Sunday, December 23, 2007

Holiday Hack: Slacker Gift Wrap

Wrapping Giant Gifts:
At my friend Karen's house I noticed a giant box clearly labeled playhouse next to the tree with a couple squares of gift wrap on it.

I must have looked perplexed because Karen said, "All you have to do is cover all the pictures."

That's right- our toddlers can't read yet! Pure genius!

Plus, it minimizes paper use/waste.

If your box is covered with photos, or you want full coverage merely for aesthetics- wrap the oversized box or item in a tablecloth, blanket, or bed sheet and secure it with ribbon, yarn, string, and/or safety pins.

Wrapping Very Small Gifts:
Back in the olden days, my brother and I (heavily financed by Mom) bought Dad a pricey video club membership.

If you're saying "Bought a video membership?" you have forfeited your right to sing along with Time-Life commercials relating to the 80s.

It was essentially a paper business card with my Dad's name written on it- by hand. It entitled us to rent any of their 50 or so videos at additional cost. We were soooo proud of our gift- it was a shame that it was so small that it could even get lost in his stocking.

So we put it in a wooden caboose Dad built for our train set. And we wrapped that in a big box. And we wrapped that big box in a giant box filled with wadded up newspaper from the recycling shelf. And that- we could wrap with a sheet.

And as a holiday gift to everyone, we'd like to share a favorite (and timely) Jones household word:

scurryfunge (we heard it attributed to New England, but have no idea if this is accurate)- a hasty tidying of the house between the time you see a neighbor coming and the time she knocks on the door. (Informal English)

We tend to use this word to describe the frantic last minute cleaning I'm avoiding right now.

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Holiday Hack: Toddler-friendly Ornaments

Jim and I didn't own a Christmas tree the first year of our married life. His mom thought that was a travesty and bought us a 2' tall artificial tree. This little tree was our primary tree for years. We liked to load it down with comically large ornaments or decorate it with only lights and keep it on the bathroom counter (I smirk to think of this, even though I have no idea why).

At some point we bought a 6' artificial tree which we suspect is made of plastic and standard grade pipe cleaners. I'm sure we got it on clearance. Its weak boughs can't support an ornament of much weight. Every year we get motivated enough to put it up (which is something like 1:3) we swear we will buy a new one next year.

Ranger LOVES holiday lights. We put the big tree up last year without ornaments. We added a foot tapper on/off switch to our tree on the recommendation of Parent Hacks- and he loves controlling the lights.

As we're not very invested in tradition, we decided to try this year to make the decorations as toddler-friendly as possible.

When a friend mentioned that he was wiring all his gaming figurines to hang as holiday decorations, it struck me that we might not need ornaments or wire ornament hangers at all. With yarn or ribbon and the versatile lark's head knot almost anything can become an ornament (and you can jettison those silly wire ornament hangers for good).

Thus, the first Baby Toolkit video was born! Learn to make a lark's head knot:

Sorry about the off-screen portions, I shot the video alone while Ranger napped, so there was no time for a retake. I promise I'll do better with framing in future videos, but I will probably always sound like total tool.

We hung our lighted tree primarily with Barrel-of-Monkeys monkeys (again, Parent Hacks inspired) and linking letters. We also put up some other small toys that Ranger generally tends to ignore most of the time. We didn't put anything very tempting on the tree because we didn't want to torture the kid or inspire him to take up indoor tree climbing.

When it's time to put the tree in the closet, I'm getting all the old ornaments out. The ones without sentimental value (which is most of them) are headed to a local thrift shop.

Recast toys or other objects you already own as ornaments reduces decorating costs and required storage space for those other 11 months of the year.

There will be no more talk of replacing the tree. It finally looks like it actually belongs in our house.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Clear Unsightly Blemishes: the Case of the Ballpoint Baby Doll

Blogging makes me weirder. My friend told me her son drew all over her childhood baby doll with a pen, and my first response was to excitedly ask "Could I borrow the doll?" I did have a legitimate reason for asking- we're testing a permanent ink remover for review and I had not yet tried it on a doll.

So wee Elizabeth came to visit (I can't say young Elizabeth as she's almost as old as I am). The young artist in residence had tattooed her with a giveaway ballpoint pen. He didn't just doodle a image here or there, we're talking full-pathology facial tattoos including eyelids (seriously, back away slowly from anyone with these), skull tattoos, leg tattoos, and marks on the hands and soles of the feet resembling stigmata.

I figured the inexpensive ink didn't have a chance against my long list of cleaning ideas. My friend's husband had tried a magic eraser which yielded no results.

The permanent ink remover did absolutely nothing against the ink. Across a week, I tried almost everything in my normal stain-removal arsenal (I skipped a couple things that seemed potentially damaging to the plastic/vinyl):
  • baking soda paste
  • 409
  • rubbing alcohol
  • vegetable oil
  • Murphy's oil soap
  • Simple Green
  • dishsoap
  • GoJo handsoap with pumice
  • toothpaste
  • CarpetAid+
  • waterless hand cleaner (works well on grease stains)
  • non-acetone nail polish remover
  • adhesive remover
  • evaporated milk (works like a charm lifting recent ink stains out of fabrics)
The ink's dye soaked deeply into the plastic, staining it so that no amount of surface scrubbing would remove it. Prolonged scrubbing with simple green could lighten it about 50-60% but that did little to improve the doll's overall appearance.

I trolled the Internet for answers and came up with one so insane I would normally have passed it up. Next thing I knew I was buying 10% benzyl peroxide acne cream for a doll. A toy collectors' forum suggested that acne cream and sunlight could remove the ink stains without bleaching the doll's skintone or removing painted accents.

On an overcast afternoon, I smeared a tiny bit on a test patch and left Elizabeth on our dining room table for the last hour and a half of sunlight. Having been disappointed by every other test, I didn't expect much from this solution with or without sunlight. When I checked Elizabeth, the test spot was entirely free of ink stains. Her plastic seemed otherwise unaltered by the cream.

Elizabeth spent yesterday sunbathing in the dining room. The darkest stains took around 4 hours of bright sunlight to disappear. Many of the lighter stains were gone in 2 hours.

The top of her head was shadowed by her body, so I used a small regular mirror (don't use a magnifying one for this!) and bounced sunlight to the top of her head while the rest of her graffitied body got full sun. It worked on the same timeline as direct sun exposure. Later, I moved the mirror to give additional illumination to her curving hands. The reflected light could reach some frequently shadowed places.

Elizabeth sat down for a quick photo shoot this morning before returning home.

Moral of the story? Don't leave pens unattended around toddlers -or- be very cautious about wearing acne cream in direct sunlight.

***This is the independent opinion of Baby Toolkit. We have no affiliations with acne cream manufacturers. We are not chemists, skin care experts, nor professional cleaners, so take everything we say here with a grain of salt. (c) Baby Toolkit, 2007- all rights reserved.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Booster Seat Bonus

Some hacks exist almost invisibly once implemented. When the delivery man came to install our new fridge, he (also a parent of a toddler) commented on how we installed our son's booster seat to our kitchen chair.

So here's our simple way to keep our wooden chair goop free and minimize scratches and other marring from the booster and its straps:

Materials: 1 standard bath towel, two safety pins, chair, and booster seat. (If you're booster seat shopping, we LOVE our Fisher Price booster seat. See our seat comparison for more information.)

Step 1: Find standard size bath towel (ducks not required, but bonus points for any waterfowl). Lay towel over chair so seat is fully covered and there are a few surplus inches overhanging front edge of the seat.

Step 2: Safety pin the rest of the towel (about 1/4 of the total length) behind the chair. I used brass safety pins that don't rust, but the normal kind will probably suffice unless you hose your child down in their booster seat (in which case you're probably not using a wooden chair to begin with).

Step 3: Fasten booster to chair normally. When the towel shows signs of peach yogurt and/or pureed yams, just remove the safety pins and machine wash.

Voila! Another Jones secret revealed. You are now one step closer to world domination

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Toys & Toxins: New Resource

Toys have many parents worried.. and for good reason. Some companies are arguing that it's okay for their toys to contain illegal levels of lead (like this RED blood-pressure cuff) as long it's not on the surface of the product. Relatedly, Fisher-Price (a Mattel company) refuses to pull lead tainted toys exceeding federal standards in states other than Illinois (from Consumer Reports blog).

Well, here's a little good news. Ecology Group, a Michigan environmental group is independently testing toys for 9 toxins that can be viewed through x-ray fluorescence. They report their findings in a great database at I whiled away a couple hours cruising through this great site. You can even proposed more toys for them to test and subscribe to database updates.

I was relieved to see one of Ranger's favorite chewable baby toys get a pretty clean bill of health even though he quit chewing on it some time ago. And we crossed Wedgits off his Christmas list until they're PVC free.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Soaper-Star: Johnson's Easy-Rinse Foam Shampoo

Since Ranger was a wee thing we used Cetaphil's gentle skin cleaner to wash his hair & body. It rinsed remarkably well, wasn't drying to his skin, and didn't have any discernible fragrance (I find most perfumes cloying at best).

The conservationist/cheapskate in me is obsessed with foam soap pumps and their ability to dramatically extend soap use. So, I started looking for foam shampoo pumps to refill with regular products mixed with water. There are startlingly few shampoo foam pumps, but I finally found a few in the kids' aisle.

Johnson's Buddies Easy-Rinse Shampoo was on sale and I needed to make a $25 minimum to buy a turkey at disreputable prices, so into the cart the yellow bottle went.

The shampoo smells great, but isn't strongly scented. The foam keeps it from running into the little guy's eyes when lathering. The lather hangs atop his head until it's time to rinse (and allows for some fabulous fauxhawk styling). This product rinses easily and leaves hair clean, lightly scented, and manageable without stripping moisture. We've not yet managed to wash any of it into Ranger's eyes either (the foam is pretty easy to manipulate away from the eyes while rinsing).

Though Johnson's doesn't appear to currently offer refills of the shampoo, the pump seems refillable (1/3 shampoo and 2/3 water). It would be great if they would come out with a bulk sized refill bottle.

Don't buy a single bottle through Amazon- unless you can get free shipping. They're simply exorbitant once you factor in shipping costs.

Happy bathtime!

***As always, this is the independent opinion of the geek family at Baby Toolkit. We received no compensation for this review and have no undisclosed relationship with Johnson & Johnson.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Under Our Tree

Jim and I spent many years trying to get family members to donate to our favorite organizations (like Heifer Project) rather than purchase holiday gifts for us. It's not that we didn't like gifts, but we didn't NEED anything and our house overflowed with stuff already.

For us, holidays are the best playing games and enjoying time with family and friends. We really hope that Ranger will also appreciate the community aspects of holidays more than the stuff or the volume of stuff.

So, we're trying to give each family member a personally significant, reasonably priced gift and not fall prey to the last minute "one more thing" add on gifts.

Here are a few of our 2007 choices:

For my dad, our geek grandpa: a Rhinoskin CASE for his techie cell phone/PDA (not the phone itself).

For Jim's dad, our fisherman grandpa: a personalized CASE (reading GrandpaJones) for his fishing rods.

For our 4-year old niece: a ceramic name necklace.

and for Jim's mom: a ceramic photo tile pendant with a favorite picture of Ranger.

Does your family have a holiday giving strategy? What gifts (or kinds of gifts) are you giving this year?