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Book Review and Recommendation: "My Neighbor Is a Dog" by Isabel Minhos Martins and Madalena Matoso
May 9 2013 10:48AM

Each week, sometime more than once, my daughter, son and I venture to the public library. We search the shelves randomly for new stories to read, but the first section I always wander to is the new picture book section. I like this section not only for the crispness of the pages and binding, or that new book smell, but how new stories paint a picture of our modern world. These stories for children express the ideas, movements and events of the world they are becoming a part of.

During our last library visit, I came across a book that expresses just that: “My Neighbor Is a Dog” written by Isabel Minhos Martins and illustrated by Madalena Matoso. The nameless narrator is a young human girl who lives in an apartment building in the city with her parents. One by one, new, “unusual” animal neighbors move into the building. The dog, an elephant couple and lastly, a crocodile. The girl is happy and welcoming. Her parents however, are judgmental and express their concerns about each new unusual neighbor despite the fact the new neighbors are friendly and considerate: the dog brings them their newspaper each morning, the elephants wash everyone’s car and the crocodile dresses up as Santa on Christmas and gives presents to all the neighbors.

I kept waiting for the moment where something would happen to turn everything around. The moment where the parents realize that it doesn’t matter what we look like, what matters is what’s inside. But this book is unique because its honest and realistic. Its unique because the authors (and the parents who read this book) trust the children with an straight-forward view of the world. At the end of the book, the parents move the family out of the apartment building, and the girl promises to one day return to the building when she is grown up. It is at this point in the book where we fully realize (I say fully because earlier in the book we are given some picture clues that I didn’t pick up on until the second reading) that the girl’s parents are giraffes.

This is a book about how adults categorize other people into stereotypical groups, and how children aren’t capable of this until they get older and learn this behavior from adults in their life. After reading this book (we read it a few times, my daughter loved it), my daughter and I had a thought-provoking conversation about prejudice, and how there are people in the world who don’t like other people because they look different or have different lifestyles. I love a book that can start an honest conversation like this...one of the many conversations I will have where I have to teach my daughter that while I think this world is a wonderful place filled with good people, that its not perfect. I highly recommend this book if you like having conversations like this too and your child is old enough to understand.

To start and enter into a discussion about this book, please visit my blog at http://www.ourperch.com/

Thanks for reading!

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This Week's Goal: Read or Watch the News Everyday
Apr 8 2013 9:51PM

Hello, everyone!

I hope you are all enjoying this beautiful warm weather. I find this time of year to be so inspiring. I had a lot of different goals in mind for this week, but this week's goal is to read or watch the news everyday. After my second child was born in June, I no longer had the free time to keep up with the news, but I would really like to incorporate this back into my life.

To read more and to post you own goals, please visit: http://our-weekly-goals.blogspot.com/

Hope to see you there!

-Jess

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This Week's Goal: Plant Seeds In Pots and Make Homemade Natural Cleaner
Apr 3 2013 7:38AM

Hello, LI Families friends. I posted a new goal on my blog if you would like to stop by and post your goal too. The web address is http://our-weekly-goals.blogspot.com/, or if you are on Google Plus, you can join the Goal of the Week community and share your goals there as well.

Have a great week!

-Jess

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A New Goal Was Posted...Share Yours Too!
Mar 26 2013 7:10AM

Hello, LI Families friends. I posted a new goal on my blog if you would like to stop by and post your goal too. My goal this week: to take my daughter to a museum while she is on Spring break. If you have any museum ideas for a four year old, I would love to hear them. The web address is http://our-weekly-goals.blogspot.com/ or if you are on Google Plus, you can join the Goal of the Week community and share your goals there as well.

Have a great week!

-Jess

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Easter Dilemma: What To Do About the Candy?
Mar 19 2013 6:12AM

To join in the discussion, please go to http://www.ourperch.com/

Easter will be here soon, and rather than thinking about what I should cook for my guests, (which I really do need to start thinking about) I am thinking about what I am going to do about the influx of candy coming into my house. My 9 month old son is obviously not a concern in this department, but my 4 year old daughter is a magnet for candy.

It’s easy to control what the Easter bunny and I will purchase for her, but what about the well-meaning grandparents, aunts and cousins? Last year in total my daughter received four chocolate Easter bunnies. That was on top of the chocolate eggs, peeps and jelly beans. My policy in regards to sweets, no matter how much are in the house is one special treat per day after dinner, but only if she ate her dinner.

So what’s the problem having so many sweets in the house if I am controlling how much she eats? The problem is that it is always there tempting and reminding my daughter of its presence, and she constantly begs for “just one piece”, which I feel distracts her from her meals and healthy snacks. What I normally end up doing after an influx of candy comes into my house, is throw a lot of it away. I feel badly about doing this because the people who I love and who love my daughter spent their time and money picking those things out for her, and while I wish they wouldn’t have purchased junk food for her, I know its just good intentions. Not to mention, in my opinion, its okay to have junk food sometimes. Kids (and adults) love treats and in moderation, it teaches kids that indulging is okay, but only along with healthy meals and exercise.

So rather than filling my house with candy that I will most likely eat myself or throw away, I’ve been thinking of asking close family members to limit their Easter candy purchases to one item, and fill the rest of the basket with healthy treats instead. For example, my daughter loves the pureed food pouches (I know its baby food, but who cares, right?) and that would go nicely in an Easter basket. Other things I may suggest are little bottles of water, Horizon chocolate milk boxes, little Mott’s All Natural applesauce cups, yogurt tubes and Goldfish crackers. My daughter loves all of these things, and would consider them nice treats to receive in addition to the one sweet treat in the basket.

So my question for all of you out there is before I make this request from my family, do you think its a bad idea? If you think its a good idea what other healthy Easter basket suggestion do you have for me? What do you put in your child’s Easter basket?

Thanks for listening and helping a mommy out!

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A New Venture: Goal of the Week
Feb 24 2013 6:36AM

About Goal of the Week

To visit my blog and participate in the discussion, please go to http://our-weekly-goals.blogspot.com/

I love to make New Year's resolutions, so much so that when I find myself feeling dull and a tad down in the dumps, I create small goals for myself once a week and do my best to accomplish them. The idea is for it to be fun while making myself a better and more interesting person. Rather than making one big goal once a year, I have a smaller goal once a week. For example, I found myself no longer making the time to read books (other than children's books to my kids), so a few weeks ago my goal was to read a book for twenty minutes per day. I did that for a week, and finally finished a book I was in the process of reading for months. Since making that goal, I have been reading every day and already finished another book!

I thought it would be more fun and interesting to share my goals and progress with others, while inviting you all to make your own goals which we can share here. With that said, every Monday I will post what my goal for the week is and talk a little bit about it. At the end of the week, I will let you know how I did. I hope you will come visit the site every week, any day of the week and tell us what your goal is. We can chat about it and you can tell us how you did at the end of the week. I think this will be a fun discussion forum and a great way to share ideas with everyone. If you don't have time every week, set monthly goals for yourself instead. It doesn't matter how often you set the goals; what matters is you are doing something to improve yourself, even its only a few times a year. And what I love about this idea, is you can either keep up your goal for all eternity while creating new goals, or scrap it after the week. It doesn't matter. The way I look at it, I've done more than I would have had I not set out to do this, so I never feel under pressure or that I am failing.

I can't wait to hear about your goals and ideas. Please visit me here to participate: http://our-weekly-goals.blogspot.com/

- Jessie B.

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Money Saving Tips That Go Beyond the Obvious
Jul 14 2011 8:38PM

Whenever I see the price of oil go up, I immediately start brainstorming ways to save money. The rising price of oil doesn’t only affect the cost of heating your home or filling up the tank of your car. It also affects the price of the things we buy; especially food, whose prices have already been steadily rising worldwide. Plenty of media outlets churn out stories on how to save money in hard economic times, and my response to most of their advice is, “Duh, I’ve been doing that for years.” It seems a lot of financial advice is geared toward people who haven’t had to worry about how they spent their money in the past, not toward the people who have always had to watch their finances and now, with the economy getting worse, have to watch them even closer.

Here are some of the ways I’ve saved money in the past. I’m not going to mention the obvious things like limiting how often you go out to eat, cutting out as many coupons as you can, or pay off the credit card bill at the end of the month, because you know that already. I’m sure there are plenty of money-saving ideas that I’ve never thought of, so please leave a comment and tell everyone how you save money.

Saving at the grocery store

Make your own bread. Good bread can be expensive and most families go through a loaf quickly, so why pay $4 or more on a loaf of bread when you can make even better bread at home. I have a bread machine which makes things much easier, but if you don’t have a bread machine and can’t afford to purchase one now, you can still make homemade bread. I don’t bake my bread in the machine because I don’t like how the shape of the bread turns out, so instead, when the dough is finished in the machine, I bake my bread in a loaf pan in the oven. Here is a link to one of my favorite bread recipes: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/amish-white-bread/detail.aspx I buy the small jar of yeast because you get a lot more for your money. I find Target has it cheaper than most other places, and while the yeast is the most expensive ingredient, this small jar will last a very long time.

Serve a homemade breakfast. Instead of buying sugary and expensive cereals, bake a breakfast bread, muffins, etc. The price of cereal is out of this world, and after eating most of them, I’m left feeling unsatisfied. I make breakfast breads with plenty of healthy ingredients such as carrots. I don’t normally add nuts because they are so expensive, but the breads are still yummy and satisfying. Making eggs and some homemade whole wheat bread is cheaper and healthier than most cereals too!

Don’t buy bottled water. Tap water is practically free! If you’re concerned about water quality (which you most likely do not have to worry about) then buy a Brita filter. They are round $7 and will last about 2 months.

Shop around. I usually shop at Target and Stop and Shop. Some items in Target are dollars cheaper than at Stop and Shop and vice versa.

Only buy meat when its on sale. And stock up when it is on sale. I have never bought chicken at full price. Every 3 weeks or so Stop and Shop puts chicken on sale at $1.99/lb. and I buy enough packages to last me until the next sale. I divide up the chicken into smaller packages and freeze them.

Saving on utilities

Use cold water when washing clothes. I use cold water whenever possible and my clothes always come out clean and fresh. If I am dealing with tough stains or dirty towels, sheets and underwear, then I’ll go to the warm or hot cycle.

Dry your clothes outside. Good old solar energy. I do a load of laundry early in the day and leave them hanging until the end of the day when I get home. I still put them in the dryer for 10 minutes with a fabric softener to get the stiffness out. Not having to run the dryer saves a ton on electric bills.

Think before turning on the air conditioner. Use a window fan whenever you think its cool enough outside. Air conditioners really drive up the electric bill.

If you don’t need a DVR for your cable box, then get a regular box. DVR set top boxes use a lot of energy and can drive up your electric bill. They are always running, even when you think its off. Those big LCD flat screen TVs also cost a lot to run, so pay attention to how much TV you watch. There’s rarely anything good on TV anyway so pick up a book instead.

Pay attention to how many lights you have on. In my bathrooms there are 2 lights on the ceiling and 3 lights over the mirror. I certainly don’t need 5 lights on when taking a shower, so I’ll turn the set of lights on that I need the most and leave the other set off. Thinking along these lines in all your rooms will save money (and your carbon footprint) in the long run.

Set the thermostat at 68-70 degrees. In colder weather during the day I won’t run the thermostat at more than 70 degrees, which is very comfortable. At bedtime, I usually set it to 65 degrees. Everyone is always comfortable and this keeps the heating bill under control.

Saving on baby items

Buy cloth diapers. If you have a baby in diapers or plan on having one, think about cloth diapers. They save a lot of money if you wash them yourself instead of sending them to a service. I used cloth diapers when my daughter was a newborn and it really wasn’t bad. Also, her diaper never leaked because of the great diapers covers that are out there today.

If you’re not breastfeeding, go with store brand formula. Store brand formula is literally half the price of name brand and its exactly the same. I bought the Target brand when my daughter was on formula. Look at the list of nutrients on the containers and you’ll find little difference. My doctor (who is wonderful) said there was nothing wrong with using the store brand.

Hand-me-downs, please! After my baby shower clothing presents ran out, I realized how expensive it was to cloth a child. Seek hand me down clothes from your friends and family. If you don’t know anyone with kids, you can buy clothes second hand, or if you buy them new, you don’t need a closet filled with clothes. You’ll get by on less. I’ve been doing it for a couple of years now.

Lifestyle

Never buy a cup of coffee. Not everyday anyway. If you’re going out for coffee with friends, don’t bring along your Keurig. (And speaking of Keurig, you get a lot more for your money with a can of coffee and a drip coffee maker.) As nice as it must be to stop in at Starbucks everyday for your morning fix, why spend $2 or more a day when you can pick up a can of store brand (and tasty) coffee for around $4 off sale? A can of coffee goes a long way. Brew a pot in the morning (set the timer the night before if you are short on time) and fill up your thermos mug. Ditching that paper cup every morning will also save some trees too!

Walk whenever you can instead of driving. I realize this is hard for a lot of people living in suburban or rural areas, but even deciding to go to the park a few blocks away versus driving to the mall for entertainment can really help with the gas mileage in the long run.

Set a budget and stick to it. Figure out how much you have and need to spend on categories such as food, gas, health and beauty, entertainment, etc., and track your spending in these categories in an Excel spreadsheet. Try to not go over your allotted amount, and if you have to, deduct money from another category for that spending period to make up for the difference.

Use your public library. Depending on where you live, libraries offer a range of free activities and items. Check out your library’s newsletter to see what they have to offer. Many libraries offer free or cheap exercise classes for adults and tons of free activities for children. Aside from all the great books, you can also rent movies free of charge. If you’re planning a day out at the museum, zoo or aquarium, call your library before you go. Many libraries offer their patrons free museum passes.

I hope you found this advice helpful. I know there are a lot of other ideas out there so if you have any, please share them on my website www.ourperch.com. Your advice could really help someone!

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Grandma at the Playground: The New Dynamic of the American Family
Apr 23 2011 11:18AM

I am fortunate enough to be a stay-at-home mom. My husband and I had to make a lot of sacrifices, but we somehow made it happen. That being said, I spend all day with my daughter and I make it a point to take her out to the parks, libraries and indoor play grounds frequently. One thing that has always struck me since becoming a mom, is the abundance of grandparents with their grandchildren in the places I just mentioned. These grandparents are lovely people and I enjoy their company, but I’ve always questioned their overwhelming presence. It seems to me that grandparents are playing a thoroughly involved role in the raising of their grandchildren. What does this say about the generation that depends on this help and our society?

In the United States, 62.3% of children under 6 years old have both their parents in the labor force. [1] In 1970, when women were increasingly entering the job market, 43% of women were working. Today that number has jumped to 61%.[2] With both mom and dad working, kids too young to be enrolled in public school need to be enrolled in daycare, but not every family can afford the expense. The average cost of full-time enrollment for an infant in a licensed daycare facility is $14,650 a year. The average price for a 4-year old decreases to $10,920 a year.[3] With prices that high, many families turn to a relative for assistance, and who better than someone who loves their child almost as much as they do. In the United states 23% of children under the age of five are regularly minded by their grandparents. Grandparents are also minding 12.8% of school-aged children (age 5 to 14 years old). [4]

These grandparents seem to be in a good position to play such an active role in their grandchildren’s daily lives. Today’s grandparents aren’t your stereotypical elderly person sitting in a rocking chair. The baby boomer generation is becoming today’s grandparents, and they are young, active and financially comfortable. The average age for a first time grandparent is 50, and households led by people age 55-64 have a median income of $72,300, and have the highest average net worth at $254,000. In addition, 55% of grandparents no longer have a mortgage on their home, and those who do have a mortgage owe far less than their children. [5] Today’s grandparents go beyond minding their grandchildren; they provide lots of cash for much needed things. A study has found that grandparents spend $27.5 billion annually on their grandchildren, and this spending on average has grown 7.6% per year since 2000. [6]

While baby boomer grandparents enjoy a net worth of $254,000, a median family income in the $70,000's, and little or no money owed on their mortgage, their children cannot say the same. The average age of a first-time mother is 25. [7] The median family income for ages 25-34 is $52,300 and their net worth is $11,800. The low net worth is due to expensive mortgages, college loans and credit card debt. Things seem to get easier for the 35-44 age group with a median family income of $67,800 and a net worth of $86,600. [8] The average young family just starting out is not financially comfortable, and depend on their parents who are doing better for some support.

Not only are these grandparents making more money, but their salaries are increasing at a higher rate than younger people. Between 1997 and 2007, after adjusting for inflation, the real median income for families rose 7%, with the exception of people between the ages of 55 and 74 whose income median family income rose 12%. Younger families did see an increase in income during that time period, but not nearly as much as their older counterparts. In addition to an increase in pay, people age 55-64 are finding jobs at a time when younger folks are losing jobs. Between 2007-2008 there was a 2% decline in employment levels for people age 35-44, but an increase of 4% for people age 55-64. [9]

Looking at these numbers it seems like the grandparents are running the show and have a hold on some good, better paying jobs. And shouldn’t they? The older generation makes more and is worth more due to years of hard work. It’s not logical for a young person to compare themselves financially to their parents because they haven’t traveled as far down the road that their parents traveled to get where they are.

Still, I’ve heard people speculate that my generation won’t be as wealthy as our parent’s, and sometimes I tend to agree, but its a difficult thing to prove. I do, however worry about social security being bankrupt by the time my generation is ready to retire (especially when the baby boomers are done with it). With premiums for employee-sponsored healthcare coverage increasing 131% since 1999, I worry that these continually rising healthcare costs will keep salaries down and bankrupt young working families. And lastly, in this age of no money down on a home, and interest only loans, I wonder if younger families who can even properly afford a house will ever see a return on it like our parents have. But what’s the sense in dwelling in these worries. All you can do is work hard, save money and do the best you can.

So, lets get back to my first question. What does this dependence on grandparents say about the generation that needs it, the grandparents and this society? I can understand why younger families need grandparents to mind their children, especially after looking at the numbers. Given the choice of spending $1,000 per month for each child for daycare, or leaving a child with grandma and grandpa for free, the latter makes more sense for a lot of people. Most grandparents adore their grandchildren, and I’d speculate that the majority of these grandparents minding their grandchildren enjoy this role. It gives them an opportunity to play a key role in their grandchildren’s lives, and a chance to get to know them more than they may have if they were only visiting once a week for Sunday dinner.

The fact that we see so many grandparents playing this involved role makes me believe that family relationships in our society are healthy and strong; that Baby Boomer parents fostered a close relationship with their children and this relationship is carrying over to their grandchildren as well. These stronger relationships are creating a new dynamic to the American family where the grandparent is a central, active member of their grandchildren’s family, and playing the parents’ role when the parents are away at work. While I do believe young people should strive for independence from their parents for their own well being and the parents (after all, parents want to see their children succeed and achieve what they could not), I don’t think families needing and helping each other is a bad thing, so long as both parties are okay with giving help and receiving help.

At some point however, the shoe has to go on the other foot, and the families receiving help, will one day have to be the people who help the helpers. Grandparent’s don’t stay young and healthy forever, and I hope this generation is capable of breaking from their dependence, in order to care for their elderly parents on a daily basis.

Please visit my blog website at www.ourperch.com. I would love to hear everyone’s opinions on this topic. How do you feel about grandparents minding their grandchildren and playing this active role? What do you think of parents who need so much help? Everyone can add to this discussion, even if you don’t have children.

[1] http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/GCTTable?_bm=y&-state=gct&-ds_name=ACS_2009_5YR_G00_&-_box_head_nbr=GCT2302&-mt_name=ACS_2009_5YR_G00_GCT2302_US36F&-redoLog=false&-_caller=geoselect&-geo_id=&-format=US-44F&-_lang=en ?
[2] http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2003/10/ressum3.pdf ?
[3] http://www.naccrra.org/news/press-releases/37/ ?
[4] http://www.census.gov/prod/2010pubs/p70-121.pdf ?
[5] http://www.grandparents.com/binary-data/The-Grandparent-Economy-April-2009.pdf ?
[6] http://seniorjournal.com/NEWS/Grandparents/2007/7-09-04-GrandparentsInUS.htm ?
[7] http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db21.htm ?
[8] http://www.grandparents.com/binary-data/The-Grandparent-Economy-April-2009.pdf ?
[9] http://www.grandparents.com/binary-data/The-Grandparent-Economy-April-2009.pdf

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The Cigarette in the "Curious George" Book
Mar 10 2011 10:15PM

My 2-year old daughter Riley loves to read, so we spend a lot of time reading books. A few months ago I read Riley her first Curious George book, “Curious George Visits the Zoo”. She liked the book and we returned to its pages time and again. After reading the book a few times, I noticed something depicted in a scene that truly surprised me. In the scene I refer to, there are families picnicking on the zoo’s lawn, and in one such family is a father holding a lit cigarette between his fingers.

This image caught me completely off-guard. Not because I thought it was offensive or something that should be censored, but because the image of a cigarette is something that you would never dream of finding in a more modern children’s book.

To continue reading this article, and to join in on the discussion, please visit my website OurPerch.com.

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