Saturday, February 28, 2009

Game Month: Bringing Our Favorites Out of the Closet

Jim and I love games.

In our childless years, we referred to our favorite Indiana game store as "the hundred dollar store" because we rarely left without spending at least that amount. Our non-gaming friend Julie lives near this great place and often gets shanghaied into trips there under the pretense of going out to eat. While she rolls her eyes at the mention of this detour, I think she secretly enjoys the trips as they keep her current with new quips about adolescent boys, WarCraft miniatures, and multi-sided dice.

In the 11 years before Ranger arrived we amassed a multitude of games. Shortly after Ranger's birth, we got hit by a tornado, then a household flood. While our games stayed well above water, I quit frequenting the lower level of the house long after all traces of the waters were removed.

Beyond periodic ventures for a specific event (office Christmas party, family reunions), we ignored the game closet. Sometimes we would play a tiresome round of closet Tetris when an escaped game was located and returned to the fold. Otherwise our collection hibernated in the darkness.

Our home sometimes bears that same feeling of unexercised potential. We can live in a small portion of the space, so without guests and motivation we rattle around like a few pieces of candy in a mostly finished box.

A lot of our best memories as homeowners involve games in good company. The best games offer surprise, group endeavor, and an opportunity to learn more about fellow players- even ones you've known for years.

For reasons ranging from increased home cooking to a long winter to memories of great evenings with friends, our game closet is now plundered regularly. Our door is more often open, more seats are filled at the table, and the house is full with warmth, light, noise, food, and company.

After another foiled attempt on the life of Dr. Lucky, one guest said "You should really blog about these games."

Jim and I have taken her comment to heart, and we plan to spend March introducing you to some of our favorites and why we love them. Not all of the games we discuss will be in print (but you might get lucky and find out of print gems at a thrift shop or yard sale) and only a few of them will be stocked near Monopoly and Clue in big box retailers.

We'll talk about strategies for hosting a great game night, games that are fun with kids, games for family reunions, and how to find great games.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Thermos Responds to Baby Toolkit's FUNtainer Concerns: Replacements Offered, but Identical Parts

Today I received this response from Thermos regarding my inquiries about FUNtainer breakage:

Hi Adrienne,

Sorry for the late reply and my condolences on your loss.

I’ve spoken with R&D and they have assured me that the products are in compliance with all of the standards required per the CPSC including the new CPSIA regulations. It could be that the heights or specific anomalies of the drops and breakage you experienced were outside of the required existing test protocols. We have not found any difference in durability from the old product to the new design and we have not had any significant increase in claims for this type of damage. I do appreciate your feedback, however, and we are looking at ways to redesign the lids or change the formulation of the material to reach an even higher standard in order to build the most durable product possible to meet consumer expectations and your feedback is very valuable to us. Thank you for all of the time you have spent in helping to communicate these issues to us.

The reason that we redesigned this product was to create a higher standard under bite tests, for the elimination of small parts and for better ease of cleaning. We feel that these improvements have resulted in a much better product for all consumers while maintaining previous durability standards. Unfortunately we no longer sell the old designs so we cannot replace them for you. We will be happy to replace any damaged products that your readers request if they return the old product as proof of prior purchase. Of course we cannot build a product that is unbreakable under all scenarios and these products are not warranted for this type of damage. We like to be flexible on this point, however, in order to maintain the highest levels of customer satisfaction.

Here is the Consumer Service Toll free number and address:


Thermos L.L.C.

Consumer Services

355 Thermos Road

Batesville, MS 38606

Thanks to you and all your readers Adrienne for supporting Thermos brand products. Please let me know if I can be of further assistance on this or any other matter.

Best regards,

Rick Dias

Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing

Thermos L.L.C.

2550 West Golf Road, Suite 800

Rolling Meadows, IL 60008

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Thermos FUNtainer Update: Some Newer Straw Bottles Have Breakage Problems

When we first met the FUNTainer straw bottle (March 2007), it was love at first sight. The durable straw bottles we bought two years ago are still in good condition (despite being dinged and scratched from heavy toddler use and periodic drops onto a variety of surfaces).

This summer, a new generation of FUNtainer emerged. We liked the new version's improved drink top, but had some reservations about the lid's new materials. The new straw bottle lid lacks the durability of the earlier straw bottle. After seeing the easy breakage of the new version, we no longer recommend this version of the FUNtainer straw bottle.

Spotting the New Bottles
The newer versions of the bottle (right, Hello Kitty) have an oval push button on the lid. They also lack the #5 plastic recycling symbol inside the lid's flip-top. The new lids are unmarked for recycling (and are presumably no longer polypropolene).

Another distinguishing feature is the under the lid upper straw assembly. Again, the pink Hello Kitty FUNtainer demonstrates the shape of the new version.

The upper straw is connected to a large flexible disk that fits under the lid. The plastic snap-top lid has an oval opening to accomodate the new straw straw assembly.

The old straw bottle versions, which I still love, have a 3 part straw assembly with one short straw above the lid and two below. The Foogo has a similar assembly as the new FUNtainer, but we haven't seen or heard about atypical breakage in the Foogos (which, to my limited knowlege, seem to still be produced in polypropylene, aka #5 plastic).
Our Concerns
The redesigned lids and their corresponding straw cup bottoms are, in our limited experience and opinion, breaking easily and soon after purchase.

Kids' stuff breaks, and kids put their stuff through extraordinary use, so we don't worry about limited breakage. Breakage from ordinary use, however draws our attention, and when it seems to be happening frequently, I start to worry.

Frequency of Breakage
In June 2008, I photographed the Hello Kitty FUNtainer. I had purchased it at Target primarily to write a comparison review. After the review photos, I set it on the counter to be handwashed (I handwash all our Thermoses even though some FUNtainers are reportedly dishwasher safe). It was washed and air-dried. The next day, my mom, Ranger, and I headed to the zoo, so I filled up three FUNtainers with ice water. When I went to screw on the lid, I heard a click sound and the flip-top broke off in my hand. As I'm rather incompetant at opening jars and bottles, I don't think I have atypical hand strength.

I shrugged it off and called Thermos for a replacement. They sent one at their expense, so I wrote a review and gave it little thought. The replacement lid later broke at the hands of a visiting 18 month old. (2 broken lids).

A friend owned one of the new FUNtainers (hers is the Hello Kitty pictured to the right). Her under 2 year old daughter broke their first lid. A free replacement was issued. The bottle was dropped on their wooden (above a crawl-space) kitchen floor and the bottle bottom shattered and broke free. (1 broken lid + 1 broken bottle)

My friend Karen bought 8 of the new FUNtainers because she knew how much I use and like my older ones. Of her 8 FUNtainers, only two lids and two bottles remain functional) though not necessarily matched sets. Karen called Thermos when her first lid broke after 2 weeks of use. She told the representative that the bottle was dropped on carpeted floor, so she was charged $5 plus shipping and handling for a replacement lid. One of her bottles (which were designated as dishwasher-friendly), had the bottom pop off in the dishwasher filling her dishwasher with a strong epoxy-like smell. (7 broken lids + 6 broken bottles)

Local damage totals: 10 broken lids + 7 broken bottles (for 10 bottles purchased + 2 free replacement lids + 1 purchased replacement lid). Many bottles were broken during typical use.

Type of breakage
Other than my first lid's break when the upper part of the flip top broke off intact, all the other local lid breakages seem to include the loss of a hinge leg. When the hinge legs break loose, they are a small (approximately nickle-sized) piece of irregularly shaped plastic with one rough edge. I do not have photos of any seperated hinges (as a parent's automatic response is to throw them away), but the remaining hinge leg suggests how large the plastic fragment could be.

When the bottom comes of the bottle, it reveals some gnarled looking welds. The weld that goes in a circular ring around the bottom looks gnarled, but actually isn't a treachorous as it appears. Despite serious second thoughts on the action, I eventually ran my hand around the ring and found that particular bottle's weld free of metal burrs, splinters, and sharp edges.

The center weld, however, has rather sharp edges where the metal appears to have been crimped or cut. The corners concern me.

When the bottom comes off, there are also globs of adhesive (which is probably what caused the strong smell in Karen's dishwasher). These can sometimes be peeled free of the bottle, an endeavor 3 year old Ranger would gladly undertake if I would give him access.

Whatever the new resin may be, it doesn't react to drops like the old polypropylene materials. A friend gave me a blue Foogo with a cracked bottom (after over a year's use) to compare with the new FUNtainer's breakage from a drop.

The older, marked #5 plastic (blue Foogo), cracks, but does not seem to shatter or break into multiple pieces. The new plastic broke into multiple pieces and had additional radial cracks appear from the location of impact.

Communication with Thermos

I was unsettled by the lid's easy breakage back in July, so on July 18 I emailed a Thermos executive directly in addition to calling Customer Service. In addition to explaining the cup's easy breakage, I made these layman's observations:
The lid design seems improved, but we immediately had problems with it that I suspect have to do with materials rather than structure. I noticed it's no longer labeled as #5 plastic. The texture and density of the plastic seem quite different than the also hot pink Barbie straw cup Funtainer we own.
This break renders the cup too unreliable to be very useful... There's something about this redesign that seems to be making it a lot less durable than the earlier Funtainer lids.
I keep seeing notations in different online forums about people having lid breakage, and I couldn't understand it with the old version of the lids (those marked #5). Our other Funtainer and Foogo cups have taken over a year's worth of toddler abuse and we've had no plastic breakage to date. They're easy to love and recommend. There's a lot of promise in this new design but the easy breakage is problematic.
I didn't hear anything back, but I was distracted with readying our lives for the Raptor baby, so I reissued my concerns (1/7/09). After assistance from a third party, on January 8th, I was emailed by the Thermos executive I previously emailed. He had heard nothing of this type of breakage in the new FUNtainer.

I sent him the details and photos of broken FUNtainers included in this review. He invited me to call him directly. I tried for almost a week, but never reached him or received a phone call.

Out of frustration, I emailed him again. He replied in a concerned manner and said that he had asked Thermos' research and development to investigate the matter. That email, dated January 14, was the last I heard from him. On February 1st, I asked him for an estimate on when he would expects more information, but (as of this posting) my email remains unanswered.

Update: 2/18/09- Thermos responds to Baby Toolkit.

What are your experiences with the FUNtainer?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Slightly Skewed Perception: Scoring at Eye Doctor, the "video game"

When we went to the eye doctor today, my heart was lodged firmly in my throat. A couple weeks ago, I saw Ranger's eyes momentarily deviate from synchronization and struggle to regain focus.

With a family history of undiagnosed lazy eye, I prepared for bad news. In my total preoccupation with diagnosis, I completely forgot to prepare Ranger for his appointment. And maybe that helped us improvise.

Ranger literally drug his feet when called back to his appointment. I stepped in front of him and started talking excitedly about the technology in the room upon entry.

"oooh, look! Letters!" I exclaimed about the computer screen displaying an eye chart. "WOW! Look at all those knobs!" I pointed at the machine with all the flipping lenses.

Ranger chose to sit on my lap in the exam chair. Being a technophile, he couldn't resist the glowing pixels of the eye chart. Before the doctor even started asking him questions, he was reading the first 4 letters to Jim.

About halfway through the exam, he asked Jim to trade me places. When the doctor pulled out the apparatus that requires the patient place their chin and forehead against the machine and hold still, I wondered mutely how it would go.

Jim took over as cheerleader. "Look buddy, it has HANDLES- just like a MOTORCYCLE."

I should note that Ranger is obsessed with video games to the point that he's pioneering his own English dialect of videogamlish. He randomly assigns many experiences of daily life random points values, and he calls everything fun from playing in the sink to rolling marbles across the floor video games. His absolute favorite actual video game at the moment is Mario Kart for Wii (which he only plays about once a month), and his transport of choice is the motorcycle.

I smiled at Jim's subtle reference and raised it a notch, "Wow, buddy, you get to play the eye video game. You can get 100 points for that eye."

He leaned right into the harness, grinning big. The doctor checked his right eye. He sat back when she was done.

"I hear the other eye is worth 150 points if you're good at this game."

Head back in brace, toothy grin exposed. Left eye close-up exam completed.

"250 points! I think that's the high score of the day."

The doctor confirmed this. High fives all around.

Then it was time to choose glasses (lazy eye detected early, in case you were wondering).

After bolstering his reluctant glasses choice with an "Uncle Punk will LOVE those!" he was hesitant to let the technician peer into his eyes with her little scope.

When she said look into the white light I thought of death and then Pong.

"Ooooh, that's a great game! I wonder if you can get points."

Ranger immediately became interested in the "game." Afterwards, I suggested to the technician that Ranger may have earned some impressive points "A score of 200, you think?"

She flipped the scope up and said, "Your score's right here... 55!" (Ranger doesn't understand numeric value, so 55 can still beat 200).

And you know what, it was the high score of the day.

P.S. Eye exams are recommended around one, three, and when starting school. Free infant eye exams are offered through the InfantSEE program for all babies 6 months to 1 year.

Related post:
The Eyes Have It:

Friday, February 06, 2009

Do Something Productive: Project Awesome Blobbies.

On Tuesday night (one of the coldest of this icy year), 6 friends lugged sewing machines, fabric, and gear up our steep driveway while Jim cleared the ice.

What inspired them to carry small appliances around on surfaces normally achieved only by Zamboni?

Project Awesome.

At the end of MLK Day, I realized that I missed the boat on dedicating the any part of the day to public service. It turned out, I wasn't alone. Lots of friends with toddlers didn't find the time to serve (though they wanted to).

My friend Karen has a gift for finding acres of nice fabric at low, low prices. When the Raptor was born she gave me enough soft flannel to swaddle our house (roof and all). We had discussed an evening of sewing something flannel for non-profits, but it never got off the ground.

Two days later, buoyed by the inauguration, I started looking for a use for all that flannel. My first thought was Soule Mama's recent Mama to Mama sewing project for newborns in Haiti, but our materials were not recycled and all the deadlines had long since passed.

After a few Google misses, I hit the motherload at a nationwide, non-profit network of volunteers who provide handmade items for hospitals. Not only do they offer patterns and guidelines for crafting, they have a registry where hospitals can request items.

I called Karen. We decided to make baby blankets and started scouring the hospital database for recipients. We even called our local hospitals, but their needs are presently met. Our state seems to have a lot of volunteer-ism, so there wasn't much need here for items we felt qualified to make.

You might be wondering why we would want to make blankets for hospitals? Of course hospitals already have blankets, but those blankets can only be accurately described as institutional. The visually sterile environment can be hard on a parent if a child is admitted for any time longer than a regular maternity stay.

In a neighboring state, Karen found a children's hospital with an urgent need for blankets. After a phone call for more details, we knew we had found our project. We decided to dedicate our time to better blankets.

A recent reading of Maura Madden's Crafternoon: A Guide to Getting Artsy and Crafty With Your Friends All Year Long had convinced me to invite friends over for a game night (we have a big game closet and a craft night required far more supplies than I could expediently arrange).

That night Karen and I invited our friends to join in the craftivism, and Project Awesome (as Jim dubbed it) was born.

We set a date for a sewing night and people started gathering fabrics to use from their home stashes. In recent years, we have seen many fabric stores close, and I am always drawn to the bright, cheerful kid flannels. There was a lot to share.

So, two weeks later (after the ice storm subsided, when power was finally being restored), six fabulous women came over for dinner and blanket making.

In three hours we completed 11 blankets and cut cloth for over a dozen more. The house was filled with light and laughter despite the cold outside.

This project has done a lot to warm my heart too. It's a wondrous thing to be able to give when the world seems so full of bad news and anxiety. Most of what we sewed was surplus yardage rather than new purchases, so we were able to give without spending extra. A few great folks have offered to help us with postage.

The blankets brought back a lot of memories of our own kids' time in hospitals. One sweet boy in our group fought for his life in a local NICU. Other babies travelled to our state's major children's hospital for procedures. The days that Ranger spent in the local hospital when Rotavirus overwhelmed his skinny body were among the very worst of my life.

We all liked the thought of brightening the atmosphere and offering a small measure of normalcy for families experiencing heart wrenching anxiety.

Around Karen's house blankets are beloved "blobbies." When Karen's daughter heard about Project Awesome, she thought it would be better named Project Awesome Blobbies.

Hospitals' need for blankets extends from tiny receiving blankets to crib size to lap blankets to twin sized because preschoolers, big kids, tweens, and teens are all served by their hospital. Older kids get a lot less attention than babies, but they like friendly blankets too- especially duing treatments. Apparently some of the kids will pass the time of their treatment counting and recounting the knots on knotted fleece blankets.

If you happen to sew and would like to be a part of Project Awesome Blobbies, feel free to create and mail some blankets to Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago:
Children's Memorial Hospital
Attn: Children's Services Coordinator
2300 Children's Plaza
Chicago, IL 60614
Needs: BLANKETS--most needed item.
Contact Teri Foster, Fax 773-880-4264; e-mail: TeFoster[at]
We used a very easy (free) blanket pattern from Mama to Mama; it makes simple, but lovely blankets.

Email me (babytoolkit [at] about your project (we love pictures) or send me a blog link if you decide to join in!

I'll post an update in a couple weeks when we gather all the finished blankets, play games, and eat great food.

What projects are warming your heart these days?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A Heart Full of Love: Crayon Decorations

My chandelier is decked out for Valentine's Day... 2008. When last year's cupcake decorating party got snowed out, I left the wax paper and crayon hearts up.

Periodically Ranger would request a heart to play with, but otherwise, the hearts still dangle above the infrequently used table (the dining room has cream colored carpet- what were they thinking?).

This crayon craft is one I remember fondly from childhood, and it would be fun with older preschoolers and early elementary kids (though an adult will need to operate the iron).

Martha Stewart offers instructions, and Vegbee offers practical tips and further inspiration.

A similar toddler-friendly decoration could be made by with tissue paper and contact paper (cut the paper frames in a heart shape).

While I'm not a consistant holiday observer, this year seems a great opportunity for simple acts of celebration. Their warm cheer is a welcome contrast to a chilly midwinter.

Thank you, Parent Hacks, for shaking this idea loose from my crowded cranium.