Monday, December 6, 2010

Cool Christmas Gifts for Babies and Toddlers

My baby's first Christmas is coming up and it's super exciting even though he, at 11 months, won't remember much of it.  He is, however, very much enjoying the lights, musicial decorations, and shiny objects that abound during the season.  Since his birthday follows right on the heels of the holidays, I've been doing a lot of research on gifts.  The focus of my search is toys that will be long-lasting (both as hand-me-downs and his length of interest in them), stimulating, safe, and as environmentally conscious as possible.  I've discovered a lot of great gifts that will be perfect for now and to keep in mind for the future.

And for those online shopping parents and grandparents out there, I highly recommend signing up for the free Amazon Mom program.  They don't tell you this when you sign up (so I was pleasantly surprised), but you get up to 1 year free of Amazon Prime benefits.  Even if you don't sign up for Amazon Mom, you can still get a free 1-month trial of Amazon Prime.  Amazon Prime is normally $75 a year, and it gives you free 2-day shipping on anything that qualifies toward free standard shipping without the program.  Get all your Christmas gifts delivered to your door with expedited shipping for free with no minimum purchase requirement!  Be warned, however - I have to say that free 2-day shipping is rather addictive...

Without further ado, here's a list of my favorite toys, many of which will be showing up under the tree and for his birthday this year and as he gets older.

For the wee ones (0-24 months)

Sophie the Giraffe by Vulli $18-$20

For the past 10 months since my son's birth, I have ignored this very adorable giraffe because I, like many others, felt this was more akin to an overpriced dog toy than a teether.  Curiosity finally got the best of me, and I clicked the link on an window shopping foray.  After all, with a 4.5 out of 5 star rating from almost 1000 reviewers, there had to be something to the hype.

For someone who teethes as ferociously as my son (I have many bruises, cuts, and bite marks from his attacks), it looks like Sophie just might be worth the $20.  The first thing I noticed was that Sophie is large for a teether at about 4"x7".  Personally, I think that's great because it means she's easy to hold, has plenty of surface area for biting, and won't get lost in the cracks of the couch or under the furniture if my son drops her.  When the teething phase is over, we might still get some use out of her as a conventional toy or bath time buddy because of her size.

She's made out of 100% natural rubber and food paint, so none of that made-in-China lead contamination to worry about and the rubber is phthalate and chemical free since it's plant-derived.   The rubber is very durable and long lasting.  Sophie squeaks when she's squeezed, so she provides aural stimulation for those babies (like mine) who love sounds.  The high contrast spots are great for younger babies to focus on, and the appendages, which are made of thicker rubber than the main body, are great for gnawing.  The legs are perfect for getting on the back gums when the 1 and 2 year molars come in, so she's a functional teether for infants and toddlers at any stage.  The bottom line is that Sophie is made to LAST and she's one of the safest teethers out there.

If you're still not convinced she's worth the investment, Sophie's friend Chan Pie Gnon, a smaller mushroom-shaped creature that comes in blue, pink, or yellow, is made to the same standards with equally great reviews for a fraction of the cost ($13.50).  For an even more economical choice, Vulli also makes a 2-pack of Vanilla Flavored Teething Rings ($9-$12).

Winkel by Manhattan Toys $10-$13

There's a plastic toy similar to this at the nursery where I attend church.  I haven't been able to figure out exactly what it is or who makes it, but my son is mesmerized by it every time he sees it.

The Winkel by Manhattan Toys looks like an even better option than the one at the nursery for many reasons.  Essentially a ball made of tangled, colorful loops, the Winkel is comprised of soft, bendable plastic that is great for teething and play that helps develop fine motor skills and spatial learning.  The bright colors are beautiful and will hold baby's attention with the many moveable parts.   For extra teething relief, the Winkel can be chilled in the refridgerator.  When baby gets older, roll the Winkel across the floor to encourage creeping, crawling, and cruising as he chases after it.

My First Blocks by Green Toys $18-$22

These beautifully colored blocks are soft and rounded for safe play with the youngest of children, but will probably get a few years of interest with stimulating, open-ended play.  The lightweight blocks are free of BPA, pthalates, PVC, and external coatings, and they are large enough and bright enough to be visible so they don't get stepped on by adults and will help make clean up easier.  Made in the USA from recycled plastic milk jugs, the Green Toys company helps reduce energy usage and greenhouse emissions with this earth friendly toy.  The packaging is also made of recycled material and printed with soy inks.

Pull-Along Snail by Plan Toys $15

This wonderful toy is colorful and made of organic, recycled rubber wood in Thailand.  The bright hues are attractive, and the snail body moves up and down when pulled.  There is no tipping factor with this cute snail because it will still move and roll if it accidentally gets placed upside down.  The curve of the wheels help the snail get back on it's "feet" when he's on his side.

Plan Toys also makes a SnakeCaterpillarPuppyAlligator, and many other earthly friendly toys for all ages (including tea sets, dolls, dollhouses, play food sets, toy vehicles, and more) created to "inspire children's imagination as well as promote physical and intellectual development" with "thoughtful design and age-appropriate challenges to stimulate children's creativity".  FYI Plan Toys has all of their products manufactured in Germany or Thailand and NOT China.

Baby Faith Videos $4-$15

This short series is hosted and narrated by Jodi Benson, the voice of Disney's Little Mermaid.  They are available in DVD and VHS for as low as $4 for a high quality used copy.  And I've seen used ones even lower than that when it's not so close to Christmas.

The puppets and visuals are very interesting and stimulating to my son, and the music is based on traditional hymnody and faith-based tunes.  In between musical interludes, Jodi Benson narrates the essential points of Bible stories and verses in ways that young children can understand and appreciate.  God Made Animals tells the story of Noah, God Made Music feature King David and expounds on a passage from Psalms, baby Moses is featured in God Made Babies, the story of Joseph is the focus God Made FamiliesGod Made Me tells the story of the creation in Genesis, and the birth of Jesus is the emphasis of God Made Christmas.

My son has two of these (God Made Animals and God Made Music) and actually likes them better than Baby Einstein because there is a greater variety of stimuli (speaking, sounds, music, and visual scenes that are related to the theme and narration).  He gets excited when he sees us getting ready to play his videos, and responds to the reciting of lines from Baby Faith even when it's not playing.  He will definitely be getting more of these for Christmas and his birthday, and I highly recommend them to anyone who wants another option to Baby Einstein, especially those who prefer a faith-based alternative.

For the not so wee ones (1-4 years)

PlayMobil Sets $10-$300

These fun sets by PlayMobil spark the imagination with high quality figurines and scenes that will get years of use.  The 1.2.3. play sets, like the one pictured to the right, are designed specifically for the youngest toddlers (recommended for 18 months and up) with larger pieces and easy to use/assemble accessories.  The regular play sets are recommended for children 3 and up.  

You'll find everything from fairies, veterinarians, farmers, pirates, Roman centurions, helicopter pilots, and everything in between.  They even make a Nativity play set.  PlayMobil sets remind me of highly detailed lego people and scenes minus the tiny building pieces.  I really like that the characters are generic and not based on TV or overly sexualized stereotypes.  Since many of the sets are historical or academic in nature (medieval knights, Civil War soldiers, Roman Empire Era soldiers, ancient Egyptian families, archeologists, frontier era townspeople, skilled professionals, Cossack warriors, etc.), there is a lot of room for learning and open ended, creative play.

Although they sell most items in sets from basic to extravagantly complete, many of the figurines and accessories are available individually so that you can truly customize your child's play set and add pieces and related sets if your child shows a special interest.  Sets are anywhere between $10 and $300 depending on how elaborate they are.  Many of the smaller sets can be used as add ons to create a complete make believe world--imagine an Egyptian play set complete with pyramids, the Sphinx, mummies, treasure tombs, soldiers, chariots, and camel-riding tomb raiders, Egyptian townspeople, and you'll get what I mean.  Individual figurines, character sets, and accessories start around $3.  All the sets are compatible so you can even mix and match for the ultimate diversity.

Radio Flyer Trike $45-$65

Radio Flyer makes a few different models of ride-on tricycles for toddlers not quite old enough to manage pedals or a house-friendly indoor ride for bigger kids.

Pictured is the Classic Tiny Trike.  The solid wood body makes it very light (8 pounds) so even your 1 year old should be able to manage it, but the classic Radio Flyer style will maintain its cool factor even when your child is older (up to 6 years old according to Radio Flyer).  It's equipped with chrome handles, ergonomic grips, streamers, and ringing bell for extra fun.  It comes with a padded seat like a big kid bike, and the wide wheel base makes it stable and less prone to tipping.

For a more "grown up" look, Radio Flyer also makes the Scoot-About ($45), recommended for 1-3 year olds.  Still very lightweight at just under 10 pounds, the Scoot-About features Radio Flyer's signature steel-constructed body, functional steering, adjustable seat height, streamers, ringing bell, furniture-friendly front bumper, rubber tires for rough terrain, and a wide wheel base.  I think this one is going to have to make it to the birthday list for sure!

If you're looking for a more girly trike, the Trike n Trailer ($57) by The Little Little Toy Company offers soft colors in a sturdy wood-constructed, ride-on tricycle that comes complete with it's own trailer.

I'm also a little bit in love with the Radio Flyer wagons.  Their 3-in-1 Walker Wagon ($35), which has a 42-pound weight limit and can be used indoors and outdoors, converts into push cart, a ride-on, and a pull wagon.  The Classic Walker Wagon ($80) has the signature look of an all-terrain wagon with an all wood body and stiffer wheels so it doesn't roll out from newly initiated walkers.  The 32S All-Terrain Wagon and the Radio Flyer All-Terrain Cargo Wagon (both $100), which is slightly bigger, sport pnuematic tires for outdoor use and detachable, fully finished wood sides so babies and toddlers can ride in them without splinters.  These all-terrain wagons can be use a "coaches" or stuffed animal carriers but are rugged enough and large enough to use in the garden or for outdoor wagon rides.  Radio Flyer even makes a tiny wagon ($12) that's perfect for toddler play with the stuffed animals and makes a great gift basket for little boys.

Stork Craft Rocking Horse ($35-$45)

What child doesn't love a rocking horse?  This inexpensive, all wood model will gets years of play and make a nice heirloom for future generations.  The long runners prevent tipping, and the detailing of the eyes, harness, mane, and tail are adorable.  Multiple color options are available.

For a plush rocking horse option, Tek Nek's "Rock N' Ride"Pony ($35-$40) comes in many colors including pink.  The soft, plush body is cuddly and the runners feature a no slip foot grip.  The Rock N' Ride Pony also moves its mouth to talk, sing, and whinny.

Magna-Tiles $20-$120

Recommended for age 3 and up, this fun take on blocks and Legos features unbreakable tiles with magnetic sides for amazing 3-D building possibilities.  Available in traditional and clear tiles, most of the pieces are large enough that some have said even their infants like to join in the fun although the pieces have corners that are not the most baby-friendly.  The magnetic pieces stick together for fast, easy clean up, storage, and organization.

Choose sets from 32 pieces up to 100+.  Other sets like the Working Trucks allow your child to build their own functioning transportation creations.  Edushape makes a Foam Version that may work better for younger builders.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Top 5 Humidifiers

The Dilemma

Discovered on last week that it's time to get a new humidifier.  We have a Vicks Cool Mist, which is an evaporative model.  It really wasn't that great after the first month or so.  It's expensive to operate as it needs a wicking filter every month or so depending on your water($9-12 unless there's a sale).  While the cleaning cartridge (demineralizer) is optional, it seems based on my experience without it that you really do need it, but the good news about the cleaning cartridge is that the Protec PC1 cartridge is reusable for up to 30 days as long as it is allowed to dry out so that one can potentially be a really good value as long as you don't forget and throw it away.  In addition to evaporative humidifiers not being as efficient or effective at raising the humidity, the Vicks 1 Gallon Cool Mist is hard to clean because the reservoir has an off-centered, bottleneck opening which makes it impossible to scrub the film and buildup that isn't immediately adjacent.  A smell developed a few weeks ago, and I couldn't figure out where it was coming from.  I totally took it apart and found that the inside of the motor housing was filthy from sucking in air and perhaps growing mold but I couldn't tell for sure without opening it.  Of course, the housing isn't removable.  I was able to clean it with a can of compressed air and a day in the sun, all is well.  The smell is gone and everything is back to normal, but I never want to deal with that again.

The humidifier was a gift, and I always planned to replace with a better one because I wanted one that made less waste (little to no filter/cartridge replacements) and was easier to do a thorough cleaning on, and I prefer one that can do both cool and warm mist because there are times when warm mist is more effective but for every day use cool mist is usually preferred. 

Anyway, I thought I'd share my humidifier research since it's the time of year when a lot of people need them.  These are the top 5 I've found for function, noise level, low maintenance, and sterility with sterility and low maintenance being my most desired traits.  All of them are easy to find at the usual places (drug stores, Amazon, Walmart, Target,, etc.) except the Coway, my top choice.  The price listed is the cheapest I found online for each humidifier.

The Research

1) Coway MHS-E5010 (aka Coway HC WJ ONYX) - $125 at

From what I've found, this is the proverbial Cadillac of humidifiers.  This dual mist warm/cold ultrasonic humidifer has a 5-stage purification process that ensures the cleanest air and water is being released from the machine and produces the finest mist of all the humidifiers I looked at.  The tank and tray implement nano silver technology to prevent the growth of bacteria, mold, and microbes.  The air intake is also lined with nano silver to purify the air as it enters the humidifer.  You can fill the tank from openings in the top and bottom of the tank so you don't have to turn it upside down, and it makes it easier to clean since you have access from both sides.  If this isn't enough, it also has various settings including sleep mode, child mode, health mode, and sanitization mode so you have a setting for every need that should arise.  It is a fairly compact model, with a 1.3 gallon tank.  The description says this lasts 12 hours, which is probably an understatement because other one-gallon tanks usually last 18-24 hours.  This is probably the water usage on the warm setting.  Either way, it's more than enough to get through a night's sleep, and it's best to replace the water in every humidifier daily for sanitation purposes.  In short, this humidifier does more than most that cost even twice as much.  When my budget allows, this is the one I'll be getting.  For more detailed information, click the Amazon or links. 

2) Germ Guardian H1500 Ultrasonic Humidifier - $100 

If you don't want one with all the bells and whistles but still want some nice features, need one to fit a smaller budget, or are more comfortable with analog rather than digital controls, the Germ Guardian is for you.  You still get the dual warm and cool mist, a tank that lasts ups 20 hours, a low water indicator, and nano silver cleaning, in a filterless and silent machine.  Germ Guardian has a great reputation and a 3 year warranty to back up their products and makes a number of products for improving the sanitation in your home including toothbrush sterilizers, air purifiers, and uv light sterilizers.  For more money, they make digital models and humidifiers with more features like variable mist control, adjustable spray, and humidity auto-adjustment.  Or for as low as $48, they also have a table top model that humidifies your personal space and can be used beside your bed and on your office desk for short-distance humidification that doesn't alter a whole room's humidity.

3) Sunpentown SPT SU-4010 Dual Mist Humidifier with Ion Exchange Filter - $75

This very slim model is equipped with warm and cool mist, adjustable split nozzle for bi-directional mist control, overheat protection, and it's own cleaning brush.  The water tank lasts about 10 hours on high in the warm setting, which uses 90 watts, and 12 hours on the highest cool setting, which is 43 watts.  While this is not a filterless model, the filter it uses (SPT ION F-4010) only needs replacing every six months or so.  And the filter does double duty to demineralize the water in addition to removing particulates.  The one downside is that because it's so thin, it can tip over easily if pets or children can reach it.  Make sure to keep it out of reach of curious little hands and paws.

4) Vicks UV 99.999% Germ Free Humidifier - $68

This warm mist model features dual water tanks that function independently of each other, so one side empties before the other which allows you to refill it without having to shut off the machine.  The smaller tanks are easier to handle during refills and cleaning.  No filter is required on this one, but a demineralizer like the Protec cleaning cartridge or Honeywell mineral absorption pad are recommended.  A special UV chamber kills 99.999% of all bacteria, mold, and spores so the water vapors released are about as sterile as it gets.  This machine also has adjustable humidity and mist output settings that you can customize to suit your needs.  Since this is a warm mist model, however, users must take care to not let the unit run dry or it will boil itself out.  Some reviewers have complained that the UV chamber leaks very bright light.  Because of the temperature necessary to create the steam mist, the UV chamber seems superfluous.  A UV cool mist model like this Honeywell would make more sense, but I haven't seen one with good reviews and all the models I saw require filters.  People in general seem to like this Vicks model though.

5) Crane Cool Mist Humidifier - $30-45

For an inexpensive, no fuss humidifier with consistently good ratings, the road stops here.  Cranes are dependable, easy to use, and easy to maintain.  No filters are required, but you may want to use a dimineralizer especially if your water is hard.  These models are cool mist only and come in other colors besides the typical blue and white fair.  For the little ones, they make the line of Adorable 1 Gallon Humidifiers in cute animal shapes, and they even make Sponge Bob and Thomas the Train humidifiers.  If you want the extra antibacterial protection with less expensive humidifiers, you can use Protec Cleaning Cartridges which are actually reusable for 30 days as long as they are allowed to dry out between uses.  A 2-pack is perfect for this because you can take the wet one out during your weekly or biweekly tank maintenance and put the dry one in when you refill the tank.  There are also chemical additives that are supposedly safe for use in cool mist humidifiers like Holmes Bacteriostat but I would stay away from them as they have pretty serious warnings about contact with skin and accidental ingestion.

The Longevity (aka How to Get the Most out of your Humidifier)

With all humidifiers, you'll get the best performance with regular maintenance.  It is recommended to change to empty the reservoirs, rinse, and refill with fresh water every day.  If you use tap water, you may need or want to use cleaning cartridges to prevent mineral buildups.  You should soak the tank and basin or tray weekly with a white vinegar solution (Crane recommends 1/2 gallon water and 2 tablespoons vinegar) for 20-30 minutes to disinfect and remove deposits.  Some recommend a bleach solution, but I prefer to use less harsh treatments.  When not in use (end of season storage, vacations, etc.), the humidifier should be cleaned with the vinegar (or bleach) solution and allowed to air dry completely.  If you use a humidifier with a filter or cartridge, follow the manufacturer's directions to prevent odors, mold, mildew, and bacterial growth.  Most filter and cartridge media should be replaced monthly unless otherwise specified.  Regardless of what the life expectancy is for your humidifier filter, always change it when it becomes discolored or full.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hyland's Teething Tablet Recall

Standard Homeopathic Company has initiated a voluntary recall on their teething tablets with the following UPC codes:

1. Hyland’s Teething Tablets, 125 tablets, UPC # 3 54973 75041
2. Hyland’s Teething Tablets, 250 tablets, UPC # 3 54973 75042
3. Hyland’s Teething Tablets, 125 tablets, UPC # 3 54973 75066
4. Hyland’s Teething Tablets, 50 tablets, UPC # 3 54973 75044
5. Hyland’s Teething Tablets, 145 tablets, UPC # 3 54973 75121
6. Hyland’s Teething Tablets, Clip Strip 6x125 tablets, UPC # 3 54973 35109

The decision was made after the FDA investigated their facilities due to a few "adverse" reports.  The findings were inconclusive, but a few aspects of the manufacturing process were identified that could be improved in order to ensure more uniform dosages in the teething tablets.  Standard Homeopathic Company is working closely with the FDA to implement these changes and is confident that their teething tablets are still a safe choice for infants and toddlers.

Questions and concerns may be directed to Mary C. Borneman, 424-224-4135,

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The First Years MiSwivel Feeding Chair Review

Purchased the MiSwivel Feeding Chair by The First Years a few weeks ago, and I have to say that I'm loving it.  It lives up to its claims about being a chair that can go from birth to 4 years old.  My son turned 8 months a few days ago, and I wish I had known about this chair sooner.  We definitely could have used it.  Everything about is so simple to use, install, and adjust that I didn't even have to read the manual!

Alternate side of "Dot to Dot" pattern, and fits well
under the table for comfortable use as a booster.
Why I Chose It

I was looking at few different options including the Fisher Price Space Saver High Chair, another model that attaches to dining chairs, and a few traditional style high chairs.  I ultimately chose this because it was was less expensive than high chairs with the features I wanted (washable cover, sturdy, etc.) but had more features than the Fisher Price which doesn't swivel, has fewer recline positions, doesn't fit under most dining tables because the arms are too tall, and doesn't convert into a low back booster seat.

Overall, it was the best value I could find for my needs because it was the most versatile and had the most features for the least money.  It is a little smaller than the Fisher-Price chair, so it may not last quite as long.  But the smaller size is what makes it work well as a booster seat and as a travel high chair.  The Fisher-Price would not have really worked for me as a booster because the arms wouldn't fit under my or my parents' dining table, so my son would be too far from the table to eat comfortably and without making a mess on the floor.

Dishwasher Safe
Features I Love
  • Economical seat can be used as an infant chair, feeding chair, booster seat, and travel high chair.
  • The cover is reversible, easily removable, and machine washer safe.  It actually came out better after washing because it was softer (I use Charlie's does that!) and the inner padded became fluffier.
  • Reclines from 45˚-90˚.  I don't use this feature that much, but I would have used it a lot if I had gotten it when he was a newborn.  It is very easy to use the recline, the seat slides smoothly into position and locks securely.
  • 180˚ swivel.  This is really nice because our chairs are heavy, solid wood formal dining chairs and they can be cumbersome to pull out from the table.  You can swivel the chair to the side and get your child out without moving the chair.  The pivot is smooth, able to be used with one hand with some practice, and locks securely into position.
  • Dishwasher safe tray with removable, snap on shield.  It's like having 2 trays!  Use the shield at breakfast and the main tray is still clean for the next meal.  The smiley face imprint on the shield is a nice touch.
  • Fits well under the table so it can be used without the tray for a larger eating/playing area.  This is particularly useful for me because I can let my son play with his toys while the family is eating and he still gets to interact with us.
  • The straps that secure the feeding chair are very long.  They fit around our large dining chairs with plenty of extra left over, so the chair can be safely attached to any chair without problems.  No worries when you take it with you to visit the grandparents or decide to use it at a restaurant.
  • Harness converts easily from 5-point harness to 3-point lap belt.  There are 2 shoulder heights to choose from.
  • Converting from high chair mode to booster mode is a snap...literally.  The high back snaps into place when you need it (see video demo below).
  • It's a compact, space-saving solution that also travels well, especially in booster mode.

Things That Could Be Improved
  • It's probably fine, but I wish the seat were a little bit bigger.  My son will be able to use it for a while, but I'm concerned it might be snug before my son reaches 4 years old.  The part that concerns me is the raised guard in the crotch area that keeps the child from slipping out of the chair.
  • Could be made of sturdier plastic, but it is by no means flimsy.
  • The shoulder harness could definitely be softer or could come with harness covers.  The webbing used for the harness is stiff and sometimes cuts into my son's neck if he's in an extra wiggly mood.  But he'll soon outgrow the need for the shoulder portion of the harness and it won't be an issue any more.

The crotch guard may eventually be snug, and the
chair itself might be a tight fit later on.  My son is
currently 8 months and 23 pounds.
Versatile Functions

Besides the obvious, it's convenient place to put him while the rest of the family is eating dinner.  We put all his toys in front of him, and it allows him to interact with us during meal times without having to hold him.  For younger babies, I can see this being a very comfortable and useful alternative to a bassinet, swing, or baby papasan.  In full recline, it seems like it would be very comfortable for newborns.  It sits up higher than the swings and papasan chair so your infant has a better view and is closer to you, and it's easier to see out of than a bassinet.  If I had purchased this chair sooner, I would have used it as a place to put him while I was cooking or washing his bottles and other kitchen-related chores.  If you have back troubles, the recline is perfect for bottle feeding to give you a break.  It's also the perfect angle for introducing first foods to 4 and 5 month olds who can't sit up well or get tired easily.

I haven't used it for eating out or traveling yet, but I'm looking forward to taking it along with me as a more sanitary option to restaurant high chairs and booster.  It fits easily in the trunk, especially since the high back snaps off and quickly reattaches when you're ready for it or can be left at home for an even more compact travel feeding chair.  If you don't have a full vehicle, it can be placed in one of the seats or even the floor board if it's in booster mode.

Overall, I think this is a great feeding chair and very affordable alternative to a high chair, especially since it has so many more uses.  When I purchased mine, it was on sale for $45 from Amazon, and I got free shipping.  I usually see it for $45-60.  Since he'll most likely be tall enough to sit at the table without it by the time he outgrows it, it's a great value because I won't need to buy a separate booster.  Because I won't be buying an extra baby item and all the packaging that goes with it, I'm actually creating less post-consumer waste too!

To see a demo and all the features in action, check out this video:

Friday, September 24, 2010

Thrifty Thursday: Free Samples for Baby and You

My first post all month!  It's hard to believe how crazy life has been, but it looks like things are slowing down a bit for the time being.

For new parents who aren't sure what to get or seasoned veterans curious about new baby products, today's Thrifty Thursday post features websites where you can sign up to receive coupons and free samples.  The websites are all free to join. - Get free samples and coupons delivered to your home.  You choose which brands and products interest you, so you can be sure you'll get coupons and samples you'll actually use. - Sign up for the newsletter for free baby samples, t-shirts, products for moms, coupons, and sales. - Find free samples for babies, kids, parents, and caregivers.  You can request the individual samples that interest you. - Links to samples, coupons, contests, and giveaways. - Free samples, products, magazine subscriptions and more.  You can find offers for the US, Canada, Great Britain, and more. - Get free diaper samples, magazine trials and subscriptions, formula and baby food coupons/samples, and more.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sleep Training: 5 ways to make it easier

6 weeks old
Every two to three weeks, my son's sleeping patterns change.  This was to be expected, so I didn't sweat it much.  After about 2 months, a general sleeping pattern emerged in which he slept from roughly 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM with about 3-4 hungry wake ups on average.  By the time he was 4 months, he was sleeping from 8:30 PM to 6:00 AM, sometimes through the night but sometimes with as many as 5 wake ups.  This was nice because it gave me a little time to work before I went to bed, and he took enough naps during the day that I could take a nap as well.  

At close to 6 months, however, a distressing change in his sleeping habits began to take shape.  He went from a nap every hour and a half or so (often very short) to 2-3 naps a day.  And he started going to sleep at night later and later.  He also started sleeping in later, so that wasn't bad at first.  

By his 7th month (today!), he got to a point where he took only 2 naps a day and sometimes didn't go down for the night until almost midnight.  This cut out all my pre-bedtime chore time, and I had to do as much as possible during his naps and while he was distracted by his toys.  Because he still wakes up a few times in the middle of the night, the later mornings aren't enough to make up for it.  The changes I'd been toying with in my head concerning my approach to his sleep routine were now too much to ignore.

Parenting books that mention sleep training say to put the baby down and comfort them every five minutes if they cry until they fall asleep.  I'd mentioned sleep training to my mom before, and she was always strongly against it.  I was worried about it not going well and the time or two that I tried it didn't go as planned.  Desperate for a reprieve, I decided to give it another shot.

When he woke up from his afternoon around 3:45 PM, I kept him up for the rest of day and too distracted to attempt the cat nap he's been wanting to take lately around 7:00 PM.  I waited until I knew he was very sleepy and would have a hard time fighting it as he usually does.   I tried giving him a bottle around 8:30 to get him in a bed time mood, but he didn't want it.  At 9:30 PM, he was still going strong, but I knew he was ready for bed.  I tried his bottle again, but he still didn't want it, so I sat with him in a quiet and dimly lit room for about 5 minutes.  Then I put him in his crib.

He was not thrilled about being put down, but he didn't cry so I left.  I turned the baby monitor on and gathered some crafty items to get ready to hunker down for the crying I just knew would ensue.  Then I waited.  Nothing.  A little whine here and there, but no crying.  After about 5 minutes, he got a little fussy but still no crying.  Then there was silence.  He was in bed before 10:00 PM and didn't require an hour's worth of holding and playing and soothing to sleep.

I have theory on why it worked so well this time when the one or two times prior ended up with me having to give up and pick him up until he decided to fall asleep.  This is what I did.

1) I didn't let him have any extraneous naps after 4:00 PM.
2) He was well-fed prior to falling asleep with a hearty dinner around 6:00 PM followed up by a generous serving of milk (he drank about 8 ounces) when he was ready for it.
3) At 8:00 PM, he had a bath (his first sitting up bath!).
4) Exercise:  After his bath, he played for about 15 minutes and actively rolled around in a generous play area.  When the 8:30 attempt at bed time failed, I let him have more activity time culminating in a 30 minute play session to his favorite Baby Faith video, which he prefers to Baby Einstein.
5) When we got serious about bed time, I took him to a quiet, dark room and snuggled with him for about 10 minutes to calm him down.

After that, he went out with minimal fuss.  I'm hoping for a repeat tonight.  With a little luck, I'll have good news about an encore performance tomorrow.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


So I'm checking out's new sister site is more mom-oriented and sells personal hygiene products, paper goods, laundry detergents, household cleaners, and other things like that. I was poking around to see if there was anything I needed that I would actually buy from them regularly.  I mean with the promotion that you get 15% cashback on all future diaper purchases for the next 6 months with a $25 purchase from, what did I have to lose, right?

So I do a search for Venus razors because the whole epilator ritual is too time consuming since I had the baby.  One of the categories that comes up is for vibrators.  Why,, why?!?!  What do self-pleasuring devices honestly have to do with soap and household cleaners?  Who was the marketing strategist that came up with that one?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Adventures with Mei Tai

Getting sleepy
My son is heavy and I have a bad back, so I've been experimenting with baby-wearing. My first foray into the world of baby-wearing mommies was with a homemade Mei Tai.  A Mei Tai is an Asian style baby carrier that is typically worn on the front but can be worn on the back.  Long straps allow the wearer to criss cross them in the back for better support and distribution of weight.  The waist strap also helps take the weight off the shoulders and back by placing it across the hips.

Mei Tais are very simple to make a there are a host of tutorials and instructions available on the web.  I looked at a few and combined a lot of the features I liked best in the simplest Mei Tai styles.  It's basically a rectangle (roughly 16x20 inches) with very long straps (60" on mine) made of double, triple, or even quadruple layers of some sort of durable but soft fabric with minimal stretch (I used a suit weight silk that I bought before I was pregnant but never used) and double or triple seams with high quality thread every where for strength.  If you are very short, slender, or do use wrapping styles that require going around the waist or back twice, you can get away with shorter straps.

I'm not sure if it's my bad back, but it wasn't as comfortable as I had hoped it would be.  I will try making one more in the near future and seeing if any of the modifications I have in mind help. I would definitely recommend making very wide shoulder straps (6" or more) and padding with an internal layer of quilt batting or thick fleece.  My straps are about 5" and cut into my shoulders after a few minutes.  I did put some padding in the main body to make it more comfy for my son, but he doesn't seem to notice it.  I think I will use a cushier material for the seat pad in my next Mei Tai.  Also, if you think you'll be using it a lot or have a baby who falls asleep easily, I would say to try one of the patterns that includes a sleeper hood.

Mom's verdict:  It is nice to have my hands free for a change.  If I rest his bottom on a table or counter top while I'm doing a quick chore, I don't have to worry about him making a sudden movement and falling or hurting himself in some way.  It's also very useful for quick in-and-out trips to the store because I don't need to worry about the stroller or getting a cart for him to sit in when I'm only purchasing one or two items.  Some features I would like in my next Mei Tai are a utility pocket for keys and such when out on a walk, a detachable hood, wider padded shoulder straps, and a seat cushion for the baby.

Baby's verdict:  He's hot natured and sometimes gets a bit over heated even though it's made out of silk and cotton.  He's also in a wiggly stage and gets tired of being in it when he's in an active mood.  When he's tired, he has no problem falling asleep in it but would probably stay asleep longer with a hood for keeping his head positioned.  He would prefer a higher seat that allows him to nuzzle my shoulder.

Making one and using it has given me a much clearer idea of what my unique needs and wants are in a carrier, so I have some interesting plans for my next Mei Tai.  When I finish it, I'll be putting up the pattern so you can make your own if you like what you see!

For anyone making a Mei Tai for the first time, here's a tip:  this project will take much longer than you think it will for just being a rectangle with straps.  It took about 4 hours of sewing not including the cutting and prepping.  The double stitching and reinforcing take a long time.  I didn't believe it when I read others saying it, but the straps truly are the most time consuming part of the project.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Thrifty Thursday: Watch for Falling Prices

The clearance deals I mentioned a couple weeks ago at WalMart are even lower!  Summer clothes prices are falling to make room for back to school and fall inventory.  Rompers by Carters are as low as $3, Faded Glory Organic 3-piece sets (sleeveless onesie, t-shirt, shorts) are $3, and Garanimals single pieces (shorts, shirts pants) are as low as $1.  Some styles of summer shoes are also 50% off or greater.

At Sears get an additional 30-50% off clearanced infant, toddler, and children's clothing.  They also offer price matching on items if you find it cheaper elsewhere.

If you live in a hot climate where you'll get a few more months of use out of warm weather attire or want to stock up for next year, this is the perfect time!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Safety 1st OnSide Air Convertible Car Seat Review

For those who've followed my blog and seen all my car seat entries, you know the woes I've been having finding one that fits my car and my big boy.  He had a 6 month baby well checkup a few days ago, and he's 20 lbs. 9 oz. and 28 1/4".  So he's above average in weight and very above average in height.  Because of this, I need a seat that can handle a bigger child and still have room to grow.  I drive a 2000 Toyota Corolla so I needed it to be compact.  I had almost decided on the Combi Coccoro because it's made in Japan and designed to fit in smaller spaces and then I found a new car seat that came out this summer by Safety 1st.  It's the OnSide Air convertible car seat, the only car seat under $100 that can handle 5-40 pounds rear-facing.  I scoured the internet for information without much luck and saw on the web forums that many people had called Dorel, the company that manufactures Safety 1st products, didn't have much information available to curious car seat enthusiasts.  It was impossible to even find the car seat dimensions online.  Despite this, I took a chance and drove an hour and a half to Savannah, the closest place with a store that had it in stock.  I had to see it for myself.

Comfy but narrow and notice how little head 
room there is for future growth.
Aesthetics, Comforts, and Features

Many have commented that the stock photos of the OnSide Air make it look like the Cosco Scenera.  I have to agree that I wasn't a fan of the look presented.  In person, however, I was pleasantly surprised.  I think you can probably tell from my photo that it looks much better with higher quality fabric. The cover is so plush that it feels stuffed with memory foam.

The cover is also easily removable because it is elasticized the entire way around like a bed sheet without any of those annoying or hard to release hooks or catches.  You do need to undo the shoulder harness to get it completely off, but that's not difficult.  It is generously sized so that it doesn't pop off in tight spots.

I will say that the harness webbing isn't very thick, so it does twist if you're not careful.  The chest clip also isn't the most substantial feeling plastic and is much flimsier compared to the chest clip on the Chicco KeyFit this seat is meant to replace.  It may be because it's new, but the chest clip and buckle don't come undone as quickly as I would like.  It does not come equipped with harness covers, so I would highly recommend that purchase.  I got these cute, cuddly monkey covers for $4.50 at WalMart.

Other features include a removable cup holder, which didn't attach securely enough to be functional for me.  The OnSide Air Converitble Car Seat is one of the products by Safety 1st that incorporates Air Protect technology.  Air Protect reduces side impact by releasing a burst of air from special chambers in order to reduce the force of collision.  The OnSide Air focuses on the child's head, but Safety 1st offers choices in the Complete Air line that features full body Air Protect side impact protection.  The Complete Air seats start at $180, so the OnSide air is an affordable alternative that focuses on the most vulnerable part of a child's body during side impact collisions.

Adjustability and Fit

The seat features 4 harness slots and 3 crotch strap slots for adjustments as your child grows.  This is where it has something in common with the Scenera.  The harness slot heights are the same with a top height of about 15 inches, and the same placement of the crotch strap slots.  Many parents have lamented that their children outgrow the Scenera by height before they reach the weight limit, so this may be an issue for tall babies like my son.  At 6 months and 28.25" tall, however, my son is using the 2nd harness slot from the bottom so he has two more slots to grow with.  He is also using the middle crotch strap slot.

At 11" across, it is a somewhat narrow seat, so the OnSide Air may not be the best solution if you have a heavier or older child.  For smaller or slimmer babies, this is perfect since it doesn't totally swallow the child.  Because of it's narrower seat and well-padded cover, this is a more realistic choice for parents wishing to start with a convertible car seat for newborns.  I think the recline is deep enough for a newborn to sleep comfortably, especially with a head positioning pillow.

Adjusting the harness was about the same as any other harness system I've used.  The adjustable crotch strap, however, was more difficult.  It's held in place by a metal retainer that you have to twist and push through the slot in order to remove the strap.  For safety's sake, it's a tight fight getting the retainer to pass through the slot so it does take time and brute force (for me anyway) to get it through.  Then you have to do it again to put it back in the correct position.

This seat also features a 2 position recline.  It was easy to figure out and switch between the two.

Fits in my 2000 Corolla with seats extended and reclined 
for up to 6'2" tall driver.  It also is slim enough that you could 
fit up to 3 of them or 2 additional passengers on either side.
Small Car Compatibility

The OnSide Air does fit in my small Toyota Corolla with the front seats extended comfortably for me (5'7") and my brother (6'2").  This is the largest amount of space a car seat could take, however, and still be comfortable in front.  As far the width of the seat, it's perfect for a family that frequently rides at full capacity.  I tried the Evenflo Tribute 5, and it extended into my lap when I sat next to it.  The OnSide Air didn't encroach on my space.  I wouldn't want to ride long distances in this setup though.

Even though the edge goes over my chair, it doesn't
interfere with my shoulder or arm.  I can live with it.

This car seat is lightweight and easy to carry and position.  My car is a pre-LATCH model, so I had to do a seatbelt installation.  It wasn't difficult.  The belt paths are clearly labelled for front and rear-facing modes.  The car seat cover is easy to peel back if necessary to thread the seat belt through the path, but I personally didn't need to because the opening was big enough for me to feel my way through.  Aligning the seat was pretty straight forward.  There is a guide that must be level with the ground.  It's not as accurate is the bubble levels, but it gets the job done.

The seat is at the proper recline when the edge of the sticker
is parallel with the ground.

The biggest concern for me with the installation was the fact that my lap and shoulder belt make the seat slant when tightened down as much as necessary to keep the wiggle to 1" or less.  You can tell in the picture of my shoulder and also in the one that shows my son how the car seat tilts up to the left side.  It's because the shoulder part of the belt pulls the seat up while the side with the buckle pulls the side down.  I think part of the issue is that my back seat has a pretty big slant even in the center.  Another part of the issue is that the way the car seat is designed leaves a big space under the front which I had to fill with towels in order to stabilize the vertical wobble.  But I've had this problem to a certain extent with every car seat I've put in my car.  With some car seats, I've been able to fix the slant issue by stuffing a towel in front of the car seat.  That didn't work, however, with the OnSide Air.  In my car, I acheived the most level installation by tightening the seat belt as much as I needed and then stuffing the gaps between the car seat and the backseat with towels afterward.  I needed one on the front and back of the seat as pictured above.

Belt paths are clearly marked:


I love the fact that I can potentially have extended rear-facing to 40 lbs, the softness and comfort of the seat cover, the ease of removal of the seat cover, and the price.  There isn't another car seat I've encountered that gives you so much for $100 or less.  It's softer than a lot of more expensive car seats.  It's nice that you can switch to forward-facing if you child outgrows the 40" or 40 lb. limits for rear-facing.  This seat allows forward-facing passengers up to 43" and 40 lbs.  I don't consider the fact that it has the same weight limit for front and back to necessarily be a downfall.  It's what keeps the seat compact, and it allows the child to stay rear-facing for longer than the 35 pound limit on most convertible seat covers in this size and price range.  I also liked that the recline was bigger than other similar car seats.

I'm not such a big fan of the fact that it doesn't come with harness covers, probably won't keep up with my child's growth by height, and that it requires towels to fill the gaps between it and the seat when the belts are properly tightened.

Overall, however, I recommend this car seat to anyone with a compact car or who regularly rides with a full load, especially if the vehicle is latch-equipped.  I also think this is a great option for newborn use because of it's more compact size and 7" harness slot and substantial recline.