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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

24 September 2014

Freeze french toast by the loaf for quick weekday toaster breakfasts

Freeze french toast by the loaf for quick weekday toaster breakfasts. #parenthacks

Jill's simple tip makes french toast easy and quick enough for weekday mornings:

Occasionally on a weekend, we'll make a whole loaf of french toast, then freeze it. During the week, we just snap off a frozen slice and put it in the toaster. Egg and whole grain bread right there. If you add vanilla to the egg mixture you get a sweet flavor without having to add syrup.

YUM. Warm and comforting on a chilly morning. It's even portable without the syrup.

To simplify this hack further:

1. Add the maple syrup to the egg mixture.

If your kids love that maple-y taste but you don't want to deal with sticky fingers in the morning, add the syrup to the egg mixture.

2. Bake french toast instead of pan frying.

Much faster to make large batches of french toast in the oven. Good Housekeeping's baked french toast recipe is a good place to start. The picture above was my solution to a stale baguette and the result was delicious. (I know, the French invented the concept.)

3. Quick-freeze individual slices rather than freeze as a loaf.

If you bake your french toast, your finished toast is already sitting on a lined cookie sheet. Let the pan cool on a rack, then pop it into the freezer. (I slide mine right on top of food that's already in there.) After a short time the toast will be frozen enough to transfer a Ziploc freezer bag for longer-term storage, and the pieces will stay separate and easy to grab.

Now I'm hungry.

What's your best warm weekday breakfast shortcut? For the kids or for yourself?

Leave a comment, or post on Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #parenthacks.

I'm in Parent Hacks book research mode: a deep dive in the archives looking for gems among nine years' worth of hacks. Many of the best ideas are hidden in the comments. This tip -- left here in 2006! -- is one example. -- Asha

22 September 2014

Easier school lunch packing: designate a pantry "lunchbox zone"

My kids just started middle- and high school and I still hate packing their school lunches.

The obvious retort is well, then, why don't you get them to pack their own lunches?

Because I also love packing their lunches.

I should say: I love the nurturing, generous part of packing lunches. But I hate the details: the lost lunchboxes, the forgotten or unwashed containers.

But my #1 school lunch annoyance is the surprise disappearance of food I bought specifically to pack for school.

It's usually the stuff that's easy to grab and munch -- crackers, chips, cookies. Food that's more "treat" than "snack" that I throw into my kids' lunchboxes for a little mid-day perk. Food that -- unless I hide it -- gets mowed through during the after school snack rush.

(But when I hide it, I forget about it.)

This year, as part of my back-to-school organizing, I designated a "Lunches Only" shelf in a small cabinet in my kitchen. Stuff on that shelf is off limits for any other purpose (including my work-at-home husbands' snack attacks).

Set aside a "lunchbox zone" in your pantry to simplify school lunch packing. #parenthacks

Pretty basic, but it has made a huge difference to my sanity. Now, when I'm packing the weeks' lunches, I know everything will still be there, even on Friday.

I'm not alone in my battle to simplify school lunches because you've submitted many school lunch hacks over the years. But there's always room for more!

What's your #1 school lunch packing tip?

Tell us the comments OR post your tip on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #parenthacks.

19 September 2014

Teach kids time management by writing on the clock

I'm on a deep dive in the Parent Hacks archives. It's sort of like a treasure hunt; I'm looking for gems tucked among nine years' worth of posts so I can polish them for the forthcoming Parent Hacks book.

Many of the best hacks are hard to find because they're hidden in the comments which the blog's less-than-stellar Search function doesn't reliably access. This hack is one example. -- Asha


Time-management
It took one of my kids a loooooong time to "get" how the passage of time impacted this child's before-school routine.

There are the sorts of conversations we'd have every morning:

"If you take longer to eat, you'll have less time to brush your teeth."

"If you pack your backpack the night before, you can add those minutes to your breakfast-eating time the next morning."

"If you get up 15 minutes late, you have to shave 15 minutes off your morning routine so you'll still be on time to school."

There were a lot of tardies back then.

I came up with a hack to help my kids better understand time management; I stuck Post-It notes directly onto our mantle clock so they could "see" the morning routine progress. I found that using an analog clock (with the moving hands) visually represented the passage of time in a way a digital clock, timer or series of alarms couldn't.

That's a long backstory to set up Golden's hack, which is similar to mine but a little more elegant:

We have a cheap analog wall clock with a glass face, like one you'd hang on your kitchen wall. I use wipe-off markers to write the different tasks directly on the clock. Works great and you can add or remove tasks as they change.

Writing directly on the clock! Think how cool it would look with those oversized glass clocks (I think I've seen them at IKEA).

Another option: this adorable chalkboard wall clock. At the moment it's about $15 at Amazon which seems like a pretty good deal.

I'm happy to report that tardies are a thing of the past, and morning routines go smoothly. (I should hope so -- my kids have just started middle- and high school!)

How do you teach your kids to manage their time?

18 September 2014

Why "art career" isn't a contradiction in terms: my behind the scenes look at "The Boxtrolls"

Portland isn’t known for its show-biz glamour. We’ve got Portlandia and Grimm, but there’s not much celebrity glitz here in the Land of Clogs.

So you might be surprised to know that just outside of town, housed in a generic set of suburban office buildings, is LAIKA Studios -- premier creator of feature-length stop-motion animation films. Movies you’ve seen such as Coraline and ParaNorman came out of LAIKA, and a new feature is set to release on 9/26/14: The Boxtrolls.

Last Spring I was invited to LAIKA for a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how The Boxtrolls was made. “Behind-the-scenes” anything is fascinating. But I was especially excited to learn about (and share with you) an example of a vital workplace filled with artists and technicians. Especially because my daughter is a budding artist herself.

LAIKA's particular brand of stop-motion is physical. In other words, the animators manipulate physical puppets which they snapshot then animate by stringing the snapshots together.

This isn't claymation or CGI, it's a painstakingly slow process of nudging eyebrows, fingers, and head angles of little figurines, and then taking pictures. An animator typically takes a week to complete 3.7 seconds worth of footage, which is just under 90 individual frames.

This is mind-blowing.

Adjusting props on the set of The Boxtrolls

photo credit: LAIKA Studios

I'm getting ahead of myself, because the puppets and props themselves -- the stuff getting animated -- is all made by hand. More than 20,000 props were handmade for the movie including 55 different sculpts just of cheese.

The sets were a remarkable study in detail...it was like standing in front miniature worlds. And the movie's main characters, a boy, a girl, and the Boxtrolls themselves...they took on personalities simply because an animator knew just the right angle and tempo to cock their heads.

Adjusting props on the set of The Boxtrolls

photo credit: LAIKA Studios

I was able to meet the animators, talk to the directors, and even meet LAIKA founder Travis Knight. I didn't say much because I was dumbfounded by the sheer inventiveness of everything I was seeing. I found myself wondering how I could arrange an internship for my daughter in about, oh, seven years.

Perhaps the most inspiring thing about the visit was that I was watching extremely skilled, creative people engaged in intense, paying work. I imagined their parents a few years earlier worrying about their kids' plans for a "career in art." Several of the blindingly talented people I met talked about how they only hit their strides after the tight structures of school were behind them, and they could think, learn and work in ways that were right for them.

Music to the ears of a parent of unconventional kids.

So mark your calendars and take the family to see The Boxtrolls next weekend. The kids will laugh and cheer along with the movie, and you'll marvel at the workmanship and skill it took to create it.

My visit to LAIKA Studios was arranged as part of a local press event. I was not paid to attend, nor was I paid or obligated to write this wrapup.

15 September 2014

Apply nonstick cooking spray in front of the open dishwasher

Right now I'm on a deep dive in the Parent Hacks archives. It's sort of like a treasure hunt; I'm looking for gems tucked among nine years' worth of posts so I can polish them for the forthcoming Parent Hacks book.

Many of the best hacks are hard to find because they're hidden in the comments which this site's less-than-stellar Search function doesn't reliably access. This hack is one example. -- Asha

At Amazon: Misto Brushed Aluminum Olive Oil Sprayer (affiliate link)

From Elisabeth in the comments of this kid's cooking hack (edited for brevity): 

Do you use nonstick cooking spray or spray oil to coat muffin tins, dough rising bowls, and baking pan? Hold the pan in front of the open dishwasher while spraying. You won't get the oil mist all over the kitchen and it will be washed away the next time you run the dishwasher.

Why didn't I think of this? FOREHEAD SMACK OF BRILLIANCE.

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

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.

Read more

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. Parent Hacks readers are a practical bunch, and together we've come up eight ways to simplify Halloween pumpkin decorating. Perfect for...

Read more

13 October 2014

8 tips for your child's first Halloween

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

Read more

09 October 2014

Turn a plastic drink carton into a pet food scoop

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...

Read more

06 October 2014

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

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

Read more

ALL hacks in October 2014 →

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