Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Oprah, where are you???

Clearly, our nation's leaders have not figured out how to fix the economy. President Bush thought his stimulus checks would get things headed in the right direction, but that doesn't appear to have happened. Even our most prominent financial minds say we are in a recession, and the outlook just isn't good. Maybe a new president will be able to come up with a way to fix things, but we will just have to wait too long for that to happen. We need someone with influence who can get things done. We need someone with financial resources to help to improve this economy. We need someone who can help to create jobs for displaced workers. We need Oprah Winfrey.

I know this sounds far-fetched, but hear me out. Oprah is consistently ranked as one of the richest and most influential women in the world. Between her talk show, magazine, and various other endeavors, she made $275 million just last year. She has made a name for herself in philanthropic circles as well through her foundation and charitable giving. Perhaps the most well-known example was her car giveaway in 2004 that provided brand new Pontiac cars to over 250 people who could not otherwise afford them. While the cars were donated by Pontiac, Oprah herself received almost all of the credit in the media and she became even more of an inspiration to less fortunate individuals.

Oprah could help the economy immensely by giving away more of her money in ways that will benefit Americans. Sure, her Angel Network is building schools to allow underpriveliged children from all over the world to obtain an education. I am not suggesting that this is not a worthy or important endeavor. However, I believe that she also needs to focus more on helping those here in the United States. With a small percentage of her assets, she can do a world of good for American families who are struggling.

Take the idea of the car giveaway, for example. General Motors in its worst financial shape ever. The company is considering closing factories and laying off thousands of people. Why is this company in such bad shape? Ask your neighbor who drives the Hyundai, or the friend driving a Toyota. Foreign cars dominate the American market, and little has been done by the government to encourage consumers to buy American. Oprah could help to bail out GM while also doing great work to help American families. Imagine if Oprah were to purchase 10,000 GM vehicles. If, for example, she purchased Chevrolet Aveos at roughly $15,000 apiece, she would be spending $150 million. GM brings in roughly $170 million per year currently in auto sales. Thus she would, with one act, effectively almost double their yearly profit. This wouldn't necessarily save the company, but it would buy some time to develop new products, restructure, and get a good plan together to become more profitable without having to lay off more workers or ship jobs overseas.

Now where should the cars go? The middle class. Each car should be given to an individual who has been laid off and had a car repossessed or lost their home within the past year. This would help these people to have transportation to look for a new job or perhaps to sell another vehicle and give up a car payment that they have been struggling to pay. This would help these people, American workers, to get back on their feet.

The next part of my plan for Oprah to save the US economy simply involves marketing. We have all seen the tremendous power of her product recommendations through her book club and other "must-haves" such as Spanx. What if Oprah started a segment called "The best products made in the U.S.A." and started to regularly hype clothing, cars, jewelry, cosmetics, and other products that are made in America? People would almost certainly start buying- Oprah can make anything cool! Who better to lead the American people to take back their own economy?

While this article is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, I hope it has stimulated some brain cells and made you think more about the influence one person can have. Imagine the impact many of us can have if we start to do things to help one another? We're not all bringing in $275 million per year, but we certainly can do our part to help those who have been hit by these tough economic times and to put our money back into our own country. I, for one, am making every effort possible to buy American-made products and purchase stock in American companies.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Bowls for kids who like to throw things

My daughter loves to "decorate" the floor with her food. She finds it hilarious to throw a full plate of food on the floor and say "All done!". We tried to find bowls or plates that would suction cup to the tray of the high chair, but I looked around and found nothing but poor reviews on many of the products I was thinking of buying. For example, I got really excited when I got the One Step Ahead catalog in the mail and saw a spoon that had a cord attached with a suction cup to attach it to the high chair. I thought this would be great, since my daughter developed a good arm and could throw a spoon clear across the kitchen by 12 months. However, all of the reviews on their site said that it was terrible and never stayed put. I was hesitant to buy any of the suction type bowls because it seemed like a great idea that proved disappointing in most cases.

While shopping in one day, I came across the Munchkin Snack n Serve Bowls. They were pretty cheap, so I figured I would give them a try since nothing could be worse than what we had at the time. (We were using Gerber bowls which, though wonderful for infant feeding, are too easy for older babies to toss across the room.) From the first time that we tried them I was hooked. They stayed put, even when my daughter was angrily trying to pry them off of the high chair. The secret is a small tab that has to be lifted to be able to get her bowl to release from the high chair. If I try to lift the bowl without lifting the tab first, even I have a hard time and my daughter laughs as the bowl moves around the tray, still stuck.

These bowls are great especially for morning cereal as your baby or toddler practices use of their own spoon. I haven't found much use for the lids, except for storing sliced or diced fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator. We don't generally reheat or save her leftover food, as I am too worried about the potential for bacteria growth when her spoon or fingers (and therefore saliva) has already been in the food. If you are less paranoid than me, you may find the lids to be even more useful.

The bowls also come in some bright and funky colors. This may be a turnoff to some who prefer all of their baby items to be in shades of pastel, but I encourage you to get beyond that and just give them a try. Our bowls have been through the dishwasher (top rack) countless times and still work just as well. Overall I am very impressed with the Munchkin brand. I used to think it was very low-budget and not really pay it any mind, but I have really warmed up to the brand.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Concerned about autism in your infant or toddler?

Here is some great general information from a fact sheet from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

What is autism?

Autism (sometimes called “classical autism”) is the most common condition in a group of developmental disorders known as the autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Autism is characterized by impaired social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and unusual, repetitive, or severely limited activities and interests. Other ASDs include Asperger syndrome, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (usually referred to as PDD-NOS). Experts estimate that three to six children out of every 1,000 will have autism. Males are four times more likely to have autism than females.

What are some common signs of autism?

There are three distinctive behaviors that characterize autism. Autistic children have difficulties with social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors or narrow, obsessive interests. These behaviors can range in impact from mild to disabling.

The hallmark feature of autism is impaired social interaction. Parents are usually the first to notice symptoms of autism in their child. As early as infancy, a baby with autism may be unresponsive to people or focus intently on one item to the exclusion of others for long periods of time. A child with autism may appear to develop normally and then withdraw and become indifferent to social engagement.

Children with autism may fail to respond to their name and often avoid eye contact with other people. They have difficulty interpreting what others are thinking or feeling because they can’t understand social cues, such as tone of voice or facial expressions, and don’t watch other people’s faces for clues about appropriate behavior. They lack empathy.
Many children with autism engage in repetitive movements such as rocking and twirling, or in self-abusive behavior such as biting or head-banging. They also tend to start speaking later than other children and may refer to themselves by name instead of “I” or “me.” Children with autism don’t know how to play interactively with other children. Some speak in a sing-song voice about a narrow range of favorite topics, with little regard for the interests of the person to whom they are speaking.

Many children with autism have a reduced sensitivity to pain, but are abnormally sensitive to sound, touch, or other sensory stimulation. These unusual reactions may contribute to behavioral symptoms such as a resistance to being cuddled or hugged.

Children with autism appear to have a higher than normal risk for certain co-existing conditions, including fragile X syndrome (which causes mental retardation), tuberous sclerosis (in which tumors grow on the brain), epileptic seizures, Tourette syndrome, learning disabilities, and attention deficit disorder. For reasons that are still unclear, about 20 to 30 percent of children with autism develop epilepsy by the time they reach adulthood. While people with schizophrenia may show some autistic-like behavior, their symptoms usually do not appear until the late teens or early adulthood. Most people with schizophrenia also have hallucinations and delusions, which are not found in autism.

How is autism diagnosed?

Autism varies widely in its severity and symptoms and may go unrecognized, especially in mildly affected children or when it is masked by more debilitating handicaps. Doctors rely on a core group of behaviors to alert them to the possibility of a diagnosis of autism. These behaviors are:
impaired ability to make friends with peers
impaired ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others
absence or impairment of imaginative and social play
stereotyped, repetitive, or unusual use of language
restricted patterns of interest that are abnormal in intensity or focus
preoccupation with certain objects or subjects
inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals

Doctors will often use a questionnaire or other screening instrument to gather information about a child’s development and behavior. Some screening instruments rely solely on parent observations; others rely on a combination of parent and doctor observations. If screening instruments indicate the possibility of autism, doctors will ask for a more comprehensive evaluation.

Autism is a complex disorder. A comprehensive evaluation requires a multidisciplinary team including a psychologist, neurologist, psychiatrist, speech therapist, and other professionals who diagnose children with ASDs. The team members will conduct a thorough neurological assessment and in-depth cognitive and language testing. Because hearing problems can cause behaviors that could be mistaken for autism, children with delayed speech development should also have their hearing tested. After a thorough evaluation, the team usually meets with parents to explain the results of the evaluation and present the diagnosis.

Children with some symptoms of autism, but not enough to be diagnosed with classical autism, are often diagnosed with PDD-NOS. Children with autistic behaviors but well-developed language skills are often diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. Children who develop normally and then suddenly deteriorate between the ages of 3 to 10 years and show marked autistic behaviors may be diagnosed with childhood disintegrative disorder. Girls with autistic symptoms may be suffering from Rett syndrome, a sex-linked genetic disorder characterized by social withdrawal, regressed language skills, and hand wringing.

What causes autism?

Scientists aren’t certain what causes autism, but it’s likely that both genetics and environment play a role. Researchers have identified a number of genes associated with the disorder. Studies of people with autism have found irregularities in several regions of the brain. Other studies suggest that people with autism have abnormal levels of serotonin or other neurotransmitters in the brain. These abnormalities suggest that autism could result from the disruption of normal brain development early in fetal development caused by defects in genes that control brain growth and that regulate how neurons communicate with each other. While these findings are intriguing, they are preliminary and require further study. The theory that parental practices are responsible for autism has now been disproved.

What role does inheritance play?

Recent studies strongly suggest that some people have a genetic predisposition to autism. In families with one autistic child, the risk of having a second child with the disorder is approximately 5 percent, or one in 20. This is greater than the risk for the general population. Researchers are looking for clues about which genes contribute to this increased susceptibility. In some cases, parents and other relatives of an autistic child show mild impairments in social and communicative skills or engage in repetitive behaviors. Evidence also suggests that some emotional disorders, such as manic depression, occur more frequently than average in the families of people with autism.

Do symptoms of autism change over time?

For many children, autism symptoms improve with treatment and with age. Some children with autism grow up to lead normal or near-normal lives. Children whose language skills regress early in life, usually before the age of 3, appear to be at risk of developing epilepsy or seizure-like brain activity. During adolescence, some children with autism may become depressed or experience behavioral problems. Parents of these children should be ready to adjust treatment for their child as needed.

How is autism treated?

There is no cure for autism. Therapies and behavioral interventions are designed to remedy specific symptoms and can bring about substantial improvement. The ideal treatment plan coordinates therapies and interventions that target the core symptoms of autism: impaired social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and obsessive or repetitive routines and interests. Most professionals agree that the earlier the intervention, the better.

Educational/behavioral interventions: Therapists use highly structured and intensive skill-oriented training sessions to help children develop social and language skills. Family counseling for the parents and siblings of children with autism often helps families cope with the particular challenges of living with an autistic child.

Medications: Doctors often prescribe an antidepressant medication to handle symptoms of anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Anti-psychotic medications are used to treat severe behavioral problems. Seizures can be treated with one or more of the anticonvulsant drugs. Stimulant drugs, such as those used for children with attention deficit disorder (ADD), are sometimes used effectively to help decrease impulsivity and hyperactivity.

Other therapies: There are a number of controversial therapies or interventions available for autistic children, but few, if any, are supported by scientific studies. Parents should use caution before adopting any of these treatments.

I can't cook - but I am trying

OK, I am not the greatest cook. There was one time in my life where I truly created a meal that would please even the most discriminating palate, a meal so great that the stars must have aligned perfectly to allow it to happen. This took place on Valentine's Day in 2004. Seriously, this was the last - and only - great meal I have every cooked. My husband was shocked to come home to a meal of assorted canapes, beer battered coconut shrimp, sliced beef in a red wine and dried cherry glaze, and banana and vanilla wafer pudding. All of this was made from scratch by me. To this day I don't know how I did it. When I confidently decided to follow up a week later with a fettucnie in a broccoli alfredo sauce, I managed to turn the broccoli alfredo sauce into broccoli soup! My poor husband had to come home and add flour and fix my sauce, realizing that this attempt at cooking dinner was a miserable failure. And I haven't had a shining moment of cooking since.

The only decent meals I have managed to cook have been using Crock Pots, because sticking a bunch of things in there and letting them simmer for hours is kind of hard to screw up. My favorite thing to cook in there is pork tenderloin with sliced onions cooked in apple cider. (Don't knock it until you try it!)

Here is a Sweet and Sour Chicken slow cooker recipe from Kraft that I haven't been brave enough to try yet:

Prep Time:10 min
Total Time:8 hr 10 min
Makes:6 servings
1 medium onion, sliced
1 medium carrot, peeled, sliced
1 medium celery stalk, sliced
6 boneless skinless chicken thighs (1-1/2 lb.), cut into bite-size pieces
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/3 cup KRAFT CATALINA Dressing
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tsp. grated gingerroot
1 can (8 oz.) pineapple chunks, drained, liquid reserved
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 medium green pepper, sliced
1 medium red pepper, sliced
4-1/2 cups hot cooked rice
PLACE onions, carrots and celery in slow cooker; top with chicken.
ADD combined brown sugar, dressing, soy sauce and ginger. Cover with lid.
COOK on LOW for 7 to 8 hours (or on HIGH for 3-1/2 to 4 hours). During last 30 min. of cooking time, increase to HIGH. Stir cornstarch into reserved pineapple liquid; add to slow cooker along with the pineapple and peppers. Cook 30 min. or until peppers are crisp-tender and sauce is thickened. Serve over the rice.

If you make this, can you please send me a taste? I love sweet and sour chicken, which is why if I mess this recipe up I will be very disappointed. Guess I will have to leave this recipe on my husband's pillow as a little hint...

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Car seat shopping? Britax is actually made in the USA!

Are you in a market for a new carseat? I can't say enough good things about my Britax Marathon. Even with a pretty tall child, it is sturdy, appears to be comfortable for her, and has held up very well. Recently we had some car issues and my husband had to move one of them (we have 2) back and forth several times between his car and a rental car. It was actually very easy for him to do- and he has virtually no patience!

Britax carseats are made right here in the United States. At a time when our economy is terrible and we are relying so much on foreign-made products, it is nice to know that such a highly rated product is made in America.

Recession? Embrace it!

Here is a great article called "10 Reasons to Love a Recession" from MSN. It is a great view on the recession that seems to have hit so many households in the US.

Though I have not been feeling particularly strained by these economic times yet, I know that it will affect all of us at some point. Things will likely get worse before they get better. So take a look at the article, and maybe share with us some of your own reasons to love a recession.

I would add: Friends coming over for the evening. More and more it seems that people are staying in on the weekends with good wine and good friends. To me, this is a much more cozy way to spend an evening and enjoy some time with your spouse and friends.