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



The Baby Book

New parents don’t want your advice unless they ask for it. Trust me. Nothing invites unwelcome advice like having a baby. And nothing in my life has confronted me with a steeper learning curve than becoming a father. Of the many resources my wife and I turned to in the first couple of years after our daughter was born, this one’s a favorite. William and Martha Sears (M.D. and R.N., respectively, and parents of eight) are the Dr. Spocks of the current generation, and they seem to have been influenced by his favoring increased parental flexibility and affection over an emphasis on discipline and character building. The Sears’s sage and sober advice always feels friendly, even-handed; their joint perspective is broad.

There’s nothing revolutionary to their approach: Attachment parenting is their emphasis. And simply put, attachment parenting as they define it means being very involved and engaged and responding to who your child is and what she needs. And enjoying parenting in the process, of course. Makes sense.

If you’re about to become a parent, you’ll be well-served with this exhaustive guidebook. If someone close to you is a soon-to-be parent, share your wisdom only if it’s sought and buy him The Baby Book. The Sears’a Discipline Book is a worthwhile read, too.

-- Elon Schoenholz  

The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby From Birth to Age Two
William Sears, et al.
2013, 784 pages (revised and updated)
$14

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

The Seven Baby B’s of Attachment Parenting
1. birth bonding
2. belief in the signal value of your baby’s cries
3. breastfeeding
4. babywearing
5. bedding close to baby
6. balance and boundaries
7. beware of baby trainers

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Beware of Baby Trainers
Be prepared to be the target of well-meaning advisers who will shower you with detachment advice, such as: “Let her cry it out,” “Get her on a schedule,” “You shouldn’t still be nursing her!” and “Don’t pick her up so much, you’re spoiling her!” If carried to the extreme, baby training is a lose-lose situation: Baby loses trust in the signal value of her cues, and parents lose trust in their ability to read and respond to baby’s cues. As a result, a distance can develop between baby and parent, which is just the opposite of the closeness that develops with attachment parenting…

The basis of baby training is to help babies become more “convenient.” It is based upon the misguided assumption that babies cry to manipulate, not to communicate.

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Best Fats for Babies
Not only should infants get 40 to 50 percent of their calories from fats, they should eat the right variety of fats. In addition to breast milk, the best fats for babies (and also for children and adults) come from marine and vegetable sources. Ranked in order of nutritional content they are:
- seafood (especially salmon)
- flax oil
- avocados
- vegetable oils
- nut butters (because of possible allergies, delay peanut butter until after two years)

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Discipline Begins at Birth
Discipline begins as a relationship, not a list of methods. The first stage of discipline — the attachment stage — begins at birth and develops as you and your baby grow together. The big three of attachment parenting (breastfeeding, wearing baby, and responding to baby’s cues) are actually your first disciplinary actions. A baby who is on the receiving end of attachment parenting feels right, and a person who feels right is more likely to act right. An attachment parented baby is more receptive to authority because he operates from a foundation of trust. This baby spends the early months of his life learning that the world is a responsive and trusting place to be.




Mighty Tite

Whether you’re using seat belts in an older car or the LATCH system available in newer vehicles, properly securing a child car seat by tightening the straps adequately at each attachment can be really aggravating. Even with the best leverage and tools, you just can’t pull them enough to keep the seat from sliding. After trying countless handyman alternatives, I settled on the Mighty Tite, a device with a ratcheted handle that lets you apply otherwise impossible leverage to secure the seat as snugly as possible. I first dismissed this one as a gimmick, but I’ve found it dead simple to use and incredibly effective. I’ve used mine in at least five different cars and car seats, all with the same excellent results: no car seat budged.

It’s worth noting I’ve read conflicting reviews and opinions about this product, as well as differing philosophies on car seats. Some insist that if you follow a car seat manufacturer’s instructions properly, you won’t need any extra assistance to secure it. On more than one occasion, I’ve followed the instructions (even double checking the installation with the local police station or baby store as many suggest), and have been told my seat is “fine” — but to me, it still seems, to be much too loose. Others say that if your seat gives more than an inch in any direction, it’s too much; other say more slack is appropriate and still safe.

In terms of the Mighty Tite, some people worry about undue wear on belts caused by it and wonder how it (and child car seats secured with it) will react in an accident. After years on the market, I think it’s useful — though certainly not definitive — to observe I’ve seen no reports of any problems caused by this product in an accident. It’s worth also noting that this thing does crease the seatbelt a bit, but I can’t fathom how it would cut the belt.

In the end, as it goes for many things with products related to children, there’s a lot of information and emotions out there, but the only clear authority out there (the NHTSA) has not reviewed Mighty Tite to set the matter straight. This product has been offered by many reputable retailers, including child specialty stores, for years, and it’s made by a company that makes reputable seats. Again, I’ve found it keeps my child car seat firmly in place. It might help you, too.

If you do go with the Mighty Tite, be sure to use a seat protector — or any kind of mat with decent friction — under the car seat in combination with one of these, as the child car seat is bound to crease your car’s upholstery when it’s pulled this snugly.

-- Marshall Votta  

Mighty Tite
Manufactured by Sunshine Kids U.S.
$27

Available from Amazon



Ergo Baby

We carried our seven-month-old daughter around Prague and Leipzig for hours in a standard BabyBjörn this last winter and she/we loved it — cozy and comfortable. The problem: it’s only a front carrier, and since then, she’s gotten heavier, which started to take it’s toll on our backs (imagine carrying a bowling ball strapped to your chest.). Now we’re using an Ergo, which can be easily re-configured for back-, front-, or side-carrying. Since it buckles around your waist, most of the weight is put on your hips. While an “original” BabyBjörn is rated for use with babies up to 25 lbs, I tried ours with our daughter when she was 15 lbs and it was a no go. She’s heavier now, and the Ergo remains incredibly comfortable: I’ve noticed much less lower back strain.

Learning to scoot the baby around your hips, onto your back, and into the Ergo without outside help is a bit of a production at first, but no problem once you get the hang of it. If you want to put the pack in front or on your hip, it’s quite simple, too (ed. note: the videos are quite helpful). Like the BabyBjörrn, the Ergo is made of cotton and cleans up very easily with just a sponge most of the time. It can be washed in a machine, too. There’s a cotton hood (the green fabric in the pic) that attaches with snap buttons for when the baby is sleeping — protects her from the elements, and keeps her head from flopping around.

Note: BabyBjörrn does make an “Active” model (which we have not tried) with lower back support that is supposed to “ease the burden.” However, you cannot convert that one to a hip/back carrier.

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-- Brandon Summers  

Ergo Baby
Manufactured by ErgoBaby
$95

Available from Amazon



Dog First Aid

If you’re caring for a multitude of critters, the previously-reviewed Merck/Merial Manual for Pet Health is essential. If you’ve never had a dog or, for whatever reason, never took the time to do your due diligence, the Red Cross’ Dog First Aid is an excellent primer and quick emergency guide worth reviewing and keeping handy. Beyond the basics of general care, the guide provides short, clear instructions and photos (plus a DVD) on how to diagnose and tackle everything from choking, pad wounds, anal sac swelling (it happens), constipation, bite wounds, burns and ear infections to frostbite, electric shock (cord bites), parasites and the more esoteric afflictions you hope never to see, like “rectal prolapse.” There’s also a checklist and instructions on how to assemble the ultimate first aid kit (the list is much longer than I would have imagined).

Our best buddy’s been with us for five years and — *knock wood* — we’ve had only one serious emergency, which luckily happened outside the vet’s office: anaphylactic shock due to an allergy. As time passes, of course, the chances of potential emergencies and health issues will inevitably increase. I know the little dude appreciates our preparedness.

-- Steven Leckart  

Dog First Aid: Be Red Cross Ready
Safety Series Vol. 2
2008, 116 pages
$17
Available from American Red Cross

Sample Excerpts:

Nails (Broken or Torn Toenails)

What You Can Do.
If the nail is bleeding, apply styptic powder to the area… You can also try applying direct pressure to the nail with a piece of gauze or clean cloth for 5 minutes. If you do not have these items available, try the following:

1. Take a bar of soap and push it into the bleeding nail, or apply flour or cornstarch to the area with firm pressure for 5 minutes.

2. If you are not successful, wrap the paw (See Pad Wounds, page 89.) After bandaging the paw, transport your dog to a veterinary hospital.

If you are able to stop the bleeding at home, wait 1 day (to make sure you do not disturb the clot that has formed) then soak the paw in warm water and a saline solution to help it heal. Monitor the site for infection, as evidenced by swelling, pain, redness and reluctance to put weight on the paw. If any of these signs appear, take your dog to a veterinarian.

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Tourniquet Technique

Use only on limbs — never place a tourniquet on the neck!

1. Wrap a strip of cloth or gauze (about 2 inches wide) twice around the limb above the bleeding area. DO NOT MAKE A KNOT.

2. Tighten the gauze or cloth by wrapping each end around a rigid object, such as a stick.

3. Turn the stick slowly and just enough to stop blood flow. Write the time on a piece of tape on the tourniquet.

4. Loosen the tie for several seconds at least ever 10 minutes to help avoid permanent tissue damage.

5. Be aware that the interrupted blood supply may cause your dog to lose the limb.

6. Take your dog to a veterinarian immediately.




Clearblue Fertility Monitor

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This fertility monitor is designed to predict ovulation and optimize a couple’s chances of conception. It requires test sticks which are used at the onset of a woman’s menstruation to monitor urine once daily (best in the AM). The urine is applied to the test stick which is inserted into the monitor. When ovulation is at its peak, the monitor shows a dot within a circle. We referred to this as the “egg’s in the basket.” My wife and I had tried for quite some time to have a second child. Our firstborn son was conceived in vitro, and the second time around we paid for two attempts at a cost of approximately $16,000 — both failed. Just as we started to save up money to try again, we stumbled across the fertility monitor (it cost $250 when we bought it six years ago). We thought we’d just keep trying with the monitor until we’d saved enough for another in vitro attempt. To our surprise, the monitor worked on only the second attempt using it. Much quicker than when we had our son. I’m pretty sure it would have worked on the first attempt, but at the time we actually didn’t believe the readings were accurate. It showed my wife ovulating extremely late in her cycle. News to us! There are now monitors available that don’t require test sticks ($50-60/pack). This one’s still the best purchase we’ve ever made. The average cost for an in vitro attempt is $12,000 to $16,000, which was not covered under our medical plan. The first attempt is the most expensive and subsequent attempts can be less expensive depending on the number of embryos available from the first attempt. We had four embryos remaining and if we paid for that treatment, it would have run around $6,000. The unit saved us roughly $5,750, which was a blessing, but needless to say, the birth of our daughter using this monitor is one of the greatest joys in my life. We have since loaned our monitor to four other couples that were having trouble conceiving. All four mothers got pregnant — interestingly, all with girls.

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-- Jeff Cruz  

Clearblue Fertility Monitor
$150
Manufactured by Inverness Medical, Inc.

Available from Amazon