Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Baby Shower Hack: Cupcake Frosting

I will admit it: when I am hosting an event, I am a cupcake frosting snob.  Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with canned frosting for home use (especially if it's chocolate frosting on yellow cake, the best combination ever), but I prefer piped frosting on cupcakes for bridal/baby showers, birthday parties, etc.  I don't think that canned frosting looks good when piped - it's slightly too soft to hold its shape well, and it has too much shine to it (probably from the mystery cancer-causing ingredients, but whatever).  And grocery store cupcakes, do not even get me started - what IS that frosting they put on there?!

However, sometimes I just do not have the time to make homemade buttercream.  Having to get the butter warm enough so that it mixes easily, but not too warm so that it separates and looks gross......this just takes time that is hard to find with a toddler at my heels, not to mention the cleanup time for the inevitable cloud of powdered sugar that ends up all over my kitchen.  What to sacrifice, taste/looks or time?!  GAME CHANGER - Central Market will sell you their plain white buttercream in bulk at the bakery.  

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The bakery ladies gave me kind of a strange look when I asked for buttercream, but then filled up a to-go container with buttercream and sold it to me for $4/pound....which is really not much more than the ingredients for homemade buttercream would cost.  It was SUCH a time/sanity saver - I just took it straight home, plopped it into a piping bag, and had 36 frosted cupcakes in about 10 minutes, with no mess in my kitchen to clean!  I had some buttercream leftover, so I froze it -- I'm interested to see if the texture will be useable after thawing, but worth a shot! 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Moms: You Need A Roomba

Note: this is not a sponsored post.  I have no affiliation with iRobot/Roomba....this is purely my personal opinion and experience!

Oh my gosh, how did we ever live without Thomas* (our Roomba)?!  Blair and I find ourselves saying this almost daily -- it is seriously the greatest invention for moms of littles. We had several friends get a Roomba over the last several years and swear up and down that it "saved their marriage" (haha) and was the greatest thing ever, and for some reason, we didn't believe them!!!  Well, I am telling you, it's no lie!!!  We are in love with our Roomba!

Our house has a combination of wood flooring, tile, area rugs, and carpet.  It was a struggle to keep the floors "clean enough" for our (then) infant, now toddler, to play on.  It was even worse once he became old enough to enjoy playing outside -- the constant in-and-out of the house tracked in all kinds of dirt and dead leaves!  I found myself vacuuming the house constantly, which was a pain because each type of flooring required a different setting on the vacuum cleaner.  I couldn't stand to sit on the couch at night and see dust/dirt/whatever in the reflection on the wood floors!!

I finally gave in and bought a Roomba.  I justified this purchase because I found $200 worth of Visa gift cards that had been gifted to us and forgotten, which covered a large chunk of the purchase price (yay!)  After reading a million Amazon reviews, I got the iRobot Roomba 650.  There is quite a range of Roombas at different price ranges and with different features; the less expensive ones lack the ability to schedule the Roomba to run on its own, and the more expensive ones have bells and whistles like iPhone app capability.  The 650 model seems to fit our needs -- it can be scheduled to run at certain times on different days of the week.  This feature is great because we can set it to run while we are at work!  The Roomba returns to its base to charge after it is done vacuuming. I have it set to run at 9 AM on workdays; not only does this mean that we come home to clean floors (GLORIOUS!), but it also allows it enough time to be fully recharged by the time we get home, so we can run it a 2nd time at night if we choose.  (Note that you can only schedule it to run once a day, but the time can be different for each day.) 

While the Roomba is quieter than our normal vacuum cleaner, I would not say that it is "quiet". We don't like to have it running in the same room where we are watching TV, for instance.  We also generally don't like to run it at night (while we sleep), as it navigates each room by gently bumping into furniture and walls, and those thuds are distracting while you're trying to sleep!

I cannot pretend to understand the navigation pattern/logic of the Roomba.  It seems to roam around aimlessly, with no set pattern to its ways.  This results in lots of weird vacuum lines in your carpet, but you can see that it does appear to get good coverage, despite its randomness.  It also does not follow the same pattern each day - it randomly vacuums around our house, going in different rooms in a different order each time.  It does not vacuum 100% of our house each time.  We have a ~2,300 square foot house (all one level), and I would estimate that it vacuums 65-75% of the house each day.  However, since the Roomba is intended to be used more frequently than you would use a normal vacuum, our floors are still more clean than they would be vacuuming the entire house on a less frequent basis with our normal vacuum.  Since it goes in different rooms each time, the whole house gets covered every 2-3 times.  And, since our Roomba is fully recharged when we get home from work, we can always choose to run it again in a particular room that got missed if it needs it.  (We rarely do this, as it will normally get vacuumed the next day anyway). 

We have learned where the obstacles are in our house that the Roomba gets stuck on; luckily, they were pretty easy to fix.  It gets stuck on small, loose power cords, like our iPhone chargers and the cord to the baby monitor, so we have to make sure that these aren't laying on the ground.  It also sometimes gets stuck on the crib skirt or our long curtains that have excess fabric pooled on the ground.  Luckily, the Roomba recognizes when it gets stuck on something and stops (it provides an audible error message, if you're home to hear it), rather than continuing to try to run until the battery dies.  If we come home and it's not docked in its base, we know to go look for it!  It's usually stuck under C's crib or where my iPhone cord is plugged in.  The reviews I read also says that it doesn't do well on black rugs/flooring, because it triggers its cliff sensor that keeps the Roomba from falling off an edge (like stairs).  We have very dark wood-look tile in our bathrooms and it does just fine on that, so it must only have a problem on surfaces that are actually black.

The Roomba's vacuuming capability is impressive!!  First, it goes under all of our furniture, which is normally territory that NEVER got vacuumed - under beds, couches, TV stands, even in between the chairs under our dining room table.  Second, it has 2 brushes on the bottom and a spinning brush on one side that allows it to suck up dirt along baseboards and in corners -- again, areas that are not covered by our normal vacuum unless we break out the hose attachment.  We are continually disgusted by the amount of dust and dirt that the Roomba finds every day.  At this point, we have had our Roomba running daily for over 2 months, and the dust bin is still somehow at least half full every. single. day. Where is all of this dirt coming from?!?!  So gross!!!!!

The Roomba does not take a lot of maintenance; I do empty the dust bin daily (or every other day, at a minimum) - it gets full quickly, plus I like to see how much dirt it found that day :)  Every 2-3 weeks, I clean out the brushes on the bottom of the Roomba to remove hair that has gotten wrapped around the brushes.  The Roomba comes with a tool - like a seam ripper - that is intended for this purpose, and it only takes a couple of minutes every few weeks. This helps ensure that the brushes are most effective and also reduces strain on the gears from hair wound too tightly and causing extra resistance, which will probably shorten the lifespan of the Roomba.  However, all of this takes less time than it took to vacuum my house ONCE, and the floors are MUCH cleaner than they used to be due to the frequency that the Roomba runs.  I love the feeling of clean floors under my feet!!!  In the 2+ months we've had our Roomba, I haven't used our normal vacuum cleaner once.  That's how good of a job it does!!

Do you have babies/young kids that spend lots of time on the floor?  You need a Thomas in your house!!! :)  

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

My Summer Mom Uniform

I will be the first to admit that I am far, far, far from fashionable on a daily basis, especially when I am trying to survive the Dallas summer heat and chasing a toddler at the same time.  I've recently added a few new summer items to my closet that are quickly becoming part of my Summer Mom Uniform.... tank + shorts + sandals = good to go!  Here are some of the things I'm wearing lately:

Gap 1969 white denim shorts
I love these white denim cutoff shorts from Gap!  They are the closest I've been able to find to my favorite shorts of all time, which were white denim cutoff MATERNITY shorts from Gap (ha!!)  White matches everything, and these are a good thickness that aren't too see through.  They have a bit of stretch to them but do run small, so I had to order a size up.

J Crew Factory Chino Shorts
These are great everyday shorts!  They're a little shorter than the LOFT shorts below (3" inseam) but they are a great lightweight cotton short that comes in a bunch of different colors!  Now that they've opened the J Crew Mercantile at the Shops at Park Lane in Dallas, I am a much more frequent shopper!

I buy a couple pairs of the LOFT 4" Riviera shorts every year - mostly in solid colors, but I have a few patterns too!  These are a great length for being mom-friendly (i.e., bending over to pick up kiddos) without being TOO old lady.  They also come in a 6" length for those who like longer shorts!  These wear great and come in a ton of colors!

Old Navy High Neck Tank

Old Navy tanks tend to be hit or miss for me - but this one is great!  It is the perfect amount of flowy without making you look like a tent, and the rayon fabric is super soft.  I bought it in this pattern shown and wish it came in more solid colors (I already have shirts similar to the colors it comes in).  Even though I am tall, the regular size tank was plenty long for me!

Old Navy Pom Pom Tank

HELLO!! Pom Poms!!  This tank is adorable!  I wish it came in more colors, but the black is so cute with bright colored or white shorts for summer!

I'm seriously in love with this Keyhole Tank from Gap - I already bought it in 3 colors (gray, green, black).  I love the flowy fit - it is long (almost tunic-length) and made of a super soft modal fabric.  Super lightweight so it's perfect for the hot weather!  I can wear this to work on Fridays with jeans and then change into shorts later (can be dressed up or down - bonus!)  

Kate Spade Glitter Studs
These Kate Spade multi-colored glitter studs match EVERYTHING - which means that I don't have to think about which earrings to grab when I'm throwing on my Mom Uniform!  I get compliments on these every time I wear them!

Tory Burch Miller Sandals

I wear these Tory Burch Miller sandals pretty much everyday when I'm home, and usually to work on Fridays too.  Yes, they are ridiculously pricey for sandals, but they are SO comfortable and still look brand new over a year (of frequent wear!) later.  The nude patent color matches everything!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Baby and Toddler-Friendly Sunscreen

Note: this is not a sponsored post.  I have no affiliation with ThinkSport/ThinkBaby....this is purely my personal opinion and experience!

It's summer in Texas again, which means we are slathering C in sunscreen daily!  We send him to school with sunscreen pre-applied in the morning, and they re-apply in the afternoon before going out on the playground after nap. 

Given that C is wearing sunscreen twice a day, every day, I started looking more closely at the ingredients in sunscreen, as well as the different types of sunscreen. I will admit this is not something I had done before - I stood by my trusty Coppertone Sport (and still do, for Blair and I, since it has worked well for us in the past and, both working in office environments, we are only exposed to the sun and wearing sunscreen once or twice a week, rather than once or twice a day).

It turns out that there are 2 types of sunscreen: chemical sunscreens and physical sunscreens.  Most of your well-known sunscreen brands (Coppertone, Banana Boat, etc.) are chemical sunscreens. These sunscreens work by using one or more of a variety of chemicals to absorb the UV rays and release their energy in harmless ways.  It typically takes about 20 minutes after application for chemical sunscreens to be effective to allow the chemicals time to soak into your skin and form a protective layer. 

In contrast, physical sunscreens work by using minerals (titanium dioxide or zinc oxide) to actually deflect or block the sun's UV rays.  Physical sunscreens work immediately after application because they actually form a physical barrier from the UV rays (no chemical reaction/absorption is necessary).  Generally, zinc oxide-based physical sunscreens provide better protection against UVA and UVB rays than titanium dioxide-based physical sunscreens, which provide good coverage against UVB but not UVA rays.  The main complaint with physical sunscreens is their texture - they tend to be thicker and more pasty, and therefore appear whiter on the skin and harder to "rub in" fully.

EWG's Guide to Sunscreens
I used the Environmental Working Group's 2016 sunscreen guide to sort through the myriad of sunscreen options. EWG evaluates different sunscreens based on their quality of UVA/UVB protection, as well as the health concerns posed by the ingredients, and gives each product a score between 1 (best) and 10 (worst).  As convenient as they are, spray sunscreens get a bad review from EWG.  They pose an inhalation risk (do you want your kids breathing in all those chemicals?!) and their effectiveness is questionable.  I have experienced this firsthand by one too many sunburns when the spray sunscreen seemed to just wash off my skin the second I enter the water!

Another thing to note is not to be fooled by the SPF rating!  The FDA considers SPF higher than 50 to be "inherently misleading" and may consider banning SPFs over 50 in the future.  In fact, Australia, Europe, Japan, and Canada cap SPF ratings at 30 to 50 SPF.  Why?  People typically place a false sense of security on high-SPF products, re-applying infrequently and actually exposing themselves to more UV rays than if they had properly used lower-SPF products.  The additional protection over SPF 50 is negligible.  Although SPF 100 seems (logically) like it is twice as effective as SPF 50, SPF 50 effectively blocks 98% of UV rays, and SPF 100 blocks 99% -- minimal difference.

Also keep in mind that the SPF rating relates to the effectiveness of blocking UVB rays (which cause sunburn and non-cancerous melanoma); it does not rate the sunscreen's effectiveness against UVA rays (which cause aging, suppress the immune system, cause free radicals to develop, and are linked to cancerous melanomas).  Higher SPF products may provide marginal incremental protection against UVB-caused sunburn, but generally do not provide incremental protection against UVA rays, and come at a cost of increased chemical exposure.

After reviewing EWG's sunscreen guide and reading WAY too many reviews on Amazon, I settled on ThinkBaby/ThinkSport sunscreen.  (Note that the products are exactly the same -- only the packaging is different, so I buy whichever is least expensive!)  ThinkSport is rated a "1" (best) by EWG for its effectiveness and its ingredients.  

It is a physical sunscreen that uses zinc oxide as the active ingredient.  While it is thicker in consistency than typical drugstore (chemical) sunscreen brands, I do not find it difficult to rub in, and it does not leave a white cast on the skin like many physical sunscreens can.  It has a very faint, pleasant smell too (grapefruit maybe?) - not the typical strong sunscreen smell!  We have been using this on C for the last year, and I've recently decided to switch to ThinkSport for the sunscreen that Blair and I use as well. 

C has sensitive skin and eczema, and has not had any reaction to the ThinkSport sunscreen.  I do make sure to bathe every night after he wears sunscreen to minimize the time that it spends on his skin -- even though the ThinkSport sunscreen contains "safe" ingredients and is free of harmful chemicals, it is still just one more thing on his skin!  It does sting his eyes if he sweats and rubs the sunscreen into his eyes, so we sometimes use a stick sunscreen on his face instead (as it is both easier to apply and less runny/more waxy).  I used the Aveeno stick sunscreen last summer but switched to the BabyGanics SPF 50 Pure Mineral Sunscreen Stick this year because it is more highly rated by the EWG.

Of course, sunscreen is the last defense against the sun!  We keep C in the shade as much as possible and try to avoid being outdoors in the middle of the day entirely.  When he's playing outside, both at school and at home, he wears a bucket hat to protect his face from the sun, and when he's swimming, he also wears a long-sleeve rash guard.  Sun avoidance is the best protection!

At the end of the day, applying ANY sunscreen (chemical or physical) regularly and appropriately is better than nothing!  I just wanted to share our family's experience with making the switch to a physical sunscreen!  Know better, do better, right?  :)

Friday, June 17, 2016

Toddler Summer Must Have: The Noggle

Note: this is not a sponsored post.  I have no affiliation with Noggle....this is purely my personal opinion and experience!

The summer heat in Texas is already upon us, and it is BRUTAL!  Last summer, I struggled with how to keep C cool in his carseat, since I drive a car (read: not an SUV/minivan with ceiling back-seat air vents) and the air conditioning had a hard time reaching him in his rear-facing carseat.  Even with the AC on at full blast (and me freezing in the front seat), he'd be pink-faced and sweaty-haired by the time we got to our destination.  Because we are committed to keeping C in a rear-facing carseat as long as possible - until he reaches the max weight or height limits of his seat, because of how much vastly safer rear-facing is - I needed a solution for this upcoming summer.

This spring I ordered a Noggle for my car, which is designed specifically for this situation!  I wasn't able to find anywhere local that sold the Noggle, so it was Amazon Prime to the rescue!   Let me be the first to tell you, this is not going to win you any cool points -- it definitely pushes my car well into "mom car" territory of lameness.....but IT WORKS!  The Noggle is a flexible plastic tube, covered in fabric, which attaches to your front seat air vent and routes the air flow back to your kiddo in the backseat.  It comes in 2 sizes: the 6 foot, designed for children in forward-facing carseats, and the 8 foot, designed for children in rear-facing carseats.  Since C is rear-facing, I ordered the 8 foot model.

The Noggle comes in a bunch of different fabrics; some are bright and colorful, and others are more boring/discreet.  I chose the Tan Honeycomb design, thinking that the plain-ish tan color would blend in with the tan interior of my car.  It doesn't - it still looks like a giant snake going from my front air vents to the backseat - but oh well.  This thing is not discreet, but it is effective.  C is no longer sweaty or pink-cheeked when I get him out of the carseat, and he always reminds me to turn on his "air" ("high!") 

It comes with 2 different adapters for round and rectangular front air vents; you attach the adapter to your air vent with a (provided) plastic zip tie, and then twist one end of the Noggle into the adapter to secure it to the air vent.  (Note that you can untwist the front-seat end of the Noggle when not in use to make it SLIGHTLY less obtrusive).  

Then, you route the Noggle to your backseat, using Velcro loops on the other end to secure the tube and direct the air flow towards your kiddo.  

I currently have the backseat-end of the Noggle attached to the loop pull-down for the center seat console, but the provided images show it attached to headrests or the handle in the car ceiling as alternate options.  (Note that you should not attach the Noggle - or ANYTHING - directly to any part of your child's carseat, as this can interfere with the effectiveness of the carseat and is expressly prohibited in most carseat manufacturer's manuals).

The entire Noggle is very lightweight, so even though it would act as a projectile in the event of a vehicle crash, it is not likely to cause serious injury.  In my opinion, the risks of overheating in the backseat are far outweighed by the remote chance of injury from using the Noggle.

Although it makes my car look super lame, I would absolutely buy the Noggle again!  We use it daily and it has made such a difference in how hot C gets in the backseat!  You can order one on Amazon HERE.
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