Saturday, June 30, 2007


Less Mess Toddler Spoon by Sassy are great when babies start trying to manipulate utensils on their own. The curved handles help the babies get the food to their mouths (straight handed spoons are really hard for little hands to maneuver well). The tiny holes help mushy foods (like applesauce) stay on the spoon.

The spoons are around $4 to 5 for a pair. They wash beautifully and are good for most foods (barring soup). They're a fine investment for any beginning eater.

What more can I say? It's a fine spoon.

Baby Toolkit has no relationship with Sassy and has received no compensation for this unsolicited review.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Boob Wars

Okay, ladies (dads can weigh on this too, but moms are much more culpable in this particular matter)-

Reading GoodyBlog earlier this week, I realized that another volley has been launched in the boob wars with a recent Parents Magazine article on breastfeeding in public. I say wars rather than debate because debate suggests some level of dialog and attempts at mutual understanding.

Somehow any mundane discussion of breastfeeding or bottlefeeding or bottles themselves seems to eventually deteriorate into a gladiatorial battle with both breast-feeders and bottle-feeders feeling defensive.

Here are the indisputable facts of our shared maternal situation:

We (moms) all must choose how to feed our infants as they yet cannot choose how to feed themselves and are not yet sophisticated enough to go on the all-cracker diet. We all face incredible pressure and criticism in this decision from loved ones, acquaintances, and strangers on the street. We all choose a method- though some people have far more contributing factors than others- and proceed give our children life-giving sustenance. We are all losing sleep- lots of it- to late night feedings and general worry.

Breastfeeding is generally preferred and strongly recommended by physicians. It is however, not recommended in every medical situation. Chemotherapy, psychological drugs, heart medicine, and some antibiotics, for instance, do not mix well with babies. They actually hurt babies. People on drugs dangerous to babies should not breastfeed. Can we agree on this?

People caring for children who they did not birth tend not to breastfeed either. I've read about adoptive mothers who work to lactate for their newborn infants, but I don't think this practice is very common. Foster parents and guardians also seem to typically be outside the option of breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding, though a biologically natural process, is not always accomplished with every infant as some have unusual physical structures (palette issues, etc.). Some moms also have unusual physical structures that complicate nursing. Other moms may have nutritionally poor milk or poor milk production- in these cases infants face a risk of malnutrition.

Other moms may be particularly vulnerable to infections like mastitis.

Anyone reading social history- or even Little House on the Prairie- knows that mothers of newborns were susceptible to life-threatening "fevers" and some babies "never flourished" and lived very short lives. We have better medicine and far more information now.

By now, the lactators in the audience are surely starting to grumble... but hang on, I'm not done yet... Obviously, for the majority of people, breastfeeding is the healthiest option (as well as the most intimate, cheapest, and most convenient). This is why breastfeeding is great and easy to recommend to others.

But some healthy moms choose not to breastfeed- and they are the moms who militant lactivists would like to approach. Now, I agree with you that it's mind-bogglingly irritating when people remark that "It's [breastfeeding's] just NOT NATURAL." They are so inaccurate in this remark- and they do violence to the English language and logic simultaneously. [May I request that practitioners of this despicable phrase please adopt the more accurate criticism "It seems so primal." Thank you.]

Some formula feeding women simply followed the patterns of their mothers and grandmothers who became convinced breastfeeding was only for the poor, unsophisticated, and uncouth (thank you, formula advertisers of the early 20th century).

Some formula feeding moms are working moms. Sure you can pump- which is easy when you have clean, private office with a solid, locking door, some control of your work schedule, and convenient refrigeration facilities. However, in the small shampoo and tanning lotion factory and warehouse where I worked one college summer, the workers there didn't have regular breaks or any breakroom. The restrooms were shared with men who greatly outnumbered the women (and they were SOOOO gross). The plant was easily 90 degrees at its coolest. That work situation is far better than that of moms working in low-paying fields like hotel housekeeping (a high school summer job) or fast food (a couple college summers).

And not all office workers and professionals have it easy either. Cubicle dwellers and elementary through high school teachers may face problems finding a good pumping location, a regularly available time, and milk storage facilities. Even in a good office situation, it might become necessary to have an awkward disclosure of that innocuous bottle being expressed milk so it isn't poached for a colleague's coffee.

So why do we all turn into gladiators, ready to battle to the death, at the mere sight of a woman feeding her child in a different manner than the one we chose for ourselves? I never see moms rushing over at a restaurant to lecture another on how her child might benefit from a vegetable other than french fries or moms confronting each other about toddlers drinking soda.

Why is this topic fair game for public discussion? Well, truthfully it's not, but we justify our nosiness in two ways. It's either a) for the health of the child or b) it's a public place and it should be pleasant and free of boobs. Let's consider these justifications for a moment.

"It's for the health of the child." This assumes you know the medical history and life/work situation of the mom receiving unsolicited advice. With strangers, you don't. With acquaintances, there may be more going on than you know. Besides, our society loves to look the other way regarding children's health, so this is a somewhat disingenuous argument. Children's health care, for instance, is troubled by our labyrinthine medical insurance system. From 1997 to 2006, in my home state of Indiana, 136,ooo children lost private health coverage. These kids were fortunate to have health insurance in the first place which isn't true for kids whose parents work low-income jobs where health insurance is either not provided or not affordable after basic living expenses. So, maybe our concerns for the "health of the child" would be better applied in striking up conversations with people in suits about children's healthcare (especially those people in suits who we send to Washington) instead of attacking individual moms.

"It's a public place." Yes, it is, but it's not like breastfeeding moms are tabledancing topless for tips- they're feeding their kids. If you see a bit of boob accidentally, it's probably not a big deal for the nursing mom, so don't feel incredibly awkward. Breastfeeding moms are offended by staring, glaring, photography, and/or caustic comments. If you need to interact with a mom who is breastfeeding, just remember the advice proffered to young men trying to meet women "The eyes are up here, buddy." Make eye contact, and treat her normally; the whole experience will probably be exquisitely mundane.

Given the proliferation of adveritising and contemporary fashions, public places are already cleavage laden, and frankly one more boob isn't going to tilt the scale tipping this whole handbasket toward hell.

We moms have a lot more in common than just concerns about stretch marks and a future of baby-food splattered clothing. None of us should be worrying about public censure when feeding our children. So next time you see a mom who looks chagrined with a public feeding (breast OR bottle), smile and maybe say something nice, something comforting, something supportive. We've all been in those slightly spit-up splattered shoes.

Let's not all be boobs about this.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Required Reading: Maxed Out

EVERY American family needs to read (or listen to the audiobook of) Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit, and The Era of Predatory Lenders.

Seriously, the credit card industry has legislative advantages and intents that most of us would never guess.

In college when frat boys hocking credit cards would yell to my husband "Free t-shirt!" He would raise one fist in the air and yell back, "Credit is the oppressor of the middle class."

Truer words were never spoken.

There's a phenomenal Maxed Out documentary too, but it is much better when viewed after completing the book than before reading it. Look at your local library for this book and documentary. If they don't already own these materials, request them for acquisition so your entire community can benefit from this information as well.

We tip our hats to author/filmmaker James Scurlock and our newly discovered hero Elizabeth Warren for their sincere attempts to inform and protect low and middle income families.

The Things We Carry: Car as Utility Belt

When the Momemergency Kit busted onto the blog scene, I started thinking about all the stashed parental emergency supplies that keep us from minor disaster on a regular basis. So here's a peek behind the virtual curtain- into my car.

Although I have a handy tiny diaper bag, a larger "car bag," and some important stuff in or clipped to my pockets, the importance of my car cannot be ignored. Out here in the Midwest, we need cars to get around and to keep popular automotive urban legends alive [the preeminent urban legend writer Jan Brunvand wrote The Vanishing Hitchhiker (the 1981 book that launched popular interest in ULs) while studying at Indiana University].

Before we had Ranger, my car was already well stocked with essential gear: blanket(s), a great mutli-bit screwdriver, a standard metric portable tool kit, a big lug nut wrench (it's the only way I can get enough leverage to break the hydraulically installed lug nuts when changing a flat), a car owner's manual, a pair of mittens, a jacket, some cloth bags, a phone book, a cell charger, a Patsy Cline tape, 12 foot tape measure, a safety hammer, bug spray, a gigantic flashlight (don't make me bust heads), and a good national atlas.

But with Ranger on board, even more gear has entered the car. I've already mentioned my vinyl tablecloth liner to keep stroller gunk out of the upholstery and our beloved Maclaren stroller. We also have a car seat and a rolled up towel to keep it level.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg of Ranger gear:

ENTERTAINMENT: Do not put an infant or toddler in the car with nothing to do. They will get bored. Keep a variety of items in reach to hand them when they a) tire of what they are playing with or b) drop their current toy somewhere you can't reach.
  • Mini-Magna Doodle- We love this thing. The pen can't get lost or mark up the upholstery when dropped.
  • Sliding bead toy- This abacus-meets-maze toy caught my eye at a rummage sale. I have no idea about it's origins, but those were definitely 50 of the best cents I've ever spent.
  • HABA marionette toys- These pocket-sized toys are great for carrying into restaurants and stores. Tiny kiddos just like grasping them, and bigger kids can use them for imaginative play.
  • Plastic links- we used these for everything when Ranger was a wee GeekBaby. There are probably still a dozen of them under the seats.
  • Improvised toys- goldfish container/toddler puzzle, plastic eyeglasses case, leather drink coaster (not sure why he loves it, but he does)
  • Books- even for non-readers, books are fine entertainment. They're great tactile objects for grasping. Some wee tikes just love turning pages and looking at pictures. Ranger particularly liked die-cut board books with irregular shapes. Squishy Turtle and Friends has great textures and sounds (crinkly stuff between some of the pages).
  • Little cars and trucks- Maybe Ranger's into the meta-transportation experience: cars and trucks make him happy on the road.
FEEDING: When toys don't work, food sometimes does. Plus, a little guy gets hungry on the go. It's nice to have some Ranger-friendly treats within reach.
  • Crackers- easy, non-perishable, not heat susceptible. Vacuum up easily.
  • Shelf-stable milk boxes- These are great even though Ranger sees any cardboard beverage box as an instant fountain. I just cut open the box and dump its contents into his drink cup.
  • Juice boxes
  • Out of car feeding supplies- a LeachCo Sit 'N Secure wrap for places without high chairs, a spare straw cup or bottle, and Table Toppers.
CARE: For accidents and or their prevention.
  • Monkey harness- We can debate the ethics of kid harnesses in a future post, but Ranger loves wearing it and likes to hold it and talk to it in the car.
  • A pack of disposable changing pads- These are versatile. They're handy when there's a diaper leak that soaks the car seat or you need somewhere to set muddy shoes. They can be cut and used as makeshift tie-on bibs. They can be set under a kid who has just played in a sprinkler but doesn't have a change of clothes.
  • Jacket and hat- Weather changes frequently here. It never hurts to be prepared.
  • Sunblock
  • Bug spray
  • Car seat sized blanket
  • Zip-lock baggies- useful and versatile. They make great makeshift snack servers for some toddlers.
  • Foam ear plugs- because sometimes you have to sit parked with a wailing infant. Don't drive with them in place, it's illegal in many states.
  • Aquaphor in a lip balm tub- It's chap stick, a cut/abrasion ointment, and I suspect chafing dish fuel (among a thousand other things).
  • Sunglasses and other prescription glasses- Seeing is really handy while driving. Having backup eyewear can be a lifesaver.
  • Dental floss- My mom would be so proud, so please don't tell her this is one of my favorite Macguyver project tools. I'm no red-light flosser, but instead practice flossing in the privacy of my own home.
  • Sharpie or other permanent marker- just don't let it fall into young hands.
So- what and where are your parenting survival tools? I invite other bloggers to photograph and share a corner of their personal parenting arsenal. Add a comment and a link below, or email me and I'll add it here.

And, yes Mom, I am now going to floss.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Why I Blog: A Manifesto

It's not surprising that Jim and I don't self-identify as bloggers locally. "What's a blog?" is the most common local response, and people shift uncomfortably from foot to foot and don't make eye contact when we try to explain. You'd think we were trying to explain the mechanics of the national debt. It's sad because I'm so happy to be blogging and have SOOO much to say about it and no live audience.

Some great blogging moms in Toronto got me thinking about what drives me to blog with their BlogHer or Bust "How Blogging Empowers Women" contest.

While I can't speak for all women- or at least I shouldn't- I can tell you how blogging empowers me.

My beloved baby group is full of wonderful women, but when it comes to politics and world view, this geek sometimes stands alone. I'm a charming (or so they say) eccentric who uses cloth shopping bags, avoids licensed characters and television, and hopes my son won't learn about Chuck E. Cheese until he is pushing 20 and can buy his own tokens. Online, people like Jenni and Jeremiah of, Asha and many readers of Parent Hacks remind me that other people are concerned about these issues too and inquiry is not dead.

As a complete neophyte in the world of parenting (I wasn't one of those girls who grew up planning to marry or have kids- so I dedicated no time to babysitting or even noticing much younger children and infants), it's nice to have a sounding board for some of the rogue ideas that cross my mind. Is it a good idea to use swim noodles to keep doors from closing? Probably. How about using an old pill bottle as a dice dome? Possibly not (as commenter Stephanie Marushia points out).

Blogging can function as a form of peer review where others in the parenting business test your ideas and issue verdicts. Sometimes professionals even weigh in on posts. It's really quite enlightening and far less embarrassing than local opinion polling. Without such feedback, I might be doing far more really stupid harmful things with the best of intentions.

That brings me to my next affinity for blogging- the complete nose-thumbing incredulity about the whole "Perfect Mom" image. Somehow, in real life groups, there is always someone who is trying to out-perfect (can I use Martha Stewart as a verb here?) her mom colleagues. This leads to some grievous dishonesty and rivalry. I think most of us aren't trying to portray ourselves as The Perfect Mom, we're just trying to stay above 50% and under the radar. Out here (in the 'sphere) people aren't ashamed to honestly discuss their parenting lows (tasting Desitin) and failings (or maybe more accurately feelings of personal failure). This honest dialog frees us from expectations (internal and external) of perfection and lets us laugh at those still clamoring toward Perfection. So what if my son is on the cracker and apple diet? Maybe he'll grow up to be the next skinny Elvis.

It's impossible to discuss empowerment and not touch on economics. While most parent bloggers aren't striking it rich and getting gold teeth and Escalades emblazoned with their kids' names, even a minimal investment into blogging can yield a teeny, tiny income for many. With free tools one can post a blog and get paid advertising posted on it. Sure, it may just be pennies a day, but they're pennies you didn't have before and (in my case at least) they're for doing something you'd do anyway for pleasure.

The most empowering thing about blogging is the supportive community it offers. While I've periodically read about inter-blog rivalry and trash talking (big versus little, corporately connected versus independent) parent bloggers have been nothing but wonderful to me. I cannot express the gratitude I have for established bloggers like Asha Dornfest who is so willing to showcase and praise other bloggers, especially new ones. I cannot think of another environment that has been so welcoming to so many. Another great parent blogger said to me that her experiences with blogs restore her faith in humanity. Maybe it's because we're all so appreciative for having a forum, but I think blogs may offer the best of us even when we're discussing our worst moments. Add introspection and hindsight, and maybe we're all a little better people.

I am about to wax rhapsodic, and no one needs to see that here.

I'll be a part of the Hostel Takeover at BlogHer so please say hello.

p.s. For others considering the hostel. I visited the hostel a few weeks ago, and for security reasons they couldn't let me see a room (which is actually reassuring because I just walked in off the street with no real reason to be there) but the public areas seem nice and very collegiate. At $30 a night in downtown Chicago I expected the building to be on fire- it's actually nice and the staff seem WONDERFUL. There are lockers for your stuff (but chances are your luggage itself won't fit), so bring a lock. There's a CTA bus that runs from near the hostel to Navy Pier [29 and 2 (peak hours)], so you don't have to spend a lot on cabs or walk great distances. Sorry, the tipster in me cannot be stopped.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

More Peapods For Me, Please: The Peapod Plus Travel Bed Offers Great New Features

UPDATE: 12/11/2012: The PeaPod and PeaPod Plus have been recalled after an infant's tragic entrapment and suffocation death. Recall kits with replacement mattresses are being offered by manufacturer KidCo. We haven't used the PeaPod with non-mobile infants, and we don't recommend it for that developmental stage. We also feel the PeaPod should only be used as instructed (make sure to zip the mattress in its own pocket) with any age group.

4/8/12 Update: A heartbreaking report of infant asphyxiation in a PeaPod has come to our attention. We DO NOT recommend the PeaPod as a crib substitute for an immobile or marginally mobile infant. We still like and use ours as a travel bed for toddlers and preschoolers, but only in the manufacturer recommended configuration. Our own partially-mobile baby (who until very recently only army-crawled) sleeps in a Pack N Play when we travel.

This is not the first post I've written about KidCo's PeaPod travel bed (left, blue-green). We bought our first PeaPod for traveling when Ranger outgrew the Pack N Play's bassinet. We found ourselves accidentally waking him when we tried to lower him to the Pack N Play's floor, so we had to find a better option. The PeaPod has served us well in the year+ that we have used it. We consider it essential travel gear.

When we reviewed the PeaPod last December, I noticed the new, bigger PeaPod Plus (right, red) had been released. It became apparent last month that over 3 foot tall Ranger might soon emerge permanently distorted by his beloved bed. I found a PeaPod Plus for around $70 online. The retailer removed it from its original box and sent it in a smaller box with the large folded original box enclosed. This economy of packaging really didn't impress me, so I won't recommend the retailer.

The PeaPod Plus' folded size in its travel bed isn't much larger in thickness than the original PeaPod. Its diameter is quite a bit larger than the original. Each PeaPod is easily packed in other luggage and could easily be carry-on. During air travel I wouldn't check either PeaPod in only the light nylon travel bag. They would seem too susceptible to damage.

The elastic strap (which keeps the PeaPod folded) is sewn to the PeaPod Plus. The original PeaPod's strap is separate, so it is much easier to lose.

In terms of raw space, the PeaPod Plus is a great upgrade compared to the original PeaPod. I could fit (albeit uncomfortably) in the PeaPod Plus. It stands a lot taller than the original and has a much larger floor. I photographed the inflatable mattress inserts (they zip into the PeaPod floors) to offer some perspective on the size increase.

The PeaPod Plus' windows and door have shades! This is a great improvement on the original PeaPod. When we had to share a room with toddler Ranger, we couldn't turn on the computer or television without seeing little eyes peering out the mesh windows. We finally decided that covering his PeaPod birdcage-style was our best option. The window and door shades make it a lot easier to get him to sleep.

The original PeaPod's roof opens back farther than the Plus' roof. The original's larger roof opening makes it easier to place a sleeping infant. Both PeaPod versions have large mesh windows so it is easy to observe a sleeping infant without opening the door.

The Plus has a sleeping bag style, double layer, double zipper closure blanket. The original PeaPod contains a single layer floor liner/blanket. It's far less versatile, but it was more than adequate for those first months of life. Even with the Plus, we find ourselves using only one layer of the sleeping bag liner at night.

We still recommend replacing the included hand pump with a foot bellows pump (available for under $5 anyway inflatable pool floats are sold). The hand pump's motion is ripe for adolescent boy humor and it can cause a repetitive strain that is ripe for even more adolescent boy humor.

The carry bag is big enough that we can easily fit in a favorite stuffed toy, a bedtime book, pajamas, and a couple blankets.

If you're considering buying a PeaPod and can't decide between the original or the Plus, we'd recommend getting Plus and only using one half of the sleeping bag. The only drawback to the PeaPod Plus is that it lacks the extra-large opening of the original PeaPod. The Plus' window features and extra space will serve well with a growing child.

This review is the independent opinion of Baby Toolkit has no relationship with and has not received any compensation from KidCo or its affiliates.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

What's Cooking -Or- What the Heck Do You With Bok Choy?

If you love fresh seasonal foods and innovative, delicious cooking, get some great recipes for in-season veggies from our dear friends at their new Seasonal Eating blog.

Their family joined a new Community Supported Agriculture co-op, and their produce runneth over. This is great for all of us who have NO IDEA what to do with bok choy (other than let it sit in the fridge until it gets furry and/or soggy).

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Geek-a-licious Contest: Put on Your Thinking Caps for Whirlpool's Mother of Invention Grant Contest

Whirlpool is offering a great grant contest for moms with new inventions. The grand prize grant is $20,000 seed money, business boot camp, and a lot of laundry-related appliances.

If you're a mom with a new non-appliance invention you should consider entering. Patents/patents pending are not required (in 2005 none of the inventions were patented, and therefore their inventions couldn't be announced, in 2006 all winners had patents or patents pending). Moms can already be operating a business based on their invention at the time of submission. Sorry dads- this isn't gender biased language- it is a mom-only contest. Now if a mom is involved in the creation of an invention with a non-mom, she can enter it...

Visit Whirlpool's site for all the contest details and submission forms. Submissions must be postmarked by July 30, 2007.

And if anyone ends up with an unwanted high efficiency washing machine, feel free to send it to our house.

Good luck!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Hello, Cielo: A New Lightweight Stroller Design Takes to the Mean Streets

When Mia Moda offered us an opportunity to try one of their slick new strollers, we jumped at the chance. Their lightweight Cielo departs from the traditional umbrella stroller design.

Our family LOVES lightweight strollers. As Ranger came into the world by cesarean, we knew that a heavy travel system would completely overwhelm my lifting restrictions during the long recovery period. We bought the then new-to-the-market Graco Snugrider car seat frame which inspired a diehard affinity for lightweight strollers. After a lot of research, it seemed that the best choice for our family would be the Maclaren Vogue (the precursor model to the recently discontinued, soon to be re-released Maclaren Ryder). We've been exclusively using the Maclaren for about a year and half.

The Cielo is remarkably small when folded. The box it ships is only slightly higher than my knee. The Cielo comes almost completely assembled in its own travel/storage bag (included with the stroller and not an optional accessory). The large rear wheels need to be snapped on to the otherwise assembled stroller (requiring no tools; it took me less than two minutes). There were two small plastic c-clips whose purpose I couldn't determine. I emailed Mia Moda, and it turns out they are spare bumpers for the basket bar in back (these bumpers often contact the ground in stroller folding and may get scuffed up over time).

As soon as I unfolded the stroller, Ranger was all over it. This was bit less than helpful as I hadn't put the wheels on before he climbed on board. Ranger LOVES this stroller, probably for its open sides and unobstructed view. He willingly climbs in it all the time.

Once I had him out long enough to get the stroller assembled, it was apparent he wanted to take a test ride. As I was in my pajamas, we took a stroll through one level of our house. In our progress from the living room to the kitchen, I realized that this nimble stroller could circle the coffee table without hitting the couch and run the obstacle-course gauntlet of scattered toys and books without me having to clear a path. After we easily circled the kitchen island twice and reversed directions in a tight space (1970s kitchen- so this is a bit of a feat), it was apparent that the short front-to-back wheel length offered a small turning radius.

This stroller can navigate a crowded place easily (malls and retail stores jump immediately to mind). We toured the hallway, bathroom, and Ranger's room, before returning to the living room. Ranger was ecstatic, but I didn't know if this was true enthusiasm or simply the novelty of something new.

When I took him out of the stroller, he was reluctant to disembark. I folded it up and he cried and tried to open it himself. After we were ready to head out, we rolled through the rough terrain of our unmowed, unleveled hilly yard. Surprisingly, this stroller only got hung up once. I didn't think any non-jogging stroller could work so well on that rough terrain.

The stroller works well in our hilly neighborhood. The handle placement and shape allow easy hill descent (I often end up kicking the back bar or wheel locks of other strollers going downhill or feel like I am experiencing a gravitational tug-of-war). The center dual brake lock is out of the way of big feet, so we don't accidentally stomp it with a regular (long) stride. With the Cielo, my balance wasn't greatly altered by the stroller and my stride was normal. Going up a steep hill, the circular handle is just right for leaning into the burn.

The large dual wheel brake lock is very effective. When I used this on some pretty steep slopes, the locks responded quickly and the loaded stroller stayed put.

I was worried that the stroller wouldn't be tall enough for us (the pushers). A lot of ultra-portable strollers skimp on height, but the Cielo handle falls comfortably for the around 6 foot crowd.

The back basket on the Cielo is easy to access, stays open, and can be extended lengthwise a couple more inches via zipper. It's detachable and can be used separately. It attaches to the frame with 3 Velcro-type fasteners and two snaps at the bottom of the bag. It can hold a lot of bulk, but when I loaded it with a 48 ounce water bottle, 12 ounce kids' Thermos, and my heavy digital camera, the hook and loop fasteners gave way on 2 out of 3 connection points. It performed well with many more items of more distributed weight.

Though the Cielo's bag is very handy while in use, it does dump a major percentage of its contents if not emptied or removed before folding.

Folding itself is initiated with a one-handed motion, but after a week of attempts, none of the 3 adults in our group could actually achieve a one-handed fold of the entire stroller. It always takes two hands to collapse the stroller back from its upright position to its folded position.

The Cielo arrived the day before we visited Chicago. As Ranger loved riding in the stroller, I thought we could try it in a variety of environments. It packed easily in the car. As it folds compactly and stands one end, its footprint in the cargo area was smaller than my Maclaren Vogue (which allowed us to overpack in new and exciting ways).

We made a detour on our journey to the Windy City to visit Aunt Julie and go to fabulous Conner Prairie (if you live within a day's drive of Indianapolis YOU MUST TAKE YOUR KIDS THERE). Conner Prairie's dirt and/or gravel paths presented no challenge to the Cielo- even where they had been rutted by recent rains.

The Cielo performed admirably in the Chicago suburbs. It worked particularly well maneuvering through stores and crowded spaces. Ranger went from car to stroller and back to car, so the two-handed fold presented no problems for a person traveling alone. The Cielo works well on sidewalks and can tilt over a average height curb.

When we took the train into the city, I was excited because of the Cielo's compact size. As the train drew up to the platform, I folded the Cielo while Grandma held Ranger. Had Grandma not been with us, I would have had to hold Ranger, remove the full stroller bag, fold the stroller, and carry the bag, Ranger, and the folded stroller onto the train. I don't think I could have done this alone without letting go of Ranger for a minute while folding- on a train platform. With my Maclaren I can hold his hand while collapsing the stroller.

The lower level of the train was pretty full, so we ascended the tiny staircase to the second level. To my relief the Cielo fit on the stairway. The Maclaren performs a little better in this tight ascent because of its small side to side dimensions and long height (which mirror the space in the small stairway). I could not have carried Ranger and the Cielo up the tiny staircase at the same time, so we would have had to find seating on the first level of the train if traveling alone.

The second level of Chicago Metra trains provides a great view for kids, but only offers single seating. I put the stroller in my foot space (it fit easily, but left no room for feet). I put my feet into the aisle and could set them on top of it if anyone needed to pass. Again, this would have been a lot harder had I also been holding Ranger. The following photos show the Cielo folded on a single seat, then between two double seats on the floor.

There were two luggage bins suspended over the main aisle of the train. The Cielo would have fit easily on steel bar rack (see next photo: lower left corner), but it would be very precariously balanced over the heads of first level passengers. With a restraint strap, it could be fixed to the rack, but it would be a challenge to get it secure enough not endanger the people below.
The larger open-sided bin (above photo: top center) would have been a much safer option but the Cielo was about 2 inches too thick to squeeze in). I should point out that the bin was fashioned for a different decade and its height couldn't have accommodated my fully-loaded undergraduate backpack either, but an umbrella style stroller would have fit.

We disembarked at Union Station and opened the stroller on the platform. It's possible to open the stroller in a crowd and load the child, but it's not possible to take the time to reattach the cargo bag if it is bearing any weight. We got off the tracks and were confronted by levels of escalators. We could look for an elevator, but what an opportunity to test the Cielo.

The manual and the escalator DO NOT RECOMMEND using the stroller on escalators or stairways. We folded the stroller and Ranger went with Grandma while I carried the folded stroller.

We reassembled the stroller again outside and started looking for our bus. We had problems finding it. Eventually we ended up finding it on the opposite corner of the station from our directions. We were too busy trying to fold the stroller and catch the bus to really think about this development. As a result we ended up on a 45 minute joyride through some pretty tough sections of Chicago. [ If you know Chicago, we took the 126 (Jackson-Austin) instead of the 126 to Michigan and Congress.] Once we got on the bus, I sat next to a mom with beautiful baby boy in a Graco travel system stroller. There was enough room on the bus for a deployed stroller. Wow. I didn't bother folding up the stroller for anymore bus rides after that.

Getting on or off the bus with a deployed Cielo turned out to be a bit of a feat. The Cielo's short wheel base which offers great turning doesn't "reach" as far as a stroller with a longer wheel base. It's my habit to put one foot on the back axle of my Maclaren when pivoting the stroller up and over. With the Cielo, this motion simply sets the brake (can you hear the people behind me groaning with impatience?). I never mastered the practical art of popping a wheelie with the Cielo, so getting on and off buses was really tough. A few very nice people stopped and bent down to assist, but the complete lack of a front axle or handle leaves no good place to grip in the front so they usually just smiled and shrugged.

Disembarking, the gap between the bus and the curb proved very problematic. The weight had to be on the back wheels while the front wheels crossed the gap. Once the front wheels connected with the sidewalk, the angle of tilt to shift the weight onto them and off the rear wheels would have left Ranger's full weight suspended in the five point harness for a few seconds. Rather than dangling the boy like a parachuter stuck in a tree, I'd pull the handle back toward me to slow the descent of the rear wheels into the gap between bus and curb. It was graceless at best and bone jarring at worst.

When Ranger miraculously fell asleep in the stroller, we couldn't lean it back very far. The Cielo reclines only about 6 inches (at the top) from its most upright position. When reclined, the bag's contents are much harder to access. Because of this limited recline Mia Moda only recommends the Cielo for ages 6 months and older. A child must be able to sit upright in this stroller. For upright sleepers, this stroller poses fewer problems.

The Cielo can hold up to 40 pounds of kiddo, but the height of its sunshade is low enough that our tall boy will outgrow it height-wise long before he weighs in at 40 pounds. If your kid is tall to abnormally tall, this stroller may not have a long window for use.

Because so much of this stroller design is built around the back-of-the-seat joint, I got Test Engineer Grandpa to check out the design and construction. He pronounced it safe and secure, but absolutely does not endorse its use as a cargo dolly (I know, most of you are thinking "Really? People do that?," but the other 6 of you should really stop immediately). Using the Cielo seat to haul heavy boxes or goods is not recommended by the manufacturer, and it can create enough leverage to break the stroller's seat.

In summary:
  • Great for traveling by car. It folds up very compactly and has a tiny cargo space footprint. Its two-handed folding procedure is not a problem when you have somewhere to corral your youngster while folding.
  • Great on the uphill and downhill slopes.
  • Very small when unfolded and remarkably maneuverable. This agility translates well into moving through crowded areas or aisles (shopping, airports, etc.).
  • Surprisingly good on grass and rough non-road surfaces. While I wouldn't go so far as to recommend the Cielo for hiking or jogging, it's definitely up to some short atypical detours. Grass medians present no problems for this roller.
  • Seems ideal for air travel. Whether you can get it on the plane with you is probably dependent on the particular flight crew and number of passengers on the plane, but it looks like the Cielo could easily be stowed in an overhead bin (and at only 15.5 pounds weighs far less than most of the stuff stowed up there). The Cielo's fold seems very protective and doesn't leave spindly parts exposed (the Cielo is built without spindly parts), so I would have no problem handing the stroller over in its standard-issue carry bag for flight gate luggage check. Like a turtle, this stroller can protect itself in ways that umbrella strollers can only dream of.
  • Transit situations in busy and/or dangerous environments that require folding and unfolding are problematic with the Cielo. You will probably have to leave your child momentarily unattended while folding/unfolding.
  • Limited recline.
  • Only recommended at and after 6 months of age.
  • Central locking brake: strong and out of the way for walking (even on inclines) but in the way for "popping a wheelie" maneuvers while jumping curbs or crossing gaps.
  • Sunshade is very compact, too compact at times in sunny places.
  • Cargo bag: handy design! Easily accessible! Expandable! Hook and loop closure doesn't hold heavy items with dense footprints (48 oz. Nalgene full of water) though it can hold a lot of normal stuff.
  • Open sides: afford a great view and a sense of freedom for toddlers (if Ranger is any indicator of general toddler opinion). This also means that toys and snacks more easily drop to the ground, but that's really not a big deal compared to the toddler joy this design brings.
  • Clean design: not only does the Mia Moda look good, its folding process releases a lot of the stroller detritus that comes with toddlers and snacks. When you fold it, there is no back of the seat crevice for Cheerios to hide in. so schmutz simply falls away.
All in all, the stroller performs quite well in most day to day situations except for traveling alone with your baby on commuter trains and buses. The materials are quality. All Mia Moda strollers have a one year warranty.

Like all lightweight strollers, the wheels are not heavy duty and may need to be replaced eventually if you're using the stroller with more than one child. Starting in Fall '07, replacements will be available Mia Moda for $18/set plus shipping and handling.

We all like the Cielo. Ranger absolutely LOVES it!

This review is the independent opinion of Baby Toolkit has no relationship with and recieves no compensation from Mia Moda or its affiliates.