Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Keep It Together: Metal Tin Manicure Kit Corralls Small Utensils

Some hacks have been around so long that you forget they aren't common practices. This organization hack comes from my parents' home, and it saves me a lot of searching for small toiletry utensils

Ever find yourself looking desperately for tweezers or nail clippers in a cluttered drawer or cabinet?

Small metal tins work wonders keeping items contained. I especially like the metal Band-Aid tins, but they seem to be hard to locate these days.

The tins with hinged lids are best for bathroom drawer storage (as long as they stay dry). I use an Altoids tin for safety pins, hair pins & elastics, and extra buttons.

They're great for travel, easy to locate in drawers, puncture proof, and they make me want to put things back when I'm finished.

A motivated hacker with a power drill and a utilitarian sense of style could combine these with a magnetic knife holder for colorful, versatile, out-of-baby's-reach, off-the-counter bathroom storage.

How do you battle chaos in the bathroom cabinets? Maxwell's demon?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Stink Bomb Went Off: Why Our Diaper Champ Is Retiring

We loved the Diaper Champ. That made its betrayal all the more heartbreaking.

This December, after 16 months of successful smell-proofing, our Diaper Champ started emitting a horrific diaper stench far worse than any single load of diapers. Our son's diet hadn't changed, nor had his diapers. The Champ just quit working (seemingly overnight).

We have always fastidious with the Champ, so we thought it would work effectively forever.

The designers however decided to integrate a cloth and foam gasket in the Champ (it isn't in the newest wide-based version which appears to have no gaskets). It seems to have sucked in the noxious fumes like a sponge and has recently turned from absorption to emission.

BabyGeek's room now smells the ape house at a disreputable zoo. The Champ seems irreparable without ripping out the gasket and replacing it with improvised parts. The only way the Diaper Champ can stay in BabyGeek's room is if we all add gas masks to our daily wardrobe.

We're replacing the Champ with a stench-proof steel trash can. It won't have the easy one-handed function, but the room probably will no longer smell like the circus has come to town.

We hacked the steel can a little to smell-proof it more. We filled the tiny gaps near the handle with silicone caulk and put a ring of caulk around the edge of the lid for extra stench-stopping, but the silicone will not cure (anyone know why?), so we're scraping it all off and repeating the whole process with hot glue.

Hopefully, this will clear the air.

Feb. 1, 2007:
PLEASE READ Update on Diaper Champ situation:

Friday, January 19, 2007

Shower Me With Dumplings: The Best Baby Shower Ever

While I couldn't wait for the opportunity to hit the keyboard, BabyGeek is busy sleeping off the excitement from this morning. Two of our fabulous Tuesday Mommas are expecting in the next month, and we're all excited so we had the Best Baby Shower Ever. Since we all met after the birth of our babies, it seemed really fun to share a shower with new friends.

But what do you get for a family that already has kids? Diaper showers lack excitement ("Think of all the poo!") and second-timer (or more seasoned) parents typically already have a house full of stuff to stub their toes on.

Joy, one of the expectant moms who claims to have baby brain (but is still brilliant), mentioned that she'd heard about a "Cooking Shower"and would find one quite useful. A Google search for "cooking shower" apparently returns things like a "kitchen shower" for brides-to-be. New spatulas were definitely not what we were thinking of. So let's call it a Dinner Shower for now. If you have a better term in mind, please add it to the comments- this is a killer meme and it deserves a great and distinctive name.

The Dinner Shower (hosted at Joy's house because she has a great play area at her house for the passel of babies who accompany the Tuesday Mommas and a great kitchen) entailed everyone bringing a prepared, freezable dish. Since we had two expecting moms, we all brought enough food for two families and spent time looking like an infomercial while Cathy demonstrated her Food Saver. ("So how does it vacuum-seal soup?")

We split our prepared food into portions for both expectant moms' families (in a shower for just one mom this wouldn't be necessary). Joy's went right in the freezer while Amy's went into a cooler for the ride home.

Some people made a breakfast casserole while all this was going on (which we then divided and froze), and we all pitched in on clean up so everyone who brought food for repackaging took home clean dishes.

We had pizza and got to spend some quality time together.

The moms each received seven carefully prepared and delicious looking homemade entrees (all in portions large enough for multiple meals). What a great resource for those first tiring weeks of new baby's life.

No one needs to prepare expensive or elaborate meals, so everyone can give according to the time and funds they have available. Plus, the frozen meals mean the giver can plan ahead despite the random nature of birth and the family can control the timing of the meals.

This wonderful time together also honors community. My mom reminds me that in previous generations people always used to give prepared meals to families with new arrivals. This type of shower reinforces community in a way that shares and acknowledges the dualistic joy and difficulty of family life.

The shower's positive energy has made me realize the simple abundance in a well-timed gift of a good meal. It's enough to get me excitedly planning ahead for the hot meals I'll be dropping off after the babies are home a few weeks.

....but, if you must buy a traditional shower gift, let me suggest the Diaper Valet. It's handy.

What type of baby showers have you actually enjoyed?

How can we improve the Dinner Shower idea (including the name)?

Who has good freezable recipes? (Please share!)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Big Muddy: Keeping Stroller Gunk Out of Car Upholstery

As a huge fan of Bryce Courtenay's novel Power of One, it slightly pleases me that there has been an atypical amount of rain in our sometimes drought-prone region since BabyGeek's birth. The symbolism is pleasant until I have to put a wet, muddy, or otherwise gross stroller into my car.

After a few months of stroller use, I found that mud and black wheel tracks had become regular additions to my station wagon's tan interior. On snowy and rainy days, the carpet got damp, so loading in groceries or other clean and dry items became an exercise in peril.

There are rubber cargo area mats for many vehicles, but I couldn't find one shaped for my specific late-90s vehicle. An ill-fitting universal mat seemed like it could be more inconvenient than helpful.

At a rummage sale, I found a Thanksgiving themed flannel-backed vinyl tablecloth. It was large, oval, and in like-new condition. And it was kind of hideous. It was essentially free because they were having a bag sale, and I had room in my bag. These factors made it the perfect test subject.

I laid the tablecloth in the back of my car and traced the outline of my cargo area on it with a Sharpie (I keep two in the glove compartment- a fine and a regular). The desired portion only took half of the tablecloth, so I folded it in half and cut out two floor coverings using household scissors.

Originally, I had planned to sew the edges on a serger, but they seemed to have plenty of integrity without the extra work, so I decided to take my chances. Plus, the Thanksgiving design wasn't exactly something I wanted to keep forever. I bought two lovely solid colored replacements for the Thanksgiving cargo area liner. They both sit untouched in a closet.

The Thanksgiving liner has been in my car for over 9 months and shows no sign of wear. Dry matter (dirt, sand, Cheerios, etc.) is easily brushed or shaken off. Wet, mucky stuff cleans off easily with a sponge, paper towel, or baby wipe.

Out of laziness rather than insight, I stacked both Thanksgiving liners in the cargo area. This turned out to be quite helpful. When one get wet, it's easy to pull it out or fold it around around the icky item (leaving the other liner to cover the carpet).

Vinyl tablecloths
are easy to find at big box retailers, discount stores, dollar stores, and thrift shops. They come in a huge range of styles, prints, and solid colors. They are reasonably indestructible (if the Thanksgiving liner is any indicator). Even at full-price, they cost only a small fraction of the price of a commercially produced cargo area or trunk liner.

Please add your own clean car hacks to this post. My car is a perpetual mess since BabyGeek's arrival, and I can use all help I can get.

BabyGeek (at 16 months) actively despises going through the car wash (not alone, of couse; I'm in the car too). Is that normal? Can I hope it's a phase?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

MoMamas Got a Brand New Bag: How a Diaper Hack Became a Business

Posts have been pretty sporadic here for the past month. It wasn't the holidays slowing me down, it was a hack gone wild.

After a couple months of visiting public changing stations, I knew that the practice of digging through my large diaper bag (I love the Land's End “Do It All” diaper bag and backpack diaper bag) for supplies was not one I wanted to continue. It was hard to figure out where to set the bag, and I would always need something mid-change that wasn't on hand. It was like combined juggling and plate-spinning with a squirming, potentially fluid-erupting infant in the midst.

There had to be a better way, so I went to Google. The solution seemed at hand. I bought a popular envelope-style diaper carrier. It promised to hold four diapers, diaper cream, and a wipes case. Promises, promises. It could hold all those things, but not at the same time. Hunh.

So I stuffed in my wipes case, 2 small diapers (BabyGeek was only in a size 2 when this all happened), and distorted the bag to the point the seams wailed in agony by adding a very necessary tube of original Desitin.

There was one distinct advantage to this system- now Jim could take just the little envelope to the public changing stations when we were out, so the big baby bag no longer needed to visit the Men's Room- or the Men's Room floor.

There were problems though. When ever I wanted any single item out of the bag (with the exception of the diaper cream which is never used alone), the entire bag would have to be unpacked to remove an item. Pull out one diaper and the other one flops out. Want a wipe? I'd have to pull out the diapers too if I wanted to get the case back in the envelope. Still, it beat the alternative.

Some of my friends bought the same carrier after seeing mine. Others, often parents with more than one kid in diapers proclaimed it "useless."

After long talks with my friend (and SuperMom to twins) Veronica of Allie Bug Creations , I had ideas for a truly functional case.

With limited sewing skills, I sat down and made my own diaper carrier. It worked well, but looked like something made by a less-than-talented Brownie Scout. Jim and I both liked its function, so the diaper envelope was set aside and forgotten. Originally, I had thought I would make a few more for friends, but my sewing was such that I couldn't imagine anyone else being willing to take one in public. However, I was proud enough of the design that I could take my mis-sewn hack wherever we went. Jim, whose degree in Art was apparently overwhelmed by his Computer Science pragmatism, loved it too- but for function rather than form.

Jim's Aunt Mo (who started her working career as a professional tailor for an old-school, up-scale department store) saw the little bag when we visiting at her house.

Mo: “Made that yourself?”

Me: “Shows, doesn't it?”


The matter seemed forgotten until Mo retired about two months ago. I get a call:

“Why don't you drop off that bag over here, and I'll see what I can do with it.”

Unwilling to part with my sad prototype (and embarrassed to give her that particularly bad example of my work), I spent a few days making a vastly improved copy. It had all the niceties I couldn't manage on the first bag (like topstitching).

BabyGeek and I dropped it off. A few days later Jim brings home Mo's version of the bag. It was obviously the handiwork of a professional, but she made a few brilliant revisions to the design.

So here it is- my little hack all grown up, and I think it beats the pants off a Ziplock baggie.

It, the Diaper Valet, holds at least 4 big diapers, ointment, and a refillable wipes case all at the same time. The vertically-oriented diaper pocket makes for easy inspection, removal, and refilling of contents. The pocket has a large capacity despite its compact exterior dimensions.

We even added a little pocket with a Velcro closure inside the big diaper pocket to hold smaller items like ID, cash, receipts, credit cards, and even a Leatherman Micra.

We decided to capitalize on the handy and refillable Huggies wipes case's pop-up door. We made the wipes easy to access without removing the case from the bag. The pocket that holds the wipes case can also serve as a pop-up dispenser for standard, unboxed facial tissue (we discovered this by accident).

Sturdy ribbon side loops were added to attach keys, toys, and carabiner clips. A ribbon-topped Velcro closure pulls it all together, neatly accommodating a variety of payloads.

The Diaper Valet is made of quality washable materials and retails for $30.

We can also put handles on the Diaper Valet if you prefer something more purse-like. Long handles are an additional $6.50; short handles are $5.

If you want to learn more about the Diaper Valet or our small company, MoMamas, please visit I promise that I don't sew a stitch on them.

Otherwise, things will soon be returning to normal around here and posts will resume a more frequent pattern.

Upcoming topics:

  • baby bottles & how to organize them
  • keeping stroller muck out of your car upholstery
  • bibs and other feeding solutions

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Give 'em the Chair: Booster Seat Revelations

When we finally revealed our pregnancy, my mother-in-law squealed with delight "Great, now I can get you that booster seat!"

After 11 years of hearing "you're pregnant!" as a response to any "we have news" type comment, I didn't realize we were adding another person to the planet so other people could shop new aisles of their favorite stores. Weird.

Anyway, the wondrous seat turned out to be one of those hook-to-the-table fellows. It never was purchased. Have you noticed how restaurant tables often wobble? How do you think they'll perform with a 30 pound toddler dangling from an edge? I didn't want to find out. Plus, those seem designed for restaurant use. I really don't want to carry my own seat along when the restaurant provides suitable ones on loan. Even at my most germ obsessed, an anti-bacterial wipe or a high chair seat cover (we love the Buggy Bagg for little babies and will review it soon) can remedy 99.9% of the seats we encounter. And that other .01%, don't eat there. Seriously, the high chair is the tip of the iceberg.

So, I smugly assumed I would never ever need a portable booster seat. Ha! Only if we agree not to visit friends and family and never travel overnight.

My parents, who BabyGeek visits at least weekly, did not want to invest in a great, stable high chair (Chicco Polly, $130 at Target) in either funds or floorspace. The cheaper high chairs available in our area were highly unstable, so we compromised on a Fisher Price Healthy Care Booster ($25 at K-Mart or Target).
While I was reading the use instructions, BabyGeek kept climbing in and out of the seat while it sat trayless on the floor, and laughed like a maniac. It was one of the first pieces of grown-up style gear that came in his size, and he was eager to use it. The FP Healthy Care seat, like many other boosters, straps to the back and seat of a real dining chair.

It fits securely on a kitchen chair. BabyGeek loves pulling the tray lid off and the secondary tray, but is equally amused to replace them. To date, he doesn't attempt these maneuvers with food in the tray.

We borrowed this seat when visiting friends' and relatives' homes, but any spontaneous trips often meant we went without the booster. After one of these ill-fated journeys, we stopped at a Meijer to buy another portable booster. They don't carry the Fisher Price brand seat, so we picked up the $20 Safety 1st Deluxe Fold-Up Booster Seat (and congratulated ourself on frugality).

The congratulations was premature. Safety 1st's seat lacks variety in high adjustment for the booster seat (it has two settings as opposed to the 4 options on the Healthy Care seat). The tray was almost impossible to attach and remove. I fought with it for a while, managing to brutally pinch myself (blood-blister style) twice. Jim, upon my request, decided to show me another tactic which resulted in a third pinch injury for the Jones family. Now, if the tray is so bloody hard to get on and off without a toddler flailing in the midst, how on Earth will we manage it with BabyGeek adding fragile, curious hands and feet to the mix?

Plus, there is a bomb (megaton in proportion) in the instructions. I scanned it in lest you think I made it up.
Place the serving tray (the white insert tray) where? In whose diaper bag? Oh my. When I carry the giant diaper bag, it's already stuffed to the gills, and a little cute one? No chance unless someone can alter the fabric of space and time:

[If you are wondering about the small diaper bag- it holds 4 diapers, a full sized ointment tube, my cell phone, checkbook, cards, cash, and a refillable diaper wipe case. Plus, it's part of the reason I've not been posting lately- more on it later- it's a hack gone wild.]

After the blood blisters, I was fully prepared to tell Safety 1st where best to put their tray. This made me realize a subtle advantage of the tray lid on the Healthy Care seat. A dirty tray can be snapped shut and cleaned at home (in the sink or dishwasher). It's nice to have that option.

We returned the Safety 1st seat the next time we were at Meijer. For BabyGeek's birthday party at Jim's folks' house, they bought him a First Years Swing Tray Booster Seat. Before the napkin was on my lap, BabyGeek, had dismantled the swing tray to the point it took the big Gerber pocket tool to repair it and required constant supervision from that point on. It has no drop-in-tray, so you have to pull the big tray off and clean it. It's not that difficult, but it's less convenient than the others. It has no apparent height adjustment.

Needless to say, we feel that the Fisher Price Healthy Care seat did the best in our family's field testing. It's definitely worth the extra five bucks.