Thursday, August 30, 2007

Snug Little Bugs: Swaddling & Sleep Sacks

When Ranger was a wee newborn we swaddled him for sleep. Initially I couldn't get the hang of it, the blankets just melted off him in the first few minutes. Jim was a natural though, so (being naturally competitive) I kept trying. I found the book Babygami extremely helpful (as well as being beautiful and funny).

Although we had a specialty swaddling blanket, I found it much easier to use a slightly stretchy cotton waffle blanket in the Babygami snug wrap. The specialty straightjacket-style swaddling blanket was hard to adjust for a newborn's small size. When Ranger was big enough to fit the custom swaddler, we were all quite comfortable with blanket swaddling.

Our hands-down favorite blanket for swaddling is the Gerber Thermal receiving blanket. We bought about a dozen of them in various colors (new expecting parents, trust us, bad things happen to blankets faster than you can launder them). They're useful long after the baby outgrows swaddling. We still have everyday uses for them with 2 year-old Ranger.

After swaddling ended (babies get too active to be contained), we moved on to ultra-cozy sleep sacks. Sleep sacks tend to be fleece and run around $20. We weren't going to buy a dozen of these because of cost, bulk, and a very limited period of use. We ended up with around six of them because generous grandparents found them extremely clever. We'd usually put these over a jammies, a onesie, or a baby gown.

Through I recently found a good tutorial at Jan Andrea for making sleep sacks. This was really fortuitous as the end user of the girly baby booties I made was recently revealed by ultrasound to be male and I've been looking for a new gift project.

So, meet the Super Sleep Sack. It's for the offspring of an ace graphic designer/illustrator (I won't link because his sitemeter will reveal this page but you can see his blog at and an incredibly talented portrait artist/printmaker. I had extra fabric, so I made some no-scratch mitts to spice up the newborn days.

Baby Toolkit is the independent opinion of Adrienne and Jim Jones. We have received no compensation of any kind from anyone affiliated with BabyGami, Gerber, any of the sleep sack companies, Jan Andrea, or 2007, some rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Mom, It's Not Me, It's You: A New Study on the Genetics of Picky Eaters

For Ranger's second birthday I made him a banana cake. He's a banana fiend, so it seemed a logical jump. He (and my 35 year-old brother) refused to even try it as it was not familiar. I was disappointed, but hardly surprised.

I could be classified as a picky eater in recovery. When I actually started trying new foods, I found out I had been missing out. Ranger would be happy on the apple, grape, and cracker diet in perpetuity.

An interesting new study through University College London suggests that food reluctance is probably inherited as well as a self-preservation mechanism. Wow.

I thought this might reassure other parents who dread the "does he eat vegetables" dietary interview with the pediatrician. Apparently, most kids lose the majority of their fussiness by 5 and reintroduction of rejected foods can help.

For those of you looking to expand the palate and culinary experience of older kids, please visit Spatulatta- a great cooking site for kids by kids. I love to watch the videos and dream of future days when Ranger and I can cook together.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Guess What: More Lead-Based Recalls

Okay, I've been making all kinds of vitriolic comments on Goodyblog. I'm pretty peeved about American discounters forcing manufacturing to countries that produce stuff cheaply at the cost of safety standards and general labor/human rights.

Please read this article on the whole Wal-Mart/big box discounter connection with unsafe products for the sake of low, low prices. There are more extended explanations of this connection in books like Shopportunity by Kate Newlin (skip right to the Wal-Mart chapters- they are important reading for any American concerned about their kids' future).

Anyway, our stupid cheapskate desires for bargains have bit us in the proverbial rump yet again. These are the new recalls (through noon CST):
It been a mere week since the last round of recalls. How can a parent keep up? RSS feeds are the only way. (If you're asking what's an RSS feed- see Zrec's great tutorial and learn about the wonders of feed readers like Google Reader.)

Here are the links to the Consumer Product Safety Commission's RSS Feeds and weekly podcasts. Sign up for almost instantaneous bad news.

(Thanks for the RSS tip, Parent Hacks!)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Lean on Me: Sidekick Diaper Bag and Child Carrier

I've looked at Parents of Inventions' Sidekick diaper bag with a built-in child carrier online for almost a year, but I couldn't bring myself to shell out $80 for it.

When I found one, a returned online purchase in black and orange, for $40 at my local Target I couldn't walk past it. It has big, well-placed pockets in profusion. Ranger and I tried it on for carrier fit. I thought gangly 2 year-old Ranger would weigh too much for it at 30 or so pounds, but he and I were both happy with the carrier fit.

After a few days of use, Ranger and I both found the carrier to be comfortable and useful. He likes riding in it, and I find it doesn't cripple me. Much of the weight is distributed to your hips taking notable responsibility off your arms and some of the pressure off your back (all carriers will put additional pressure on your back). It turns out that, with a squirmy two year-old, the carrier is great for short trips or intermittent use on a long walk, but it does start taking a toll with a longterm toddler payload (I think the carrier would be great with a less heavy infant though).

I was so prepared to dislike the carrier that it surprised me to find the carrier was effective and easy to use (after initial adjustments).

The bag that initially grabbed me with its ample pockets ultimately left me with some hesitation and disappointment. While there are many smart, spacious pockets all over the bag- and they're easily accessible EVEN with a child in the carrier- the closures ultimately disappointed me (I think this could easily be remedied with only slight revisions).

The clasps are all magnetic snaps, so they don't close firmly. I lose stuff all the time, so a magnetic clasp between my wallet and the world is a recipe for disaster. Yes, the bag is very deep, but somehow my wallet always seemed to end up pressing against the top flap- begging to escape.

The cell phone pocket is placed very conveniently for use with the carrier deployed, but placing your phone in it while the carrier is not being used causes the large exterior flap not to secure properly. Again, this made me feel like my items were poised to jump from the bag.

The end pockets worked great for snacks and bottles (and eventually my cell phone and wallet). The main pocket was huge and held a sizable notebook, my Diaper Valet, more snacks, toys, and everything else Ranger hands me in the course of a day. Because of the bag's flexible walls, the 75% loaded main compartment slightly bulged causing the main flap to become unsecured while walking.

The back of the bag has a nice diaper pad pocket with a small changing pad. This pocket is great for stowing a thin board book or two. It also has a zippered diaper pocket on the bottom that offers flat storage for quite a few diapers.

Transforming the bag to carrier is quite easy. There's a single zipper that changes the shoulder strap to a waist strap. This system is really effective, but I was mystified that they chose a zipper without terminal ends. Instead, they sewed the infinite zipper in two curving arcs IN OPPOSITE DIRECTIONS. Really, what were they thinking? The zipper bears a load in the diaper bag position, so it unzips itself (not fully- but usually 25 to 50% of its length) while in diaper bag use. This is a simple design and manufacturing decision, but it actually was the deal-breaker for me using this bag. I got tired of it gapping and requiring repeat zippings with every use. We talked about adding a snap or a hook and eye closure, but in the end- even $40 retail is too much to spend on a bag that requires hacks.

This is a really smart bag design, but the tiny construction details sabotaged a good product. With better closures (velcro or real snaps), a different zipper, and interfacing to strengthen the front panel, it could become a great tool for families with infants and toddlers. If Parents of Invention makes these simple revisions, they'll have a real winner on their hands. Email me if you see a 2.0 or higher version.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Happy Birthday, Baby Toolkit!

This week Baby Toolkit turned ONE!

We started this blog because strangers always asked about our baby gear, and I was getting tired of writing (and remembering) URLs and product details. So, we created a blog. That way I could give out our blog address rather than having to remember individual details.

I was floored when Parent Hacks first referenced us last November, but eager for more.

Thanks to all our new friends for a year's worth of inspiration, encouragement, and insight. We're so glad you're here.

We'd like to give away a deluxe Diaper Valet set to a valued reader: Diaper Valet, changing pad, and handle (optional, of course). Just leave a comment (and your name tagged with a linking email address or URL) to enter. We'll accept entries through the end of August, 2007 and will randomly draw for a winner. The only people who can't enter are Mo, Jim, me, Ranger, and our immediate family.

Thanks for a great year!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Pipe Cleaners: Portable Fun for Kids

Parent Hacks' pipe cleaner party hat post reminded me of a very savvy tip from Jim's Aunt Mo: parents should ALWAYS carry a few pipe cleaners when going out with young kids.

They're small and great for imaginative play. They're perfect for restaurants and waiting rooms as they're versatile, compact, and not messy.

We went out with some friends a few days after receiving this tip and our tapas took forever. The kids didn't mind at all after we gave them the pipe cleaners. They went through numerous transformations (animals, shapes, flowers) and then settled into two pairs of pipe cleaner glasses worn through the rest of the evening.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Welcome to the House of Fun: Toddlers In A Cardboard House

We spent last Saturday at a family reunion. The facility is great for big kids, teens, and adults, but it lacks much for the under-5 set.

With four under-fivers in attendence, I wanted to bring along something to hold their attention.

At Sam's Club, I found a $19.95 cardboard playhouse by Dalmation Press (don't bother Googling for the specific playhouse or the press, neither seem to have any presence on the Internet- I just wasted half an hour looking).

It's small. So small that Ranger (23 months) has to crawl into it. Yet it's still big enough for me (5'8) to crawl into and sit in (to Ranger's delight). The actual dimensions are 30" wide by 36" deep by 37" tall.

With 2 doors and two windows and four kids from 4 to 23 months inside, it resembled a clown car- especially as they drug it around the room with varying levels of agreement from its inhabitants.

Good times were had by all. We disassembled it and brought it home. With the heat wave, it's been a great entertainment for housebound Ranger and I. Admittedly, I started playing Cask of Amontillado with his cardboard bricks on day 3, but we both found it entertaining. Ranger would exit the back door to come check on the wall's progress from the outside.

All in all, it's not as cool as what you can make with Mr. McGoovy's Box Rivets, but it's small, semi-portable, and can keep toddlers entertained for hours.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Insider Training: Teachers' Tips for a Great School Year

My mom's a teacher, so I've had plenty of time to find out that the most interesting thing in the teachers' lounge is the conversation.

Here are a few insider tips on pragmatic ways to help your kids get the most out of school:

#1- Set a bedtime and observe it: Kids who sleep or are drowsy miss out. Make sure your kid is getting plenty of rest.

#2- Go to the library often: This is where readers are inspired and independent. School is mostly about reading. Encourage reading. Buying books is good too, but it doesn't have the same effect as regular library use.

#3- Get stuff ready the night before: My memories of getting ready for school are frantic moments searching for socks, papers, books, and mittens. Apparently teachers can tell when a kid's already frazzled from trying to put together an outfit and locate essential supplies while combing hair and wolfing down breakfast. Select and set out a) clothing, shoes, and outerwear for the next day and b) school supplies (books, assignments, lunch money, permission slips, etc.). Put the items in the same place each night so there will be no confusion in locating them in the morning.

#4- Feed them breakfast every morning: Hungry kids don't focus or achieve as well as fed kids.

#5- Expect active play and limit screen time: Kids have energy to burn and schools are offering fewer and fewer minutes of recess. Activity is necessary for emotional and physical good health. Television and computers aren't the educational panacea advertisers would like you to believe in. Seriously, if you send your kid outside it's probably just less time they'll spend instant messaging... it's not like they're programming a kernel or developing a programming language.

#6- Have your child dress appropriately (clothes, shoes, and outerwear) for weather and activities: I cannot tell you how many kids are miserable because they're wearing the wrong clothes or shoes for the season or activity. Overheated and freezing kids can't really stay focused. Flip-flops sideline kids (usually girls) from anything active (or they cause injuries- sometimes serious injuries). Ditto for platform shoes and many clogs. Seriously, do you want your daughter to look extra-cute on the playground's sidelines or kick some massive dodgeball butt?

#7- Meet your child's teacher(s): early in the school year. Make sure they have all your correct contact information and that they know you're always interested in talking to them about anything relating to your child. This advice is not only for elementary school children, but becomes even more important in junior high. It is also decent advice in high school, but should be handled with utmost discretion.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Kandon't: Flushable Wipes Cause Problems for Some Kids

Flushable wipes for kids sound like a good idea, but think again.

Not only are they only marginally flushable (the manufacturer only recommends "one or two wipes" per flush.

Problems with household plumbing are not the worst possibility- technical difficulties with your kid's plumbing are.

One of our young friends just completed potty training only to experience multiple urinary tract and yeast infections. The pediatrician was surprised until hearing about the child's use of Kandoo wipes.

They're loaded with alcohol which dries the skin (making it more prone to irritation) and heavy perfumes which cause irritation. For girls especially, this can create a painful and serious medical condition (or two) EVEN WHEN THEY WIPE PROPERLY.

"Here kiddo, have these fun themed food-scented wipes and learn all about true pain."

Why do we want melon-scented wipes in the first place?

Stick to non-flushable baby wipes if you want moisture or plain, unembellished toilet paper (avoid lotions and perfumes) to keep your kid's excretory systems running smoothly.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Youthful Perspective: Kids' Photography Contest

Is there an under-13 photographer in your house? If so, check out the "A Little Perspective" photo contest hosted by 3 great photo and family bloggers. Submissions are accepted through August 10th. I wrote a bit more about it on Parent Hacks.

Check out the contest gallery to see all the great shots being submitted.

Looking for a graphic, I plundered my photo albums from 1983. While this photo stands as evidence of my own limited photo skills, the album itself is a very cool time capsule of the 80s. I often think of that time as much like now, only with shaggier carpet and lots of bad perms. It was funny how much I'd forgotten.