Cool, Creative Play on Hot Days

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Today it’s going to be almost 110 degrees in my neck of the woods. I don’t think my Midwestern blood can handle it, although I hear it’s been pretty hot back home as well, lately.

Here are some quick, creative tips for staying cool while keeping your toddler entertained, engaged, and away from the TV. Make sure you check out my cooling tips from previous posts, too!

1) HIT UP AN INDOOR PLAY SPACE: These places are popping up everywhere. Some are age-specific, themed, attached to restaurants and cafes, and some even have on-staff babysitters so Mommy can return some phone calls while her littles play under the watchful eye of a skilled supervisor. My favorites in the LA area are Kidville in Brentwood and Giggles ‘n’ Hugs in Century City. Kidville offers some really fun classes, too, which we love!

2) GET WET AND LET YOUR IMAGINATION DO THE WORK: This seems like an obvious one, but not everyone has access to a beach or pool, so a little creative thinking can go a long way for hours of cool entertainment. Beat the heat by turning your outdoor space into a smorgasbord of water-themed play. Construct “cooling stations,” consisting of several unique areas where your little can take a detour to play, cool off and let their imagination run wild:

-Ice Archaeologist: Fill a bucket with ice cubes and hide small toys or blocks inside. Give your little a toy shovel and and let them have at it. See how quickly they can “dig” out their treasures!

Update: One cautious mama pointed out to me that the ice can burn tiny hands. Yes, it definitely can if you hold it in bare hands too long, so for littler tots that can’t or won’t use only the shovel to dig, let common sense rule and supervise heavily: add some kiddie gloves to the equation if you’re planning on this activity! It’ll help with the “archaeologist” factor!

-“Fairy” Mist. Fill a clean mister bottle with ice water, spray and let your little’s imagination run free with stories of fairy mist and magic clouds. Sounds like a Grateful Dead show but guaranteed toddler fun!

-Rainstorm. Use a garden hose or sprinkler to create a “rainstorm.” Sing songs and dance under the rain to cool off. Make believe you’re escaping the rainstorm by donning rain hats or pitching an umbrella. This is a fun one for us because I literally can’t remember the last time it rained here, so a rainstorm is a huge novelty for The Bear.

-Doll Bath. Fill a tub or basin with water, add wash cloths and gentle, non-toxic soap (I love Episencial’s Playful Wash or California Baby Super Sensitive Hair & Bodywash) and let your toddler give their dolls or toys a “bath.” This will eventually help them learn how to bathe themselves (with supervision) when it’s their bath time, too!

Make sure each station is well-shaded. If you don’t have access to outdoor space, turn your bathroom into a mini water park by adding toys, a freezer pop and you! Hop in the tub with your little one to make it a little more out-of-the ordinary than just a normal bath. [Disclaimer: this method could get a little messy :)]

3) COOL TREATS: Whip up some healthy freezer pops by pureeing your child’s favorite fruit and freezing in a popsicle mold (check out Green Baby’s list of BPA-free popsicle molds here. My pops below are made with pureed blueberries and strawberries with vanilla organic yogurt). Keep a tray of frozen fruit and veggies within arm’s reach. Frozen peas and blueberries are a favorite in our house on hot days. [Common sense disclaimer: Make sure your toddler is old enough to chew and swallow whatever you set out.]

4) GET SOME ERRANDS DONE. Head to a one-stop shop like Target or Wal-Mart where you know the AC will be blasting and you can do double or triple duty (e.g., buy groceries, get a coffee and pick up some odds and ends for craft projects) so you’re not constantly running back and forth between hot parking lots. Turn errands into entertainment by making your little one part of the decision-making process. Narrate your shopping trip as you go to make your little feel like they’re part of the process. Let them help you “choose” which product (within reason) to buy by letting them hold or touch it before you select it.

If you’re spending time outside with a child on a hot day, it goes without saying that you should keep your little one safe from the heat and sun with plenty of hydration, light layers, safe sunscreen and a wide brimmed hat to keep the sun out of their eyes. Sunglasses—if they’ll keep them on—are a good idea, too.

By the way: don’t beat yourself up if you’re so zapped from the heat that you’re fresh out of creative ideas. I’m guilty of this pretty often and should take my own advice: relax, stay cool and just enjoy your time together!

Have a great summer day!

xoxo

Erin

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Don’t Ring My Doorbell: I’m Afraid of You.

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So, I have a confession to make: I am utterly terrified of people coming to my front door. I literally just hid, crouching on the floor in my kitchen for 10 minutes, to avoid whoever rang my doorbell at noon on a weekday. It’s just the latest quirk on my growing list of rookie suburbanite neuroses.

Maybe it’s that I used to produce crime shows for a living and I’m a little spooked about home invasions, angry former interviewees, murderers posing as book salesmen or jealous exes (hello… remember Amy Fisher?!). Or, it might be that I just got a little too used to city living in an apartment building with video entry and I’m lazy.

But maybe it’s something deeper. Would I rather they email or text me first? Does this speak to larger deep-seated issues I might have about face-to-face contact in today’s text-email-Facebook-Twitter dominated landscape?

Nah. I love me some face-to-face action.

My fear of uninvited doorbell ringers stems mostly from the fact that Bruce Willis (our dog, not the actor, but maybe he’d go nuts too) goes ape whenever anyone rings the bell. This usually ignites a chain reaction that involves The Bear either waking up early from a nap and/or freaking out and chasing the dog, resulting in me chasing both of them, tripping, bruising something, and finally, once I’ve corralled both of them, angrily answering the door with an irate “WHAT,” only to discover that the person has left. So, I’ve just stopped answering altogether.

I’m shocked (and, clearly, dismayed) by the amount of unexpected people that ring our doorbell on a daily basis. At least once a day, and it’s never anyone I know. Sometimes it’s a neighborhood kid asking for a donation for his sports team (we usually oblige), but more often than not it’s the paid employee of a company asking—nay, telling—me to buy something.  So far no murderers, but then again, I only open the door one out of five times (usually when they’ve seen me in the window and I have no choice). I’m pretty positive those four unanswered doorbells saved all our lives.

My doorbell fear goes both ways, too. Two winters ago, when my brother-in-law was running for Alderman in Chicago, my husband recruited me to go door-to-door with him on a cold day to get signatures on a petition to get my BIL on the ballot… I suspect it was because I was 7 months pregnant, and the sight of a chubby, huffing, puffing, Preggo with a clipboard, pen and a smile would be disarming. I was terrified then, too. What if we caught someone on a bad day, and they came to the door with a baseball bat or a shotgun? Or, god forbid, what if they (gasp) yelled at us for bothering them?

In the end, it worked out pretty well… most of the people either happily signed or politely declined. There were a few Grumpies, but no baseball bats. [Also, I made sure to look extra pregnant and winded when they looked through their windows before opening. I think that was the trick. My BIL is a pretty stand up guy, too :)]

My husband had a hearty chortle last week when I told him I wanted to post a “No Soliciters” sign on our front gate. “Only you would be afraid of little kids coming to the door asking for money,” he laughed. Have I transformed into one of those hypothetical angry people I was afraid of encountering back on that blustery door-to-door day in Chicago? Sounds like it, huh?

Because I’m not really the unfriendly weirdo I seem like from my story above, I’ve decided to create my own sign for our front gate, to help clarify my neuroses:

Murderers: Keep out (obviously).

Salesmen: Leave me alone; our spare cash goes to The Bear.

Kids asking for money: Only when it’s not nap time.

Girl Scouts selling cookies: What the hell took you so long? Get in here, kid!

I’ll keep working on my front door phobia, but until then, Friends, if you’re planning to drop by for a visit, call me first. Otherwise you’ll know where to find me when you have to crawl in through the window because I don’t answer: under my dining room table.

Have a great night, Friends!

Oh, and thanks to everyone who’s started following me on Twitter (@eluda, @MommyTestDrive)! It makes me feel so loved! Post your Twitter name here and I promise I’ll return the favor!

xoxo
Erin

In honor of a hometown Fourth and Strawberry Pizza.

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Fourth of July is a huger than huge holiday in my family.

In my tiny hometown of Long Beach, Indiana (yes, there’s a Long Beach in Indiana), going “home for the Fourth” is practically a law. There’s the parade that runs through town, complete with crepe-papered bikes and fire trucks, the beer tent afterward, where everyone drinks lukewarm Mike’s Hard Lemonade or Miller Lite from kegs and catches up with friends they’ve known since they were three, and a fireworks display that rivals most large cities’ that we watch on lawn chairs from my parents’ front yard.

It’s a time to show off your new clothes, boyfriend, husband or kids, drink during the day without shame, get your picture taken for The Beacher (Long Beach’s weekly newspaper), jet ski on Lake Michigan, grab a hamburger at Redamaks, people watch at the Tree House, have pancakes with your best friends at Memo’s and most importantly, it’s a time to appreciate the wonders of home.

Here’s a shot of us last year with my Mom and sister. The Bear was 4 months old:

This year, I’m sad to say that we’re staying in California over the Fourth. With our big move this year and the holiday falling in the middle of the week, it’s just too hard for us to get back. But, mark my words, Long Beach: the Murphys will be back next year, so get ready! 🙂

In honor of a Long Beach Fourth of July and of Fourth celebrations everywhere, I’m sharing with you my mom’s recipe for Strawberry Pizza, which she makes every year as a Fourth tradition in the design of an American Flag. I’ll be missing your Strawberry Pizza this year, Mom, but I’ll miss my family even more.

Have a wonderful Fourth, everyone!

YAYA’S PATRIOTIC STRAWBERRY PIZZA

Ingredients:

1 package sugar cookie mix

1 package strawberry Jello (you’ll only use a little)

1 package raspberry Jello (you’ll only use a little)

1 8oz package of cream cheese

1 1/2 cups white granulated sugar

1 1/2 quarts fresh strawberries, cleaned, drained and sliced

1 pint fresh blueberries, cleaned and drained

2 bananas, sliced into discs

4 TBS cornstarch

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 C water

2 TBS Karo syrup (the clear kind)

Pinch of salt

Whipped Cream

Rimmed rectangular baking sheet

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease the baking sheet and pat the cookie mix into the baking dish, creating a medium-thin “crust.” Bake for 10 minutes at 350 and let cool completely.

Soften 1 8 oz package of cream cheese and mix with ½ c sugar and ½ tsp of vanilla. After the crust has completely cooled, spread the cream cheese mixture over the cooled cookie crust. Mix 1 c sugar, 4 tbs cornstarch, 1 C water, 2 TBS of white Karo syrup and a pinch of salt in a pot and boil until clear, stirring constantly. Separate this mixture into three equal parts. Add 2 tbs of the strawberry Jello to one, 2 tbs of the raspberry to another and leave the third clear. Mix well and let cool. After they’re completely cool, add the strawberries to the strawberry mixture, the blueberries to the raspberry mixture and the bananas to the clear mixture. Now, it’s time to get artistic. Arrange your berries and bananas on top of the cream cheese mixture in the design of an American flag: the strawberries and bananas form the red and white stripes, and the blueberries form the stars. Refrigerate and top with whipped cream or Cool Whip just before serving.

Voila! A Fourth of July favorite that I look forward to every year at my parents’ house. This recipe can work any time of year and with any fruit. It’s a great versatile dessert that tastes like a little slice of heaven. This picture of the finished product doesn’t include bananas, but is just as delish!

Enjoy my Mom’s recipe, friends, and wherever you’re celebrating this year, I hope you have a great holiday!

Kisses and hugs,

Erin

 

UPDATE 7/4/12:

I made my mom’s recipe today, and here are a few tips to help make the end product even better:

1) Don’t be tempted to over cook the cookie crust. It may not look like it’s cooked, but 10-12 minutes is really all it needs. The crust may “puff up” a little in the oven, but you can gently press it flat with clean fingertips as it’s cooling. Make sure you grease your dish/pan really well. Mine stuck a little.

2) The Jell-O can be cut back a little. If your fruit is fresh, you won’t need it for flavor, just for color, so I’d definitely cut it in half next time.

3) If you use bananas in yours, add them just before you serve/present the dish, otherwise they get brown, even if they’re glazed.

Here’s a picture of my finished product! I remembered just before I made this that I actually had a cookie cutter in the shape of a teeny tiny star (I use it for stenciling and felting), so I used that to cut my banana discs. Fun little patriotic touch!

What do you think?? 🙂

 

MTD’s Guide to a Stress-Free Fourth

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Hey, everyone!

With the 4th of July holiday rapidly approaching, parents across the country are currently knee-deep in making kid-friendly plans that may or may not include things like parades, loud music, red, white and blue themed treats, road trips, airplane rides and of course, fireworks! Kids either love this stuff, or they’re completely terrified, and you may not know which category they fall into until you’re hours away from home without an easy escape plan.

But never fear, there’s still time to plan ahead! Whichever category your littles may fall into, here’s a guide I made to help you (and me!) emerge unscathed from this year’s mid-week holiday:

MOMMY TEST DRIVE’S GUIDE TO A STRESS-FREE FOURTH:

Plan for traffic—and lots of it. With airfare steeper than ever these days, lots of families are opting out of flying to their destinations and hopping in the car instead. [Not that gas is any cheaper!] Plan ahead for gridlock by traveling during off-peak days and times. Install a traffic app on your smartphone that gives you ideas for less-traveled shortcuts. And, more importantly, be prepared for long hours in the car by packing lots of car-friendly snacks, games and music you can sing along to. Pouches are my favorite for long car rides because they’re easy to grip and fairly mess-free (just beware of excited squeezing—this can spell disaster for that cute little patriotic sailor dress you bought your toddler for the festivities). Plum Organics makes some great ones with lots of variety. For a great list of 101 tips and games for traveling with a toddler, check out the Mom’s Minivan blog.

Practice makes perfect. Thanks to modern technology (and common sense), you can prepare your littles for the 4th of July festivities by explaining to them what they’ll be seeing and hearing over the holiday. Contrary to popular belief, kids don’t like surprises, so the more you can clarify to them what’ll be going on in terms of parades, fireworks, loud noises, strangers, etc., the better they’ll be prepared to handle the new experience. Start now by walking them through the day—this may sound ridiculous if you have child under 1, but trust me, it does help; they understand a lot more than we give them credit for—explain what a parade is, play some marching band music for them, buy them a little flag to wave. There’s also a 99-cent app available for smartphones called Fireworks that lets you design and put on your own custom fireworks show. Though I don’t condone letting a toddler play with an iPhone, in this instance it just might help them be a little less stressed when it comes to the loud noises and bright lights.

Invest in noise proofing for little ears. Young ears are super sensitive, so definitely invest in a quality pair of noise-reducing earmuffs if you’ll be taking your kids to a fireworks show or loud parade (or any other noisy happenings like street festivals, concerts, sporting events, etc.). Hearing loss is irreversible, so don’t take any chances with your little’s ears. Plus, parades and fireworks might be a little less scary without the loud, startling noises that accompany them. Baby Banz sells a great model for around $30. Here’s an informative article from the New York Times about juvenile hearing loss and the importance of protecting your little’s ears.

Keep it cool…. then warm. Holiday festivities often take place over the course of an entire day, so plan ahead by packing lots of layers for you and your family. Keep your littles and yourself nice and cool for daytime happenings with wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses and light colored clothing. And, don’t’ forget the sunscreen. Check out MTD’s Summer Must-Haves for some of my recommendations. For keeping strollers and carseats cool, Meeno Babies sells a fabulous product called the Cool Mee: it’s seat liner than keeps little bodies cool when the sun’s beating down. For yourself, I can’t say enough about the Cobber, a gel-filled neck bandana that stays cool for hours. My family has been using these for years at sporting events, parades, on bike rides and hikes, etc. They really work! Be sure to bring non-toxic bug repellent and a change of clothing for the whole family for activities during the cooler evening hours. JJ Cole makes a fantastic water/sand/bug proof blanket to sit on for watching fireworks.

Have an escape plan. If none of the above options work for you, you just might have to call it quits on the traditional holiday festivities… but this doesn’t mean that you and your family have to miss out on all the fun. Plan ahead for a meltdown by developing a Plan B scenario for your day… is there a park or indoor play place that’s open near the festivities? A kid-friendly restaurant or movie theater? Do a little research before the big day, and develop an evacuation plan that’s quick, easy and saves the day (and your sanity).

Most importantly…have fun! Spending time off from work and the pressures of real life with your family is what’s key to the success of the day. Enjoy your time together and remember to go with the flow.

Oh, and by the way: don’t forget about the other “kids” in your life: your pets! Find a quiet place for your pets to take refuge in during loud parties or fireworks. Leave on the television or some soft music to help drown out any noises that might frighten or stress them.

Happy planning, friends, and have a great day!
xoxo

Erin

Domestic Goddesses: I Salute You!

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I have a deep, dark, dirty secret I need to get off my chest. But first, let me tell you a little story…

When we moved into our three-bedroom rental house in January, I was excited to embark on exotic adventures as a suburban domestic goddess. It was all so new and uncharted to me. I couldn’t wait to actually drive to the grocery store and park in a real parking lot, to sweep leaves off my very own patio, to eat at the Olive Garden. But, more so, I was excited to play house: to welcome my husband home every night with a home-cooked dinner, a sparkling clean home that I’d spent the afternoon meticulously scrubbing and polishing, and our daughter fed, bathed and blissfully asleep. If I was going to be a stay-at-home mom, I was going to kick some serious domestic butt at it.

Poor, sweet, naïve me.

Some quick back story: despite growing up in a small Indiana town until college, my primary residences over the past decade and a half have been small, urban apartments with little to no maintenance required. Pre-baby and pre-California, I worked 60+ hours a week and usually just came home from work and ordered takeout with my husband while we watched TV. On weekends, we’d give the apartment a quick once-over, then go watch the Bears game with our buddies at a bar or something. With dual incomes and no kids, we could afford a cleaning lady every other week and we each did our own laundry.

That was easy-peasy. I was excited for a new challenge.

To launch Operation Domestic Goddess, I conducted some hefty research: looked up household cleaning tips on Pinterest, made a laundry schedule, Googled recipes for DIY toxin-free cleaners, made weekly grocery and errand lists and bought a Swiffer. A Swiffer! I was ready.

And then, I was sweaty.

Not only did I need a second shower on cleaning days (when is there time for a second shower, let alone a first?), more importantly, my kid was usually forced to sit inside all day while I scrubbed the toilets, mopped the floors and changed the sheets. And the house still wasn’t really that clean most of the time.

“How do domestic goddesses do it?” I wondered, as I slathered hand lotion on my scaly palms. Or, more pressingly, when? With my mother-in-law visiting later that week, I couldn’t leave the fate of my dirty house up to me. I decided to call in reinforcements.

So, here’s my big, nasty secret: two days later and full of shame and self-loathing, I “borrowed” my girlfriend’s cleaning ladies. While The Bear and I took the dog to the park and visited friends, the dynamic duo of Maura and Maria did everything from vacuum out our fireplace to remove the cobwebs that I thought were too high to reach so I’d just accepted them as décor. I hardly recognized the place when we returned home later that day.

I thought about not telling my husband, to let him think I’d done it all on my own, ala Celia Foote in The Help. But the second he walked in the door with a puzzled look on his face as he inhaled the sweet aroma of the toxin-free citrus vinegar spray I’d lovingly made (then abruptly given to the cleaning ladies and skedaddled out the door), I caved. I’ve never been a good liar.

B wasn’t mad that I’d spent a few extra bucks on the Washing Wonder Twins – quite the contrary, actually. He was proud of me for delegating and happy that I was in a good mood. He was also grateful that our shower was no longer scummy. Now, Maura and Maria come once a month to help with the “big” stuff (and of course, before all mother-in-law visits–not that mine would mind if the house is messy; she’s pretty great), and I continue to use my Household Cleaning Chart and homemade cleaning spray for what I can manage while The Bear naps—and in between blog posts 😉

In closing, I say hats off to you, super mamas (working and stay-at-home) who have multiple children and bigger houses than mine who do it all. Keeping your house clean, your bills paid, your marriage exciting, your sanity intact and your kids entertained—and, let’s face it – alive—is a mere mirage in the desert of domesticity.

Oh, and PS: if some of you aforementioned super mamas have clandestine cleaning ladies too, I promise: your secret’s safe with me.

With that finally off my chest, I’m going to leave my messy kitchen until later and take my daughter to the park.

Have a great week, everyone!
Erin

Rules for Daughters to their Dads.

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Happy Father’s Day to all the daddies and single mommies out there! On this oppressively hot Father’s Day day in suburban LA, my little family plans to stay cool with a trip to the spa for Daddy (he’s not the spa type, but we made him go anyway), a Skype session with PaPa (my dad) in Indiana, a drive to the beach for dinner and sunset later Indian takeout and the Sox-Dodgers game. Hope you are enjoying yours in your own special way, too!

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If you’re on Pinterest (follow me here), Twitter or Facebook, you’ve no doubt seen a post floating around entitled 50 Rules for Dads with Daughters. It was originated by fellow blogger and daddy Michael Mitchell (follow his blog Life to Her Years if you aren’t already – it’s amazing). I found it incredibly sweet and tear-inducing and shared it with my friends, too.

Reading Michael’s post made me realize for the umpteenth time how great my own dad is and continues to be, and how he must’ve had a similar set of rules handy in his Levis cutoffs pocket back in 1978 when I was born. He surely passed that list off to my husband when The Bear was born last year, because B is just as an amazing dad as my own is. Do they pull all-nighters when we’re not looking, poring over those unspoken “Dad rules” to make sure they do it right? Is there a secret Dads Governing Authority who pulls a new dad aside after he holds his child for the first time and says, “Here, kid. Follow these, and Junior will turn out great?”

Of course not. They’re inspired by their daughters and sons to be the best they can be, every day. The “rules” are crafted by each passing day, and governed by the unique relationship each daughter or son has with their own dad.

So, in honor of the amazing Dads in my life, I’ve made my own very basic list of Rules for Daughters to Dads. These aren’t just for Father’s Day, but for all year round. You’ll see they’re slightly skewed toward adult daughters because that’s what I am (sometimes… other times I’m a complete child… just ask my husband).

Feel free to comment below and add your own!

MOMMY TEST DRIVE’S 7 SIMPLE RULES FOR DAUGHTERS TO DADS

1) Love Dad. You can never tell your Dad how much you love him. Period.

2) Be grateful to Dad. Thank him for the little things, not just the new car on your 16th birthday, or the few dollars he lent you for your first place. Thank him for the phone call, for picking you up when you needed a ride, for being “cool” in front of your friends. Everyone likes to hear “thanks” every now and then.

3) Tell Dad how proud you are of him. He’s working his ass off for you, and sometimes a little pat on the back is just what he needs to keep going. He’ll deny this, but it’s true 🙂

4) Let Dad help! As we grow up, we become very fixated on being independent, on not needing help or advice from our parents because “I got, it Dad! Geeez!” Let Dad give you advice, no matter how old you are. Let him take your hand and make it better, let him buy you dinner if he offers. Nothing makes him feel more special.

5) Pamper Dad. Again, he’ll deny he needs pampering (see above about B not being a spa person), but don’t give him a choice. Book him a massage, take in the trash cans every once in a while (eew!), cook him his favorite meal, let him watch “The First 48.” Even the most macho Dad needs a little TLC from time to time!

6) Call Dad. Most daughters have a “thing” with calling their moms daily and talking about the most inane things (i.e., “did you see who Emily kicked off on The Bachelorette tonight? Oh. My. God!” or “Should I start wearing anti-wrinkle cream at night?”). Dad wants to chat, too! Maybe he doesn’t care about what happened on The Bachelorette last night, but he does want to hear your voice and hear about your day. He wants to tell you about his day, too! Pick up the phone and dial. Dad will love it!

And finally…

7) Remember what Dad taught you. Nothing makes a Dad happier than seeing his life lessons put into action. Dad wants you to succeed, wants you to have an amazing life. Show Dad that you remembered what he taught you. Make your Dad proud.

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HAPPY FATHER’S DAY, EVERYONE!

Kisses and hugs,
Erin