if assistance is needed. You may also want to have an Emergency Medical Authorization Form prepared so as not to delay any necessary medical treatment and to help cut through any “red tape” at the hospital.

Chill out.
Sure, the grandparents may feed your child those vile chicken nuggets, forget to toss him in the shower, or send him to bed two hours late. But this is why your child loves to be with them! Think of it as a vacation for your child. Instead, focus on spoiling yourself by eating well, taking long baths, and sleeping in. Those grown-up vacation luxuries will be mere pleasant memories soon enough.

Photo, JWJourney

Tips for packing with kids in tow

Once upon a time it was easy to travel. My husband and I would wake up, shower, pack our bags and leave. I think we could pull the whole thing off in under an hour.

And then came Truman.

I can’t say we weren’t warned. Our friends with kids told that packing a baby justified buying enormous SUVs. You had to make room for the Pack’n’Play, bouncy seat, portable high chair, enough for three changes of clothes per day, loads of diapers, baby wipes, bottles, formula, dissolving-in-the-mouth baby snacks, blankets, toys he had little interest in, and so on. I am a list-maker so packing consisted mainly of checking off items. And that was Rick’s job. He does most of the heavy lifting.

In some ways, my job was more tiring. I handled the child. Depending on my son’s age and abilities, I was either changing diapers or feeding or chasing my son around the house or keeping him away fro Rick so Rick could do his packing chores. Since my son was born with energy, this was never an easy job. To complicate matters, once my darling son started talking, he never stopped.

He’s almost 6 now, and we decided to use the long weekend (afforded us by a school district-appointed parent-teacher conference day with no classes) to head to the beach before the winter months forced us indoors. You’d think packing for the trip would be easier. We’re taking far fewer things than we did when Truman was a baby. We did load up his bike, though, and a cooler full of juice pouches and wine. Truman, however, continues to challenge us in this endeavor.

Here’s our conversation this morning while Rick and I tried desperately to pack:
“Mommy.” Yes, love.
“Mommy, guess what, Mommy.” What?
“I’m making a candy corn man.” That’s great, honey.
“Look Mommy.” I see, love. That’s a great candy corn man.
“Mommy?” Yes.
“I need the tape.” OK
“Can you give me the tape, Mommy.” Can I what?
“I mean, please. Can you please give me the tape please?” In a minute, honey. I’m up to my elbows in clothes.
“But Mommy.” But what?
“Guess what Mommy?” What.
“Mommy, guess what? Guess what I did.” Oh….what?
“I got glitter glue on the table. Can you clean it up for me?”

Ok, so know you know why we pack the cooler with wine.

packing babyPlanning on a trip with the kids soon? Here are some packing trips to help reduce your stress level. Feel free to add any of your own secrets. I could always use more!

  • Make a list of every thing you need to bring. It’s easy to forget even the most obvious things when you pack under stress.
  • Do as much in advance as possible, such as while the kids are asleep. No kidding.
  • Tag team. I usually pack while Rick chases Truman around the house. I take over Truman duty while Rick loads the car. However, lately Truman wants to help Daddy put things in the car, which can be stressful for someone like Rick who has a car-packing plan he’s working.
  • Give your child a small back or backpack to fill with his own things – toys, books, markers and paper, etc. This can occupy a curious kid for several minutes. But you’ll want to be sure he hasn’t left anything out, such as markers to go with the drawing pads or the coveted track for his Hotwheels.
  • If traveling by car, have him arrange the area around him. Rick oversees this part, but he does give Truman some say. This way our son knows where to find what he needs when he needs it.
  • When all else fails, turn to Spongebob. I’m not sure what it is about that show that mesmorizes my child so. But sometimes it’s just what the doctor ordered.

Photo, Flickr, melinal

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tips on how to finish those antibiotics

My son and I are on yet another round of antibiotics, this time for strep throat. I’ve always been a bit cautious with antibiotics, I suppose because my father is an immunologist and rarely drugged us as kids. He sort laughed off that notion it seemed everyone else had that if your nose runs, all you need to do is call the doc and load up on some antibiotics. My father argued that antibiotics did nothing for viruses, the cause of the flu, most sore throats, bronchitis and the common cold. If anything, he said, taking them unnecessarily could arm the body with a resistance to antibiotic treatment in the future.

antibioticsBut there were those many occasions when my sister and I fell ill with strep throat and my father (who personally swabbed our throats, much to our dismay) brought home a bottle of antibiotics. Even though we started to feel better, he insisted we finish our course. I didn’t realize then why doing so was so important.

Antibiotics are prescribed for bacterial infections, such as strep throat or ear infections. And those infections tend to respond quickly to antibiotic treatment. Finishing your full prescription is vitally important for several reasons.

First, the dose of medication prescribed to you is designed to be enough to kill all the disease-causing bacteria in your system. If you stop taking your antibiotics when you start to feel better, the bacteria may still be in your body and could come back in the same place or in another location. And who wants a relapse?

Secondly, if you under treat bacteria with a less-than-appropriate dosage of antibiotics, the bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics. Bacteria multiply quickly and can mutate and become pretty bad ass. Stopping your treatment early can give those little germs the ability to build back up and potentially get stronger and more dangerous. Knocking bacteria out with a full dose of antibiotics ensures a rapid and efficient recovery.

But remember to take (or give) any medication twice a day for 10 days can be easy to forget, especially when the sick party looks and feels completely healthy. Here are some tips to help you stay on course:

1. Write yourself a note. If you walk into my kitchen you’ll see a big note on the breakfast room table that reads, “Rx.” It reminds me to dole out our antibiotics every morning at breakfast and every evening at dinnertime. Without it I would completely forget.

2. Make a drug calendar that clearly shows when the medication should be discontinued. Mark off each dose each time you dole out the medicine. This is particularly helpful with liquids that may not necessarily empty completely when the protocol is complete. Luckily, my 20-tablet pill bottle (which I started the same day and time as my son started his liquid) helps me know when our cycle of drugs is complete. When my pill bottle is empty, my son’s course is finished, too.

3. Ask if the medicine has to be refrigerated. The label on my son’s first round of antibiotics clearly stated that the medicine had to be kept in the refrigerator. For whatever reason, after the fifth day, I stuck the bottle in the medicine cabinet. When I realized this in time for the next dose, I assumed it was bad and tossed it out. When I called the nurse to see if it was OK to just stop taking it all together, the nurse said to just continue with the un-refrigerated medicine. For no reason, she said, was I to stop the medicine in mid-treatment. So, I fished it out of the trash. Yeah, I know. Gross.

4. As your doctor to prescribe a medicine with more convenient doses. For example, ask if he can prescribe the antibiotic to be given two times or less a day. The fewer the doses a day, the fewer times you have to forget.

Sources: CDC,
Flickr, lu_lu

Monday, October 26, 2009

Is this kids' book sending the wrong message?

When my son was still a newborn blob of tiny bones wrapped in a blanket of warm skin, my husband rushed out and bought a Curious George book. We had decorated our son’s room in monkeys (which was cuter than it sounds) and my husband’s idea was to take pages from that book, frame them and hang them around our son’s room. This was during what I call the “nonproductive years,” because we had great ideas but were either too physically worn out to do them or could not seem to find the time between formula bottle shakings and projectile vomit cleanups.

curious george bokWe did get as far as to read the book and initial pages with pictures we most wanted to mount. Sure, I knew about Curious George as a kid. Somehow, I didn’t realize how terrible the story was.

Now, I don’t mean to sound extreme. Lord knows my views are extreme enough for this small town I call home. And my husband says some of my liberal views are a bit over the top even for those in the distant state from which I was born, the land of fruit and nuts. But still, as much as I love animals, I’m not giving up red meat, which I think evens me out a bit, right? But have you read Curious George lately? I’m talking about this one, the one I presume is one of the first, which tells the story of how The Man in the Yellow Hat meets George. It goes like this: Yellow hat man is in the jungle and sees George and says, “What a nice little monkey.” He throws down his hat and when George comes down off his nice tree in the jungle he calls home where, presumably, his mother and father monkey parents live and have raised him, yellow hat man grabs George and throws him in a bag. He then whisks George on to a ship and they sail to the big city and George wreaks havoc on the town because he is curious. I’m thinking The Man in the Yellow Hat gets everything he deserves for snatching George out of his happy jungle home and moving him across the pond to a”better place.”

Because I don’t believe in banning books, and the PBS show is cute and entertains my son, I am willing to oblige when my boy pulls that book from his bookshelf and asks me to read it. But I do point out as we read that although George seems happy with yellow hat man now, it sure isn’t nice to snatch animals – or people – up from where they happily live just because you want to play with them.

I also point out that even though George smokes a cigar to relax in that book, my son might not want to light up one himself. My, how stories have changed over the years …

What do you think? Do you have a problem with the origin of that cute little monkey story, or am I just being a bit too extreme?

Photo, my Curious George book

Sunday, October 25, 2009

How to remove dirt stains

If my son excels in anything, it’s filth. I fully expect his T-ball and soccer T-shirts to need a good soaking when we get home after a game, and for the most part I can get most of his stains out. By the end of the season, though, Truman’s sports Tees have been marked by faint reminders of slides into home plate and downtime digging holes to China at third base.

stainedI know my son is not alone in his filth, though I suspect he exceeds all others in collecting it on his clothes. Thus, it boggles my mind why T-ball organizers will select WHITE T-shirts for these kids. Do they even know what they put us mothers through?

Last weekend, even though it looked likely that, like the first game of the fall ball season, the second game would be called because of rain, we still drove out to the field for the official word. While waiting for the commissioner to make the call, we received Truman’s new T-ball jersey. Big shocker here – it was white. As the rain poured down, my son joined a handful of other boys and ran the bases, sliding into home and pretty much rolling in the red mud. The boys were having so much fun they were surprised when the officials finally decided it was raining too hard to play the game. My son walked off the field and in front of me, and I was speechless. How would I ever get that T-shirt cleaned?

I’m not known for my impeccable housekeeping nor my stain removal ability, but I took that shirt as a challenge. I headed home and began working on it. It was only after the shirt was fully engaged in the washer that I took time to research the topic. Here’s what I learned about how to remove mud stains from white T-shirts:

  • Read the tag first. Those tags can provide helpful information, such as what temperature the shirt should be washed in and whether bleach will hurt the shirt or its design.
  • Experts say a stain that has been given a chance to settle in is more difficult to remove than one that is tended to quickly. That said, experts also say wet mud should dry before being washed as washing it while wet can make the stain worse.
  • Brush off all excess dirt. Use a plastic knife and scrape, if necessary. And follow up with a vacuum to be sure all the hard, flakey mud is gone as much as possible.
  • Tackle that stain with a mixture of water and liquid laundry detergent or liquid dish detergent. Work with a brush in circular motions and continue until the stain is gone. You may also use a pre-treatment, such as Spray n’ Wash.
  • If the label says it is OK, try soaking the shirt in bleach or Oxy Clean. Some experts claim vinegar will do the trick.
  • Wash in cold water. Hot water will supposedly cause the stain to soak into the fibers.

I’ll have you know that I followed none of that advice. It was too late, as by the time I began reading up on the subject I was already halfway into the laundry cycle. My plan was to throw that caked-on muddy T-shirt into the laundry. I poured in a generous amount of Tide with Bleach alternative and liquid Oxy Clean into the washer and set the temp at HOT. My plan was to get that soggy mud off and then pre-treat and soak in Oxy Clean and Tide with Bleach alternative in hot water overnight. As you see, this was not what the experts recommended.

But when I went to the washer to get my what-I-expected-to-be-badly-soiled wet T-shirt out of the washer after that first hot-water run, it was completely free of stains! No kidding! Just in case my eyes were playing tricks on me, I went ahead and pretreated the shirt and let it soak in Tide and Oxy Clean for a few hours before moving it on to the dryer. The result, a like-new white T-shirt!

The moral of this story? Just do you best to work out that stain, and if it works, count yourself lucky!

Photo, JWJourney