Real Kid Shades

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We bought these kids sunglasses about 2 months ago (at REI), when my son was 4 months old. Before that we had about given up going out during the day, as my son would become agitated within a few minutes of going out. Now going out of the house is one of our best times.

I was a bit concerned when buying these, figuring my son would knock the glasses out of place continually. However, after a very short period he acts like the glasses aren’t even there, only complaining when they are askew.

Reviewers on Amazon have complained that the strap is too big for a 4-month old. 4-months is probably near the lower limit on age for these. We needed to adjust the strap to the smallest position and use them with a hat for them to fit. But we also found that they didn’t need to be very tight to stay in place.

I bought this brand because it was carried by REI, who I believe carries quality merchandise. I’m not sure if I would trust the UV protection of the cheapest model that Walmart sources at the lowest price (poor UV protection in sunglasses being worse than no protection at all).

Besides the UV protection and ability to be out in the bright sun, there is also the cool factor, which was really unexpected. Every time we go out walking, I’m amazed at the number of turned heads and comments we get about the shades. The words “cool dude” are used frequently. I’m also now aware of the parents who are out in the bright sun with sunglasses while their infant or toddler is left to squint.

-- Michael Nystrom  

Real Kid Shades (0-to-24 months)
$15

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Real Kid Shades



Kidco PeaPod Plus

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The PeaPod is a travel bed for kids. My kids have outgrown it now, but this was the best thing when they were little and we were on the road a lot.

It replaces the traditional travel crib (sometimes called a pack-and-play). We had one of those, and it was huge and heavy. When my daughter was young, I think we flew 14 times her first year of life. The first few times we checked the old travel crib. It was heavy, bulky, and difficult to deal with when we had her as well. Impossible if it was one of us traveling with her.

The PeaPod folds up and is no bigger/heavier than a large diaper bag. It will pack right in with a car seat when traveling by air. When traveling on the road or even just across town, it packs and unpacks easily. It afforded us a much more convenient and easy way to travel with kids. It’s usable by one person with no hassle, and the footprint is less than a traditional travel crib. We’ve even taken it camping and set it up inside our tent.

The whole thing is self-contained like those hoop style sun shades. There’s an elastic strap that goes across the diameter of the hoop. When you take the strap off, it pops right open like a self-opening tent because it actually is a self-opening mini tent. It’s just as easy to break down. Two-to-three minutes max to put it up and break it down. You can check out this video to see what’s involved.

It also comes with a sleeping bag that fits perfectly. Depending on the model, it may come with an inflatable mattress. The lower end ones don’t have a mattress (the P201 does). The middle tier come with an inflatable mattress and a manual pump (which is what I use). The higher end units come with a self-inflatable mattress like a Therm-a-rest.

I’m not kidding when I say that it changed the way we travel. I’ll even go so far as to say that we made several international trips with small children that made their sleeping arrangements an afterthought rather than a major concern simply because we had a peapod.

I know baby gear isn’t a typical cool tool kind of post, but it is pretty cool. Overall, it’s just a better solution to the issue of having a safe place for your child to sleep when you’re away from home.

-- Chuck Balog  

Kidco PeaPod Plus P201
$70

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Kidco



Tiny Diner Portable Placemat

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I am a grandmother who enjoys taking her grandchildren out to eat. Many times I’ve wanted to push the booster seat or high chair (without the tray) up to the table, cut the food up, and serve it to my grandchildren on the table with me. This tiny diner placemat covers the table and provides a clean eating surface that also catches spilled food, and has been my favorite take along tool.

It rolls up and fits in my purse, washes off easily, and helps me control the cleanliness of my grandchildren’s eating surfaces. I have seen disposable models, however they do not have the trough for spilled food, and are not re-useable and therefore more expensive. I have used this mat for 2 years, and take it with me anywhere I take my grandkids.

-- Constance Smith  

[This mat is made out of a material called Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE) and is a non-latex, non-PVC, non-phthalate, non-BPA material. --OH]

Tiny Diner Portable Placemat
$11

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Summer Infant



Tangleteezer

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I’ve used this fantastic hair detangler for a year now. This is not a typical tool that many people might obsess about, but I have a lot of very fine, very long hair. There’s a lot of it, and this brush has made it much more manageable! It used to take me half an hour on a good day to comb through my hair after I had washed it. Now it takes me about seven minutes, and it doesn’t pull out my hair like other models. This thing looks like a horse’s curry comb but made out of plastic.

I bought one on the recommendation of my expensive London hairdresser and have raved about it ever since. I recently bought five as gifts for friends, and every person I gave it to has gone out and bought it for other people. I have tried everything on the market for detangling long hair for the past thirty years: combs, special brushes, hair treatments, and this brush is the only solution I can call incredible.

This is a cool tool. It is one simple gadget that has made a everyday life a little less painful and a little bit simpler.

-- Anne Hitchcock  

Tangleteezer
$10

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Tangleteezer



Pawz Dog Boots

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I have 6-year-old basset hound who loves to be outside. Unfortunately, in a Minnesota winter, his paws can’t take the freezing temps very long. This means no walks in the winter, and on extremely cold days he can barely manage to go to the bathroom before his paws freeze.

My wife and I have tried a couple different types of dog boots from REI, and Amazon.com without any luck. These boots were made with fleece insulation inside of thick canvas fabric with rubber soles. My dog absolutely refused to move one step with them on. We had given up hope on dog boots until I saw Pawz brand dog boots at a local pet store. Pawz dog boots are essentially large rubber balloons. There isn’t any padding or fabric insulation, just bare rubber.

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We tried them out and after a very short period of awkward walking our dog forgot he was wearing them. The difference between these boots and other boots is that the dogs can still feel the ground underneath their paws. We were worried that with the lack of insulation, they wouldn’t allow him to be outside much longer than without the rubber boots. It is obvious that the insulation of the more expensive boots isn’t really an issue. Our dog managed to stay outside with these boots on for hours on a recent trip to U.P. Michigan, with temps well below zero. Unlike other boots that tend to fall off rather easily when the dog runs in the snow, we have yet to have one of these boots fall off. It also helps keep the very sharp salt on the sidewalks from cutting his paws or drying the pads out on walks in the city.

Pawz dog boots are 100% biodegradable, and come in packs of 12. Even though they are considered disposable, we have yet to wear out our first set of four. They are extremely cheap considering the alternative, and are very easy to use

-- Tyler Coper  

Pawz Disposable Reusable Dog Boots
$10

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Pawz Dog Boots



Settlers of Catan

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If you asked people in the street to name three new books, films, TV shows or music they’ve enjoyed in the past 20 years, you’ll soon have hundreds of different answers. Ask them to name three boardgames, and you will likely only hear “Monopoly, Scrabble & Cluedo” (aka Clue)*. Not an exaggeration, most people have no idea how far boardgame design has progressed recently. Modern boardgames compare to Monopoly like a BMW compares to a Model T Ford. It’s that different.
 
I was shown Settlers Of Catan in 1996, just after it was first published and it changed my life**. The epitome of modern German game design, Settlers is totally engaging. You have to think, make decisions, barter, trade and influence the other players. You don’t attack people, but you can block them. You don’t get eliminated and the game takes about two hours tops. Settlers does use dice, but you win by being smart, not lucky. The ‘board’ is modular, large hex tiles, so every game is different and fresh.

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Settlers Of Catan won the Spieles des Jahres (SdJ) in 1995, the highly prestigious jury prize, and has gone on to sell millions of copies with many expansions & variants. More importantly, the SdJ stimulates game designers and publishers to constantly strive for high quality, novel, easy and fun family games. Today, the market has expanded rapidly through Europe and now ‘eurogames’, as we call them, come from all around the world.
 
Should you buy a copy of Catan? Nope, not right away. I suggest you do some research on the game***, ask around, find one to play. Maybe you’ll love it, maybe not. You might prefer Carcassonne, or Ticket To Ride, Power Grid, Pandemic, Hey! That’s My Fish,Niagara or Manhattan. There are hundreds upon hundreds of fascinating, easy, quick games you’ve never heard of. But at least you’ll discover there is life after Monopoly.

* combined age 107 + 72 + 66 = 245 years
** after 15 years, I have over 1700 modern boardgames
*** I recommend you check out the previously reviewed Board Game Geek for more info.

-- Jon Power  

The Settlers of Catan
$34

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Mayfair Games



Ameda Purely Yours Breast Pump

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I found out about the Ameda Purely Yours line of breast pumps while my wife and I were searching for a breast pump to supplement her breastfeeding of our newborn. She has been using the pump every day for about 7 months now, with great results. This breast pump allows her to stockpile breast milk in our freezer, which gives us a chance to have nights out without having to worry about rushing home for feedings, but the technology behind how the Ameda Purely Yours works is what’s very cool, and worth mentioning.

As far as breast pumps are concerned, there are wide varieties available from many different manufacturers, each performing the same basic task; but what separates this one is the hygienic nature of the pump. This breast pump has what Ameda calls a closed-system; meaning the expressed breast milk comes in no contact with outside air or contaminants thereby making it much safer for providing bottled breast milk for your baby.

The closed-system is accomplished by use of what Ameda calls their HygieniKit Milk Collection System. This system uses a special silicone diaphragm, which contracts to provide suction, while eliminating the existence of outside air in the pump tubing, as well as the pump motor. Other breast pumps, like the popular Medela Pump-In-Style, have had many complaints about breast milk and outside contaminants getting into the pump tubing, causing mold to develop in both the tubing and the actual pump mechanism. Needless to say, ingesting mold and harmful bacteria is not the best for a newborn baby.

In addition to the hygiene features, the Ameda also has a lot of custom options for more efficient pumping. You can adjust the pump suction speed, as well as the strength, to more accurately mimic the suckling rhythm of your baby, which has been shown to greatly affect the level of breast milk output.

So, there you go. The Ameda Purely Yours breast pump is a really cool tool for breastfeeding moms.

-- Steven Jones  

Ameda Purely Yours Breast Pump
$150

Available from Amazon

Also available from Ameda Direct Manufactured by Ameda



Phil & Teds MeToo

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When our son was born, we were living in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in central London, and were about to move back to America. We wanted something minimal but effective, and we thought the Phil & Teds chair would be a stopgap measure until we had a bigger house.

Now that we have the bigger house, we still love the P&T chair. Our baby can sit at the table with us, and because he has the whole table in front of him much less food ends up on the floor than when he’s in a traditional high chair. We can also clamp the chair to the breakfast counter in the kitchen, so he can eat while we cook. And in some small way our house is less “babified” than it would be with a real high chair.

Some disadvantages: The specs say it can support up to 40 lbs, roughly a child 3 years of age. When our son is a bit bigger, we’ll have to find another solution. Also, the chair uses metal C-clamps that open about 2″ at most, and sit in about 1″. That limits the types of tables we can use it with: obviously no glass table tops, but also no tables with a wide lip. And finally, the fabric doesn’t come off the chair, so to clean it you have to use a sponge and a bit of perseverance.

The model that we have is called a MeToo. P&T have recently begun selling a model called the Lobster with a plastic ratcheting claw clamp. That model may be faster to attach, but could be less robust than the aluminum screw clamp on the MeToo. I haven’t used any other travel high chairs, but we prefer the P&T chair to the many traditional high chairs we’ve tried. For small-space living, it’s an excellent solution.

-- Ashish Ranpura  

Phil & Teds MeToo chair
$50

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Phil & Teds



Moby Wrap

There are so many baby carriers on the market right now, and I’ve tried a good deal of them: various slings, the Ergo Baby (previously reviewed), Baby Bjorn, and the like all tend to put the bulk of the baby’s weight on one part of the back. While there is some distribution with shoulder or hip straps, the weight is still focused primarily on one area (shoulder/hips). I had seen the Moby Wrap and had decidedly avoided trying it, as it looked complicated and uncomfortable. A friend finally convinced me to try one, and I fell in love.

Not only is my baby securely snuggled up against my body, but it is incredibly comfortable to wear. It looks to be about 20 feet of fabric that you wrap around your body and slip the baby into. No doubt based on some age-old method of carrying babies, it is by far the most comfortable and versatile carrier I’ve seen. Because it crosses around your body so many times in different locations, it distributes the weight of the child to a variety of places: shoulders, upper back, lower back and hips. Plus, the baby can face forwards, backwards or sideways when worn on your front, and she can be worn on your hips or back as well.

While it does require an introduction on how to put it on, once you have figured out how it works, it could not be simpler to use. The basic concept is that you create a cross of fabric on your body and slip the baby between you and the cross, with her legs hanging out between. Also, because of the criss-cross over your shoulders you can nestle the baby’s head under the wrap, allowing full protection from the sun or, more importantly for the new parent, a quiet zone in which to nap, even at a bustling market. For all its simplicity this is simply the best baby carrier available.

There are several variations on this idea — one with rings, one made of more stretchy material, one with fancy patterns — from various manufacturers, but the basic design is all the same — wrap the fabric around your body, slide the baby in and enjoy.

-- Elizabeth Sendil  

Moby Wrap
$48

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Moby Wrap



Snappi Diaper Fasteners

We buy cloth diapers for our baby, as a greener, cheaper and healthier alternative to disposables. Several companies make cloth diapers with snaps or Velcro fasteners, but those can hit $20 apiece or more.

Flat diapers are much cheaper, and can be folded to fit any size baby, but there’s no built-in fastener. The traditional approach used to be safety pins, but it’s a daunting task to pin a diaper without stabbing the baby or yourself with the sharp point.

The Snappi diaper fastener is a rubber elongated “T” with plastic teeth at each of the three ends. The teeth hold the diaper securely, but are too short to go through the diaper and into the baby. Putting the Snappi on is about as easy as using Velcro, and taking it off is even easier. It’s simple to clean and has a lifespan of about six months.

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We tried an off-brand version first, and it nearly sent us back to pins — the teeth wouldn’t hold, and the plastic bits that connect the teeth to the stretchable body of the “T” always separated from the rubber. The Snappi brand fasteners never gave us any trouble.

-- Scott Noyes  

Snappi Diaper Fasteners
$4
Manufactured by Snappi Baby

Available from Amazon