Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Walking On Eggshells: Family Life as a Grown-Up

When Broadway Books offered me a review copy of Walking on Eggshells: Navigating the Delicate Relationship Between Adult Children and Parents, I thought, "Wow, that's a long way down the road, isn't it?"

The immediate applicability became apparent when I read a summary of some situations the book discusses:
If your grown daughter still winces at your tone of voice—even though she is thirty years old, or if you can’t get your adult son to return your phone calls, if you love your parents but find it impossible to visit them for more than three days without blowing up, or if you can only stand a couple of minutes on the phone with them.
Um, yeah. I guess adult children can read this too...

And it turns out that when we do what we can to improve our adult relationships with our own parents, we're paving the way to understanding and respecting our kids when they're adults.

Author Jane Isay, a former publishing executive, writes engagingly on the overlooked subject of parent relationships after a child comes of age. A natural story-teller, she shares information gleaned from extensive interviews with parents and adult children (ranging in ages from 25 to 70). In her professional background as an editor she "was persuaded that stories are the best teachers."

For all the books there are on baby and child rearing, our society has almost no discussion of how to navigate the parent-adult child relationship. When our kids are grown, we will still be their parents, but obviously we can't treat them as do now or as we will when they're high school. At some point, we're supposed to transition from actively intervening participants in our kids' lives to a position of greater observance.

Her book offers honest discussion of the things that antagonize adult parent-child relationships (issues like money, control, respect, changes in family structure, past grievances, in-laws, step-families, and holidays).

Most encouragingly, her stories underscore a deep love on the part of both parents and children even in conflict. Much of the conflict between parents and adult children is based on frustration in achieving desired affection, respect, acceptance, and understanding. Then guilt piles up on those failures which can paralyze all parties- through frustration or fear of having actions misinterpreted.

By telling the stories of numerous families, Jane Isay presents scenarios that are familiar and thought provoking. She doesn't offer the panacea of a bullet-point plan of action for a perfect relationship, but instead makes the reader contemplate communication systems within families. The ability to observe the inner-workings of other families lets the reader contemplate their own with greater distance and perspective.

For more information on the book and Jane Isay visit the book's website.

WIN a copy of Walking on Eggshells!
Broadway Books has given us 5 paperback copies of Walking on Eggshells to give away to Baby Toolkit readers. Email babytoolkitcontests [at] with the subject Eggshells to enter. One entry per household, please. Entries will accepted through 11:59 PM CDT March 9, 2008. Winners will be randomly selected. International entries will be accepted but prizes shipped abroad may take some time to arrive as they'll most likely be shipped ground and sea.

General disclaimers regarding contests on Baby Toolkit: we'll do our best but we can't guarantee the same efforts from the postal system. If a prize item were to be lost in the lost in the mail, we would take it as a message from a higher power that the situation was simply not meant to be (no compensation or replacement will be issued). One entry per household. We will use a random integer generator at to determine winners. Jim, Adrienne, their parents, and Ranger are not eligible for this contest. We respect your privacy and will not use your personal information for any purpose beyond determining a winner and sending prizes. Prize value: $14.

*** This is the independent opinion of the geek parents at Baby Toolkit, (c) 2008. We accepted a paperback review copy of the book ($14 value) under no obligation. We regularly decline items for review. We received no compensation from and have no undisclosed relationship with Random House, Doubleday, Broadway Books, Flying Dolphin Press, Jane Isay or their affiliates. After we agreed to a review, Broadway Books arranged for 5 paperback copies for our readers which we will ship at our own expense.

Heads Above the Competition: Britax Car Seats 20% off at Amazon.

Ranger is a tall drink of water. His atypical height and skinny build wreak havoc on finding pants and car seats that fit.

Since our beloved Graco infant car seat, we've gone through a number of convertible car seats that really didn't merit particular mention. Ranger quickly exceeded their 40" to 43" height restrictions (remember that kids with long torsos can outgrow a seat before they hit the height total requirement).

We bought a Britax Regent (max height: 53") for our primary car (a Honda accord) and my mom's minivan (the cars he rides in most often and on long trips). We chose it for it's five point harness. Upon first inspection, it looked like it wouldn't fit in my car. With a lot of wrestling, we were able to get it in place. It's huge in our small car, but seems both indestructible and luxurious (we call it the recliner). It's much easier to install in a LATCH vehicle (like my mom's minivan).

For Jim's car (compact sedan) which Ranger rides in less frequently, we have a Britax Parkway (height limit: 60"). It's a compact booster that uses the car seat's belt instead of an attached harness. We like it, but feel it's one he will do better in when he's more mature. We have to be attentive that he doesn't try to slip his shoulder out from under the seat belt mid-trip. He's starting to understand that we want him to leave it alone, but it's much easier to use (and feel confident in) a five point harness at this young age (2.5 years).

If you're currently looking for a Britax seat, all Britax is on sale 20% off at Amazon through Sunday, March 2nd.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Come on in My Kitchen: Win a Copy of Annabel Karmel's delicious Toddler Cookbook

It is easier for me to envision a cookbook for toddlers and maybe even one using toddlers as an ingredient than it is to imagine a guide to cooking with toddlers.

When DK offered to send me a review copy of Annabel Karmel's new Toddler Cookbook, I had a sneaking suspicion it was one of those "toddler" books truly geared for age 5 and up. I am rarely so pleased to be proven wrong.

Although not every step of every recipe is toddler-friendly, I readily found recipes that 2.5 year-old Ranger and I could work on together. Not only that, they were recipes we might actually enjoy eating.

While some recipes include meat (chicken satay skewers, lettuce boats with chicken, salmon fishcakes, and chicken dippers), vegetarians won't feel excluded (pita pizzas, corn quesadillas, cherry tomato sauce, and mini Caesar salad with homemade croutons). There are also 10 snack, drink, and dessert recipes.

The book is well-illustrated with great photographs showing kids enacting EACH STEP of the recipe. Clear bowls prevent obstructions and everyone's hand seems magically out of the way throughout. Ranger loved seeing kids cooking, and the photos helped him see himself in the unfamiliar role of cook.

The strong visuals gave me courage to tackle meringues for Valentine's Day (while Ranger was taking a nap). I was tempted to stop there and proclaim the recipes easy and delicious, but deep in my heart I knew only a toddler-tested recipe would do.

Tonight we made mini banana muffins. The author calls for whole wheat flour which is a pleasant departure from stereotypical kid fare. Ranger and Jim were the mixmasters. They mashed a banana (which Ranger seemed to feel kind of guilty about), mixed ingredients, and then (drumroll, please) sifted in the dry ingredients. It turns out that while Ranger likes mixing, he loves sifting with my old school rotary sifter (which I need to upgrade to one without a loose handle). If we get homebound by another ice storm, I am breaking out all the flour and sugar and setting up a toddler-powered home grist mill.

We all had a great time, and I'm starting to realize how toddler Ranger can participate in the kitchen activity without risk of injury or meltdown. And the muffins, well...
even extraordinarily picky Ranger couldn't keep his hands off them.

Which is how I feel about the Toddler Cookbook (list price $10.99, $8.79 at Amazon).

Thanks to the kind folks at DK, five Baby Toolkit readers (with U.S. addresses only) will win copies of the delicious Toddler Cookbook. To enter this random drawing, email
babytoolkitcontests(at) with the subject: Toddler Cookbook. Entries will be accepted through 11:59 PM CDT, 3/9/2008.

General disclaimers regarding contests on Baby Toolkit: we'll do our best but we can't guarantee the same efforts from the postal system. If a prize item were to be lost in the lost in the mail, we would take it as a message from a higher power that the situation was simply not meant to be (no compensation or replacement will be issued). One entry per household. We will use a random integer generator at to determine a winner. Jim, Adrienne, their parents, and Ranger are not eligible for this contest. We respect your privacy and will not use your personal information for any purpose beyond determining a winner and sending prizes.

Good luck, we really think you're going to love this great book!

***This is the independent opinion of the geek family at Baby Toolkit, (c) 2008. We accepted a free review copy of the book, but under no obligation. We wouldn't write about it if we didn't like; we regularly decline reviews. We receive no compensation from DK or its affiliates for this review (though they are supplying and shipping the contest prizes). We do like DK as their travel books (including Rough Guide) and Eyewitness books have been household favorites as long as we've been a household.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Hanging with the Lost Boys: A Teepee of One's Own

For my handsome godson's fifth birthday, I made him a play teepee. The teepee was intended for his fourth birthday, but I dramatically overestimated my sewing speed: it wasn't completed until 6 months too late.

I was a little unnerved that a teepee might not be the right gift for a young swashbuckler-in-training (our godson has a penchant for playing pirates). Jim however explained that it's a perfect Lost Boys compliment to any good Peter Pan pirate play... and not that betighted Disney Peter Pan but the unkempt archetype of the awesome (and quite funny) J. M. Barrie story. (Download the free book or audiobook from Project Gutenberg or enjoy a great (true to the book) film adaptation.)

As we walked into our friends' empty house to set up the teepee as a surprise, we stumbled upon the best Tick Tock (crocodile) puppet ever. (Its maker, Wild Republic also makes a fabulous 20" plush giant squid which makes me wonder what would comprise a 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea playset). This household (replete with imaginative older sister) is primed for Peter Pan.

When we set up the big teepee in the privateer's bedroom, it pretty much blocked all closet access (sorry, PirateMom). The teepee is big enough hold a couple sitting adults. The good news is it can fold up into a corner when not in use.

For the sewing geeks, I used Butterick pattern #4251 and decorator weight fabric. For the engineers, it's supported by six sturdy 84" tall 1" diameter PVC pipes. The fabric portion is about 6 feet in height.

It's the easily most rewarding thing I've ever sewn because I know the recipient loves it.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Zrecs mom Jenni for her great teepee which inspired me to return to this mostly abandoned project last summer. Their fort week has other great recommendations for the less crafty. You can also check out our easy pro-naptime crib fort.

Don't forget to enter our HABA discontinued dice dome giveaway before it ends on Friday.

***This is the independent opinion of the geek parents at Baby Toolkit, (c) 2008. We have no undisclosed relationship with J. M. Barrie, Jules Verne, or their estates, Project Gutenberg, Wild Republic, Butterick, or PVC makers.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Hot Dog Flowers: Definitely NSFV*

*NSFV= Not Safe For Vegetarians- although Jim thinks we could do this with a veggie dog, I suspect it only works with the extraordinary snout count in hot dogs.

When I was a wee child, there used to be a chain of Sir Beef Restaurants. As far as I know, there is only one left in this universe. This is a tragedy for two reasons:
  1. The jokes.
  2. They used to make these flowers out of hot dogs that boggled my wee mind. A picky eater like me could turn my nose up herds of hot dogs (or is that just one?), but a hot dog flower still gets me every time.
My dad, being an engineer, had to figure out how to make them at home. His efforts turned out much better than our flaming attempts at DIY microwave popcorn. It's not hard at all, and it's fun to watch if you don't mind cleaning the wurst spatter out of the microwave later.

If you like this hack or need a vegetarian palate-cleanser, check out how we slice apples.

***This is the independent, unsolicited opinion of the geek parents at Baby Toolkit, (c) 2008.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Cleft in Twain: Recycled Shower Curtain Splat Mats

Okay, the title really gives away the whole idea. Rather than using a flimsy, disposable, wipe-clean splat mat under our high chair, we opted to vertically cut an old waterproof shower curtain in half. The result is durable and cheap splat mat.

The best feature of a shower curtain splat mat (other than fact it lays pretty flat on the floor and doesn't bunch up) is machine wash-ability. Add a half cup baking soda to the wash load and a couple towels or sweatshirts (for friction), and air dry. Do not use bleach or detergents with bleach.

***This is the independent opinion of Baby Toolkit, (c) 2006-2008.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Retro Moment: Goodbye, Polaroid and Hello, Colorforms!

A couple weeks ago I dug out my 1990s Polaroid camera and film. It turns out Ranger is a huge fan of the technology. He LOVES snatching the photo from the camera and watching it develop (genetics, I think).

So I was soooo sad to get the news (from Jeremiah) that Polaroid film is being discontinued. In the face of an oncoming winter storm Ranger and I piled in the car to buy a small stockpile. While others crowded grocery stores for bread and milk, we hit the desolate film aisle of a warehouse store (before picking up some milk and forgetting bread entirely).

Meanwhile, a great item from the same era is having a comeback- Colorforms. And not the licensed-character driven ones, but the dignified geometric originals. Plus, they're currently [update: sale has ended and they're now only $5 off] $20 off list price at Amazon (Thanks,!).

Now I'm crossing my fingers for a Polaroid film comeback- soon!

***This is the unsolicited, independent opinion of the geek parents at Baby Toolkit. We have no financial interest in Polaroid, University Games, or Colorforms.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

All Shook Up: Win HABA's (discountinued) Dice Tumbler

Although we made a cheap imitation of this great product in 2006, our substitute fell short of the glorious original (which may actually be one of Plato's ideal types).

HABA, for reasons we cannot even venture to guess, discontinued the brilliant $5 Dice Tumbler last year.

I was practically giddy (thinking them re-issued) to see them stocked at my fabulous local toy store. Sadly, they are no longer being made, but the owner bought a lot of them when she heard they were going off the market. And she sells them for $4.98, their original price (again, the store is truly fabulous).

The bottom of the dome unscrews very easily with a coin and it can hold quite a few dice (though maybe not enough for Descent).

It also works as a stand-alone toddler amusement. Ranger likes to play with it with a few random objects inside (currently it houses two fuzzy craft pompoms).

We bought an extra for a lucky Baby Toolkit reader. CONTEST ENDED February 29, 2008 (leap year day!). We welcome international entries in this contest- though it'll probably be shipped by the most economical (aka slowest possible) conveyance.

General disclaimers regarding contests on Baby Toolkit: we'll do our best but we can't guarantee the same efforts from the postal system. If a prize item were to be lost in the lost in the mail, we would take it as a message from a higher power that the situation was simply not meant to be (no compensation or replacement will be issued). We will use a random integer generator at to determine a winner. Jim, Adrienne, their parents, and Ranger are not eligible for this contest. We respect your privacy and will not use your personal information for any purpose beyond determining a winner.

And, if you don't feel lucky today- or simply want to buy one- you can call the great people at my favorite local toy store [Toys To Treasure,
(812) 477-2720] who still have some in stock. They don't have a web site, but they can ship credit card orders at reasonable rates.

***This is the independent, unsolicited, unprofessional, and sometimes random opinion of the geek parents at Baby Toolkit. While we love the HABA dice tumbler and our local toy store, we're shoppers and fans- not affiliates, partners, or beneficiaries. Baby Toolkit, (c) 2008.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Weather Alert: Midwest faces Super Ugly Super Tuesday

[This is not a political post.]

This morning I leapt from bed to the sound of a tornado alert siren. Jim and I know from experience that it beats the hell out of awaking to an actual tornado.

I was already awake when the sirens began wailing. I've been sleeping fitfully since the storms arrived around midnight. Our regional radar has been on my screen many times throughout the night.

So, half asleep, with my stomach in my throat, I lurch into a long day of hazardous weather forecasts.

Anyway, it seemed a good time to remind our fellow Midwesterners (and everyone else) of some of our daily habits concerning emergency preparedness.

And here are some good tornado safety tips from NOAA.

Take care. I'm off to dig out some helmets and flashlights in case things get bad this afternoon and evening. Plus, I think the helmets spur your will to live. Who really wants to be caught dead in a helmet?

***Baby Toolkit is the independent, unsolicited opinion of geek parents presently operating on limited sleep and uneasy watchfulness. We're definitely not professionals at this.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Putting the Heart Back in Valentine's Day... and Chocolate

We're on the cusp of another gigantic choco-holiday: Valentine's. As child slavery and other despicable labor practices plague the chocolate industry- I ask that you avoid the purchase of commodities (non-Fair Trade) chocolates. (See our November post explaining the issue in more detail.)

Here at Baby Toolkit central, we're celebrating with homemade sugar cookies and cupcakes. We're even having a decorating party with friends on the 13th. That gives us a bonus party!

But chocolate abstention isn't necessary. There's a third path: Certified Fair Trade chocolate. Fair Trade costs noticeably more out of our wallets, but it doesn't deprive children of homes, education, families, food, safety, freedom, love, and, well, childhood. In essence, non-FT chocolate is heavily subsidized at the expense of kids and communities in Africa. Fair Trade Certification confirms that the labeled product is produced in a manner that is legal and just.

So, if you want to invest in a better future for chocolate, Africa, and the world buy Fair Trade.


My brother and I were discussing fiction the other day, and he said "The people in fiction are the only ones who give me hope for the future."

Well, not to be a total sap, the real people on these fabulous interwebs play a similar role for me.

When Jim and I gave up chocolate in 2001, we encountered universal resistance. People would say "Why resist? You alone can't change this." And when we said, "So, join us..." they gave us incredulous looks like we were proposing splitting the atom with salad tongs and silly putty.

And I would wonder how our culture could shrug off CHILD SLAVERY (is there much more odious?). People in fiction were looking pretty amazing by comparison.

But you, Internet, brought me new hope. Here are some friends who've also quit commodities chocolate:
Beyond mod*mom's awesome contest- how else can I get Fair Trade products. Some churches have Fair Trade chocolate & coffee partnership programs: Lutheran (inter-synod via Lutheran World Relief), United Church of Christ, and Catholic. Not all congregations are aware of these programs... yet (you can change this).

Manufacturers like Global Exchange, Equal Exchange, Divine Chocolate, Dagoba, and Dean's Beans have online stores and listings of local retailers.

Happy Valentine's, everyone!

***Baby Toolkit is the independent, unsolicited opinion of some random geek parents. We're definitely not experts at this. We have no relationships with any of the chocolate companies represented within this post. Baby Toolkit, (c) 2008.