Christine Park

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Complete Without Kids?

Does a life without children give your marriage a better chance of surviving? This author, Ellen Walker in "Complete Without Kids," touts the benefits of living life as an adult, not a parent, enjoying the financial, health and personal benefits associated with childfree living. Could I even imagine a life without my kids? How would it be different? At the risk of sounding like a terrible, ungrateful mother... would you indulge me, just for the sake of exploring this author's argument?

What a whirlwind month September has been for me and my family. We've undergone a major schedule change, for the first time in six years, I am working normal hours. It's taken some adjustment... for my kids' entire lives, I've been waking at 2:30am and leaving my sleeping family behind. Mommy's never been there to wash the sleep from their eyes, comb their bed hair, tickle the the grumpiness away, take them to school. The schedule wasn't easy. In fact, it was brutal. I justified it by telling myself and anyone that asked that it was the most family friendly arrangement. As if I only worked part time, because half my shift they were sleeping anyway. So I wasn't missing out as much even as a full-time working mom. Every morning, whether battling my own morning sickness or sheer exhaustion after a night up with a sick child, I told myself: afternoons and evenings at home make everything worth it. But how good is a mother and wife who is tired, irritable, and mentally/physically unavailable? As the years on mornings took their toll, I could no longer say with confidence, that it was all for the best. In fact, I thought, there's no way I would still be doing this... IF I didn't have kids.

So... if I didn't have kids, I would have moved to another job or changed shifts years ago. Pursued my dream to reach network news. Gene and I would have moved to a bigger city... SF? LA? San Diego? We would have traveled more. Spain...Cancun... Tahiti... places we talk about wistfully now... someday... maybe for our ten-year anniversary. Imagine all the disposable income! Instead of spending $2,000 month on childcare, we would have developed time consuming expensive hobbies. Golf? Tennis? For sure more shopping. Wine and dined our way through our favorite Top Chefs' restaurants across the country. EVERY night could be date night.

But we do have kids. And so we sucked it up and did the best we could. We stayed in Fresno because my parents are in town and could help care for the kids. So when the opportunity arose for a shift change, I didn't hesitate. Normality! Sleep! Nights with my husband! Time to watch our favorite TV shows like Glee and Modern Family live, not on Tivo. Maybe I should have paused. Maybe I should have really considered how much less time I would have with my children. Three hours a night max. Rushing to pick them up, rushed dinners, and rushing to shuttle them to dance class or to the gym before bed time. But this was a decision I had to make for me and my husband. A combination of the two munchkins and the crazy schedule was not conducive to a strong marital relationship. We were becoming strangers who never spent quality time together... which is a dangerous road for a marriage to head down. In that respect, the author's argument rings true. Kids can challenge and change a relationship to the point where you can lose yourselves to being parents first, a couple second. But at no point, did we blame them for any of our grownup problems.

Would life have been different without kids? ABSOLUTELY. More spontaneous. More fun. More adventurous. More about ourselves. But more complete? I would argue otherwise. See, that's the thing about having children. They come with a life-changing lesson on selflessness and responsibility you can't learn any other way. And it's a damn hard lesson to learn. They bring out the best and worst in you, challenge you, test you, and make life about so much more than self-fulfillment. They have shaped me, molded me, made me into the woman, wife, friend, sister, daughter, and coworker that I am today. A stronger yet gentler, smarter yet humbler, happier and more grateful version of myself. In a word, I am complete... with kids.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Are Working Moms Less Depressed Than Stay-At-Home Moms?

It's us versus them. It shouldn't be this way. But even among my friends, there's a sort of competition and mistrust between working moms and the ones that stay home.

Working moms try to assuage the guilt they feel over someone else raising their children by emphasizing the fulfillment from their career, the example they're setting for their children. Stay at home moms try to hide their envy of their working friends by raving about the quality time they get to spend with their children and the milestones they get to witness along the way.

But "stay-at-home mom" is a total misnomer. The ones who do it, will tell you, it ought to be called "go everywhere mom"... because you're running errands, shuttling your children around, doing everything for everyone but yourself. And therein may lie the reason a recent University of Washington study found stay-at-home moms are more likely to become depressed than their working counterparts. This was, in some part, because these moms received little feedback or appreciation for their daily "work," high expectations and no compensation, and minimal interaction with peers. The study's authors concluded employment is ultimately beneficial for women's mental health, provided the woman maintain a work-life balance. If employment is not an option or desired, she recommends stay at home moms find opportunities to create happiness for themselves, whether that includes hobbies or alone time.

But the study also found, working moms who try to be supermoms put themselves at an even greater risk of depression. Accepting that they can't do it all, and making tradeoffs (i.e. leaving work early to pick up the kids), were key to the moms' overall well being. The reality is, most workplaces are designed still for employees without childcare responsibilities. So reject the myth of the supermom. She's not happy... or she doesn't exist. Chances are, underneath the polished, successful, she's-got-it-all facade, is guilt, frustration, or a feeling of a lack of control... all factors that could lead to depression.

So even without this latest study, countless moms could have told you... being a mom, whether you work or don't, is the hardest job in the world. Whether you enjoy it, is up to you.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Boy or Girl at Just Seven Weeks

Reposting this fascinating article. Would you take a test like this? Is it worth knowing what you're having as early as possible? What about the ethical concerns?

CHICAGO (AP) — Boy or girl? A simple blood test in mothers-to-be can answer that question with surprising accuracy at about seven weeks, a research analysis has found.

Though not widely offered by U.S. doctors, gender-detecting blood tests have been sold online to consumers for the past few years. Their promises of early and accurate results prompted genetics researchers to take a closer look.

They analyzed 57 published studies of gender testing done in rigorous research or academic settings — though not necessarily the same methods or conditions used by direct-to-consumer firms.

The authors say the results suggest blood tests like those studied could be a breakthrough for women at risk of having babies with certain diseases, who could avoid invasive procedures if they learned their fetus was a gender not affected by those illnesses. But the study raises concerns about couples using such tests for gender selection and abortion.

Couples who buy tests from marketers should be questioned about how they plan to use the results, the study authors said.

The analyzed test can detect fetal DNA in mothers' blood. It's about 95 percent accurate at identifying gender when women are at least seven weeks' pregnant — more than one month before conventional methods. Accuracy of the testing increases as pregnancy advances, the researchers concluded.

Conventional procedures, typically done for medical reasons, can detect gender starting at about 10 weeks.

The new analysis, published in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association, involved more than 6,000 pregnancies. The testing used a lab procedure called PCR that detects genetic material — in this case, the male Y chromosome. If present in the mother's blood, she's carrying a boy, but if absent, it's a girl.

Tests that companies sell directly to consumers were not examined in the analysis. Sex-detection tests using mothers' urine or blood before seven weeks of pregnancy were not accurate, the researchers said.

Senior author Dr. Diana Bianchi, a reproductive geneticist and executive director of the Mother Infant Research Institute at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, called the results impressive. She noted that doctors in Great Britain are already using such testing for couples at risk of having children with hemophilia or other sex-linked diseases, partly to help guide treatment decisions.

The research indicates that many laboratories have had success with the test, but the results can't be generalized to all labs because testing conditions can vary substantially, said Dr. Joe Leigh Simpson, a genetics professor at Florida International University. He was not involved in the study.

Simpson noted that using gender-detection blood testing for medical or other reasons has not been endorsed by guideline-setting medical groups and some experts consider it experimental.

Dr. Lee Shulman, chief of clinical genetics at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, said the testing "isn't ready for prime time."

He said his hospital doesn't provide the blood tests, and doesn't offer more conventional techniques, including amniocentesis, to women who have no medical reason for wanting to know their baby's gender.

"I would have a lot of difficulties offering such a test just for gender identification. Gender is not an abnormality," Shulman said. "My concern is this is ultimately going to be available in malls or shopping centers," similar to companies offering "cute" prenatal ultrasound images.

Recent research found that increasing numbers of women in India who already have daughters are having abortions when prenatal tests show another girl, suggesting that an Indian ban on such gender testing has been ineffective. The expense of marrying off girls has contributed to a cultural preference there for boys.

Evidence also suggests that China's limits on one child per couple and traditional preference for male heirs has contributed to abortions and an increasingly large gender imbalance.

There's very little data on reasons for U.S. abortions or whether gender preferences or gender-detection methods play a role, said Susannah Baruch, a policy consultant for the Generations Ahead, an advocacy group that studies genetic techniques and gender issues.

Consumer Genetics Inc. a Santa Clara, Calif.-based company sells an "early gender" blood test called "Pink or Blue" online for $25 plus $265 or more for laboratory testing. It boasts of 95 percent accuracy, using a lab technique its scientists developed from the type of testing evaluated in the new analysis, said Terry Carmichael, the company's executive vice president.

Carmichael said the company sells more than 1,000 kits a year. He said the company won't test blood samples unless women sign a consent form agreeing not to use the results for gender selection.

The company also won't sell kits to customers in China or India because of fears of gender selection, he said.

Medical techniques that can detect gender include amniocentesis, usually done at around 16 weeks, using a needle to withdraw fluid surrounding the fetus to identify abnormalities; chorionic villus sampling, done at around the 10th week to detect abnormalities by examining placenta tissue; and ultrasound, most accurate at around 13 weeks. The first two methods can slightly increase risks for miscarriages.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Chore Wars

Have you seen the cover of the newest TIME magazine? Husband and wife, armed with a mop and a baby, ready to do battle. The tagline reads, "Let it go. Make peace. Men and women, it turns out, work the same amount."

First of all, let me just tell you how I came across this article. I had just spent two vacation days living the single life without husband and kids, visiting my best friend in San Francisco. I was feeling a little guilty about neglecting my family and home, when this mag greeted me not-so-subtly on the kitchen counter. Did Gene strategically place it there, to remind me of all the kid-watching he'd done while I was gone? How much I owed him? He denied placing it there. But I dutifully proceeded to read. The article's basic premise was that more men are now pulling their weight at home, so why do women still think they're slacking off? 69% of women interviewed felt they did most of the work around the house, while 53% of the men disagreed, feeling they worked just as hard as the women when it came to cleaning up.

Countless conversations with my married female friends confirms this thinking, whether these women work or not. One told me her husband has never cleaned up after a single meal. Another tells me hers refuses to change any poopy diapers. Yet another husband let the dirty dishes sit in the sink for a week (she left them there to try to make a point.) Mine drives me crazy by watching TV in his pajamas when I'm rushing around trying to get myself and my kids ready for church on time.

Still, when I hear my friends' complaints, I consider myself lucky. My husband contributes quite a bit, despite being raised in a traditional Korean household where his father did NONE of the household chores. I've never thought about quantifying each of our shares but it breaks down something like this... I grocery shop, cook, dress and pack for the kids, do playdates and appointments. He does the bills, the dishes after we eat, takes out the trash, cleans the toilets. We both do laundry, vacuum, bedtime. He drops our daughter off at school, I pick her up.

We've had plenty of arguments, or chore wars, and we've gone through a lot of trial and error in our eight years of marriage, but what we've learned can be boiled down to a few simple points:
  • Watching your own children is NOT work. It's called parenting.
  • Marriage is a partnership... that means ALL give or ALL take never works.
  • A chore divider like can be a lifesaver because it keeps track of whose turn it is to do shared chores.
  • A hard day at work doesn't excuse you from responsibilities at home.
  • Nagging doesn't work.
Obviously there are days when we cut each other slack. I'm on vacation today, so I spent the day going to brunch and doing yoga while my husband was up at 6am and worked until 5pm. So I gave the kids baths and put them to bed while he decompressed in front of the TV. When I'm running on empty after a week's worth of only 4-5 hours of sleep a night, he lets me crash and he takes over kid duty. We are not above bargaining or trading chores either, like baseball cards. "If you put the laundry away so I can take a bath, I will clean up the play room later while you watch Top Chef." The study concludes that men and women who share household burdens evenly are happier. Makes sense. Less resentment and inequality=less fighting.

Also, in my working mom life, I realized it's easier for me to let some things go. Bed not made, I bite my lip. Full laundry basket, I look the other way. Or I just do it myself. I can't complain about my husband's lack of initiative if I don't show any myself. And in the meantime, I'm training the children to start helping with chores. Is a 4-year-old too young to clean toilets? (That's both my and my husband's least favorite task.)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Banning Babies

Malaysia Airlines has banned babies from first class. The company's CEO says he's just responding to passengers' complaints. Like one of my childless friends, who recently shelled out a lot of cash (or points) to upgrade to first class for her hard-earned vacation to Puerto Rico. She ranted on Facebook about the toddler who kicked her seat and screamed for the entire 5 hour flight. I say, sometimes you have to walk through the gates of hell to get to your paradise. But she had every right to be mad.

And this is coming from me, a parent of a toddler and a preschooler who dared to fly solo with the kids across the country, from Fresno to Orlando last fall. Before the flight I agonized... drug 'em with Benadryl? Play the "I-spy" game for five hours? Feed them nonstop so their mouths were too busy to scream or cry? Strap their little feet down so they can't kick the seat in front? Luckily, the movie on the iPad was apparently hypnotic enough to keep them entertained and more importantly, silent.

That's why Joel Stein's "Baby on Board" article for Time is so hilarious and... genius. In it, he suggests airlines provide a separate seating section in the back of the plane for small children and their parents, where the seats are covered in plastic, Toy Story runs in a loop on the screen, and juice boxes are given out on demand. He also wonders, quite sensibly, why infants are allowed to ride on their parents' laps while other potentially deadly projectiles like purses must be stowed under the seat in front of you. I'm on board with this proposal. Instead of banning kids from flights, have a "families with small children" section. After all, misery loves company. And the only thing worse than sitting next to an inconsolable child, is to be the parent of that inconsolable child. So no more dirty looks from fellow passengers, because there's no way to distinguish WHOSE kid is crying when we're all lumped together. Safety in numbers.

Unfortunately, this trend of banning babies is catching on. After all, rich people make the rules. Some restaurants are now instituting no-kids policies. Just yesterday, I read about a Pittsburgh eatery that as of July 16th, will no longer allow children to dine there. The owner e-mailed customers, explaining "kids' volume cannot be controlled." Really, kids don't work like a stereo receiver? Last year, a North Carolina restaurant posted a sign reading, "Screaming Children Will Not Be Tolerated." Uh, what about screaming sports fans at the bar? Why is profanity in public okay but not Pampers and prams?

I used to be one of those people eating at a fine dining establishment (any entree costing over $15 qualifies), who would wonder why on earth the people next to me wasted money trying to have a nice meal accompanied by food-throwing toddlers. Then I became a parent, and I realized parents are people too! Sometimes mommy and daddy want someone else to do the cooking and cleaning, and when chicken nuggets don't cut it, we're gonna spring for steak. We've been pretty lucky... our kids aren't public screamers or nudists, and only half of their meals end up on the floor. So Sunday, we grabbed our gift cards and hauled them to Fleming's Steakhouse for a dinner of bone-in ribeye and bribery. The latter consists of dessert, fries, or juice or whatever convinces the kids to eat their over-priced kids meal. The meal did not start off well. My 2-year-old son was in a utensil and plate-dropping mood. Although he seemed disappointed at the muffled noise, after they hit carpet instead of hardwood. My husband quickly whisked him off to the wood-paneled restrooms for some discipline... while I tried to stop my 4-year-old daughter from stuffing her face with bread and spilling her crimson juice on the pristine white tablecloth. But the wait staff didn't blink an eye. They quickly replaced his plate and utensils (placing it out of reach), brought in covered juice cups split evenly between the kids, and comped the $15 kids meal plus dessert when they got the order wrong. Clearly, we weren't the only crazy couple that dined there with kids. In fact, enough people do so they now provide a kids menu. We never felt unwelcome, we never were asked to turn down the volume, we were never asked to pick up the food remnants on the floor (I just do it anyways, out of guilt). So kudos to you, Fleming's. You've earned repeat customers. While I still had to let my steak grow cold while I cut theirs into bite-sized pieces, it was a perfectly enjoyable meal. Or maybe it was the two martinis I downed back to back. It was happy hour, after all. (Parents with families don't like to dine out past 7pm... it interrupts the kids' bedtimes.) The best part... no dishes to do afterwards and leftovers to look forward to.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Two New Laws Parents Need to Know About

Have you heard of "The Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention Act?" Neither had I. But as of this Friday, July 1st, it is California law to have carbon monoxide detectors in homes that have a fireplace, attached garage, or gas appliance. This pretty much covers nearly all of California's 12.5 million homes. Here's a link to frequently asked questions about the new law. Carbon monoxide poisoning is no laughing matter. Because it is colorless, odorless, and tasteless, it is called the silent killer. Last December, a Kings County man was working to fix a faulty heater in his home right before Christmas. The vent was not working properly, so the cinderblock house filled with carbon monoxide. He passed out, fell to the floor and died. His wife came home shortly thereafter. She knelt at her husband's side, took a breath, fell down next to him and also died. And earlier this year in January, four members of an Oakhurst family died when carbon monoxide from a gas generator they were using seeped into their home while they were sleeping. 40 people die from carbon monoxide poisoning every year in California. Many of these deaths could have been avoided if detectors had been in place. Symptoms commonly associated with carbon monoxide poisoning: Dizziness, nausea, headaches and sudden tiredness or lethargy. I spent the morning at The Home Depot learning about carbon monoxide detectors. Here's a list of approved devices. Some are as low as $17.98... and range in price up to $39.98. One of the main manufacturers is Kidde, which makes three types: battery, wired, and plug-in. The best place is to install them is just outside all the bedrooms where you and your family sleep. They sound and look just like smoke alarms, which we should all already have in our homes. in fact, some are combo smoke-fire-CO sensors. If your home was built after January 1st of this year, then your home should already have a CO detector installed. Builders were required to install them in all new construction as of 1/1/2011. So even though the threat of enforcement and the $200 fine is unlikely, please do the responsible thing and protect your family by taking this small step.

Another law going into effect today is that it is now illegal to sell drop-side cribs. If you have one, like I did, throw it away piece by piece or make it unusable. Do not donate it or sell it in a yard sale or secondhand store. That too is illegal. But you still have to watch for drop-side cribs if you travel or if your kids in in daycare beca
use family child care homes and infant Head Start centers, and places of public accommodation, such as hotels and motels, were given until December 28, 2012 to have compliant cribs in their facilities. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says federal mandatory crib standards had not been updated in nearly 30 years and the new rule will usher in a safer generation of cribs. These mandatory standards will: 1) stop the manufacture and sale of dangerous, traditional drop-side cribs; 2) make mattress supports stronger; 3) improve slat strength, 4) make crib hardware more durable; and 5) make safety testing more rigorous. It's amazing to me that it took three decades and dozens of babies dying to finally put these stricter standards in place.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Affordable Summer Fun

Select Regal, United Artists, and Edwards Cinemas offer select G and PG-rated movies Tuesdays and Wednesdays for only $1 as part of the summertime Regal Cinemas Summer Movie Express. At that link, you can search for a participating theater near you. Today and tomorrow, they're showing How to Train Your Dragon and Muppets Take Manhattan at Edwards Cinemas at Fresno's River Park. While you're there, on Tuesdays, popcorn is only $2 (Regal Crown Club membership required).

Several cities, including Fresno, also offer free movies in the park. This is a ton of fun (if the weather cooperates). This Friday, buy food from local vendors, hit the bounce house and watch Despicable Me as the sun goes down over Eaton Plaza.

Kids Bowl Free, two games a day, all summer long. Shoe rental fees apply. There are some participating locations in the Central Valley and all over California.

One of my kids' favorite forms of summer fun are the free splash parks around town. Many cities have been putting in these water features in public parks, just check with your local Parks and Recreation Department. The City of Fresno has four around town. And they are awesome! Beat the heat for free. Doesn't get better than that.

Don't forget all the farmer's markets around town. Live music and dancing, all the delicious food and fruit you can eat, and bounce houses and face painting to keep the kids happy.

Public libraries have awesome summer programs, including arts and crafts and storytime. Big chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders as well as small bookstores have awesome storytimes too.

On the first Saturday of every month from 9am to noon, Home Depot offers a free kids workshop. They can make things like picture frames and toolboxes and get to take home one of those famous orange aprons.

Just a few ideas to keep the kiddos (and you) from going crazy from boredom this summer!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Swagger Wagons

There are two types of moms. One who refuses to get a minivan and one who embraces the minivan.

I am the former. I'm not going to lie. It's an image thing. My ride is the last vestige remaining of the non-mom realm where I once resided. That place where I once dined out without cutting meat into bite-sized pieces, went to movies on opening weekends instead of waiting for the DVD, and jet-setted to exotic locales like Italy and the Bahamas without packing more diapers than my own dresses. It's not that I don't love being a mom. The gleeful giggles on Saturday morning during tickle time when they invade our bed. The flowers they pick from our yard and place in my hair. The sloppy wet kisses and how they never seem to have bad breath. But the minivan is so PRACTICAL. And sometimes, I reserve the right to be impractical for the sake of preserving some of that sexiness, that edginess, that mystery that came before motherhood. Look, it's not like I'm cruising around in a two-seater convertible. But my SUV, as "mommified" as some may see it, is still technically an SUV. And to me, that says I can pretend that I don't have kids if I want to. (After I remove the two car seats in the back and the cheerios wedged in the cracks, of course). But the minivan... there's no reason you would have that car unless you had kids. So there's no escaping. Does this make sense?

Well... carmakers know my and other parents' aversion to the minivan, so they've worked hard to try to make the minivan cool. The Toyota Sienna Family's Swagger Wagon music video is stinkin' hilarious. "Where my motherfathers at?" If you haven't seen it, take the time to do it now. Even if that means you don't finish reading this blog entry. The Nissan Quest campaign "Moms have Changed" commercial shows cool moms that surf, kayak, and play the cello using their minivan. The Honda Odyssey created a lot of buzz with their fire and fireworks commercial "The Van Beckons" featuring a 30-something dad who sees a black panther in place of the van. Well, I'm still not sold, but I do have respect for the minivan... with all it's bells and whistles that can keep the kids quiet and occupied for road trips. In fact manufacturers report most of the vans they sell are priced above $35,000! That's a lot of swagger for your wagon!

So... being the Consumer Reporter that I am, my job is to point you in the right direction if you ARE considering taking the leap. My colleague (who is a father of 3 and lover of minivans) showed me this article in which USA TODAY, and the MotorWeek TV show convened the Ultimate Minivan Shootout, a comparison test among well-equipped vans priced from about $34,000 to $43,000. Here's how the six tested scored:


No. 1: 2011 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite

Price as tested: $43,250 (most expensive)

Mileage rating: 19/28 mpg; 22 mpg combined (best rating)

Mileage in shootout highway test: 25.9 mpg (first place)

Pros: "It doesn't look like such a Mommy car," Heather said. "The outboard seats in the second row are the comfiest seats in the shootout, and the expandable second row seats three car seats," Newman noted. "By far the best handling of the bunch!" Robinson enthused. "This face-off proved … just how good the Odyssey is," Thomas wrapped up. "It does everything very well."

Cons: That look. It's angular, it's different and our reviewers loved it or hated it. "Crossover-like styling fools no one," Robinson said. "Looks atrocious … distressingly ugly in profile," Healey said. The Weatherbys and Thomas were happy with the looks, though. For Newman, "A lot of road noise crept into the cabin." And, she noticed, "the Odyssey has floppy seat belt buckles, which are a major annoyance to older kids in booster seats." Finally, Varela pointed out, "For more than $43,000, I demand power folding third-row seats. I'm also surprised at this price point that the Odyssey doesn't have push-button start."

Overall: The combination of ride, features and handling made this one the winner for our experts and our family. Odyssey was the highest-priced and scored first, but that wasn't a theme. Sienna, the second most expensive van, came in last.

Key additional features:

•16.2-inch video screen in 2nd row; HDMI input


•Only competitor with seats for eight

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration five-star overall safety score (2011 methodology)

•Second row has adjustable seat width to allow three child seats, removable center seat

•Leather seating

•115-volt house-style power outlet

•Blind spot monitoring system

No. 2: 2011 Chrysler Town & Country Limited

Price as tested: $40,835 (third most expensive)

Mileage rating: 17/25 mpg; 20 mpg combined

Mileage in shootout highway test: 23.2 mpg (third place)

Pros: "Generally excellent," Healey said. Thomas seconded that: "I couldn't believe how upscale the Chrysler interior was vs. the Dodge." Travis Weatherby said he wasn't sold on the Dodge version of Chrysler Groups' vans, "but I'm impressed by this Chrysler. You can't beat the horsepower." "The Stow 'n Go captain's chairs, combined with a power folding third row, easily make the T&C the most flexible minivan we tested," Varela said.

Cons: "Loud engine noise is inconsistent with the level of luxury on the interior," Robinson noted. "I felt a little claustrophobic and smooshed up against the windshield," Varela said. "The Stow 'n Go seat storage compromises comfort," Healey noted, while Newman said, "Seeing out the rear window was difficult" because of the second-row head restraints.

Overall: Our reviewers and test family liked the look of the interior, and the smooth ride, quick engine and overall flexibility.

Key additional features:

•9-inch video screens for 2nd and 3rd rows

•Power folding third row, tailgate seating

•Navigation system

•Remote start

•Leather seating

•Heated front- and second-row seats, heated steering wheel

•Flat-folding second row

•115-volt house-style power outlet

•Blind spot monitoring system

No. 3: 2011 Nissan Quest SL

Price as tested: $38,040 (fourth most expensive)

Mileage rating: 19/24 mpg; 21 mpg combined

Mileage in shootout highway test: 21.4 mpg (last place)

Pros: "This is a different level," Travis Weatherby said about the Quest's interior. "If there was a van I'd buy, this would be it," Thomas raved. "The fact that you can fold all of the seats flat in the Quest without having to remove any of them is fantastic," Varela added. "The Quest's mixture of chrome and faux wood trim was understated and looked luxurious," Newman said.

Cons: Healey was less impressed. "Odd-looking, pricey, not especially well-suited to the American market, but boy, those seats are great." Odd-looking was a common refrain. "I still don't care for its ugly squared-off rear that makes it look like a brick on wheels," Newman said. Robinson applauded the "big, boxy and minivan-looking" appearance but turned up his nose at "the smell of cheap leather." Robinson and Travis questioned why a $38,000 van wouldn't have navigation.

Overall: Nissan returns to the minivan game after taking a couple of years off, and the reviewers were largely happy with the results. The combination of a high-quality interior and quiet and comfortable ride helped it score well.

Key additional features:

•11-inch screen in 2nd row

•Dual moonroofs

•Only model without navigation system

•SUV-like folding second row

•Leather seating

•Removable second-row center console

•115-volt house-style power outlet

No. 4: 2011 Volkswagen Routan SE

Shootout score: 757 points

Price as tested: $34,750 (fifth most expensive)

Mileage rating: 17/25 mpg; 20 mpg combined

Mileage in shootout highway test: 25.1 mpg (second place)

Pros: "When they (the Weatherbys) saw it was priced the same as the Dodge, but added a second DVD screen and leatherette seats, it was easy to be swayed," Thomas said. Robinson liked the "European tuning" feel of the suspension, adding, "The Chrysler vans are already pretty good handlers, and this one seems a bit better." Healey said the Routan "has much nicer seats than the Chryslers." "It looks like a 10 all around," Travis Weatherby said, "because of the price." Newman called it "wonderfully quiet."

Cons: "Carries over the obnoxious center stack, rickety gearshift lever and awkward interior front-door handles of the previous version," Healey said. "Missing VW's legendary styling," Newman added. "How can this feel cheaper than the Grand Caravan?" Robinson asked. Varela noted: "No telescoping steering" column. And she said it "looks and feels like a really well-kept and clean rental car."

Overall: Interesting. Made by Chrysler for VW, it shares a lot with the Chrysler and Dodge minivans, including the powerful new V-6, but lacks the interior updates of the Chrysler/Dodge redesign. It doesn't have the Stow 'n Go seats. An intriguing choice, both for its value and its VW background.

Key additional features:

•Dual 9-inch video screens for 2nd and 3rd rows

•Navigation system

•Leatherette seating (simulated leather)

No. 5: 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan Crew

Price as tested: $34,055 (least expensive)

Mileage rating: 17/25 mpg; 20 mpg combined

Mileage in shootout highway test: 22.7 mpg (fourth place)

Pros: "Second-row cup holders that slide out of the back of the center console," Newman said. Several reviewers liked the high number of features for the lowest price. "Say what you want about the lack of comfort to the Stow 'n Go seating, I love the under-floor storage that it provides," Robinson noted.

Cons: "Disappointing," Healey said, "given that it's so similar to the (Chrysler) Town & Country. Seemed downscale, coarser." "While powerful, the new Pentastar V-6 is noisy," Robinson said, and mileage "is still not that great." "The cloth seats alone would make this a no-go, in my book, for families," Varela said. "It's "good at everything, yet excels at nothing," Thoms said.

Overall: Though No. 5, the Grand Caravan impressed with its many features for the price. "Price is a big bonus," Robinson said. It's "extremely well-equipped for $34,000." Still, it fell short. "For minivan drivers on a budget, this one is for you," Varela said, adding, "Just don't compare it to other minivans."

Key additional features:

•9-inch video screen in 2nd row

•Manual-fold 3rd row with tailgate seating

•Remote start

•Navigation system

•Cloth seating

•Heated front and 2nd-row seats, heated steering wheel

•Flat-folding 2nd row

•115-volt house-style power outlet

No. 6: 2011 Toyota Sienna XLE

Price as tested: $41,144 (second most expensive)

Mileage rating: 16/22 mpg; 18 mpg combined (worst in class)

Mileage in shootout highway test: 22 mpg (fifth place)

Pros: Thomas applauded "a strong engine and exceptional handling," Healey appreciated that the Sienna was the "only van available with all-wheel drive, a definite plus." Newman said the "exterior styling doesn't scream minivan."

Cons: The reviewers' disappointment showed in several ways. Many disliked the loud engine. Varela said the interior seemed of poor quality. Robinson noted, "lots of ways to configure the seats, they're not the easiest or most intuitive to figure out." Several commented that the "lounge-like second-row seats" were "gimmicky." "I'm just not that impressed with the Sienna," Travis Weatherby said. "I was expecting to be blown away."

Overall: The term "disappointment" came up again and again in comments from our reviewers. Several noted that while they enjoyed the "swagger wagon" marketing for the redesigned minivan, in reality it fell short of that title.

Key additional features:

•Only model with all-wheel drive

•Insurance Institute for Highway Safety top safety pick

•16.4-inch video screen in 2nd row

•Lounge seats with retractable footrests in 2nd row

•Navigation system

•Leather seating

•All windows have auto up and down

•Two 115-volt house-style power outlets

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Best Freebie Websites

Getting free stuff is great, and many companies are more than happy to give it to you.

These sites are recommended by Consumer Reports because each meets their requirements for privacy and spam. When we searched the sites we came up with some fabulous free finds. makes it easy to find what you're looking for, whether it's food or beauty products, and it's updated often throughout the day. If you have a little one, check out the site's baby freebies section for formula and diaper samples. is really easy to navigate and has a great freebies and giveaways section. A recent search turned up a free sample of Dove Daily Treatment Conditioner and Nivea Touch Of Happiness Body Wash. rounds up offers from retailers that give you deals if you "like" their brands or products on Facebook. From Frito Lay Chips and free songs download, to free Neilmed Sinus Rinse. is sorted by category so it's easy to zero in on the stuff you want. The admissions and tickets section recently posted free one way Greyhound bus tickets to Las Vegas. And we found a free subscription to Kiplinger's magazine.

So what's the catch? You could be opening yourself up to a flood of e-mails and spam in your inbox. So here's how to minimize that:

- Create a separate e-mail address for receiving freebies. That way, your usual address won't be inundated with newsletters and offers.

- Read the privacy policy on retailer sites before typing in contact info, especially if you're giving out your mailing address to get your freebies.

- Opt out of related deals. Some offers come bundled with newsletter subscriptions and related offer e-mail messages. So uncheck those boxes that automatically opt you in.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Mother's Day Edition

Breakfast in bed. I don't know how this developed into a Mother's Day fantasy. Because I, for one, think it's overrated. Have you ever tried to cut something on a wobbly tray? Have you ever laid down in a bed of crumbs? This is not to say I don't appreciate the effort and the thought. I would love if my husband cooked breakfast or brunch for me. I just wouldn't eat it in bed. To inspire him and other husbands, I found this free downloadable cookbook of Mother's Day recipes to try. From classic quiche lorraine to strawberry stuffed french toast... the dishes sound delish! Just don't leave behind an enormous mess for mom to clean up.

Does your mom or wife love sweets? Today's Fresno Groupon is for some Hungry Bear cookies. $7 for six (worth $14.34) or $13 for a dozen (normally $28.68) for fresh-baked, melt-in-your-mouth cookies decorated in a Mother's Day design.

A great gift idea with a personal touch, is to turn your favorite photo of the kids or family into a work of art with another Groupon, with Canvas on Demand. $45 for a 16x20 sized gallery wrapped canvas ($126.95 value). This one is an online redemption, so it doesn't matter where you live, you can take advantage of this incredible offer. I've used this service in the past, and the quality is AMAZING. Another similar option is today's Mampedia deal from Image Canvas. For $26 you can choose from 8x10, 11x14, 16x20 collage canvas prints ($60 value). So this is a better deal if you want multiple images on one canvas.

For the dancing queen, the Living Social deal is for the Ballroom Dance Academy in Clovis. One Month of Unlimited Pole Fitness Classes ($25); Any Three Dance and/or Fitness Classes ($15); or One Month of Unlimited Dance Classes ($50). Husbands, even better, would be to offer to be her partner and take the ballroom dancing classes WITH her. Mine did that once, years ago, before kids. And I can't speak for him, but I had a blast! has a lot of customizable and unique gifts. One that I thought was just adorable was the mother and daughter matching pajama set on sale for $24.99

If she is a wine lover, how about a wine tasting set from for $19.99? You get Six 50ml tasting bottles of Palmeri Wines including Syrah, Cab, and Gewürztraminer. Or if she is a red lover, the same price $19.99 gets you four 50ml tasting bottles of La Follette pinot noirs. Promo code GCFS gets you free shipping.

If she's all about utility, get this mongrammed waterproof nylon L.L. Bean Adventure Tote for $19.95, free shipping. She can haul anything from garden tools, diapers, to gym clothes.

The iPhone addict will appreciate this fully fabulous Michael Kors python print clutch. For $79.95 and free shipping, she gets THE most fashionable iPhone case with a premium leather designer clutch wallet. It also comes in black or gold leather.

A manicure/pedicure is a perennial favorite of moms and isn't too pricey as long as you don't send mom to a high-end salon. Expect to pay $35-$50. As my friend says, "It's something I enjoy so much and I find so relaxing but it's hard for me to find the time to do something nice for myself. If my husband and kids bought one for me and pushed me out the door to go get pampered, that would be a great gift!"

As for flowers, the latest Consumer Reports tests showed was best at sending what was ordered, followed by and The flowers most likely to look the way they did on websites were tulips, roses, and orchids. Mixed bouquets had more substitutions than the rest. If you want to make sure your flowers prompt a smile, pick a color scheme that matches your Mom's favorites, then steer away from mixed bouquets. If you're unhappy with what gets delivered, call customer service, they're usually very eager to make it right.

Mother's Day is only a week away. So don't forgot your mom or wife. Trust, it's much less of an effort to do something nice... than it is to try to make up for not doing anything at all.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Tricks of the Restaurant Trade: How Menus Make you Spend

Have you heard of menu engineering? Apparently it's the bread and butter of the restaurant industry, pun intended.

The other day, TV News Mom did not feel like cooking. A week of going to work by 3am just tore me up, and I was dragging after a two-hour nap that just made me feel worse. So the fam drove around the corner to Mother Mary's, our favorite neighborhood Italian joint. I had a Living Social coupon ($10 for $20 worth of food), so I was anticipating a delicious and CHEAP dinner. Well, the bill still came out to 40 bucks after the coupon! Which means we ordered $60 worth of food between my husband and I and two kids under the age of 5 who barely eat. Looking back, I guess we didn't need to order the happy hour beer AND pasta AND the large pizza AND the garlic knots AND the salad. But we showed up starving and the menu was so enticing.

Which brings me to this great article by CBS MoneyWatch reporter Marlys Harris after a conversation with her son Ezra, who just graduated from culinary school. I thought I was already savvy. That's why I try not to order pasta or chicken dishes... because they cost SO much more than they do to make. But this article gives a great insider perspective... and might make you think twice before going with "the special."

"A menu is a sales vehicle," she writes, "and many restaurants — smart ones — use it to get you to eat right. And, we’re not talking about your health, but about their profits."

Here's the rest of the article:

"Restaurant dishes generally divide up four groups. First come stars — popular items for which diners are willing to pay much more than the dishes cost to make. Example: penne with vodka sauce. Plowhorses, are popular but less profitable items, like steak. Puzzlers are high-profit items that are tough to sell, say, sweetbreads. Finally, there are dogs that not many people like and aren’t profitable. Why they are on anybody’s menu, I’m not sure. Clever menu engineering exists to steer you to stars and puzzlers, to spend as much as possible and to enjoy doing it. After all, restaurateurs want repeat business.

There’s nothing wrong with any of that. Nevertheless, before you order your next Lasagna Classico at Olive Garden, Crunchy Rabbit at Jean Georges in Manhattan or Egg McMuffin at You-Know-Where, you might want to be aware of these seven common menu ploys.

1. First in Show. Many restaurants group their offerings under the obvious headings: pasta, beef, seafood, entrees, appetizers and so on. Testing has shown that if you decide on chicken, you are more likely to order the first item on the chicken list. That’s where a savvy restaurant will place its most profitable chicken dish. A really sharp chef might put a puzzler like sweetbreads first in a grouping. “They only cost about $3, so the margin is huge,” says Ez. Of course, you’ve got to hope that enough people relish eating sweetbreads.

2. Menu Siberia. Unprofitable dishes, like a seafood combo plate that require expensive ingredients, and lots of work, are usually banished to a corner that’s less noticeable or in a multi-page menu stashed on page five.

3. Visual aids. If you draw a line around it, people will order. That’s why many menus box off something they want to promote. Chicken wings are a prime example. They’re “garbage,” says my son of one of my favorite noshes. “They cost pennies so they’re huge profit items.” Photos also sell dishes. An album of what look like ten-inch-high pies set on each table at Bakers Square make it hard to resist ordering a slice. However, fancy restaurants consider photos déclassé; from them the most you’ll get is a sketch or two.

4. Package deals. So you stop by McDonald’s for a mid-afternoon burger. When you get to the counter, however, what’s really in your face are photos of Extra Value Meals. You figure, says Ez, “Hey, I could eat two patties, I could use some fries, and now I’ll get a soft drink too.” The single burger you intended to buy is off in menu Siberia, on the board far to the right, but you’ve already spent more than you intended. A small percentage of the chain’s 47 million customers dropping a few extra bucks each day translates to millions in additional revenue. Another example: Olive Garden’s Bottomless Pasta Bowl ($8.95). “It’s very unlikely you’re going to eat more than two bowls,” says Ez. And, as one whiny diner
noted, you’ll probably scarf so many free breadsticks first that you won’t have room for all those noodles.

5. Dollar-Sign Avoidance. Focus groups who’ve been asked to opine on menus display an acute discomfort with dollar signs and decimals. Keeping money as abstract as possible makes spending less threatening. Many high-tone foodie establishments that charge an arm and a leg for, say, a bowl of lentils and groats now omit such crass symbols from their menus — like
Spoonriver, a place I like in Minneapolis. I almost don’t notice that I’ve paid $12.50 for a rather small chicken quesadilla. Once upon a time, menus used leader dots (….) to connect the entrée with the price. You won’t find them much anymore either.

6. The Small Plate-Large Plate Conundrum. A restaurant may offer two chicken Caesar salads, one for $9 and one for $12. You may think that you’re getting a break ordering the small one, but, says Ez, that’s really the size the restaurant wants to sell. And if a diner decides, hmmm, I may as well get the larger one because I’ll never get rich saving three bucks, the restaurant will throw on some extra lettuce, making the price differential almost pure profit.

7. Ingredient Embroidery. Foodie-centric restaurants practically list the recipe for each dish making each ingredient sound ultra-special. (An item is more likely to sell if it dwells on the fact that, say, the cheese came from cows at the Brunschwagergrunt Farm in western Wisconsin or that the organic mushrooms were raised by a former duchess with an advanced degree in microbiology.) Even at a humble eatery, however, a dish labeled Mom’s Special Mac and Cheese or “The BeeBop Bar’s Mac and Four Cheese casserole” sells better than just plain old mac and cheese. “It may not be any more special than what you get somewhere else, but you’ll start to think you can only get it there,” says Ez. And that will keep you coming back again and again.

You won’t find these gambits at every eatery. Not all restaurant owners plan their menus as carefully as they should. If they did, contends my kid, maybe they would stop placing entrées in the middle of the right hand page, prime menu real estate, because ”Most people who go to a restaurant are going to order an entrée anyway,” he says. “That’s where I’d put desserts.” "

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Earth Day Freebies

  • Free Starbucks Coffee or Tea – Participating Starbucks locations in Canada and across the United States are giving away free coffee on Earth Day. Just bring in your reusable mug and get a free cup of coffee or tea - brewed, hot or iced. And just in case you don’t happen to own a reusable mug, you can still get a deal - your beverage will be 20 percent off. Last year, more than 1 million people stopped by the popular coffee shop on Earth Day, saving more than 1 million paper cups from ending up in the landfill!
  • Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market: Spend $20 and receive a free reusable tote. Get more information under their Facebook page under the offers tab.
  • Earth Day Freebies at Whole Foods – Whole Foods is offering several giveaways in honor of Earth Day and Easter. Check out the Whole Foods store nearest you to find out what specific goodies or workshops are available in your neck of the woods. Be sure to check out the earth-friendly activities for children too.
  • Free Totes and Organic Caps at Disney Stores – Just bring in 5 plastic shopping bags at participating Disney Store locations in both the U.S. and Canada, and receive a free reusable tote. This offer is valid for U.S. consumers on April 22, and on Saturday, April 23 in Canada. Limit one bag per customer - while supplies last. Children can also receive a free cap by bringing in 6 plastic bottles or aluminum cans. 70,000 eco-friendly caps, made from organic materials valued at $15 each, will be given away, while supplies last.
  • Free Admission to National Parks - National Parks across America will offer free admission during National Park Week from April 16th – April 24th.
  • Free Food Finder Phone App – Find your nearest farmers market and what locally grown fruits and veggies are available in your area with the Locavore phone app for iPhones and Androids. The app is regurlarly $2.99 but is free on Earth Day.
  • Free Earth Day Workshops at Home Depot - Home Depot is offering several workshops in honor of Earth Day. On Saturday, April 23, Home Depot is offering an Earth Day/Easter Planter Basket workshop from 9 – 12:00 for kids between the ages of 5 and 12. At 1:00, an Eco-Friendly Gardening Workshop will take place.
  • Lowe's Earth Day Million Tree Giveaway – Lowe’s has been gearing up for Earth Day all week long. In honor of Earth Day, the Home Improvement giant is giving away one million trees. Visit your local Lowe’s on April 23 to get your free tree sapling, while supplies last. Lowe’s is also offering a free Kid’s Build and Grow Workshop for the youngsters on Saturday, beginning at 10:00 A.M. Each child will build a Window Birdhouse and receive a free apron, pair of goggles and certificate of merit too. But hurry - registration is required and supplies are limited!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Tax Day Freebies

I love how these businesses are trying to take the bite out of tax day... making what could be a bitter day a little bit sweeter. My apologies, but this is a straight up re-post from Office Depot is currently offering free copies of your 2010 tax return (up to 25 pages) at nationwide retail locations good every day until April 18th. If you're hungry after all that paperwork, Cinnabon is giving away Cinnabon Bites on Monday between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. And if you're looking to shed some weight, Bally Total Fitness is offering free workouts on Monday. HydroMassage Centers is giving free 10 minute massages from Thursday until Monday. And for all single filers, is offering free three-day memberships to its dating website starting Monday. MaggieMoo's: Issues Customers a "Sundae Stimulus" On Tax Day, April 18. Starbucks: Bring in your own travel mug and get it filled with free coffee on Friday 4/15. P.F. Chang's: Receive 15% off your bill (select items) on Monday 4/18. Hooter's: Buy 10 wings and Get 10 Free at participating Hooter's stores on Monday 4/18. McCormick & Schmicks: Get a $10.40 Tax Relief Certificate to spend on Entrees & Drink Specials in the Bar on 4/15 and 4/18.

Friday, April 8, 2011

How About a "To Be" List Instead of "To Do" List?

It's Friday, but my "To Do" list is endless. I don't actually have a physical list, even though my husband tells me I should. He's the ultimate list maker and crosser-offer. But I tell my husband it's all in my head. Like an ongoing nagging in my brain, when I'm driving, when I'm about to fall asleep, even when I'm blogging. LOL
1. Order Isaiah's birthday cake
2. Make dentist appointments for me and Syd
3. Iron or steam the new curtains
4. Enroll the kids for the next school year
5. Grocery shopping (living on condiments!)
6. Book family vacay
7. Plant flowers
(it goes on. and this is just the list at home, not to mention work)
Obviously your list will differ, but undoubtedly you can relate to the overwhelming and never ending sense of unfinished business hanging over your head.
So I thought wouldn't it be a fun (albeit meaningless) distraction to have a "To Be" list instead? Something to look forward to, to keep trying for, not just to cross off and be done with it.
So here's what I came up with.
1. Be spontaneous
2. Be sexy
3. Be silly
4. Be adventurous
5. Be drama-free
6. Be relaxed
7. Be kind
8. Be passionate
9. Be creative
10. Be more of me!
Go on, try it! What would your "to be" list be?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Avoiding the 7-Year Itch (and the 3-Year Glitch)

Now I've only been with my work husband for a couple years, so for all intents and purposes, we should still be in our honeymoon stage. He sent me this article, which puts us on track for a falling out next year... because apparently the "three-year glitch" has replaced the "seven-year itch" as the tipping point where couples start to take each other for granted, according to a new survey commissioned by Warner Brothers to promote the release of comedy film "Hall Pass."

The survey names a few of the passion-killers that have led to a swifter decline in relationships in the fast-paced 21st century. My real husband and I have been married for seven, going on eight years. After two kids, a hefty mortgage, and crazy work hours, we've definitely experienced plenty of passion-killers.
And let's face it, I'm guilty of every single one of them:

1. Weight gain/lack of exercise (umm yeah... I've gained 10 to 15 pounds since our wedding)
2. Money & Spend thriftiness (I love to spend it and he likes to save it)
3. Anti-social working hours (so I go to bed at 8:30pm when the kids do and wake up at 2:30am)
4. Hygiene issues (is it bad I don't shower every day?)
5. In-Laws/extended family - too much/too little (we live in Fresno, but his family is in L.A.)
6. Lack of romance (he calls me his sex object... he wants sex, I object)
7. Alcohol - drinking too much (a glass a day keeps the doctor away!)
8. Snoring & anti social bedtime habits (I'm told I snore, which I adamantly deny and if I do, so what, it's cute)
9. Lapsed fashion-Same old underwear/clothes (yes! this is one category that doesn't apply. but this leads to problem #2 money spending)
10. Bathroom habits (I like the toilet paper roll over, he likes it under)

So it got me thinking. How do couples avoid the itch, the glitch, whatever you want to call it? Well, I'm no shrink, but having lived through and survived the 7-year itch, here's what I would suggest.

More sex. Consider your partner's needs and make an effort to meet them. Once you're past the baby-making/having stage, sex can be fun and spontaneous again. Get off the pill, get a vasectomy and get crazy.

Find a common hobby or pastime. In our case, this could be tennis. I made a feeble attempt once at learning, but I got pregnant and fat and couldn't move on the court. Even after the baby, I always had an excuse. But this is a real opportunity to spend time together doing something we both enjoy. It's not like he's going to take up scrapbooking. Meet each other half way. He started helping in the kitchen, so cooking has become something fun we do together.

Talk about something other than work or the kids. Take the time to discuss important aspects of your day or your thoughts on situations that arise in your marriage that need attention. Lack of conversation breeds distance. You don't want to become a stranger to your own spouse.

Take kid-free trips. We just got back from New York City without the kids. We did grown-up things that we both enjoy, like watching musicals and fine dining. We were able to make each other the priority, instead of having to worry about the kids' needs. Obviously this is easier said than done, and we are grateful to have an amazing family that we can trust our kids with. But if this is a possibility at least once a year, seize it.

Don't forget the romance. Remember how hard you worked to woo your spouse BEFORE you were married? The little notes, the special home-cooked meals, the surprise flowers? Avoid marital boredom by showing your appreciation for your spouse in small ways. Send flowers, make compliments to show that you still find him or her attractive and surprise each other romantically. Flirt. Send sexy text messages throughout the day. Dig out the old lingerie in the back of your underwear drawer.

Choose happiness and harmony over the need to be right. Chances are, you know those people in relationships who would much rather be right than happy. They’re the ones who constantly nag, belittle and fight with their partner over every little thing. Do you want to be that person or the kind of person whose relationship is blissful because they’ve let go of the need to always have the last word, the right answer, or prove their partner wrong? By letting go of the desire to always be right at any cost, you give yourself and your partner permission to enjoy life again. A happier relationship AND less stress? Sounds like a win-win!

Bottom line, make an effort. Relationships are hard. But I've decided mine is worth working for.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Free Stuff on Your (My) Birthday

Denny’s birthday deal is no secret. Just show up on your birthday for a free Grand Slam.Which is exactly what TV News Mom did today! Boy, did I feel like a winner!

Which got me thinking... why stop there? Why not score a free lunch, dinner, and dessert(s) today too? That way, I can drown out my sorrows in ice cream AND cake!

Here are some of the best food freebies for your birthday. Keep in mind, most require signing up in advance. Something I'll remember next year when the big ol' 35 rolls around.

Baskin Robbins: Sign up for the BR Birthday Club and, five days before your birthday, the ice-cream joint will send a free-scoop coupon and a discount on your birthday cake.

Black Angus: Become a Prime Club member and receive a complimentary dessert. The first birthday after you register the steakhouse chain will spring for a free steak dinner.

Boston Market: Join Boston Market’s VIP Club and they’ll send you an unidentified “special treat” for your birthday. New members also receive a $3 coupon for their next purchase

Chevy's Fresh Mex: Compadres Club members receive a special, unspecified birthday gift from Chevy’s upon registering.

Chili's: Join the E-Mail Club for a welcome gift of free chips and queso within 48 hours of registering.

Cold Stone Creamery: Enjoy a free ice-cream creation at Cold Stone when you join their birthday club

Dairy Queen: Sign up for the Blizzard Fan Club and receive an email coupon and special surprise on your birthday. You’ll also receive an anytime, buy-one-get-one-free coupon for two Blizzards.

Famous Dave's: Receive a special birthday deal when you join the Famous Dave’s P.I.G. Club.

Marie Callendar's
: Join Marie’s E-Club for special birthday and wedding anniversary offers

Orange Julius: Sign up for the OJ Quench Club and you’ll receive an email coupon on your birthday, a special offer for joining, and a free Julius Fruit Drink or Premium Fruit Smoothie.

Red Lobster: Join the Fresh Catch Club for a surprise birthday gift (rumored to be a free appetizer coupon).

Red Robin: Red Robin eClub members receive a free birthday burger as well as a free gift upon registration.

Sonic: Sign up for Sonic Cruisers and you’ll receive a birthday surprise along with all sorts of nameless perks.

Starbucks: Register your Starbucks card, add your birth date to your account profile, and you’ll get free Wi-Fi and a complimentary Starbucks coffee on your birthday.

Obviously, this means you'll get a ton of junk mail throughout the year, but hey, there's no such thing as a free lunch, right? Just use a separate junk e-mail address so you can separate the spam from the real e-mails. Enjoy and Happy Birthday!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Mom Proms

TV News Mom circa May 1995. "Masquerade Ball": Senior prom at Clovis West High School Fresno, CA.

My prom dress is still hanging in my closet at my parents' house. There's NO way I still fit into it. My senior year of high school, I was 115 pounds and fresh off a liquid diet. But alongside it, hang two bridesmaid dresses that I might stand a chance of squeezing into.

I don't know WHY I kept them. Well, now I have my answer. I can wear it to the next "Mom Prom!"

Thanks to my TV husband Matt Keller for forwarding me this article from USA Today. Moms are reliving their prom night all in the name of charity. The movement is sweeping across the country... from Seattle to Detroit. The nostalgic ladies-only soirees include 80's music and prizes for the tackiest or ugliest numbers. It was started by a 41-year-old Michigan woman who wanted an excuse to wear her not-so-pretty-in-pink puffy gown one more time. REALLY? WHY? I'm all for girls' night out, I'm all for helping out charity, but some things are better left in the closet, including the long-buried wish to be crowned queen of something. I had fun in high school, but I've never feel the need to relive it. Who knows? Maybe if I actually fit into my prom dress... I'd consider it such an achievement, I'd want to wear it again. SOMEWHERE. To a mom prom, maybe. Maybe not.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Extreme Potty Training

Just finished watching Good Morning America's piece on extreme potty training. In it, a 4-month-old baby, who cannot yet sit up on his own, is shown peeing in the toilet. Once I picked my jaw off the ground, I logged on here to... discuss.

What the heck is Elimination Communication?
In the Elimination Communication method, infants as young as just two months are helped to use toilets. Parents go off non-verbal cues, timing and just plain intuition. Proponents say going without diapers saves time and cuts down on environmental waste. The average American family with babies in the household spends an average of $75 a month on disposable diapers, or almost $1,000 a year.

This apparently is not unusual in other more traditional cultures in other parts of the world... but was anyone else disturbed by the video of the 4-month-0ld with a digitized wee wee being held over a toilet? Can't babies just be babies?

Preschool Pressure
An Arlington, Va. mother – Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso – says she was shocked when the principal of her daughter, Zoe's, preschool said the 3-year-old had violated the school's potty training policy and needed to stay home from school for a month, owing to one too many accidents. This launched a firestorm of debate from moms all over the country. Are we pushing our kids to potty train too early? Why punish a toddler for wetting her pants?

Potty training was a condition of my daughter's preschool enrollment as well. She was 2 years old and 9 months when we took her to school. Her potty training was shaky, at best. Add to that, the arrival of her baby brother and a birth defect that affects her bowel/bladdar nerve control, and let's just say everything went out the window when she started school. Her teachers were so patient, and there was a loooooong period when we just had to resort back to pull ups. We tried everything... praise, sticker charts, and positive reinforcement... threats, bribery, commando (have you ever tried to clean diarrhea on carpet?). It was a VERY emotionally stressful situation for everyone, especially my daughter. I can honestly say, in my adult life, potty training was the HARDEST thing I have ever done. Pregnancy, labor, and delivery not even close. Covering mass murders, piece of cake. We even pulled her out of school... feeling like failures... but then it was like we were punishing her for something she was not physically and emotionally ready for.

She is 4 now, and after YEARS of trial and error, and a surgery on her spinal cord, she is technically potty trained. But that doesn't mean she doesn't have accidents. She exceeded her accident "quota" long ago... but the school never kicked her out.

Potty Boot Camp
At one point in my desperation, a friend of mine gave me the 3-Day Foolproof Guide to Potty Training. It's an extreme, no holds barred method that requires the parent to pump their kids full of liquids to get them to pee frequently, hopefully on the toilet. I've also seen a 24-hour Fast Track version of this same method. What's the rush? This potty training, boot camp style, is for the convenience of the parent. One child psychiatrist in the GMA piece compared it to child abuse. I wouldn't go that far, but I can say that it backfired on us. My daughter started refusing to go, the harder we pushed.

Now my son is approaching 24 months. And I am DREADING potty training all over again. Granted, he doesn't have the birth defect, which should technically make it a little easier. But many moms have told me boys are harder to train. I have no idea what approach to take, and when to start, but I do know we need to start sending him to preschool pretty soon. Looks like I'll be searching for one that I can maybe pay, to do the potty training for me! How's that for the easy way out? Does that make me a bad mother... not if I want to maintain my sanity.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Valentine's Day Deals

Less than a week to go. Don't procrastinate. That is, if you actually celebrate the holiday. (My husband refuses)

Here are a few discounts to share...


Today's Groupon: $20 for $40 worth of flowers from (Limit 2 per person)

Proflowers: 40% off 12 assorted roses with free red vase

Costco: $14.99 for a dozen long-stemmed roses (in stores only) $10 off all flowers

Jewelry and Gifts:

Groupon: The Vault Fresno $100 for $225 worth of fine jewelry 30% off $12 for 8x8 hard cover photo book $20 for $50 worth of jewelry with free shipping on free shipping on all gifts

Living Social: $20 for International Star Registry (one personalized star with a 16x12 certificate) 20% off everything (enter code ACT4TWENTY) plus free shipping if you spend $75 or more (SWEET75)


Costco: two 1-lb. boxes of See's for $26 (normally $16.50 per box)

Shari's Berries: 15% off purchases $29 and up


V.Sattui in St. Helena: 20% off pink wines buy one wine, get the second one for 5 cents

Madera Wine Trail: $20 pre-sale ticket for Wine & Chocolate Weekend, Feb 12th-13th


Mystique Medical Spa Fresno: 40%-50% off treatments including facials, laser hair treatments, and body wraps

Keep checking daily deal sites like Groupon and Living Social for your area

Restaurants: $10 for $25 worth of food

Keep checking daily deal sites like Groupon and Living Social for your area


Dollar Tree has 2 for $1 or their nicer handmade-looking ones are each $1

Or make your own using a photo printing site.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Lay off the Chicken Nuggets

Here's another reason to cut back on the Happy Meals at McD's. Giving your toddler fatty and sugary processed foods could lower their IQ later in life!

British researchers tracked over 3,000 kids in a lengthy study... (click here to read more) and overall, kids who ate junky fast-food diets at age 3 had a small drop in IQ by age 8.5, compared with kids eating healthy foods. The researchers also took into account factors that often affect IQ like socioeconomic status, parental education, and the mother's diet during pregnancy.
Obviously you don't need experts to tell you that fast food is bad for your little ones. But both my kids LOVE french fries. Yes, I am guilty of giving my 4-year-old and not-yet-2-year-old french fries. In n Out, McDonalds, Red Robin, they never met a fry they didn't like. Does this make me a bad mother? Am I ruining their chances of attending Harvard and ruling the world? Granted, we don't indulge in fast food that often... maybe once a week to once every two weeks... but this latest study certainly gave me pause. Yeah, I was raised by one of those tiger moms... where education and achievement was everything. Obviously some of those ideals have rubbed off on me when it comes to me kids. I'm already thinking about violin and piano lessons for my 4-year-old, but only after she's signed up for dance, gymnastics and tennis. When my toddler son had trouble talking and enunciating, I started asking around for a vocal coach. Little did I know, treating them to fries could be canceling out all my efforts! That's it! We're laying off the chicken nuggets. You know... those couple points on the SAT could really make a difference. LOL!