Monday, September 5, 2011

After 2 1/2 years....

The Village is calling it quits.

Due to lack of interest from readers and the crazy lives of the panelists we have mutually decided to close up shop. We've had a good run, but the time has come to end regular posting on The Village. We will leave the blog up so that you can access previous posts - hopefully the blog will still be here if you need something. Thanks for reading and commenting, we hope that we've helped you in your journey as a mother.

Special thanks also to Delia Randall who originally came up with the idea for the blog and to all other previous panelists who have made The Village great.

Tannie Datwyler
Megan Izatt
Laura Wampler
Alyssa Harper
Lisa Mortensen

Friday, September 2, 2011

How to Take Your Own Photos: Part II

For a great intro into basic, portrait taking tips, click HERE for our previous Village discussion.

Okay, now let's talk Photoshop.  Last time I got some great questions about photo editing.  We all know the pros do it, and great post-process editing sprinkles that little bit of magic on your photos to take them from good to holy-cow-phenominal.  The most common feedback I get from friends without Photoshop is, "it's too expensive."  Granted there is free photo editing software out there.  Gimp.  Picasa.  They're all good for basic edits, (I would try out one of them before paying for licensed software) but I still like Photoshop best.  It's the cream of the crop.  Love it for all-purpose editing.

There are two types of Photoshop:

  • Photoshop CS series (most recent is CS5) which is the full-on, everything included, beefed up version of Photoshop that has everything a professional photographer would ever want to use (relatively speaking) to edit the most minor details.
  • Photoshop Elements (most recent edition is Elements 9) is a slimmed down version of the CS series. It still has absolutely everything an amateur photographer would need.  It's wonderful.  I recommend it.  You can get Elements 7 on Ebay for about $45.

Moving on.

The most common question I get from people WITH Photoshop is, "I have it, but I don't even know where to start."  Touche, my friends.  There are A LOT of bells and whistles in Photoshop.  Here's a breakdown for my basic, home-photo edits.  It's two steps.  Seriously.

EXPOSURE:  If you have stinkin' amazing equipment and perfect models that sit still, maybe you can get perfect shots with perfect exposures, but if you're like me and shoot in AUTO a lot of the time (because I'm chasing toddlers around with my camera) your camera will make mistakes now and then.  You can fix exposure somewhat in Photoshop.  Go to Image>Adjustments>Exposure and fiddle with the bars.

ACTIONS:  These save my life.  Not even kidding.  They are so fast.  So convenient.  So amazing.  Actions are pre-recorded edits.  Tens, hundreds, thousands of repetitive edits can be saved in "Actions."  You just hit the play button, and Photoshop runs every step in the Action automatically.  Awesome!  You can make your own, but I recommend downloading other people's Actions.  Here's a good little video to wet your feet in...(click HERE to go straight to youtube).

My absolute favorite action creator is MCP Actions.  Jodi Friedman, creator, put together all these Action products that are absolutely jaw-dropping awesome.  A good selection of them are free too.

Here's a picture I took of my boy just this morning.  He had his cereal bowl on the floor, because eating at the table is SO YESTERDAY, MOM.  *eye roll* Toddlers, seriously.  Anyway, I ran a quick Action on it (MCP Mini Fusion Set is FREE from the MCP action site, click HERE to download).

That's it.  One click Action.  So easy.  Just what a busy mother needs.

MCP also has Actions you can pay for.  They're SO worth it.  To date, I've never taken my kids to a studio to have their monthly milestone pictures taken.  I take them all myself and do my own edits.  Saves so much money, and I actually get around to DOING milestone pictures.  Never would, if I had to leave the house.  I'm that lazy.

My favorite Action set from MCP is their Fusion Mix (not to be confused with the free MINI fusion set).  It is absolutely phenomenal.   A little pricey, but totally worth every penny it in my mind.  These pictures took all of 5 minutes to edit.  Time saving is HUGE for me, especially with the bulk of pictures I take.

So, I'm totally curious.  How many of our awesome readers edit their photos using some sort of software (both free and licensed)?  Have you heard of editing via Actions before?  If you have a favorite website to download actions from, PLEASE SHARE!  (There are a lot of them out there.)  During our last discussion, one of our readers suggested the The Coffee Shop for a great set of free actions.  And as always, if you have any questions, shoot us a comment!  I or any of our fabulous readers will make sure to answer them!


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Waste or Want: #15: Baby Bullet (or other similar food processor)


An appliance to help make baby food and if you get a regular bullet, or something similar, you can make smoothies, sauces, grate cheese, and a number of other things as well!

Average Cost: Anywhere from $30 to over $130

On the One Hand:

The bullet, or something similar, is great at pureeing, blending, chopping, mixing, and other food prep.  Also, the jars are microwave safe, so no having to switch containers when heating things up! It's also smaller than a blender so takes up less counter space.

On the Other Hand:

For baby food, a hand mill works great and is a fraction of the cost.  Also, a blender can do quite a few things that a bullet can and you can find a decent one for around $30 or less.

I've been considering getting a bullet for several months. I have a hand mill and while I don't mind using, if I'm going to make several kinds of food it kind of wears my arm out! Also, my blender is wearing out and doesn't puree things as smooth as I want. So, what's your vote?

Magic Bullet (or something similar)

Waste or Want?
 (and don't forget to tell us why!)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Little Plugged Up

This has to be a picture-less post, because I simply could not find a picture appropriate to this topic...

Fairly explicit post below - so be forewarned if you get squeamish about nursing.

Mastitis and Plugged Milk Ducts - the dreaded duo of nursing mothers.

I have never had Mastitis (yes, I KNOW I'm lucky - I'm sorry if you've ever had it, from what I understand it is dreadful). However, I've had plenty of clogged milk ducts. Especially in the last 3 weeks, and they can be VERY painful.

With all my kids I remain clog free for the first 4-6 months of nursing. Probably due to the fact that they are nursing more frequently and they still nurse through the night. But those plugged ducts always rear their ugly heads. Luckily, they usually ease up and go away around 9 months (at least for me).

This time has been no exception. I started getting my plugged ducts about a month ago. They have escalated BADLY this time to the point where I have been getting them every couple days, and some times on a daily basis. It's ridiculous friends...

This is most likely due to the fact that my baby is now sleeping through the night and I have an inordinate amount of milk at 3:00 or 4:00 AM. I have to get up and pump out a couple of ounces just to ease up the pressure and be able to go back to sleep. I'm hoping I'll stop producing in the night EVENTUALLY. SIGH.

In any case, in my desperation I have found some tricks that have helped me. So here we go...

1 - Make sure your bra/shirts are not too tight. Sometimes when I have a bad clog I'll take my bra off at around 8:00 after we are all winding down. That gives me a few hours at night without it pressing on my clogs and sometimes this is all I need to get it unstuck.

2 - Nurse the sore side FIRST. The baby's suck is stronger when he/she is hungry. If you feel like your baby didn't get all the milk out - put your pump on for just 1-2 minutes to make sure everything is cleared out.

3 - Dangle nurse. This is a weird trick and is new to me this time. The suggestion I read recommended laying your baby on the floor and kneeling over the top so as to use gravity to force the clog out. I found it was just as effective to sit cross legged with the baby on my lap and to lean over. This REALLY helped though. A couple of sessions of dangle nursing are sometimes all it takes to get the clog out.

4 - Apply heat. Take a warm shower and try to massage where it is sore (I know, it hurts). Or heat up a bean bag about 5 minutes before you feed the baby and apply it to the sore side. Then massage for about 30 seconds before you start feeding. This is a life saver.

5 - Garlic. I've read that you should eat a lot of it, though that's not the trick I've tried. My SIL gave me the advice of putting a raw garlic clove in my bra. This works great for me. I find a HUGE garlic clove, peel it and set it right next to the clog. For some reason this works - I swear.

6 - To prevent future clogs take Lecithin. This is a LARGE capsule that you can find in pretty much any store that sells medicine. The bottles aren't too expensive and they come with 100 capsules. Kelly mom recommends taking 3-4 capsules per day until you go a few weeks without clogs, then you can reduce it by one capsule, eventually working down to one. There are no ill effects for babies or nursing mothers.

If I use these tricks I can generally get a plugged milk duct cleared up in under 24 hours, though I've had some nasty ones that lasted for DAYS (maybe even a week).

For other suggestions see the Kelly Mom website.

Now for your input...

What do you do for plugged milk ducts?
What do you do for mastitis?
Share your horror/success stories!
And one more thing... how do I get rid of all the milk I'm making in the night????

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tutorial: How to Make Baby Food!

Since we got such a positive response to this post last time it was up, and a couple of us on the panel are going to be entering the phase of baby food soon, we thought we would repost this great post on making your own baby food!

One of our readers sent us a complete tutorial on how to make your own baby food. This is something that I've wanted to do for a long time, but was never brave enough to figure it out on my own. Thank you so much! If you have any ideas for tutorials feel free to e-mail us at


I have loved making my own baby food for my two children. When I first thought about making my own food, I thought it would be so complicated and take so much time, but I am here to tell you how simple it really is!

First, here are the reasons I like making my own baby food:

1. The cost! I did my own cost comparison to see how much money I was really saving by making my own. Gerber baby food comes in two packs costing between $0.75 and $1.00, and each container is 2.5oz. This equals $0.15 to $0.20 per ounce. I bought 2 lbs of carrots for $1.55 which made 31 oz pureed. This equals $0.05 per ounce! The peas were also $0.05 per ounce. Green beans were $0.07 per ounce and butternut squash was $0.14 per ounce. Fruit tends to be more expensive but you may be able to find some good deals depending on the season. You can also buy the fruit on sale, puree it, and freeze it for use when your baby is ready to start solids.

2. It gives me peace of mind to know exactly what is in the food my baby eats. There are no fillers or preservatives. I know how fresh the produce is and when it was made. It smells good, and I have no problem tasting it which makes me feel better about feeding it to my baby.

3. It's really simple! I can make all the food my little girl will need pureed in one day. After she eats all the food I have pureed, she will probably be ready to start more table foods.

The Process
I put together a little tutorial so you can see step by step what to do. Hopefully if you are feeling overwhelmed by the thought of making your own food, this will help ease your mind a little! Please pardon my pictures.. I am not a pro photographer :)

I first made pears. Six pears ended up making 23 oz.

1. Cut your pears in half and scoop out the core. ( I thought I could scoop out the core after I cooked them, but I later regretted it.)

2. Place them cut side down in a baking dish. Pour water into the dish to cover about 1/2 inch of the fruit.

3. Bake the pears at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until tender. (Your house will smell delicious!) Don't throw away any left over water just yet!

4. When they are baked the skins will be brown and wrinkly. After they cool, peel the skins off. They should come off pretty easily by pinching the skin. ( I cooked mine a little too long so the skin was very soft and harder to get off.)

5. Place your pears into a pureeing device. I use a magic bullet, but a food processor, blender, immersion blender or even a hand food mill (click to see food mill) will work. If your puree is too thick, add some of the water that you saved from baking them. Adding stock water back is good because you get some of the nutrients back that were baked out. You can also add water or thicken it with rice cereal when you want to feed it to your baby.

6. I use a freezer method, so I pour the puree into ice cube trays. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze. Once they are frozen, you can pop them out and into a freezer bag. I find that one cube (approx. one ounce) is the perfect size to start out with. When my kids get a little older I just warm up two cubes instead of one. I had four trays laying around, but if you don't have any, I have seen packs of two at the dollar store.

Make sure to label the bag with the date and type of food.

When I want to warm up the food, I just place it in the microwave for about 30 seconds, stir it, and place it in for 7 more seconds. Make sure to stir it and check that it's not too hot because microwaves can cause hot spots.

And that's it! I made 6 different purees, and it only took me half a day, not including freezing time.

Should I use canned, frozen, or fresh produce?
Canned food should never be used. The biggest reason is loss of nutrients. For more information click HERE. Frozen and fresh foods are a both good option. If you use frozen, be sure to read the labels to make sure there is no added salt, sugar, or syrups.

What are different options to cook the food?
1. Baking with water, like the example of the pears. I also bake butternut squash and peaches this way.
2.Baking without water, like baking a sweet potato.
3. Steaming or boiling - this works well with many vegetables like peas, carrots, green beans.

What if I don't have enough trays?
I put the extra purees into containers in the fridge. When the first cubes froze, I popped them out and froze the purees that I had saved in the fridge. This way I could do all the cooking in one day, even though it took longer to actually freeze them.

Is it necessary to strain vegetables?
I strain the vegetables that have outer skins that are harder to digest (like peas and green beans.) After I puree them, I put them into a strainer over a deep bowl and push it through with a spoon. Scrape off the back of the strainer, and all that will be left in the strainer are tiny bits of outer skin. Some people think this may not make a difference for baby, but I found that my son had a hard time digesting peas until he was over a year old.

What about meats?
A note about meats-- I thought that there was no way pureeing meats would work, but it really did! I just boiled the chicken and pureed it, adding a little liquid. See HERE for information on choosing types of meats that are good for baby. Meats were my least favorite thing about jarred food, so I was so glad that pureeing meats worked so well (and actually smelled good!) Try it!

My favorite resource on making baby food is this: It really can answer almost any question and has great ideas for making your own rice cereal, teething biscuits, and toddler food too.

Thank you very much once again. What a perfect tutorial! So......
What questions do you still have?
Have you made homemade baby food? Do you like it? Give us your success stories!
What are other pros/cons of doing homemade food?
What other advice can you offer about homemade food?

Friday, August 26, 2011

In My Cabinet...

UGH.  It's been one of THOSE mornings, ladies.  I feel like shoving my head under a pillow and screaming at the injustice of it all.  Today, my toddler opened the day by dumping a full glass of chocolate milk on his lap.  Not an accident.  He watched the liquid pour, and he was smiling.  I reprimanded him, and made him clean it up.  Not twenty minutes later, he poured a glass of apple juice onto his legs and all over the floor.  Icky.  Sticky.  Apple juice.  I made my toddler clean up the mess and stripped him down to his diaper for 10 minutes.  "You can't wear clothes if you're just going to get them wet," I said.  That was punishment enough.  My boy detests going without clothing.  He huddled up on the floor and cried big crocodile tears.  Meanwhile, I nursed my baby one-handed while crouching down and helping my boy mop up the juice.  Inside, I thought, "How did it come to this?"

Now my floor is gross-sticky.  No matter how many times I go over it with a wash rag, my feet still stick to the floor.  So, now let's head into our main topic of discussion.  Kitchen cleaning products.  Oh yes.  We're goin' for all sorts of excitement today.  Half kidding.  Half completely serious.  I'm all for it on days like today when I'm in a cleaning pinch.  So, here we go.  Here's my Cleaning Cabinet Top 5...

1. Disinfectant wipes.  Usually the Clorox variety.  They're so darn useful.  As an added plus, they're great for introductory toddler chores.  One of my boy's favorite chores is to take a disinfectant wipe and wipe down all the doorknobs.  It's something easy, I usually don't get around to doing it, and who cares if he misses a spot?  Perfect for toddlers.

2. Bleach.  Whenever I'm working with raw food -- veggies, fruits, but especially meat -- I fill the sink with diluted bleach and bomb my kitchen afterwards with it.  Let it sit  for 10 minutes, then wipe down with hot water.  Heat will accelerate the breakdown of hypochlorite in bleach and make bleached surfaces safe to touch as soon as it dries.

Oh, added tip.  Remember the last time your kid threw up in the car?  No?  I try not to remember stuff like that either.  But when it happens, strip the cover off (throw in washing machine) and soak the plastic part in the bath tub in a diluted bleach for 10 minutes.  Make sure you scrub the shoulder straps.  Rinse with hot water.  Your baby's car seat will magically smell like nothing ever happened.  I speak from experience.  I may have sung hallelujah to bleach that day.

3.  Distilled white vinegar.  Oh, this baby has so many uses.  It's cheap.  It's powerful.  It's chemical free.  To deodorize a yucky drain, pour one cup of hot vinegar down the drain, wait five minutes, and rinse.  To clean out a chalky dishwasher, throw in a cup of vinegar and run a cycle empty.  To clean cloudy glassware, soak a cloth in vinegar and wrap around the dish.   To remove odors from a lunchbox or plastic food containers, wipe down with vinegar and leave a rag or piece of bread soaked in vinegar in it overnight.  For more ideas, click HERE.  Oh, and about that apple juice mess I mentioned above.  It can be easily cleaned with a homemade vinegar-based cleaner.

BASIC FLOOR CLEANER: Combine 1 cup white vinegar with 1 gallon warm water.  Use on vinyl surfaces.

WOOD FLOOR CLEANER:  Combine 1/2 cup white vinegar with 1 gallon warm water.  (When cleaning wood floors, make sure you don't saturate the floor, since wood soaks in a lot of moisture.  Dampen sponge, wring out into a bucket, then scrub.)

4.  Ammonia.  I know.  I freaked a little about buying and having ammonia in my home at first.  "It's not safe!" yelled my brain.  Calm down, brain.  If you look at the ingredients list of most household cleaners, more often than not, ammonia's already in there.  The reason is that very few surfaces can be cleaned and disinfected well without it.  Wood.  Steel.  Kitchen countertops.  Refrigerator doors.  All clean well with ammonia.  Just make sure to mix your cleaners in a well ventilated room and keep it safely stored away from baby hands like you would any store-bought cleaner.

For you curious folk, you probably wondered, what's the difference between bleach and ammonia.  They both clean and disinfect, right?  Well, yes, but there are subtle differences.  Sparing you the details, we'll just say that because of their chemical make-up BLEACH IS A STRONGER DISINFECTANT.  Ammonia still kills germs, but not with the gusto of bleach.  The benefit of that is that ammonia will clean surfaces without discoloring them.  Bleach will sometimes cause discoloration or lightening.

2 T ammonia
1 tsp dish detergent
2 cups rubbing alcohol

In a clean, gallon container, combine above ingredients and fill the rest up with hot water.  Put in spray bottles to use.

3 T ammonia
1 T vinegar

Combine above ingredients in a spray bottle and fill the rest up with water.  (I can't believe I used to pay so much for Windex.)

5.  Baking soda.  Baking soda has scrubbing power but won't scratch surfaces (use in place of Comet).   You know those hard-to-clean grease spots above the stove?  Baking soda will take care of it, no problem.

1/4 cup baking soda
1 T liquid detergent.

Combine above ingredients.  Add white vinegar until creamy texture and use to scrub kitchen stains or clean the oven.

Finally, because this post somehow morphed into a homemade cleaner article, take a gander HERE for a recipe to make your own baby wipes.  I would just add a few drops of baby lotion for moisturizing properties and a splash of rubbing alcohol (about a teaspoon) to keep mold from growing and give your wipes a bit of disinfecting power.  Other than that, I could show you how myself, but this gal already did a great job and...well...I've still got sticky apple juice that needs to be scrubbed off the kitchen floor...

In the meantime, the discussion's open.  Homemade or not?  How do you get your cleaners?  Why?  If you've never tried making homemade cleaners, did this post compel you to give it a try?  Let's hear it!  And in the meantime, happy cleaning.  I keep telling myself that to kid myself into liking it.


SPECIAL NOTE:  Never, EVER mix bleach with any acid, like ammonia or vinegar.  In fact, play it safe and never mix bleach with anything besides water.  Chemical reactions that result from mixing could be very dangerous.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Can't Fall Asleep

Here's the scenario:

8 o'clock comes so we start our bedtime routine.  We change into jammies and a pullup, brush our teeth, say prayers and read a story.  Usually all of this takes about a half hour and my husband and I are out of Lucas' bedroom by 8:30.  We head to the living room to hang out and spend some time together before we go to bed.  However, 9 o'clock rolls around and Lucas is still awake talking to himself, no big deal.  9:30 comes and Lucas is still awake, 10:00 and he is still awake; sometimes this can go on until 11 o'clock at night or later!

This doesn't happen every night, but it happens a couple of times a week.  So, I tried to cut out his afternoon nap thinking that would help, it didn't.  We were still have two to three nights a week where he was awake very late and then he was just grumpy to boot for not getting his nap.  During the summer I wasn't too concerned with one or two nights of this happening, but now it is school time.  I don't want him staying up really late because there are at least two days a week where he won't be able to take an afternoon nap due to preschool.  However, I'm at a lost as to what to do.  I've tried several more things besides doing away with the nap and nothing has worked.

What do you do for your kids when they can't seem to fall asleep?