Category Archives: Products

TV for Toddlers? (Or, why I love the Roku)

TV for toddlers?Roku3

In our case, it’s a YES.

A Yes that we are aware of the “no screens” philosophy.  A Yes that as first time parents, our toddler likely watched less than 80 hours of television during his first three years of life.  And a Yes that we have now loosened the reigns, and allow him to watch (probably way too much) more.

And, after much indecision, a HUGE Yes to the Roku 3 and the Roku Streaming Stick.

Until 6 months ago, we enjoyed the granddaddy of cable packages with DirecTV.  Truly – more channels than we could ever watch nor even want.  Once the kids went to bed, we would flop on the couch in our zombie-like state, and flip through channel after channel, staring at (but not really watching) the screen.  Trash reality TV for me, cheesy sci-flicks for the hubby, and international home buying programs for the both of us.  Fun stuff.

Alas, our contract was coming to an end and in our new spirit of minimalism, the price increase was steep.  In fact, the price we had already been paying was steep.  Considering the fact that with two young kids, our time spent watching television had dwindled to mere minutes a day, it just didn’t make sense.

But we hemmed and hawed.  We were not the Cable Cutters type!  That seemed a bit extreme.  Hippy-ish.  Tree-Hugger-esque.  Millenial-like.

But the savings were attractive.  I’m talking over $100 a month.  Plus it might be cool to put our super high-speed ISP to the test.

So we bit the bullet and cancelled, ultimately opting for the Roku 3 as our replacement.  We looked at Apple TV, Fire TV, and Chromecast but a few things about the Roku 3 stood out.  First – it’s performance.  They’ve been doing this a while now, and have got the speed and issues mostly figured out.  Apple and Fire were still a bit buggy, and Chromecast doesn’t really achieve the same purpose (although it is definitely the best choice for screen mirroring and casting).  Secondly, I am not completely committed to the Apple eco-system, which would have made it tough to go with Apple TV – especially considering the fact that their programming was much more limited than Roku.  Where it got difficult was deciding between the Roku 3 and Fire TV.  Because – unlike with Apple – I am completely committed to the Amazon eco-system.  I am a happy (make that thrilled) Prime member, I spend a significant portion of my shopping dollars on their site, and I simply love their Kindle Fires for media consumption.  At first blush, Fire TV was the leader of the pack.

But it was still so new.  We could live with that, but there was one thing we couldn’t accept.  Amazon’s Fire TV didn’t have a clean option to display Prime titles on the device.  In other words – we couldn’t search or filter by Prime only.  WTF?  Free media content is one of the best things about our Prime membership, but to not allow filtering capability on Fire TV basically eliminated the edge that Amazon had.

Fortunately, Roku DOES provide Amazon Prime filters.  And that was the tipping point.  We purchased both a Roku 3 for the living room and a Roku Streaming Stick for the bedroom.  Difference between the two, you ask?  Really not much.  I do think the Roku 3 is marginally faster (although not enough to really notice unless you were comparing the two); and I like that it allows for an ethernet connection – an option we do take advantage of.  But if you have a strong wifi signal throughout the house, save yourself the $50 and get the stick.  An added bonus is that the stick is portable – plug it into TVs in hotel rooms, friends’ homes, etc.  Easy peasy.

Both units come with a separate remote (different than the Chromecast, which uses your phone as the remote), although you can download the Roku app for your phone/iPad to control the device that way.  The remote is nice and surprisingly easy to navigate.  I had been worried about typing out titles in the Search box, but it is quick and easy.

Set up took all of 5 minutes.  Plug it in, enter your network details, and wait for the initial load.  Boom – you’re ready to go.  Begin adding channels offered on the device and also do some Google searches for the so-called “Secret Channels” you can add as well – there are hundreds if not thousands; something for everyone.

What about the paid channels?  In our case, we already had a Netflix subscription at $7.99/month, so we kept that.  We also already had an Amazon Prime membership, so kept that.  The only paid channel we added was Hulu Plus, at a cost of $7.99/month.  Not sure if we really needed it, we took advantage of the 3 month trial and found that we did like the programming offered.  Even better, new episodes of popular shows become available the day after initial broadcast, so you can stay current with all your faves.  The downside is that there are commercials.  BUT there are only 1-2 commercials at a time (rarely 3) between segments, far fewer than regular television.  You can’t fast forward through them, but we don’t really mind.  It is not as big a deal as we had anticipated.

Between the three paid channels, the additional free channels we’ve selected, and some of the secret channels we’ve added, we don’t feel as if we’re missing much.  The only exceptions for us would be HGTV (we are admittedly a bit obsessed and Hulu Plus doesn’t yet offer the shows we’re most interested in), certain sporting events, and some local programming.  As far as the sporting events and local programming go, we have been able to mitigate much of that impact by purchasing a Mohu Leaf 50 Indoor Antenna, which picks up over 250 additional channels in our area.  Well worth the extra cost.  So overall, I would say we have replaced about 95% of what we would normally watch – at a savings of over $100/month.  Definitely a good trade-off.

Now – how does this all relate to our toddler?  As far the TV-sphere goes, we have realized some amazing unanticipated benefits of making the switch:

  • No Commercials.  Let me repeat: No Commercials (exception being, of course, Hulu Plus).  This isn’t about us worrying about our toddler’s impatience as 30 second ads flicker across the screen… It is about zero marketing.  No commercials for toys, movies, sugary cereals, junk food, or annoying cartoon characters.  Nothing for him to ask for, beg for, throw a tantrum for, or to even realize is available.  It is wonderful.  We select a show, he watches the show, and all is good with the world.
  • The free channels alone have more childrens’ programming than we could ever want or need (I’m talking to you, PBS Kids).  Free TV!
  • When we want something different, Amazon Prime and Netflix both offer a plethora of shows just for kids.  Seriously – anything that anyone could ever want.  And again: No Commercials.
  • There are many shows that are less than the standard 30 minutes slotted for regular television programming, and they tell you how long the programs run upfront.  Shows for 6 minutes, 12 minutes, 8 minutes.  This is great for us as we are in the midst of potty training, and unabashedly using the TV as the mega-award for going #2 in the potty.  Since mega-award doesn’t mean I want him plopped in front of the TV for 30 minute intervals at a time, it is great that I can select a short cartoon of 7 minutes to reward him and then move on.
  • Control.  The ability to truly control what he is watching.  With traditional television, you’re pretty much stuck with whatever they’re broadcasting at the time you start watching.  But with the Roku, we consciously pick everything we and the children watch.  Which means there is no more mindless vegging in front of the TV.  And, for the toddler, means that I can at least try to select the most educational options available.
  • Wifi issues.  I know this doesn’t sound like a perk, but hear me out.  Until we connected our living room Roku via ethernet (using Powerline – which I highly recommend as long as you remember to encrypt it), we were having some intermittent wifi issues in that dead zone area of the house.  Definitely annoying.  But our son, not knowing any better, began to simply accept that sometimes “the TV is not working.”  And move on.  Yes – a toddler – accepting and moving on.  Suffice it to say that that since we have picked up on this, there may be times we use this to our advantage… “sorry Honey, the TV is not working right now….”
  • The other cool things you can do with the Roku.  We’ve downloaded our Pandora stations (including the kiddie stations, which the boys love), our YouTube channels, and other media for a more personalized experience.  It’s nice to have everything consolidated in one place on the “big TV”, leading to more than just television watching.

So for all these reasons and more, I give an enthusiastic Thumbs Up to the Roku (the 3 or the Streaming Stick).  More conscious television watching, limited to no marketing, a personalized media experience, and a significant cost savings make for one happy mama – and little guy.

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Top 8 Favorite Baby Products (9-12 Months)

So it’s been a while since I’ve blogged, but I have excuses!  Halloween, Vacations, 1st Birthdays, Thanksgiving, OH MY!  And with my son’s 1st birthday, I realized that it’s time for another edition of my favorite baby products, this time for the 9-12 month age range.

  • Radio Flyer Classic Walker WagonI realize that there are a ton of walker products on the market, but both my son and I adore this one.  It is well-made and the perfect size for him.  He loves placing his toys into the wagon and then zooming it all around the house.  He’s even been caught pushing our little dog in the wagon as well!  I appreciate the bumper, so that as he is crashing into the wall, the slider, the furniture… there is no permanent damage.
  • Munchkin Inflatable Safety TubProbably the best $10 I’ve spent in the last few months.  We don’t use this daily, but we did bring it with us on a recent trip to Hawaii.  Since it’s inflatable, it packed easily.  Once we arrived, we inflated it, and then our son bathed happily in the little clean baby tub vs. the condo tub with who-knows-what-germs lining it.  An added bonus?  It suctions to the tub floor to prevent slipping.
  • Baby Spring Float Sun CanopyAnother item purchased for our Hawaii trip, this turned out to be another favorite.  Deflated, it folds and packs nicely in a small circle.  Inflated, it is the perfect float for our son.  He sits comfortable inside, shaded by a canopy, and well supported in the water.  He had a ball splashing and kicking as we floated him throughout the pool.
  • Melissa and Doug Longfellow GiraffeThis plush toy is my son’s BFF.  Seriously.  He carries this thing everywhere and I don’t think can sleep without it (I’m not brave enough to attempt to try).  Quality materials, can stand up to rough kid play, and a long body make it easy to drape over himself and the crib.  Easily drag-able all over the floor, and I had no problems throwing it in the washing machine (although I read, too late, that it is supposed to be surface washable only).  Cute little guy – and always puts a smile on my son’s face.
  • Embark Midsize CoolerUntil recently, I was able to go out and about with just a few bottles and maybe a tiny bit of food – and the chilled bottle bags I had were perfect for that.  But once my son transitioned to sippy cups and bowls of food, there just wasn’t enough room.  I was literally walking around with a baby bag + TWO bottle bags to fit everything.  Enter this well-priced cooler.  Now I can fit everything into one bag – cups and bowls of food along with bibs and spoons in the outside pocket.  Up to a whole day’s worth of food, milk, and water!  I’m even able to throw in a snack or two for myself.  I also purchased some refreezable ice sheets and use those to line the cooler and top whatever I pack – and it works great!  Even better, the hard plastic liner is removable, which I prefer, as it allows me to fit more in.  Perfect size and easy to clean.  Highly recommend.
  • Kiscords Baby Safety Cabinet Lock LatchYes, we are at the age of babyproofing.  And no, we are not even close to being done.  What we’ve found throughout this process is that a lot of so-called babyproofing items are simply junk.  We went through two separate sets of safety cabinet locks that we ended up throwing away.  One was nearly impossible for adults to open/close, and the other broke as we were putting them on.  That’s why I’m so glad to have found these.  They are simple, cheap, and they WORK!  Difficult enough that a baby can’t get them open, but quick and easy enough for an adult to loosen and open when needed.  And aesthetically – they don’t look nearly as bad as some other items I’ve seen.  An easy purchase.
  • Table Topper Disposable Stick-On Placemats:  Eating out is an entirely new experience now.  My son actually sits in the high chair, wants to look, chat, touch, and generally just make a big mess.  We learned quickly to distract him with pieces of cut up banana.  What I couldn’t stand, though, is the fact that those pieces would inevitably get all over the germy table (who knows how well those things are cleaned) and ultimately end up in his mouth.  I was complaining to our nanny about it, and she suggested these disposable placemats.  They’re great!  We now stick them on the table and litter them with banana slices and puffs.  He can grab, slide, and push food around to his little heart’s content before shoving it into his mouth.  An added bonus is clean-up: after several restaurant outings ending with me moistening napkins to clean up the mess my son left all over the table, now I simply unstick the placemat, fold it up, and throw it away.  What could be easier?
  • Brica CoverGuard Car Seat Travel ToteWe have the Britax Advocate 70-G3 Convertible Car Seat, and love it.  It is sturdy, secure… And massive.  Great for safety, not so great for traveling.  So as we were planning a vacation involving airports and rental cars, I started looking at options for actually transporting the thing.  That  is when I came across the Brica carrier.  The Britax Advocate 70-G3 fits nicely within the tote – a definite plus because most travel bags cannot accommodate this particular seat.  It also has shoulder straps so that my husband can wear it comfortably like a backpack.  Before gate-checking the bagged seat, we even had extra room on the seat itself to throw in jackets, blankets, etc. before zipping it up.  And upon our destination arrival, the seat was delivered unscuffed and unscathed within the bag.  I’m not sure how we could have managed the car seat without it.

Any products I’m missing?  I’m sure I could write a lot about the products I DON’T like.  😉  Next list of product reviews will be ready around the 15-month mark!

Car Seats

Car seats… Another area of interest that I have completely over-researched and over-analyzed.  What type?  What brand?  For how long?

I wasn’t always this way.  Before I had my son, I simply counted on Amazon reviews to select a good infant car seat.  Well, that and the reviews listed in Baby Bargains (a wonderful guide, by the way, that I was gifted by a parent already in-the-know).

I ended up with a good infant car seat.  The Graco SnugRide 30.  And two bases, one for each vehicle.  No complaints.

But now I look back and am shocked that I took such a casual attitude.  Trusting that all infant car seats were “basically the same,” I paid surprisingly little attention to additional safety and convenience features.  Don’t get me wrong, the Graco SnugRide 30 was a good seat and served its purpose, but going forward I committed to myself that I would put more heart into my decision.

So once my son grew out of his infant car seat (at nowhere near the 30 lb. weight limit but rather the height limit, as is usually the case), I went on a mission to find the absolute best next step in convertible car seats.  Armed with knowledge from Consumer Reports, car seat safety groups, and parents, I narrowed it down to two.

  1. Diono Radian RXTThree things about this seat really stand out to me.  First, it safely seats children up to 45 pounds.  Most, if not all, other car seats go up to a maximum of 40 pounds; and it is widely known and documented that rear-facing is by far the safest position to seat a child.  Secondly, it’s built with a steel alloy frame.  Given the choice between a plastic or aluminum frame and steel alloy, which would you choose for safety??  ‘Nuff said.  And finally, it is crash-tested up to 35 mph.  U.S manufacturers are only required to test up to 30 mph.  Even though that 5 mph difference doesn’t sound like a lot, it is significant in terms of additional force and impact upon a crash at that speed.  This convertible car seat seemed like an easy choice.
  2. Britax Advocate 70 GSI had the opportunity to check this seat out at a local store, and was immediately impressed by a few things.  First, it is large.  Not good, perhaps, for a small hatchback, but it just LOOKS sturdy and substantial; much larger than its competitors.  Secondly, the seating bucket is deep.  The child sits within the seat and is surrounded by protection.  And finally, the additional side impact protection in the form of external energy-absorbing cushions is said to decrease side impact crash energy by 45%.  45%!  That’s huge.  So another solid choice.

So what did I end up choosing?  Well, BOTH.  Allow me to explain why.

After a lot of back-and-forth, I initially ordered the Diono Radian XRT.  I received it and it was SOLID (and heavy).  I was very pleased with my decision.  But then we went to install (in the center rear-facing position).  And ran into some hiccups.

The Diono Radian XRT is not overly easy to install.  In fact, it took my husband and I quite some time reading and re-reading parts of the manual to ensure that we were doing it right.  Ultimately, we were able to get it in with the help of some instructional videos on You Tube.  It was indeed narrow, as advertised, and for those with three children, you could definitely fit three in the back seat.

But we couldn’t drive!  Both the driver and passenger seat had to be pushed so far forward that it would be difficult to drive any more than a few miles in that position (the car we installed into was a 2012 Hyundai Sonata).  Fortunately, Diono recognizes this issue and has a solution in the form of a $10 Angle Adjuster (basically a wedge that sits under the seat to make it more upright).  Unfortunately, that adjuster cannot be used until the child is at least 12 months old.  For the record, we did take a few short trips with baby in tow to try out the comfort level… I made it 2.3 miles without complaining.

Then we strapped our son in.  Again: the Diono Radian XRT is not too user-friendly in this regard.  Once we got him in and had to tighten the straps, we were instructed to pull DOWN on the slack and in short motions (tug tug tug vs. the long smooth pull that is required for the Graco and other car seats).  Perhaps this would be easier in the forward-facing position, but when the seat is rear-facing, it’s almost impossible to properly pull down in a tug-tug motion to tighten the straps.  It can be done, of course – but with some effort.

Once he was in, he was happy enough.  I think he appreciated being able to look out the windows.  And since the Diono Radian XRT has a low profile, I imagine that it would be easy for him to climb in and out on his own once a bit older.  But, to me, he appeared to be too exposed.  In other words, almost his entire head and body protruded from the seat vs. being cupped within the seat, like he was sitting on TOP of it vs. WITHIN it (how an adult sits).  Perhaps this is more my perception of safety than anything else, but I would prefer that he remain more cupped by the seat at this age.

Based on these reasons – and primarily the fact that we knew it would be unrealistic to drive long distances with the Diono Radian XRT sans Angle Adjuster in the back seat – we decided to also purchase the Britax Advocate 70 GS (we do have two cars, after all).

Upon receipt of the Britax Advocate 70 GS, I was able to compare the two seats side by side.  The Britax was definitely cushion-ier than the Diono.  It just looked more comfortable.  It was lighter (although it has integrated steel bars, the entire frame is not steel like the Diono’s is).  And the seat bucket was deeper.  We decided to install it.

Installation of the Britax Advocate 70 GS in the center rear-facing position was a BREEZE after our experience with the Diono Radian XRT.  It was intuitive, the instructions were easy to follow, and we had it firmly installed in no time.  One tiny feature of the seat that I think is very thoughtful is a pocket in the back specifically to store the instruction manual (since I am a person who frequently loses instruction manuals, I very much appreciate that the Britax’s will always be exactly where I need it).

Even better, it fit perfectly behind the driver and passenger seats in the same 2012 Hyundai Sonata.  No need to move either seat up!  And with a bit of space to spare (and yes, this was in the fully reclined position, as instructed by the manual).  We can drive in comfort!

That said, the side-to-side spacing was not so generous.  Those external side-impact cushions really do take up a lot of space.  You definitely could NOT fit three Britax Advocate 70 GS seats in the backseat of a car.  You couldn’t even fit two side-by-side.  It’s either one in the center, or one on each end.

Now we buckled our son in.  It was more difficult to get him into the seat because it sits up higher (be mindful of bumping your child’s head on the car ceiling while attempting to get them in).  I imagine this would also make it more difficult for him to climb into the seat once he is older.

But buckling him in was so much easier than it had been with the Diono Radian XRT.  Instead of a near-impossible downward tug-tug-tug motion, we were able to simply pull the strap smoothly in any direction and listen for the clicks as it got tighter and tighter.  It definitely resulted in fewer tears for him and less frustration for us.

And then once he was in, he was CUPPED by the seat – exactly what I wanted!  The downside is he can’t as easily look out the windows (he would have to lean forward), but the upside is that he is completely enveloped/protected by this seat.  I was a happy camper.

So which do I ultimately prefer?

Both.  That’s right, both.

The plan is this: for now, while our son is a bit smaller, we are going to use the Britax Advocate 70 GS.  Then, once he outgrows it in the rear-facing position, we are going to switch to the Diono Radian XRT to continue to 45 pounds rear facing.  Then will continue to use the Diono Radian XRT in the forward-facing position until he outgrows the seat/booster completely.

I realize that this is not the most cost-effective option (these seats ain’t cheap!) but it’s the one I am most comfortable with.  And that’s priceless, right?

Top 8 Favorite Baby Products (6-9 Months)

Welcome to the third edition of My Favorite Baby Products!  My little one keeps growing, and we keep buying (I suppose this is what they meant when they said that kids ain’t cheap).   Following are my personal favorites for the 6-9 month age range.

  • Tommee Tippee Explora Li’l Sippee Trainer Cup:  We have tried every sippy cup on the planet.  Okay, that’s an exaggeration.  But not by much.  They are all wrong for oh so many reasons.  The ones with the hard plastic or silicone nipples don’t work.  They are not comfortable for the baby (a pretty rough transition from a soft bottle or breast nipple), and they encourage chewing chewing chewing of the nipple.  Others with softer nipples are TOO spill-proof.  Meaning, they are so airtight that it’s nearly impossible to suck that water out.  I can barely do it – and only after an inordinate amount of effort.  The other types with the soft nipples are easier for baby… But a MESS for mommy.  So I finally realized I needed a sippy cup with a soft nipple, easy flow, and some sort of anti-spill mechanism.  Tommee Tippee fits the bill!  Plus it has a nice shape and handles that are easy for my son to grasp.  Highly recommend.
  • Step2 Push Around BuggyI don’t know what it is about this toy that makes it so much more exciting than a regular stroller, but my son is absolutely thrilled to ride this.  As soon as he gets on it, he grabs onto the steering wheel and quickly begins rocking his little body back and forth in an attempt to make it go.  When I push him, he screams in delights, waves his arms, and reaches for everything we pass.  A smile is plastered all over his face literally every minute he’s on this thing.  Each time we are out with it, a passerby will stop and laugh and comment on our happy baby.  Needless to say, this a huge hit, and I would have purchased it sooner had I realized.
  • LeapFrog Learn & Groove Musical Table:  This is more than just a toy, as it’s teaching him how to stand and balance.  He’s also learning cause and effect:  pull this to hear that, or open this to hear something else.  He is really intrigued with this and I love watching him trying to stand and balance himself on it while reaching for the different buttons and pulleys.  Nicely, the music and words it plays don’t seem nearly as annoying as some other toys we have.
  • BubblesOkay, I know not really a single product, but I had to add it to the list.  My son is crazy for bubbles!  I only found out by seeing him absolutely mesmerized at Gymboree every time the bubbles come out.  He just can’t get enough.  He reaches for them, holds them, pats them, and claps and squeals every time he sees them.  In fact, he is much more enamored with the $3 bubbles I bought than the fancy-shmancy talking music player.  I suppose it’s the little things.
  • North States Superyard PlayardI know what you’re thinking.  I had the same thought too.  Put my kid in a pen??  Like a dog??  No way, not gonna happen, not in my house.  Yet… We broke down and got the pen, er, playard.  And am I ever glad we did.  Our house, you see, is open concept; great for entertaining, horrible for kids.  On the main living floor of our house, there is literally no way to gate off separate rooms or areas!  So we were setting the baby into the high chair or the bouncer just for a few minutes to get things done.  Poor little guy.  We figured it was time to give him some more space.  This pen is wonderful.  We bought a $19 thick rug at Big Lots to line it, put in his toys, and he is as happy as can be to roll, crawl, and play.  It’s a pretty sizeable pen, and I appreciate the fact that there is a muted color option (our house is already beginning to resemble a circus as it is).  There is room for the entire family to spread out and play in it, including the dog!  I imagine as he hits the pre-toddler stage, we will need to buy some more extensions to make it a bit more bigger, but for now it’s great and allows my husband to continue procrastinating on the baby-proofing.
  • Contours Lite StrollerWho knew that strollers were such a booming business??  There are strollers for every style, budget, and personality.  It’s mind boggling!  Even we have no fewer than 4 strollers for a single 9-month-old baby.  And which one is our everyday favorite?  This one.  It is light light light (can easily throw into car trunks), folds quickly, and is a mere $65 vs. the several-hundred-dollar models.  Rides smoothly, steers easily with one hand, includes a large umbrella cover, and has a HUGE lower basket which is perfect for baby bags, groceries, and a little dog.  Also reclines easily and includes a removable 5-point-harness, which was especially important to me when he was younger.  A great buy and wonderful stroller!
  • Tuffo Water-Resistant Outdoor Blanket with Carrying CaseI have to give credit to our nanny for this great recommendation.  I guess she was tired of having to line up several tiny baby blankets to sit on at the park, then washing them over and over to get rid of the grass stains.   Now with this blanket, there is plenty of room for the entire family to sit, it is water-resistant, and cleaning is a breeze.  Add to the mix the convenient carrying case (to clip onto the Mommy Hook on your stroller), and this is the perfect blanket for a picnic or day at the park.
  • Infantino Cart CoverI’m already a germaphobe (think: knuckles on elevator buttons and paper towels to open public doors).  So when I had my son, my germaphobia went through the roof.  I heard the horror stories.  My baby caught mono from a shopping cart!  Hand, Foot, and Mouth disease from a restuarant tabletop!   And I wanted no part of it for my son.  I admit that I have shied away from even putting him into a shopping cart or restaurant high chair for the sheer fear that he may touch an uncleansed surface and contract some horrifying disease.  That’s why these cart covers are so ingenious!  Now I can safely sit him into a shopping cart and a restaurant high chair with no fear that he is going to touch something he shouldn’t.  It even has a little belt and loops upon which to hook his favorite toys.  Fluffy and soft too.  Baby likes it and so do I.

So there you have it.  Now time for me to start thinking through the 9-12 month list (really??  Already almost 12 months??)

Top 10 Favorite Baby Products (3-6 Months)

Now that my little one has hit the 6-month mark, I have a whole new list of favorite baby products from the 3 to 6 month time period.

  • Baby Brezza One Step Baby Food Maker:  I’ve just started my son on solids, and this device has worked miracles.  Allow me to explain.  I never set out to make my own baby food – but after checking out all the options on the market, I simply decided that I wasn’t overly thrilled with any of them.  So then I had to overcome my next challenge: I CAN’T COOK.  (Seriously.  Throwing a frozen pizza into the oven presents me with a myriad of challenges).  So if I was going to go the make-it-myself route, it had better be E-A-S-Y.  I checked out the Baby Bullet and other like devices, but the big issue for me was the number of steps everything took.  First I would have to chop the veggies.  Then I would have to steam the veggies (either the old fashioned away or by purchasing a separate steaming device).  Then I would have to puree the veggies using the Baby Bullet or like device.  Then clean-up.  Call me lazy, but that’s just too many steps for me.  Enter Baby Brezza.  This device handles the steaming and the pureeing ALL IN ONE.  So now I can buy organic fruits and veggies from Whole Foods, chop them (or for time-pressed folks like myself, buy them pre-chopped), dump them into the Baby Brezza, press a couple of buttons, and VOILA: 15-25 minutes later I have a BPA-free canister of fresh homemade baby food.  Miracle accomplished.
  • Fisher Price Luv U Zoo Jumperoo:  My baby absolutely loves this contraption.  His face lights up whenever we carry him over to it, and he can happily bounce and turn and bounce some more for up to a good hour (even crying when being taken out).  We actually got it for him a couple of months ago.  At that point, he was too short to touch the floor (we used a stack of three books), but he still loved it.  Mommy and Daddy weren’t quite as enamored, however, because he hadn’t yet figured out how to bounce himself – so guess who was stuck sitting there bouncing him.  Fun for a while, yes, but not practical if you’re setting him into the seat to get a quick chore or two done – especially since any attempt to stop bouncing him would result in wails.  But now – we love it.  He can self-entertain and we can get a few dishes washed or pieces of laundry folded.  And he loves the toy attachments; he reaches for the hanging toys and spins the rattles.  I especially like that while HE is mobile, the toy is NOT.  So once he’s set into it, he’s not going anywhere until we take him out.
  • Fisher Price Space Saver High Chair:  My house has begun to resemble a Chuck E. Cheese with all the toys, bouncers, playpens, and swings laying around.  The last thing I needed (or wanted) was another huge apparatus in the living/dining area.  I was so happy to hear about this space saving high chair through a friend’s recommendation.  It snaps to any chair with a skid-resistant bottom and back strap, has a 5-point harness, a dishwasher-safe table, and a table that is latch-able and releasable with one hand (while the baby is in the other).  And my son gets to sit at the table with us while we all eat.  An added bonus – it’s cheaper than most standalone high chairs (and more portable should that need arise).  For us it was a no-brainer.  We love it and so does our messy eater.
  • Munchkin Shampoo Rinser:  What’s that saying – It’s the simple things?  While this is a simple thing that helps oh-so-much.  It’s a soft/flexible shampoo rinser, just as its name indicates.  WHY do you need this?  Because it is so soft that it will mold to your baby’s head – which means that you can tilt your baby’s head back, press this towards the top of his forehead (where it will bend and give), and then rinse his hair without getting any water in his eyes.  I like that it’s big, holds a lot of water, and has a one-piece design.  Nice added convenience for bath time.
  • The Mommy Hook:  Now why didn’t I think of this?  My nanny actually told me about it.  It’s simply a hook that you can quickly hang on the handlebar of your stroller to carry diaper bags, grocery bags, purses, etc.  So handy!  If considering, you may want to check out Home Depot first – I hear they have hooks that are the same idea and design, but for almost a third of the cost.  Either way, a great and useful idea.
  • HALO Sleepsack:  Once we stopped swaddling our baby, we started looking for alternatives to help him stay warm at night without keeping loose sheets or blankets in the crib (a big no-no for SIDS).  Now we love HALO Sleepsacks.  We zip them up right over his long-sleeved onesie (or PJs, depending on temperature) and he is good to go for the night.  They do a good job of keeping him warm but not overheating him (also a concern for SIDS).  We have both the cotton and microfleece versions and alternate depending on season.  They are roomy and the sizes are big enough that you won’t be using one size bracket up within a few weeks.
  • BOB Ironman Running Stroller:  Prior to purchasing this stroller, we had been gifted a Jeep All-Terrain Stroller.  The Jeep stroller is great for its own purposes, but we incorrectly and dangerously assumed it was a running stroller.  Although we did notice that the front wheel swiveled, and that sometimes the stroller seemed unbalanced when jogging up or down hills, we didn’t have anything to compare it to so thought this was normal.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, in our case), one day the front wheel exploded when filling it with too much air.  That prompted us to search for a replacement wheel, which prompted us to review the Jeep website, where we were horrified to learn that this particular stroller is NOT meant for jogging and should never be used for that purpose.  We immediately went on the search for a stroller that IS meant for jogging, and came across the BOB Ironman.  By no means the cheapest jogging stroller, for us, it appeared the best.  It offers a fixed front wheel (which we learned was far superior in safety to a swiveling wheel when running), easy-to-operate hand and foot brakes, a safety strap, and a surprisingly smooth ride.  There is even a small basket where our little dog rides during our runs (spoiled, I know).  Our baby is still in his infant car seat, so we also purchased the Infant Car Seat Adaptor which provides a reassuringly secure fit (unlike our other stroller which relies on a strap and a balance on the tray).  Finally, my husband also purchased the Handlebar Console which is a negligible convenience for carrying bottled water and zipping up your keys and wallet.  All in all, a pretty pricey package, but well worth it if you’re an avid runner (as this stroller is rated up to 70 pounds).  One of our best purchases that we utilize almost daily.
  • Aveeno Baby Lotion:  After trying almost all different baby lotion brands packaged in cute pink and blue bottles, I could never seem to get rid of the red bumpy rash my son would always get.  I knew I had to moisturize, but I was pretty certain that the moisturizers themselves were causing his rash.  My pediatrician’s wife recommended I try Aveeno Baby.  WOW.  Within a day of using it, his rash completely and permanently cleared up.  It’s rich and creamy with a pleasant scent, but not the harsh perfumy scent of the other baby lotion brands.  I will be sticking with this one.
  • All Free & Clear Laundry Detergent:  After getting caught up in the hype of Dreft baby detergent (which granted, is an excellent detergent), I couldn’t justify the premium cost on an ongoing basis.  So I decided to test out a few other brands.  BY FAR, the best I have found for my baby’s sensitive skin is All Free & Clear detergent.  And at almost half the cost of Dreft, I can feel good knowing that I’m saving a bit of dinero.
  • Wee Wee Puppy Pads:  Puppy pads as a favorite baby product??  Hear me out.  When giving birth, I noticed that the labor and delivery bed was covered in puppy pee pads.  Think absorption.  I now stock these at home for the baby as well (it’s convenient that I also have a small dog who uses the same pads – so they actually share the supply).  Anyway, I lay them over the changing tables, on the counter for before/after sink baths, stock them in diaper bags, basically anywhere where the baby may be laying “unprotected” (aka undiapered) for any period of time.  They’re cheap and they work!  Many a furniture top has been protected from a baby fountain or blowout.

So there you have it.  My latest batch of favorite baby products.  What are yours for the 3-6 month timeframe?

Best Baby Item Purchased

Best. Baby Purchase. Ever.

I know I’ve already mentioned this product in a previous post, but I have to give props again.  This is, hands down, the single best baby purchase we’ve made.  And it was a whim purchase, a nice-to-have for a first time mom worried about SIDS.  But it’s turned out to be the most valuable item we have.

Last night we had another alarm.  It was about 9pm, and baby had been sleeping for a couple of hours.  We were upstairs (baby sleeps downstairs) and heard the alarm via the handheld video monitor that hubby had brought into the office. 

We’ve been through this before.  In the beginning, the alarm would disorient us… Is it an alarm clock?  One of our cell phones?  But last night we knew exactly what it was and flew down the stairs and into the nursery. 

It doesn’t get less scary every time.  Every time we wonder, is this time going to be different?  Are we not going to be able to rouse him? This time, he is already awake when we come flying into the room.  That’s unusual as typically he is not, and we need to shout and flick or slap the bottom of his foot to rouse him.  But this time the alarm and vibration must have wakened him. 

He looks disoriented…  Eyes are red and swollen and face is blotchy.  Blinking.  Confused.  We swoop him up into our arms and kiss him hug him rock him tell him not to scare us like that again.  We reset the alarm and then put him back to sleep.  We turn up the volume on the handheld video monitor.

The way the Snuza Halo works is by detecting very very small movements, such as breathing.  The device is clipped to the diaper so that the sensor (the purple part) lays over the baby’s belly button.  It can then detect the small rise and fall of the stomach as breaths are inhaled and exhaled.

Should there be no movement (breathing) for 15 seconds, the device will vibrate in an attempt to rouse the infant.  If this works and subsequent breathing is detected, the device will then begin monitoring silently once again.

Upon the third incident of this nature, the device will also alert the parents.  This is done with a beep….  beep…. beep. 

If, at any time, the vibration doesn’t rouse the baby and there is another 5 seconds of non-movement (so 20 seconds total), the alarm will sound.  This is a loud sound much like an alarm clock.

For us, the alarm does go off.  The first time it went off was our 4th day home, and it caused a world of panic.  The pediatrician said it was “periodic breathing” and nothing to worry about.  Said the baby would outgrow it.  Actually advised us to stop using the Snuza as it would only cause unnecessary worry.

Of course we threw that advice right out the window.  If anything, we became more diligent about using the Snuza whenever the baby is sleeping (now attaching it even during nap times).  My pediatrician would say overkill.  I say, I don’t want to find out that you were wrong when it’s too late.

So baby is now 18 weeks old and has not yet outgrown this periodic breathing.  The episodes have become less frequent (maybe once every few weeks now instead of once or twice a week), but they still occur.  They occur during nap-time as frequently as during the evening. 

In doing my own research, it appears that periodic breathing is characterized by breathing stops of up to 15 seconds for infants under 6 months.  So we meet the under-6-months criteria, but not the timing criteria (since the Snuza alarms at 20 seconds).  I will be discussing this with our pediatrician.

In the meantime, the Snuza is quite simply the only thing between ongoing sleepless nights and the ability to sleep soundly (us, not baby).  When I wake in the night and the baby is still and silent on the video monitor, I can relax knowing that the Snuza will alarm if there is an issue…  Instead of running into his room every 20 minutes to check on him and, in the process, wake him up.

Oh and I do have to mention – we follow all other advice to prevent SIDS.  Baby is not overheated nor wrapped while sleeping, never sleeps on his stomach, no blankets are used (besides the wearable ones), no toys are in his crib, and we use mesh (breathable) bumpers.  He doesn’t appear to have any risk factors besides being a boy: was not a preemie, we don’t smoke, I took care of myself during pregnancy, etc.  So we’re really at a loss as to why this is happening.

Regardless, if you’re even considering a sleep monitor – DO IT.  I promise you will not be disappointed.  I personally prefer the Snuza to the Angelcare mat because it is portable and can go anywhere with the baby. 

For some reason, I’ve had difficulty finding the Snuza in stores here on the west coast, so I ordered mine on Amazon.  It looks like it’s about $120 there, but I would have paid a lot more than that for the peace of mind it provides.

Top Pregnancy and Motherhood Smart Phone Apps

I have to admit that I was never going to get a smart phone (well at least not for a while).  I remember several years ago now my husband pleading his case for us to purchase a pair of smart phones – iPhones, to be exact.  It’s wasteful, I said.  We don’t need them.  Our phones right now make calls – that’s all we need.  Don’t we have enough with our work Blackberries??  Why do we need more??

But he pushed and pushed and pushed.  He wouldn’t drop it.  He negotiated.  He bargained.  Ultimately, I just got tired of arguing.  We got the damn phones.

And you know what?  I’m hooked.  I don’t think I could live without that damn phone now.  Everything’s in there.  I’m torn as to which product to pick at the store?  Look up reviews on the phone.  We’re traveling and don’t know where to eat?  Yelp local restaurants.  Lost?  Map directions.  What did we ever do before smart phones??

And now I find during pregnancy and new motherhood, that they’re even MORE useful.  I’ve tried a lot of apps.  Loved some, hated others.  Following are my top picks for pregnancy and beyond:

  • IP Free (Free, as the title implies):  First things first.  If you’re trying to get pregnant, or trying to figure out if you may already be pregnant, you need to have a good idea as to your monthly cycle.  If you’re anything like me, you really have no good idea as to when your cycle will start until it’s upon you (not a matter of regularity so much as not-paying-attention-ness).  Cue IP Free.  It’s a simple and easy app that allows you to track your cycles so that you know when you’re next cycle is scheduled to begin, or when you’re scheduled to ovulate (if you’re tracking).  This app was my first clue that I might be preggers – the blinking :”7 DAYS LATE” message triggered the first pregnancy test.

 

  • BabyBump ($3.99): My go-to pregnancy app which I still use now for motherhood.  Every day of your pregnancy, it shows a picture depicting what your fetus or baby looks like, and provides information on what may be of interest to you during that day (e.g. morning sickness, prenatal testing, upcoming delivery, etc).  It includes a “Journal” tab that allows you to record weight, waist size, mood, appetite, cravings, and doctor appointment information.  It has an included mini-app for Baby Names, as well as separate Kick and Contraction Counters.  It has a place where you can store photos.  But the best part is their Community.  There are forums for anything you can imagine – Trying to Conceive, Trimester, Exercise During Pregnancy, Due Dates (mothers with same due dates group together), 35+ Pregnancy, High Risk Pregnancy, Teen Moms, Delivery, etc, etc, etc.  And then once you have the baby, there are forums for SAHMs, Working Moms, New Moms, Feeding, Preemies, etc, etc, etc.  I downloaded a total of 4 pregnancy apps (including “What to Expect – Pregnancy” and “Baby Bump – My Pregnancy”) and this one BY FAR has the best and most utilized forums.  I met women on the app who I’m still in contact with today, and all of the November 2011 mommies in my Due Date group have since formed a smaller Facebook group.  Long story short – you won’t be disappointed in this app.

 

  • Full Term – Labor Contraction Counter (Free):  Even though Baby Bump includes a mini-Contraction Counter within its app, I much preferred this one.  It’s simpler to use and more intuitive.  I used it for both Braxton Hicks and the “real thing” to help determine when it was time to go to the hospital.  You simply push the huge button at the start of the contraction, push it again at the end, and the app does the rest.  It even tells you when to go in.  I love that you can chart the contractions, email a list to yourself or doctor, and save the information.

 

  • Baby Connect ($4.99):  The single best $4.99 I have ever spent on an app.  Purchase a copy for you, your baby’s father, and any other caregivers.  Helps you track everything from feedings (time, type, amount, and set reminder alarms), to diaper changes (type, consistency, color, and even a setting for “open air incidents”), to sleep patterns, to mood, to activities, to medical information (vaccination, history, height, weight, head size, and auto-charting on WHO percentile charts for easy reference).  The best part is the saved information synchs amongst all caregivers in REAL-TIME!  This may not sound like a big deal, but when you are an exhausted parent who is sharing caregiver responsibilities, it keeps you straight as to when the baby was last fed, changed, etc.  You can email yourself or your doctor updates.  You can set up text messages to be immediately alerted when an update is made.  The alarms ensure that the baby is fed on time.  Since most people typically carry their phones with them, it’s easy to update on the run.  If you don’t happen to have your phone with you, there is a free web app you can log into that also provides the information real-time.  Finally, the Customer Service is GREAT!  I recently had an issue wherein we were attempting to set our nanny up and I couldn’t get everyone to synch up (it turned out to be the fact that we had inadvertently created too many profiles for the baby).  Anyway, I emailed the address included under Help, never really expecting to hear back.  Not only did I hear back within the hour, the gentleman continued to email back and forth over the next several hours until the issue was resolved.  Very impressive!  If there is one app you purchase upon birth of the baby, make it this one.

 

  • Pandora (Free): Before baby, I used Pandora to set up my favorite music stations.  Now, I use Pandora to set up “Lullabye” and “Baby Einstein” music stations.  Free, always accessible (since on your phone), and helps make Tummy Time more interesting.  Also sometimes helps calm baby in a pinch.

 

  • Gifts to Grow (Free):  So, who knew that there are diaper rewards programs??  I certainly didn’t.  But there are.  Like most things, loyalty pays.  Rack up enough points and you’ll receive diaper discounts or other rewards (somewhat similar to credit card reward programs).  I happen to prefer Pampers diapers, so I use the Gifts to Grow app.  You simply type the code from each package of diapers into the app – which is great because the codes are typically long and convoluted so much easier to type into your phone then have to drag the diapers over to a computer.  Another tip – search online for additional free codes as well.

 

  • myDlink Lite (Free):  I’ll cover the topic of nannies/sitters in another post, but if you go that route and decide to use nanny cams (specifically one of the dLink nanny cams such as the DCS-932L), you MUST download this app.  Allows you to view the cams on your phone from anywhere.  ‘Nuff said.

There are so many more apps out there, but these are the ones I use consistently.  Any other favorites out there?