MTD Subscribers: Head on Over to My NEW SITE!

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Hey, all! I’ve activated my new domain over at http://mommytestdrive.com .
Please head on over to see what’s new!

xoxo

Erin

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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

Fave A Day: Mason Jars

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Yes, I said Mason Jars.

Anyone who surfs Pinterest (follow my boards here) will see that Mason jars are the new “it” hipster entertaining and decor accessory. Quirky vases, clever party drinks, displaying hip crafty things, etc… (I can practically hear my husband reading this and protesting, “I liked Mason Jars way before they were cool!).

Now, before you start thinking that I’m a lunatic and recommending you let your toddler play with a set of glass jars, read on… What I’ve recently discovered about Mason jars is that kiddos LOVE to play with the screw-on metal rings that hold the jar’s lid in place! The Bear spent a half hour yesterday stacking, clanking and loving these super cheap, wonderfully uncomplicated, up-cycled little goodies!

Here’s what you do:

1)   Buy a dozen Mason Jars at your local hardware or grocery store

2)   Disassemble and wash all parts

3)   Place screw-on rings in a colorful basket or box and set in front of toddler

4)   Watch with self-satisfaction as your child entertains him or herself with glee

5)   Invite hipster friends over and serve old-timey bourbon cocktails in new jars and bask in your own brilliance

A dozen Mason jars will run you right around $10 at any hardware, grocery store, Target, WalMart, etc.

Happy play time!
Erin

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

Where’s the party… and my credit card?

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Happy Monday morning, friends!

Hope everyone had a relaxing weekend. Unfortunately, B had to work all weekend, so The Bear and I were on our own for most of it, but we did have a fun visit Saturday with good friends who just moved to LA from Indianapolis. It’s always great spending time with old friends.

So, here’s one of many things I’ve learned from six months of living in the suburbs: ‘Burb ladies love throwing parties where their guests can buy something. Chances are, if you creep through a gated community on a weeknight in my town, you’ll find a chatty group of thirtysomethings drinking Shiraz and trying on dangly earrings or smearing on lip gloss with a Q-tip while an attentive hostess fills their glasses and touts the wonders of this incredible, not-available-in-stores product. Be it makeup, baby clothes, adult clothes, wine, candles, purses, sunglasses, jewelry, even essential oils, the options are numerous and sundry.

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When I was invited to my first product party, it was a couple of weeks after we moved here. I was desperately seeking lady friends and time outside the house sans The Bear, but thrown into a bit of a tizzy by the invitation.

Questions began circling my head: If I went, did it mean I’d be obliged to buy something? If I did buy something, would I then be talked into selling the product too? If I said yes, could I make money doing it, or would I have to invest lots of cash into my new business, then be forced to explain to my husband when I got home that I drained our savings account so that my new friends wouldn’t be mad at me? What about if I didn’t buy something? Would I be shunned by all the partygoers and promptly ousted from my new spot in their social circle? The unanswered questions (though clearly neurotic and ridiculous) were too numerous: I turned down the invitation and stayed home to watch re-runs of True Blood.

Weeks turned into months, and with new friends came more turned-down product party invitations… but there were also conversations that went like this:

Me: “Hey, where did you get those adorable bracelets?”

Friend 1: “Oh, I went to an XYZ party last week. I thought I’d just go to get a night away from the kids, but the jewelry was actually pretty cute, so I bought some.”

Or…

Me: “What’d you do last night?”

Friend 2: “Rosemary threw a party where you could buy skincare products. They smelled weird so I just hung out and drank wine.”

Or even…

Me: “So how did you girls meet?”

Them: “At a purse party. We really hit it off because we both like clutches.”

Hmm….

There was absolutely no talk of being tied down and forced to write checks… or of being tricked into investing your savings into a line of scented candles. Could it be that my city girl sensibility of being suspicious of everyone and everything was preventing me from actually having fun and meeting people in my new suburban environment? I hated to admit it, but it was probably true…

Last week I decided to meet up with a work-at-home mom friend of mine who sells essential oils. She occasionally hosts classes where attendees can buy them, but—you guessed it—I’ve never made it to one. I get migraines and was hoping she could help me treat them without having to rely so heavily on my usual cocktail of Excedrin, Gatorade and a nap (impossible with a toddler), so I gave her a call.

After an hour of chatting about the company she works for, and sampling some of her deliciously scented wares, I cautiously settled on a couple of oil blends (reviews to come) and promised to try more when I was ready. “I’m not ready to invest too much in this…” I started. I flinched, waiting for her to push back and try to convince me that it was smarter to buy the whole kit. Amazingly, she didn’t. She even pointed out a few money saving tips as I picked my way through her catalog. She just wanted me to feel better…and I did, immediately. But it had nothing to do with my migraines; I was so refreshed by the ease of the whole experience that I vowed right then and there to accept my next product party invitation.

The moral of my little suburban tale is this: before you make assumptions about something you’ve never done before, stop acting like a neurotic shut-in like I did and give it a try. No one will force your hand, you might actually find a product you love (or in my case, need) and maybe, just maybe…you might make a new friend (cue rainbows and unicorns). Am I being naïve? Jaded City Erin says maybe… but sassy suburban Mommy Erin says, “Free wine? Where’s the party?”

To get you (and me) started on your new adventure, I’ve put together a little guide for any other suspicious newbies out there looking to navigate their local product party circuit and maybe even hoping to start their own work-from-home business:

Mary Kay: The grandmama of all direct buy companies, MK has been around since 1963. I can remember going to a Mary Kay party when I was in college, and looking a little garish afterward, thanks to the orange-y lipstick I tried on, but I know moms today that absolutely swear by MK’s night cream as a miracle cure for diaper rash! Who knew?!? Consultants for Mary Kay make up to 50% of every sale they make, a percentage of their recruit’s sales, and there’s the famous pink car—consultants can “win” it after they hit certain lofty sales goals. Parties are an opportunity to try on makeup and skin care products after the consultant gives you a spiel on what’s new.

Imagelia sophia A direct-buy jewelry company that has been in business for 30 years. A family-run company, feminist ideals, lifetime replacement guarantee, and huge variety. Consultants keep 30% of their sales and party hostesses get “paid” in product discounts and free jewelry. Their prices seem a little hefty to me, though. Despite the “lifetime replacement guarantee,” $98 seems like a lot to spend on a set of faux gold bracelets I could probably get for $8 at Charming Charlie. But, as a costume jewelry addict, I could be convinced to spend at one of these parties.

CAbi: An abbreviation of Carol Anderson by Invitation (she’s the designer), CAbi is a women’s clothing company that bills itself as the “ultimate personal shopping experience.” Their colorful (ok, very colorful) sportswear is designed to mix and match, helping women max out their clothing options. Parties are like miniature fashion shows, with a CAbi consultant introducing the line and helping attendees try on clothes to show their friends as they nibble on food and have cocktails. CAbi has a user-friendly website that helps its clients accessorize their CAbi designs, plus a blog with recipes, fashion tips, etc. CAbi lists their consultants’ median income at around 20K for 2011.

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Pampered Chef is geared toward all things kitchen, from gadgets to cookbooks to cutlery. Pampered chef parties are designed to feel like you’re inside a Food Network cooking demonstration, with the recipes geared toward showcasing PC’s featured products. Anything with food sounds attractive to me, so I’d be excited to attend one of these. PC hostesses get free products, hefty discounts on products and free shipping on anything they buy. Consultants make anywhere from 20-25% commission on sales and get perks like vacations and jewelry when they hit certain sales goals.

Miche (pronounced mee-she) is a newcomer to direct buy products compared to the others on this list, but is gaining popularity due to its unique design features. Miche bags have interchangeable “shells” that can quickly be swapped to match your shoes without having to dump and transfer the contents inside. It’s a cool idea, and the prices are pretty great (around $20-$40 for the “base” bag and $15-$45 per shell), considering how many options you can create with one “base.” Consultants can make up to 35% commission on their sales, and party hostesses get discounts and freebies. Check out my friend Tiffany’s Miche page here. Tiff is hosting her big product launch party this week!

ImageWhen it comes to direct buy opportunities, my list is just a microscopic sampling—there are hundreds of these out there… maybe even thousands. Some ladies get involved strictly for the social aspects and freebies, but it sounds like you can actually make a pretty decent income if you become a sales consultant, which explains why so many stay-at-home moms are joining the ranks and becoming work-at-home moms (or “naptime entrepreneurs,” as my friend Claire likes to call it!). I’ll be sure to ask at my next party and update this post accordingly!

Oh, and to my beloved girls here in town who might be reading this today and thinking “pssh, I’m not inviting her to any more of my XYZ parties.” Please keep inviting me! I promise I’ll be there next time with a bottle of wine… and my wallet, just in case 😉

Happy partying, friends!

xoxo

Erin