Sunday, December 21, 2008

Throw Your Name In the Hat

Two great non-toxic kiddo feeding sets up for grabs right now--one at The Soft Landing and another at Northwest Mom Finds.

Review: ReadKiddoRead

I know from our past talks that a lot of you are fellow bookworms. Bookworms who surround your kids with wonderful books and hope they grow up to share your passion for reading.

Author James Patterson is spearheading ReadKiddoRead, a new resource website designed to help parents like us find books our kids will enjoy. It's one of several of Patterson's efforts to promote the joy and excitement of reading--a cause I hadn't known he championed, but which I think is pretty cool.

As his son entered elementary school, Patterson noticed he didn't really enjoy reading. He had been read to his whole life and was learning to read just fine, but it wasn't a favorite activity. So Patterson and his wife went searching for books that they hoped would not only get their son reading, but help him fall in love with reading. The books featured at ReadKiddoRead are an expansion of that project, all selected for their potential to be so awesomely kid-friendly that they spark a lifelong love of books.

The site features a wide range of books for kids from birth through grade school. I appreciated the easy organization system, arranging the reviews both by reading ability and genre. The reviews are thorough and helpful and there are links to find the books at bookstores or your local library. For each one that gets a full review, there is a list of "If you love this book, then try..." suggestions, so it connects you with titles far beyond those featured.

As I was browsing the featured books, it occurred to me that ReadKiddoRead functions the way Amazon reviews would if we could only filter out everyone who doesn't know what they're talking about. (Seriously, am I the only one that gets led astray by Amazon ratings sometimes?) Here you will find not just which children's books are popular, but which are actually worth reading.

Most of the featured books are pretty recently published and I was initially disappointed not to see some of my favorite childhood reads. But many classics do pop up in the additional reading suggestions. And, really, a site that introduces me to books I didn't know about already is actually more useful than one which just lists my favorites.

I can tell that ReadKiddoRead is going to be a useful resource as my children move through the different reading stages--especially in finding books that generally appeal more to boys. I'm glad to help spread the word about it, because I hope it succeeds in its mission to introduce more children to the wonders of pleasure reading. Every kid who grows up to join our bookworm ranks is a thing to celebrate.

Sponsored by Mother Talk.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I *pink puffy heart* baby shoes

When Puppy was getting ready to walk, we lived in Southern California. So, like lots of babies in sunshine-y places, he went barefoot or wore soft leather-soled shoes. Just what the experts ordered!

But now we're in a much colder, rainier part of the country. I'm looking at Firefly learning to stand and thinking that those thin leather soles just aren't going to cut it on our wet sidewalks, wet park grass, wet get the picture.

Stride Rite was nice enough to send Firefly a pair of shoes from their new Early Walker collection to try to solve our dilemma. They are designed to bridge the gap between the baby booties and big kid shoes, when babes are starting to walk but not yet steady on their feet.
I admit I was skeptical that a rubber-soled shoe would meet my infant shoe standards. I'm incredibly a tad picky when it comes to my kids' shoes. But they totally did. The entire shoe is flexible enough that I can not just bend it, but crumple it easily with one hand. The bottom has enough cushioning to make walking outside comfortable, but is sufficiently thin that she will be able to feel the ground--important for babies learning to walk. Firefly has narrow feet and it's been difficult to find shoes don't slip right off, so I appreciated that I could cinch the hook and loop tab tight around her ankle. They're cute (a very important factor). And in a nod to the green movement, the outsole is made of 30% recycled rubber.

They are pricey, running about $45. Kids' shoes are one area where I think it's good to splurge for quality; I'd rather buy one or two pairs of well-constructed shoes than several lesser-quality ones. If the overwhelming pinkness of the "girl" line is not your style, check out the "boy" shoes, where there are a couple of cute gender-neutral options.

Friday, October 17, 2008


Lori and I joined up for something big and bloggy--and we've got LOTS of stuff to give away. Come join us!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Itty-bitty dining

When our son arrived, we lived in an itty-bitty house with an itty-bitty table filling an itty-bitty dining room. Our itty-bitty lifestyle ruled out a giant stand-alone high chair. We turned to the Fisher Price Healthy Care Booster Seat as a space-saver, but loved it enough to keep using it even after moving to a larger place.

It straps to most any chair, making it an unobtrusive addition to the room. Three leg settings let you adjust for the height of child and table. Use it as a high chair for a baby, then pop off the seat back to create a booster seat for an older child.

It folds compactly for easy toting to places afar (I know a family who keeps on in their car trunk so they're always prepared). Cleaning it couldn't be easier. No crevices or fabric to hide icky food and each piece is dishwasher-safe. (Or you can hose the whole darn thing down in the backyard after an especially messy interactive meal.)

My favorite thing about the Healthy Care Booster Seat? Because it sits atop a regular dining chair, my baby can have a place at the table with the rest of her family.

It may have a silly name, but it's easy to use, easy to clean and under $30. Gotta love it. is an affiliate

Monday, September 15, 2008


Oh, how I love the little Oball. The rarest of toys that can be enjoyed equally by infants and toddlers. It's become such a staple at our house that we now have three in varying shapes and sizes.

The open design made the first ball my infant daughter could hold and the easiest for my toddler son to catch. Nicely lightweight, it's become the only ball we allow thrown in the house. It's squishy, flexible, and virtually indestructible. Despite a couple years of frequent use, our Oballs still look as good as new. And to top it off, they're free of latex, pvc and bishpenol-a (BPA), and are dishwasher safe.

My son took his Oball to the babysitter's one day and it was an instant hit with the other kids. When I picked him up that afternoon, the sitter handed me money and asked me to bring two more back the next week. When someone who makes her living playing with children snaps up a product, you know you have a good find. is an affiliate

Friday, September 12, 2008

Baby gift for a book lover

A onesie marking your baby as a "Future reader" from the Penguin Group. This is a great item to have on hand for as a quick baby gift. Bundle it with copies of your favorite children's books to create a thoughtful present for a bookworm. (They seem to run small, so you might want to order up a size.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Never be caught without a clean bib again

I have two simple rules for being out and about with babies: be prepared and carry a minimal amount of gear. Balancing those two rules is the tricky part--but it can be done.

A key weapon in our diaper bag arsenal is a set of Kipiis Bib Clips. Just clip on a napkin or towel (I've even used a burp rag), adjust the straps to fit and--voila--instant bib! When mealtime is done, there is no dirty bib to cart home. Toss the clips in your bag and you're ready for the next messy activity that comes your way. And they're colorfully cute, to boot.

Our Kipiis never fail to get covetous looks when we pull them out at restaurants or playgroup. I haven't seen them much in stores, but you can always purchase them online at the Kipiis site or Amazon. And you can usually find someone selling them new on eBay with free shipping.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Slings up for grabs!

Simple Things has been hosting a Babywearing Bonanza featuring various babywearing businesses and charities. She's done some interesting interviews and introduced us to some great organizations. But the best part? She's giving away several babywearing items, including a Sleepy Wrap, Slingling pouch, Posh Papoose ring sling, and Peekaru vest. The giveaways are still open to entries until next week, so if you're a babywearer--or considering becoming one--be sure to throw in your name.

Monday, August 25, 2008

I Was Worth the Wait

A simple onesie and hat set that says it all. The perfect shower gift for your friend who braved infertility or adoption on her way to motherhood. Let her know you noticed all she went through even as you're celebrating what lies ahead.

(Uncommon Goods does a nice gift wrap, too.)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Crayons on the Go

I'm always keeping an eye out for small items to stash away as birthday/big brother/big sister/holiday gifts. Handmade items are especially great, as you can find many unique toys that a family is unlikely to already own.

One that I recently picked up was a doodle caddy from Etsy store Blossom Toys. Eight crayons and a small pad of paper ready to roll up and toss into a purse or diaper bag for amusement anywhere. I liked its compact size (about 4" x 6" when folded) and fun retro prints. The pad is a standard size that will be easy for parents to replace.

For an even better bargain, the Feather Hen shop offers a similar crayon tote for less than half the price, but with fewer fabric choices. Older kids might appreciate Creative Keiki's colored pencil version.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Mangoes Made Easy

My two-year-old adores mango. Me, not so much. I hate the time-consuming, awkward slicing process that inevitably leaves me with a sticky, messy pit with a lot of wasted fruit still attached.

Until I found the Oxo Good Grips Mango Splitter. I admit to giving a skeptical eye roll when I first saw it. Does the world really need another overpriced, single use kitchen gadget? Probably not, but it's been a brilliant addition to our kitchen just the same. It's the perfect solution to the problem of how to cut a mango without the mess.

It works just like an apple corer/slicer. One quick push and you have two clean halves ready to slice or dice. It's that easy. If you start with a ripe, firm mango, there is almost no mess. Significantly less fruit goes unused, which does my frugal heart good. And we eat a lot more mangoes now, which makes for one happy mango-loving toddler.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Batik for Baby

At an art festival earlier this summer, we stumbled upon the work of contemporary batik artist Lisa Telling Kattenbraker. Her whimsical, richly detailed batiks were both gorgeous and (quite understandably) way out of our price range. Happily for us, she also offered affordable giclee prints in a number of sizes. They came nicely matted and ready for framing.

We picked up this print for our daughter's bedroom:

This one I plan to send to my sister-in-law for her birthday, if I can part with it:
There were so many I loved that it was hard to choose:

It is so pleasurable to walk into my daughter's room and see original (or, as in this case, close to original) artwork than a generic piece from a giant retailer. It reminds me of the sunny afternoon when we purchased it, chatting with the artist as the baby squeaked in her carrier.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Hide Those Dirty Diapers Away

One of the tricky parts of cloth diapering is figuring out what to do with the dirty diapers when you're away from the house. More than once in the early days I found myself stuck in a public restroom with a freshly changed baby in one hand and a poopy diaper in the other. Not fun.

Some families reuse plastic shopping bags or ziploc bags, but they can be leaky, smelly, and pile up quickly in the trash. A better solution is wetbag: a washable, waterproof bag. If you ask me, one of the best wetbags out there is the Happy Tushies Wonderbag. It has two separate waterproof sections, so you can stash clean diapers and wipes on one side and dirties on the other. Once zipped shut, it keeps out all leaks, dampness and odors until you're safely at home. We've even stored diapers in it during a weekend trip and the waterproof lining never failed.

Wonderbags come in three sizes (mini, regular, large) with scads of fabric options for the outer shell. We carry a mini Wonderbag in the diaper bag (about 8" x 9"--holds one diaper in each pocket, although I've stuffed in two before). We use a large Wonderbag for daycare (about 13" x 13.5"). One pocket easily holds a day's worth of clean diapers, and the caregiver simply fills the other pocket with dirty diapers as the day goes on. Its snaptab loop makes it easy to hang out of the way on a doorknob.

After two years of near-daily use, our first Wonderbag is still in excellent shape. Now that we've entered the transition from diapers to toilets, it's finding new use as a carrier for the inevitable peed-on outfits. It also comes in handy for carting home wet swimming suits and towels from the pool.

As friends switch over to cloth diapering, I always point them towards the Wonderbag. A Happy Tushies Wonderbag makes cloth diapering away from home a breeze.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

"The Maternal is Political"

I first realized something had changed after Hurricane Katrina. It was just a few weeks before my son was born. Because it was an adoption I was not yet his mother, but the possibility was close enough that it was beginning to affect me. I was watching something about the hurricane's aftermath on television, feeling a familiar sad frustration, when an image came on of an older man slumped in a lawn chair where he had died, probably waiting for help. The thought flashed through my mind, "That man was somebody's son," and for the first time I understood what people meant by that. I sat and sobbed as the human cost of injustice hit me in a way it never had before.

That moment was when I began to understand that becoming a parent wasn't going to just change my daily schedule, but also something fundamental in the way I viewed and moved in the world. It's not that I was apolitical before; a concern for social justice is central to the practice of my faith. I can't think of a major political position of mine that has changed since I became a parent--I believe the same things, fight for the same causes, support the same movements. But the place those beliefs come from within me has shifted. The clichés about leaving the earth to next generation seem quite profound to me now.

Motherhood introduced a new complexity to my attempts at living justly. I constantly debate the line between passing on my values and imposing beliefs. I hesitate to use my kids to make a statement, yet see that choices I make on their behalf already are statements, from our choice of schools and neighborhood to our identity as a transracial family. I fret over the compromises that pile up as we make those choices. I feel unable to actually make a difference when so much of my time is focused on the minutia of feedings and potty training and building block towers. And I wonder if other women feel those same tensions.

So I jumped at the chance to be part of the MotherTalk blog tour for The Maternal is Political: Women Writers at the Intersection of Motherhood and Social Change, a new anthology edited by Shari MacDonald Strong (one of my favorite Literary Mama columnists). It is full of essays from women asking--and answering--those same questions. The essayists mentioned on the cover read like a laundry list of my favorite authors (Anna Quindlen! Anne Lamott! Barbara Kingsolver!), plus I discovered some familiar internet reads inside. I picked up this book to leaf through it and instead read and read. Then I stopped to take care of my kids. Then I read some more.

It's been awhile since I've felt so renewed after reading a book. Divided into three sections--Believe, Teach, and Act (my favorite)--the forty-plus essays address the anger, empowerment, fear, courage and hope that come with being a conscious mother. Each writer provides an intimate look into how motherhood affected her relationship to the larger world and gave new meaning to choices that once seemed only personal. There are stories of women finding the courage to protest, a young single mother's push to finish college, a mom fighting the effects of racial inequality in the classroom. A powerful essay on raising sons in a time of war and Anne Lammot's piece about voicing her pro-choice views among fellow Christians especially hit home for me.

My only disappointment was at the mothers who weren't represented. For instance, we hear from an employer witnessing the effects of immigration policies on her nanny, who left her own child behind to work in the U.S., but not from someone in the nanny's position. There is an adoptive mom considering the politics of international adoption, but nothing from a woman who placed her child for adoption. The rest of the collection was so strong that the missing voices like those stood out.

(One other note to potential readers: if you were happy with the results of the 2004 presidential election, this may be a difficult read for you. The writers are openly progressive or liberal, which was fine for me because those are my people. I know that there are many women with political views on the opposite end of the spectrum who act from the same place of maternal passion and whose statements would be equally powerful; this just isn't a collection of those.)

I am glad this book came together right as our country faces important questions about what kind of force we want to be in the world and how we want to treat one another here at home. It is an inspiring collection of words from women who understand that we have the opportunity, as the final essay states, to "agitate and march and advocate from a deeper place within ourselves than we had known existed. It is possible that we will act from that cavity our children have hollowed out of us, that place where breath begins."

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"Healthy Child Healthy World"

It's not something I talk about much--ever, really--but I live with a chronic pain condition. I doubt most people in my real life notice how it affects me in ways both small and large. But because it was likely caused in part by environmental factors, I'm daily reminded of the long-term effects of our increasingly toxic world.

I was raised a basic-level environmentalist in the recycling/conservation sort of ways. But my diagnosis and the havoc it wreaked with my fertility made me determined to go further to create a safer environment in our home once I became a parent. Doubly so now that I have a daughter, who I hope will grow into a strong, healthy woman. How do I give her the best chance of escaping some of the issues I've faced?

I've been piecing together research and making incremental changes since Puppy was born, mostly in some of the easier areas: cloth diapering, using safer cleaning products, reducing certain types of plastics, using no-VOC paint, selectively buying organic food items. But I've really wanted a more comprehensive approach to what we can do to reduce our exposure to environmental toxins.

Enter Healthy Child Healthy World: Creating a Cleaner, Greener, Safer Home by Christopher Gavigan, CEO of the non-profit advocacy group Healthy Child Healthy World (formerly CHEC).The book is broken down into specific areas (pregnancy, cleaning, food, beauty products, children's products, yards, water/air, pets, home improvement, activism). Each chapter discusses potentially harmful chemicals and contaminants and suggests ten practical steps you can take to make your home safer.

Written in an accessible, sound-bite style, the book is a fast read. Gavigan is determined to keep readers from feeling too overwhelmed, so doesn't spend much time on the research behind the suggestions. He breaks things down into achievable steps and offers alternatives when the best practice (like buying all organic kids' clothing) will probably be too expensive for most. The separate tips that seemed to pop up on every other page were a little distracting, but usually useful. My favorites were some of the "recipes" sprinkled throughout for everything from homemade air freshener to finger paint. There are also some good checklists designed to be copied and cut out as quick references for things like natural cleaning options or which produce is best to buy organic.

Much of the information I had seen elsewhere (a lot of it at the Healthy Child website). But it also highlighted some areas I hadn't yet considered (like simple steps to improve the air quality inside our home). T and I started talking last night about some of the suggestions for keeping our yard chemical-free. And I've already found myself using some of the tips, like the one for remembering which plastics are safer. I like having it all in one book I can pull off the shelf whenever I have a question, like the child rearing books I reference when my kid comes down with a rash or runs a fever. Having read through it once I definitely see myself coming back to certain sections as I make purchasing decisions. If the mark of this book's success is how much it is used in the reader's daily life, then it's off to a good start in our house.

The book is full of testimonials from celebrity parents about how they've replaced their carpets with bamboo flooring and give organic crib mattresses to all their friends. They're touted on the cover and I think they're supposed to engage readers, but frankly they annoyed me. They broke up the flow of the text and after awhile I realized I'd process the core content of the book better if I just skipped them. I like reading People magazine as much as the next person, but I'm not about to look to random celebrities for advice. I would have much rather seen profiles of regular folks from a variety of economic backgrounds. What choices do different families living on a budget make, how do they prioritize? Also, the frequent mentions of certain brands and the shopping guide in the back--although useful for finding green products--made me wonder about possible product placement. But both that and the celebrities can be fairly easily ignored.

Don't expect an in-depth look at the research about environmental toxins, although this book does point to some websites and books where you can find that information. But if--like me--you're already convinced about the dangers and want a comprehensive look at practical steps you can take at the household level, Healthy Child Healthy World is an excellent place to start.

This review is part of a Mother Talk blog tour. Head there to read what other bloggers thought of this book.

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