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Dollar Store Shopping for Children’s Toys

Posted on Oct 1, 2014 by No Comments

I am a huge fan of dollar store shopping, but I’ve come to realize that not everything you can buy at the dollar store is a good value. This is especially true when you’re talking about buying children’s toys.

What should you avoid?

  • Most experts recommend avoiding dollar store baby toys because they are often made of plastics that have high levels of phthalates. Babies are especially sensitive to toxic chemicals in our environment, so it’s worth spending more to find something safe for your child.
  • Toy cars are problematic because they often have wheels that fall off and present a choking hazard for small children.
  • If you have a daughter, avoid buying her costume jewelry at the dollar store. There have been several cases of jewelry being recalled due to dangerous levels of lead.
  • I would recommend passing on anything that has magnets because these toys often use substandard adhesive and the magnets might fall off and be ingested by your child. Magnets that are swallowed together can cause a potentially deadly bowel obstruction.

What should you buy?

  • The arts and crafts section is usually a pretty safe bet. Stickers, coloring books, construction paper pads, and glue sticks all provide hours of entertainment for next to nothing. I’ve even managed to find several adorable origami paper kits at my local Dollar Tree!
  • Dollar store puzzles and card games are fun and they’re so cheap it won’t matter if your kids lose a piece or two.
  • Bubbles are must-have for entertaining small children during the summer months. I bought them by the gallon during my son’s toddler years.
  • If your dollar store sells DVDs, these are great for cheap road trip entertainment. My son loved the series of 1960s Superman cartoons I picked up for $1 so he had something new to watch the last time we planned a family vacation.

Photo credit: Dollar Tree

Is This the End of Teen Dating?

Posted on Oct 1, 2014 by No Comments

Scott Hall, a family studies professor at Ball State University, reports that dating in the early 21st century looks nothing like what it did when you and I were teenagers.

Young people are no longer settling down in their early 20s. Instead, they’re putting off marriage to focus on building their careers and pursuing personal goals. Internet dating and group encounters have replaced the traditional idea of spending time together one-on-one and trying to impress your love interest’s parents.

Hall believes today’s young adults have the freedom to pursue different types of experiences than they would have a generation or two ago, which allows them to take their time in selecting a mate. However, Hall questions whether this freedom will affect young adults’ abilities to adjust to being part of a couple after years of individualistic pursuits.

The most recent U.S. Census data say the average age for marriage is 28 for men and 26 for women. In the early 1950s, it was 22 for men and 20 for women.

My son is nowhere near the teen years yet, but I’m not entirely sure I like this trend.

I don’t necessarily want him to feel like he needs to be choosing a wife at the same time he’s looking at colleges, but I think I’d rather have him seriously involved with someone than risking STDs and unplanned pregnancies with casual hookups. (It’s just a hunch, but I’m assuming that abstinence is probably an unrealistic goal if we’re talking about young people postponing marriage until their late 20s.)

Also, the trend towards delaying marriage is naturally problematic if you’re a young women who wants to have children. Even with all the miracles of modern medicine, you still can’t deny that women have a biological clock. A woman who waits too long to get married risks not being able to conceive when she wants to.

I was only 21 when I got married, however, so I’m sure my own experience is coloring my opinion on this issue. What do you think? Are you bothered by the decline in teen dating?

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Easy DIY Furniture Projects

Posted on Sep 29, 2014 by No Comments

Spending hundreds of dollars on fancy new furniture doesn’t make sense when you have a house full of active kids. DIY furniture is kid-friendly and will give your space a one-of-a-kind look.

When you’re interested in building your own cheap furniture, salvaged materials are typically the best option. Hardware such as knobs or drawer pulls are often the most expensive parts of a project, so snatch these up from a relative’s castoffs or a cheap garage sale find if you can.

If you can get your hands on a stack of shipping pallets, the DIY Pallet Furniture site has tons of inspirational project ideas.

If you’re afraid to go near your husband’s power tools, you don’t necessarily need to build your furniture from scratch. Combining several pre-made pieces for a custom look is easy.

For example, topping two small file cabinets or bookcases with an old door is a simple way to make a desk with a lot of storage space. On a similar note, you may be able to turn an old armoire into a home office workspace by adjusting the height of the shelving units and adding some pegboard to the inside of the main doors.

Check out the DIY Network website for more great furniture repurposing ideas.

Don’t forget that a fresh coat of paint makes any piece of furniture look more attractive. Choose bright, bold colors to make the strongest style statement. If you’re feeling exceptionally creative, try stenciling a design or using one of the decorative finishing techniques featured on the Petticoat Junkiton website.

Do you have any fun DIY furniture ideas to share?

Photo credit: DIY Pallet Furniture

Choosing a Veterinarian for the Family Pet

Posted on Sep 24, 2014 by 1 Comment

If you consider your four legged friend to be part of the family, it’s important to have a vet you can trust to make sure Fido or Fluffy stays in tip top shape.

You can start looking for a vet by asking friends, coworkers, and relatives with pets who they use for veterinary services and if they’re happy with their pet’s medical care. The vet who does a great job with your sister’s kitten might not necessarily be the best choice for your full grown dog, but referrals should at least give you an idea of which vets in the area have a positive reputation.

After you’ve searched for personal referrals, make a few appointments with different vets in your area to check out their facilities and their staff. The ideal vet should have readily available appointments that fit well with your schedule, affordable payment plans that are within your personal budget, and friendly staff who genuinely love working with animals.

The facility should also be accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association. The AAHA is the leading national organization overseeing the quality of veterinary hospitals across the United States.

Questions to ask your potential vet include:

  • What veterinary school did you graduate from?
  • How long have you been practicing?
  • Do you have any specialties?
  • Are you familiar with my pet’s special health concerns? (This is especially important if your pet is older or dealing with chronic medical issues.)
  • Will you be meeting with us every time or are there other vets who rotate throughout the practice?
  • How do you feel about alternative treatments like chiropractic care or acupuncture for sick pets?
  • Where will I need to go if your practice can’t handle my pet’s health issue?
  • Are you willing to answer questions via email?

Photo credit: Dana Hinders

Use Artkick to Turn Your TV into a Home Art Gallery

Posted on Sep 22, 2014 by 1 Comment

If you have an Internet connected TV, the free Artkick app can turn your TV into a digital frame for a collection of world class art.

The Artkick app features $4.2 billion dollars worth of art from some of the world’s best known painters, including:

  • $1,000,000,000: ‘Mona Lisa’ by Leonardo da Vinci
  • $269,400,000: ‘The Card Players’ by Paul Cezanne
  • $200,000,000: ‘The Concert’ by Johannes Vermeer
  • $200,000,000: ‘The Wedding Dance’ by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
  • $155,800,000: ‘Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I’ by Gustav Klimt
  • $150,000,000: ‘Self-Portrait (with straw hat)’ by Vincent van Gogh
  • $141,500,000: ‘Bal du Moulin de la Galette’ by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
  • $122,200,000: ‘The Scream’ by Edvard Munch
  • $109,400,000: ‘Irises’ by Vincent van Gogh
  • $99,700,000: ‘Massacre of the Innocents’ by Peter Paul Rubens
  • $90,000,000: ‘The Visitation’ by Rembrandt
  • $87,500,000: ‘Le Mont Sainte-Victoire vu des Lauves’ by Paul Cezanne
  • $86,200,000: ‘Water Lily Pond’ by Claude Monet
  • $85,000,000: ‘Still Life, Drapery, Pitcher and Fruit Bowl’ by Paul Cezanne

To display this impressive collection of art on your TV, all you need to do is choose the “Most Valuable Paintings” view list from within the Artkick app. You can also make a customized list of your favorite paintings from the over 50,000 images available within the Artkick app.

The New York Times has called Artkick the “Spotify of art.” However, if you’re not a big art history buff, you can also use the Artkick app to display a rotating collection of your favorite photos imported from Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, Picasa, and SmugMug.

I think this would be a unique addition to a child’s birthday party or any holiday family gathering.

Photo credit: Artkick

How to Care for Your Engagement Ring

Posted on Sep 17, 2014 by No Comments

For many women, their engagement ring is the most valuable piece of jewelry they own. Protecting this investment is crucial.

Lavalier.com, the top name in jewelry insurance, states that it’s vital you obtain an appraisal from a reputable jeweler to accurately determine the value of your ring. If your ring is ever lost, stolen, or damaged, an appraisal will be needed to repair it. The GIA website can help you locate appraisers in your area.

Many women don’t realize that your homeowner’s or renter’s policy often provides very limited coverage for fine jewelry. It’s common for policies to only insure jewelry valued at $2,500 or less, which is inadequate when you consider that the typical engagement ring costs slightly over $5,000.

Manufacturer’s warranties typically only cover defects in the ring and won’t pay in the event of loss or theft.

To protect your investment in your ring, you should buy a policy specifically for jewelry. In most cases, the policy costs less than 2% of the jewelry’s value. This means you’d pay about $20 for every $1,000 of the ring’s value.

As you’re evaluating possible insurance carriers, remember to look for one who will work with your jeweler if you ever need to repair or replace your ring. This option is not always offered, which can be problematic for something with the sentimental value of an engagement ring.

To prevent damage to your ring, you should get in the habit of taking it off when you’re gardening, swimming, or playing sports. Do not take your ring off in a public place, however, since it is likely to become accidentally misplaced.

Jewelers recommend that you have your engagement ring checked every six months for loose prongs that could cause stones to fall out. A professional cleaning will also give your ring a sparkling appearance.

Photo credit: Blue Nile

Settle Chore Wars with MyJobChart.com

Posted on Sep 4, 2014 by No Comments

Do your children hate doing chores? MyJobChart.com offers a convenient way to put a stop to the chore wars by making it easy to track and reward the completion of chores for children of all ages.

MyJobChart.com is a free website that lets parents schedule jobs and rewards for chore completion. The site is intended for use with children ages 5 and up.

Kids can earn cash for the chores they do or you can set up a system that lets them earn non-monetary rewards like extra computer time or a family game night. You can also set up accounts for saving and/or donating to charity if you’re using the completion of chores to teach kids about responsible money management.

For parents on the go, there are MyJobChart.com apps available for the iPad, iPhone, Android Tablet, and Android Phone. If you’d prefer a more low-tech option, you can use the site to make printable weekly chore charts for your kids.

MyJobChart.com has almost 600,000 members and is recommended by financial guru Suze Orman as a “revolutionary family resource.”

I signed up for an account to test out the features of the site and found it fairly intuitive to use. I liked that the chores can be assigned points based on the level of difficulty and that there were several pre-programmed chore options to choose from.

The site seems like it would be most helpful for managing the chores of tweens and teens, however. I think the point system might be confusing to younger children.

Do you use MyJobChart.com with your children? If so, what do you think of the service?

Photo credit: MyJobChart.com

What to Do When You Suspect Child Abuse

Posted on Sep 3, 2014 by 1 Comment

Child abuse is a problem that often goes unrecognized until it’s too late. To help keep children safe, all adults need to be on the alert for possible signs of abuse.

Obviously, unexplained bruises, cuts, and scrapes are possible signs of child abuse. But, you should also be concerned if a child suddenly seems to become withdrawn, loses interest in eating, has problems in school, or seems to try avoiding being around a certain adult.

If you personally witness treatment of a child that you feel is potentially abusive, do not scold or criticize the adult directly. Feeling judged will only make him or her more angry, which could lead to lashing out at the child after you have left the area.

If you witness behavior that concerns you, try to diffuse the situation with understanding and kindness. For example, if a mother is screaming at her preschooler because he acted up at the grocery store, a smile and an offer to watch the child while she finishes paying for her purchases can help prevent the situation from escalating into physical violence.

Even though it’s not easy to tell a pattern of abuse from one bad day, you should never be afraid to report child abuse because you might be wrong about your concerns. When you make a report, there will be a formal investigation to collect evidence.

You can make the report anonymously if you are worried about retribution from the suspected abuser. Remember that the cost of doing nothing if a child is being abused far outweighs the potential embarrassment of making an unfounded report.

Call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) if you want to talk to a professional crisis counselor before making a report. The counselors cannot file a report for you, but they can answer your questions and point you to resources in your area that might be helpful.

The hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. However, if you think that the child might be in immediate physical danger, the best course of action is to call 911.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

5 Creative Ideas for School Fundraisers

Posted on Sep 2, 2014 by No Comments

With so many schools strapped for cash, fundraisers have become a vital part of helping to fill in budgetary gaps. But, there’s only so many rolls of wrapping paper and boxes of chocolate that one parent needs.

If you’re looking for something different to do for the next school fundraiser, here are some ideas:

  1. Collecting Spare Change: If you need a fundraiser that requires next to nothing in terms of actual planning and preparation, consider setting up large piggy banks at your school and at various local businesses. Encourage people to donate their spare change to your cause.
  2. Group Garage Sale: I think the idea of a group garage sale has promise because everyone has a least a box or two of stuff in their home that they need to get rid of. Organize donations in the gym or school lunchroom. If you don’t want to price each item individually, have a few tables with different price points or simply ask shoppers to make a donation of their choice for each item they want to purchase.
  3. Hosting a Community Carnival: A community carnival can be a wonderful school fundraiser, although I should caution that this requires a lot of manpower. My son’s school does a carnival every other year. However, they’ve had to scale back considerably due to a lack of volunteers to help with the planning and running all of the activities during the event itself.
  4. Raffling off Teachers: I found the idea of raffling off teachers on the Scholastic website. I think this is a wonderful fundraising idea if you have enthusiastic teachers who are well liked by their students. Scholastic suggests that each teacher come up with a list of activities he or she can do with the winning student, such as dissecting a frog, baking cookies, or playing Guitar Hero for the afternoon.
  5. Selling a School Anthology: Another unique fundraising idea that I love is creating an anthology of stories, poems, and drawings from children in the school and selling copies to parents, grandparents, and community members. As a parent with a child who loves to draw and write, I know I’d purchase several copies of anything that featured his work. Even if I wasn’t a parent, however, I’d buy one just because there’s nothing more adorable than kids who are expressing their creativity.

Photo credit: MorgueFile