Birthday Roundup: We're Six!

As usual, birthday celebrations for the little one were broken down into having cake with mom and dad on the actual day and then a small get-together the following weekend.

Most importantly, though, my "baby" is now SIX!

Angry Birds Cupcakes made by me

Birthday table in the breakfast nook

Sonic the Hedgehog cake. Designed by me, made by Safeway

Hitting the bowling alley

Bumbo Recall

If you haven't heard by now, the maker of the popular Bumbo Baby Seat is voluntarily recalling 4 million of the seats. The company says anyone with the recalled Bumbo should stop using it immediately and call them for new warnings and a restraint belt. (The picture in the top left corner shows the seat with the restraint belt.) Apparently, some parents were using the seat in the wrong way or on raised surfaces, leaving infants open to a risk of falling and serious injuries. Read more details about the recall here. We had a Bumbo for our little one and we thoroughly enjoyed it as it allowed him to sit up and be "part of the group." But it was always clear that you could never leave kids in it unattended or on a tall surface. It was a GREAT tool when used with an abundance of caution. Here's a picture we snapped after we had just finished feeding cereal to our munchkin in the chair - forgive the messy face and hands!:
Again, you don't have to return the Bumbo. Just contact the manufacturer for the repair kit. The Shopping Mama even has some great tips about alternative infant seats. Stay safe!

What Are You Doing About Sunscreen?

It's all fine and good to have fun in the sun. In fact, I recommend it. Those of you who know me know I've been on a major push to get my fellas out of the house this Summer. But if you're going to step into the sun's rays PLEASE don't forget the sunscreen - for the kids and for yourself. Pediatricians say lots of parents still haven't gotten the message about safe sun exposure. Sure, we hardly used any sunscreen at all back in the day (no, my darlings, cocoa butter doesn't count - I wish I did). But with global warming and the dwindling ozone layer the sun is a whole different thing right now. You can enjoy it, but you've got to play it safe.

Despite what you've heard, African-Americans can indeed develop skin cancer. VERY dark skin can have a natural SPF of about 13. (Don't be fooled, most of us do not have SPF 13 skin.) But dermatologists say you need an SPF of at least 15 to be protected. They recommend wearing sunscreen daily. But if you're going to spend any significant time outdoors, it's important to not only slather on sunscreen before you leave the house, but also to reapply it after a couple of hours.

So what should you look for when you're ready to buy a sunscreen? First of all, not all sunscreens are created equal. In fact, some barely live up to the name. But here's one thing all the experts agree on - an effective sunscreen must protect against both UVA and UVB rays. That's because while UVB rays get most of the blame for sunburn, both kinds of rays contribute to skin cancer.

I won't lie, we had to go through quite a few tubes of sunscreen before we found ones that didn't mess with our skin - we're all considered "sensitive" in my household - or make us look like the white shadow. Much could be written about the challenge of finding an effective sunscreen for non-pale skin.

Our personal experience is that anyone with sensitive skin should avoid most sunscreens with the ingredients avobenzone or oxybenzone. I wore a sunscreen with these ingredients during a trip to the zoo on Father's Day and I'm still scratching. If you're a Sensitive Sally like me, don't do it. Unfortunately avobenzone and oxybenzone are in most of the broad-spectrum sunscreens found in your neighborhood drugstores. They are damned difficult to avoid unless you're willing to hunt around or purchase your sunscreens online. That's why I'm doing the leg work for you.

Now if you're going to avoid chemical suncreen ingredients like we do, that leaves you with natural/mineral sunscreens. Natural suncreen contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide (or both), which used to leave a slight white cast to the skin. But now many companies have discovered ways to get those particles very small - not nano sized, but- small enough to wipe-out or dramatically cut down on the ghastly tinge. For now we like and use:

Jason Mineral Based Sun Block SPF 30+
All Terrain KidSport SPF30 Oxybenzone-Free Natural Sunscreen
Trukid Sunny Days SPF 30+ Natural Sunscreen
Aubrey Organics SPF 15 Saving Face

You can find more options on the EWG list and on similar sites on the internet.

But now it's your turn. Please sound off. What is YOUR experience with sun exposure and suncreen? Or lack of??

Life's Luscious Little Luxuries

It's true that the best things in life are free. But sometimes it's the little things that can keep you encouraged and on the right track. I'm not the only one who thinks so. We've all heard that stopping for a cup of coffee at your favorite java bar EVERY DAY can be a drain on your wallet, especially if you're struggling to save. But every now and then, leaving the coffee-making up to someone else could be just what you need to save time and experience a morning treat. Again, I said a treat. Without making a habit of it, this is something small that can feel like a tiny luxury. Or if you get up early enough, brew your own and be that much more fabulous and on-the-ball. Here's something that costs little to nothing but can change the entire course of your day: Having lunch or a walk in the park. This is truly one of those things that makes the most of a work break. In this day and time, spending a few minutes among the trees and breathing fresh(er) air is very much a luxury. I recommend doing it as often as possible. When you take the time to think about life's little luxuries, you might realize that some of them go all the back to childhood. This is the case for me when it comes to cool cotton sheets. There's just nothing like them at this time of year. Satin and all those other trendy fabrics just won't cut it. But the good news is that you don't have to spend a mint or buy those whatever-hundred-count sheets to get the same effect. Simple cotton sheets costing just a few dollars at your local discount store can have the same effect. I know it for a fact. What about you? What are your little luxuries?

Disclosure: Compensation was provided by Fifth Third Bank via Glam Media. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and are not indicative of the opinions or positions of Fifth Third Bank.

Priceless Style for Families

We talk a lot about ways families can save money. But I know of at least four that things are actually worth a splurge. Take a look at my list and let me know what you think. Please feel free to add on!

Handbags - As a mom, I just don't have time for the problems that come with cheap handbags. I need something sturdy, reliable, organized and nice-looking too. In my humble opinion, a well-made handbag can change your life!

Functional Shoes - I'm not talking about those overpriced sky-high stilettos everyone seems to be obsessed with at the moment. I mean shoes that go beyond trendy with a timeless style and comfortable design. I cannot tell you how much it simplifies your life to have a great-looking pair of shoes (ones that are actually made for human feet!) that you can grab at a moment's notice.

A Great Haircut - Yet another sanity-saver is a good haircut or protective style. Knowing that your hair only needs minimal styling when it's time to be presentable is a huge plus for busy moms and dads. Kids, too!

Quality Bath Products - These are some of my favorite products to talk about when it comes to splurges, but they aren't always expensive. We just forget to take the time to look for items that are moisturizing-instead-of-drying, or that include ingredients we can pronounce. Getting the right products for your skin and hair can actually save you money and time in correcting the issues caused by inferior products.

How about you? Where do you splurge?

Disclosure: Compensation was provided by Fifth Third Bank via Glam Media. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and are not indicative of the opinions or positions of Fifth Third Bank.

Real Ways to Save Real Money

I don't know about you, but I feel inundated with tips and strategies for saving money. These little tidbits are all over the news and in the papers. But I find that not all of them are practical for those of us with families. Here are just four really big ways we actually do save money in our household:

1) Buy less stuff. No, really. This sounds simple, but it isn't - especially when you think you're saving money by buying low-quality staples. Looking only at the price of an item can have you making more trips to the store, burning more gas and spending more cash. Which brings me to my second tip.
2) Buy quality stuff and make sure you're getting what you think you're getting. We found this out first with paper towels. My husband would hit the discount store and come back with a trunk full of goodies, including a huge bulk size package of paper towels. Well one day we ran out of the cheapies, so I stopped at the grocery store on the way home and bought a large single roll of a well-known brand. Days later we noticed that the roll had not been changed, whereas we had to change the rolls of the cheapo paper towels almost daily. Once we looked at how much we were paying for the so-called bulk rolls, we realized we actually got many more sheets for our money when buying the regular brand.
3) Stick to healthier foods, cut back the processed and snack-type foods. Not only is this better for the health of your family, it's better for your fiscal health too. How do I know? Take a look at the prices of foods on the snack aisle. The prices are VERY inflated for what you get, especially since these are exactly the foods that leave you hungry a short time later.
4) Shop off the beaten path. The first lightbulb went off when a local news report showed that the stores with the highest prices and worst customer service were actually the chain stores that everyone knew and "trusted". It turns out people were actually getting more bang for their buck by shopping at co-ops, farmers markets, and stores that were wrongly considered high-end. Deals are where you find them. Being locked into shopping at just one place is a great way to waste cash.

Disclosure: Compensation was provided by Fifth Third Bank via Glam Media. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and are not indicative of the opinions or positions of Fifth Third Bank.

The Homework Trap

Special to Beautiful Brown Babies by Dr. Kenneth Goldberg In 1986, after learning we could not conceive another child, my wife and I decided to adopt. We searched out our options, and the process brought two beautiful brown babies into our home. Liberal but naïve, we did not realize how much race matters. At first, I thought people stared at us because we happened to have exceptionally good-looking kids. Our first entrée into race and education came when my daughter went into first grade. We were told by the school that she needed an aide to help her, because she did not read well. We inquired and learned that a five question test was used as the basis for making this determination. We were assured she would not feel singled out, because the school aide would help the other children as well. It seemed to me that the school was seeking an extra teacher, and what better way to get one than through the mis-categorization of a child of color. As it is, my daughter has always been the best reader among my three children, including my white, biological son. We turned down the recommendation, and the next year we moved.

We left the suburbs for an old town (with revolutionary war roots) that had a historic black section of town. We valued the concept of integrated schools that our children could attend. I recall talking with a neighbor who pointed to the little yellow buses on the street. “There won’t be many black kids by the time they’re in high school,” he said, the implication being that large numbers of young people would be classified and then shipped off to alternative schools. My daughter did not become a small yellow bus kid. For my youngest son, it was a different story. From the start, he gave every indication of being a star. Personable and funny, bright and motivated, we got rave reviews from his first grade teacher, awed that psychologists could raise a happy kid. Then, second grade came, and things started to change.

Our son, for all his brightness, wit, and goodness of heart, could hardly manage the pencil in his hand. His handwriting was so bad, it hurt his hand to write, and he could not produce many legible words. Homework was impossible. How could we help him when the assignments he wrote down from the blackboard were impossible to read? From that point on¸ we fell into a homework trap. Year after year, we were constantly warned that, if he did not do his work, he’d have trouble later on. Prophetic in a way, it became clear that the homework system was the cause of his problem. We were not against homework, and certainly never against the school, but the prospect of banking our child’s future on schoolwork sent home seemed to us to be grossly wrong.

As I said, I’m a psychologist so I did what psychologists do and began to seek comparisons between what I saw in my life, and what my patients said. Through that process, it became clear that we were not the only parents of a homework-trapped child, and that there were consistent patterns in what was going wrong. Children got homework trapped, not because they were lazy or bad, but because they could not work at a reasonable pace. If they worked slowly when they were in school (often because their handwriting was so bad), they had a teacher watching what they did and recognizing that they wanted to do well. Even more importantly, they had a school bell that was going to ring and let them go home at the end of the day. At home, they were faced with assignments that had to be done, even if it meant it consumed the whole night. Frankly, I consider it borderline child abuse to engage in battles and make a young person work hours on end, just to make sure some worksheets get done.

So here’s my proposal: 1. Time bound homework. Just like school starts and stops by the clock, define homework as a fixed period of time. See what the child can do in a reasonable amount of time and work with that child on using the time well.
2. Reduced penalties. Zeros factored in at twenty-five percent of the grade is too harsh of a penalty to alter behavior. Lesser consequences will prove more effective in both mobilizing the child and allowing the parent to approach the issue calmly.
3. Respect lines of authority. Teachers are in charge of their classrooms. Parents should tread lightly on telling them what to do. Parents are the people in charge of their homes. Teachers should not tell parents how to organize their homes. In the end, when decisions are to be made about behaviors in the home (i.e. homework), the parents need to be the ones with the final say.
I remember in our early conversations with some of our African American friends that there was widespread concern about special education. On the one hand, no parent wants to deprive his child of the education he needs if a learning disability truly exists. On the other hand, we heard of great concerns that special education was being overused with children of color. As white folks, it took us time to understand what was really being said. Our daughter could have gone down a special education track, simply because, in first grade, she failed a simple five question test. And our son eventually went the child study team route, largely because we as parents lost the right to employ our judgment and make the decisions we thought were right. I’ve written The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers partly to share what I have learned as a parent of a homework-trapped child, and partly to give parents the tool I did not have to advocate for my child. But above all, I want parents to have a basis to take charge of their homes.

Dr. Kenneth Goldberg is a clinical psychologist with 35 years of professional experience in dealing with many different psychological issues. He is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers and currently works in his own private practice. A member of the American Psychological Association, Dr. Goldberg has been a featured expert in top media outlets including The Los Angeles Daily News and The Washington Post. For more information, please visit

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey

I hope all of you had a wonderful Easter. While my family was home for the holiday, we watched a very eye-opening documentary about world-famous puppeteer Kevin Clash, called "Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey." You may already know Clash as the voice behind Sesame Street's Elmo and other popular children's characters. But you probably don't know that he has been putting on puppet shows since growing up in Baltimore, MD, or how he came to work for the most influential people in the industry. Interesting stuff that supports the idea that when we're focused on our goals we end up where we are supposed to be. I definitely recommend watching this on television or on DVD when you get a chance. The trailer is below.

Top left picture from Wikipedia.

We Are All Trayvon Martin

Ask any mother of a Black male about her thoughts about the Trayvon Martin case in Florida and she will tell you, it is a nightmare. As the story goes, the 17-year-old was walking back home after buying an iced tea for himself and Skittles for his little brother when he was stalked and gunned down by a self-appointed neighborhood guardian for no apparent reason. Then his shooter was barely questioned by police and walked away without a whiff of a formal investigation. A month later, he is walking around a free man while a mother's teenage child is in the ground.

My sweet little boy is just 5-years-old and the thought that someone could perceive him as a danger simply because of his color is maddening. To hear some people blame the deadly shooting on the hoodie Trayvon was wearing makes it even worse. It makes you want to pack up and leave. Wherever you are. To find a place with less racism or fewer guns or a more educated population. But when you can't do that - and you want to do SOMETHING - you do what many people have been doing this week on Facebook and on other social media platforms. You post a picture of yourself and even celebrities wearing hoodies, as Trayvon was when he was snatched away from this world. One of my favorite pictures posted is this one, showing boxing legend Muhammad Ali in a hoodie.

At the end of the day this isn't just a mother's nightmare, it's a national nightmare. Let me know your thoughts.

Rewarding Myself

I cannot tell you how much I look forward to those few quite moments when all is quiet just before bed. It happens after dinner and after the munchkin is in bed but before my husband ventures upstairs. This is when I take time to just be myself with a saucer of fruit and a good book. It's probably the most relaxing thing I do all day.
On the flip side, a great way to reward yourself with a healthy start is to have a great breakfast. Thanks to the folks at Quaker Oatmeal for giving me a chance to participate in an online discussion on the topic of healthy rewards at 4PM PST on Thursday, February 23rd. Please look below to find out more about the talk and how you can take part. By joining me and others in the discussion, you will automatically be entered to win a $50 amazon gift card. The winner will be chosen at the end of the talk. What's more, the grand prize for the sweepstakes is $1000. In fact, the more you participate, the better chance you have to win.

The benefits of a warm, filling bowl of oatmeal can keep you going all morning long.
Energy. Fiber. Heart Health. Quaker Oatmeal. A super grain breakfast.

Disclosure: Compensation was provided by Quaker via Glam Media. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and are not indicative of the opinions or positions of Quaker.

Watch "Find Our Missing" Tonight

Many of us have seen a discrepancy in the way missing people are reported in the media. Actually, it's closer to the point to say that missing white women and children simply get more press. TV One is doing something about that with its new 10-part series "Find Our Missing", hosted by hosted by S. Epatha Merkerson (of Law & Order fame). It tells the stories of Black people who are missing, but who didn't grab headlines in the mainstream media.
The series premieres TONIGHT at 10 p.m. on TV One. Please be sure to watch it. Personally, I'm already hoping there will be more seasons of this program because the need is so great. But it's a very impressive start!
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