Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ragu Old World Style's New Flavors!

Yesterday I was at the grocery store and picked up two jars of the new Ragu Old World Style sauces in Sweet Tomato Basil and Margherita courtesy of MomCentral. One of the staples we always have in our house is jarred pasta sauce, along with crushed and diced or stewed tomatoes and garlic. I love to make home-made pizza and have found that the pizza sauces (except one brand that I buy from Roche Bros.) are too rich, so use pasta sauce instead.

I used the Margherita sauce on home-made pizza dough and then covered it in Mozzarella cheese and the added some other veggies to help beef up the nutrition. If you're stuck on what to make, the Ragu site also has recipes for the new sauces, including an upside down deep dish pizza which I was originally going to make but forgot to thaw the ground beef. C'est la vie, right?

The sauce was flavorful, and didn't have that weird aftertaste that some jarred sauces can. The best part is that it's got a full serving of vegetables per half-cup of sauce. Lord knows I'm always looking for ways to make H eat more greens! (or reds in this case).

Monday, April 20, 2009

Evenflo Comfort Select Dual Electric Breast Pump

When I had H, I was working in a very full-time job. I was lucky to be in the position that my husband would have a month off after a couple days of my parents graciously filling the parenting gap so that my first days back to work were not compounded my a baby in daycare.

In addition to my regular work bag, I had slung over my shoulder yet another testament to my new found status of mother; my breast pump. At the time, I was working for the State of Oregon, and they're required to provide a lactation room, and allow for time to pump. But even more important was that I was the last in a string of co-workers (seven of us at once!) to have a baby, so the room was not just a drab little cubie, but an old office that had a rocking chair, magazines, artwork and a mini-fridge with ample space for us to all store our daily goods. (though it wasn't long before I was using the time to return phone calls...

At that time, I had the Medela Pump In Style, which is a really great pump that my insurance paid for. Did you know that most insurance companies will cover the cost of a pump? Something every prospective mom should check into!

I sold that pump before moving East, and with C, I was given the Pump In Style Advanced backpack style pump, and used it when I went to BlogHer Boston in addition to a couple times here and there to build up a little cushion for when I went out (though I'm not at all averse to using formula if it means I get a break, so there wasn't pressure to produce mass quantities). I was staying home this time, and so it's just been all-around a much different breastfeeding experience.

I was given an Evenflo Comfort Select Dual Electric Breast Pump (which retails for $69.99 on Amazon) to test by MomCentral, so I'll be comparing and contrasting it to the Medela, which isn't entirely fair because the Medela is in a price point about $200 higher, but it's the one I have experience with.

I really liked the trim bag that the Evenflo comes in, which really looks like a soft-sided cooler about the size that you'd take a lunch to work in. It has soft bags that you place in the freezer overnight and then take with you to keep you milk chilled all day, which would allow for more milk to be carried than if it were rigid like the Medela. It is over all a much smaller product than Medela, including the fact that the Medela motor and other parts (aside from the cups and tubes themselves) are housed inside the carrying case.

I thought it was nice that the pump comes with nipple adapters for people with smaller breasts, so you don't have to purchase additional equipment if the original cups are too large. The carrying case has a little pouch in the front that holds the user's manual (which I almost didn't see and started to complain to my husband that "If I hadn't already used a pump, I wouldn't know what these parts are...blah, blah, blah..."; yeah, the manual's right there). If I were using this pump full-time, I'd slip a couple of the Medela bags that you can use in the microwave to sanitize the pump parts. I really liked those for an office environment because I didn't have to wait all day to really clean my pump, and that way it was ready for the next use without worry of contamination.

The nipple on the two bottles that are included are shaped a lot more like a mother's would be, so it seems more user friendly for the baby. C took it just fine, though at almost 11 months old, I think his mouth is a little big and the nipples are more for smaller babies.

So, now for the drawbacks; this pump is loud. I think that I'd say it is about the same volume as a Kitchen-Aid mixer, but not as loud or grating as a coffee grinder or blender. The soft whoosh-whoosh of the Medela is what I'm used to, so I think the noise was amplified. Had I not had prior experience with a pump, I would most likely just think that's the way it was, but there would be no question to your co-workers when you were and were not pumping. Well, I guess that could be a positive, because if anyone ever walked in on you, you could use genuine indignation because there's no way they'd not have known you were 'busy'.

The only other drawback is that the only adjustment for the pump is the level of suction (low to high) not the frequency of suction. I found with the Medela that after the let-down fast speed, it was much more productive when I turned the speed way down, like to 1, and kept the suction level high; which seemed to closely mimic how my babies nursed.

With only two drawbacks, I'd have to say that overall (especially considering that this retails for well under $100) this is a great little double pump that has the option to be either cord or battery-powered (in your car in the parking garage, perhaps?) that can be used as either a single or double pump.

And now for the exciting news; You can win one yourself! I have an Evenflo Comfort Select Pump to give away to a reader that I will select at random. Please leave a comment stating why you'd love this pump to be yours and I'll enter all the comments into a hat and choose one lucky girl. If you have a funny or embarrassing breast-feeding story, I'll give you an extra entry; because everyone loves sharing personal anecdotes that could be publicly humiliating, right?

I ask that you please, please, please not enter yourself if you plan to get it only to turn around and sell it. I'd like for someone who genuinely needs it to win it. In addition to the pump, I have two 48-count boxes of Comfort Select disposable nursing pads. Depending on the number of entries, I may split them up for three prizes, two or just one grand prize.

If you'd like more information on breast-feeding, including mom-entered tips on breast-feeding and pumping, go to the MomCentral site; by adding a tip of your own you'll be entered for a chance to win one of three Evenflo Comfort Select pumps from MomCentral!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Shower of Shame

Today, I busted out the bottle of x-14 that I'd been given to test by MomCentral about a week ago. My shower is in such a state that I am embarassed to post these pictures. My mother will s#&* a brick when she sees the hovel in which I've been cleansing my body.

Just a little background...without my glasses I can see about as well as an octegenarian with cataracts. So, I can shower and pretend that the building mildew isn't really there. Were it someone else's shower that I happened to peek into, I would chastise them in my head, wondering how someone who looks so clean could be getting in that state in a place of such utter filth.

To make matters worse, I have a fiberglass shower that has the pebbly bottom which has obtained tiny scratches from my abrasive cleaner so it's impossible to get all the way clean.

So there I was, standing in sports bra and undies (just like my mother before me) spraying the shower down prior to jumping in and giving it a good scrub. I read the instructions while I was spraying and noticed the phrase "no scrubbing"...okay, right. That's never true. Then I read on to learn that I merely had to spray on and leave until the stain disappeared and then wipe it off.

Sweet. I'm standing here waiting to take my shower, and it'll probably take like 20 minutes to make the amount of filth that I have to 'disappear.' I also noted that it may take heavy mildew stains two cleanings to get it all the way off.

Well, I must not be quite as filthy as I imagined because I turned around and thought my eyes were playing tricks on me...could it seriously be disappearing in less than a minute? Yes. Yes, it can.

While I have to say that the fumes were quite strong, I was willing to suffer damage to my lungs if I had to in order to get that shower clean. I'd tried gels with bleach and other harsh chemicals to no avail, so I was ready and had the vent fan going. Absolutely make sure it's well-ventilated and I'd even open a window to air it out. The fumes are the only drawback of this product.

I got the sponge wet and ran it down the shower walls and then turned on the shower and let it run in the shower getting on all three walls for about 30 seconds before re-wetting the sponge and wiping to make sure the chemicals were off the wall before jumping in for my shower.

You only have so much time before naps and quiet time end, after all.

I honestly cannot believe how quickly and easily it worked, and it lived up to it's claim of no scrubbing required.

Now, for the "Picture's Worth a Thousand Words" moment:

Shameful Before

(with flash)

The absolution of the after...with and without flash

Monday, April 13, 2009

Electrolux Goes Green!

When Kathy Lee announced that she'd be leaving Regis and Kathy Lee the nation mourned...until they started doing the interviews for her replacement. The minute I saw Kelly Ripa come on-screen I was in lurve. And so was my dad...but I digress. From the high-heeled sprint to openly talking about motherhood and it's joys and challenges, she is the icon of this American mother.

Have you seen the fun new commercials with Kelly for Electrolux? With all the diapers and kids' laundry I do, I've added to my dream home journal a front-loading washer and dryer. I have one in my apartment now, and don't know that I could ever go back to the old top-loader.

Now, Electrolux and Kelly have teamed up to introduce an eco-friendly front-load washer and dryer in the fun shade of “Kelly Green.” The new limited edition shade was inspired by the great outdoors Kelly herself, who is a self-proclaimed eco-Mom.

Kelly said “I love green… the color green and the act of living green. What better place to make a simple, every day difference than in the laundry room? Kelly Green is a gorgeous shade, and just by using the new Electrolux high-efficiency washer and dryer you can save energy and use less water. How green is that?”

Just in time for Earth day, Electrolux kicks off its virtual flower garden campaign to drive awareness and raise funds for Global Green USA. Starting today, when you go to the Electrolux site and plant a virtual flower for a friend, Electrolux will donate $1 to Global Green USA to support their healthy green schools initiatives across America. Everyone who logs on to the site and plants a virtual flower will be automatically entered for a chance to win a new eco-friendly Kelly Green front-load washer and dryer!
Additionally, Mom Central will be giving away one eco-friendly “Kelly Green” washer and dryer set to a member of our community! To enter, simply go to MomCenral and (1) tell us which flower you planted on the Electrolux site and (2) share your own “laundry tips” for saving time and energy. Mom Central will pick one lucky winner in a random drawing from all entries received!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Household Guide to Dying:A Novel About Life

I was given an advance copy of The Household Guide to Dying: A Novel About Life by Debra Adelaide in order to participate in the Mother Talk review of it.

When I was reading the first couple of pages I thought "Oh no...it's another Martha Quest!" I only say that because of the chickens scratching in the dirt, and I thought in the beginning that Adelaide was going to be like Lessing, who was so wordy and gave so much detail that the joy of reading that is creating the setting and characters in your mind was squashed.

I quickly realized that I was wrong. Wrong. Wrong. While there are several passages that are a bit cryptic, it's actually in order to make way for a couple of the twists you're not expecting. Adelaide creates the world of Delia, a household advice columnist, whose snarky and sometimes off-topic responses have made her an Australian icon. Basing her world on the work of Mrs. Beeton, an actual English-woman from the 1800's who wrote Mrs. Beeton's Guide to Household Management beginning at the ripe old age of 21, which offered advice on everything from how to deal with servant's pay to caring for a sick child.

Due to the popularity of her column, Delia became famous for her own series of Household Guide books; The Household Guide to Home Maintenance, The Household Guide to the Kitchen, The Household Guide to the Garden and The Household Guide to the Laundry. Pushing the idea the furthest possible, and in order to provide some catharsis for herself upon making the decision to cease unsuccessful chemotherapy treatments, her publisher agreed to The Household Guide to Dying which would provide readers with advice for everything from selecting a coffin (she refused to call it a casket) to making meals ahead to freeze for the family you'd leave behind (if you were a mother as was she).

The sections of the book where she talks about the laundry were so tantalizing that I found myself imagining how I'd have my laundry room in the home that my husband promises me we'll someday own. It was striking to me how the attitude in other countries is so different regarding the laundry. I have a friend from Australia and I know that we're still shocked that she doesn't own a clothes dryer; so I laughed out loud when I read the following passage regarding the code of the clothesline:

And then, in the suburbs, washing left on the line overnight indicated a serious lapse in domestic care. Probably outright immorality: where was that woman? Off in the ladies' lounge having a shandy, no doubt. It was also a clear invitation to thieves and perverts to jump over your fence and steal your lace bras or frilly underpants should you be silly and vain enough to own them.

Finally, you never used dryers. These were for lazy and wasteful people, of those unfortunates who had to live in apartments? In the suburbs, where the sun was generous and a fresh breeze was free, it was a crime not to hang your washing out.

One reviewer called her Household Guide to the Laundry "laundry porn" and I found myself very disappointed that I'd never get to read the full texts of the tomes to which Delia so often referred. It was a little titilating to read about all the mundane tasks of maintaining your home in such a fresh way, and in a silly way, it was just what I needed to read following my three year-old outburst to my husband a few days ago during which I railed about the fact that I didn't get a gold star by my name at the end of the day; I was gifted only with more exhaustion...good times.
The Household Guide is so much more than meets the eye. Taking a journey with Delia through her life as a teen mother who tries to follow the wandering musician of a circus family father of her unborn child to a small town in Northern Australia to her life as a work from home mother of two married to a caring and wonderful landscaper, this book has surprising depth and also a lot of humor.
Another thing that struck me was that as she talked about the way she manages her house, it would take the mention of an iPod or MySpace to remind me that this was a 21st century wife, mother and successful writer, just bringing home that it is quite possible to immerse yourself in the running of your home without having to relegate yourself to historical relic.

When asked how she chose the topic Adelaide replied "Authors will often say the reverse, that the idea or the topic or the entire novel chooses them. In my case, I'm not sure that I did choose to write this novel, but I do remember setting myself a challenge to write about dying in a way that would be original and, in particular, comical. Fiction is – in part, anyway – the place to confront things and explore ideas that in your own life you are too timid to do. Dying tends to confound most of us, frighten us, make us literally lost for words. We have a lot of trouble finding the right things to say and do when we're required to cope with death. In The Household Guide to Dying, I used the character of Delia as a bold and sometimes confronting voice who is trying to make the idea of dying more palatable to those around her, as well as herself struggling to find the right way to express a process that is profound and universal. Her way is via humour, which for her sometimes works, and sometimes not. And sometimes, despite all her efforts, the words literally evade her."

Because I get a little 'connected' with my characters (aka, I have a hard time accepting that SJP is not really Carrie Bradshaw), I googled Mrs. Beeton and was excited to learn that she was real, and so is her Household Guide. I then got even more excited when they made a reference to a "Delia" (Delia Smith) who is an iconic chef in England. She is a modern figure who announced her TV retirement in 2003 and then filmed a 6 part mini-series in 2008, which aired on BBC. "The Delia Effect" is in reference to the fact that she caused such things as a 10% surge in egg sales after her segment on omelettes and several other overnight sell-outs or "a run on previously poor-selling product as a result of a high-profile recommendation." She also wrote a bestseller How To Cheat at Cooking. But alas, it was just a coincidence of the name, as Adelaide reports that no characters were based on true figures.

While the title may seem like a real Debbie Downer, it is ultimately a novel about life; an examination by a wife, mother and woman who is finally able to take the time to tie up her loose ends and think about the mark she'll leave on those she leaves behind.

You will read this book, if for no other reason than to find out what I mean when I say these two words; blood sausage.

Debra Adelaide is the author of two other novels, The Hotel Albatross and Serpent Dust, and the editor of four themed collections of fiction and memoirs, the latest of which is Acts of Dog. She has worked as a researcher, editor and book reviewer, and has a PhD from the University of Sydney. She is now a senior lecturer in creative writing at the University of Technology, Sydney.
*Cross-posted at Sex and the Knitty.