Donderdag, 17 Desember 2009

Behold, the Angels of Destruction*: Best Recall This Week

The holidays stress me out. I'd rather clean cookies out of the VCR* than buy gifts that evoke a very merry "meh" from their recipients.

But today the CPSC delivered unto me a seasonal greeting that appeals to my coal black heart.

Precious Moments angels may burn down your house. Starting with your Christmas tree.

That's no star, it's an incendiary device.

Platter-eyed cherubim just got edgy.

Merry bah humbug to y'all!

*Yes, we still have a VCR because Richard Scarry DVDs are impossible to find while the VHS tapes are plentiful and cheap on the resale market. Also, the Raptor likes to trap her hand inside while using the flippy door for toy storage. Also, we use it to watch the excellent Notes Alive! Nutcracker.

**Yes, the title of this post was stolen wholesale from Keith Donahue's book. The book's title is easily its best attribute. Check out his earlier The Stolen Child if you're looking for something to read.

***And while we're on books, I just asked the library to buy Scroogenomics: Why We Shouldn't Buy Presents for the Holidays. This, rather than visions of sugarplums, dances in my head.


Baby Toolkit is written by geek parents who are having a hard time embracing the holidays. We're Amazon affiliates, so if you're just dying to buy something through our Amazon links we get a percentage of the profits. We have no affiliation with Precious Moments, the CPSC, or other media we mention, and we may get a cease & desist notice for the Firestarter cover hack, so you absolutely didn't see it here.

Dinsdag, 15 Desember 2009

CirKis by Hasbro: Circles + Stars= Fun

There's a great deal at Amazon* today: Hasbro's new family game CirKis is only $7.99 which is 60% off its standard $20 price.

Jim, Ranger, and I first played CirKis at GenCon 2009. I expected a knock-0ff of Mattel's clever Blokus territory acquisition game; the tiles, the shallow grid board, and even the names struck me as similar. Instead CirKis reveals a very different mechanism and strategy despite the superficial similarities.

In Blokus, players arrange luminescent tiles on a standard grid to acquire as much of the playing surface as possible. At the end of the game the winner is the player holding the most tiles.

With CirKis the grid is a repeating geometry of stars and circles. The tiles are odd polygons varying greatly in size and shape. It takes more discernment to lay tiles, but there are still multiple options for playing each tile. CirKis exercises lateral, spacial, and strategic thinking simultaneously; that sounds complicated, but Ranger really enjoyed playing.

CirKis' scoring is ongoing throughout the game. A player earns points when they complete a circle or star, and the winner is the first to reach 40 points.

While Ranger currently needs help playing (at age 4), I don't think he's far off from playing independently. For now, he can happily play with it as a tile drawing toy (which helps develop his placement skills for future game play).

The pieces are strong and plentiful, so this isn't something I'd want scattered all over the living room floor after the lights are out, but the game looks like it should hold up to regular use by children.

We tried to buy a pre-release copy at GenCon, but CirKis was entirely sold out and even the demonstration copies were reserved. I'm actually glad we didn't get one then because I was able to get two for less than $20 with this current sale price.

CirKis is a great game for families and adults. It scales nicely to different ages and abilities; while a preschooler can be involved with assistance it can also be very competitively played by adults.

*Baby Toolkit is an Amazon affiliate, and we make a small percentage off purchases made after clicking through from our site. We're geek parents who LOVE games. We have no extra-consumer relationship with Hasbro or Mattel nor have we received compensation from them or their affiliates for this post.

Donderdag, 10 Desember 2009

More Muppets: Ringing of the Bells

I'm stifling the urge to wake the Raptor (the biggest Muppet maniac in the household). A new Muppet video was released tonight, and it rocks.

The Nerdist observes "this wave of new vids make the Muppets feel like The Muppet Show again."



Muppet Studios' YouTube channel is well worth a subscription.

***Baby Toolkit is the independent opinion of a couple of geek parents. We have no financial interest in or relationship with the Muppets or their parent company (who we actively dislike). However back in 1990, Adrienne did pull off the expressway to cry after hearing of Jim Henson's untimely death.

Word on Sesame Street: Free eBooks!

Ranger and I spent part of the afternoon listening to lovable, furry old Grover read the audio eBook There is a Monster at the End of this Book. Each word is highlighted as Grover narrates. The audio effects cracked Ranger up.

To celebrate its 40th birthday, Sesame Workshop issued its most popular title ever in ebook form [trivia: There is a Monster at the End of this Book hasn't been out of print since its original printing]. They plan of offering a new free ebook every week. Some of the ebooks will have audio and interactive capabilities. Early in 2010, Sesame Street and Impelsys (the technology provider) plan on offering even more titles for individual purchase and subscription.

The eBooks can be viewed through a web browser, but do not seem to have a download option (please let me know if I'm overlooking something).

Users can print pages from coloring and activity books like the seasonally appropriate Celebrate.

Sesame Street ebooks can be found at http://ebooks.sesamestreet.org.

For more information about the future of Sesame Street's eBooks, read Impelsys' recent press release.

***Baby Tookit is the independent opinion of a couple geek parents. We have no fiscal, social, or familial relationship with Sesame Street, Children's Television Workshop, PBS, or Impelsys. Heck, we're actually suspicious of newfangled characters like Elmo and Abby Cadabby and we feel like Big Bird doesn't get enough air time, but these eBooks are cool- especially while they're free.

In addition, we are Amazon.com affiliates, so if you click through the picture above and buy the book (or other stuff), a small percentage of the sale will go to support Baby Toolkit (thanks!). We do own this book, and Ranger loves to hear it read by Jim even more than the ebook (sorry, Grover).

Vrydag, 20 November 2009

STOP sending Noah Biorkman cards: Spread the word!

Recently the Internet mobilized to make the last days of Noah Biorkman's life better by sending him Christmas cards.

People did (over 80k pieces of mail on one day alone), and they were greatly appreciated.

Noah is now in his last days, and his family has requested that people stop sending cards. Snopes.com reports that family requested no more cards or gifts:

Wow! The outpouring of love and concern for Noah is just
amazing! Scott and I never in a million years thought that so many
people would want to send Christmas cards to Noah. However, please
note: We did already celebrate Christmas LAST Sunday -- November
8th.

PLEASE STOP SENDING CARDS AND GIFTS!!!!

Noah is very ill. He is not getting out of bed and it's time for
Scott, our families, and I to concentrate on our son. His time is
very short and he needs us.

Please publicize this in your communities (real and virtual). A quick tweet or a facebook update would do a lot to keep a postal tidal wave from complicating this family's final days together.

Let's have second Internet miracle and put this Christmas card genie back in the bottle.

If you want to do more for Noah and other families facing the same horror, donate a dollar or more in his name to the Children's Hospital of Michigan Foundation.

The full snopes.com post: http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/medical/biorkman.asp
Noah Biorkman's Care Pages site: https://www.carepages.com/carepages/NoahScottBiorkman

Donderdag, 19 November 2009

Help the planet (and your bottom line) with online auctions: shopgoodwill.com

Like an angler with a bountiful fishing hole, bargain hunters like to keep their best sources secret. While I'm sure to draw the ire of other cheapskates, it seems wrong not to tell people about this cornucopia of savings.

All proceeds benefit a charitable non-profit. Buying resale items keeps usable goods out of landfills (longer) and prevents redundant manufacturing. It can also save consumers a fortune.

We married young, so in the first years of our marriage, Jim and I were lucky to buy the essentials. By the time he got the first professional job in our family, even a single dollar had meaning. Around that time I discovered antique malls and consignment sales. After a while I started looking into thrift shops. Now, over a decade later, I answer most "Where did you get that?" inquiries with some form of resale or reuse answer (thrift shop, yard sale, consignment, gift, loan from a friend).

When we're clearing out the house, I like to give usable to goods to friends and some of my favorite charity shops. It was at one of these drop-offs, when I stumbled upon shopgoodwill.com.

In its early days, I visited and found mostly tchotchkes requiring dusting, dolls that give me nightmares, and handbags. Beyond the amusement of the occasional suggestive monkey teapot, I didn't think it had much promise. But I didn't think the Web would catch on either (didn't Gopher already offer everything minus the images and sound? Is that really such a big deal? In my defense the early web featured the blink tag WAY TOO much).

In the time since my initial introduction shopgoodwill.com has grown into a real beauty.

The savings are mind-blowing. This cool metal dollhouse's current bid is $10.99, while an identical dollhouse (possibly with fewer furniture pieces) sold online for $130 at an antique shop. The antique store has better lighting and photographs, but are they really worth the additional $119.01?

Not only can you find many of the original Fisher Price Little People buildings- from the barn to the A-frame house (that I wanted to live in) to the great merry-go-round to the school, you can also buy NEW stuff and current electronics.

Just cruising through I've found new in package games for systems ranging from Leapster to DS to Xbox 360 to PS3 to didj to PSP.

Want a DS or a Leapster?

Are you shopping for someone who likes Lego, American Girl, Hannah Montana, Star Wars, or Sesame Street?

And who doesn't love this vintage Fisher Price tabletop kitchen stove (presently with a $6 bid)?

Shipping seems to be reasonable. If you are willing to drive to the selling Goodwill, you can often arrange for pickup.

I can trust you to keep this under your hat, right? We wouldn't want the place overrun with hipsters looking for Elvis memorabilia.

***Baby Toolkit is a couple of geek parents with more opinions than should be shared. While we shop at Goodwill Industries and drop off lots of unwanted stuff there (including review samples), we are not affiliated with Goodwill Industries nor have we received any compensation for this review (beyond the joy of sharing something awesome with our readers).

Maandag, 09 November 2009

Fence Me In: Daybeds & Toddler Security

When we moved Ranger out of his crib, we wanted something that would offer him a similar sense of security with greater independence.

We talked about something like the Ikea Kura which would offer a sense of enclosure. When we saw the Kura in person, the slat supports didn't seem sturdy enough for our bed jumper.

While I was considering bunk beds, Amy at Mom Advice posted photos of the smartest bed transition hack. For her toddler daughter, she turned the daybed opening to face the wall.

A few weeks later I came across a daybed with a trundle at a local consignment shop. With its exposed springs and snapping metal joints, the trundle frame looked problematic with preschoolers. We stowed the trundle frame for future consideration (a solid decision I think, especially in light of the recent Maclaren stroller recall) and replaced the crib with the daybed.

With a step stool at the foot of the bed, Ranger could easily get in and out on his own. It didn't take long for him to start climbing between the bars rather than over them.

Ranger still prefers the bed in this configuration. He likes his bed and sleeps well at naptime and through the night. When he wants the bed changed, we'll move it, but until then, we'll all rest easy at night.

***Baby Toolkit is written by geek parents who love sleep. We are in no way affiliated with daybed manufacturers, and we have limited home design skills. Adrienne once enjoyed a flight with Amy Clark of Mom Advice (only to literally run away at the end when flight delays made the Cincinnati connection tenuous).

Photos: (c) Baby Toolkit, 2009, some rights reserved.

Sondag, 01 November 2009

Halloween 2009: Making Mario

My favorite Halloween costumes have function beyond the holiday. Before his first Halloween, Ranger's grandparents gave him a cowboy outfit, so we just added a Western hat to complete the costume.

I found an old chef's coat at a thrift shop, so Jim and I talked about a mad scientist costume (in the spirit of Dr. Horrible), but that amused us more than it would Ranger.

Cruising Dabbled.org's great Halloween coverage, I found a great costume that would delight Ranger and satisfy my hopes of reuse. (Thanks, Dot!)

Ranger follows the adventures of Mario in Kart , Tennis, and Strikers via Nintendo. When he saw the Flickr photo a Mario costume became a regular topic of conversation. I launched the hunt for a long-sleeved red shirt, denim overalls, white gloves, and a hat (or sewing pattern).

By Sunday, I had everything but the hat. Jim helped me search through pattern books for a good match and we settled on Simplicity 2808 (note for sewists*: this pattern is for adult sized hats as we're big-headed folk). Ranger's preschool Halloween parade was Thursday, so I spent Tuesday and Wednesday nights as an amateur milliner. The hat needed to look cartoonish, so all errors in tailoring could be deemed value-added features.

Jim fashioned Ranger's fine mustache from brown felt. I attached it to a loose-fitting loop of thin, soft elastic which fit over the ears and behind the nape.

Thursday's parade went well. Even the people who didn't know about Mario (like the nursing home residents who Ranger's class visited) loved his mustache.

On Friday afternoon, I noticed a long sleeved green onesie in the Raptor's closet hanging near her overalls. When I told Ranger about this, we both came to the same conclusion. On Saturday, Jim, Mario, and the Ranger hit the fabric store for more elastic while I sewed against the clock.

If you want to show off a homemade costume to people who will appreciate it, go to the fabric store on Halloween. Ranger got full rock star treatment from both staff and shoppers and EVERYONE knew about Mario. I think he preferred it even to trick or treating.

They returned home and one mustache later, the Mario brothers were cavorting on the front lawn.

Mario pulled out Ranger's golf set and entertained the neighborhood with some impromptu Mario Golf (why isn't this available for the Wii) while Luigi mostly laughed and pointed.

Luigi's hat is also an adult size large. I sewed a tuck in the back of the hatband to size it down. The large size makes her look more like Baby Luigi than Luigi and it leaves us the opportunity to reuse the hat set as the kids get older. Plus, I can wear it too.

Happy Halloween!

*Yes, this is an emerging word, but neither seamstress nor tailor really seemed appropriate and sewer (to me) always starts with a su sound and bears an entirely different meaning, so sewist it shall be. Feel free to suggest better terms.

***Baby Toolkit has received a Nintendo DS and a review copy of Mario Tennis from Nintendo. We have no fiscal interest in nor undisclosed relationship with Nintendo nor its parent companies. Baby Toolkit is written by geek parents who can be seen driving around town in felt mustaches.


photos: (c) Baby Toolkit, 2009. All rights reserved.

Woensdag, 28 Oktober 2009

Beautiful URLs: Some Favorite Links, October 28

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

Now for some zombies dancing:

Maandag, 26 Oktober 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sondag, 25 Oktober 2009

Declaration for Vaccination

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now is the time for courage.

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

Donderdag, 15 Oktober 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woensdag, 14 Oktober 2009

Motherhood: The New Generation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Woensdag, 07 Oktober 2009

Post Pregnancy Acne: An Answer You Can Sleep On

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

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

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

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

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

Maandag, 14 September 2009

Thermos update: An interview and a new generation

Our friends at Z Recommends scored an interview with Thermos' Rick Dias at the ABC Kids' Expo in Vegas. And what did they discuss? Plastic changes in response to consumer and (*ahem*) blogger complaints.

I'll keep you posted on any new developments in the ongoing FUNtainer saga.

*photo: Baby Toolkit, (c)2008

Vrydag, 11 September 2009

Recommended Reading: NurtureShock Sent Me to Bed Early

After Po Bronson's amazing 2007 article on praise, his new book on parenting research NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children (co-authored with Ashley Merryman) mesmerized me long before I actually saw it in person.

The first chapter on praise (revised from the original New York magazine article) remains strong and fresh after repeat readings. I was poised to devour the book in an all night marathon read.

Enter Chapter 2: The Lost Hour. The research on sleep was so compellingly presented that I whined and shut the book at 1 AM (an hour earlier than my typical bedtime since late adolescence). Mr. Bronson, Ms. Merryman, you accomplished in one evening what my mother, and later, Jim have been trying to do for decades. I'm now in bed at least an hour and a half earlier (often more) each night.

The loss of late-night reading hours slowed my reading down, but the change of pace gave me more time and mental space to absorb the rich content of NurtureShock.

Like the new generation of social science books (Stumbling on Happiness, Outliers, Freakonomics), NurtureShock works to be informative rather than prescriptive. Unlike self-help parenting books which offer specific instructions for a perfect relationship/child/childhood, Bronson and Merryman discuss a huge body of research on child rearing and behavior (the bibliography and notes account for 83 pages).

While I could poorly reiterate the book's contents, I'm sure you'd benefit much more from reading it yourself.

The research on siblings gave me real pause. Things have been pretty rough between Ranger and the Raptor since she started crawling. Her mobility resulted in constant meltdowns and Ranger serving a lot of penal time in his room. NurtureShock summarized research on why siblings fight (or more importantly, get along). It's nothing like the theories I've heard. I called Jim at work after reading the chapter. "This may be what's going on..." Our situation looked rough. The research described our kids far too well as present and perpetual rivals. We talked about why siblings get along and committed to a 180 degree shift in our actions. In two days, Ranger's tantrums (regarding the Raptor) started fading. Two more days and only one tantrum. Things improved greatly as we thought purposefully about Ranger's interactions with the Raptor. We're all happier.

Bronson and Merryman carefully choose research that stands up to repetition and avoid the dangerous one-hit-wonders that grab headlines, but fail under long-term scrutiny. They aren't worrying about genius babies, prodigies, or delinquents nor are they pushing to create a super-achiever culture. They don't weigh on who sleeps where, offer dietary advice, or tell you how to punish your child.

The findings they report question underlying assumptions we have about our children, their character, and their development.

NurtureShock offers complex, but fascinating, perspective. I'm sure the ideas behind each chapter will get ample media coverage for months to come (Newsweek already excerpted the race chapter and NPR profiled the lying research in an interview with Bronson).

I hope it will be read by my family, friends, and community educators.

$14.99 at Amazon. $24.99 recommended price.

Baby Toolkit has no relationship with Po Bronson, Ashley Merryman, or their publishers (12 & Hachette Book Group)- though we'd gladly invite them all over for dinner any time. With two degrees in literature, Adrienne can be considered a professional reader (of fiction), but we have no credentials in child development. We bought the book through Amazon.

Maandag, 31 Augustus 2009

Rock, Paper, Scissors: Party Preparation

For Ranger's birthday party, we wanted a no tears craft that would engage kids from toddler through 5th grade. After considering at a number of very clever projects, we decided to stick with what we know.

I printed off the crown template I use for fabric play crowns. The day before the party, I traced six of them onto each of five sheets of white posterboard ($0.70 x 5= $3.50+ sales tax for 30 crowns). A wonderful friends brought loads of crayons. An adult sized and stapled the finished crowns. (Hint: Staple from the inside of the crown so the flat side of the staple is against the wearer's hair and the points are on the exterior.)

The levels of interest varied greatly. Some kids put major effort into their crowns and wore them throughout the party. Other kids (Ranger among them) were more interested in getting back to the dance floor and playroom.

That brings us to the Rock. Jim put together a party mix from some of Ranger's favorite tunes:

  1. I'm So Happy You're Here Blue’s Clues
  2. The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song the Flaming Lips
  3. Mahna Mahna Cake
  4. Stayin' Alive the Bee Gees
  5. I Am a Paleontologist They Might Be Giants (w/ Danny Weinkauf) [free download- thanks, TMBG & Girlie Action! Thanks for the tip, Spare the Rock! *pre-order this great new album for the bargain rate of $9.99 on Amazon]
  6. The Hoppity Song Five for Fighting
  7. Mix Tape Jim’s Big Ego [free download courtesy of Jim's Big Ego!]
  8. A Little Less Conversation JXL Remix
  9. All the Small Things Blink 182
  10. Gotta Be Me Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
  11. Music Farm Xtatik
  12. Rockin' Robin Bryan White
  13. My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors Moxy Fruvous
  14. Family Tree Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
  15. Lovely Rita The Beatles
  16. Go Down Emmanuel Road Dan Zanes & the Rocketship Revue
  17. Silly Hat Blue’s Clues
  18. Flying Machine Father Goose
  19. King of Spain Moxy Fruvous
  20. Come Together The Beatles
  21. So Glad I'm Here Elizabeth Mitchell
  22. All Night Long Dan Zanes & Friends
  23. I'm Yours Jason Mraz
  24. So Long It's Been Good to Know Yuh Dan Zanes & Friends
Feel free to don a crown and break out your boogie shoes.

Woensdag, 26 Augustus 2009

GenCon 2009: The Family Edition

Wonder Woman, a 15 foot tall pirate, the Ghostbusters, Buddah, Darth Vader, Chihiro, a Gamorrean guard, Jim, Ranger, the Raptor, myself, and 27,887 others attended GenCon 2009 earlier this month in Indianapolis.

As first-timers, we did not know what to expect. Despite the fact that my friends were making GenCon widow plans, I lack the graciousness required to jealously listen to stories about the awesome gaming convention. Our preschooler loves games, so we knew he would be amused; our only concern was keeping him from moving players' game pieces. At 9 months, the baby is very opinionated, but she loves riding in the backpack and her patience can now be bought with Cheerios (lots and lots of Cheerios).

After our first disorienting minutes in the vast exhibition hall, I wondered if I had made a huge mistake in coming with the kids. Polyhedra rarely seen outside of theoretical geometry labs surrounded me like tribbles, gleaming brightly from row after row of plexiglass bins.

My mind flashed back to the first night Jim's cousin brought over Descent. While he laid out the chits, cards, and *blush* statues, I cringed. When he dumped the bucketload of dice required on the table, I balked openly, "Um, guys, I think my ovaries prevent me from playing any game with this many dice." But they needed me for a quorum, so I set aside my derisive comments about "pizza boys" and picked up the biggest battle axe in the deck. I've never looked back. GenCon was no time for second thoughts.

We floated through the exhibition hall on a wave of humanity (and alienity). Suddenly familiar sights started appearing in the booths. Memories of great get-togethers (with and without space colonization and zombie attacks) popped up as favorite titles came into focus. Companies I have long admired offered opportunities to talk with employees, ask questions, meet designers, and try new games.

Ranger loved playing demo games, Jim grooved on the geek zeitgeist, I liked asking about kids' offerings (and getting good answers), while the Raptor contentedly left a Cheerio trail in case we needed to retrace our steps.

Party gamers Out of the Box [earlier review: Apples to Apples] introduced us to some new favorites for kids (and the rest of the family). Playroom Entertainment enticed us with their games for the preschool set. Simply Fun (a home-based consultant company- think Tupperware party) astounded us with their elegantly straightforward Ribbit by master designer Reiner Knizia. Gaming closet favorite Rio Grande came through with a great kids version of Carcassone that works for ages 4 and up (this must-have for Carcassonne fans quickly sold out at GenCon). Winning Moves' Cir*Kis caught both Jim's and my hearts, but we didn't move fast enough to buy a copy before they sold out.

While the crowds (especially in the exhibition hall) were daunting with young kids, the attendees and staff made the kids' experience quite good. People were gracious and generous with the baby and very willing to help our preschooler have hands-on gaming time. On the whole, it seems like the people at GenCon welcome kids more than the average crowd. I wouldn't have wanted to navigate the place with a large jogging stroller (it would just seem rude in the limited space of the exhibit hall), but other parents seemed to do okay with infants in mid-sized strollers.

A few tips for those thinking about taking kids in 2010:
  • If you're going strollerless, take along a large comfortable bag (that you can wear) if you might do any shopping. The vender bags tend to have small hand holes, so something you can sling over a shoulder is valuable.
  • Toting a lot of small gear (changes of clothes, snacks, toys, etc.) that you want on site, but not on hand? Rent a locker in the morning (seriously, they sell out fast) to use as a home base. The lockers I saw were 75 cents to a dollar and only take quarters. You'll need to pay each time you visit the locker, so you won't want to visit too frequently.
  • Kids from elementary school on up could really thrive in this environment. It's exciting and there are lots of games to play. If (or, more accurately, when) we take older kids, I will purchase an unlimited library card ($20) to the GenCon games library. That way kids can try new games and household standards even if there's not much for them in the demos. If we had a group of families with kids going (you know who you are: hint, hint), it seems quite reasonable for kids to game in the library with adults exchanging supervisory time.
  • This trip we stayed with our gracious friend in Indianapolis. While such wonderful free housing would be a fine arrangement for adults, the commute to and from nap time was extended. The skywalk connected convention hotels (there are a number to choose from) seem a great asset with young kids. Not only could the wee ones get better naps, pit stops and snack times would be easier too. Plus, while the kids napped, an adult (assuming more than one are in attendance) could go back to the convention halls for some solo gaming. Our kids would love the opportunities to swim in the hotel pool. The zoo and State Museum would become workable side trips (as we wouldn't be driving around town so much). The event schedule runs literally 24 hours a day, so one parent (or both if they alternate childcare) could still participate even after the kids have been put to bed.
  • For game-friendly teens and tweens, GenCon seems a great playground. The cos play and LARPers give the con a festival atmosphere that's irresistibly offbeat (4 year old Ranger insisted on wearing a cape after our first visit). Adults seem quite willing to give a young geek a place at the gaming table, so kids with interest won't be relegated to the sidelines or simply shopping the hall.
GenCon was a great experience for our family, and we are already making plans for 2010. I'm sure we'll have more to say on this year's con and the great games and companies we met there throughout the next few weeks.

Photo credit: Gurney5 on Flickr, Creative Commons

Woensdag, 05 Augustus 2009

Dial Down the Stains

With babies come stains. I've had more than one Stepford Wives conversation where friends discuss the BEST pre-treater they've found.

In a rare bout of silence, I tend to keep my mouth shut. Pre-treaters just don't seem that effective to me, at least not compared to a cheap bar of Dial gold.

A little warm water, a quick rub of a Dial bar, and some hand scrubbing can remove a remarkable assortment of fresh stains.

One bar lasts for months, costs under $1, looks perfectly normal in the shower, and easily packs for travel (in carry-on even). It also carves into swell little boats in a pinch.

I have friends who swear by Fels-Naptha (also made by Dial), but I'm just too lazy to go to the one grocery store that carries it.

You can stock up on Dial at Amazon, but unless you own a bathhouse or do laundry for the whole Little League it's probably easiest to find a sale on the 3 bar pack closer to home.

Baby Toolkit has no professional expertise in soap, are only gifted amatuers in the field of staining, and have no extra-consumer connections with Dial or its parent companies. The only free Dial we've ever recieved have been hotel soaps (which probably aren't really free).

Saterdag, 01 Augustus 2009

Beautiful URLs: Some Favorite Links, August 1

We were off enjoying some sun, sand, and 60 degree temperatures in Michigan. Friends and family kept us too occupied to really mind that didn't have Internet access.

In the meantime, my feed reader filled with bloggy goodness.

Here are some recent favorites:
  • Maker's Schedule, Manager's Schedule (by Paul Graham) explains a lot about how my life works (or doesn't work). Babies and kids don't really understand either kind of schedule, but the Raptor definitely wants a manager momma which makes blogging (and many other activities) complicated. (thanks, Z Recs)
  • Speaking of stuff, Z Recommends adopts and explains a new Keep No Stuff review policy. Jim and I have been discussing our own review policy. We currently disclose any free review samples and vested interest in companies (it's pretty simple, we're far too lazy to invest). When I get a little maker time, we'll discuss our own review, advertising, and privacy policies.
  • I've always wondered how people could maturely combat real life trolls like hatemonger Fred Phelps, and this solution seems divinely inspired. Thank you, Bill Childs.
  • By the way, if you're not listening to Bill, Ella, and Liam Childs on their excellent kids' radio show Spare the Rock, you are most certainly missing out. [podcast feed]
  • Another hankie doll you can make in a pinch with only a handkerchief and a ring or a piece of string. [earlier]
What posts have drawn your attention lately?

Woensdag, 15 Julie 2009

I Get Around: Recent Guest Posts

To Ranger's utter horror, the Raptor started crawling (right toward his favorite toys). Her newfound mobility challenges me too. But between negotiating minor turf wars, I've enjoyed writing posts for two of my favorite blogs.
Thanks for reading Baby Toolkit!

Donderdag, 02 Julie 2009

Bang-on fireworks noise solution: Bop away the blasts

Ranger is no fan of fireworks. The sounds make him want to hide (which, when I think about it, is a perfectly reasonable reaction to explosions).

Last year, Uncle Punk suggested a novel diversion from the local pyrotechnics, even more loud noise. We cranked up the Ramones and danced until we were too tired to care what sounds might emanate from the neighborhood.

This year, we'll shake up the noisy playlist.

What loud kid friendly tunes do you suggest?

Sondag, 28 Junie 2009

Pillow Talk: Sleep Apnea

A few weeks ago, I was reminded of the small miracle presented by Jim's CPAP. Over a decade ago, a few years into our marriage, I thought I was going to lose my mind or have to move into a separate bedroom.

Jim snored the weird cadence of a malfunctioning buzz saw. While most spouses might respond with a gentle nudge, I would shove him until he moved into a non-snoring position. This happened dozens of times each night.

The biggest mystery was why Jim, for all his snore-generating behavior, was even less rested than me. He was disconcertingly falling asleep at stoplights and any time life paused into quiet.

I was showing the confusion and insanity of sleep deprivation and Jim seemed to have narcolepsy.

My dad noticed Jim falling asleep all the time and suggested Jim go for a sleep study. Our physician decided the same thing when Jim told him how he hadn't been sleeping well for a very long time.

The test results showed that Jim's constant morning headaches, dry mouth, snoring, and agonizingly poor sleep were all due to the fact he quit breathing regularly throughout the night. The constant struggle for air kept him from ever falling into a deep sleep while short periods of oxygen deprivation put him at higher risk for heart attack and stroke. It turns out that, shoving injuries were some of the smallest threats he faced.

Jim was placed on CPAP, and after finding the right mask, we both started getting real sleep. Jim said the first day after using his CPAP felt like recovering from a long illness.

Since Jim's diagnosis many members of his family have also been diagnosed with sleep apnea. It turns out their nose and throat structure makes them more susceptible to sleep apnea.

Very recently, Jim noticed a twenty-something friend falling asleep at a stoplight. After talking to Jim our friend was also diagnosed with apnea.

I don't think many people in our generation are aware of sleep apnea which is scary considering how it can contribute to heart attacks and strokes.

If your partner's snoring or gasping seems atypical, you should probably read Mayo Clinic's guide to sleep apnea (actual medical information written by professionals). Jim is happy to reply to comments or email. He is an apnea awareness evangelist since his diagnosis and treatment dramatically improved the quality of his life.

Donderdag, 04 Junie 2009

Look at You, Nancy Drew! Goody's ColourCollection Headbands

One of the great pleasures of visiting my grandparents' house was reading the old Nancy Drew books kept on a guest room shelf. Among her many virtues, the girl detective could really sport a headband.

I, on the other hand, either got crushing headaches or watched them slowly migrate to the back of my head throughout the day. Any attempt to change the band's backwards progression resulted in a faux bouffant that was anything but stylish (even in the 80s).

In college, I tried using scarves as headbands, but they too would slink off in the course of a few hours.

I gave up on headbands entirely, keeping one of each style in case I should ever foolishly convince myself that they would work.

When Goody offered to send some of their ColourCollection skinny headwraps, I was pretty sure that they would be another style to stick in my expanding box of rejects. The package of six came hours before game night, so I offered one to each of my five guests.

One mom immediately declared the headband too tight and handed it back to me within minutes.

Everyone else was pleased to try them.

Like the aforementioned friend, I initially found the headband snug. This isn't a surprise as my head is about an inch larger than most large women's hats. As the evening progressed, the accessory relaxed enough to accomodate, but not so much that it abandoned its duties. It was atually comfortable, but I suspected that pliability was a harbinger of future stretching. Over two months later, I realize those fears were unnecessary.

I wear one of the headbands daily, and it when it is not in my hair, I usually have it looped three times around my wrist.

My mom is happy as it is one of the first times she's not perpetually asking me to pull my hair out of my face. I'm happy because my hair doesn't blind me in strong wind or whenever I look down. The skinny headwrap also attracts compliments about my hair (to which I am rather unaccustomed); many people (included Jim) have complimented my recent haircut (last haircut was Dec. 2008) and my new style.

The headbands are inexpensive (6 for $3.99), so I don't worry if I lose one under the bed or in the car. Their elastic keeps them in place, so don't require much primping or attention.

One friend reports that her petite 8-year-old daughter often wears the headband. This friend's very gorgeous naturally curly hair pushes the headband forward on her, but she really likes using it looped as a ponytail holder.

Most of my friends still wear their headbands regularly. As for me, I'm planning on getting a new pack (in brunette) soon.

Fine print: Baby Toolkit received six promotional headbands ($4 value) from Goody. We have no undisclosed relationship with or financial interest in Goody Products, Inc.. We're not hair professionals (stop laughing, already); we're just geek parents with opinions.

Saterdag, 30 Mei 2009

Beautiful URLs: Some Favorite Links, May 30

Bewitching perspectives from around the web:
  • Handkerchiefs are pretty handy with kids, so I usually carry one or two in my bag. This easily folded doll (The Common Room) turns out to be their killer app for the Raptor. She loves to pull and chew on these little gals. I'm having trouble figuring out the guy instructions, so if anyone figures it out, please send me a picture.
  • Don't miss the opportunity to send your handmade doll to Casa Bernabe Orphanage in Nicaragua in Craft Hope's second project. There's still enough time to meet the June 13th arrival date, but the dolls will need to be in the mail soon.
What do you think? Seen any great posts lately?

Vrydag, 29 Mei 2009

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream Socials!

The timing on this is much like a pop quiz, but wouldn't you love to win a 100 person ice cream party for your neighborhood?

Don't miss tonight's 11:59 PM (ET) deadline, to enter Edy's Slow-Churned Neighborhood Salute.

In a 1 minute (or less) digital video or a short paragraph (350 word maximum), explain why your neighborhood or community group should win one of the 1,500 ice cream parties Edy's is giving away.

Sorry about the short notice. I kept forgetting to add this to earlier Beautiful URLs, but we both know you would have put it off until the last minute anyway.

Sondag, 24 Mei 2009

Beautiful URLs: Some Favorite Links, May 24

Look what followed me home from the Interwebs:
  • Princess pedestal: How many girls are on one? (AP) dicusses how some families have growing concerns about princess thinking in a turbulent economy. Though the Raptor is only 6 months, we make conscious effort not to call her angel or princess. Jim keeps talking to her about cryptography. Princess play will be fine here when she chooses it, but then she'll meet the real (hard-working, socially conscious) princesses (and queens) from The Daring Book for Girls rather than the Disney variety.
  • kidsbowlfree.com is a group of US bowling alleys offering kids 2 free games of bowling DAILY during the summer. This is the best deal for kids with bowling shoes (shoe rental is $3.75 here), it's a good deal even for a casual bowler (it's $4/game at our favorite alley). Register your kids online to participate. Want to bowl along with your kids? For $24 you can get a family bowling pass that allows two games daily (all summer) for an adult (additional packages available for 2, 3, and 4 adults). Thanks to Cara at Working Moms Against Guilt for sharing this program!
  • Want to watch an interesting nest from your living room? Jonah Lisa at the Toby Show is offering daily Nest Cam photos of a robins' nest on her beautiful Utah porch (I can see why the robins chose to build there). If you're feeling more like drinking from the visual information firehose, the Indianapolis Star has a live feed from a falcon's nest high above Monument Circle. This grittier feed (the birds brush against the lens) currently offers fluffy fledglings looking to leave the nest. If you want to know what's happening in the nest, just check out the falcons' blog. (via Indy citizen, weight loss blogger, and world traveler: Pasta Queen).
  • I dread the day naptimes end here. Muses of Megret brilliantly suggests making quiet time CDs to keep the natives peacable so caregivers can get a much-needed midday break.
What do you think? What posts have caught your imagination this week?

Sondag, 17 Mei 2009

Presence, Not Presents: Why We Throw No Gift Parties (& How)

Like many things in life, our no gift kid parties started with a simple decision, an agreement among friends.

Through a hospital-sponsored lactation group, I became close with 4 families who had infants born within a month of Ranger. A few months before their first birthdays, the older sibling of one of the 6 babies had a birthday party. One mom volunteered to organize a group gift for the birthday girl. At the party, we discussed the impending month of 6 birthdays.

Everyone agreed that 5 separate gifts for babies would be overkill as our kids could all anticipate more than enough presents from grandparents alone. Someone posed the question if we'd mind NOT giving gifts among the group. I was filled with relief. My days were still consumed with post-tornado, post-flood repairs and appeals to our insurance company; our nights, if it rained, were filled with basement leak management. Jim and I were exhausted physically and emotionally. The thought of finding 5 thoughtful, personal gifts with our then cash-poor budget made me queasy. My awesome friends all pledged not to give birthday gifts (because one gift makes everyone feel bad).

And we didn't. Which is impressive as we live in a place slightly above the Mason-Dixon line where gifts are a part of the convivial, generous culture. Instead, we found other ways to support and give to our friends. The question "What can we bring?" shifted into the gap that presents previously occupied. Outdoor parties were met with offers for bringing chairs and kids' picnic tables. One torrential evening I drove by the flooded shelter house where 3 families had scheduled an outdoor party for the following day. Within a few hours, I'd secured a couple offers for free use of indoor facilities. The next day, while parts of town were closed by flash flooding, we were eating an indoor picnic. We've all loaned decorations, brought food, and helped with set-up, tear down, and serving. One incredible mom made cakes for all the kids' first birthdays.

The parties rocked. Our kids got to play, relatives of the birthday child got to meet all the kiddos, and tasks tended to be lighter with plenty of good friends as willing helpers. There were gifts from the birthday child's families, but the non-birthday kids generally ignored the present-opening portion of the day.

More people joined the baby group, and we filled them in on the no gift agreement. Party attendance did not obligate anyone to invitation reciprocation or assistance with the event, so new families were free to conduct their own parties as they saw fit.

For the past 3 years different people have thrown parties. Sometimes we just celebrate with cupcakes at playgroup or doughnuts and carousel rides at the mall. Other times there are parties with activities and lunch.

For Ranger's third birthday, we raised the stakes. We threw our first actual party and broke all the expert recommendations by inviting oodles of attendees (over half of which were under 6). As our house is already bursting at the seams with toe-stubbers, this was our invitation:

No Presents, Just Partying.
There was some kerfuffle. We told everyone that the kids would have more fun without presents.

And we meant it. Before Ranger was born we attended a few kid parties where gift opening was part of the entertainment. The birthday kid unwraps an endless pile of gifts while the other kids fidget, envy, or fight over the new toys. The birthday kid is expected to respond appropriately with excitement and gratitude for each gift before it is snatched away and replaced with another package. Depending upon the party's adult leadership, the gifts are then put in protective custody (which tantalizes and torments other kids) or they are handed out for general use while the birthday kid keeps unwrapping (which tantalizes and torments the honoree).

Too many gifts arrive at one time, so a wonderful gift may get little notice. A lot of gifts may be last minute purchases and not particularly well suited for the recipient. The unwrapping provides lots of opportunity for awkward, uncomfortable moments.

It seemed far easier to omit gifts. Grandparents (who are unstoppable in their generosity) could give gifts at a quieter time when Ranger would be more likely to appreciate them. Other relatives were wonderful in helping prepare the meal and assist with the craft. This gave Jim and I much more time to play with Ranger and the other guests.

A few skeptics showed up with gifts, and those few gifts were discreetly set aside and opened after the party. We were sure to write thank you notes for those gifts when we thanked everyone who helped us with the party logistics.

Our party started at 10 AM, with lunch and cake around 11:30, but most people weren't ready to leave. We went back to dancing and activities until 2 PM. That is a long party, especially for kids around 3 years old.

AND NOBODY CRIED until it was time to go home. No joke. Over a dozen wee attendees and no tears. Lots of laughing, lots of dancing, some crafting, some block-building, and a fair amount of running, but no crying.

Many parents told me that they found the no present situation quite pleasant.

I feel like the party is a gift in itself, and a very special one at that. Friends and family gather to celebrate your existence, special foods are served, and everyone wants to have a good time.

When presents are introduced, a birthday can become judged solely on the gifts received. We want Ranger and the Raptor to grow up seeing the incredible wealth they have in the people who love them. We want them to understand that a caring community outweighs material desires.

For weeks Ranger talked about all the people who danced with him.

Attentive readers of this blog know I make a lot of birthday gifts (crowns and banners in particular), so how does that fit with a no-gift practice? I often give the crowns and banners before the actual event, and I usually give them to the parents. (FYI: There's no problem with spontaneous gift giving in our group.) That way the parents can decide if they want to incorporate the banner in the decorations or hang it over the breakfast table. Birthday crowns are sometimes worn all day (on trips to the grocery store, etc.), but more often become a part of the child's daily play. It's always a sweet feeling to see a crowned head round enter the room when visiting friends.

We do also attend gift parties to which we bring gifts (sometimes handmade, sometimes purchased). Our preferences and values are not those of every family, so we don't consider hosting no-gift birthdays a "free pass" to breech normal etiquette.

Now, I'm sure some readers are sharpening up their pixels to give me a list of reasons why this doesn't work in the real world, but it did. It was an advantage that my some of my friends had a pre-existing agreement, but they only comprised a portion (less than half) of the party invitees.

We'll post more about Ranger's 3rd birthday soon (before he turns 4), but the time seemed right for this topic now. Thanks to Thingamababy and Daddy Types for opening this interesting conversation.

What do you think? (I promise not to weep too copiously at any opposition.)