Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Beautiful URLs: Some Favorite Links, October 28

While Jim is out buying an eyebrow pencil (for Ranger's school Halloween parade tomorrow) and the kids are asleep, so I'm going to seize the opportunity to post a few good links.
  • There's no better Halloween idea emporium in my feedreader than Dot assembled some great costume ideas (we're using one for Ranger- can you guess which?), party drinks & eats, and dazzling decorations. Abandon hope- or at least a chunk of time- all ye who click through here.
  • And while the sewing machine is out, why not whip up a few little fabric mailboxes? I think these would be great Christmas gifts.
  • Want to creep yourself out with a scary fairy tale for parents? Check out Keith Donohue's changeling tale The Stolen Child. It taps into some pretty primal parenting emotions.
  • This link reminds me of the time when birds attacked my friend and her family and made them very sick. Birds nested in the family's furnace exhaust pipe, so when the heat was turned on CO2 didn't vent from the house. My friends were pretty sick before they figured it out. If you're using gas appliances, please consider installing a CO2 detector in the next 2 weeks. It could save your life.
Jim is home, and I guess fat eyebrow pencils are a thing of the past. Ranger may be going bedecked in washable marker tomorrow (Parent Hacks recommends colored pencil as a face paint substitute, but that would take as long as eyeliner). Does that make me a bad mom?

Now for some zombies dancing:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Out D*mn'd Spot: Another Great Stain Fighter

I love shopping second-hand with Mimi-n-Moe's Mom. We were at a rummage sale when she commented on how beautifully stain-free a seller's kids' clothes were. This scored us the best find of the day.

The mom uses Dawn dish washing foam to remove stains. If she cannot hand scrub the stain out with Dawn alone she adds a little baking soda "and that takes out most anything."

While I still often use Dial bar soap for a stain-remover, this is one hot tip. Dawn works quickly, and stains take less time to remove. If using a front loader or other high efficiency washer, wash the Dawn out thoroughly before laundering.

I've tried Dawn and baking soda against some stains that went through the dryer and while it lightened the stains considerably it did not fully remove them. I've placed the articles in direct sunlight to see if the remaining stains fade out, but we haven't had many sunny days lately.

***Baby Toolkit is not affiliated with Dawn nor its parent companies. We aren't laundry professionals though we're well on our way to the 10,000 hours required for mastery. Not to brag, but we seem to be naturally gifted in the field of entropy.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Declaration for Vaccination

A few years ago I read about the 1918 influenza pandemic. I stumbled into a truly gripping book on the present day search for the historical virus (this book has Eskimos, adventurers, and edge of your seat science).

Like so many historical events, it turns out my family was shaped by that epidemic. My grandfather, a young child of missionaries, was traveling back to Egypt after time in the United States. In New York, waiting to disembark on the long journey by sea, he caught influenza. A compassionate woman (a "church lady" and a mother according to the retelling- which probably means a stranger or acquaintance) took him in and nursed him back to health. This brave and generous woman caught the infectious disease and died. My grandfather's life would continue to be shaped by the fact that someone died helping him. His life needed to be more because it had costs others so dearly. In his adulthood he built churches, schools, and orphanages in some of the world's poorest regions.

Recently I was telling this story to a friend, a nurse, and she said, "Don't you think medicine is better today?" Well, of course it is; however EPIDEMIC numbers of sick people can quickly overwhelm the medical infrastructure. Current projections for Indiana suggest future problems (note: that's 57% of hospital beds, not 57% of available hospital beds- most hospitals run above 43% capacity). Some people, such as those with existing health conditions and pregnant women, don't find much relief from modern medicine.

I believe that vaccination is better for individuals and the community than the alternative. I believe it enough that I stood in line for 4 hours with a 4 year-old Ranger and the 11 month-old Raptor so they could get H1N1 shots. Contrary to rumors, not all forms of the immunization have mercury and even Dr. Sears recommends them for children. Dr. Sears even states

"We are dealing with the same thing we face with flu shots every year: same chemical ingredients, new flu vaccine strains."

Our parents and grandparents underwent much greater risk in the fight against polio mid-twentieth century. Anyone bearing vaccination scars on their arms received a live shot of polio, but they made the disease a rarity.

Now is the time for courage.

***Baby Toolkit is not affiliated with the CDC nor any health organization or company. We are not medical professionals nor oracles. We are geek parents endowed with literacy and reason.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Munchie Mug: The Snack Cup That Makes Us Eat Our Words

Way back in 2007, we gave up the hunt for an effective snack cup (Snack Traps: Very Small Money Pits). I filed the fantasy of a truly spill-proof snack carrier in with Nessie, Big Foot, and a drive-through diaper store.

When the McNichols posted a wildly favorable review of the Munchie Mug on Z Recommends (titled The Best Snack Holder Ever), I sent an email along the lines of "No! Really? NO!" to receive an emphatic "YES!" in reply.

Mug makers Witty Works Incorporated, upon my request, sent me a Munchie Mug to review.

With genius simplicity, the split panel fabric top offers access without overflow. Forget about the flashy snack cups with gyroscopic motion, kids will figure out how to foil or break those. These straightforward cups are workhorses that always meet user demands.

The Munchie Mug has easily handled regular cleaning and Ranger's toddler (ab)use for ten months. To Ranger's disappointment, the cup accommodates even the large hand of a hungry adult without difficulty or damage.

On the other end of the spectrum, our 11 month old Raptor can also manage the mug's pragmatic design:

Her catch and release technique reminds us that even the best designed cup will be challenged by these tiny agents of entropy. I promise you that the escaped Cheerios are all part of a larger PEBKAC error (problem exists between kid and container in this case). The high lip on the lid that mystified the Z Recs team makes perfect sense when used by a baby. It catches some of the dropped food increasing chances of recovery. The cut-out offers an easy grip (even when crawling) for tiny hands.

The Munchie Mug is the only snack holder that meets our family's expectations. It is made of durable BPA-free polypropylene.

If you're looking for a great baby shower or baby/toddler birthday gift, the Munchie Mug ($15.95) is sure to be a hit with both young'uns and their faithful attendants. Munchie Mug is available with a blue, pink, or yellow lid and an alternate clear storage lid to keep treats fresh and tasty overnight.

***Baby Toolkit has no financial stake in or undisclosed relationship with Witty Works Incorporated. Witty Works sent us a free Munchie Mug to test. We're geek parents with ample opinions and two enthusiastic amateur test engineers. Video: Baby Toolkit, (c) 2009; some rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Motherhood: The New Generation

Today I found a dirty diaper in the baby's laundry. It had a tidy appearance, wrapped up like a little white present, but it was deep in the laundry basket. My best guess is that it has been residing there, scenting the room with vinegar, for about a week.

With my first child, I would have been on the phone with Jim in seconds to inquire what exactly he was thinking. Now, the phone call would be pure posturing as there's something like a 97% likelihood that I put the odor bomb in the basket. I'm not sure though because my brain is so frequently engaged that there are no system backups. Maybe the phone rang, maybe something boiled over in the kitchen, or maybe Ranger said quietly "uh, mom- there's a problem" and walked in holding the front half of the DVD player. The distractions and interruptions are so common these days that I've started losing track of them.

Now when I find a diaper in the laundry, my lunch from yesterday unopened in the car, or two very different shoes on my feet, philosophical questions fill my mind. How did I get here? What am I doing? Is this chaos my fault?

Memories of my own mother and grandmothers don't offer much solace. They all seemed more present and capable than I feel and my actions suggest.

There have been some big changes in the world since I was a kid though, and they have changed the face of motherhood dramatically.

Let's start with the telephone. It's a handy device, but it demands attention around the clock. Friends, family, and strangers can interrupt kids' naps, family meals, and virtually every shower attempted by mothers in North America. With the advent of cell phones, calls can now also interrupt meaningful conversations, fun outings, and those rare moments when my internal dialog teeters on revelation. A tranquil moment in the afternoon sun with only the pleasant hum of the world around me dissolves into a cry for attention.

And, yes, there are management tools like caller id, forward to voicemail, and taking the phone off the hook, but whenever I employ these methods inevitably I forget to reengage the systems or the next human communication I have starts with "I've been trying to get a hold of you for hours, and [insert real emergency]."

Over a decade ago we canceled call waiting because it is stressful, and I don't know how to handle it gracefully. I consider our home a technological preserve for the busy signal. And isn't it sometimes true that we're busy? When did that become a bad message? I keep hearing about people who no longer use answering machines or voicemail because who wants to arrive home to an audio to-do list? On the other hand, the machine lets me know if I really need to disrupt the nursing baby or if it's just a reminder of the dentist appointment that's already on my calendar.

Beyond the interruptions and monetary costs telephones require maintenance. Cordless phones must be returned to the base but not overcharged. Home phones should be handy but not too easily accessible to tots with a yen to dial Denmark.

Like the cordless phone, my cell phone battery demands the careful nurturing like a Tamagotchi pet (food at exacting measure), but charging is the least of my cell phone headaches. My phone may someday evolve into a sentient lifeform (shortly before I throw out the charger), but it will not need to grow legs. It already skitters around the universe powered by the little feet (and hands) of my family members. This is not to imply that I do not also lose my phone- regularly (like in an amusement park- thank you again, Holiday World staff).

If I make the mistake of setting it to vibrate, magical fairies, magnetic forces, and/or toddler power will be sure to bury it in some unfathomable location. Then I spend the evening walking around the house with the cordless phone listening for the quiet whisper vibration and praying that the battery doesn't die before it is located.

When the battery dies, the search really kicks into high gear as the audio clue phase ends. Now rather than following the digital noise, it has become a needle in a haystack.. or my backpack... or the car... or the toy basket.

I would be ashamed to admit the number of hours in 2009 I have spent looking for that radiation-emitting piece of plastic. When their kids were young, my mom and grandma never spent a single evening crawling around looking for a phone.

Cell phones turn me into a stream of consciousness machine. On a drive, I notice a change in the neighborhood, so I speed-dial Jim, or I call someone for an update on something that really could have waited. Nobody really wants to be tapped into my cerebral cortex, and just because I can call, usually doesn't mean I should.

My kids (even the baby) are drawn to the phone. Ranger sees it as an electronic game (even the calendars and system settings can be "played") and the baby sees it as a chew toy. I don't want to give it to either of them, but in a crisis it's an easy diversion.

Other people's cell phones network us all to the Matrix. Baby's early morning feeding turns into a request for online research help on the relationship between soy products and cancer. I should note here that while I am quite proud of my Google-fu, I am neither a nutritionist nor a medical practitioner, so there's always a lot of background research before I even begin to comprehend the question I am attempting to answer. Jim and I often append "In my PROFESSIONAL medical opinion to any results" in hopes that it will remind the person seeking the information that they called a keyboard monkey rather than an expert. It's easy to become an unpaid helpdesk just by answering the phone.

Our seven digit phone number is the same as that of a toll free mail order prescription company. This company serves only pensioners from a specific declining trade (let's say buggy whip makers), so the calls are occasional. When people misdial the local area code rather than the 800 prefix, our voicemail gets worried calls from elderly people wondering why their meds haven't arrived. The first time it happened, we ignored it. Then the caller left two more messages and sounded sincerely panicked, so Jim called her back. She didn't understand who we were and we seriously freaked her out. A day later, she left another message. I Googled our number and prescription and called the company myself. Sadly, she hadn't left an account number so I banged on the number pad like a monkey at an obelisk until I got a human being. I begged a customer service rep to call her back. They were resistant at first (because I didn't even know the woman), but I kept telling them how increasingly desperate her messages had become, and they decided to make an exception. A few weeks later we got a similar call from an older gentleman. The written instructions for getting through to the Rx call center without an account number are now kept under our phone.

Our lives are more complicated. The house I grew up in had a party line phone and it never rang because someone needed my mom to make an online hotel reservation in the next 20 minutes, give directions, or look up the side effects of a common drug. Nobody went online to research car seats because there were neither online nor car seats. Kids just laid on the back ledge of the giant cars and computers were mostly science fiction dreams.

My grandmother couldn’t even drive until the year I was born. Think how much less people would expect of you (in terms of daily tasks) if you didn’t drive.

We live in a reshaped world and our elders often treat us as if we live in the (slightly) less complicated days of their childhoods.

Thanks to our placement in human history, we’re expected to keep house like Martha (without the benefit of her staff), manage our own household finances and retirements like Warren Buffet, maintain vehicles & households, raise children, and chauffeur to every activity that anyone ever claimed made kids smarter, faster, wiser, happier, more tolerant, and/or better looking. After that, single, "I'm every woman" Oprah tells us not to be schlumpadinkas in sweat pants and prominent mom bloggers publish tutorials on how not to wear mom jeans. [Note: I don't care what your jeans look like, if you have a rock, a toy, and an uneaten portion of sandwich in your pocket, they're mom jeans.]

I guess we should just cure cancer in our spare time.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Post Pregnancy Acne: An Answer You Can Sleep On

About a month ago, a friend with a newborn recently commented on having the worst acne of her entire life. She made me feel a little better as I've been having similar problems since the Raptor's birth. A few months after Ranger's birth I had similar problems.

Since the Raptor is still nursing, prescription medicine is problematic. That's why I had to try the potential solution Jim saw on Reddit last week. Not only was it non-chemical, it was cheap and easy. As I already do laundry all the time, I really had nothing to lose.

So every night for a week, I've slept with a different clean towel on my pillowcase (I told you it was simple).

The redness and irritation diminished visibly in two days. By day 3, areas that had been persistently irritated for weeks started to fade. After 7 days only a few active sites remain and new acne (thank you post-pregnancy hormonal shifts) are tiny and dissipate within 48 hours.

My skin feels better and has an improved appearance. I suspect that the loft of the towel's loops lets the air circulate under the face. The increased air circulation discourages the growth of bacteria by keeping skin cooler and drier (increased evaporation). Maybe it's the placebo effect or laundry voodoo, but it makes the mirror less miserable every morning.