10 November 2014

Flying with kids: 5 smart family boarding strategies

Flying with kids: 5 smart boarding strategies #parenthacksHas family air travel gotten more difficult in recent years?

I recently took a flight in which you had to pay extra for "preferred" aisle or window seating, another in which there were fees for both checked and carry-on baggageand another where the only complimentary beverage was water.

Fees for carry-on? Seriously?

A few airlines have even done away with early boarding; reserving it for Platinum Super Diamond members traveling solo with tiny laptop bags, not people traveling with squirmy kids, car seats, and massive diaper bags.

I now live in the blissful land of Travel With Older Children, but I remember what it was like to fly when they were little. We were once the people with that kid.

Given all the changes in recent years, I figured it was time to revisit the topic of flying with kids.

Here are some ideas for streamlining the boarding process, but I hope you'll chime in, especially if you've recently flown with your kids.

1. Get your seats assigned as early as you can.

There's tension between buying your flight reservations early (so you have flexibility in seating choices) and waiting for a good fare.

I'm a dealhoud, so it pains me to spend more money on a flight than I have to. But when you're flying with little kids, in my opinion, it's worth paying more for comfort.

Jet With Kids posted a great strategy for maximizing the chances you'll have an empty middle seat.

2. Get to the airport earlier than usual.

Seriousy, do it. You will be so much happier spending an extra 30 minutes at the gate than you will rushing your family through the airport. (As if rushing throught the airport with kids is even possible.)

Getting to the airport early...

  • gives you a shot at better seating (those gate agents can work wonders)
  • gives you ample time for snack and beverage purchases, diaper changes, bathroom visits, and running off energy
  • gives you peace of mind as you slog through the security line
  • gives you time to pick up last-minute items you forgot at home

3. Pack empty sippy cups in your carry-on bag

You already know you can't take liquids through security. Fill cups or mix formula at the gate using bottled water or the drinking fountain. (Airplane water can be nasty and may not be available when you need it.)

4. Gate check carry-on luggage you don't absolutely need.

Most airlines let you gate-check luggage for free. This includes the umbrella stroller (bring a soft carrier on the flight). The less you have to wrestle with on the plane, the better.

5. Skip early boarding.

I lament the loss of early family boarding more on principle than in fact, because, really, why get your kids on the plane any earlier than you have to?

If family boarding's a thing and you're traveling with another parent, send one adult ahead to get the seats buckled in and the bags situated. The second grownup + kids can board right at the end, after everyone else is seated and the aisle has cleared.

If you're traveling alone, just board at the end and ignore any dirty looks while you get your kids settled. Those people are jerks.

Others have written great posts on this topic as well:

OK, folks, what did I miss? Share your flight boarding tips (or links) in the comments.

Photo Credit: Ma1974 via Compfight cc

07 November 2014

Book update: First draft almost done

Writing, writing, writing.

So much goodness swirled around this week, but I've barely looked up or shared any of it. I'm heads down finishing the manuscript for the Parent Hacks book, which is consuming most of my conscious thought at the moment.

This is only the book's beginning; my first attempt to transform what we've been doing here for the last nine years into something new and special.

Writing the first draft of the Parent Hacks book is like going through a box of nine years' worth of snapshots. The goal is a beautiful album representing those years, but to get there one must sort and edit and choose. Sorting and organizing aren't my strong suits, so this is, I think, the hardest part for me.

Also (as if it's not obvious), I'm a sentimentalist. Going through over 4000 posts and 35K comments has brought back so many memories!

You'll get to be more involved with the book during its next phase -- when I get the manuscript back after its initial edit. By then we'll have something concrete to talk about. I want to know what YOUR favorite hacks are. What YOU think should go into the book.

You'll meet my publisher, Workman. There are reasons I think Workman is the perfect publisher for this book. I'll introduce you to the people working with me to make this happen: my editor and the book's illustrator (ILLUSTRATOR!! EXCITING.), among others.

You'll also meet one of the most superstar Parenthackers of all...someone I've been talking with since practically the first day this blog went live. She's contributed so many hacks over the years, and she knows the contents of this site almost as well as I do. This person (who I will reveal in another post!) has lent perspective and guidance as I've written the first draft. I think of her like an angel sitting on my shoulder.

So! All is well. I'm a terrible multitasker, so apart from taking breaks to chat on Facebook and Twitter, I'm pretty much devoting my time to finishing this draft. My deadline is November 19. You know what I wish? We could all get together for coffee on November 20.

In the meantime, tell me how you're doing! Tell me about your Fall, your holiday plans, and what you're reading. Or what's on your mind. Or just say hi. It gets lonely during a big, quasi-solo project (especially now that it's dark SO EARLY). Your voices cheer me to no end.

Comment, Facebook, Twitter, wherever you like. Thank you all for making this possible. I want to do you proud. XOXO

31 October 2014

Not ready for Halloween? Here's your 2-item to-do list.

Did Halloween sneak up on you this year?

You knew it was coming -- who could miss it -- but planning for Halloween, well...the time sort of slipped away.

There's no jack o'lantern on the doorstep, no costume laid out for trick-or-treating, and the decorations are packed away in a box somewhere.

It's not that you don't care about Halloween -- you want your kids to have a wonderful time -- you just aren't up to the holiday frenzy that seems to get more intense every year.

You know what?

It's okay.

There's still time for this to be the best Halloween ever.

Halloween-to-do-list

Photo Credit: Matt McGee via Compfight cc

All your kid needs for a great Halloween is a costume and some treats. 

The costume doesn't need to be homemade nor particularly creative. 

Buy a costume today, from a nearby store. Or throw a costume together using stuff around the house. It can be something totally unoriginal: a movie character or a bedsheet ghost. If your kid loves it, the costume doesn't even need to make sense.

The treats can be regular old candy. 

Pick up a few bags of whatever candy is still left at the grocery store. If your kid has allergies, forget the candy and get whatever treat is her favorite.

You're done.

Halloween's a moment to watch your kid have fun, maybe admire the neighbor's decorations, and sneak a few treats yourself.

No preparation required.

Subscribe to my free weekly newsletter for site updates + VIP access to exclusive content, subscriber-only giveaways, priority event invitations and occasional surprises via snail mail (because I like to give presents). Sign up here.

30 October 2014

In support of teenage trick-or-treaters

In support of teenage trick-or-treaters.
My son, aka Unicorn Man

I'm the mother of a 5-foot-10 high school freshman.

He looks like a man, sounds like a man, and (at times) acts like a man, but he's still trick-or-treating this Halloween.

You know why this makes me happy? Not because of my sentimental need to hold onto his childhood a little longer. Not because I'm looking forward to the massive haul of candy he'll bring home.

I'm happy because I recognize that the path from childhood to adulthood is crooked. Sometimes it even doubles back on itself. My son grabs his independence with both hands and then, in the next moment, he crushes my legs because he wants to sit on my lap.

The teen years are full of push me/pull you from both of us. I push him to take responsibility for himself as I pull him close to advise. He pushes me away with silence and boundaries and then pulls me toward him for validation and reassurance.

From "What you need to know about 6-foot trick-or-treaters:"

When a crowd of under-costumed teens shows up on your doorstep, welcome them. It’s a big group because they find strength in numbers. They’re not wearing costumes because they didn’t realize that they’d want to go–nor how badly.

It's Halloween. A lighthearted moment for my son to choose between the man he's becoming and the boy he is. There are fewer of these moments each passing year.

I say: grab it with both hands.

29 October 2014

6 last-minute Halloween costumes you can make using stuff you've already got

Halloween is the holiday for which very little preparation is necessary, despite what the press and Pinterest are telling you. The only thing you need for a great Halloween is candy, a costume, and readiness to have fun.

A while back, I demonstrated last-minute costumes on our local morning show. Here's the clip:

Those are real items from my family's closets and dress-up bin. A T-shirt ninja, chef, little kid, businessperson or Secret Service agent, random sparkle fairy/superhero and sports player, all from stuff sitting around the house.

These costumes are not particularly flashy or magazine-worthy, nor will they blow you away with their cleverness.

That's the point. 

Kids' standards are a lot different than adults'. A good costume is doesn't have to bring down the house...it simply needs to be something your kid can wear with pride and a sense of fun.

So let your imagination make up for your lack of preparation. Let's enjoy the annual parade of oddly-dressed children eating far too much candy...that's the best treat of all, right?

Subscribe to my free weekly newsletter to get VIP access to exclusive content, subscriber-only giveaways, priority event invitations and occasional surprises via snail mail (because I like to give presents). Click here to sign up.

27 October 2014

Old gloves transform into a creepy toilet paper "butler"

May I hand you some toilet paper?

HEHHHHH. Now you know what to do with last year's gloves that no longer fit.

This gag is super-easy to set up. Visit Stylewithasmile.tv for the full how-to.

Got a Halloween hack? Post it on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram with #parenthacks so I can share it!

23 October 2014

Turn leftover picnic supplies into reusable, adorable Halloween decorations

Turn the last few picnic supplies cluttering your pantry into easy, clever Halloween decorations.

Dangling Eyeball Door Garland

Dangling Eyeballs & 12 Free Halloween Printables (Photo credit: Paging Supermom)
Dangling Eyeballs & 12 Free Halloween Printables (Photo credit: Paging Supermom)

At Paging Supermom, Bettijo offers a set of free Halloween printables, including the irises for this eyeball door garland made out of yarn and paper plates.

Plastic Cup Halloween Luminarias

DIY Halloween lanterns (Photo credit: Tracey/Australian Baby Blog)
DIY Halloween lanterns (Photo credit: Tracey/Australian Baby Blog)

Tracey of the Australian Baby Blog turned plastic party cups into Halloween-themed luminarias with a little Sharpie handiwork and some LED tea lights.

Ghost Spoon Centerpiece

Ghost spoons (Photo credit: Kate/Our Best Bites)
Ghost spoons (Photo credit: Kate/Our Best Bites)

Kate of Our Best Bites turned plastic spoons into lollipop-like treats, but I say you could use this idea for a simple decoration as well. White plastic spoons + Sharpie ghost faces stuck into bowls of candy corn or jelly beans and you're done.

Got a Halloween hack? Post it on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram with #parenthacks so I can share it!

21 October 2014

Glow in the dark no-carve Jack-o-lanterns

Create a glow in the dark pumpkin by coating it with non-toxic zinc sulfide powder. Part Halloween decoration, part science project.

This looks like such fun, especially for the chemists in your family.

The supplies aren't cheap. That said, I know a few of you are die-hard Halloween fans ready to pull out the stops for something different.

I'm assuming you need the large container of glow powder plus a black light to show off your creation ($39.99 for a kit that contains both from Steve Spangler Science, creator of the video).

I looked for zinc sulfide powder elsewhere (including Amazon) and the prices are still pretty high. Another option to try: a couple coats of glow in the dark craft paint or spray paint.

If you decide to do this, I suggest using a foam pumpkin so you can bring your creation out year after year.

Thank you, Kris-Ann, for finding this great project!

Got a Halloween hack? Post it on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram with #parenthacks so I can share it!

15 October 2014

8 Jack O'Lantern hacks to make decorating your Halloween pumpkin easier (including not carving it)

Pumpkin carving is one of my favorite Halloween traditions, but it's not the most kid-friendly project, nor is it without effort and mess.

Time to hack the Jack O'lantern.

8 Jack O'Lantern hacks to make decorating your Halloween pumpkin easier (including not carving it) #parenthacks

Parent Hacks readers are a practical bunch, and together we've come up eight ways to simplify Halloween pumpkin decorating. Perfect for kids of all ages and their very tired parents.

Tips for carving pumpkins

1. Choose a small pumpkin. If you're into big pumpkins, choose one that's squat.

So much easier to scoop seeds out of a small and/or short pumpkin.

2. Cut the hole in the bottom of the pumpkin.

Easier to place the candle when the carving is done.

3. Scoop out the pumpkin seeds with an ice cream scoop.

The best scoopers have angular edges. I'm an OXO Good Grips ice cream scoop fan, myself.

4. Sketch the carving lines with a dry erase marker.

Amy's genius tip:

We use a dry eraser marker to sketch out the face of the pumpkin. After everything is cut out, a wet paper towel wipes away all the marker and no lines show on the face.

Tips for no-carve Jack O'Lanterns

5. Glue a face onto a pumpkin.

From Rebecca:

I cut pieces of black construction paper into eye, nose and mouth shapes and let my toddler glue them onto little pumpkins. They may not look like normal jack-o-lanterns, but they give the idea (besides, a nose floating above your eyes is a little scary, isn’t it?).

6. Stick Mr. Potato Head parts into a pumpkin.

Stick Mr. Potato Head parts into a pumpkin. #parenthacks Photo credit: Guy via Flickr cc
Photo credit: Guy via Flickr cc

7. Draw a face on a pumpkin.

Use a black Sharpie or washable markers. Paint works, too, if you don't mind the cleanup.

8. Buy a battery-operated pumpkin you can reuse every year.

No kidding! Fake pumpkins look great! Use one to back up your non-carved Jack O'lanterns. If you wait till the day after Halloween, you can buy them half-price.

If you've got more Jack-o-lantern simplifying tips, please share them in the comments!

Sign up for my free weekly newsletter and never miss another hack. You'll get VIP access to exclusive content, subscriber-only giveaways, priority event invitations and occasional surprises via snail mail (because I like to give presents). Click here to subscribe now.

13 October 2014

8 tips for your child's first Halloween

You know Halloween is a blast, but it can be scary and exhausting for a first-timer.

Spooky costumes, strangers, creepy house decorations and sound effects mixed with a big dose of anticipation and sugar and you've got the makings of a toddler meltdown.

How do you best prepare your toddler (and yourself) for her first Halloween?

8 tips for your child's first Halloween #parenthacks

Photo Credit: Emily TT Sullivan via Compfight cc

Here are eight tips wise Parent Hacks readers have offered over the years:

1. Choose a warm, comfortable costume.

Steer your kid toward a costume that will help her stay warm, isn't itchy, and doesn't reduce her visibility or mobility.

2. Go out on a full stomach and an empty bladder.

Classic toddler tantrum prevention.

3. Trick-or-treat before sunset.

Everything will be less scary, fewer big kids will be stampeding through the neighborhood, and you can shoot for a normal bedtime.

4. Avoid a crowd.

Tempting as it is to head out with friends, I found that going alone -- at least for the first time -- works better.

Crowds of kids tend to run, which adds frenetic energy to the experience and amps up kids who need more time to process (or just want to look at the decorations).

Also, little kids aren't steady on their feet, especially in costume. They'll want help getting up and down porch stairs and steep walkways, and that's easier when it's just you and your kid.

5. Visit familiar neighbors.

Knocking on strangers' doors to ask for candy pretty much goes against everything we teach our kids. Start with familiar faces.

6. Keep it short.

Tweet from @HSoulEater

Leave 'em wanting more.

7. Have a plan for candy consumption.

Think about the candy consumption plan before you go trick-or-treating. Chances are your kid will never have seen that much candy. Best if everyone has the same expectation, whether that's one-piece per day, or "choose your ten favorites and leave the rest for the Halloween Fairy."

8. Let the child lead.

In the end, remember that this is your child's experience.

In Hedra's wise words:

It takes time to learn the rituals, and getting into it will come naturally with age. Let the child determine what's fun, and what's not. Stay in the moment, and follow along rather than leading (or pushing from the back). That way you'll all enjoy it, and next year, or a year or two thereafter, their memories will set up the excitement without any intervention from you.

* * * * *

Your turn: Any tips you'd add to this list? Please tell us about your toddler Halloween experiences in the comments.

Did you find this post helpful? Sign up for my free weekly newsletter and never miss another hack.

As a subscriber, you'll get VIP access to exclusive content, subscriber-only giveaways, priority event invitations and occasional surprises via snail mail (because I like to give presents). Click here to subscribe now.

09 October 2014

Turn a plastic drink carton into a pet food scoop

Turn a plastic juice carton into a pet food scoop. #parenthacks

I HATE buying small, overpriced packages of anything. Because of this hack, the money I save on dog food will pay for the fancy pet food storage bin I now keep in my basement.

I admit, I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself about this one.

I invite you to follow me on Instagram -- I share mostly personal stuff there, but I occasionally come across a cool hack that's better presented as a photo. I also like to repost other peoples' photos tagged with #parenthacks.

06 October 2014

10 ways your butcher can save you time in the kitchen (for free)

If you cook for meat eaters, these tips will save you prep and cleanup time and might even save you some money.

Did you know that your butcher can get your dinner started before you even leave the grocery store? 

10 ways your butcher can save you time in the kitchen (for free) #parenthacks

Photo Credit: Robert S. Donovan via Compfight cc

This hack took me too long to discover given how clumsy I am at handling raw meat.

I get intimidated at the butcher counter, so I keep it simple and generally stick to straightforward cuts of meat -- boneless, skinless chicken; flank steaks; ground beef. This limits my cooking and isn't the cheapest way to go.

One day, my favorite local grocer was having a killer sale on whole, organic chickens ($1.99 per pound!). I stood at the butcher counter lamenting my lack of skill.

When I mumbled something about having no idea how to handle a whole chicken, the butcher said, "how about I cut it up for you? I can skin and bone it, too, if you like."

There were boneless, skinless breasts and thighs sitting there for three times the price. It felt like cheating! But the butcher assured me that he cuts, trims, and prepares meat all the time -- it's part of being a full-service butcher.

LIGHT BULBS WENT OFF IN MY HEAD. I may have heard angels sing. Now, I never buy meat without asking the butcher to prepare it for me.

Here are 10 ways your butcher can streamline your next meal:

1. Cut a whole chicken into parts

Why not? Think of the mess you won't have to clean up!

2. Skin and bone chicken

My mom tried to teach me to skin and bone chicken when I was a kid. Yeahhhhh, no. Raw chicken gave me the willies (still does). I love that it takes my butcher moments to do this unpleasant job for me.

3. Cut meat into strips or chunks

Making stir fry? Stew or soup? Skewers? Let the butcher cut the meat just how you want it. I sometimes ask the butcher to cut stew meat into smaller pieces -- it's never a problem.

4. "Tenderize" meat

The butcher can pound chicken or steaks so they're of uniform thickness. Great if you're making a pan-seared meal.

5. Grind meat

If the meat you want isn't already ground, ask the butcher to do it for you.

6. Trim and prepare meat for cooking

Butchers can trim fat from steaks, tie roasts and hams, butterfly chicken breasts, make meatballs, and fillet whole fish. (If I missed anything, leave a comment.)

7. Wrap meat in freezer-ready portions

Keep this in mind when you come across a sale.

8. Slice and cube deli meat

Melissa left the following comment on a post about protein-rich snacks for toddlers:

Have the butcher cut a 1/4 pound of organic deli turkey into a slab and then into finger-food chunks. Great protein for toddlers on up.

9. Suggest simple recipes

When I come across a sale on a type or cut of meat I've never cooked before, I ask the butcher what to do. He or she usually has a few simple cooking and seasoning ideas, plus the experience to back them up.

10. Suggest less expensive cuts

When a recipe calls for a certain cut, I often ask the butcher to recommend a cheaper alternative.

* * * * *

Having the butcher help me with dinner is the closest I'll ever come to having a prep cook. I'll take it.

Have you ever asked your butcher to prep your meat purchase? Have I missed anything? 

Sign up for my free weekly newsletter and never miss another hack. You'll get VIP access to exclusive content, subscriber-only giveaways, priority event invitations and occasional surprises via snail mail (because I like to give presents). Click here to subscribe now.

01 October 2014

DIY bottle holder lets babies feed themselves

DIY bottle holder lets babies feed themselves. Photo credit: sueb262/Instructables #parenthacks

At Amazon: Rhino Toys Oball Original (affiliate link)I already love the Oball by Rhino Toys -- it's my #1 gift for new babies. But THIS hack? Damn smart.

From sueb262:

From the very first, my granddaughter has been independent. When she was about 2 months old, she started trying to hold her bottle herself, but it was too big for her hands to grip. I made a very simple "cage" so that she could hold it herself by cutting a single joint out of an OBall.

Read the full how-to at Instructables. 

Thank you for sharing this, Adrienne!

Sign up for my free weekly newsletter and never miss another hack. You'll get VIP access to exclusive content, subscriber-only giveaways, priority event invitations and occasional surprises via snail mail (because I like to give presents). Click here to subscribe now.

29 September 2014

Heat pancake syrup with your old bottle warmer

Use your old bottle warmer to heat syrup. #parenthacks

The bottle warmer is one of those baby gear items you just don't need. (Am I right?) But that doesn't stop people from giving them as baby shower gifts, or palming them off as hand-me-downs.

At least Ingrid came up with way to repurpose hers:

On the days we have pancakes for breakfast, we use our old Avent bottle warmer to warm up the bottle of maple syrup.

OK, fine. It's just as easy to warm your syrup in the microwave, but this saves you a dirty dish AND it gives your bottle warmer reason to feel a little better about itself.

Three questions for you:

1. How do you warm your syrup? (Do you warm your syrup?)

2. Do you agree that the bottle warmer is one of those must-not-have baby care items? I'm willing to admit I'm wrong on this one.

3. Do you have a bottle warmer hack/reuse?

Let's talk bottle warmers in the comments.

Parent Hacks is all about collective wisdom. Post your tip, shortcut or creative reuse on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #parenthacks, or submit it here.

25 September 2014

Your turn: Creative uses for...the binder clip

Binder clip iPhone Stand. Photo credit: Rich Sipe

I love "new uses for old things" -style tips. The cheapskate declutterer in me can't resist a) reusing an item I already have and/or b) avoiding buying another "unitasker" which will eventually make its way into the giveaway pile.

As I've been sifting through the archives for book research, I've discovered that we've got the makings for just this sort of list. Certain items are so multi-purpose they make their way into all sorts of hacks.

Take the binder clip. Useful for soooo much more than clipping together piles of paper.

A few examples:

  • Clip blankets to stroller for a quick sunshade
  • Wooden match lengthener so kids can light candles
  • Chip clip (of course)
  • Bookmark
  • Wine glass ID (if you use multicolored binder clips)
  • Pacifier tether

Rich Sipe (whose photo appears here) made an iPhone stand out of binder clips.

Help me find more uses! What's the most creative use you've seen for the binder clip?

Sign up for my free weekly newsletter and never miss another hack. You'll get VIP access to exclusive content, subscriber-only giveaways, priority event invitations and occasional surprises via snail mail (because I like to give presents). Click here to subscribe now.

10 November 2014

Flying with kids: 5 smart family boarding strategies

Given all the airline policy changes in recent years, I figured it was time to revisit the topic of flying with kids. Here are some ideas for streamlining the boarding process, but I hope you'll chime in, especially if you've recently flown with your kids.

Read more

07 November 2014

Book update: First draft almost done

So much goodness swirled around this week, but I've barely looked up or shared any of it. I'm heads down finishing the manuscript for the Parent Hacks book, which is consuming most of my conscious thought at the moment. This is only the book's beginning; my first attempt to transform...

Read more

31 October 2014

Not ready for Halloween? Here's your 2-item to-do list.

There's still time for this to be the best Halloween ever.

Read more

30 October 2014

In support of teenage trick-or-treaters

My teenage son is going trick-or-treating this Halloween. I'm happy about it, and here's why.

Read more

29 October 2014

6 last-minute Halloween costumes you can make using stuff you've already got

None of these costumes will they blow you away with their cleverness. That's the point.

Read more

27 October 2014

23 October 2014

Turn leftover picnic supplies into reusable, adorable Halloween decorations

Turn the last few picnic supplies cluttering your pantry into easy, clever Halloween decorations.

Read more

ALL hacks in December 2014 →

Free updates

  • Subscribers are my VIPs. My weekly newsletter includes a personal update, the latest from Parent Hacks, interesting links and news.

    Subscribers also get priority event invitations and occasional surprises via snail mail.

Asha's Book

  • At Amazon: Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More by Doing Less

    Find out why doing less is the key to resourceful, thriving kids, and a calmer, happier YOU.

    Minimalist Parenting is an encouraging roadmap for decluttering your schedule, your home, and your vision for family life. Reviewers call it "a much welcome alternative to the usual parenting advice."

    Learn More at Amazon

    Also available at Barnes & Noble or your favorite local bookstore.

New Book Coming Soon!

  • Coming soon: Parent Hacks Book

Start Amazon shopping here