Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Let's play dress-up!

I apologize for my delay in updating – had some random health and home stuff come up recently!

Most parents of three-year-olds have experienced the dress-up phase.  It’s fun to see their little minds working, and to see them taking on a role – you get to see how someone with very little exposure to the world sees princesses, firemen, pirates.  Also, it takes up about an hour so that Mommy can also grab a cup of coffee, which is a nice change when you rarely get to even pee by yourself.

We’ve tried to fight just getting our daughter “girl” items for dress-up – not because we don’t think those are appropriate, but why force her into a little box that may not fit?  Pink is by far her favorite color, but she also likes using pretend tools, so we want to give her the tools to explore all of her interests.

It all started with a cowboy hat when she was about 2.  She hadn’t really shown any interest in dressing up before then, so my husband and I picked up a foam cowboy hat and some glitter paint at Hobby Lobby one night when we were on a “date” (because don’t all parents end up either grocery shopping or getting stuff for their children on dates?).  The hat was about $5:  LINK.  We brought it home and let her help decorate it – and it’s been a staple of her wardrobe ever since.  Here she is getting into the holiday spirit sometime this past summer:

The hat has held up remarkably well for only $5 of foam.  I can’t say that I’d recommend using glitter paint on it, as about 1/3 has scraped off, but it was a good buy.  I don’t remember there being any other color choices, so this may be pretty limiting if your child does not care for pink.

The next set that Pickle got was a Jake & The Neverland Pirates set that had a spyglass, headband, and treasure map.  (LINK)  It runs about $20. 

The spyglass is sort of annoying as hell, because a whistle blows constantly, and then Captain Hook calls someone a scurvy dog or something, I don’t know.  But I don’t think the batteries ever die.  Regardless of that, it’s a huge hit.  And Pickle has slept in that headband, done pottery painting in it, and so on. 

She loves it, and it’s pretty constantly in use.  We had some visitors recently for a big Thanksgiving party, and she was somewhat loathe to share her Jake set with the other kids, since it’s so special to her.

She was pretty cool sharing her superhero cape and mask.  I can’t find the exact kind we have, but here is a pretty close facsimile:  LINK

As you can see, even fancy ladies holding tea parties can be superheros.  She usually runs around jumping off of stuff when wearing this, so it’s not my personal favorite as I’m pretty sure it’s going to lead to a concussion.  But it was incredibly cheap and has had a lot of use.  It’s sort of satiny – my one complaint would be that the eye mask doesn’t have the greatest eye-hole things, they’re not really big enough to accommodate toddlers and preschoolers running around in this at Mach 5. 

We also love princesses in our house.  Especially princesses who wear pink.  So, when Pickle received this dress as a gift, she was over the moon:  LINK

As you can see, she accessorizes very heavily with this dress, including monster foot slippers.  (She called those her “glass slippers.”)  Anyway – it’s way easier to get on and off than some princess dresses that I’ve seen at Target or the like.  It slips on, and there’s just Velcro on the back to hold it on.  It runs about $20 – so, if you’re not certain that your child will get into the whole frilly dress thing, you may want to start with something a little cheaper (and less Pepto-pink).  But, it pairs incredibly nicely with the little play princess shoes you can get.

Because of that, our wonderful photographer took some great pictures of Pickle for her 3-year photos, I just wish I could find this tutu online:

The last items I want to review can’t really be purchased online, unless you maybe want to email my mother-in-law and see if she still has patterns from 25+ years ago.  She sent us an entire big box of old Halloween costumes from my husband and his four siblings just before Halloween, and that is the best thing ever.  Pickle has been Mickey Mouse, Little Bo Peep, and a boxer:

There are so many great patterns out there for costumes, and it means so much to have something handmade with love.  Pickle’s favorite all-time costume is one my mother-in-law made for her last Christmas when she was obsessed with fairy tales, she hand-made her a Little Red Riding Hood cape:

Anyway – that’s just a small handful of the dress-up items up in here.  We also have clip-on earrings, tiaras, bunny ears, kitty ear barrettes, purses, fedoras, and a never-ending supply of toy jewelry both that we have made and that we’ve purchased.  

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Giveaway winner - thank you!

We have a winner for the Cindy Lou Who doll giveaway!

Janet Jefferson, please message me on the Mother Knows Best Reviews Facebook page here:

We'll work out getting you your doll - thanks for participating, everyone!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Cindy Lou Who doll - Manhattan Toy GIVEAWAY

Christmas is rapidly approaching (hooray!).  We wanted a way to get Pickle into the spirit, but still to incorporate things she already loves.  Since she’s a huge Dr. Seuss fan (the girl has been able to recite The Cat In the Hat since she was 27 months), we were super-excited to check out the Cindy Lou Who doll from Manhattan Toy.  (Check out Cindy here: LINK)

She only runs $20, but she’s super soft and cuddly – no hard edges to poke either me or my preschooler in the ear at 3 a.m., which is a pretty big plus in my book.  It also makes her age-appropriate for smaller kids, as well.  She’s about 15 inches tall, so she’s also a good size – fits in play cribs and car seats and such. 

When we opened the box and I showed her to Pickle, it’s probably an understatement to say she was excited.  Please forgive the graininess of these photos:

That would be Little A dancing around the room with and hugging Cindy Lou Who. 

That was from about a month and a half ago, and she’s still obsessed.  Here’s a photo from last week – she still sleeps with her every night:

She hadn’t been familiar with the story of the Grinch last Christmas (I’d felt like maybe she was a little too young) – but she is ALL OVER this story this year.  She loves having Cindy Lou Who (who she sometimes accidentally calls “Lolly Lou”) help all of her other stuffed animals stop being grinches.  The doll is very durable, so even all of this abuse hasn’t hurt her a bit!

So…  we want to give you a chance to grab one before the Christmas rush!  Please make a separate comment below if you’ve done each of the following things:

      -  Comment once if you like Mother Knows Best Reviews on Facebook:
      -  Comment once if you like Manhattan Toy on Facebook:
      -  Comment once if you have shared this pin on Pinterest:
      -  Go to and comment below with the line on their website that most interests you!

You can enter now through next Tuesday, November 19 at 9 p.m. CST.  We will announce a winner after that time, so please check back next Tuesday!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Crayola Color Wonder Markers and Paper

Pickle really likes art projects.  I love celebrating that, I love encouraging her creativity and talents!  Since she turned about 2, however, she really hasn’t been as interested in the colored pencils and crayons that are so traditionally popular with toddlers/preschoolers.  (The bonus about these two items is that they are unlikely to permanently mark on walls and tables.)  Instead, she wanted to go straight to markers all of the time.  And she’s overall good about understanding where she should and shouldn’t draw, and I watch her, but there are sometimes when a hidden marker gets found while Mama is in doing laundry or something, and 3-year-olds are naturally curious (again like puppies).

There are washable markers on the market, but this is somewhat of a qualified name, in my opinion.  We found this out last night at Halloween when we used a washable black marker to make her nose black for trick-or-treating – three baby wipes, some cold cream, and some Irish Spring later, and she still has a ghost of a black puppy nose.  (Sorta hoping that goes away before family photos this weekend!) 

We found some Crayola Color Wonder markers and “magic” paper – better yet, it was princesses, so the baby girl was on board (LINK).  They ran about $10 for a little pack:

The premise behind these is that the markers themselves are actually clear – while I wouldn’t let a child color on an heirloom with it or anything, it lives up to this claim.  They only make colors when used on the magic Color Wonder paper.  This idea is sort of genius – it allows the child to express their creativity without drawing all over a lampshade.  Win-win, right?

Well, sort of.  The main problem with these is that the chemical reaction between the marker and paper takes a few seconds – so, the child thinks the marker is not working, and presses harder and/or scribbles all over.  Anyone who has had to take 15 seconds to peel a banana for an impatient toddler knows that this few seconds is key in their world.  By the time the colored area shows up, they’ve decided that the marker isn’t working, and gives up.

There have been a few times we’ve played with these when the Pickle has been more patient.  But the other issue with these (besides the smell, which I won’t address) is that the colors are really, really muted.  Vibrant, accurate colors are sort of Crayola’s thing, so this is also a little disappointing to the little ones. 

Overall, we’ve gotten some use out of these, but we have to catch Pickle on a day when she’s patient.  If your child tends to this by nature, these might be a good fit.  If not, I’d maybe just take your chances with washable markers.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Bottle brushes

I know I went into great detail in my post about the microwave sterilizer, but I’m sort of a germ nut.  So, here’s how my process sort of went for cleaning bottles and nipples:

1    1.  First use a sponge brush on the bottles and nipples to clean them out.
      2.  Wash in dishwasher (use sterilize cycle, if possible).
      3.  Sterilize items in the microwave sterilizer.
      4.  When possible, allow items to dry inside of the microwave sterilizer or on the drying rack, rather than reintroducing germs by drying with a towel or paper towel.

The initial washing with the sponge brush was because breast milk separates when it sits (either at room temperature or in the fridge).  

Ideally, you can mix all of this fatty thick layer back in with the breast milk before feeding it to a baby, but there are times when there are some milk fat hangers-on that stay on the side of the bottle.  If they’ve been there all day (if, say, daycare didn’t get it out of there when they gave your child a bottle at 9 a.m., and it’s now 5 p.m. when you’re cleaning it), this doesn’t always rinse out all that well with just water – which is where the sponge brush comes in.

Originally we tried one of the really general, cheap sponge brushes that you can get – we used a Munchkin, runs about $3.80 at Target (LINK):

The problem with this is that it has bristles.  Bristles work great on something like, say, a griddle – you can easily access all areas on a griddle with your hand, everything that is on there really requires a lot of elbow grease to remove, and it’s okay if you leave some residue, as it will wash off easily if you put it in the dishwasher (or wash it in the sink).  A bottle isn’t really the same at all, in my opinion – even with my tiny little-kid-sized hands, I can’t get my hands all of the way into most bottles on the market, especially not while holding a rag or brush.  The creamy milk fat that gets stuck in there is gunky and slimy enough that it always seemed to me like the individual bristles of a brush would get most of it, but not all (unless I sat there and spun it around for 5 minutes straight).  I did not feel like it was a good idea to leave any of that residue inside of the bottle, because the sprayer jets in a dishwasher (see step 2) don’t usually spray at just the right angle to get inside of a bottle and clean the entire circumference. 

So, I scrapped the brush with bristles.  Since it was less than $4, I didn’t mind just keeping it as a backup, or to use on wine glasses (were we to ever drink or have people over who didn’t need to use sippy cups).  I did some research, and found this brush by Born Free (LINK):  

It’s a sponge wrapped around another sponge.  Since there are no individual bristles, this just swept the inside of the bottle as if I were able to get my hands down in there to clean it by hand with a rag.  Since it’s one contiguous piece, it grabs up all of the milk cream.  Rinse the sponge between bottles, and you can easily and quickly clean out several bottles’ worth in just a few seconds. 

If we had fed Pickle spaghetti sauce or something in her bottle, I think the bristle brush would have been more useful.  But since the milk cream is so filmy and slick, the sponge brush was a much, much better purchase, in my opinion.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Diaper Genie

Hence…  we had to have somewhere to put those little chipmunk-sized stinkbombs that kept reproducing every few hours.  I’d had a lot of friends recommend the Diaper Genie (LINK), and I understood the principle behind it, so we went with it.

So, the theory behind a Diaper Genie is that it’s this thin thing, inside which there are liners.  You push a diaper down the top of it into the base, and the combination of the puckered top and the lid are supposed to contain the stink.  You keep pushing diapers into this long worm-shaped plastic bags until it’s either too full to shove anymore into it OR your partner refuses to change it, but is instead just setting dirty diapers on top of the Diaper Genie.  (In our house, we took turns playing that passive-aggressive game to get out of changing the bag.)  You remove the top, pull out the long snakey-looking plastic bag of dirty diapers, pull out the next one and get it all set up to receive your child’s next batch of poop- or pee-soiled undergarments, and then you figure out a way to get a four-foot-long bag of diapers into your regular trash bag.

As you could maybe guess from the above description, this system has some flaws.  First of all, let’s think about a bratwurst (I’m from the Midwest, that’s a thing here – if you don’t know what one is, think of a hot dog).  When a bratwurst is cooked too long and it expands too much, the sides burst.  Sort of the same principle with an overstuffed Diaper Genie bag – the sides can blow out.  This can even happen if it’s not overstuffed.  Then you just have a bedroom/laundry room/whatever with dirty, smelly diapers all over the floor.  This inevitably happens at 3 a.m., when you are least prepared to clean up 50 dirty diapers that have just rolled under the bed.  And of course some of them had blowouts on them, because you’re dealing with little babies.  So now that’s on your carpet or hardwood. 

Also, Diaper Genie knows what’s up.  They’re the most recognized diaper pail system out there, so they know that they can charge about $14 for a two-pack of pail liner things.  And there’s a fair number of bags in each one… but there are also a fair number of diapers used each day, so you’re going through them more rapidly than you would guess.  It’s a pretty sweet deal for Diaper Genie – I mean, how much can production costs actually be to snake together some tiny, skinny garbage bags and put them in a cardboard container?  But they’re smart enough to shape the insert so that you can’t really use anything else in there.

The good thing about the Diaper Genie is honestly that it does a good job at containing the smell from invading your room, and it’s an efficient way to contain that smell for a few days at a time while you wait for the bag to fill.  But, if we get pregnant again, I think we’ll likely look at another option as far as diaper disposal.  There are systems that can just use regular old trash bags – or else we also have room in our garage for just another regular old garbage pail that we could just use for dirty diapers.  I think either of those would be more efficient, time-saving systems.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Dollar Tree

This isn’t really so much about a single item, as a store.  The Dollar Tree, to be exact.  It’s a little more true to its name than Dollar General – I honestly don’t know of many items in there that are actually more than $1.  This works sorta great with kids.  I mean, you don’t really feel bad about getting them three items when it’s only going to be $3 total. 

At Pickle’s preschool/daycare, all of the kids usually bring a treat and a little something for all of the other kids on their birthday.  When there are 12 to 16 kids in the class, that can add up pretty quickly.  Usually the kids get a kazoo or some sidewalk chalk or something, and then the treats have to be pre-packaged, nut-free (no children in her class have dairy or gluten allergies, so we’re pretty safe there).  The week of her birthday, the class had been studying insects and their habitats – so, Pickle and I went to the Dollar Tree, where they had butterfly nets in an assortment of colors for $1 each.  

We got one for each child, and then found some pudding with cookies in it (we figured something ridiculously unhealthy was okay for one day) – there were four of them in each $1 pack.  So, we ended up doing her entire birthday for 14 kids and two teachers for around $20.  The best part was that the gifts were a huge hit – we walked in to pick up Pickle that night, and the director of the school stopped us to inform us that our gift idea had been so popular on that rainy day that the kids were running all over the classroom “catching butterflies” with them as part of their learning curriculum.  Thanks for making us look like rock stars, Dollar Tree!

We also just sometimes go in when the Pickle needs some new craft items, or when she has a few dollars and wants to get a special treat.  For example, we went this past weekend, and I told her that she could get any three items she wanted.  It was the best game in the world to her – she looked at the giant fake Halloween spiders and giggled when she thought about scaring Daddy with them.  She looked at the Christmas items, and the crafts.  She thought about all of the fun things she could paint and decorate.  We obviously ended up in the toy aisle.  She came home with a bouquet of fake flowers (for when she pretends to be Little Red Riding Hood), some new markers, and a 24-piece puzzle of Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf (they had many other ones, too – Disney characters, Jack and the Beanstalk, etc.).  So, when I look at it from a developmental standpoint – she got something to aid her in pretend play, something to aid in creativity and hand/eye coordination, and something to help improve her logic and problem-solving skills.  That’s not a bad haul for $3 plus tax, and it kept us busy for the majority of the day on Sunday. 

I’m not going to say I’d necessarily get, like, an heirloom piece or anything there, as these items are probably going to break faster than toys you get elsewhere – but it’s a great, inexpensive way to fill a bag of new “presents” to take on a long car ride, or pad your craft stock, or so on.  It’s worth the time to go!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bottle Drying Racks

As much as I would have loved to have stayed home with the Pickle for forever, and nursed her without ever needing to pump, it wasn't really an option for us.  We wanted to, you know, eat and such.  And feeding her seemed like a pretty cool idea, too.

Since we knew we would have to use some bottles, we are reasonably intelligent people and knew we'd need to wash those bottles.  And, taking our powers of deduction a step further, we knew that we would need something on which to dry the bottles after we washed them.  Our kitchen at our old townhouse was insanely small, so this was going to be a little bit of a problem, as we didn't really have a ton of counter-space or room in the cupboards to accomplish this.

A close girlfriend had strongly, strongly recommend the Dr. Brown's Drying Rack (LINK), which ran about $15 at the time ($13 now on Amazon):

You can tell from there essentially what it does.  It has two racks - the lower shelf is very short, so it's used for the cap and nipple parts of Dr. Brown bottles, and the bottles can be put on the top shelf.  It's not beautiful or much to look at, but it's utilitarian.

We ended up not using Dr. Brown's bottles very often (Pickle didn't have any tummy issues that required their ventilation system, and they were sort of a leaky pain in the butt), so we didn't really need the lower rack a whole bunch.  We'd put our Medela bottle caps on there, but they only fit so-so, and I hated having to lift the top rack off any time we washed bottles.  We ended up mostly just using the top shelf - which was okay, but if we did a huge batch of bottles, we ended up not having a ton of room for both the bottles and the nipples/caps, so we'd be using those peg things and everything else just to try and cram a bunch of stuff on there.  It worked okay, and we used it the whole time Pickle was little, but I just don't think it was an incredibly efficient use of space.  And it was really ONLY useful for bottles, as the little nubs on which the bottles rest aren't really tall enough to support a sippy cup.

If we have another child, I don't think we'd probably use this drying rack again.  After a lot of looking around at Buy Buy Baby and Babies R Us, I think we'd probably get the Boon Winter Grass Countertop Drying Rack (LINK), which currently runs a few dollars more at $15 on Amazon:

As you can tell from the photo, it's not huge (9.5 inches by 9.5 inches), so you may want to get two plots of grass if you have a lot of bottles.  But I think this idea is a lot more practical than the Dr. Brown's rack.  There's not just a limited number of nub-thingies, there is nothing but nub-thingies on this rack.  You can essentially choose what items you want to put on there, how many you can fit, and where they go.  The nubs are deeper than the shorter ones on the Dr. Brown's rack, so you can put silverware and sippy cups on there.  Additionally, it's much more visually appealing than the Dr. Brown's rack (especially if you have a modern kitchen/house).  It's free of PVCs, BPAs, and phthalates, as well, so it should be very safe to come in contact with items that will go in baby's mouth.

Additionally, you can make a whole little garden with the add-on accessories that Boon makes.  They have flowers and twigs that you can hang in there to increase the number of nipples and caps you can hang, so that they're not taking up as much of the "grass" area.  They both look like this:

I believe you can get both the accessories and the "grass" both come in various colors, as well, so you can make them work with your color scheme.  I like a lot of Boon's stuff, because I think it's fun and creative, and so this is something I'll likely try in the future, given the chance.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Nursing bras and tanks

I've got big breasts, and I cannot lie.  Pregnancy and nursing sort of made the situation a little closer to critical mass.  I was afraid of hurting someone with them, poking an eye out or something.

I felt like I needed to somehow get some support when I was pregnant even while sleeping, so I did some research.  I found the Medela Sleep Bra (LINK).  

(Normally I would put a photo here, but the smiling chick in the link freaked me out.  Just click the link above.)

They run in the neighborhood of $15 to $20, depending on the size you want, the color, and so on.  Amazon didn't have them at the time I was pregnant, and I had only found them on the Gap's website in the nursing/maternity section.

As far as comfort goes - I'll be honest, I still wear these to bed even though I'm neither pregnant nor nursing.  They're very soft, stretchy.  They're not constricting like a sports bra, it's just a lot like wearing a really snug-fitting t-shirt.  On the other hand, it's not as supportive as a sports bra - but you're not running in it or anything, it's just making sure you don't hit yourself or your loved one(s) in the face with your boobs while you sleep.  

As far as nursing in this goes, it's really easy - it has a cross-body opening in the front, so you can just nurse really quickly and cover back up at 3 a.m.  I'm sure there are other nighttime nursing bras out there, but these were relatively cheap, worked well, and were from a brand I knew.  So, since it isn't broken, we haven't fixed it.

After Pickle was born, though, I needed to find a solution that worked well at home, and then again when I went back to work.  A girlfriend had recommended these nursing tanks (LINK), found at Target:

Although, to be honest, I'm not 100% sure that this is the right one, since I can't see the photos.  Depending on your preference, I would go into the store.  I say this because one of the nursing tanks was shaped like this (the orange part is the under-layer when you unsnap and then fold down the outside part of the tank you see above):

As you can sort of see (this is a terrible drawing), the bottom layer is just cut a lot lower so that you can pull your breast out.  

On the other hand, one of the tanks has the under-layer (again in orange) shaped like this:

Yeah, that would be a hole just a little bigger than your nipple that you're apparently supposed to thread your boob through.  Which, if you're nursing, is stupid and limits skin-to-skin.  And, if you're pumping, you're supposed to somehow fit the flange through there, or get enough of your breast out to get into the flange.  Just - no.  So be careful of what your preference is.  I couldn't take these seriously enough to use them when I accidentally ordered the wrong one, so I took it back.

I used the nursing tanks a ton, however - even after I went back to work, I continued to wear them (the top one, obviously) for a considerable amount of time.  I felt like I was more covered in my stomach area when I pumped, just on the off chance someone happened to walk into the room (which did happen once).  They're about $20 or so - I believe there are similar options elsewhere, we just had a Target local.  

I officially switched to a supportive bra later, however, as nursing tanks sort of leave you flopping around.  I did avoid an underwire (even though I need one for support) because it can affect production.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Beaba Babycook Baby Food Maker

Without getting into the whole "delaying solids vs rice cereal" debate, we delayed solids with Pickle until she was six months old.  We did mostly baby-led weaning, but she became anemic due to only being breastfed and not being particularly enthralled with food, so we did end up having to do some baby food with iron-fortified oatmeal mixed in to raise her iron levels around 9 months or so.

I wasn't particularly excited about giving her the baby foods on the market, though - mostly because they overall sort of smelled and looked like vomit.  I mean that in the nicest way, but if it makes me want to gag to open it, I can't imagine it was going to make her MORE excited about eating when she was already just so-so on the concept of solids.

I did some research (shocking, I know), and had found the Beaba Babycook Food Maker (LINK), about $120 on Amazon:

You'll notice that this is not the cheapest option - items like the Baby Bullet are cheaper.  I am not a good cook (that's an understatement), so I really liked that this one had a steamer where you could first steam the food you were making (apples or broccoli or whatever), then purees it.  You can also reheat or defrost food in here, if need be.

I really liked this.  It was incredibly easy.  I would just clean some fruits or vegetables (it also does meat, but that sort of grossed me out) into there, steam it, and then grind it.  We had little storage cube things, and put the food in there to freeze.  (You can get them through Beaba, but theirs are super-expensive, so we didn't do that.)  We then brought them back out, put them in here to defrost, and were good to go.  As I mentioned, I can barely cook mac and cheese, so the ease of this was crucial, since I made all of the baby food.

It comes with a little recipe book, which was kind of neat, but I mean, how hard is it to just put apples and bananas in together and puree them?  But it was still a nice idea, and what was more helpful in the book was that it told you for how long you needed to cook everything (there are little dials on the top of the device, it would tell you to do two or three "clicks" or what-have-you).  

Cleaning it was a little bit of a pain, just because I didn't feel very comfortable putting the blade or the cooking cup thing in the dishwasher, but it really wasn't too bad.  I just have this innate fear of slicing my fingers open because I don't know what I'm doing - since my husband stabbed through his entire finger with a fork two days ago, this is a valid concern.  

The plastic was BPA- and PVC-free, if you're into that sort of thing.  I think most things these days are, but it's an extra little pat on the head.  

Anyway - I got this about 2.5 years ago, but I see their line has expanded a lot since then - there's a "Pro" model that can cook more food at a time, and also a Pro2X that has two blending cup areas.  The small amount of food you could cook at a time would actually be my only complaint on this item - you'd get, like, half a mango in there and have to do a new batch.  So I think those might be worth the extra money.

For us, this was a great purchase, since I probably wasn't going to go and figure out how to steam food outside of this thing.  It was helpful to do it all in here - I'll even use it still just to steam some broccoli or something for dinner.  If you have that sort of knowledge, however, it would probably be a little cheaper to steam it some other way first and then either get a stick blender or a Baby Bullet.  This was very good for the cooking-illiterate, however, so I feel like we have gotten our money's worth.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Summer Infant Mother's Touch Deluxe Baby Bather

I was pretty nervous about bringing Pickle home after she was born.  Our old townhouse had three levels; I was afraid I was going to drop her while walking up stairs.  I was afraid I was going to hurt her while taking her shirts on or off over her head.  I was afraid of sleeping situations, and everything else.

I was also a bit afraid of giving her baths, because what if I dropped her?  I had a sprayer in my shower/bathtub, but would it be too harsh on her sensitive little skin to spray her with it?  

I had been discussing this all with my great friend Amanda prior to Pickle's birth, and she let us borrow their infant bathtub (which we still have for you, Amanda!).  It was sort of like this model (LINK), except theirs was nicer and looked less flimsy:

It had a sprayer for a baby shower, a bathtub, and so on.  You put the water in the little bathtub, then used the sprayer, which was incredibly gentle.  I LOVED this bath in concept, but the problem was that I never realized we could have done this all by putting the bathtub inside of the regular bath - we were filling the tub, taking it out into the middle of our bathroom (which was too small for this whole setup), giving a bath, then lugging the tub back to the big bathtub to dump it out.  Since my husband was working second shift then to minimize our daycare needs for Pickle, and I was post C-section trying to do this by myself often, this wasn't an incredibly ideal situation.  

I did some research, and found the Summer Infant Mother's Touch Deluxe Baby Bather at Wal-Mart or Amazon (LINK):

It ran about $16 or so, which was a lot cheaper than most of the bigger tubs on the market.  The back reclines to three different levels (sort of like a La-Z-Boy for the bathtub), so you could recline it more for newborns, and then raise it as the baby got older.  Even though that mesh on the sides is pretty sweet, I probably wouldn't recommend using it after the baby can sit up on his/her own, even if you can keep a hand on the child at all times.  

The back was mesh, so basically you can just set this in the big bathtub, fill the tub, and water will come up through the mesh and warm baby's back and butt.  Any water you need to pour on the baby just drains down through the mesh instead of needing to be drained/wiped down later, which was convenient.  I just would leave the chair in the bathtub for a couple of hours to dry after each bath.  It folds in half to store without taking almost any room, too, which was also incredibly convenient in our small space.

I didn't find this incredibly convenient to lean over the tub and do, however, as we had a bathtub with the rails for sliding doors in it - so that ended in a lot of sore armpits.  So, here's what we had to do:

(You may notice the strong family resemblance.)

I don't care if it seems weird that I drew myself in a swimming suit, I don't even want cartoon nudies of myself on the internets.  Anyway - I ended up having to crawl into the bathtub with Pickle and bathe her that way.  It also felt more secure safety-wise to be lifting her head up to wash her hair from the front, rather than from the side, while she was so slippery.  Also, I think I made less of a mess this way, which was also nice.  (Side note - I sort of wish our old tub had been this modern looking, I would have liked it a lot more.)

So, all told - if you would prefer not to put a little tub into a big tub, or you're not smart enough to figure it out until three years after your child is born (or, more practically, you want to save some money), this is a really solid solution.  I think we still have it hanging around somewhere, and would likely use it on another child.  I liked the fact that it was a chair, and that the baby wasn't just lying on the floor of a tub.  

Monday, September 30, 2013

Baby Shampoo/Hair Care for Curly-Haired Babies

Shampoo has been a legitimate concern of ours since the day Pickle was born.  Here is her on her first day of life:

(Yes, those would be locks of hair on my newborn.)

She had enough hair for a mohawk for her very first in-the-hospital bath (we didn't think to get photos). 

We sort of had guessed that it was going to be that way - I had been born with enough hair for a ponytail, and had been experiencing insane amounts of heartburn throughout the pregnancy (which actually isn't just an old wives' tale!).  Hence, we had stocked up ahead of time on baby shampoos.  We received quite a bit as shower gifts, which was nice so that we could try different kinds.

We, of course, received Johnson & Johnson Baby Shampoo, because this is America and it is what pretty much every child ever had slathered on their head.  Pickle was born in 2010, before they removed formaldehyde from the list of ingredients in 2012 (LINK) - so I was a little wary of using it.  I knew it wasn't the kind of formaldehyde that was a carcinogen, but I still wanted to be as natural as humanly possible with the agents going on her skin - in particular because she's had very sensitive skin since she was born.  So, to be honest, we skipped Johnson & Johnson and all of the store-brand knock-offs of it.

Next we tried Burt's Bees shampoo/conditioner (LINK).  It was good, and smelled great, and was really great on the curly hair that Pickle was already starting to sprout around 4 months or so, since it was free of parabens, phtalates, sulfates, and other damaging products.  However, there was still sodium benzoate.  This is also a carcinogen in some cases.  And I know that it's not like Pickle was drinking this, but I just wanted to find something as natural for her hair as possible.

We ended up with Angel Baby Shampoo and Body Wash (LINK):

This shampoo has just nothing bad in it.  Hence, it left Pickle's hair incredibly soft, and smelled great.  It's about $10 for 5.3 oz, so it's definitely pricier than most baby shampoo, but that's because of the high level of quality in it.  

Now we had the issue of how to detangle and tame her hair after the bath.  Which was a bigger project than you might think.  I don't know a ton of 9-month-olds who had hair like this:

Like any small child, she would freak if I accidentally pulled her hair (a normal reaction, I'd think) - and unfortunately, this was harder to avoid than it might be with a child with less and/or straighter hair.  And, for the same reasons as I listed previously, I wasn't all that wild about using the Johnson and Johnson Detangler.

I had been using a product called Matrix Biolage Smoothing Shine Milk (LINK) for some time.  It does have Dimethicone in it, which some people avoid - but the reasons that they avoid it aren't really for safety, but because it coats hair a bit when you apply it.  This is actually exactly what we needed for Pickle, something to coat it and make it easier to comb, so I applied it to her hair directly after a bath, before combing.  It works great as a detangler, helps with frizzies, and additionally makes hair shiny.  It's got a few more chemicals in it than I am comfortable with, especially since it's in spray form, so we put a towel around her face before I apply it.

So then we had to worry a touch about hair gel.  Which is ridiculous with a child under 1 year old, but her hair just turns into a giant ball of frizz if we don't.  I have been begrudgingly using some gel that I already had, but I am very curious about this product from Poofy Organics:  Spray gel is much easier on an active now-preschooler than pomades and regular gel, and I feel like this one may be a good fit.  If we get it, I'll report back.

So, this is all fairly specific information for babies with a lot of curly hair, but it's been pretty useful info for us over the past three years.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Book Review: A Bargain for Frances

Earlier this week at Pickle's preschool, they had a bin of free books that we could take home.  I saw a book I had read when I was a child and vaguely remembered liking it in the fogs of my memory.  I'll preface this post by saying - I'm going to just spoiler the crap out of this book, so you probably want to stop now if you want to be surprised if you ever read this book to your child.  I'm not going to judge you for what is sort of an odd desire, but just reiterate that you are going to learn the ending if you keep reading.

The book I found and picked up was A Bargain for Frances by Russell Hoban (LINK):

It is the story of a young female rodent - a badger, I think, and her adventure with a friend.  I'll just jump right in on how the tale goes.

The scene opens with Frances talking to her mom.  The conversation goes approximately like this:

Frances:  "Hey, Mom, I'm going to Thelma's house.  See you later!"
Mom:  "Yeah, be careful."
Frances:  "Why on earth would you possibly tell me to be careful going to a girlfriend's house?"
Mom:  "Because Thelma's a little hag.  Remember the time you went over there to play boomerang, and she spent the whole time bouncing it off your skull?  Or the time you wanted to go ice skating, but the ice on the pond was really fresh, and she insisted you go try it first?  Remember how you came home with hypothermia?"
Frances:  "Oh, right, I remember now!  Surely nothing can go wrong this time, I'm just going over to play teaset.  See ya!"

But clearly Frances is wrong, and something CAN go wrong, or else there would be no premise to the book.

So, Frances goes over to play tea party with Thelma.  (Coincidentally - I don't think these names were really all that popular even in 1970, when this book was originally published.  Maybe with badgers, though, I don't know.  I haven't googled that.)  They get there, and start playing with Thelma's plastic tea set with red flowers, which is apparently the worst thing in the world.  Thelma asks Frances why she doesn't have one.  Frances, admittedly, gets a bit uppity and says that she's saving her money for a real china one with blue flowers, because they're so much better; she'd had one previously and broken it.  Here's a screen shot of Thelma's apparent plastic crap-fest:

So, what happens next shows that Thelma is the worst badger ever.  She starts working psychologically on Frances.  That conversation goes sort of like this, and it works best if you hear Thelma's voice in your head with, like, a vampire accent or something:

Thelma:  Well, you should buy my teaset.
Frances:  But I don't want this giant turd of a teaset.  I just said that.  I've saved up $2.11 for this new one.
Thelma:  This one is plastic and won't ever break unless you step on it [side note - this is a pretty suspicious thing to say].  And it's got these little red flowers on it.
Frances:  Yeah, I got that, but I want a blue china one with blue flowers and a dude on a boat on the side.  I have literally told you that six times.
Thelma:  Whatever.  I don't want to sell you mine anymore, anyway.
Frances:  Whaaaaat?  Why?  Well, I guess that's okay, since I still want the china one.
Thelma:  I don't think you can even buy the china one anymore.  I had a friend who saved up $2.12, and she went to the store, and her mom couldn't find them anywhere.  She even had a guy in the mafia look for them, and NO LUCK.  So, anyway, good luck, sucker.
Frances:  Whoa, whoa, whoa.  This sounds like a totally valid scenario.  Let me run home and get my money and give it to you for this teaset I don't like, just so that I don't end up with no teaset.

See the ninja mind tricks there??  Anyway, so Frances does that, and she takes home the red plastic teaset.  Her sister, I forget her name but she carries around a wooden duck on a string or something, asks her, "Why do you have that teaset?  It's ugly as heck.  I like the blue flower china one."  Frances explains you can't buy those anymore, and her sister says something to the effect of, "That's absolutely fallacious information.  My little friend bought one for $2.05 at the candy store that we visit on the daily just last week, they had dozens."  And then, in your brain, you can see poor little Frances' brain just explode into a million pieces when she realizes her mistake.

She walks to the candy store to confirm the duck sister's story, and she sees this in the window:

That would be the evil Thelma purchasing the exact tea set Frances wanted with Frances' own money.  But Thelma had said "no backsies" all super-foreshadowy like earlier, so there wasn't anything that Frances could do to say backsies.

So, does Frances take this lying down?  No.  She puts a penny in the sugar bowl or something of the crappy teaset, and calls Thelma.  And then she proceeds to exact psychological warfare on Thelma.  She calls her and it goes sort of like this:

Thelma:  Hi, Frances.  Remember, no backsies.  [Side note - and you just know from someone who picks up the phone and starts a conversation like this that they are the devil.]
Frances:  Yeah, whatever.  Anyway, since there's no backsies, I'm gonna go ahead and keep what I found inside the sugar dish.  See ya!

She hangs up, and sits smugly beside the phone waiting for Thelma to call back.  Which she does.  And it goes like this:

Thelma:  Hi, this is Thelma.
Frances:  Yeah, I knew you were going to call back.  NO BACKSIES, HAG.
Thelma:  Right, but I think I might have left my birthday present from Uncle Jerry in the sugar bowl.  Was it a diamond bracelet?
Frances:  Nope.  Not telling, no backsies.
Thelma:  Um, or it might have been money.  It might have been $2.  Or, wait, wait, $5!  That's it, it was $5!
Frances:  I don't have to tell you how much money I found in there, no backsies.  If you want it, I want my money back.
Thelma:  Well, I spent your money in the most diabolical way ever.  How about I bring you the new tea set I bought, and the 5 cents extra I made off of you, and then I can get mine back?
Frances:  Whatever.  I guess.

So Thelma gets there, and they do the switch back.  And Thelma finds out it was only a penny in there.  And then with the coldness of a serial killer, all she says is, "That wasn't very nice."  And Frances is like, "Nope, it wasn't.  Nor was what you did."  Thelma says she's going to have to be careful around Frances from now on (in a quaint show of irony), Frances says something like, "Do you want to be careful, or be friends?"  Thelma says, "Friends," so they take that extra nickle and go and buy candy at the candy store.  

I feel like the ending of this book is something of a letdown.  First, it's saying that if you just straight-up lie and stoop to someone else's level to exact revenge, you'll get what you want.  And that may actually be how things work in the business world, but this is a book for 3 to 5 year olds.  I'm not sure that's the exact message we want to be sending.  Also, Frances just goes back to trusting Thelma, who has screwed her over three times, just because Thelma says she wants to be friends?  If I were Frances' mom, I'd be pissed.  I wouldn't want that little badger anywhere near my daughter, I'd go all Mama Bear on her.  I find this all very unfulfilling.  I think maybe it would have been cooler if Frances, after saying, "Nope, what I did wasn't cool, neither was what you did," she did something like light a candy cigarette, glare coolly at Thelma, and walk out of her life forever.  That would be much more appropriate.  But whatever.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Petunia Picklebottom Boxy Backpack diaper bag

When I was pregnant with the Pickle, I was on bedrest for six months, so I had a lot of time to research things - I was lying on my back even while working, and then I was alone at nights because J was working second shift.  So I researched things to take up my time.

I felt like I found the best purchase for the best price most of the time.  I was probably flattering myself, but I'm okay with that - I mean, I was on bedrest.  Give me a little room.

I decided we were going to splurge on a Petunia Picklebottom diaper bag, though.  I'd read hundreds of posts of women talking about how much they loved theirs, best invention ever, nothing else was fit to hold their baby's soiled diapers.  Plus, it was trendy, I knew I'd be the only person in my tiny little midwest town with one (not that most people would have heard of it), etc., etc.  I found their clearance sale on their website, and got one.  I don't see the style I got on their website anymore, so I'll choose a random one (LINK):

If you clicked the link, you may notice that the price of this runs around $180.  I got it for a little bit cheaper, right around $100, and got a pattern that was gender-neutral so that we could use it for multiple babies AND so that my husband wouldn't feel emasculated carrying it.  But it was still about $100.  For a diaper bag.

Anyway - we got this shipped and I got it all set up before we went to the hospital.  It has lots of pockets inside, so I was able to organize pacifiers, extra clothes, bottles (which we didn't really need as we were nursing), diaper cream, whatever.  I was most excited about this feature - the front of it unzips into a portable diaper-changing station:

We took the PPB with us to the hospital, and it worked fine.  I mean, they already had diapers there for us, and it's not like we needed to use it a whole ton on the 15 minute trip between the hospital and home, so it was sort of illogical for us to bring with us.  But it carried her clothes back and forth great!

The more true test of the diaper bag came when we were out and about.  I found that, unless I was changing Pickle on a floor of a place I knew or something, I didn't really feel comfortable putting the diaper bag we were going to use constantly on a changing surface that was riddled with germs.  (I know, I'm crazy, I'm not ashamed.)  It's not like I can wash an entire diaper bag.

I also didn't feel like the pockets were very efficient, the more I used it.  We were pumping instead of nursing due to multiple issues within a few weeks of birth, and it felt like bottles had to be in 17 separate pockets since there wasn't a huge amount of room in the middle.  The pockets for diapers and such were nice, but I'll be honest - it was easier when I was running on three hours of sleep to just throw new diapers in a big sack rather than put them in individual pockets.  I couldn't put a bigger pack of wipes in here, I had to put them into a small carrying case - which always worked out TERRIBLY if we had a poop-splosion and needed more than six wipes.  

It was cute, but I also didn't think that the strap was incredibly useful.  It wouldn't work on a stroller, because the strap was too long and the bag would drag on the ground.  I did have a stroller clip, but always forgot where it was.

I ended up not using this bag after about four months, which still makes me physically ill.  We switched fully to a cute little personalized bag that my aunt had gotten Pickle when she was born.  It is basically just a big rectangle with a few small pockets, nothing fancy - but I can cram coats, toys, etc. in there.  We use it now for our portable potty seat.  

I hate to admit that I'm going function over fashion on this.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

MacGyvered Toys

So, kids like toys.  And toy manufacturers know that kids like toys, so they make them expensive, or sometimes hard to get, or possibly both.  It's a pretty ingenious system on their part - they just advertise during cartoons, whip billions of children into a frenzy over the toy that they are waiting just long enough to release that demand is at a fever pitch, release said toy, and then rake in the millions.  It's diabolical, and I respect it at the same time that I just a tiny bit wish it was acceptable in society to burn down businesses (after making sure nobody was inside to be harmed first, of course). 

At the risk of sounding all "I'm old as heck" or  "la dee dah, I'm pious and pretentious," sometimes I get really annoyed at the toys.  75 years ago, kids were pushing a hoop with a stick for hours, and that was an incredibly viable pastime.  It seems like pretty much everything on the market these days either lights up or makes noise, maybe even has a computer chip in it.  It's not like we refuse to let Pickle play with any of that, I just try to temper it a little bit.  

We also really like encouraging pretend play and a healthy imagination, so we'll sometimes MacGyver toys from junk we have around the house.  Or sometimes we will do this more because we do not want to leave the house or spend extra money, and less to do with ideology.  Basically we just sort of try to tailor a craft or a project to whatever her current interest is.  There is no way that these are Pinterest-worthy ideas that are super-cute, these are just things that will keep a toddler/preschooler busy for a few hours.  

For example, she was pretty obsessed with Little Red Riding Hood for most of the past year and a half.  For last Christmas her grandmother actually made her a gorgeous red velvet cape, but we made her little pink receiving blanket work for a while:

(Little Pink Riding Hood)

She walked around with that on her head for a solid month and a half - but that's only her MacGyvered costume.  She would have J and I take turns being Grandma - since we didn't have a wig or anything, she had us don a pompom she'd received as part of a cheerleading costume as hair, a Dora blanket, and put a poncho she'd received as a gift at our necks like a scarf:

We would then pretend to be sick and really want some cookies and flowers.  And you know what?  That stuff is awesome, because it brought her so much joy.  She had little baskets into which she would put pretend cakes, I bought her a little bouquet of flowers from Wal-Mart, and we had a whole scene to play.  

She was obsessed with lots of fairy tales during this time, such as Jack and the Beanstalk.  (But we would rework all of these fairy tales to not include death and everything/everyone being eaten by something bigger/angrier.)  She really, really wanted to climb a beanstalk.  First we got some glitter glue and painted some big lima beans to be her "magic beans," and then I fashioned her a beanstalk:

This literally could not be easier to make.  You need a pool noodle, some construction paper, some tape, a Sharpie, and some scissors.  Most parents have all of that (other than possibly the pool noodle) hanging around the house.  Make some leaves on the construction paper with the Sharpie, cut them out, tape them on the pool noodle.  (We got extra points for Pickle decorating the leaves with green markers.)  Instant beanstalk!  I have no idea how to ninja together a magical harp, so that's as far as we were able to go with this scenario.  Anyway - we designed this over six months ago, and she still plays with it constantly.  She likes to pretend to climb it by standing on the couch, and it cost a grand total of, like, $1.50.

I mentioned glitter glue previously, right?  That crap is like crack to little kids.  You have nothing around the house but some old socks and some glitter glue?  Instant craft!  Snowed in and just have a paper plate and some glitter glue?  Make a mask!  We had an old, small birdhouse in the garage - it wasn't riddled with lice or anything, it had never been used, I'm not sure why we had it.  We also had some glitter glue and stick-on jewels - this was two days' worth of fun:

It provided even MORE fun later when she picked off each of the adhesive jewels and hid them inside different potted plants around the house.  

One time when we lived in the townhouse, Pickle wanted to go sledding, but we didn't have a yard or anything - so we just took a printer cable and an empty cardboard box and made an indoor sled:  

She had me drag her around in this contraption for an hour.  My arms were cramping up from pulling around 30 lbs of toddler, but she had a BLAST.

I guess the point of this post was mostly just to say that, while I love finding great toys and games for Pickle, some of the things that give her more joy than anything else are just the little things we throw together with what we have on hand.