Thursday, October 21, 2010

Frugal / Retro / Ecologically Correct Cleaning Supplies

Lemon juice
White vinegar
Baking soda
Bon Ami
Barkeeper's Friend
20 Mule Team Borax
Washing soda
Soap flakes
Dr. Bronner's
Dove bar soap
Neutrogena glycerin soap
Kirk's Original Coco Castile Bar Soap
Rubbing alcohol
Hydrogen peroxide

Friday, October 15, 2010


Which building block sets produced by the German toy company Haba (or Habermaaß) are the best value? I came up with a list of the most popular basic sets of Haba building blocks, and figured out the per unit price. (This list doesn't include any of the specialty architectural sets, just the sets that the average enthusiastic parent would buy for his or her kid.) The conclusion of the price survey is that the smaller sets with the most unique or complicated elements are the most expensive. The simple block sets are the least expensive. Unusually, buying a set with a larger number of blocks does not decrease the per-unit price.

* Haba First Blocks, $32 for 6 blocks = $5.33/block

* Haba Patience Blocks, $15 for 3 blocks = $5/block

* Haba Discovery Blocks, $28 for 6 blocks = $4.67/block

* Haba Pixie Blocks, $20 for 7 blocks = $2.86/block

* Haba Kaleidescope Blocks, $36 for 13 blocks = $2.77/block

* Haba Clown Blocks Large Set, $44 for 41 blocks = 93c/block

* Haba Building Blocks Extra Large Starter Set, $110 for 102 pieces = 92c/block 

* Haba Clown Blocks, $33 for 28 blocks = 85c/block

Haba Colored Building Blocks, $36 for 30 blocks = 83c/block

Haba Baby's First Blocks, $15 for 12 blocks = 80c/block

* Haba Building Blocks Large Starter Set, $90 for 60 blocks = 66c/block

Haba Building Blocks Starter Set $40 for 26 blocks = 65c/block

Total number of blocks: 334, total number of blocks = 499, average price of block = 66c/block
"Paper Versus Plastic," or Pre-Motherhood Presumptions Versus Motherhood Reality, Infant Toy Edition

WinkelBefore I had my kid, I was positive that my little darling would only play with wooden toys that had been lovingly whittled by Alpine dwarves.

Then I actually had a kid, and discovered, when they are very young, babies do much better with plastic toys made from petroleum products that club baby seals and contribute to the Great Pacific Trash Patch.

Of course, the paper/wood versus plastic debate is much more complicated than "natural" versus "unnatural," so guilt isn't necessarily required, but in case a rationalization of plastic is necessary, here are my pragmatic reasons for preferring plastic toys in many cases, and why I haven't looked back.

SkwishPlastic toys are both lighter and less dangerous. Very small babies can't really hoist any kind of substantial wood rattle, and it's hard to find ones that are even small enough for baby hands. Plus, as my mother so wisely pointed out, when they're young, babies hit themselves in the face with everything. They just don't know any better.

So as much as I love Manhattan Toy's Skwish in theory--it's a beautiful, entertaining, intelligently designed open-ended toy--it wasn't the right purchase for our baby at three months. For a new baby, Manhattan Toy's Winkle is a much better choice!

Fisher-Price Rock-A-Stack
Melissa & Doug Rainbow StackerAnother example of where organic wooden toys lose out to good ol' American plastic, at least when it comes to entertaining the littlest patriots, is the plastic Fisher-Price Rock-a-Stack versus the wooden Melissa & Doug's Rainbow Stacker. Back before I actually had a kid, when I was insisting on natural materials only, I ordered the Melissa & Doug Rainbow Stacker, even though I'm not a fan of M&D toys as a rule (I find many of them to be cheaply made).

We got the classic Fisher-Price Rock-a-Stack as a gift when Jackson was born, and I remember scoffing a little. "Plastic! Look at this silly thing with the ridiculous foil shiny thing inside the top ring. They couldn't even make it a real rainbow, they ruined it putting those dumb little balls in the top half of the red ring. And why does it rock?! What kind of ridiculous popcorn-button-on-the-microwave unnecessary extra feature is that?" 

Of course, six months later, the Rock-a-Stack is the undefeated champion of playtime, and the Rainbow Stacker sits unused in the closet. Jackson loves the balls in the red ring, he likes to make it rock, he can actually get the rings off and play with them, and I don't worry one bit when he teethes on the fat, squat, yellow ring-holder-thingy in the middle. The rings on the M&D stacker, on the other hand, are heavy and hard for him to lift and manipulate, the red ball rolls away (and reminds me of a scary clown nose), and I'm always worried he's going to gag himself when he tries to chew on the tall, skinny wooden stick in the middle. The Rainbow Stacker might be a great toy for a three-year-old, but it's not a good fit for my baby at this stage. 

Plastic wins again!

Sassy Simple Fascination Station
Once I accepted that plastic is not just OK for the baby, but very possibly better in some cases, I found that I was particularly enamored of a lot of pieces from Sassy Toys. They're seemingly well-made, and if nothing else, they're very well marketed to the high-strung mama who wants her kiddo to have the most highly developmental toys. (Not that mama doesn't know perfectly that her kid, and most kids, would have just as much fun playing with an old toilet paper roll.) 

Our favorites items so far from Sassy are the Ring O' Links (I'm also thinking of getting the Bright Starts links, to see how they compare), the so-called Fascination Station, which keeps Jackson busy in his high chair for long stretches, and their penguin-fugu-whale-Nemo-mysterycreature baby bath toys. (On the other hand, Jackson is largely uninterested in the Sassy Ring Rattle and the Sassy Spin Shine Rattle. He's just never liked holding them or inspecting them.)

Sassy Ring O' Links Rattle Developmental ToyThe links (more on those later, because they are excellent) and the high-chair toy, on the other hand, positively fascinate him.

What are your favorite plastic baby toys? And/or your favorite demolished pre-mother assumptions?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Unsolicited Advice for New Moms

An acquaintance I know from work is about to have her first baby. I sat down to email her a couple bits of advice and ending up saying quite a bit. I thought I might post it here for anyone else who's about embark on this adventure.

• If you're planning to breastfeed and you have any problems at all, run do not walk to your nearest Pump Station (one on Wilshire in SM and one in Hollywood on Vine). They are superheroes and they will save you if you need saving.

• If you have any real questions about the baby's health, well-being or medical anything, almost every answer you could possibly hope for is in Dr. Sears' Baby Book. It was of great comfort to me in the early weeks, and still is, and I got rid of virtually every other baby guide, just because they got ignored in favor of Sears! I also like his breastfeeding book, but really, if you have any breastfeeding problems at all, go to one of the new mom breastfeeding support groups at the Pump Station. The first one is free and they rock.

• For the first few weeks, write down every pee, poo and feed. If you are like most new moms, you will not be able to remember anything for more than 20 seconds, much less 20 minutes. Having it all written down is a tremendous help.

• If you don't have one already, consider getting a sling, even just one of the really simple New Natives ones, which are great for newborns. Being able to have your hands free and/or go to the bathroom while keeping the baby calm and hopefully asleep is a tremendous relief.

• When the baby is ready to start "playing" in a couple weeks, the Winkel and the O-Ball are great for tiny little hands.

• Watch a swaddling video online now, because it's harder than you'd think, and newborns love it, so you will love it. YouTube has lots of good ones. Experiment with different blankets. The Swaddle Designs flannel blanket was our favorite, but every family and baby is different.

• If you're planning to breastfeed, set up your "nursing station" before the baby comes home. You'd think the nursery would be the priority, but most of your first weeks are consumed with feeding that kid and he won't be on his own in the nursery that often (sadly for your and your sleep schedule), so it's great if you have it all set up with a comfy chair, blanket, nursing pillow, shelf for snacks and water and the remote control or a book.

• If you're bottle feeding (either formula or expressed breastmilk), don't buy 100 of one kind of bottle right away. Buy one at a time, make sure baby likes and isn't choking on too-fast-flowing a nipple, and then if you find one you like, then invest in multiple bottles.

• Take a bunch of different outfits to the hospital. You never know how big or small the kid is going to turn out, and different clothes size in different ways.

• Take a baby nail clipper to the hospital in case he already has long nails when he's born. They scratch themselves and you just feel so bad.

• Regarding labor, I don't know what your birth plan is, but if I ever have a second kid, I'm going to take an electric heating pad with me to the hospital. They brought me disposable heat packs and did this microwaved blanket thing, but the heat always dissipated eventually and I wanted it back, because heat was the best thing (except for running water or a bathtub) for pain relief.

• You will know contractions when you feel them. You'll have little menstrual cramps in the days leading up to your due date, but when you feel your first real contraction, you'll go, "Oh. So that's what they were talking about." I can't quite explain the difference, but they are different. (IMHO.)

• Our birthing class lady said to bring little gifts for the nurses, just to butter them up, and I didn't do it to save money, but after having been through labor, I really wish I had. A good labor and delivery nurse is one of the greatest blessings you will ever have. Flip side: If you don't like your nurse, send your husband to the desk, and ask for her to be switched out for someone else. Do not worry about hurting her feelings or not being nice. You are about to go through the craziest thing a woman will ever go through, and you deserve to feel comfortable and supported.

• When you're at the hospital, don't be afraid to ask people to come back later. There's a constant revolving door of people coming to check on you, and you are entitled to some alone time with your new family, and with the exception of maybe the blood pressure checks or whatever, everything can wait a couple of hours!

• Take a million pictures and videos. It goes by in a flash. As they say, the days are long but the years are short. (I can't believe mine is already six months old and ready to crawl. He was just born!)

But mostly, good luck and HAVE FUN. It's the coolest thing you will ever do.

Now, fellow mamas (and papas!), what's your best piece of advice and/or default baby-shower present for new parents? Would love to hear from you!

RELATED POST: "Paper Versus Plastic," or Pre-Motherhood Presumptions Versus Motherhood Reality, Infant Toy Edition