Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Horrible Beauty: Get In Trouble today

There's nothing like an election season to turn my thoughts to horror. Instinctively, I load up on horror movies and fiction to dull the truly ugly realities of the American political system.*

So, as the elections rage on, I've watched everything from Z-Nation (zombies killed with giant wheel of cheese) to the quietly paced, theologically-delving, Colonial American The Witch to the contemporary Irish new-to-a-weird-rural-village, The Hallow. I've been reading lots of extremely short stories to find addictive little bits to use in my fall classes, so I was quite intrigued when someone referenced Kelly Link's short story collection Get In Trouble.

I read the entire collection in less than 24 hours- which, with three young kids, means giving up my steady nighttime commitment of Netflix and shirking even more household duties than normal.

As a horror story reader, I love experiencing the story unfolding unspoiled before me-- so I will stick to generalities.

I loved Link's old-school perspective which expertly wields the unseen, the looming, and the quite-possibly-only-imagined.  Kelly Link reminds me of the mid-century British writer John Wyndham- who wrote the books behind Village of the Damned (The Midwich Cuckoos) and 28 Days Later (Day of the Triffids)-- among others.

Kelly Link is a skilled world-builder. Her stories bear no consistent locale, time period, or reality. This collection includes an on-location ghost-hunting reality show in Florida swampland, contemporary Appalachia, a future where bored children of the uber-wealthy commission full-scale pyramid tombs, a colonizing mission to Mars, and two of the world's most logical horror settings-- high school and hometown reunions. With a beautiful playfulness, Link sometimes allows the details of one fantastic place to appear in another, slightly-related story. Like the breaking of the fourth wall in film, these details play with the form and the medium.

Link's fiction gets in your head and under your skin without resorting to the merely sensational and repulsive. It lurks and insinuates making shadows shift in even the brightest landscapes.

Link's detail is measured- not overreaching, but fully drawn- and exacting- leaving jeweled details that rewards the observant reader.

The opening story, "The Summer People," immediately sent up red flags with me. Its Appalachian setting with poor characters and vernacular speech took the story toward a place where most writers should never go. I wasn't sure I was going to make it to the end of the first story-- much less the second story, but Link didn't allow her story to be consumed by stereotypes. All my trepidation dissipated when the too-familiar elements reassembled into a new nightmare carefully wrought from ancient lore.

All but one of Link's stories clearly center around young female characters, but they're not lambs waiting for the slaughter (or salvation). These wily women carve their own destinies. It's refreshing- even though the charater's outcomes vary wildly.

For a tiny taste of the stories:  "I Can See Right Through You" involves a ghost hunting reality show at the site of the mysterious 1974 disappearance of twenty-two nudists. "Secret Identity" reveals side-by-side hotel conventions of superheroes and dentists, a 15-year-old girl who finds her own yearning and authenticity in a MMORPG, and figuring out who you are when you just don't fit anywhere.

"The Valley of the Girls" takes readers to a world where the profoundly wealthy in a neo-Egyptian trend build competing pyramids for their teenage children."Origin Story" makes sly references to superhero tropes introduced in "Secret Identity," but is a stand-alone tale with entirely different motives. "Two Houses" involves campfire storytelling aboard a exploratory spaceship headed to the nearest Goldilocks planet.

The book has nine stories in all, and I loved each one. If you like horror and seeing new stories borne from old ones, this book is for you.

To which fantastic worlds are you escaping?

If you want to see what I'm reading, friend me on Goodreads.

*Please note: I'm discouraged, but not politically disengaged. To the contrary, I'm politically active year-round- so much that my state house representative has blocked me on Twitter. I'm just so disappointed to see my fellow citizens with convictions not vote or others voting without a thought for the long-term implications. I love public education and public libraries. We all need to vote to protect these things-- they are increasingly endangered by for-profit interests.

***Baby Toolkit is an almost decade-long conversation between some geeky Midwestern parents and other netizens. We love and talk games and gaming communities at our Great Big Table podcast. We're so unaffiliated with the publishers of Get in Trouble that the copy we read came from our AWESOME local library, but we are Amazon affiliates-- so if you buy anything through our Amazon links, a small portion of the sale comes back to us where it might be spent on domain names, an increasingly feeble DSL connection, or world domination. Thanks for reading. We love you.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Droopy Drawers No More: A No-Sew Solution for Too-Big Pants On Kids

Recently saw this on super board game reviewer's TheOneTAR's Twitter* feed:

I totally relate.  We've been using this hack for almost a decade, and I took these pictures a year ago.

In honor of the awesome new Parent Hacks book, let me show you how to Loose Pants with a Mitten Clip

as referenced in hack #62- Tighten Pants with Elastic.

If you happen to have skinny kids, this might just change you life a little.

Use one mitten clip (Midwesterners- I found a bunch of these at Meijer on winter clearance). Shorter elastics work better than long ones- so go for kids' size. While mitten clips come in a million designs and colors, I have a few solid basics because they were on clearance.

Starting at the side seam on the waistband, place clip around one third of the way between the side and the back seam. Clip the other end on the pants symmetrically on the other side.

Voila. Pants that stay up! Even on skinny kids!

Remember to remove clip before laundering. The one in the picture went through the wash (see the stretching on the left side?).

What have you hacked lately?

*Be my Twitter friend? @babytoolkit 

***Baby Toolkit is the brain dump of some Midwestern parents trying to keep everyone's pants up and shoes tied on life's grand journey. While our babies grew into various sizes of kids, we're still talking about parenting and families. We also podcast about board games and communities at We're Amazon affiliates, so if you buy anything through our links, a small percentage of you purchase goes to our future adventures!  Many thanks for reading- and a big 5 five for reading the fine print, you're our kind of people!

Monday, April 18, 2016

10 Years in the Trenches: Parent Hacks, the book


Ranger turned 10 last year. And this blog will turn 10 in August. But it took the publication of a book to make me realize I've been a parent to young children for 10 years.

Though I helped Asha winnow down the hacks to include in the book, it wasn't until I held the final book in my hands that the story of my family using many of those hacks played out in my head.

I'm not usually sentimental. When my kids started morning out programs, preschool, and Kindergarten, I usually celebrated their new beginnings when others might mourn the closing of a chapter. Maybe that's the gift of having more kids than hands, with each stage's ending I'm often quite thankful we all survived it.

But when I flipped through this concise, lovely highlight of the blog, I felt the past-- struggles and successes-- as I remembered. With different hacks, I found myself remembering their contributors-- people like Jeremiah & Jenni from Z Recommends, Homa, AJ from Thingamababy, Anne Nahm, and Adjunct Mom.

And Asha-- ringmaster, wizard of kindness-- was always there to encourage. I remember so keenly how she said that her second baby was easier than the first. These were my colleagues, inspirations, and co-conspirators who reminded me I wasn't alone-- even if was 3:30 in the morning unable to sleep after some middle of the night chaos.

The memories- the shared revelations- the friendships. Suddenly, I saw clearly a community that encouraged and inspired.

One of the earliest hacks I remember using was Sharpie-ing my phone number on toddler Ranger's belly for an expedition to the enormous Georgia Aquarium while I was whale-like pregnant with Scout. It sounds silly now, but I don't know that I would have had the courage to go alone without that hack. And when he scampered through a crawling under-aquarium viewing tunnel swept up in a mass of preschool kids, I panicked less- because we had a safety net. We had so much fun that day, and I don't know that I've ever told anyone this- I later realized that I'd written my HOME phone number for an empty house in Indiana on his belly. But we survived without incident- and maybe that was the greatest lesson of the day.

When I got to page 210-- Uses for a Vinyl Tablecloth, I started to cry because illustrator Craighton Berman coincidentally drew my car in the hack. I don't know that the 2007 post showed enough of my car to reveal its overall shape, but to see the illustration show our car that carried my two oldest throughout their baby years just made me lose it. So mysteriously, incidentally, and curiously personal-- so much like my feelings for ParentsHacks overall.

This new Parent Hacks book is a shining beacon of 10 years of parenting creativity, compassion, discovery, and inspiration. It's like a master's class in surviving the chaos and challenges with a sense of humor, adventure, and fellowship. I am so thrilled that all the goodness is out there in a format that invites new people into the conversation. I'm also thrilled to see the conversation continue on the web site and throughout social media with the #parenthacks.

Someday, I hope to sit down for tea with Asha and find the words to thank her for the warm, friendly space she created for all of us in the trenches.

May you also find new joy, courage, and inspiration (and/or old memories) in this marvelous book.

If you want to join the conversation NOW, Asha has two virtual book tour stops on the Internet today and tomorrow:

***Baby Toolkit is the ongoing chronicle of a Hoosier family with the good luck of great communities of friends and mentors. Adrienne did help with a very early editing of the Parent Hacks' book, but my opinions here are unprompted and uncompensated. We are Amazon affiliates, so a portion of purchases there after using are links goes to fund present and future Jones endeavors.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Unmasking the truth: revealing invisible print on appliance buttons

Tired of invisible print on buttons? Silver Sharpie to the rescue!

As you all know, Sharpies kind of rock our world. We've used them on medicine bottles and our kids. I fixed scratches on our coffee table with them. We've even handed them out as business cards at conventions.

I'm back to teaching after over a decade away, so there's not much time to spare. Scout and I were halfway through this hack before I thought to grab a camera.

As I'm sure I'll soon be telling my students, better late than never.

This hack video represents Scout's first blog appearance as a camerawoman. Not bad for a 6-year-old.

We hope everyone's back to school is going well!

***Baby Toolkit is a production of the geeky, over-committed Jones family in the middle Midwest. We're Amazon affiliates, so if you buy through our Amazon links, we'll get a small percentage that we'll promptly squander on board games or domain name fees or Sharpies or paperclips. We are in no way affiliated with Sharpie or their makers, though we would have a long history of Sharpie love. We also podcast about board game groups and board games at Thanks for reading the small print. This commendable behavior would surely get you bonus points in my class; how about a gold star?