Monday, November 30, 2009

Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix


Now that the Turkey is moving out of your system, here's a really easy recipe to warm you up on the cold mornings ahead. It's from the Food Network's Alton Brown and one of the best recipes I have found yet... though I still do tweak it a bit.

Hot Cocoa

2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup cocoa (Dutch process preferred)
1 1/2 cups powdered milk
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
Hot water

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and incorporate evenly. Mix 3-4 tablespoons of mix with hot water or milk.

My alterations: I used Hershey's Cocoa because that's the best I could find at the grocery store. I'm hoping to try the Dutch stuff, though as I'm sure it would affect the flavor. I leave out the cayenne pepper because I don't want to hunt through my spices for it. I also add 1 cup more of powdered sugar. I have also crushed up some candy canes (1/4 cup) and added it to the mix for a minty taste. If add candy canes, I don't add the extra powdered sugar.

Homemade hot cocoa would make a nice homemade Christmas gift if you've got the time.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Yippee! New Women's Health Screening Guidlines

If nothing has made your day, and your female, this should. Guidelines for pap smears and mammograms have changed... they now don't have to be quite as frequent. Some wonder if this will compromise woman's health... I don't think it will since most women didn't go in for all the screenings they were "supposed" to anyway.

Read More:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Muffins


I have become quite a fan of muffins for breakfast. Unlike pancakes or waffles, you don't really have to tend to them while they are cooking. Timer rings, you take them out and eat. Plus, they're pretty easy to whip up. Here's a recipe I like to use. It's pretty healthy on it's own, but you can make your own changes as you like.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Muffins

1 Cup flour
1 Cup oatmeal flour (just grind up some rolled oats in the blender)
1/2 white sugar
1 tea. baking pwd.
1/2 tea. baking soda
1/2 tea. salt
1/4 Cup milk
1/2 Cup plain yogurt
1/3 Cup vegetable oil
1 egg
3/4 Cup chocolate chips
1 tea. vanilla

Mix and spoon batter into greased muffin tins, 2/3 way full. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Makes 12 muffins. Serve warm with fruit.

Some variations: If you don't have yogurt, you can use sour cream, though not as healthy. You can also use milk and a tablespoon of lemon juice in place of the yogurt... or, you can just use plain old milk. Instead of oil, you can use applesauce, but I prefer the texture that oil gives, so sometimes I just use half the oil and half applesauce to get the best of both worlds. And why oatmeal flour? This is mainly a texture issue. The muffins stick together better with oatmeal flour than with regular rolled oats.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Car Seat Shopping


I've been gearing up to buy some new car seats for my twins since they are starting to outgrow their infant seats. Car seats are so expensive and I've had some good and not-so-good experiences with them... like the car seat that posed a cheek-pinching risk to my first two children before I finally got rid of it... and the one that you could adjust the straps from the front, with the baby strapped in-- how wonderful that was (thankfully most car seats now have this feature)! In short, car seat shopping seems like such a gamble.

There are lots of ways to go about researching car seats... I like to use a multi-pronged approach. I check consumer reports, reviews from Amazon and other online stores, and also consult the site carseatdata.org. The great thing about consumer reports is being able to view a bunch of similar car seats and their crash ratings as well as ease of use and other features. The downside is that they don't test every car seat and they don't focus a whole lot on the real, day-to-day experiences of using a car seat. Enter Amazon. Real people give review their experiences with car seats. The downside here is that some reviews are more helpful than others. Now for carseatdata.org. This is a very nice web site. If you need to find a car seat with certain measurements in order to fit say, three in the back seat, this is the place to go. You can find a pretty detailed list of car seats and their measurements.

BTW, when I was first looking for a car seat for my one-year-old twins, I was planning on getting a couple of combination car seats (forward facing harness to booster variety) but then decided to go with a couple of convertible car seats (rear and forward facing up to 40 lbs) because there is more and more research showing that it is best to keep children rear facing for longer than a year... until they reach 30 lbs. For more reading on the topic, visit:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Make a Gift Bow

I'm not about to take any more credit than is due me for this lovely pink gift bow I made from a Macy's magazine ad. I made it. That's it. I used an easy tutorial from the following blog:

http://howaboutorange.blogspot.com/2009/10/make-gift-bow-from-magazine-page.html

All you need is glue or double-sided tape, a magazine and some scissors or a cutter. I have many times found myself in need of a gift bow, so it's nice to know how to make one that even looks nice. I wouldn't suggest doing all you holiday wrapping with these unless you have surplus time on my hands. The bow takes about five minutes to make. Nevertheless it's a fun skill to have up your sleeve.

DIY Bathtub Scrub: The Joys of Baking Soda

Back in July I posted a link about making your own non-toxic cleaning kit. Since then I've been trying out some of the tips. Today, I'd like to highlight one of my favorite tips from that link: Creamy Soft Scrubber. I hate scrubbing bathtubs and sinks. I don't like the powder scrubs like Comet because I think they stinks (really, the smell bugs me). But, to effectively scrub, it is good to have some sort of mild abrasive. Enter baking soda

Creamy Soft Scrubber
Baking soda
liquid soap
vegetable glycerin (optional)

Directions: For the bathtub or sink, just use a teaspoon or two of baking soda and then add some liquid soap (I used Dawn liquid soap as it is my favorite) until it makes a paste. Then, using a wet cloth, scrub the the area. Rinse with water.

So, why not just use baking soda? The soap helps remove oils left by lotions, shampoo, other cleansers.

I have been washing our shower pan and bathtub with this concoction weekly. It's very easy to do and requires very little elbow grease. Since I like this cleaning recipe so much, I should go ahead and have it premixed. That will require the final optional ingredient of vegetable glycerin to keep the concoction homogeneous. I have been to lazy to find it. Soon, I will be sufficiently motivated.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Dover Books: Lovely Little Stocking Stuffers or Tiny Tokens


I'm sure we've all come across books published by the Dover publishing company. They publish a lot of public domain works and sell them for low prices. What I wasn't aware of were their great little activity books they have for kids. Now, when I say little, I mean little. They are about 4X6 inches.

I had my first brush with Dover Activity Books a few years ago. I got a couple of free Dover Sticker Activity Books for free after running a 5K years ago. We had a long plain ride planned in the near future, so I waited to test them on my son until then. They were a hit for my little three year old. I remember being quite pleased with the simplicity of the book and the entertainment it provided. It's small enough to stick in a purse and have on hand for an antsy child.

Yesterday, while looking for some stencil sets for kids, I came across Dover Activity Books again, this time on Amazon. These little activity books cost $1.50 each and since Amazon has them available for free shipping, provided that you spend $25 (which isn't hard to do when I'm doing Christmas shopping), these are a great stocking stuffer/tiny gift.

There are lots of different activity books, sticker paper dolls, sticker books, mazes, dot-to-dots, coloring books, and stencil books. This year I'm going to get some stencil books for my artistic little ones.

Now, the fine print: some customers on Amazon have given these books a poor rating mostly due to their size. They are little, as have stated above. That's why they are called "little" activity books. But, their size is great for travel and other things that may suit you. If you want something bigger, check out the other Dover books for children.

Dover has lots more to offer for readers of all ages and interests. Check them out. http://store.doverpublications.com/
And, just a little FYI, if you sign up for an account through dover's website, they'll send you some free samples. Yippee!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Google's Slowly Taking Over Me---And other Humdrum Musings

My husband wanted to know how to remove permanent marker from the dishwasher (artistic 4 year-old, need I say more?). I told him rubbing alcohol would work on that surface.

FYI, There are also lots of other ways to to remove it:
Anyway, after Hubby finished cleaning the marker, he commented about how easy it was to clean up. I responded, "What would you do without me?" Without skipping a beat, he responded, "I'd Google it."

See? I told you Google is trying to take over the world. Apparently they are starting with me.

And whoever thought buffalo or chicken wings go well with pizza? Am I the only one that thinks that's strange? How about a salad?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Soft Hands and Face: DIY facial


I've been exploring the many uses of baking soda recently. While it's proven great for cleaning, I recently tried using it to exfoliate my skin. It's perfectly safe and much cheaper than buying a fancy exfoliant. Plus, it's effective. I especially enjoy using it on my hands because it makes them feel so soft afterward.

How to do it:

1/2 tea baking soda
enough water or facial/hand cleanser to make a paste (about 1/2 tea)

Mix the two ingredients in the palm of your hand to make a paste. Wet face/hands and gently rub the paste on your face. Rinse with water. Follow with a moisturizer.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Congenital Trigger Thumb -or- My Child Can't Straighten her Thumbs


We noticed that my daughter (4 year old) had thumbs that didn't completely straighten a year or two ago. She really can not straighten them past what you see in the above picture. That's pretty much her "thumbs up." We thought at first that is was just a cute deformity and did not feel the need to pursue the issue. It wasn't until this year when my daughter started experiencing pain in one of her thumbs that we started to get concerned.

The pain didn't seem to have a real impetus. My daughter would be playing out of my sight and then she'd come to me crying and holding her thumb. I'd ask her what happened, and she wasn't sure. She had just used her thumb in such a way that it caused pain. The pain didn't usually go away right away. Sometimes it was just for 5 or 10 minutes, and once it took a whole hour. The pain was intense enough that she never allowed me to touch it, but it did go away on it's own, probably because she got distracted enough for whatever was out of wack to move back to the right place.

I started looking for answers by asking a nurse at my daughter's well-child visit. She looked at my daughter's thumbs and said that she was probably just really double jointed. That made very little sense to me. If it was normal, why was she having pain? That's when I tried to look it up online. I know doctors hate it when people try to self-diagnose using the internet, but I've had a lot of luck with it and I don't seem to have a lot of luck with doctors. It's not always easy to self-diagnose when you don't even know what terminology to use. I searched using terms like: child's thumb won't straighten, bent thumbs... and finally I stumbled across this website which had a picture of a child's thumb that looked a lot like my daughter's. It also named the problem: Trigger Thumb. So, I started looking up more information on trigger thumb. While my daughter's case didn't seem to fit all the criteria of a classic case, she did fit enough of it for me to want to take her to another doctor.

So, next we saw my daughter's pediatrician. She agreed with me that something was wrong, but she'd never seen this before, so she instructed me to see a pediatric specialist out of Denver. I asked her about trigger thumb. She said that we could use that as the working diagnosis, but she wanted to have the specialist give me an official one.

Today we drove to see the specialist. It took him no time at all to diagnose it, and sure enough, it's congenital trigger thumb. It normally resolves itself in most cases by the time the child is 4 or 5, but after that, outpatient surgery is usually necessary. My lucky daughter gets to have surgery on both thumbs. This means 3 weeks in casts too. Lucky me.

Here's some helpful website about the surgery and what it entails: http://www.handuniversity.com/topics.asp?Topic_ID=28

I'm writing about this because there isn't a lot online in the way of personal stories about it. Since congenital trigger thumb occurs in 2% of hand problems in children, it is not completely unheard of, but not completely common either.

To read the post about the surgery, click here.
To read a later post about preparing for the surgery, click here