Friday, April 23, 2010

Quick Favs - Baby Gates

For the perfect baby gate I looked for three things:  very secure, toddler-proof and installation that didn't require a drill or mark-up my woodwork.

North States Auto-Close Metal Gate - Pressure MountThe North States Auto-Close Metal Gate (Pressure Mount) is my absolute favorite.

The gate has very solid metal construction.  The gate closes automatically and makes an audible "clink" when it closes so you know it has closed securely.  The gate itself is light enough that there is no risk of pinched fingers in the gate door.  The opening mechanism is easily done by an adult with one hand (so the other hand can be carrying a squirming baby, laundry basket, etc.).   The gate is opened by using your thumb to slide a button on the top of the gate while simultaneously lifting the gate up slightly.

This opening mechanism also adds to it's "toddler proof" qualities.  The opening mechanism requires the height and manual dexterity of an adult so even a brilliant tot can't physically do it.  It's 30" high so an average to tall adult can step over it (or a short adult who ran hurdles in high school), but a toddler can't.  The installation system is very secure and almost impossible for a toddler (or probably even an adult running at a good pace) to knock over.  So secure in fact that it is even approved for top-of-stairs use which makes it a great choice for families in houses with stairs (by the JPMA for what that's worth).

It is easy to install.  Line up the plastic cups on the wall and peel off the adhesive backing.  A few turns of each of the four "wheels" on the corners will expand the gate to fit most standard size doors.  If you want to remove the gate you can just use a little elbow grease and untwist the "wheels" and the gate quickly loosened enough to move out of the doorway. The plastic cups with adhesive can be removed from a wooden doorway with a little elbow grease (and at worst some goo gone).   (To note: if you're installing this on a wall instead of a doorway, they recommend attaching the cups with a set of enclosed screws so you will probably need to break out the drill).

The basic gate kit is adjustable to fit doorways from 29.5" - 38" wide and you can add multiple extra 1 bar (adds 3"), 2 bar (adds 5.75"), 5 bar (adds 14") or 11 bar (adds 31.25") extensions to build a gate that securely fits a doorway up to 125" (almost 10.5 feet!).

I also love that the basic gate kit is $69.99 on and ships for free.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Best Baby Shower Gifts

So a few people lately have asked me what is the best baby shower gift?  My first answer is check their registry (Babies R Us, Target, BuyBuyBaby, Amazon, Magic Beans, Giggle,  etc.).   If you know a few other people going to the same shower, its nice to all go in on a large gift together (or better yet a large gift card to the store she's registered at).

If they don't have a registry or you don't like what they've registered for - which is totally fine - my favorite baby shower gift is a giant box of diapers.

Go to Target, Walmart, or Costco and pick up the largest box of size 1 diapers that fits in your budget.  If your budget covers two boxes, get size 1 and size 1-2.  Any experienced mom will tell you that you can always make a size 1 diaper fit and this is the size that you will go through the most of.  I'm a fan of Pampers since they make extra soft, very absorbent newborn diapers.  But Pampers vs. Huggies is sort of like asking a mom which is better red or blue.

Everyone loves to give cute little clothes (in tiny, tiny sizes because they always seem cuter) or adorable stuffed animals.  Unfortunately all a newborn really wears for the first few months are basic onesies and a lot of those adorable little clothes will never get worn.  Most of the stuffed animals - no matter how cute - will gather dust and drive the future parents crazy for years to come.  Go for the practical bet.

Plus, a giant box of diapers when it is all wrapped up looks like a very large, very fancy gift.  And you know that at 3am some morning they'll thank you for them.

If you're invited to a shower across town, or across the country, and you can't make it in person you can send a giant box of diapers from directly to the new mom-to-be.  If you spend more than $49 they ship for free (if you're a Delta Skymiles member you can also get miles for ordering them by clicking through the link on Skymiles Shopping).

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Brands Worth Loving - Baby Jogger

There are a lot of brands whose products I like, but every once in a while I come across a brand that is really amazing from start to finish.  A lot of companies put out cool looking products, but not all of them can withstand heavy daily use.  You can tell the really amazing brands - those that truely have amazing products - by the quality of their customer service.  Baby Jogger is one of those brands.

I have two Baby Jogger strollers - the new City Select and a 2 year old City Mini (my parents also have a second City Mini that lives at their house) - and love them both.  Smart design, excellent durabillity, good drive, etc. I can honestly say in two years we've only had two issues with our City Mini.  About a year ago we noticed that the plastic "windows" in the canopy had cracked where they folded when the canopy was collapsed.  We decided that it was not worth complaining to Baby Jogger about since it seemed mostly cosmetic, iit didn't impact the function of the stroller (in a deluge we would hopefully have the rain cover on) and we knew that in the next version of the City Mini (which my mom has) they had addressed the material for the windows to make it more flexible.  Two weeks ago we had a more serious issue.  In the course of two days two of the fabric loops that the straps attach to broke off.  Luckily both times it happened at home while I was buckling in one of the tots and I could easily move it to the next setting and adjust to make it fit. 

I snapped a picture of both issues with my blackberry and sent it off to customer service.  Within a couple days they looked into it and wrote back apologizing for the delay and for the fact that they couldn't replace it under the warrenty (which is lifetime for the frame, but 1 year for the fabric).  They did offer to give me almost 50% off on a new replacement seat and canopy - so for $65 including shipping I basically got a brand new stroller.  I even got to pick a new color - my old one was red, dirty and covered in playground dust, my new one is sleek, black and free of grime and crumbs (at least temporarily).  Now it wasn't free, but $65 is a lot less than I thought I was going to pay and more than fair for what is basically a brand new stroller.

(On a side note: on the same phone call to order the replacement fabric they also happily took my feedback on suggested changes for the City Select rain covers and storage bag to share at their weekly meeting with their product development team.  Kudos to a company that asks for feedback and tries to feed it back into the design process to improve their products.)

A similar story comes from a close friend of mine with a 3 year old Baby Jogger City Elite.  They also live in New York City and she has a very active daughter so her stroller has gotten three years of very hard, year round use.  She also keeps a substantial diaper bag permanently draped over the handlebar.  A couple months ago her stroller frame cracked right below the handlebar.  I don't mean a little hairline crack, this was a full shear through you-can-see-air-all-the-way-through it kind of crack.  Given how close it was to where her diaperbag attaches to the stroller it's not entirely suprising that the frame gave up the ghost (amazingly she was able to drive the stroller for another couple weeks with no problem).  She spent a few minutes on the phone with custmer service and they sent her a full new frame that arrived within days.  No charge, no questions, no hassle, no "please box up and send us your old frame so we know you won't resell it" business.

Its great to come across a company like this and we just felt they deserved some praise for having not only an amazing product line, but also an amazing customer service department to support it.

Review: Skip*Hop Zoo Lunchies

The new Skip*Hop Zoo Lunchies are a cute set of soft insulated lunchboxes.  The size is just right for a juicebox/milkbox, sandwich and a piece of fruit.  This is about the right size for a toddler or young child's lunch. 

The size and shape is almost identical to the Skip*Hop 3 Bottle Bag including the interior pocket for silverware/icepacks, but the Zoo Lunchies lack the two exterior pockets.  It does feature a very handy flip-open lid (unlike the 3 Bottle Bag which only has a top zip).

Tot #1 and Tot #2 both have Lunchies to match their backpacks.  It's tough to say if they have more fun dragging them around the apartment and filling them with toys or opening them up at lunch (or dinner or occasionally breakfast) and seeing what I packed for them.  The whole "lunchbox" idea has infused some new fun into our lunchtime routine.  Somehow a sandwich is much tastier when it's shaped like a heart and stuffed in your lunchbox.  Ditto with a sippy of chocolate milk.

Thankfully - unlike the Zoo Mitts - the Lunchies are available in designs to match all six of the Zoo Pack backpacks.  In a pinch you could easily fit the Lunchie into to the backpack with enough extra room for a favorite lovie, a sack of Matchbox cars or maybe a pair of Crocs, but not - say - a bicycle helmet.  Good to note, the exterior material is identical to the Zoo Packs and easily wipes clean (as does the interior which is identical to the 3 Bottle Bag).

For $13 this is a fun addition to our spring/summer eating routine.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Review: Skip*Hop Zoo Mitts

We bought a few of these Skip*Hop Zoo Mitts (penguins, of course, and ducks) a couple months ago and gave them a good long trial before we reviewed them.  There are some things we immediately loved and some things that we immediately didn't.

We love the designs.  If you have the SkipHop backpacks or lunch boxes you'll be happy to see most, but not all of your favorite designs recreated for bathtime (if you have the kitten, bee or owl be prepared to substitute the ducky mitt).

The texture is a good compromise between soft and scrubby.  They seem to get softer with additional washing.  Other than some fading on the cotton print trim, the colors have stayed very vibrant (even when dried on high heat). 

I don't love the hooks or the price ($10 for one mitt and one hook).  Also the suction cup hooks don't stay up on anything.  Maybe they would stay put on very large glossy tile (4" square or larger) - which we don't have - but having tested them, they don't stay put on: glossy painted cabinets, enamel cabinets, stainless steel or glass.  They constantly fall down.  Even with nothing hanging on them.  So often that we stopped putting them back up and eventually just threw them away.  I would be happy to see them take the suction cup hook out of the set and drop the price a little (under $8).  $8 would still be steep for a washcloth, but it's cute and themed and if it gets Tot #1 to jump in the bathtub then I'll run with it.

All in all, these are expensive for what they are, but the actual character washcloth is nice, appealing to toddlers and well made.