Musings About Life... After Birth



Posted by Janna on July 30, 2011

What's the worst thing a mom can hear from her middle schooler at ten o'clock at night? How about "Mom, I think I left my history study guide at school. Oh, and the test is tomorrow."

What can be done? Nothing, really. I mean, I guess you *could* stay up until midnight hunting relevant information on Google and then help your kid cram for a test with facts that may or may not be in line with that damned study guide...but at this point, there's truly not much you can do other than anticipate a really crappy tomorrow. If you've had any dealings with tweenagers, either as a teacher or a parent, then you know that this type of thing is not unusual for many of them.

I teach middle schoolers. Honestly, I think they rock. I also think that most of them need serious help with organization. I cannot tell you how many brilliant kids I have seen through the years who have grades that are in the toilet before the end of the first grading period because they can't keep their sh*t together. And seriously, I don't know who to feel more sorry for: those grim-faced kiddos or their frustrated parents.

The thing is, most of these kids are able to achieve grades that truly reflect their abilities when just a few simple tools and strategies are put into place. Knowing that, it seems to me that a great time to think about organization is before the school year begins (rather than after that scary progress report comes home).

To help you prepare for an organized (and hopefully less stressful) school year, I've compiled a list of nine items and accompanying strategies that your child can use from day one.

1. A well-planned student planner

Not all planners are designed with school-age kids in mind. An agenda like the one you use for tracking appointments or play-dates is probably not the best choice for your tween. Instead, look for an academic planner that includes both monthly and weekly spreads. The monthly spreads are best used for marking project due dates, tests, and other items that require time management over several days (or even weeks). The weekly spreads, which should also include labeled sections for each subject area, are for listing nightly homework, quizzes, and tasks that need to be completed to accomplish the larger items that were placed on the monthly spreads. This one, available at Amazon, gets serious Momtourage props.

Student Planner 2011-2012 School Year Planner High School / Middle School Content- 7X9" by The Student Planner, $5.75, available at

2. A sturdy locker shelf

You really would not believe how much middle school drama is directly related to poorly designed locker shelves. By poorly designed, I mean the ones that are held in place by tension. Seriously, don't do that to your kid. Before the first semester is over, that shelf will fall and sheer panic will ensue. Luckily, this is preventable if you look for a well-constructed locker shelf. The Container Store clearly knows what's up. Their Janus Locker Shelf is adjustable and allows the locker to be divided into three sections. It should be arranged so that the bottom section is tall enough to store upright textbooks. The middle section should be used for binders, folders, notebooks and extra packages of paper. The top should be reserved for a lunchbox and/or pencil bags.


Janus Locker Shelf, $24.99, available at

3. Durable binders

If your school requires that students carry a different binder for each subject area, do yourself a favor and look for binders that can take a beating. Yes, you can find 99 cent binders at Wal-Mart, but you will likely have to replace those before winter break (and maybe again before the end of the year). Durable binders, like these by Avery, should last longer. They are also available in a variety of colors, which is important since each binder should be a different color. Read on to find out why.


1" Avery® Durable Binder with EZ-Turn™ Rings, $2.99, available at

4. Stretchy fabric book covers

These are a no-brainer. Every school that I can think of asks that students cover their textbooks. But instead of spending hours cutting up paper grocery bags, why not just grab some of these Jumbo Book Sox? Be sure to choose colors that match the binders you purchase. This will allow you to help your tween set up a color coding system. Give each subject area its own color, and make sure that each textbook is covered in the same color as its corresponding binder. This way, your child can quickly and easily find what she needs each time she visits her locker.


Book Sox® Jumbo Size Textbook Covers, $3.99 each, available at
5. A backpack designed for older kids

Your kiddo's elementary school backpack is not going to be the best choice for middle school and high school. Luckily, there are some great backpack options out there for older kids. This one from L.L.Bean offers plenty of storage and features a reinforced bottom and padded straps. Backpack tip: help your kid clean out his backpack each weekend. Less clutter in a backpack makes finding needed items much easier. While you're at it, look through those binders and make sure all papers are properly filed, too.

Super Deluxe Book Pack, $54.95, available at

6. Two pencil pouches

The best pencil bags aren't pencil bags at all; they are zippered leatherette bank bags. I realize your tween daughter may not be super psyched about these plain bags. I mean, they aren't exactly cute. However, you can help her get on board with this idea when you explain to her that they are perfect for decorating with paint pens and Sharpie markers. She can have all her friends sign one side and express her undying devotion to Justin Bieber all over the other. Now, why do you need two? Pencil bags, much like backpacks, become ineffective when there's too much stuff inside. Get two bags and have your child keep pencils, pens, and items that are always needed in one and place art supplies (such as markers, scissors, and glue sticks) in the other.

MMF Industries™ Zipper-Top Blue Leatherette Wallet, 6" x 11", $3.99, available at

7. A plastic folder for homework

Lost homework is such a pain in the ass. I believe that kids lose homework papers because there are too many opportunities to file it in the wrong place. A designated homework folder solves this issue. I suggest purchasing a plastic one, such as the Storex® Recycled Poly Two-Pocket Portfolio. Paper folders are just too flimsy to last for an entire school year, but a plastic one can. Each day, your tween should place assignments that are to be completed at home in the left pocket of the folder. As an assignment is completed, it moves to the right pocket. At school, the folder should be carried to each and every class (along with the student planner, of course). That way, when a teacher asks for an assignment, your kid will know exactly where to look instead of frantically searching for a half-hour through his notebooks, binders, textbooks, backpack and locker. Nearly every student I have had in my classroom who put this strategy into use was rewarded with a higher grade. True story.

Storex® Recycled Poly Two-Pocket Portfolio, $1.99, available at

8. White out tape

White out tape is truly a miraculous invention, especially for older kids who are frequently required to complete assignments in ink. This tape eliminates all of the hassle of using liquid white out (i.e., no mess, no drying time, no unpleasant odor) and allows your child to make corrections to assignments without messy scribbles. This is especially important when it comes to taking notes, because if notes aren't legible then studying becomes confusing and ineffective.

BIC® Wite-Out® Brand Exact Liner® Correction Tape, $6.49 for a package of two, available at

9. No smear highlighters

How bad does it suck when highlighters smear printed or handwritten words? Nearly all the highlighters I have ever owned have this design flaw. However, these highlighters created by Staedtler were tested by the folks at and not one of the eight colors smeared inkjet print. As for student organization, highlighters are invaluable tools. Students should use them to highlight key points in notes and directions on all worksheets, tests and quizzes to help ensure that they have read all of the instructions carefully. Students can also use different colored highlighters on their planner pages to mark homework that has been completed in advance, as well as assignments that require immediate action.

Staedtler Textsurfer Classic Highlighter, $10.75 for a package of eight, available at


Happy back-to-school shopping, y'all!



Posted by Chelsea on April 02, 2010

For a chance to win one of Mutsy’s awesome Easygrow High Chairs, become a Mutsy fan on Facebook and post a comment about your favorite Mutsy product!

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Posted by Chelsea on February 26, 2010

My little Canon point-and-shoot’s been failing me lately. There is way too much wait time in between the moment I press the “take a photo” button and when the camera actually takes the photo. As a result, I miss all sorts of cute moments, and instead capture random shots of my kids either looking dazed and confused or not looking in my general direction whatsoever. The other day, my Big Bro and Little Bro both managed to open up a diaper box and hop inside it, pretending they were in a train. I found it hilarious, and wanted to capture the moment for a future Bar Mitzvah or rehearsal dinner slideshow. This was the best shot I got:

Awesome. Not.

While griping about this to a few Momtourage and Dadtourage members at a recent birthday party, it seemed everyone had a similar groan, so I called upon Dadtourage members Jeff and Eric, camera and tech


afficionados, to research the latest and greatest cameras, and categorize them into prices for any budget. My recommended place to purchase them is, which has some AMAZING prices and a ridiculously huge selection. Seriously, if you haven’t yet visited, you must go there - now!

Below, find our camera-savvy Dadtourage’s recommendations, compiled after an exhaustive amount of research:

If you’re able to spend somewhere around $1000, go for the Canon EOS Rebel T1i

Canon’s EOS Rebel T1i is packed with features, both refined and new. In addition to its admirable performance with a 15.1-megapixel Canon CMOS sensor, DIGIC 4 image processor, a 3.0-inch clear view LCD with anti-reflective and scratch-resistant coating, and compatibility with the EOS system of lenses and speedlites, the EOS Rebel T1i adds remarkable Full HD video capture at resolutions up to 1920 x 1080. An HDMI port allows for quick connections to high definition TVs and monitors for easy viewing of your stills and video. The entire operation is simple and easy even if you are a beginner. You’ll have uncompromised EOS digital performance with power and flexibility right in the palm of your hand. It retails for $749, and you can add a fantastic lens or two for an additional $200-300. We went for this one - photos of us using it and the unreal images it captured to come later on in this week!

If you’re able to spend around $500, check out the Canon PowerShot SX1 IS

With a 10 megapixels Canon CMOS sensor and 20x wide-angle zoom for incredible reach, the PowerShot SX1 IS offers continuous shooting up to 4fps and can supplement photos with Full HD videos. It retails for $615 (we know, it’s a little over $500, but our experts swear it’s worth the extra $115 bucks!).

If you’re able to spend around $200, go for the Fujifilm FinePix F70EXR

The FinePix F70EXR gives three critical improvements on current models. First, image quality - the one drawback with long zoom cameras is that the sensor has to be necessarily small, with less light reaching the CCD than would be the case with standard compacts. Fujifilm has introduced its award-winning EXR technology into the FinePix F70EXR, giving a significant improvement in image quality against other models. The second major benefit of the FinePix F70EXR is the neat compact design. Lastly, Fujinon 10x zoom lens, developed in conjunction with the super CCD EXR sensor, produces crisp high resolution results throughout the focal range, from 27mm wide-angle to 270mm telephoto.It retails for $209.95.

Need a new camera? The first person to send an email to telling us why you need a new camera will win a Canon EOS Rebel T1i and lens kit, courtesy of the awesome folks at! We’ll ship it out to you first thing Monday morning, with plenty of time for you to learn all about it before your spring break travel! Good luck!



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Posted by Chelsea on February 22, 2010

Each month on The Family Groove, I pen a column where I list the coolest lifestyle and home goods I see each month. (As a journalist, each day I get all sorts of info in press releases and even samples that I get to check out, all so I can report back to our readers, giving the yea or nay on everything! I know, it’s rough.) Here’s what I’m loving this month:

Vive’s Chaos to Connection Parenting Program

Kids—and teenagers especially—don’t come with instruction books, but if they did, I have a feeling the books would look a lot like the step-by-step Chaos to Connection parenting package from Vive, a group of mentors and parent coaches who work to ensure family wellness and healing. The parenting package includes a parenting workbook, four instructional parenting videos and real-time support from parent support coordinators—all of which offer practical parenting concepts and real-life strategies to help you, your kids and your family handle real-life situations.


Dyson DC31 Handheld Vacuum

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a loyal Dyson vacuum girl, so when it came time for me to purchase a handheld unit to attack the Craisins, Cheerios and cheese cubes that perpetually litter my kitchen floor (and, admittedly, that of my car as well), I knew I couldn’t get some crappy ol’ Dustbuster. So I checked out Dyson’s latest model, a seriously cool-looking handheld vacuum ideal for quick pickups and spot cleaning. It features a dual power mode that gives longer run time for large jobs and extra suction for stubborn dirt. This thing is no joke, folks. It sucks in a good way, and renders my home and car spotless. If only every gadget in my life were this reliable and efficient…


Harumika Runway Showstopper Set

I’m convinced that the seeds for my fashion junkie-hood were sown in the ’80s when someone gave me a set of Fashion Plates, thin plastic plates that you aligned on a board, covered with paper and then rubbed over with colored pencils, creating a decidedly Lynda Carter-esque woman with interchangeable outfits. The (far superior) equivalent for our kids’ generation is undoubtedly Harumika’s Runway Showstopper Set. Budding Donna Karans (or Giorgio Armanis) can make fashion design easy and fun with the included pink dress form, stylus design tool, chic signature fabrics and fashion accessories. With the included Harumika camera, kids can take pictures of their favorite designs and upload them to the Harumika website to share their designs with friends, join a fashion show and feature the styles in their very own online “Look Book.” Any shot my truck-obsessed little boys will indulge me and give it a whirl?


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Posted by Chelsea on November 11, 2009

Like lots of folks these days, I’m trying to do what I can to live a “greener” life. I’m shutting off lights, turning off the water when I brush my teeth and am shopping at my local farmers’ market when I can. To reduce waste, I’ve forgone drinking bottle after plastic bottle of water. Instead, I’ve taken to chugging my H2O from a SIGG bottle. But it’s not just any ol’ SIGG—it’s a personalized version from CafePress (specifically, the “Victorian” design monogrammed with my initials, ’cause I just have to do everything “cute”). I chose the liter version, but they’ve got 0.6-liter versions with kiddie designs, too.

Being green hasn’t been this adorable since Kermit the Frog. Customizable SIGG bottles, $25-28,

Want to win a customized SIGG of your own? When you register for The Momtourage’s mailing list, you automatically get entered for a chance to win one of our giveaways! We’ve got three to give away, so sign up, mamas!

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Posted by Chelsea on October 14, 2009

We at the Kaplan house are BIG Playmobil fans. My boys adore the cute little figurines and vehicles from the German toy institution - especially dinosaurs and the “rescue” vehicles like the rescue helicopter and the ambulance. I like Playmobil toys because the quality is really good, and they’re generally free from all the annoying sounds and blinking lights you find on most mass-market American toys - a HUGE bonus, as far as I’m concerned.

Recently, Playmobil released an interactive DVD movie called “The Secret of Pirate Island”. Essentially, it’s a DVD version of those old-school “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, allowing your kid(s) to join young adventurers Jack and Amelia as they stowaway on a pirate ship headed for the mysterious Pirate Island, where treasure and adventure awaits them. To see the trailer, download coloring sheets and play games related to the movie, click here. It’s way, way cool.

To celebreate the DVD, we’ve got two great playmobil sets to give away. The first two readers to send me an email at telling me their child’s favorite playmobil toy will win!

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Posted by Chelsea on September 16, 2009

Hasbro invites parents and kids to put on their chef hats and thinking caps to work together to create a fun, imaginative PLAY-DOH “recipe” that could win a makeover for both their playroom at home and at school. To win, visit to upload a photo of your child’s finest food-inspired PLAY-DOH brand creation along with the “recipe” to make it. The grand prize winner of the contest will receive a $5,000 playroom makeover as well as a $5,000 “Doh-nation” to their child’s school.

Contest entries will be accepted through September 30, 2009, at which point 10 finalists will be chosen. On October 15, 2009 the finalists will be posted on and the public will vote on who receives the $10,000 prize! For extra fun, the Ready Go Play-Doh website will also host daily giveaways with PLAY-DOH prizes, a gallery of creative contest entries and offer downloadable “recipes” for fun, original PLAY-DOH “snacks.”

To celebrate National Play-Doh Day and get you all in gear to begin creating your own “snacks” (if you or your kid accidentally takes a bite, no worries - PLAY-DOH is completely non-toxic), we’re giving away five of PLAY-DOH’s new Burger Builder Playset! Check it out, below:

PLAY-DOH Burger Builder Playset, $19.95,

To enter to win, click on the green button in the top, right-hand corner of this page to join our mailing list!

Tags play-doh


Posted by Chelsea on June 30, 2009

When it comes to most things, I am not brand-loyal. I dip my fries in Heinz ketchup as well as the brand from my beloved Trader Joe’s, alternate between Chanel, Prescriptives and Lancome mascaras and wrap my kids in both Pampers and Huggies. For a select few items, however, I will use one brand and one brand only. Car seats are one example of such a product; when I buy a car seat, it’s Britax and Britax only.

The reason why I love Britax car seats are simple: they’re super sturdy, easy to install, comfortable (at least my kids never complain about them) and, most importantly, consistently receive the highest safety ratings from Consumer Reports. Though they’re not the least expensive car seats available, I have no problem justifying spending a little extra on something so important. The rest of The Momtourage, it seems, agrees. Nearly all of our kids ride around in Britax Marathons, Decathlons or Boulevards:

The cutest Britax around: the Britax Marathon Convertible Car Seat in “Cowmooflage” $249.99, It comes in other (read: more traditional/sedate) colors, but isn’t this one fun?

Britax’s most recent addition to its fleet is the Frontier Combination Harness-2-Booster, a seat for when your child is ready to make the transition from convertible car seat to a booster. It can be used two ways: if your child is at least two years old and weighs between 25 and 80 pounds, you can use it strapped in as you would a traditional forward-facing car seat. If your child is between 40 and 100 pounds, the combination seat can be used as a vehicle seat belt-positioning booster. All in all, it provides eight harness positions and three buckle strap positions, and includes the Versa-Tether, HUGS and premium LATCH connectors. In terms of what the seat itself offers, it’s got rotating, soft armrests, adjustable head support that also serves as sleep support for the child and retractable cup and snack holders.

Britax Frontier Booster Seat, $249.99,

I’ve seen the product, and it’s fantastic - just like all of Britax’s other products. When it comes time to get a booster, you know which one’s going in my car…...

Want to win a Frontier or a Boulevard of your own? In order to be eligible to win, you must be a member of The Momtourage’s Mailing list, so click on the green “Join Our Mailing List” box at the top, left-hand side of this page for a chance to win. Winners will be chosen on July 15 and notified by email. Good luck!

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Posted by Chelsea on May 28, 2009

Beginning May 27 and running through June 10, pediped Footwear will host their third annual Purchases with Purpose fundraiser to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation.  During this period, select styles of both their oh-so-adorable Originals (for babies) and Flex (for toddlers and preschoolers) shoes will be marked down do super-cheap prices (some are only $19!).  Fifty percent of sales from this fundraiser will be donated to the charity to help grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions.

These are only $19, folks! Navy/Pink Abigail shoes,

I recommend moving on this because not only is this a fundraiser supporting a fantastic cause, but pediped very rarely marks down the price of their shoes. Last year, the company raised more than $111,000 to help grant 15 wishes and has aspirations of surpassing that figure in 2009.  Help them do so by visiting and outfitting your kids’ feet in their super-cute shoes.

If you purchase a pair of shoes in this promotion, shoot me an email at with the style(s) you picked! The first five readers who send me an email with the shoes they purchased will win a pair of pedipeds of their choice!

Tags pediped, shoes


Posted by Chelsea on August 05, 2008

Even though D.C.‘s been experiencing the rainiest summer we’ve ever had in like, a million years, I still need to water the herbs I’m growing on my deck every so often. I’ve got thyme, basil, mint, oregano and rosemary, which all look quite pretty. If only I actually used them when I cook. I’ll get on that eventually…..

Watering cans, though exceptionally practical and necessary, are tough to store - especially when storage space is a premium, which is the case at my house. Because their shape is weird (namely, because their spouts stick so far out), they take up a lot of room. Additionally, their awkward shapes can make for difficult filling - when doing so, you gotta angle them in some weird way to make them fit under your faucet because few actually can sit inside your sink bowl. Annoying, right? Well, at the beginning of the summer, I found OXO’s Pour and Store Watering Can at my local hardware store, and it is rocking my world, thanks to its long spout, which swivels both out to water and back inside towards the body of can, making it all neat and compact for filling and for storage.

Here it is “regular”:

and here it is “tucked in”:

These watering cans come in all sorts of pretty colors (I have the blue) and sizes. A 1-quart “mini” size will run you 9.99 on, whereas the 2.11 gallon big daddy is $24.99, also on

Every now and then, I do find that the little things make me happy. Imagine that.

Tags for the home

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