Flexi Freedom Retractable Cord Dog Leash

First off, this leash is incredibly comfortable to hold. You wouldn’t think so by looking at it but I have walked, run, skied and bushwhacked with it in every season and you hardly know it’s there. Part of it is the soft rubber coating on the handle but it’s mostly the moulded shape that snugs right into your palm.

Next, it is very strong. When my 65 lb male Samoyed goes after a squirrel, the half inch wide, spring loaded belt pays out until it reaches the end and whammo: full stop, no problem. I haven’t cracked the case to see how the end of the belt attaches to the reel but it has stood up to this punishment nearly every day for several years now. Of course, this also speaks to how the spring-loaded, stainless steel D clip is fastened to the dog end of the belt: it’s looped through, folded back and crimped with a plastic clamshell. 

The leash has an elegant locking-mechanism that works reliably and intuitively by pushing a button with your thumb and then engaging a switch. This locks the belt at whatever length you want, and yep, it holds firm when charging dog meets end of leash. The belt is released just by pushing the switch again. Both setting and releasing the length are easy to do with one gloved hand.

When you run, walk or ski with your dog, the reel constantly pays out and retrieves slack (unless you’ve set the lock) so the belt rarely gets tangled the way other leashes can. This adjusts for both human arm swinging as well as for various dog movements. I sometimes clip the Flexi onto my belt, which frees up both hands for hiking or ski poles, or for carrying stuff.

Finally, it is almost completely silent. Impressive that in all seasons, with the belt getting wet, dirty and freezing, it has not developed the slightest squeak.

-- Tam Stewart  

Flexi Freedom Retractable Cord Dog Leash
$17

Available from Amazon



Thermos Foogo Sippy Cups and Bottles

There’s no end to the amount you can spend on gadgetry for child-rearing, and yet I’ve been amazed at the poor design and shoddy construction that seems to dominate even the high-end of the parental gear spectrum.

Living in New York City, where space is at a premium and the cost of living is high, I get incredibly irritated by the presence any tool in our home whose function fails to justify the space it hogs & the cash it consumed.

Fortunately, my wife & I have made a few happy discoveries in the 2 ½ years since our son was born: topping our list is Thermos’ Foogo line of sippy cups and bottles. In a world of leaky, breakable, and otherwise cruddy drinking vessels for infants and toddlers, these are exemplars of functionality – plus they look good.

We favor the stainless steel straw bottles – no leaking, minimal plastic, dishwasher safe, insulation that keeps smoothies cold – but the plastic ones have also served us well. You can order inexpensive replacement straws & gaskets directly from Thermos (they’re not listed on the website, so you have to call Customer Service at 877-419-8272).

These aren’t the cheapest bottles on the market, but we’ve found they work & last. Mom and Dad are happy – our son is hydrated. Three cheers!

-- Ed Forgotson  

Thermos FOOGO Phases Stainless Steel Straw Bottle, Blue/Yellow, 10 Ounce
$13

Available from Amazon



Bitybean Child Carrier

There are lots of infant and toddler carriers out there to suit personal preferences. What makes this carrier special — and a big reason why it’s become our everyday go-to carrier for our 22 pound six-month old — is its unbelievably compact size and simplicity.

Unlike other carriers like the Ergobaby and Babybjorn, when not in use our Bitybean carrier can be stuffed into a sack barely larger than a soft drink can. This means it can be easily slipped into a small diaper/travel bag, or even in our stroller’s cup holder. It’s there when we need it, out of the way when we don’t.

Its fast to put on (either front or back facing), very lightweight and stays cool in warm weather. While I was initially concerned about the relative lack of padding or support, our little one is quite content in it for short errands and trips to the grocery store.

We still occasionally use the Ergobaby carrier we got at our baby shower, but the Bitybean sees much more daily use.

-- Rayan Parikh  

Bitybean UltraCompact Baby Carrier
$60

Available from Amazon



Wire Rake Poop Scooper for Grass

The dreaded poop-scooping chore. I’ve been using a variety of tools for this job over the years but nothing holds a candle to the Wire Rake Scooper (designed specifically for Grass) on Amazon. I’ve had it for about six months now and have to say that it is the best tool out there. The scooper is great for all types of poop in all types of climates. It is easy to slide underneath your dog’s poo – even if it has lost its form due to the elements or your dog’s illness. It’s easy to use and super easy to clean (much easier than the claw-shaped tools designed to do the same thing). Also – you can’t beat the price.

-- Jodi Robinson  

Wire Rake Scooper for Grass
$9

Available from Amazon



Learning Tower Kids Step Stool

I have been using this for 7 months, since my daughter was 16 months old. I love it! She was constantly wanting to either sit on the counter or have me hold her while I was prepping meals/snacks/drinks. This enables her to climb up and be counter level in the kitchen and I have both of my arms and hands free. It also comes with accessories (like a chalkboard and castle stuff) which I have not purchased, but likely will. What I love about this, versus other products, is it gives her the independence she so desires but is safe (compared to a step ladder or stool of some type).

-- Katie Lee  

Little Partners Learning Tower Kids Step Stool
$200

Available from Amazon



Potette Plus

This is the best portable potty for toddlers. We’ve had ours for about five years, and our second child is now using it. It’s very light and compact, and it allows you to have a toilet available at all times while your toddler/young child is potty training. And for at least a couple of years after that. Like the previously reviewed Travel John, the Potette Plus is perhaps most useful for road trips.

Folded, it’s just 3 inches tall, and its footprint is approximately a 9-by-9-inch square. We’ve always kept ours in the car, but it could also fit in a daypack or large diaper bag. It takes single-use disposable bags (three included) with absorbent liners that you throw away, much like a diaper. Replacement bags are about $10 for 30. We’ve used ours mainly for emergencies, so it hasn’t added up to much.

Having these on hand minimizes anxiety for children, who are still getting used to listening to their bodies’ cues; also for parents, who know they’re covered wherever they go.

It also functions as a trainer seat that fits into a standard-sized toilet, but we’ve never used ours that way. Appears great for that purpose, too.

-- Elon Schoenholz  

2-in-1 Potette Plus
$10 (Liners extra)

Available from Amazon



Oral History Workshop

When you’re 64 wouldn’t you like someone to ask you about your life story and then preserve it? When you’re 24 wouldn’t you like to learn what really happened back in the day? Here are some great tips for interviewing and archiving these stories, including two chapters packed with a hundred great sample questions to ask. Technology makes this easy to do. I’ve done regular video interviews with my children as they grew up and with my parents and in-laws. One of the smartest things I’ve done. This book hadn’t been published then (and it’s the best of a half dozen on the subject), but if I had read it then I would have done a better job. Right behind me, my high-school age son is now capturing oral/visual histories, and he found this book extremely helpful too.

-- KK  

The Oral History Workshop
Cynthia Hart, Lisa Samson
2009, 180 pages
$11

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Even in interviewing, though, some silence can be a virtue. Particularly if the interviewee is discussing something difficult, a breath of silence implies, “Tell me more, associate further, give me the links to this experience, fantasy, or anxiety.”

So, though in preparing for your interview you’ll likely focus on what you’ll ask, don’t forget about the power of a well-chosen pause.

*

Broad questions have a way of eliciting vague answers. Instead of “Tell me about high school,” you might start with a smaller, more specific question: “Who were your best friends in high school?” A “little” question about a childhood game could reveal a big truth about a family dynamic. Aim for a combination of broad and specific questions to get the full story.

*

fish

What insights have you gained about your parents over the years?

*

Begin each recording by identifying the time, place, and names of the participants. This will serve as a journalistic “time stamp.”

To give audio recordings a visual context, take still photographs of your interviewee (and if possible of the two of you together) at the interview location.

*

Before you finish an interview, ask yourself, “Is there one last question I need to ask in order to achieve what I’d hoped for?” Then ask the interviewee: “Is there anything that you would like to talk about?” or “What have we not discussed that you feel is important for me to know about you and your life?”

*

Describe a typical family meal in your childhood home. What was usually on the menu? Who sat where around the table? Did it matter to you?

What is the best gift you’ve ever given someone? The best gift you’ve ever received?

If you could take only one last trip, where would you go and with whom? What would you do?

What’s the biggest mistake you ever made? What did it teach you?

Who are your three closest friends? How are they different from one another, and why is each so dear to you?




Rockabye Baby!

“What‽ You let your baby listen to Metallica‽” Indeed I do… albeit lullaby renditions of “Enter Sandman” and “Fade to Black.”

The Rockabye Baby series consists of instrumental lullaby versions of a wide array of tracks, featuring artists/groups including The Beatles, Nine Inch Nails, JayZ, Green Day, plus many others. The covers are generally very well-done (Queen and Journey are my personal favorites) and just as calming for our little one as any of the traditional standards.

What’s particularly great is that despite much repetition, this music doesn’t grate our nerves the way a lot of sing-songy children’s music does. Plus, it’s quite entertaining to hear certain tracks — Guns-n-Roses ‘Mr. Brownstone’ comes to mind — reinterpreted as innocent-sounding melodies through the use of chimes, bells and vibraphones.

-- RS Parikh  

Rockabye Baby!
$10 per MP3 album

Available from Amazon



H2O4K9 Dog Canteen

We like to let our dogs take us outside for both our benefits and theirs. But keeping them hydrated without letting them resort to slurping up who-knows-what from puddles has been a sort of a problem.

We’ve tried a variety of doggy-intended canteen things. Nalgene bottles & floppy bowls. Little buckets & bottles. Everything was either a pain for us or the dogs weren’t interested in some stinky wet plastic — no matter how thirsty they were.

I recently bought some bottles from H2O4K9.com. The dogs took to them immediately. The bottles themselves are stainless steel. The “insulated” version’s dog-trough is big enough that both our dogs get water at the same time, sorta, and it looks like it’s big enough for large-muzzled pooches.

The insulated “K9 Unit” and non insulated bottles are both 25 ounce capacity. There’s a 9 ounce model for dogs-who-are-cat-sized too.

-- Wayne Ruffner  

Available from Amazon



SimplyVibe Radio

I’ve had this portable rechargeable radio for at least 18 months now and it’s survived many accidental drops, tosses and throws from a toddler.

My wife and I were in the market for a radio we could use to play white noise to help drown out the street noise in our child’s room. For a while we used an iPod Touch playing back a looped white noise MP3. I was tired of having the iPod tied up all night (and during nap times). Dedicated white noise machines are expensive and have limited functionality. What I was looking for was a device that would play a continuous loop of a single track (the white noise track), but was expandable enough to still be useful once we no longer needed it as a white noise machine.

The SimplyVibe SV-X7 (or baby boombox as we’ve come to call it) meets that simple-use case and more. It’s got a built-in battery (a Nokia cell phone battery), recharges via a mini usb cable, has a built-in radio tuner, a 3.5mm aux in-port and it plays back MPS/WMA/WAV files from either a usb flash drive (from its full-sized usb port) or from the micro SD slot (what we use). The sound quality is good, and it has a decent volume range.

We’ve taken this camping, to hotels, and even use it to play music outside when working in the yard. It’s to the point where I need to order another one so I can use it when the kid is sleeping!

-- Jason Huebsch  

SimplyVibe SV-X7 rechargeable FM radio and MP3 player
$30
Item is out of stock on Amazon, but the manufacturer is selling refurbished units for $20

Available from Amazon