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New York Family, March 2010 » Page 58

House Rules

How To Design A Family-Friendly Apartment That Doesn’t Sacrifice On Style

Can you have a home you love that suits your tastes and style while also accommodating your children and all their toys, gear, and messes? We think so, with a little thoughtful planning and care. To get you started, here are a few ideas from some design experts.

Design A Kid-Friendly Kitchen

In many households, the kitchen is the center of activity—making it even more essential that the room be family-friendly. Robert Dobbs, a certified kitchen and bathroom designer with Elgot, a design company based in Manhattan, says families looking to remodel their kitchen may want to consider “U-shaped kitchens, [because they] work well to keep kids on the opposite side of the island [and away from the cooking area].” Also, Dobbs says to be sure to “leave [ample] space between open oven or dishwasher doors and cabinets,” as this helps enable safe passageway through the kitchen. When it comes to flooring, solid wood or laminate floors are both resilient surfaces that make for easy clean-up, while cork is another good option because it makes standing for long periods of time easier on your feet—and on a baby’s crawling hands and knees. For people with small kitchens, Dobbs says internal storage options like pull-out pantries really maximize space.

Choose Sensible Carpeting

When choosing a carpet for your living room, comfort, maintenance, and aesthetics are all important factors that come into play. “From a health standpoint, wool, cotton, and silk are natural fiber options that are free of any harsh chemicals,” explains Angela Gruszka of ABC Carpet & Home. She recommends these rugs to families with young children or babies, and wool or sheepskin rugs to families with children a bit older, as these rugs are “extremely durable and easily cleanable.” Steven Forrey, sales manager at The Rug Company, agrees, favoring Tibetan wool rugs—particularly for families that are seeking minimal upkeep and maximum décor. Boasting incredibly high-quality wool, these rugs are stain resistant, durable, and natural. As a final precaution, go barefoot in carpeted areas. Leaving your shoes at the door will ultimately shorten your housecleaning by a considerable amount, saving you time and money when it comes to maintaining the space.

Pick Out The Right Couch

Above all, invest in durable seating. “A coffee table from Ikea is just as good as a table from any other place,” says Debbie Wiener, author of “Slob Proof! Real-Life Home Decorating Solutions.” “But you can always tell a bad sofa from a good one.” When shopping for a sofa, make sure it has a strong frame, a cushion with down and a thick fabric. “We almost always recommend slipcovered sofas,” offers Leigh Oshirak, director of marketing and public relations at Pottery Barn and a mother of two. Next time your child spills pasta sauce or apple juice, she suggests a simple way to cut down on cleaning time—and the bill: Simply unzip the slipcover and throw it into the washing machine. Jonathan Balthaser, manager of Rico, a Brooklyn-based furniture store, suggests an alternative. “Whenever parents come to our store, we always recommend leather or Ultrasuede as the upholstery,” he says. These materials boast durability and are easy to clean. Rest assured that any child-inflicted stains should not leave permanent damage.

Have A Thoughtfully Lit Home

Kimberly Oliver of Design Within Reach cautions parents to avoid floor lighting or unsteady table lamps that can be knocked over. Instead, select pieces with a heavy base that will remain in place. Or, says author Wiener, swap floor and table lamps for overhead lighting, which prevents broken lamps and stained shades, and gives your family more room to play. If you’re showcasing family pictures, track lighting is a great option, according to Fred Katz, owner of Lightforms Inc., because the lights spotlight select areas on the wall. Another fixture to consider is an immediate over-the-shoulder light for reading. This works well in situations where one of the kids wants to watch TV, but another prefers to read a book. The overhead light won’t illuminate the entire room, allowing your kids to stay engaged in the program—and on good terms with each other.

Invest In Furniture That Grows With Your Child When Danielle Hansmeyer, SVP of Restoration Hardware Baby & Child, was pregnant and looking to buy furniture for her nursery, she found that there was a “void in the market for good quality, sophisticated design at a reasonable price.” She returned from maternity leave with a slew of ideas, creating the store’s Baby & Child line, which recently launched. It features an assortment of convertible cribs, elegant bedding, bathroom accessories and more that Hansmeyer says are “subtle, but fun” and “seamless with the rest of your home.” Check out the cribs that convert into a toddler bed and “big kid bed,” and changing tables that transform into dressers in styles “that are pretty timeless.” As Hansmeyer notes, “Being able to buy something that will live with your child for 10 years” is worth the investment. G

—Reported by Kristen Duca, Jordana Jaffe, Darcy Newell, and Kate Willard

According to a story in the Telegraph super-mega-technology giant Apple has admitted to using child labor at its factories that produce its iPods, iPhones, and computers.  Just something to think about before making that next purchase…

UltimateMama hates germs.  Whenever her children get a new toy, book, puzzle, or stuffed animal she tries her best to disinfect the item.  After playdates, she has been known to wipe down all of the toys that the kids played with to rid them of germs.  Trust UltimateMama, wiping down toys is a lot more fun than wiping down a sick child's nose! 

Try to keep your child's toys clean. 

UltimateMama offers up few tips on safe ways to disinfect toys (remember, read all labels first!):

– Stuffed animals:  Read the labels first but many can be washed in the washing machine. Skip the dryer though and just air dry the object.

– Teething rings:  Many teething rings can be washed in the dishwasher on the top rack.  Make sure you read the labels first.

– Board books, wooden puzzles, blocks:  Ultimatemama either uses soap and hot water or disinfecting wipes to wash board books, wooden puzzles, blocks, and other plastic toys that of course do not have batteries.

*** Note:  Some parents swear by disinfecting with bleach. Once, UltimateMama tried to bleach a denim skirt and ended up destroying the skirt's material and her bathroom rug. Alas, UltimateMama has never used bleach again and probably never will! But, if it works for you then go for it!

A loyal follower recently sent UltimateMama the following question (summarized below):

"Going through the attic, I discovered an old crib.  It was way in the back, wrapped very nicely and still in good shape, as it was a very expensive one in its day.  It is such a nice piece of furniture, I hate to throw it away. What should I do with it?"

UltimateMama QUICKLY told the loyal follower to THROW it AWAY – DO NOT DONATE IT OR PASS IT DOWN. Antique cribs and other used cribs are dangerous!  There is no market for used cribs because they present hazards. Many infant deaths each year are caused by unsafe cribs, many of which are used cribs.

UltimateMama is all for recycling and reusing "hand me down" clothing, books, and such but when it comes to used cribs UltimateMama says NO WAY.  See the press release from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission  that warns about the dangers and deaths associated with used cribs.

UltimateMama does not care if your best friend, your favorite relative, or a celebrity gave you their old crib – DO NOT USE IT!   No exceptions! 

If you have a baby budget, allocate a chunk of money for buying a NEW CRIB.  Do this for your child's safety!  If you want to "cheap out" or save a few bucks go to flea markets, thrift stores, and garage sales for books and selected, safe attire — DO NOT EVEN LOOK AT USED CRIBS!!

Financing A Family

The Current Economy Has Many Parents Worrying About Money. Here’s Expert Advice On Everything From College Savings Plans To Everyday Budgeting

With more families than ever feeling overwhelmed about their finances, we thought it would be a good time to check in with some financial planners and experts for advice on key issues parents are concerned about. The good news is that it’s never too late to start getting your money matters in order.


When creating a family budget, think of it as a step toward financial freedom rather than a burden. “Take a positive look at your life and the things around you and say, ‘These are all of the things that are really important to me; I can use this opportunity to get rid of the things that aren’t that important,” says Greg Braca, president of TD Bank’s metro New York branch.

The first step is to take a look at your expenses: Assemble paycheck stubs, at least two months’ worth of bank statements, and two months of credit card payments. Judy Lawrence, personal finance counselor and author, suggests both parents work together. “You start to see that the kids’ school costs this, the pets cost that—and suddenly it’s not about ‘You spend this’ and ‘I spend that,’” she says. “It’s about, ‘Wow, our lifestyle costs a lot; what can we do as a team to make some adjustments?’” Lawrence recommends organizing expenses into four categories: fixed expenses (anything you pay on a monthly basis, i.e. rent); fixed variable expenses (monthly expenses that vary—i.e. grocery bills); discretionary expenses (i.e. a new cosmetics product, a Starbucks run); and non-recurring expenses (i.e. vacation).

When it comes to saving, “You don’t wait until the end of the month to see if you have any money left,” says Lawrence. Instead, put a certain amount of money into savings each month, and consider this a fixed expense—a good rule of thumb is to save at least 10 percent of your income. Make it a goal to store up what Lawrence calls “real emergency money”— enough to cover 6-8 months of expenses.

Focus on the present, work on steadily erasing any debt, and be realistic. “If the budget doesn’t allow for college savings, don’t feel bad that you’re not funding your child’s education at the moment—you just can’t do it,” Lawrence says. But sometimes, parents can find ways to cut back. “Would you rather fund those birthday parties, or would you rather be putting $100 into a college fund?” she asks.

— Theodora Guliadis


Although it might sound intimidating, most financial experts agree that you should start saving for college as soon as—if not before—your child is born. “Regardless of your financial circumstances, time is your greatest asset,” says Kalman Chany, author of “Paying For College Without Going Broke 2010,” who recommends that parents start saving for college nine months before their child is born.

When it comes to creating a successful college savings plan, there are a few key things to keep in mind. First, says Chany, “Find out if you are likely to qualify for aid or not.” Next, you need to consider the various savings options that are available, such as 529 plans.

“The real advantage of the 529 plan is that it extends well beyond undergraduate degrees,” says Ed Ferko, Senior Manager in Vanguard’s Education Markets Group. “It can be used for graduate school, community colleges and many technical schools that participate in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Program.”

Last, Chany reminds parents to remember “the lesson to be learned from the market meltdown of 2008: As your child gets older, you want to be transitioning your asset allocation into more fixed income investments.”

—Jean Halloran-Monaco


Many New York parents struggle with the desire to provide their children with the best they can afford without leaving themselves with a depleted savings account. For families looking for expert wealth management advice, hiring a financial advisor or planner is a great starting point. “The earlier you start saving, the more [time you allow compound interest to go to work],” says Douglas Famigletti, Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), partner and managing director at Griffin Asset Management.

“Parents shouldn’t get intimidated when they hear what they should be setting aside for college; doing anything is better than doing nothing.”

When choosing a financial advisor to work with, Famigletti believes one should conduct “due diligence like you would for your family’s healthcare providers.” Often, the best way to connect with a financial advisor is through a referral from a friend or family member.

But, how do you tell if a particular financial advisor is a good match?

First, choose someone whose personality is a good fit for your family. “Some of the best investment advisors in the world may not be the best match for a certain family even though they are highly qualified,” notes Famigletti.

Next, look for these key traits:

1) Someone who provides a high level of customer service;

2) credibility with the advisor’s firm, its people, and history; and

3) transparency of fees. Lastly, keep in mind your financial plan should be tailored to you. “The plan’s financial goals and time horizon should be specific to you and your family,” points out Famigletti.

—Kristen Duca


“When people think of life insurance, they think of the end,” says Larry Bahr, financial consultant for AXA Advisors. He recommends that parents ease their discomfort by thinking of life insurance as “a financial tool that we’re all using.”

When considering the amount and type of life insurance that works best for your family, have an honest conversation with your partner about your family’s priorities. Beyond discussing immediate needs, such as mortgage payments and childcare, also discuss goals, such as saving for your children’s college educations, a retirement fund and donations to charities.

When you’re ready to choose a plan, know that life insurance can be broken down into two types—term insurance and permanent insurance. “Term plans typically cover you for a specific amount of time; we often say it is like ‘renting’ insurance,” explains Scott Berlin, senior vice president of the Individual Life Department at New York Life Insurance. Typically, parents purchase term insurance for a 20year period so that their families can maintain a certain lifestyle until their children are out of the house. Permanent insurance, on the other hand,

“is designed to provide death benefit coverage for your entire life and build cash value that you can borrow against tax-free through loans,” according to Berlin. Thus, while permanent insurance is more expensive, it offers you an opportunity to build up “cash value,” which Bahr likens to building up equity in a home.

When it comes to choosing an insurance company to work with, Berlin recommends looking for a long history of stability and strength. “Remember that you should be planning for the long term, so the company you choose needs to be able to fulfill its promise to you far into the future,” he says.

—Heather Peterson


“The most important thing parents can do for their families is have a will, and the sooner they draft one the better,” says financial journalist and author, Stacey Bradford. Drafting a will can be as easy as using software like Quicken Willmaker, but Bradford says that as soon as you acquire assets like real estate, life insurance, etc., it’s best to bring in a lawyer.

Later, as you have more children, your financial situation changes or becomes more complicated, or any other significant life changes occur, your will should be updated. And instead of locking it away in a bank, a copy should be kept in a fire-proof box in your house, as well as with your lawyer.

Most important, Bradford says, is that “the whole point of having a will when you have children is because you want the guardian in place. It’s the only legal way to make your wishes known.”

Last, another component to writing wills that parents often overlook is the fact that if your spouse passes away and has independent assets, those assets are split between the surviving spouse and children—meaning the surviving parent would need to go through a trustee to get access to the children’s money they need to raise them. “It can be done, but it’s a hassle—so you really want to [write] the will so that all of the money goes to the surviving parent,” says Bradford. G

UltimateMama believes Grilled Cheese sandwiches are completely underrated.  They are simple to make and have terrific nutritional value.  UltimateMama loves easy grilled cheese recipes!

Here is what UltimateMama's children (ages 1 and 3) had for lunch today:

3 year old:  Grilled ham & white cheddar cheese sandwich, peas, apple slices, milk, water

1 year old: Grilled white cheddar cheese sandwich, little pieces of ham, peas, golden raspberries, milk, water

Easy Grilled Ham & White Cheddar Cheese Sandwich recipe for one sandwich: 

-  2 thinly sliced pieces of bread

– thinly sliced ham (1 slice)

– thinly sliced white cheddar cheese (1 slice)

– Smart Balance spread (about 1 tablespoon)

Pre-heat a griddle, skillet, or frying pan.  Take a knife and spread the Smart Balance on one side of each slice of bread.  Put one of the "buttered" slices of bread on the skillet.  Then put a a thin slice of white cheddar cheese on top.  Next, add a thin slice of ham and cover with the remaining slice of bread ("buttered" side up).  When you notice the cheese starting to melt and the bread starting to brown, flip the sandwich over and finish grilling. 

**For a fun variation add a slice of tomato for extra nutrients and color!

UltimateMama is pretty sure all of you heard about the recent vote by Rhode Island's Central Falls School Committee to nix every single educator due to the poor performance results of the students. 

UltimateMama just wants to know:  "Now WHAT IS THE PLAN?" and "How is the committee going to SERVE these kids?" Remember, futures are at stake.

How many times does your child ask you "why do you have to travel for work"?  A new book on the market will help you explain to your children that you love them no matter where you are.

Even though the author of "My Mommy’s on a Business Trip" Phaedra Cucina went to the wrong Michigan university (Michigan State University vs. UltimateMama's alma mater The University of Michigan), UltimateMama won't hold that against her — especially since they both grew up in Detroit.


"My Mommy’s on a Business Trip" is a must have for all children of working parents, especially those who travel!  It explains the notion of business travel to children sweetly and succinctly.

UltimateMama feels like this is really the winter that is never going to end.  Your UltimateMama recently did some pre-spring cleaning and donated many sweaters that were far too trendy to be worn by someone in their mid-30s to Housing Works.  An impending snowstorm as well as an upcoming business trip to Philadelphia inspired UltimateMama to do a little shopping…at one of her favorite LITTLE boutiques on Manhattan's Upper East Side (1008 Lexington Avenue at East 72nd Street to be exact) called J.McLaughlin.  It is a gem of a store complete with many clothing jewels as a 75% off sale is currently in progress. Out of area shoppers can log onto J.McLaughlin.comand find wonderful, classic, American clothing at steep discounts as well.  *NOTE:  MANY ITEMS ONLINE ARE FINAL SALE!

UltimateMama is always on the move so she tries to dress in a comfortable yet stylish fashion.  She loves to have items in her wardrobe that allow her to go from dropping her daughter off at school to catching a business meeting to grabbing lunch with colleagues to brainstorming with associates to shopping for groceries at Citarella to playing with her kids.  J.McLaughlin clothing never lets her down.  In all honesty, J.McLaughlin clothing makes UltimateMama look like she had more than 10 minutes to get herself ready in the morning!  

A few super deals at J.McLaughlin include:

The Sloane Crewneck Cardigan which at $39.90 from $148 originally (73% off for all you math majors) is such a steal that UltimateMama purchased two (one in Heather Camel and one in Heather Chambray)

– The Mariel Silk Georgette Blousein lagoon/gold at $39.90 from $185 originally (78% off for all keeping track) is another closet staple that UltimateMama adores (and now owns)!


UltimateMama loves Ralph Lauren clothing for her family as it is stylish, comfortable, practical, colorful, and durable.  UltimateMama appreciates accessible luxury clothing. She always enjoys passing down Polo shirts, sweaters, skirts, pants, and socks from her oldest daughter to her youngest. 


Shop now at during the "Last Chance Sale" and receive an additional 20% off select sale items.  UltimateMama recently bought the Cotton Slim Fit Turtleneck in Fuchsia for her oldest daughter for next Winter 2011!