Thursday, January 29, 2009

My Baby She Wrote Me A Letter: PictureItPostage

Okay, 2.5 month old Raptor can't write yet, but she's already sending mail.

For Christmas we gave Grandma some custom photo stamps from PictureItPostage, and since then the Raptor has been appearing in mailboxes across the country (to great acclaim).

The stamps are a great quality material, so they don't easily get scratched, scuffed, or knocked off during mailing. With a display area of 2" by 1.25",they're larger than standard postage (which is great because the photos really stand out). The reproduction quality is very good (much better than my hasty, randomly lit photo suggests) and equal to a photographic print of the same size.

Shipping of the stamps was prompt, and they were packaged to prevent damage in mostly recyclable materials (only 1 thin plastic sleeve was non-recyclable).

Custom postage makes a great, practical gift for parents or grandparents or a great addition to mailings from your kids (Valentines, party invitations, thank you notes, announcements, etc.).

20 first class stamps (2- 8.5" x 5.5" sheets of self-adhesive stamps) cost $18.95. 20 postcard stamps are $15.95. Additional postage rates are available. Orders of more than one set qualify for discounts.

PictureItPostage is a fun way to send a little loveliness this Valentine's Day!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Book 'Em Danno: The CPSIA Will Bar Under 12s From Libraries

Libraries are a mainstay of Jones family life. We love our local libraries and pay for a statewide library card. We even purchase our homes based on library proximity.

Needless to say, my heart nearly stopped over a new "wrinkle" created by the current wording of the soon-to-be-implemented Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA).

According to the American Library Association, the CPSIA law, in its current form would require lead testing on all existing library books before they could be issued to (or possibly touched by) anyone under 12. The immediate effects are dire for families who use libraries:
Under the current opinion issued by the General Counsel of the CPSC, the law would apply to books for children under the age of 12; therefore, public, school, academic and museum libraries would be required to either remove all their children’s books or ban all children under 12 from visiting the facilities as of February 10.
Read the rest of the ALA's dispatch on the CPSIA, and then pick up a phone and call Consumer Product Safety Commissioner Nancy Nord [(301) 504-7901], and your Representatives before your library sets up ropes and starts carding everyone under 12.

Thanks for the information, Julie!

Dinner Renaissance: How Relish! Changed Our Lives

At our house the phrase "home cooking" has long been a punch line. While we cooked in the early days of our marriage (potatoes, lots of potatoes), we quickly transitioned to eating out, take out, and heat and serve as soon as our budget allowed.

Over a decade later, we still enjoyed the ease of take out, but were completely bored with the restaurant options. We were paying a premium in money and family time for meals we had long ceased to enjoy. Ranger always looked a little lost in his play kitchen. He'd usually pop a couple things in the microwave and then carry them into the living room.

Shortly before the Raptor was born (late in '08), I became intrigued with a menu planning service featured by Cool Mom Picks. Relish! (at features a composite shopping list and meals that take around 30 minutes to prepare and cost about $95 a week (4 people, 5 meals).

We signed up for a 3 month subscription ($21). There were options that cost less than $7 a month, but they required longer subscription terms. A voice in my head (or maybe the collective voice of my unused kitchen gear) grounded my expectations: "A unused 3 month subscription ultimately costs less than an unused 12 month subscription."

When I chose our first week's menu (5 out of 15 options), Jim (buoyed by the prospect of delicious sounding dishes) offered to go to the store. Awesome! In the past I've gone to the store because I especially hate trying to make a shopping list. Then I hate being at the store because I cannot think of thing to make. I used to end up coming home with a random assortment of things that couldn't be assembled to make any actual meals. Shopping really bummed me out.

Now I just keep a post-it note of additional groceries to attach to the Relish! shopping list. Jim and Ranger go or I go when the kids are with other adults. The grocery store has lost its sting. The list itself gets plenty of attention at the grocery store. Strangers track us down to say things like "Wow, you must be organized" (which I love to hear even if it's totally inaccurate) or "Where did you get that list?"

And our fridge is no longer a place where food goes to expire... Before kids, our fridge was the condiment and take-out box museum indicative of workaholics. After Ranger, I bought food out of guilt and good intentions, but usually didn't muster the courage to assemble it while it was edible. On the rare occasions I tried to make something, we were inevitably out of an essential ingredient so some meals were abandoned midstream.

The wasted food hit an all-time high early last summer after we joined a CSA project. After a few weeks our fridge threatened to become an organic compost heap, so we started distributing all of our share among friends. Jim was driving an extra 30 minutes each week to get food that just made me feel wasteful.

Now we buy what we eat, and we eat what we buy. It's a clean feeling to throw out empty packages rather than expired food.

Our life is more ordered too. We sit down for meals together and clean up together. In the last week, we've had guests for four meals. It's easy to invite people over, even at the last minute, when you know something good is in the works.

Jim and I clean up together most nights, and it gives life a nice rhythm. Ranger seems to like sitting at the table with us and is eating at a less glacial pace. The Raptor has a bouncer in the kitchen were she keeps me company while I cook.

There are so many ways Relish! has changed our quality of life. We have more conversational time, more money, less guilt, and more happiness. And that is before we even broach the meals themselves.

Last night my mom summed it up with "You eat like kings!" We do, maybe better depending upon the kingdom and the era.

We've cooked dishes and ingredients I never would have tried, and we've had great results with everything (which is notable when you look at our storied history of cooking failures). Shiny, unused kitchen implements have become instruments of weekly, if not daily, use.

Our menu for the last week was:
  • Italian sausage heroes with apple coleslaw
  • Nutty cucumber sandwiches with homemade baked potato chips
  • Pumpkin-bean soup with cranberry & feta salad
  • Mexian scrambled eggs with pomegranate & pear salad
  • Gourmet chicken chili with jack quesadillas
The meals are so suitable for each season. The winter has been full of sumptuously warm meals that contrast the spare weather and atmosphere outdoors. After some chicken and dumplings, Jim and I marvelled over the rich flavor contributed by well cooked carrots. Carrots. The orange kind.

Relish also offers a freezer cooking menu once a month and special menus for holidays, lunches, deserts, and events like the Superbowl and themed movie nights. Around the holidays, the freezer menu included a number of make-ahead appetizers and hors d'ouevres to simplify the season.

I am proud to report that we just renewed our subscription after 3 months. This time I signed up for a full year... a delightful, delicious year.

Relish! founders Karen Hutcherson and Anne Bender have generously offered a one year subscription ($58.80 value) to one lucky Baby Toolkit reader.

To enter the contest please tell us (in a few sentences) why you think a year of Relish! would be a good fit for you and your family. We'll randomly select a winner. Email your entries to babytoolkitcontests[at] by 11:59 PM CST, February 1, 2009. We'll announce the winner on Groundhog's Day. One entry per household please.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Handcrafted Heartbreak: Our Favorite Swaddling Blanket Will Soon Be Off the Market

One sleepy afternoon this summer, I started snuggling a new naptime lovey: Simply Baby Blankets' seersucker swaddling blanket.

The blanket sat near my favorite napping spot after being used as a dancing cape in the previous evening's family dance party (Ranger is a dance maniac). The seersucker seemed so light and airy that I couldn't resist pulling it over me for a few minutes of shut-eye. The fabric was cool and soothing. It became a napping staple well into the chill of late Fall.

It's rare to find a baby blanket big enough for an adult to nap under. The size of Simply Baby Blankets' swaddlers hooked me. With long, tall Ranger, we quickly ran out of blankets large enough to wrap him. Fortunately, one of Jim's coworkers made Ranger a few oversized flannel blankets to fill the gap left by store-bought blankets.

The mom and pop team of Rachel and John Greene experienced the same problem in 2007 and have answered it with their large, well-made swaddling blankets. John's mom suggested a seersucker blanket for the summer months which (I speak from experience here) is the perfect weight for summer napping. Comforting and cool.

They're also HUGE at 42 by 50 inches (as are their flannel counterparts)- much larger than our mass market baby blankets. In the photo, the white flannel blanket is a standard Carter's receiving blanket, the rectangular blue one under it is a cotton Carter's baby blanket, and the square blue blanket is a Gerber cotton thermal blanket. Ranger couldn't resist their allure when I spread them out on the floor. The blankets are the perfect size for toddler beds and crib blankets (for toddlers, not babies).

Simply Baby Blankets are well-made and should last through numerous children.

Sadly, the Greenes are one of many family handcrafting entrepreneurs troubled by the soon-to-be implemented Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. Their beautiful blankets may be off the market as of February 10th, 2009. They've reduced their entire blanket stock to 50% off ($6 for flannel, $8 for seersucker, and $10 for luxury flannel) as they will no longer be able to sell them after February 10th.

Please do yourself a favor and pick up some of their seersucker and flannel lovelies. If you're swaddling, your baby will love them; they're fabulous baby gifts, exquisite summer napping covers, and exceptional dancing capes.

Please call or write your representatives so families like the Greenes can continue to produce and sell quality goods in the United States.

Are you stocking up on handcrafted favorites?
Have you heard anything interesting from your representatives?

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Ghost in the Machine: Googling My Grandfather

With round the clock baby feedings, we've watched a lot movies lately. One blurry night Jim watched a movie about the early days of the US Forestry Service. While I can tell you absolutely nothing about the film beyond the fact the protagonist wears a hat, the movie triggered an impulse to Google my grandfather's name and former employer (USFS).

My grandpa retired before I was born, so I didn't really expect to find anything online. The first hit was a direct one at at the Forestry History Society. It turns out I could get a copy of my grandpa's biography file by mail for free. Cool.

In response to my file request, the Society's archivist wrote:

If you search the Quick Search box of our Image Database for your grandfather, you can find 6 photographs that were taken by him. Two show images of what appears to be the same man. Your grandfather, perhaps?

Unknown pictures of my grandpa appearing 4 decades after his retirement and over 1 after his death? Really cool! But only imagined. When I looked at the files with the man, I didn't see my grandpa. Then I clicked on the other images.

And there stood my dad in 1940s knit skater's cap and tiny bomber jacket. He was a little younger than Ranger is now.

Cheryl, the archivist, sent me the full scan of the negative and I had new prints made for my dad, Ranger, and myself.

Behold, ghosts in the machine.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Jones Lexicon: Outlining Chaos

Favorite phrase (stolen wholesale from Jeremiah of Zrecs):

blog clean (blg kln)
v. blog cleaned, blog clean-ing, blog cleans
  1. clearing a small space to be in the background of a photo
    Usage: Help me blog clean the table so I can finish this post.
  1. clarity, surrounded by a sea of chaos and detritis
    Usage: I can't get this place blog clean even with a shovel and a hand grenade.
So- how are things with you?