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



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

*

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.

*

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)

*

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