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?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Case of the Tired Novel: On revisiting favorite childhood books

When we first had kids, I imagined our family enjoying together many of the books from my childhood.

In my grandma's basement, green-covered Nancy Drews shared a shelf with the Hardy Boys. Time-crisp dust jackets broke at the creases as if they could no longer contain the adventures of 1950s and '60s kids' pulp. The Bobbsey Twins cheerfully solved crimes while hero dogs saved hapless humans time and time again. I don't think there was any book considered a classic on those shelves. My brother and I read them at every opportunity. They may not have been Choose-Your-Own-Adventures, but I marveled at sixteen-year-old Nancy's blue roadster, keen eye and seemingly limitless freedom.

At my small country grade school, the classics stood shoulder-to-shoulder waiting to fill any unoccupied student minute. Twain and Dickens were some of my favorites. These school's books also came from the years preceding mass market paperbacks.

Books seemed ageless. Of course I felt the distance of the years when reading, but the stories still breathed.

Even after weeding out the obvious twaddle, many books I loved did not stand up to the years when I tried to read them with our kids. And a few that they do like, I now actively dislike.

At present, the kids are obsessed with Encyclopedia Brown audiobooks. We listen to them in the car, the kids rapt in the riddles while Jim and I quietly snark about Idaville being the worst town in America. Despite a high case closure rate, crime is unusually high in Idaville. A known public menace is allowed to keep creating problems with no real consequences. Gambling and theft are high. People hide out from thugs. And worst of all, the police chief relies on his child to solve the crimes.

Often the cases are solved by details that are circumstantial at best. When Encyclopedia "proves" Bugs Meany is cheating a younger boy, Encyclopedia declares a letter and check forgeries because they are dated July 31st. While this may have been grand detective work in my childhood perception, an erroneously dated check now seems less like a smoking gun and more like a common paperwork error.

While social changes may make these old books seem outmoded, I'm becoming convinced that the literature of my childhood was inferior. It may have been the literary equivalent of the buddy parent: pandering and lacking complexity.

When I listen to Encyclopedia Brown with my kids, the books operate on a surface level. The heroes don't fear anything, and there's no moral complexity. Encyclopedia pronounces a verdict that everyone accepts no matter how thin the premise. The stories have all the depth and emotional authenticity of a Scooby-Doo episode.

That approach may have been enough when I was a kid, but there are so many better offerings today. I am convinced that children's literature has improved. It respects the young reader with complexity and depth in the stories and their emotions.

As a parent, I really appreciate this shift. I remember reading stories to try and understand the world around me- particularly the parts that adults didn't discuss. When the stories were preachy, prescriptive cautionary tales, they become predictable, relatively worthless and most offensively, not fun.

Accepting the limitations of my childhood favorites allows us to discover together the rich, new world of children's stories. Every parent who once loved Encyclopedia Brown should take the opportunity to Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library alongside their kids.

This BAD summer, we'll discuss some of our other new and old family favorites.

Have you revisited your favorites?
How have your favorite books aged?

***Baby Toolkit is a tale told by a Midwestern gaming family, full of books and adventures, signifying something. We just don't know what. We are Amazon affiliates, so a small portion of purchases made through our links goes to pay for our domain name and general upkeep. Be sure to check out our gaming podcast at