Archive for the ‘Stuff I Like’ Category

Since we’re raising a child in the digital age, and since he already knows how to navigate an iPad (don’t judge me on that one until you read my upcoming post on tech in our house), we like to make sure he has plenty of low-tech stuff to play with. Stuff he can be creative with. Blocks, vehicles, stuffed animals, yadda-yadda. But he didn’t have any play food, which a recent Parents magazine article singled out as a great toy for fostering creativity.

Here let me pause to say that yes, I do read Parents. Rather, I skim it and shake my head at the articles about insanely elaborate decorations for a one-year-old’s birthday party. And pieces about using navy blue eyeliner to make yourself look more awake. But they do run useful pieces like the aforementioned one on raising creative kids.

So off I trotted to Toys R Us. Once I located the play food (with the help of a sales gal — it was my first time there and my head couldn’t handle the onslaught of fluorescent lights and bright colors and brand names), I picked out something that looked fun and took it home.

The Boo loved the tiny frying pan and spatula, but he nearly bit through the sausage. The plastic was so thin I could dent it without much effort, which did not bode well for its life with a toddler who’s currently growing molars. So the set went back to the store and I came home empty-handed because they didn’t have anything that looked sturdier. Or maybe they did and I just couldn’t find it because holy cow, the number of things in tightly packed aisles. That place mussed my aura worse than the grocery store, know what I’m saying? Too many choices. Why do we need that many kinds of cereal? Or tiny Dyson vacuums? Yeah, they make tiny Dysons. Chew on that one for a bit, let me know how it sits with you because it gives me shpilkas in my genecktazoink.

Okay, I’m back now.

At home, I dug out the magazine that had spawned the quest and noted the brand they recommended: Learning Resources. And that, friends, is what I bought. It ain’t the cheapest, but the pieces are very sturdy and shockingly pretty and they offer a bunch of different fun sets.

I chose one with a mix of fruits and veggies and minimal junk food (because my kid already loves potato chips, thank you Daddy!) that came with a couple of baskets (because our space is small and I am a Virgo). My only beef with the set is that the baskets aren’t quite big enough to fit all the food in at once, but the Boo doesn’t care about that. He happily dumps them out and refills them over and over. He also adores making sandwiches and offering me bites of cookie.

And it’s not hard to pretend it’s a good cookie, either:


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I am lucky enough to belong to the kind of book club that is more concerned with food and wine and friendship than books and the intense discussion thereof. We’ve been meeting for long enough that we’ve developed our own traditions, one of which is the baby book shower.

When it was my turn, I was delighted to receive a small library’s worth of road-tested baby and children’s books. Many of them have become favorites (of both Baboo and mine), and Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton is currently in heavy rotation at nap times.

The concept is simple:


The theme continues apace on the next spread:


It goes on from there, the turkey reliably providing comic relief to the earnestness of the elephant, moose and bear. In the middle, the rhythm is broken so that the parent doing the reading doesn’t fall asleep. Conveniently, this switch-up also keeps the baby engaged. “What will come next?” the baby thinks. “Will we return to the 1-2-3 oops form, or move on to something even more exciting?”

Both, little reader. Both. After a spread discussing the various colors of shoes favored by plump animals, we get the big payoff:


Baboo likes to hear about the bathing costumes of the animals watching from the side of the pool, so we discuss that before noting how silly that turkey is. And that’s what I really love about this book: Despite the simplicity of the idea, there’s quite a bit to discuss beyond colors and items of clothing. Also, it’s just funny — a definite parental bonus when you’re reading to an overtired toddler.

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Recently a mom-to-be asked for my opinion on baby gear must-haves, so without listing the obvious (crib, stroller, car seat) and without further ado…


– This is a double-edged sword, but: A video monitor will both ease your mind and make you stare at a tiny screen for hours because sleeping babies are CUTE! We have one from Summer Infant, and a backup one for travel (and just in case) from Levana. The resolution on the Summer Infant one is better, but the other one shows the temperature in the room and acts as an intercom, nightlight and lullaby player. And now some feed the image to your phone.
Because there are so many, with varying features, I’ve found a review of the top picks for you.

– A Pack-n-Play with a bassinet attachment or inset; we have a pretty standard Graco one. Some people use it in lieu of a bone fide crib, and it works well as a travel crib. It’s also a great place to park a kid when you need to brush your teeth/take a 3-minute shower/breathe for a few minutes (I still use it this way). Baboo slept in his until he was 4.5 months old, when he started sleeping in…

– A swing. It’s somewhere safe and happy for the baby to hang out, and if they have trouble sleeping, it helps immensely because it makes it earlier for them to handle the transitions between sleep cycles. Baboo slept in his for a few months. Look for one that folds easily so it won’t be a pain to move or store.

– A floor gym is great as a place to park very young babies and is designed to make tummy time more fun. ‘Cause heads up: Most babies hate tummy time.

This version of a Boppy pillow is a nice cozy place to park newborns, and our boy loved to sleep in it.

– An umbrella stroller is great if your primary stroller is a tank like ours. Much easier to travel with, maneuver in stores, and pop in and out of the trunk.

– A white noise machine will mask household sounds and approximate the soothing sounds of the womb. Ours has six sound loops, lets you hook up an iPod if you want your own music, and has a nightlight, which is handy for nighttime changes and feedings (low light means baby stays mellow and goes back to sleep quickly).

– An infant carrier like Baby Bjorn or Moby. Great for walks as well as soothing a fussy wee one by carrying him. Go look at them before picking one — we had a Bjorn and it was kind of complicated to use, and could only be worn on your front. And still, I used the crap out of that thing.


Sophie. She’s cute, babies love to gnaw on her, and she makes a great squeak (which you’ll want to disable if you have dogs).

– Books:

    For you

, The Baby Whisperer by Tracey Hogg is a really sensible approach to dealing with babies and their sleep issues. Baby 411 is comprehensive, reassuring, and crammed with common sense. We called it our Bible in the early days.

    For the wee one

: Classic baby books like Pat the Bunny, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Goodnight Moon are classics for a reason. Buy them or ask for a baby book shower. This finger puppet book is engaging for very young babies (we started with it at 6 or 8 weeks). Locally, the Missouri Botanical Garden carries the whole series; we have Little Fish and Little Bee.

– A lovey, meaning a small stuffed animal without stuff the baby can pull off and eat. I believe the professional term is “transitional object.” You’ll want this when the baby turns six months old and can safely sleep with one. We have this bear, and we bought a backup in case of loss, and so we can wash one when the other becomes too drooly or soiled.

– A projection mobile. Ours has a detachable canopy, and the baby still mellows out to the light show on the ceiling as he falls asleep — and chills out to it when he wakes up.

– A low-tech mobile to hang above the changing table. It was amazing to see how early Baboo noticed it, and he still loves it.

– A small lamp with a 4-watt incandescent bulb. (Dimly lit 3 a.m. feedings tend to help the baby go back to sleep faster and easier.) A standard nightlight would work, or you can look for something cute to make things more fun for you.

– A bottle warmer. My older brother insisted we needed one, and when we suddenly had to start the kid on formula at a few weeks old, it beat the hell out of running downstairs to microwave water to warm the bottle while the baby was screaming.


– Either kimono-style shirts or long-sleeve Onesies, about six, in each of several sizes (meaning six in Newborn, six in 3 Months, etc.). People will give you all kinds of cute clothes, but the basics are what my kid lived in most of the time.

– A couple of idiot-proof swaddlers like this one (receiving blankets never stay tight enough).

– At least three zip-front sleeper PJs (snaps become unbelievably complicated at 2 a.m.). Again, worth getting in several sizes. Babies can grow fast.

– Dreft, for washing all those adorable clothes and blankets for the first few months.


– A Diaper Genie, duh, and at least three refills.

– Several kinds of diaper cream (you and the baby will have your preferences), tons of wipes, and more diapers than you think you need. (Running out to the store all the time will suck for a few months.) You can set up regular deliveries of these and other baby staples through Amazon Mom if you can stomach their labor policies.

– A contour changing pad, so you can set up a remote changing station. This was a life-saver when I had an unexpected C-section and had to restrict my stair-climbing. Changing the baby’s diaper was one of the few things I could do, and was actually, weirdly, a nice way to connect with him. We kept a bin of changing supplies in the living room, and he slept on the changing pad in the very early days. Don’t forget to get a few covers for it (though bath towels work just as well).


– Housecleaning services. I wished I’d had someone handling this for the first six months.

– Blackout curtains for the nursery and your bedroom. You will need to sleep during the day and so will the baby. Target has cheap ones in a variety of sizes. At the very least, get a good sleep mask for yourself, and earplugs so you can really disconnect and rest when someone else is on duty.

– Pacifier tethers. First for pacifiers, then for clipping little toys to the baby, the stroller, the carseat….

– A good pair of rubber gloves, for washing bottles in scalding-hot water.

– Aquaphor or Neutrogena Hand Cream for your hands (you’ll be washing them after every diaper change, and you’ll be doing that roughly eight times a day…).

– Infant Tylenol and Ibuprofen. (Running to the store when the kid is sick will suck.)

– Nail clippers and an instant-read thermometer (not the in-ear kind, which is not as accurate).

– Unscented or all-natural baby wash, shampoo and lotion or oil. Weleda makes a great calendula oil that I love for baby massages, and the Aveeno line of eczema products is great. For bubble baths, the California Baby line is really nice, too.

– Snacks. You might be too tired to eat a meal, but a granola bar? No problem!

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I could talk about inner and outer journeys and kick-ass writing and laughing and crying, but here’s all you really need to know about this book:

Wild by Cheryl Strayed is so good that I finished it instead of napping on a day when the baby was teething and I had cramps.

If you want to read a real review, this one is darn good.

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When Baboo was five weeks old, my Aunt Su from Kalamazoo (her real name) came to visit. She’s been involved in the healing arts for at least three decades, so when she offered to teach me a few baby massage strokes I was all, Hell yeah!

Every night since then (with the exception of a few nights right before Christmas that were nutso), I’ve given the baby a full-body massage as part of his bedtime routine. I talk to his body parts as I go, thanking his legs for carrying him everywhere, praising his chest for being so strong, telling his hands they did a great job grabbing stuff all day.

Even when he’s flailing and goofy instead of blissed out, even when he’s so overtired I only do his legs for a couple of minutes, it’s often my favorite part of the day because of the depth of the connection it brings us.

On Aunt Su’s recommendation, I use Weleda’s calendula baby massage oil, part of a line made for babies that’s full of skin-soothing calendula (a type of marigold). It’s mostly sweet almond oil, it’s all-natural (and made in Switzerland where that actually means something), and it smells fabulous. All of which means I have no qualms about using it on Baboo even though he’s had a touch of eczema from time to time and we’re under orders to use only unscented shampoos, soaps and lotions on him.

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One of the first books I remember really enjoying was a grade-school-level biography of Florence Nightingale. It covered her service as a nurse in the Crimean War, and as I recall, it was kind of gory — or at least, that’s how I remember it. But that could also be the Geraldo Rivera book about survivors of awful plane crashes and natural disasters that I sought out not long after.

This early fascination with medical issues is now focused on Baboo. I’m not obsessive about it, just very interested in understanding the mechanics of teething and speech and movement. For the latter, one of my favorite sites is The Physical Baby.

It’s written by an early intervention physical therapist and infant massage instructor who explains things like why tummy time is so important and what to do if your baby is having a hard time batting at toys. The tone is professional yet approachable, and I always learn something interesting from her posts, like why a baby’s feet move so much when they’re just sitting there (it has to do with the difficulty of isolating muscle groups).

She also covers topics like which toys are worth buying from a physical development perspective, something I appreciate. And she’s very responsive to questions posted on her Facebook page — a great boon if you’re worried about something your baby is doing (or not doing).

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I have a few key ploys for keeping Baboo (not his real name) happy while I cook or do dishes or one of my 88 chores in the kitchen/dining area where we spend a LOT of time. Chief among said ploys: Fun stuff on the fridge.

We had a few magnetized containers I felt were safe for him, so those have been up for a while. But I wanted something more fun and baby-friendly. After a brief Internet search I settled on these, from Geomag:


They’re meant as a farm animal play set, but they work really well as fridge magnets. The animals are soft molded rubber, so they’re nice for the baby to both grab and gnaw on. They’re made in Switzerland, and with European baby safety standards being what they are, I know they’re safe for him.

The rubber animal parts fit around magnetized balls, and they’re not that hard to pop off, which ends up providing more entertainment for the wee one. They come together to make free-standing toys, too, so he can play with them as he grows.


Bonus features: I can use them to teach him animal noises, which he thinks is hilarious.

They seem to be carried at quite a few places, and of course, Amazon has them.

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Years ago, I found this recipe in some magazine. I can’t remember which one, and I know I’ve modified it, so I’m claiming it as mine. And sharing it with you.

The most awesome thing about this fruity, warmly spiced sauce is that it’s so simple that you can make it while soothing a teething baby. (The only sauce that’s easier is Mama Stamberg’s, which is also excellent in its own way.) The second most awesome thing about it is that it freezes incredibly well.

Happy Holidays a little early!

Cranberries a la Dean

1 bag cranberries, washed and picked through (discard the mushy ones)
1 ripe pear, washed and cut into 1″ dice (doesn’t need to be pretty)
1 sweet apple, washed and cut into 1″ dice (again, no need to be picky with the dicing)
Zest and juice of one orange
1 cup sugar
1/2 t. each ground ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg (if you hate nutmeg, maybe throw some allspice in instead)

Combine all ingredients and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until cranberries are all popped and smushy and sauce has thickened (about 30-49 minutes). Taste and add sugar if needed. Cool and enjoy with turkey, beef, potatoes, or soy-based meatlike products. Or heat and enjoy over ice cream or vanilla cake.

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Rough Stuff

One day not long ago I realized the backs of my hands resemble the scratchy part of Velcro. Which would be okay except that there were little red fissures forming on my knuckles. I was all like, what the Hell, and then I thought about the beginning of a typical day:

6:00 Wake up, pee, wash hands, make coffee
6:15 Shower, apply makeup, wash hands
6:30 Eat breakfast, noodle around on iPad, wash hands (because that thing never gets washed)
6:45 Refresh coffee, wash hands, make and warm bottle
6:55 Scratch butt, wash hands (Come on, I’m not the only one. And at least I’m hygienic about it.)
7:00 Feed and change baby, wash hands
7:30 Change baby (he’s a morning pooper, yay), use hand santizer, carry baby to pack-n-play, wash hands (Yes I know that’s overkill, but how can I touch my baby’s morning-fresh outfit with even a trace of poo on my hands?)

Mystery solved. I cast about the house for something to slather on between my approximately 500 daily hand washings and found this:

It came from an impulse buy bin at Sephora years ago. It’s basically petroleum jelly, random oils and rose water, but you know what? It’s working. And it smells nice. You can get some here if you like. I’m pretty sure Sephora still has it, too, but I can’t go in there to check for you because I always get sucked in by the 800 colors of eyeliner that I’ll never use.

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A fever dream of a book, and a soothing classic.

It’s a classic, without a doubt, and I love it. But Goodnight Moon has some seriously weird stuff in it.

– There’s a tiger-skin rug in the bunny’s bedroom. What, did they inherit it from Great Uncle George Bunny, the famous adventurer?

– What are they thinking, raising cats? It’s only a matter of time before those adorable fluffballs become vicious bunny-eaters. Although they appear to be pygmy cats — compared to the old lady bunny, they’re bitty little things. Maybe that’s why they’re not worried? Regardless, they’re totally slacking, letting that mouse roam free. At one point it’s eating the baby bunny’s mush, and those cats are busy staring down the old lady bunny. They’re all like, “Thanks for warming up our seat, lady! Now skedaddle so we can hop up there and plot our takeover!”

– How can the old lady bunny knit without thumbs?

– Why would rabbits need mittens? Or socks? Or a comb? A brush, sure — I can get behind that, but a comb? Come on.

– The socks disappear every time there’s a close-up of the mittens. Who’s taking them away and putting them back?

– Goodnight nobody? Isn’t that a little high-concept for toddlers?

– The book on the baby bunny’s nightstand is Goodnight Moon. How can he be in the book, and have the book? Is it like that scene in Chinatown, maybe? He’s in the book. He has the book. He’s a character. He’s a consumer. He’s a character AND a consumer!

– That’s a mighty big bed for just one little bunny.

– Why is the old lady bunny whispering “hush” even though the baby bunny is completely silent? Seems unnecessary — unless he’s the one saying goodnight to everything. But even so, she commences hushing before the goodnights start.

– Everything after “And goodnight to the old lady whispering hush.” is overkill.

In short, with all due respect, I suspect Margaret Wise Brown was smoking opium when she wrote this, and then gave some to Clement Hurd (the illustrator). But I really do love it. Ooh, maybe that’s why I love it!

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