Vrydag, 13 Desember 2013

Blasts from the Past: Three Favorite Hacks from the Days of Yore

In the past few months, I've found myself periodically looking through the archives to answer friends' questions. I've stumbled into old hacks which long ago turned into nearly-invisible standard family operating procedures.

So, for the subscribers who haven't been around for all six years, here are three of our all-time favorite hacks.

Babyproofing: Hacking a Wooden Bi-fold Door

While not my first post, this hack is the one that made me feel a part of a larger conversation. My jubilation when Asha covered it on Parent Hacks still resonates. It's also a cheap, clean-looking preventative for pinched fingers. Our latches are still going strong six years later.

The Big Muddy: Keeping Stroller Gunk Out of Car Upholstery 

Earlier this year I replaced this Thanksgiving tablecloth after years of use. I only wish the rest of the car had weathered those last five years as well as the cargo area.

Holiday Hack: Toddler-Friendly Ornaments

The kids still love doing this, and it means far less stuff to pack away after the holidays. I suspect Ranger will add some LEGO creations to the upper branches this year.

Thanks for strolling down memory lane with me, and thank you for reading Baby Toolkit!

***Baby Toolkit is a half dozen years' worth of hacks and conversation written by a couple geeky Midwesterners. Thank you for reading us! We're Amazon affiliates, so a small percentage of purchases through our Amazon links goes to help our operating costs online and in the real world. We also podcast about board games at Great Big Table.

Donderdag, 12 Desember 2013

Cut Your Losses: Screening the Floor Vents

The vent screened with pink tulle.
Yesterday, I heard screams coming from my daughters' room. This isn't really a surprise. When people talk about boys being loud, I always wonder how girls ended up with better publicists in that department.

So, as the cries didn't indicate blood loss or actual fear, I ambled back to see what was the matter.

My girls were playing with poker chips (a favorite toy at our house) and the baby inserted one in the floor vent- to her utter delight and the complete irritation of sister Scout.

Now, I've known for years that their floor vent was a gaping maw hungry for toys and tidbits. It's one of the few floor vents that the previous residents didn't cover with window screen.

When I went to recover the chip, it was gone. It made it past the initial flat land and rolled somewhere toward the basement. For all I know it's now sitting on the electric coils of our furnace. Since they got past my arm's reach, this was no tea set spoon scenario; this situation required action.

I grabbed some very pink tulle and cut it about 5 inches larger than the floor register. This register fits pretty snugly into the floor, so I didn't bother duct taping the tulle around the boxy underfloor part of the register (as the previous residents had on the other vents). The next vacuuming may prove that to be a strategic error, but for now, it's keeping all the chips out of the furnace and the girls like their pinker floor vent.

***Baby Toolkit is the slapdash meanderings of a couple geek parents raising three active kids. When we're not searching floor vents for lost treasure, we're sometimes discussing board games at Great Big Table (mmm, delicious podcasts!). We're Amazon affiliates, so clicking through our relevant links and purchases increases the Jones' coffers. We don't have any vested financial interest in tulle, floor registers or poker chips. Do you?

Woensdag, 11 Desember 2013

Recommended Reading: Some Favorites from 2012*

Should a genie offer me a bonus hour for every day, I would make lots of plans and promises for that time. And then I will spend it reading. Actually, I wouldn't because literature clearly teaches never to trust genies.

I love books and stories. My Twitter feed is usually peppered with current reads, new recommendations from friends, and other book talk. I neglect Pinterest and totally abandoned Facebook, but I usually read my daily notifications from Goodreads.

While I have tried to limit my bookish chatter to kids' books and relevant parenting titles, sometimes I can't restrain myself.

So, please forgive me as I shoehorn in a few favorite reads from this year under the guise of holiday shopping.

The Book My Dad and I Agree On:
Don't Ever Get Old by Daniel Friedman
Buck Schatz, a former police detective, goes on the hunt for a Nazi war criminal. Buck has personal reasons to bring the man to justice, but others are searching for the fugitive's rumored fortune in gold. Did I mention that both men are now octogenarians?

Buck's cutting and unvarnished opinions (which he considers the privilege of old age) made my septuagenarian dad laugh so hard that my brother immediately read the book. Then he called me and insisted that I read it too.

We are all waiting for Friedman's next release.

The Book I Immediately Bought My Brother (After Reading a Library Copy):
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
A Western noir. Modern sensibilities, sibling conflict and affinity, and dialogue so bewitching that I wanted to every word of it aloud to bystanders.

Talented assassins Eli and Charlie Sisters pursue an intended victim to remote Western outposts. After a strange night in a mostly abandoned cabin, Eli starts considering their future.

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

The Book I Stole from Jim's To-Read Pile -or-
The Best Dystopian Novel Explaining the Eighties Geek Zeitgeist:
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
If you can remember being really excited about getting an Apple II to display your name or you ever programmed onto an audio cassette, this book will speak to you. I have long thought that the young geeks and gamers of the eighties were conferred a special blessing by history.

This novel about our nation gone wrong (via global warming, hyper-commercialization, and other present-day headlines) offers insight into that strange decade and those who came of age during it. While it's a great dystopian novel for any geek, Eighties geeks may find it as generation-affirming as the Goonies was back in 1985.

The Quirky Book I Made Everyone Read
The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
The Fangs specialize in family drama. Years of creating awkward scenes as spontaneous performance art have left the siblings known to the world as Child A and Child B with some serious emotional baggage.

Annie, now famous for her acting (and some unfortunate internet memes) and Buster, an entertainment journalist specializing in thrill-seeking exploits, avoid their parents at all costs. Until Buster finds himself injured and unemployed and Annie's career publicly implodes. Then their parents vanish leaving behind only a bloody van at an out-of-state rest park.

The Book That Carried Me Away
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Make sure everyone is well fed before you crack the covers of this one.

A grudge-match competition between two aging magicians results in a circus unlike any other.


My Geeky Beach Read Recommendation
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
One of my dearest friends asked me for a book to read while on the beach in Jamaica. She didn't really get into reading until Harry Potter, so I sent her back to this wonderful book behind the wonderful film of the same title.

Even if you have seen the movie a million times, the book is not to be missed.

My Favorite Geek Love Story
Bellwether by Connie Willis
Sheep and the slings and arrows of corporate culture. The wry humor in this slim little novel just captured my heart entirely.

A trend-hunter working in an ever-expanding bureaucracy tries to find out why women bobbed their hair.

Short Stories with Strange Sensibilities
Sorry Please Thank You by Charles Yu
Delightfully unexpected stories that I just wanted to savor. Even though I read the book month ago, just this weekend Jim practically shouted "I'm reading that now," when I flipped open a library copy he checked out (and left on the kitchen table- I argue that makes it fair game).

The collection opens with a call center in the developing world that outsources pain and grief. It wanders through the Star Trek universe with a recently promoted redshirt in "Yeoman" (everyone who has seen Trek must read this). The 2-person skeleton shift in a big box store find a finger in the aisle, and then the zombie who dropped it. And (I promise I won't mention all of the stories individually) in "Troubleshooting"is so wonderfully mind-bending that it reminds me of the movie Primer.

And Not to Get Lost in a World of Fiction
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
Want to know what life is like after electricity? This startling book looks at what happens when the lights truly go out.

Through interviews with North Korean refugees and expatriots, Barbara Demick draws a gripping presentation of a hidden nation and the people struggling to live in it.

This non-fiction work by LA Times' Beijing bureau chief made me recognize so many of my own cherished assumptions I have about modern life. This book tugs at the same psychological knots as zombies and futuristic dystopias.

There are so many more titles I could mention (don't even get me started about zombies), but I'm stopping now.

What great books are you reading?
Should I post more often about books like these- or just keep it on Goodreads?

*It took a lot of restraint not to title this post, "I like big books and I cannot lie."

***Baby Toolkit is a bootstrap blog written by Midwestern geek parents (between books, boo-boos and bedtimes). We're Amazon affiliates so a portion of purchases made through our links help pay our domain name fees and library fines (THANKS!). All of the books discussed in this post were provided by our public library and/or purchased by us (though we do selectively accept review copies). If you like board games, check out our Great Big Table podcast.

Saterdag, 12 Oktober 2013

The Miracle of Children's Hospitals: Extra-Life.org


Needing a children's specialty hospital is terrible, but having access to one is beautiful beyond measure.

We waited here while Rogue was in surgery.
One year ago today, I drove baby Rogue across the state to the specialists who would diagnose and treat her life-threatening problems.  She and I left with little warning or preparation and headed into an especially uncertain future.

When we arrived, I didn't understand the differences between a regular hospital and a children's hospital (beyond the size and age of the patients). A few days at the hospital opened my eyes, but it remains difficult to put words around such large and deep feelings.

When my child's medical needs exceeded normal service providers, it confirmed the seriousness of her situation and revealed previously unconsidered limits in our ability to protect our children. Jim and I couldn't independently make our baby grow nor could we correct the shape of her skull. Awareness of this insufficiency lodged in my throat like a brick.

Because Jim and our extended family were caring for Scout and Ranger at home, the baby and I went to the hospital alone. I thought I would feel alone there, but the hospital- from its physical building to its people to its services- was so obviously built and maintained by a generous larger community. It was hard not to be touched by being part of a huge social mechanism where friends and strangers work to offer all kids the best possible chances for a full life. The unconditional generosity toward children reminded me that raw kindness and empathy still exist in surprising measure.

 From the handmade pillows and blankets for the patients to top-notch technology and facilities to stocked pantries and hospitality carts that supplied caregivers with food and toiletries, volunteers and donors reminded us that we were neither alone nor forgotten. Institutionally, the hospital offers financial assistance funds to pay medical costs for the uninsured and insured people of limited means. For many families, the cost of a sick child might mean a parent or other caregiver relocating to the hospital for the duration of a child's treatment. That can mean the loss of an income and the need for childcare and other new costs. It's easy to see how a long-term illness could quickly devastate a family's finances, but Children's Miracle Networks provide treatment regardless of a family's ability to pay.

And now, we invite you to be a hero to sick kids and their families.

When Jim read about Extra-Life.org (a Children's Miracle Network fundraiser born out of the video gaming community), he immediately began organizing a local board gaming event so we could offer the same goodwill to other Riley families. The weekend of October 20th, we're going to play 24 hours of board games (in three long sessions) for Riley and Children's Miracle Network Hospitals.

Please consider sponsoring a player or joining a team (and may I suggest my fledgling Great Big Table podcast team that is way behind Jim's game night team?). I can tell you firsthand, the donations do change lives.



***Baby Toolkit is the story of some Midwestern geek parents, their kids, and their communities (physical and virtual). We also podcast about board games at www.greatbigtable.com. We love Riley Hospital for Children, our Children's Miracle Network Hospital and its caring staff and community. With profound appreciation for generous care our daughter and our family received from Riley and CMNH, this post and project are one we have chosen to undertake.

Dinsdag, 17 September 2013

Profoundly Picky Eaters: Professional Help

When the internet was abuzz over cookbooks that encourage parents to hide pureed veggies in traditional kid foods, Jim added this comment to the discussion:
I heard about this book on the Jumping Monkeys podcast and had to think that Jessica can't be dealing with seriously picky kids (like the one that I am blessed with).
The example they gave was hiding broccoli in macaroni and cheese to which I wondered out loud "but what do I hide the macaroni and cheese in?"
With our profoundly picky eater rejecting almost all things meat and vegetable and most of the dairy family, we tried every trick in the standard play book. People offered the same judgmental advice that they, in our shoes, would just keep feeding the kid the same meal until he eats it.

The implication was that we were too accommodating or spineless to stand up to our kid when it came to food. Other people suggested that more creativity might entice our child to eat more and different foods.

These usually well-intentioned people couldn't understand the fear and grief that I felt seeing my child's too-slim form. They didn't understand that I would try and do anything that might help. They also didn't understand the terror that shone from his eyes when presented with new food. They hadn't sat at our hours-long tabletop stalemates nor watched their child throw up all of the night's dinner after finally conceding to just one bite.

With no clear direction for addressing this food situation, I gave up. We fed whatever we could in as large a quantity as would be tolerated. With a fruit and grain based diet, there was no way to supply adequate calories (much less nutrients). We gave daily vitamins and bought orange juice with supplemental calcium. But with a long look, any one could tell that we were barely maintaining present weight with growth.

It didn't feel like we could keep waiting for this "stage" to be outgrown- if it ever would be, but what was the next step?

Then one day, the phone rang. My friend met someone whose child had successfully completed treatment at a feeding clinic and had overcome his staunch food aversions. While I was afraid our situation wouldn't be big enough to draw medical concern, I had to act. Even a slight chance that we might find help was worth pursuing.

A long and detailed paperwork process preceded our assessment visit yesterday. Even during the assessment, I was frightened that we were about to be turned away and told (yet again) that our child's disordered eating was the product of weak and unimaginative parenting.

Instead the assessment team of a psychologist, dietician, speech therapist, and occupational therapist noticed things about our child's eating that I had not ever seen. Unlike us, they readily identified causes (physiological and psychological) and know techniques to address his physical, emotional, and nutritional needs.

It isn't a quick fix. Like most childhood therapies, it depends on the efforts of all stakeholders over many months. But it is so wonderful to find that our long-term quagmire is familiar and manageable territory to others. It is good to think that families meals may soon be shared (rather than short-order) and without conflict or a sense of parenting failure.

I suspect most readers will not relate to this specific situation, but I write in hopes that the few who understand all too well might also find some new answers. A Google search for pediatric feeding clinic can show offerings in your area, but many of the clinics offer more intensive programs for people who live out of the region. Families travel to our clinic from out-of-state and even out-of-country.

 If this sounds like your family, please realize that you do not have to battle this problem alone.

***Baby Toolkit is the rambling story of two geek parents. We have no fiscal interest in pediatric feeding clinics and receive no compensation for this post (our clinic is unaware of this post). We are however, Amazon affiliates, so purchasing through our Amazon links defrays our modest operating costs. Thanks!

Dinsdag, 30 Julie 2013

Conserve Your Energy (and Your Home's) with Bathroom Fan Timers & DewStop Condensation Sensor

Earlier this summer, I finally noticed a pattern in my evening routine. At the end of a long day, after climbing into bed and settling my head on the pillow, a mechanical growling would emerge from the house's nighttime quiet.

Someone left a bathroom fan running and, for all I wanted to ignore it, our climate-controlled air was being siphoned off into the night (and had been for hours). I could either try to ignore the situation (though it felt as wasteful as leaving the fridge door open all night) or get out of bed and turn it off.

A separate trip to the hardware store brought me to the solution: a bathroom fan timer (Pass & Seymour's 7 Button Timer, ~$30). With an engineer dad and a teacher mom, I have been involved in home maintenance and improvements from an early age. The timer switch installation didn't seem much different than replacing a regular light switch, so I bought a model with automatic shut-off after 1, 5, 10, 15, 30, or 60 minutes.

With the kids napping and Dad on the phone, I installed the timer in our highest traffic bathroom.

Almost immediately, I noticed far fewer trips into the bathroom to turn the fan on or off. The kids liked using this switch, so they were happy to deploy it as needed (which had not been the case before), and the fan reliably turned itself off. Jim liked it so much that he asked that I put one in the downstairs bathroom.

The next day, GTR Technologies Inc. contacted us about reviewing their DewStop condensation-sensing fan switch with automatic shut-off. I had never heard of such a switch, but it seemed quite appropriate for a basement bathroom where the shower is used regularly.

DewStop (in center,with blue light) installed between
existing light switch and outlet. Top panel has sensor and LED,
middle button is manual on, and lowest button is manual off.
They sent me the DewStop FS-100 (presently selling for about $48 on Amazon). The installation was almost identical to the timer switch I had already installed. It took me less than half an hour from start to finish (the switch is in a multi-switch junction box, so it took me a little longer to arrange all the wiring and the switch controls into the box and level the switch so it fit under the face plate.

Now, if someone starts showering without the fan on, the switch activates the fan when the humidity reaches it. Our bathroom is long and narrow with the shower and fan at opposite ends of the room and the shower has doors rather than a curtain. This architecture means some humidity accumulates in the shower stall before the fan activates.The humidity is minimal, and dissipates soon after the fan is triggered. Also, the occupant can manually switch the fan on before taking a shower. As when the fan is triggered by the sensor, the timer will turn the fan off after 30 minutes. Both the DewStop and the variable timer have manual off buttons.

The condensation sensor seems most valuable in a bathroom where teens or adults regularly shower. Foggy mirrors and damp walls could be mostly avoided (distance between the switch and the shower may mean a little fog on the mirror right after showering). Jim observes that the switch is great for a guest bathroom because guests won't have to remember to start the fan.

We really like both timed switches. I'm always a little surprised when I realize that the run-time interval has already passed (whether it's 5 minutes upstairs or 30 downstairs). I hate to think how long the fans were previously left running before we turned them off. I can't speak to energy savings as I installed them at the beginning of this heat wave, but I'm sure the fans are running less with the timed switches (even with a 30 minute duration).

And, best of all, when I climb in bed at night, if I hear a ventilation fan running, I know it will turn itself off without my assistance. I love automation.

***Baby Toolkit is the collected reflections and independent opinions of some geek parents in the middle Midwest. Though we know one end of a screwdriver from the other, we're not electricians. While we received a free DewStop from GTR, we're under no obligation to mention it on the blog (much less say anything nice). We have no financial relationship with GTR or Pass & Seymour. We are Amazon affiliates, so a portion of purchases through our links helps cover the blog's overhead. We also podcast about board games at GreatBigTable.com.

Vrydag, 07 Junie 2013

Keeping on Track: Log Medicine Doses on the Bottle

I taped this label above the pharmacy label.
In the past year, our household has taken more medicine than ever. It seems at least one of our kids has needed a course of medication at least once a month for the past calendar year.

This is a lot for my tired mind to manage, so I've stolen and consolidated a number of smart tips from Parent Hacks. Now, I reveal to you our household's approach to medications.

I put a blank mailing label, post-it, or piece of paper on the actual medication. I don't ever cover the Rx label with anything I can't easily remove. I write the dosing instructions in easily read letters on either the bottle or the top of the paper (Sharpies don't work on all bottles- especially cold ones).

On the bottle or paper I keep a log (day, date, and time) of doses given.

I used to keep a separate log on the front of the fridge, but I always forgot to update it when I gave the dose. Now, I have the log in-hand as soon as I grab the bottle.

The on-board log makes it a lot easier for others to track, avoids double-dosing, and travels with the medicine automatically. It also keeps things clearer when more than one kid needs medicine (I then write their name on the sheet too).

How do you organize your household's medicines?

***Baby Toolkit is a stream-of-consciousness parenting-related log written by a geek couple from the almost-rural suburbs on a big, blue spinning planet about 93 million miles from the Sun. We are affiliated with the Sun (as users) and with Amazon.com (as affiliates). We are also podcasting about board games at GreatBigTable.com.