Archive | May, 2010

The Ants Come Marching…

31 May

It is only a matter of time until we are under siege again, unable to go about our daily chores and activities without being accosted by swarms of Argentine ants in our townhouse. They will invade – there is no question – but it will be up to me to organize a resistance.

(My husband might take issue with me shouldering the burden and ultimately claiming the victory. But with all due respect, my love, I am home all day and you are not, and it is obvious the ants wait until you leave for work to attack.)

We have lived in this home four years this summer. In those four years, we’ve had ants in the shower, in the bathroom cupboards, along the baseboards, in a pile of laundry in our bedroom, in front of the fireplace, at the front door, across the back door, in just about every kitchen cabinet and on the ceiling, in the hall closet, and coming up from the carpeting exactly at the place where I rest my feet while working on the computer. The January Invasion included all the shelves of our pantry, although their efforts were concentrated on my hand mixer and a tub of very expensive shortening.

We’ve enjoyed a respite but I knew it wouldn’t last. And today, while playing with my daughter on our patio, I found multiple trails and random confused singles and while I enjoyed the fact that they were getting drenched with her water-table activities, I knew it was time to bring out the arsenal.

In my years of do-it-yourself pest control, I’ve learned quite a bit about Argentine ants. (If you live in Southern California and have ants, you have Argentine ants.) They will nest just about anywhere – soil, walls, beneath buildings. They prefer sweet foods (but will eat just about anything, including insect carcasses. You weren’t eating, were you?). Each colony can contain millions of ants and multiple queens. They are evil and agents of the devil.

When you discover an ant trail in your home, your first instinct is most likely to pull out the nearest bottle of bug killer. I would advise you to resist the temptation, for two reasons: 1. Those chemicals are not good for you, your babies, your pets, and the environment. And 2. Killing the visible ants will cause the queen Argentine ant to lay more eggs to replace the lost workers, and often uproot to a new location as a secondary colony.

I know, I know, this is when everyone likes to come in with all the amazing tips they have read about getting rid of ants – pepper, cinnamon, bay leaves, cornstarch, cayenne, chalk, peppermint, Windex, Simple Green, etc. etc. etc. We have tried them, and they didn’t work. For us, anyway.

Here is what works: Terro Liquid Ant Killer

Terro

It comes in these nifty clear plastic containers, and all you have to do is take some scissors and snip off the end, then lay the trap close to the existing trail. Then – and THIS IS WHERE YOU HAVE TO HAVE NERVES OF STEEL – you let the ants eat the bait. This stuff is to ants what buttercream-frosted cupcakes are to me – irresistible. Within hours you will see the entire battalion traveling to and from your bait station, some of them so drunk from the solution they drown in it.

This whole thing, it’s not pretty. But warfare never is.

Add a second bait station if it seems like there are too many ants for just one. I’ve used up to three for a particularly heinous invasion. Do not interfere with the ants. I repeat – DO NOT INTERFERE WITH THE ANTS. All your hard work will be for naught if you pull out the bottle of window cleaner and spray the stragglers. They need to take the bait back to their colony, share it with their pals, and then they die over the next 24 to 48 hours. But not on your counters or anything – they die in some secret hiding place. I do not want to be here when someone rips up the carpeting in this place in a few years. (shudder)

If you have children or pets, it will be more of a challenge to take care of the problem safely. Boric acid, the active ingredient in Terro baits, is considered a much safer alternative to traditional pesticides. But you still don’t want to catch Timmy sucking on ant bait. Position the traps out of reach or out of sight – behind furniture or at the back of a countertop.

There. Hopefully I have helped someone win this battle – or at least hold off the enemy for a while longer. And while I now have the creepy-crawlies and am bound to peek under my comforter tonight multiple times, I have also strengthened my resolve to not let the ants get me down. When the ants come marching one by one this summer, I’ll be saying “Hurrah! I have Terro!”

Sweet Cupcake Liners

26 May

I beg of you, someone please come up with a reasonably valid excuse for me to buy these gingham red cupcake liners from Sur la Table.
cupcake liner

Theme party celebrating Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island? Anyone? Anyone?

Look, they come in yellow, too.
cupcake liner

So, so adorable.

If I were baking cupcakes for my best friend, I would use these zebra ones.
cupcake liner

This is why I’m not allowed to go into Sur la Table anymore. Before I know it I’ll be walking out the door with a bag full of cupcake liners and an empty wallet.

What baking accessory do you covet?

Paying Less for Children’s Books

19 May

As the parent of a toddler, I know how important reading is to my daughter’s development. As an avid reader, I am thrilled that she seems to be developing the same love of books that I have always had. It’s so tempting to pick up a book here and a book there as we’re out running errands. But as a stay-at-home mom on a tight budget, I know that paying full price on children’s books just doesn’t make sense.

From least to most expensive, here are some alternatives to buying books at your local Borders or Barnes & Noble. Let’s pretend I’m on the hunt to pick up the popular book “Llama Llama Red Pajama” by Anna Dewdney (a really, really cute book that I have been wanting to buy my daughter for months).

  1. The library. With your library card, books are free. We visit our local branch twice a month to stock up. It’s hit or miss, and it can be a challenge to find what you are looking for. Many times the more popular books are checked out. Our library system allows you to place a hold on a book, which includes transferring it from another library to yours, for 25 cents. And the best part is you can do it online and they will notify you when the book comes in via e-mail. Cost for “Llama Llama”: free, or 25 cents (more likely).
  2. Garage sales. Do your research. If you check the classifieds or Craigslist the night before, you can target the garage sales most likely to have children’s books for sale. Look for the ones with “toys” or “kid’s books” in the description. Garage sales are definitely hit or miss, but sometimes you can find great books for 50 cents or a quarter. Cost for “Llama Llama”: unlikely to find.
  3. Thrift stores. Similar to garage sales, thrift stores are hit or miss with children’s books (although a great place to find adult paperbacks). Prices generally range from 50 cents to $2 a book. Cost for “Llama Llama”: unlikely to find.
  4. Ebay. Buying single books on Ebay isn’t always the best deal, since most sellers will tack on several dollars for shipping. Finding a “lot” of books will generally get you a better price. I found a lot of 12 books including the one I’m looking for, listed at $36 with free shipping. At $3 a book (new), that’s a pretty good deal – if you’re interested in the other books included.  Cost for “Llama Llama”: The cheapest I found for a single copy was $9.86 including shipping, in “very good” condition.
  5. Costco (or other warehouse clubs). Costco’s prices on books tend to be very competitive, although you can’t go there expecting to find a particular title in the children’s section. Your best bet is to check back often, especially during the holidays when the bulk of the toys are displayed. Cost for “Llama Llama”: not currently in stock.
  6. Amazon. Amazon consistently beats the prices at major book retailers, and in almost every case you can get free shipping on a purchase over $25. You can also check the “new and used” section to see if anyone is selling it for less than Amazon, but this includes a $3.99 shipping charge and resellers often don’t ship as quickly as Amazon would.  Cost for “Llama Llama”: $11.55 with free shipping on orders over $25.
  7. Barnes & Noble. I can’t deny the allure a large bookstore holds for me, and it’s very difficult to leave without buying something. The instant gratification is a plus, but the higher price is a con. You can save a few bucks if you buy it online (and B&N offers free shipping on orders over $25 as well), but Amazon’s price wins. Cost for “Llama Llama”: In store $16.99; online $12.23 with free shipping on orders over $25.

The bottom line: If you want to buy a specific book new, whether as a gift or for your own child’s library, Amazon is usually the most reliable source, although hunting on Ebay or the warehouse clubs may cost less if you get lucky. If you aren’t looking for anything in particular, browse the library or peruse some garage sales for the best deals. And if you want to buy several books at a time by the same author or you don’t mind used books, try Ebay.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=domesticatedm-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&m=amazon&f=ifr&md=10FE9736YVPPT7A0FBG2&asins=0670059838

How to Get Your Toddler to Eat Spinach

15 May

Tonight I sauteed fresh, organic spinach to have with dinner and my 2-year-old gobbled it up, then asked me for more.

Or… you could say that she took one tiny piece of a spinach leaf and let it touch her tongue for a millisecond before contorting her face and saying “Ah don like ih.” (That’s how you say “I don’t like it” when the food in question is SO grotesque that you can’t even bear to close your mouth again for fear of tasting it.)

This is not new. Although my daughter will eat a decent variety of vegetables, leafy greens have always been a challenge. But they are so good for you, and I didn’t want her to miss out on all the health benefits.

So when a friend posted a link about “green smoothies” on a discussion board, I decided to give it a try. The basic recipe was so simple, but there was one thing standing in my way: It was green. (Hence the name.) Toddlers don’t like to eat and drink green things.

Unless the green drink is called…

Monster juice

(You’re not saying it right. You need to position your fingers like claws, wiggle them in the air, and use a raspy monster voice. OK, that’s better. Keep practicing.)

So just so we’re clear, you’re not going to say “Jimmy, sweetie, would you like a nice, healthy, green smoothie packed with antioxidants and vitamins?” You’re going to say, “There was a monster here earlier today and he taught me how to make his favorite

. Would you like some?”

(By the way, have fun with this but try not to freak your kid out. Toddlers think monsters are real. Heck. Sometimes I think monsters are real.)

Now that we’ve got the method down, here’s my favorite recipe:

(Place in blender in this order)

1 large orange, peeled and chopped into four pieces

1 large banana, peeled (You can break it in half but it’s not necessary. Frozen bananas work well too.)

Splash of milk (or rice milk, hemp milk, etc.)

A nice-sized handful or two of washed spinach (if using spinach with long stems attached, you may want to cut off the ends first)

A couple of ice cubes

(Optional: I add two tablespoons of freshly ground flax seed for the omegas.)

Blend and serve. For some reason toddlers are more likely to drink this if served in a cup with a straw.

Some adults (like my sister) might require an opaque glass.

Personally I think they taste great. You truly can’t taste the raw spinach – just banana and orange.

There are so many other great (green) smoothie recipes out there. This is just to get you warmed up.

Hillary, if you’re reading this, thank you for telling us about green smoothies! Spinach in our house has never been the same.

Bean Counter

13 May

A few days ago, somewhere between leaving the public library and reaching the parking lot, my daughter picked up a long stick. Boy did she like that stick. She twirled it, dragged it on the ground, poked the grass, and I was preparing to ask her if we should invite it to lunch when a man walked past and smiled at us. He said, “All the money in the world couldn’t buy a toy that cool.”

Now, older kids and adults might disagree. But toddlers take the most basic of things – a rock, a stick, a patch of dirt – and turn them into entertainment. It’s fascinating really. My daughter has moved the same seven rocks around our yard for months now – they’ve gotten baths, been fed to her baby doll, and gone for stroller rides. And as a budget-conscious mama, anything that entertains my little girl AND IS FREE is awesome in my book.

So I would like to share an easy and FREE project that might keep your toddler entertained for a while.

This is so simple really.

Take an empty, washed container that has a plastic lid – I used a Trader Joe’s coffee tin. Using an Xacto knife (and out of the sight of your child – those kids remember everything!), cut a smallish rectangle in the lid. Yes, mine appears to have more than four sides. No, I did not flunk geometry.

Coffee tin

Fill the container with dried beans. Yes, these could be a choking hazard. This is an in-the-same-room kind of activity.

Beans

I don’t know why I feel like I’m looking at a pile of kidneys.

Then pull out some spoons, measuring cups or small Tupperware from your cupboards, and let your kid go wild. My daughter loved dumping out all of the beans and putting them back in the container one at a time. They can listen to the sound the beans make when you shake the tin, and collect beans in a spoon and transfer them to the container. Older toddlers can practice counting the beans. Budding accountants, I tell you!

Playing

If you try this out I would love to hear your results. Leave me a comment and let me know!

The Best Strawberry Buttercream

12 May

I have a new love and its name is Strawberry Buttercream.

Specifically, Sprinkles Cupcakes Strawberry Frosting, as generously shared on Oprah.com.

Since discovering this recipe, I’ve made it three times, each with slight variations on the cake: one egg-free vanilla version, one regular vanilla version, and one devil’s food cake version. The consensus? You really can’t go wrong with this recipe. It’s sure to please the pickiest of cupcake eaters.

This recipe is easy to pipe on to the cakes, but because of the strawberry puree it is a little softer than traditional buttercream. Go with it. I was tempted to add powdered sugar to make the frosting a little firmer but my good and honest friend (who tried the first and second attempts) said the added sugar made the strawberry flavor weaker.

Previously frozen strawberries work fine but I highly recommend using organic, fresh strawberries whenever possible.

Enjoy!