Sunday, October 28, 2007
Viking Toys (Sweden) make the very best in toddler rollers. When I was pregnant with Ranger, we bought a fleet of these great cars to entertain our visiting toddler niece. We kept them in a basket on the coffee table long after her visit. On more than a few evenings, Jim and I would find ourselves on opposite ends of the living room floor rolling these cars back and forth or absentmindedly trucking them around the coffee table.
With super soft, non-marring rubbery wheels and flexible rubber bodies, these cars take on a luxurious feel. We thought the strange little guys wouldn't roll well on carpet, but it turns out they travel farthest and fastest of our mini-fleet. They flip less than most of our rolling toys thanks to a low center of gravity.
One strange benefit of the soft materials is that cars make less noise (almost none) when dropped in, say, a large solemn, formal service in a grand, stone-floored cathedral. Not that we would know about that firsthand...
Ranger loves that the individual cars can hook together. It's easiest for him to link the 4" ones, so we're getting him some more for Christmas (right now, they're on sale for a great price here). There's a train set (3 4" pieces) for the happy linker.
The 3", 4", and 5" versions get the most play time in our house. While the 10" ambulance (with rolling gurney) gets some play, I think many toddlers prefer toys that fit well in a toddler hand. I like the 3" ones because they fit in my coat pockets and bag pretty easily.
I just found that Viking even makes a disposable playscape placemat (like our beloved Table-Topper) to keep kids tidier and entertained while eating out.
Viking Toys are manufactured in Thailand and haven't been subject to any lead recalls. They are purportedly dishwasher safe, but I don't like the idea of chlorine dish detergent on the axles, so I hand wash them in dish soap or wipe them down as needed.
The smaller versions are a great late infancy/early toddler toy (though they have appeal for a wide range of ages). The 5" versions can have more detail than their smaller counterparts- and they're sometimes sold in themed sets. Slightly older kids get a lot of use out of the 10" Super Chubbies which are more specialized vehicles (tractor, sedan, dump truck, ambulance, a fire engine, and a Woody-esque roofless SUV).
If you get some Viking Chubbies for your household, make sure to share them with your kids.
*This review is the independent, uncompensated, and unsolicited opinion of Baby Toolkit. (c) 2007, all rights reserved.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Anna of Forty-Two Roads: Art, Craft, Life made this ingenious interlocking (glueless, nail-less, duct tape free) play kitchen for her daughter Lara's second birthday. And not only is it well-engineered (it disassembles into totally flat pieces for storage!!!), it's also breathtakingly cute. This is one glorious geek mama at work.
With no further ado, please go check out young Lara's delicious kitchen...
Nov. 1, 2007 UPDATE:
Plans are now available for this great kitchen!
Photos used with permission. (c) Anna Wulick, 2007. All rights reserved.
We both had grandparents who subscribed us to magazines like Cricket, Ranger Rick, Highlights, and National Geographic World (the precursor to National Geographic Kids). Later on we received Smithsonian, Discover, and National Geographic. Our memories of enjoying these magazines and even the content of the articles lasted so much longer than almost all of the other gifts.
My friend Michael* reminded me of Contact Magazine (aka Contact Kids connected to the kids' science show 3-2-1 Contact; publication suspended in 2001) and its monthly BASIC programs. Oh, the warm geeky memories that brings back of my TI-99.
So far, we've stuck to the Cricket family of magazines as gifts. They're good reading with a variety of interest areas. Plus, they're listed by age group, which makes selection a lot easier. We've given Click (science), Ladybug (literary) and Ask (science). Cricket's Appleseed (themed issues with an in-depth look at a single topic) has growing allure as the kids get older.
If you want more than a little subscription notification card to give, you can buy a single copy of the magazine (preferably not one that will overlap with the subscription) and have something larger to wrap up. This gift may not get a huge response initially, but it will probably be a winner in the long run. Every kid loves getting mail!
So, if you want something lead free and curiosity-inspiring, you might want to browse the magazine aisle for some great gift ideas. Magazines also can be donated to a local library booksale, doctor's office waiting room, or school when your finished, or they can be shared with friends, so they can be low-clutter gifts (YAY!).
As for the grown-up magazine-loving geeks in our household, we recommend ReadyMade, American Heritage of Invention and Technology, WIRED, MIT's Tech Review, 2600, MAKE, and Parents.
What magazines do you recommend?
*Michael (who was chatting with me while I wrote this post) wrote some great suggestions for the 12+ crowd at his blog.
***This is the unsolicited, independent opinion of Baby Toolkit. (c) 2007
Monday, October 22, 2007
They're the only pacifiers you'll take the time to name. And for good reason... when your pacifier-lovin' baby wakes in the middle of the night to find the pacifier inexplicably missing and/or unobtainable, they YELL LOUDLY and with great urgency. This is really inconvenient for anyone trying to sleep. After a few nights of pacifier emergencies we decided there must be a better way to live and turned to the wise old Internet.
And like a beacon in the night was the not-available-in-my-community, Wubbanub. The Wubbanub sports a silicone Soothie pacifier (exactly the one that Ranger had been introduced to in the hospital's NICU).
We bought an express-mailed little red dog who provided enough ballast to remain with the baby throughout the night. The stuffed animal offers a lot more maneuverability for the barely dexterous, so even youngest infants can maneuver the pacifier into their mouth. With the dog on night watch, we found ourselves getting a lot more sleep.
We ended up buying two more of the dogs for us (one is inevitably lost and/or needs cleaning) and about 20 others which we've given as gifts. I even convinced the local hospital to carry them in the gift shop.
Wubbanubs come in a variety of species: cats, frogs, horses, and ducks. At around $10 each they also make a cute, useful, and affordable gift.
***This is the independent, unsolicited opinion of babytoolkit.com. We have no relationship with the Wubbanub's maker (Trebco Specialty Projects, Inc.) and have received no compensation for this review.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
The Numbers and Colors block set with colorful art by Sara Lee Anderson is a huge favorite of Ranger's. He likes numbers and counting- so anything with numbers on it is great. One side of the block has colored dots corresponding with its number, another side has the numeral, the third side shows an animal, and the fourth side shows a picture corresponding with that block's animal and number (e.g. the number four block has a rabbit one side and 4 carrots on the opposite face).
After a few minutes, we also pulled out the My Hometown block set so 7 people could easily play with the blocks. It has shops and other community features (train station, gas station, library, fire house). It's fun for imaginative play as well as stacking and nesting.
The blocks are pretty durable. They're cardboard, so don't expect huge feats of strength. They've held up well to over a year of appropriate play, but a destructive 4-year old could crush them all in less than a day.
They come in a rope-handled box which is useful as a carrying case and a storage box.
W J Fantasy has other great designs: a cool castle set where the insides of the box are castle rooms, a musical block set, touch and feel blocks, a great Jewish holiday set that turns into a (flameless) menorah, and alphabet blocks.
These compact, educational sets make great gifts as they don't consume a lot of household real estate yet they provide a lot of entertainment.
This is independent, unsolicited opinion of Baby Toolkit. We have no undisclosed relationship with W. J. Fantasy, Inc..
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
And, in the course of setting up Prizey, I've already won a Little Capers Superhero t-shirt with removable cape (...for Ranger, because they don't come in adult sizes).
Don't forget to enter our contest for Siente (an awesome nocturnal cd) while you're at it.
Good luck, everyone!
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Kim, in what can only be considered good karma, is hosting a PMS Survival Kit giveaway at her blog this week. This kit is loaded with delicious plunder from her journey through the All Candy Expo trade fair as well as other goodies. Stop by and enter; maybe you can win the deliciousness!
Then I got a cd (Siente) in the mail from Yellow Tail Records. Vocalist Partice O'Neill and classical guitarist Hilary Fields collaborate with a host of guest artists to weave a magic web of tranquility. Seriously, I fell asleep mid-afternoon the first time I heard this album. It was so lovely but so completely atypical that I began to wonder what genius neuro-linguistic hacker designed this profoundly soothing album.
The international lullabies and night songs selected were mostly unfamiliar to me, and they are sung in their native tongues. In every track exists a subtle motion that mentally transports me to an outdoor hammock or a gently rocking boat on a postcard perfect day.
Siente is like a brief hassle-free vacation. These songs might also work with kids, but honestly I've too relaxed to notice.
Sound good? There are samples of the songs on the Siente web site.
For more information on Siente, Zrecs also has a review and an interview with the artists behind the album.
View or buy Siente at Siente's web site or Amazon.
WIN A COPY IN OUR SIENTE GIVEAWAY:
Yellow Tail Records was kind enough to offer a copy of Siente for one lucky reader. If you want to enter the giveaway, email babytoolkitcontests[at]gmail[dot]com by midnight CST October 22, 2007. Use the subject SIENTE. If you want to keep my inbox interesting you can tell me your favorite location (real or imagionary) for a nap? Nitty-gritty contest details: We'll use a integer generator to select a winner (random.org). We are not liable for packages lost or damaged in the mail. Although we can't always provide international mailing, we can for this contest (YAY!).
*This review is the independent opinion of babytoolkit.blogspot.com. We've received a sample album from Siente, but have no relationship (beyond being grateful listeners) with Yellow Tail Records or any of the artists involved in Siente.*
Monday, October 08, 2007
If you haven't already entered our drawing for a hardback copy of ScreamFree Parenting, there is still time. Entries will be accepted until 6 AM EST tomorrow (Tuesday, October 9, 2007).
Thursday, October 04, 2007
I told him my mom always cuts my apples that way from infancy to well... now.
"You really are spoiled."
So, spoil your kids with delectable thinly sliced apples. I don't know if it's the greater surface area or the crunchiness of the thin chips- but kids dig apples sliced this way.
Peel the apple first if your kid's a prima donna about such things. Ranger is, but I left the peel on so the pictures didn't look like potatoes.
Cut alongside the core on the side away from your hand. Estimate where the core ends (I usually guess between 1/4 and 1/3 of the way from the stem to the edge).
Lay the apple on the cut side and slice on both sides of the core.
Lay the apple on a flat side (preferably with a core side toward your holding hand). Slice off the remaining non-core chunk.
Check to make sure you didn't get to close to the core- like I did on one side (see the seeds?).
But the roughage (extra fiber) is easily cut away.
Then slice your apple chunks to thin or wafer-thin.
This style of cutting is great for some toddlers because it takes them longer to eat the slices. It makes a great time-consuming (for them, not you) snack. It also can extend a single apple among a greater number of kids in those didn't-get-to-the-grocery pinches.
1) Post these rules before you give your facts
2) List 8 random facts about yourself
3) At the end of your post, choose (tag) 8 people and list their names, linking to them
4) Leave a comment on their blog, letting them know they’ve been tagged
Life tip #1- When your washing machine's drain cycle mysteriously fills your bathtub with murky drain water, it is not a good time to experiment with the drain system by flushing the toilet. The morning we discovered this gem I was heading to a job interview and hadn't yet showered or brushed my teeth. The bathtub filling is a symptom that your main drain line is blocked (tree roots were eventually found to be the culprit). When I saw the tub filling, I wondered what would happen if I flushed the toilet. This, I should mention, was a completely academic question and unnecessary flush. Short answer- the toilet does not drain into the bathtub (which is kind of a relief), BUT I ended up learning how quickly I could bail a rising toilet into a trashcan with a Dixie cup.
We fought with a horrible implement called a toilet snake (way worse than any deadly viper) for about hour, but just couldn't get the line clear. This turned into our first call for a professional plumber which brings us to...
Life tip #2- Plumbers are almost always worth the expense. And treating them as superheroes when they work on your house doesn't hurt either.
So I met the plumber at the front door in my robe (which probably freaked the poor guy out) and with a handshake and exaltations of his speed fit for Mercury. The plumber offered to come in through the back door (I joke not). Our house was less than grand, so I laughed. He said that it wasn't common in our neighborhood for people to ask him to do exactly that. Wow, you'd think we were living somewhere classy- but the truth is our 1950s era mass-produced neighborhood had floorplans where you had to walk through the entry room no matter which door you chose. Silly people.
Jim quit wrestling the toilet snake (this sounds like a very twisted horror movie). Normally Jim offers his hand to shake, but in this case, I'm sure the plumber appreciated his standoffishness. We also now always offer the plumber a drink (no one has ever accepted), but that didn't seem so appropriate after having hands-on contact with the toilet.
Jim offered to help the plumber and we'd already moved everything out of the way (this is especially nice when there are large appliances involved like clothes washers). It ended up the plumber was able to use a clean out line in the backyard and get the drain cleared so I wasn't even late for the interview.
As the plumber was friendly, Jim said "How's your week going?" We heard a great story about how half a wine glass got lodged in the neck of a bar toilet at such an angle that it couldn't be broken by a snake. It was really funny. This wasn't the best bar in town, actually it was a place where you're pretty surprised to find a wine glass on the premises, so the bathrooms were horroshow much like the one in Trainspotting.
Plumbers aren't surprised to be treated as untouchables (at least where we've lived) which is really shabby because they are usually taking care of some pretty dire situations in a very heroic capacity.
That house had 6 more years of plumbing failures and we never paid full price for any service call. We also got fast service because the plumbers came to recognize our name and address.
Life tip #3- The inevitable experience of caring for barfing kids can be improved by preparation.
Life tip #4- Sometimes it's just "too big to split." Confused? So were we. There was this restaurant called "The Hole in the Wall" a little North of Upland, Indiana that specialized in baked potatoes with a variety of dressings. When they hauled these GIGANTIC mutant potatoes as big as your head out to the tables near ours, my friend and I decided to split one.
When the waitress took our orders, she refused to let that potato be split. "It's too big!" My friend said, "That sounds perfect..."
The waitress wouldn't allow us to split the mega-giant potato and she was getting irritated by our stupidity. "HONEY, it's TOO BIG TO SPLIT" (the additional "how can I say it more plainly, you absolute idiot?" was understood by everyone in the place.'
So we stupidly ordered one each to answer the old vaudeville joke "Well, how big is it?"
Flipping huge. The table creaked under the first one and I think it came to rest on all our knees with the second one. They had a gravitational pull that drew small objects like silverware across the room. I could easily see splitting one in two with an axe or chainsaw. Or splitting it in twenty to feed everyone in the place and a few people passing by on the street.
"Too big to split" is now code in the Jones family for anything fervently believed by others but completely inexplicable to us. Some mysteries in life are not to be answered: They're simply too big to split.
Life tip #5- Mommas need posses: Not long after my week-long hospitalization for mastitis and Ranger's cold-turkey weaning, I went back to library group. Ranger was hungry, so I started looking through my bag for still-foreign formula supplies. I'd left something essential at home, but a friend loaned me the missing supply and peace was restored after a short Ranger meltdown. The whole situation left me sad and rattled and a mom next to me said (with a strong dose of self-righteousness) "Well, that's why I breastfeed my daughter." About the time my eyes started to burn, but before they filled with tears my momma friends jumped to my defense. It immediately made me smile to watch them go after this woman. If it's bad to anger a momma bear, it's apocalyptic to anger a den of them.
Life tip #6- Few things are more empowering than helping others.
This sounds really trite, but the second major life event for the Jones in 2005 (shortly after the birth of Ranger in chronology and significance) was being hit by a 2 AM F3 tornado. As was the case with many tornado victims (and I suspect other disaster victims in the wake of Katrina), our insurance company was using every dirty tactic in the book to not pay enough to repair our damaged home.
I was so angry and felt completely subject to the company's decisions. I was told there was no appeals process and I had to settle on their terms. We just wanted a fair settlement (a working house). No one had any idea what to do to get our costs covered. One Friday night I decided to give up an accept their paltry offer and work to make up the $10k+ deficit on our own. I was broken. Thank God it was a weekend. On Sunday, my Dad told a funny story about grandpa and the federal credit card regulatory agency and the penny dropped. While insurance is regulated on a state by state basis, our state has a great Department of Insurance. Talking to one of their investigators gave me enough information to scare the insurance company into meeting our costs. That made me feel a little better, but it was a still a painfully long and frustrating process.
In the meantime, I invited the Department of Insurance to return to our city about 2 months after the tornado for two public meetings. They were WONDERFUL. They came and worked individually with every one who attended the public meetings. It turned out our insurance problems were minor in the grand scheme of things. Fines were levied, some people who had previously been cheated were given 100% or more of their policies' benefits. You can read about it here. This particular settlement is the product of a lot of hard work by a lot of fine people, but the egregious treatment by the insurance company only came to light in those public meetings. The fact that people cared about our community (not the message conveyed by some insurance companies) was more healing than any restoration of our home. Knowing I could still help others when I had felt so subject to circumstance helped me get out of bed during those terribly dark months.
(Side note: Our absolutely horrible experience was with Horace Mann and their subsidiary Teachers Insurance Company- I know you were wondering.)
Life tip #7- Look everyone in the eye. I stole this from Mother Teresa's playbook (I doubt she'll pursue me for copyright). Not necessary long, lingering looks, but enough to realize you're interacting with someone. I honestly think this changes the viewer more than the viewee. It's improved my life greatly and goes well with a smile.
Life tip #8- (also known as the Jones family motto)
So Jim and I went to this arts fair over a decade ago and watched a master baker decorate cakes (see, adventure around every corner!). This guy could created contest-worthy creations in record time. He then took questions. An observer asked him to show the best technique to make a rose. He pulls out something that looks like a giant thumbtack and pipes a perfect rosette on it in less than 30 seconds while giving good narration.
His questioner looked perplexed. "That's how I do it and mine never look that good." She probed for his trade secret, "How do you do it so easily?"
Through a wide grin he offered a secret to success in life as well as rose-making "The first thousand times are the hardest."
To further this "8 Random Things About Me" meme, I'm passing it on to:
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Jim was a harnessed toddler. His family was living in a rural German outpost where the locals thought nothing of putting a kid in a lederhosen-suspender inspired harness. He remembers it as having little Bavarian Alpine costumed bears on the front. It's probably partially responsible for him living to be an adult.
His only negative memory of the harness was years after he no longer needed it. On their emergency return to the States after his grandfather had a heart attack, his brother was wearing during a long layover at busy JFK Airport. My worried mother-in-law was traveling alone (inter-continentally) with two young kids, so it was natural to leash the youngest rather than lose him in the enormous airport.
A stranger approached his mother and poured out vitriol about child abuse and treating her kids like animals. Jim's mom, already pretty stressed over her dad's health problems and the stresses of overseas air travel, broke down. Needless to say, that memory stayed with Jim.
When we created a baby registry for Ranger Jim happily scanned in the monkey backpack harness at Target (~$15). I didn't think twice about it.
Ranger took his time deciding to walk independently which meant monkey lived on a closet shelf for a long time. Eventually Ranger got better at walking, running, and bolting away. The stroller seemed counterproductive: while it contained an enthusiastic Ranger, it didn't give him any outlet for all that energy or enthusiasm for walking.
Monkey came down off the shelf, but I couldn't bring myself to put it on Ranger. So it sat on the kitchen table until Ranger took notice.
"Monkey!" he pointed.
I picked up monkey and gave Ranger a once over. "Well, I guess you're old enough. Be gentle."
The words old enough coupled with hesitation were enough to make him clamor over to me hands out. "PWEEESE?"
Awww. So, I gave him monkey sans tail. They became fast friends while Ranger gave him the whole tour of the house. Ranger loves talking to monkey- philosophy, politics, recipes, whatever.
It was a major value added feature when Ranger found that Monkey could give him a hug and ride piggyback.
When I hooked on the tail, things were a little intimidating (to me). Definitely start your harnessed kid on carpet. The best technique I found was making a couple loops around my hand so I could feed out a little extra length when Ranger charged toward the end of the harness' reach. The extra length (delivered with a little resistance) helped him slow down and stay upright.
Ranger didn't mind the harness and leash at all. They helped keep him in close proximity, but harnesses still require good parenting skills. A harnessed child still gets to choose their direction (which won't always be the direction the parent chooses). The child can still sit down, refuse to move, or tug in a undesirable direction, so the parent needs to communicate with their child a lot for this to work. A parent must be willing to pace themselves with their toddler rather than expect the converse.
It was a major boon for independently-minded Ranger to be able to walk rather than be captive in a stroller. Because a toddler's stride is so much shorter than an adult's, a walk around the big downtown library is like a marathon. Our boy sleeps extra-long on days we get to walk a lot.
A harness may not have long period of use with every kid. After a few weeks Ranger realized that we wanted him nearby in busy places, so he sticks closer in normal scenarios. He loves wearing monkey as a backpack, so sometimes he wears into stores just for fun (with the tail packed inside).
If your kiddo prefers bears, dogs, unicorns, cows, or fuzzy sheep, they make Harness Buddys of all those animals too.
We now use the harness primarily in places where he'll get excited and sprint off (zoo) or places where we're standing in a long line and don't have a free hand to hold (post office).
I haven't noticed people giving me the stink-eye, but I'm usually more focused on Ranger than the people around us. They can think what they want. Most people came over to make some "monkey on his back" comment. I think the opportunity to feel witty may have made people feel less critical about the harness itself.
One good friend thinks torso harnesses are cruel, but approves of wrist harnesses. In exploration of her theory, I tried a wrist harness on Ranger. He HATED it- flung himself on the floor and screamed- hated it. For him it was overwhelmingly frustrating to have more limited hand mobility. Maybe it's a family trait- because when I thought about it, it seems like a wrist harness would be more off-balance and obtrusive.
I think with the right harness and a team mindset that a harness/leash can be beneficial to everyone involved (kids, parents, innocent bystanders).
What do you think?
Baby Toolkit is the independent opinion of Jim and Adrienne Jones. We have no relationship with Goldbug or Eddie Bauer (makers of Harness Buddies) and have received no compensation for this independent review.
Photos by Adrienne Jones, 2007- all rights reserved.