Sunday, July 29, 2007

Pleasurable Podcasts: Welcome, Jumping Monkeys Listeners!

Wow- we were pretty excited to hear Baby Toolkit referenced on this episode (#8) of TWiT's Jumping Monkeys podcast. Geek parents should be subscribing to this great blog on "Parenting in the Digital Age." Geek moms will enjoy the fact that Leo Laporte is broadcasting from atop his own exercise ball (even though he's not known to be pregnant).

Here is the make your own cardboard blocks post Megan and Leo discussed. Welcome to the site! (I should make sure to confess that this site is a standard Blogger template by the very talented and generous Douglas Bowman of StopDesign.)

We were also really honored to be a Parent's Magazine Podcast Blog of the Month (episode 9: All About Safety). [We share this honor with Cool Mom Picks which is one of our favorite gear blogs- and they have great daily giveaways.] I love this month's segments on safety concerns (and unnecessary worries) and their reassuring answers to a call in question about potty training. This is a great monthly podcast!

If you're not already reading Parent's GoodyBlog, you should be. Subscribe now- you won't regret it.

(I am now going to take a long post-BlogHer nap.)

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Walking the Imaginary Dog: A Parenting Tip from BlogHer '07

I come to BlogHer '07 for technical information, and I end up with a great parenting tip from Laura, a pet insurance actuarial, blogger, mom to two, and great conversationalist.

If your child wants a dog, BEGS for a dog, and you don't want to shoulder the entire responsibility for a pet, test the child's promises to "take care of the dog." Make an agreement. If your child will wake at a specified earlier time and then "walk" the imaginary dog (10 to 20 minutes) every day for 21 days that you will then begin seriously considering getting a pet. I'd make it a month of walking because that's how long it takes to establish a habit.

Most parents see the brilliance in this approach immediately, so I won't elaborate. If, on the off-chance, your child makes it 30 days then you can see their level of dedication is atypical.

Of course, if you do get a dog you will most likely be its primary caretaker, but this lays the groundwork for the child to take on age-appropriate responsibilities for the dog as soon as it enters the house.

Laura suggests caring for the dog water as a great early task for kids. That would entail daily water changes, monitoring of the water level, and a weekly bowl cleaning. Isn't she clever?

Back to the BlogHers.

If you need amusement, may I recommend lolcats? Or a lolcats generator?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Goodbye, Tammy Faye

Whatever may be said about Tammy Faye [Bakker] Messner, she was a compassionate woman who led the evangelical community to embrace AIDS patients and other previously "untouchable" communities.

Jim and I strongly recommend the biographical documentary Eyes of Tammy Faye and her son's autobiography Son of a Preacher Man for a fuller portrait of this complex and caring woman and the controversy that surrounded her.

Strollertown: Maclaren Vogue, A Traveler After Our Own Hearts

Once Ranger entered the world, we dealt with the looming reality that we would need a real stroller to replace his SnugRider car seat frame stroller in just a few short months. I had no idea how fast he would outgrow his car carrier, so I started stroller research soon after his birth.

Again, the travel system strollers looked less functional than their competitors. There were ample online complaints about their wheels, their weight, their turning radius, and their slightly bloated size.

Here were my stroller minimum requirements; the stroller should:
  • not hog my station wagon's cargo area,
  • not weigh more than the pile of books I keep by the bed,
  • include a good sunshade,
  • have ample seat support (remember losing the feeling in your feet while riding in 70s umbrella strollers?),
  • recline FULLY (this was a big deal as kids without good head support should online ride reclined and babies sleeping in the stroller can be a good, good thing!),
  • be durable (should last through multiple children),
  • fold easily,
  • steer with one hand,
  • be tall enough for us,
  • and be able to jump curbs and navigate yards and uneven surfaces in a pinch.
Things we didn't care about:
  • snack tray,
  • huge storage basket,
  • rain cover,
  • ability to attach car carrier,
  • storage bag,
  • and ease of use in air travel.
We chose Maclaren's Vogue which received great reviews online from both pros and parents, and it tested well in the store.

First-timers: Don't be afraid to take the demo stroller for a spin all around the store (with an eye for obstacles: real or improvised). Be sure and throw something heavy in the seat so you're getting a real feel for the stroller's performance... We were testing the stroller in a Target, so good ballast would have been a few large bags of sugar. People may give you completely bizarre looks, so be ready with a weepy "Little Domino, PLEEEEEZE stop crying." If you're in a baby store either flats of organic baby food (it comes in heavy glass jars) or massive formula canisters will quickly add up to baby weight- 20 to 30 pounds.

Pay attention to maneuverability, how your back and arms feel, whether you feet kick the lock or back bar, and where you will put the typical parent gear (baby bag, toys, etc.) when the seat has an occupant with human needs. Look for weak or cheap parts. If anything is worn or broken on the demo stroller, it will probably break for you too after some use. Fold and unfold the stroller repeatedly. This is really important. You'll get lots better at folding a stroller with real world use, but even as a total newby you will recognize the strollers that will infuriate you.

Avoid light colors unless you can live with visible dirt and stains. Strollers regularly pick up scuff marks as well as baby and toddler residue. Juice cups will be spilled. Washable covers are nice, but it's somewhat unrealistic to expect yourself to have time to regularly disassemble, wash, dry, and reassemble the stroller. After market stroller covers exist for just this reason, but that is for another post.

Anyway, the Maclaren Vogue stole our hearts with its smooth performance and clean design and my mom's wonderful prayer group friends bought it for us. This was such a great gift! The Vogue was then $200 at Target. The Vogue model has been retired by Maclaren (but is a close relative to the Maclaren Ryder which will be back on the market this fall.

When we were working on our Cielo review, I started wondering about replacement wheels for the Vogue (all lightweight strollers have lightweight wheels). Our Vogue is in fantastic shape, but we'd like see it used for more than one kid, so replacement wheels seem an eventuality. I emailed Maclaren and ended up learning a lot.

The Vogue was actually going off the market when we chose it. Turns out that some of the big box stores only buy soon-to-be-discontinued products from specialty manufacturers like Maclaren. The ramifications of this for the consumer? It may be harder to get replacement parts, but you benefit from discount store pricing. You won't be getting the absolute newest features, but you're still getting a quality product from a good manufacturer.

Maclaren's online parts ordering wouldn't allow me to purchase replacement wheels online. I emailed their parts people and they wanted my stroller to visit a Maclaren Service Center for inspection and replacement. This was sort of a problem as my stroller is in fabulous condition after over a year and a half of heavy use and I wanted the wheels on reserve for when mine wear down (they still look great). The nearest service center to my Southern Indiana home was south Georgia, so I couldn't just stop by. Maclaren's service centers are not in the Midwest or the Plains states. They're primarily near NYC, sprinkled in the southeast and in California. That leaves a HUGE service gap in the middle of this large nation.

So, I called the Maclaren customer service number which has the very odd hours of 8:30 am to 1 pm. Well, it turns out that Maclaren employees (with their handsome British accents) aren't taking really short days in Connecticut, they're working full days in England.

Part of the problem in getting replacement wheels is my specific model of Maclaren. Apparently some newer models- like the crimson red Maclaren Techno XT- don't always require inspection for replacement wheels.

Maclaren USA is looking for service centers in the middle US. They're just not in place at this time. Bummer, but not a real crisis in my mind. I think our well made Maclaren probably won't need service any time soon.

Back to the stroller itself, the Vogue came standard with a rain cover and retractable leg supports. While we didn't really consider either of these features before purchasing, these two items have turned out to be very significant. The leg supports make for longer stroller naps! The cover (while great in rain) is EVEN BETTER for shielding the baby in windy environments and making a little insulated bubble in cold weather (and while I'm not that into strolls in rainstorms, I do like winter walks).

The stroller doesn't have vast storage space and it can be hard to access the under-stroller basket when the seat is fully reclined, but we don't take oodles of stuff on our stroller trips. Like many lightweight strollers, the Vogue can tip backwards if you hang a heavy baby bag around the push handles. There's a British made counter-weight system that remedies this, but I just don't hang anything very heavy from the push handles. Another remedy for rear tipping would be placing gear in stroller saddlebags. (Skip Hop's model pictured.)

The Vogue is a true family favorite. It navigates easily over real world environments and obstacles and provides a very comfortable place for an infant or tot. We look forward to its newest incarnation this Fall as the soon to be re-released Ryder.

Another fine product from the company that pioneered high quality lightweight strollers.

*This review is the unsolicited, independent opinion of Baby Toolkit. We did receive a free set of replacement wheels from their American service center after our phone call, but that may be because I totally geeked out about the stroller in my phone call and scared them with my stalker-like enthusiasm.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Drink Healthy: Zrecs Offers An Extensive Primer to Polycarbonate Baby Bottles

Back when polycarbonate bottles became a major concern in our household, I was so frustrated not to find a website that cataloged major manufacturer baby bottles as polycarbonate and non-polycarbonate.

Our friends Jenni and Jeremiah at Z Recommends have put an immense amount of time into creating the polycarbonate baby bottle directory of my dreams at

Seriously, this list should be made available to every pregnant woman creating a baby registry. It was a generous labor of love for the McNichols as Miss Z is way past needing bottles.

Their sippy cup showdown of BPA-free bottles is similarly excellent information for toddler parents.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Fathers & Funerals

With a five hour solo drive to my former hometown and back, I had plenty of time to reflect on my dear friend's loss of her father and his funeral.

Just last week, this same friend told me that her Father-In-Law died the same June day an ultrasound revealed that their expected baby is a boy, the first grandson. Her husband was thrilled to have the opportunity tell his dying father of this happily anticipated son/grandson.

I immediately answered this sad email, and she soon responded that her 56 year-old dad died on Thursday night of a sudden heart attack.

I only met her dad once or twice, but I really admired him from my friend's stories and her wonderful traits that so many people attributed to her dad (a ready laugh, enthusiasm, and deep compassion for everyone). Her dad's love of history influenced her from early childhood on. At a young age, she began slipping tiny notes, missives to the future, into nooks and crannies- behind light switch plates and into architectural gaps of their home.

From the time of her birth (she is the oldest of three), her dad kept a faithful journal for his kids of their early lives. A few years ago at Christmas he had his ongoing journals unbound, reproduced, and bound into volumes for each of his three children. With this amazing gift of daily writing, my friend can see what her father was thinking on her 6th birthday, the day she became engaged, or the days her daughters were born. That's an amazing, daily gift of devotion.

Knowing the immeasurable void this gentle man's death leaves in my friend's closeknit family made me want to do something for her. And what I could do was less than remarkable, but important.

So, here's a brief guide for young Americans (us, not our children) to deaths and funerals .

1- Acknowledge the loss. This may sound completely obvious, but a lot of people in our generation simply don't know what to do. Plus, we're afraid to mistakenly do something painful and end up paralyzed with indecision. There are many ways to acknowledge a loss (card, flowers, memorial donations, food for the family, visiting the family, or attending the funeral). Sooner is always better, but a late condolence is better than none at all.

Sometimes your presence can be a gift to the survivors. We learned this firsthand when our college friend died just a year after graduation of diabetic complications. His college roommate called to inform us of the death and the funeral details. The roommate called so many people from our college days and many of them responded with "I didn't know him that well" or "Oh, hunh." When we arrived at visitation, the roommate met us in the parking lot. The three of us were the whole college contingent. We felt incredibly awkward and inadequate when we entered the small town funeral home teeming with lifelong friends and family.

As we approached our friend's parents, his mother brightened upon seeing his roommate and said to us, "You must be from the university too." They were cheered by our presence even though we were a flyspeck compared to the actual number of their son's college friends. It was important for them to know that in those college years (which amounted to almost a fourth of his total life) he was happy and loved.

What did we say? Not much in the way of originality or complexity. "I am so sorry." "He will be missed." "His smile was contagious." But we stood there to represent those independent, lesser-known-to-them years of their son's short life. Being there was most important thing we could do.

2- Don't feel like you have to answer the age old questions of death or grief. No one's really found a good soothing response thus far, so it's probably not going to come to you spontaneously.

"I'm sorry," is enough. If you want to say more- mention a favorite memory or trait or offer assistance (immediate or delayed). It's amazing how long people often stand during visitation. It's okay to offer a chair, a drink, tissues, or some other immediate assistance to the grieving.

Please refrain from all impulses to "fix" the situation (death) unless you can actually resuscitate the dead in a healthy, sound non-zombie state. If you have such powers, feel free to intervene.

Analysis of the situation can also be hurtful. Everyone has to answer "Why?" in their own time and manner. The answer that soothes you might make someone else powerfully angry or sad. Proceed here only with extreme caution.

3- After the funeral, don't avoid mentioning the individual who died (especially if they died in tragic circumstances). A mom who lost her 21 year old son in a freak and tragic accident told me that it was incredibly painful when people stopped mentioning him to her. She even started wondering at times if his life had been real or made any difference. It's important let her know that we remember him and miss him too. He's easy to remember and miss. I asked him once what he was doing for college spring break: "My little sisters are singing in church this Sunday" he said, beaming with brotherly pride. It was a unique Norman Rockwell moment in my university office- one imprinted on my memory.

The thing that impressed me most at this funeral is how proud my friends' father would have been of his family's graciousness and concern for others even the midst of grief. This fine father left to the world three incredibly brave, caring, and intelligent children. They are a true and lasting testament to his excellent parenting- and that's something we can all aspire to (Great work, Jeffrey!).

Friday, July 13, 2007

Bootie-licious: Craftster Addiction Leads to Sewing Binge

Warning: may lead to inspiration and spontaneous arts and crafts.

I've been reading Craftster lately, and it's leading to strange behavior: spontaneous sewing.

My grandmothers were both fabulous seamstresses, but my mom only learned basic sewing and pretty much loathed it. In 2004-05, I lucked into a year of sewing instruction from an amazing group of octogenarians who have been a sewing club since 1957(!). They're fascinating people and great teachers. I'm now a functional seamstress. It took me a few months to make a curtain (one curtain).

Anyway, it's soon to be raining babies here- so I started thinking about useful gifts that we didn't receive before Ranger was born.

One of our favorite things was given to us by the hospital. They had these little flannel mitts to keep him from scratching himself. He had a blue pair at first, but after a barf incident those were replaced with a red pair. Ranger was mesmerized by the red mitts as they floated past his face. Seriously, they were his first toy and they kept him captivated.

So I made some baby mitts from some red bumblebee satin with a flannel backing for a couple friends. They needed something more, so I found a cute bootie pattern in a library copy of Handmade Baby Gifts (Teresa Layman).

Two pairs of booties later, I started thinking about a friend expecting a boy in the Fall. I didn't think the made-up bees would be very appropriate for the son of a military man, so I found some discarded BDU sleeves from my brother's military service and whipped up a third pair of booties.

6 booties and 4 mitts in less than a week. I'm pretty pleased with myself.

So, what fabric- based baby items did you find indispensable? And where can I find a pattern?

P.S. The intended recipients of these gifts are not to my knowledge readers of this blog, so if you happen to know them too, please don't tell them about this post. Thanks.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Strollertown: Stroller Tune by Jonathan Coulton

P.S. If you don't have "Strollertown" by Jonathan Coulton imprinted on your brain, you're really missing a great stroller tune. I sometimes seriously consider getting a red Maclaren Techno XT because of this song (and I may not be alone in this twisted impulse as Amazon is currently sold out of the crimson version of these sweet rides).

Coulton is a huge favorite in this geek household. We love Code Monkey.

Strollertown: Baby's First Wheels- the Graco SnugRider

When we started stroller shopping, it seemed that all the registries were strongly encouraging travel systems for new parents. In my limited stroller-pushing experience with travel systems they seemed heavy, unwieldy, and less than compact when folded.

When it became apparent that Ranger would enter the world via cesarean, the weight of a bulky travel system (20+ pounds) seemed out of the question in the first month when I would be on lifting restriction. The "compact" travel systems didn't seem that much smaller or lighter (~17 pounds).

We had decided that we wanted a specific top-rated infant car seat, so we sought a compatible stroller, but they were all so heavy.

Then I started reading about stroller frames that carry car seat strollers. At the time, the Baby Trend Snap N Go frame stroller (~$50) was the only option available locally. It weighed around 12 pounds, but it was reported to be a little complex to work with the Graco car seat we had chosen. We registered for it with reservations.

A few weeks later Graco's SnugRider (~$60) came on the market. It was much easier to use with our chosen car seat than the universal frame strollers. We changed our registry immediately.

The SnugRider is incredibly light and still very stable. It's adjustable push bar works for people with a wide variety of heights. The basket is HUGE and easily accessed unless you stuff one enormous object in there. The stroller folds up to a moderate size, and with the adjustable push bar lowered, it works well as a carrier holder in restaurants.

We think this frame would be great for maneuvering airports with an infant, although it would have to be gate checked upon arriving at the plane (there's no way it would pass for carry-on).

It doesn't have a an additional sunshade like the ones on travel systems, so we often took along a light blanket to cover the carrier in bright light or wind.

A Graco car seat is very easy to install and remove from the frame. Snapping the seat in and out of the stroller are as simple as using the locking base in the car (maybe even easier).

The SnugRider was a vast improvement upon using the car seat as a solo carrier (which wears out already tired arms and shoulders).

We tricked out his car seat for winter with a sherpa Bundle Me cover by J.J. Cole (incidentally one of the few car seat covers that work well with the Graco seat) that a friend didn't want and a flannel receiving blanket attached to the shade with a few big safety pins (on the outside so Ranger couldn't tinker with them). We just flipped the blanket back over the seat's shade when Ranger was out of the elements and awake.

Ranger really liked riding in the SnugRider as it let him face whoever was pushing and he could encourage us to make faces or do little dances to keep him entertained.

We were all a little sad when he got too tall for his infant car seat and had to move to an actual stroller (the Maclaren Vogue- our review).

*This review is the independent, unsolictied opinion of Baby Toolkit ( We have no relationship with and have received no compensation from Graco Baby (beyond being satisfied customers).

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Musical Interlude: Happiness on Disc

Anyone who has been unfortunate enough to ask me what I've been listening to lately knows that I'm somewhat fixated on the music of Dan Zanes. It started with Sea Music about 8 months before Ranger was born: I listened once and I was hooked. There's just something about a young boy singing "It's all for me grog, me noggin', noggin' grog. It's all for me beer and tobacco." It appeals to my twisted humor and a family love for traditional music and storytelling.

If you've been fortunate enough to avoid Dan Zanes discussions with me thus far, he has two albums of traditional music (the amazing aforementioned Sea Music and the Parents' Choice Recommended Parades and Panaramas with traditional songs about hobos and the sinking Titanic) and 5 high-quality, fun-for-adults-too family albums (Rocket Ship Beach, Family Dance, Night Time!, House Party!, and Catch That Train!). No one should miss out on future kid music classics like "King Kong Kitchie," my favorite twilight song "Linger for Awhile," or happy parenting songs like "Smile, Smile, Smile."

Zanes sings with too many music luminaries to list. Kids get doses of Suzanne Vega, Lou Reed, The Blind Boys of Alabama, the Kronos Quartet, and Aimee Mann (to name a few) when listening, dancing, and singing.

It's great stuff, but it's not why I'm writing this post. Zanes put together a compilation called "Bright Spaces 2: Family Music to Benefit Kids in Crisis." It benefits Bright Horizons Foundation for Children which creates playspaces for children and families in homeless shelters. Zanes calls the album a "musical scrapbook," but to me it offers the same fascinating perspective as prowling through a favorite writer's personal library.

Ranger and I fell immediately and deeply in love with track 2: Elizabeth Mitchell's "Little Sack of Sugar." I sing and tickle, he laughs and laughs and laughs some more. We dance. Bliss.

So, I started looking for this remarkable voice in independent efforts. Her joint album with Lisa Loeb (Catch the Moon) just wasn't going to make it home with me. Somehow Lisa Loeb has always struck me as a geek poser, and while it's common for geeks to pose (usually with comical results) as everything from ninja to supermodel, it's just not right when people try to be us. Seriously, it's easy enough to be a geek- just get really passionate about something completely esoteric or unpopular. Why pose when it's so readily attainable and you're missing the very best part of geekhood?

Maybe I'm wrong, but that's been my impression. [Everyone is now looking for their "unsubscribe" button- sorry, back to the music.]

So, I go to the local booksellers. Nada. Indianapolis, album with Lisa Loeb. I'm universally striking out. Make mental note to order online, lose mind. Months later see 2002 album, You Are My Sunshine in kids' cds at bookstore. Beeline to cash register. I should have run to the cash register and installed a cd player in my car so I could listen to it that much sooner (I know, I still use tapes in my car- how 1980- at least they're not 8-tracks).

This is unmistakably a kids' album, but it's the best part of being of a kid. "I'm So Glad I'm Here" can turn even a "testing the boundaries" morning into a passable day. "Ooby Dooby" is the best kind of jump-around brainworm.

Get this album, your kids will thank you for it...

If you're lucky enough to hear her other albums please drop me a line.

*BabyToolkit has no relationship with any of the artists listed above and has received no compensation (other than the pleasure of listening) from them for this review. My apologies to Lisa Loeb and her fans if my comments are misguided.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Geek Out: A Bib Worth Coding For

I'm not exactly sure why I was cruising the baby section of Etsy, but it's probably no surprise as I've been reading forums all week seeing people make Muppet heads to hold glasses, elephant tea cozies, and the like. My lack of time for things homemade has translated into online browsing.

While at Etsy, I found a wonderful shop where they have what I believe may be the geekiest bib ever:Yes, that is program code (we think it's C network programming- it's hard to tell from the pictures). It's chenille backed and $8. Truly a great gift for the geek parent in your life (unlike kids, parents actually see the bibs while in use).

Jen, the mom behind Colby Lane Designs, has the same print in black and white, as well as a keyboard print that isn't up on the shop yet. She may even be able to get a cool motherboard print if we prevail upon her. He fabric choices are different and charming ranging from tadpoles (which look sweet while showing the growth stages of the pre-froggies) to lawn gnomes to retro Jell-o molds (and I cannot neglect to mention the awesome hedgehogs).

She can also make burp cloths (3/$19.99) and baby blankets ($25) from many of the fabrics shown.

The Computer Code bib in black is presently showing as out of stock (I just bought the last one in stock), so contact her through Etsy messaging if you want one (I already checked, she would be happy to make more).

Baby Toolkit has no relationship (other than being customers and fans of) Colby Lane Designs or Etsy and has received no compensation for this unsolicited review.