Christmas 2012. The Haul.

So, we’ve failed. Clearly. We’ve failed in our promise to ourselves that we wouldn’t allow the toy situation get out of control. I clearly remember visiting friends’ homes and cringing at the piles of toy cars and sports equipment that just seemed to occupy every nook and cranny of their previously tidy homes.

We promised ourselves that wouldn’t be us.
We failed in that promise.

As a result of Christmas 2012 I now have a new project on my hands. Identify, review and select Vancouver-based services that accept used toys, kids books and children’s clothing and put them, or their proceeds to good use.

While our situation may not be as bad as most, our little guy certainly has more toys right now than he needs, or frankly than he can manage. More concerning, where prior to Christmas he showed little interest in either presents or the idea of new toys, he now considers anything loosely resembling a present as being something that should be his, and to my dismay he’s asked me if he can have “new cars.”

I figure there’s no time like the present to try and change that attitude and to reduce both the clutter and amount of distraction for him in and around our home.

I’m open to any suggestions for worthy recipients of toys, clothes and books in good to excellent condition. Currently I’m thinking of:
Vancouver Public Library for the books.
Big Brothers for toys and clothes that our friends’ kids won’t be able to use.

A New Addition To Our Son’s Favorite Book List. The Little Blue Truck Series

So Baby Beluga and Super Duck have fallen out of favor of late, with a new champion taking the forefront. This new champion is Little Blue Truck.

What made him change his obsession? Who knows, but frankly I hope it changes again soon because reading the same book every night is driving me crazy… Did I mention he has it 80% memorized?

Favorite Book Picks For Our 2 Year Old

So we just hit the big two years and man, as we looked back through some of our old photos and video it’s remarkable what has transpired in 24 short months. The size of our toddler’s vocabulary, range of interests and general behavior is mind blowing.

We chalk much of the advancement to his daycare provider and her approach to childcare, as well as the fact that he’s in a daycare environment that consists of only 5 children and so brings consistency and the ability for her to provide close attention to the children. Additionally, there is a range of ages so the younger ones have opportunity to learn from the older ones.

Despite the amount of change, there are also many themes, or areas of consistency. Some, such as our toddler’s infatuation with vehicles, in particular emergency vehicles and garbage trucks persist and are unlikely to disappear from what I see of other children. In the case of books he seems to churn through some, but maintain a love for others. Those children’s that have shown particular staying power are:

Baby Beluga (Raffi Songs to Read) by Raffi.
For a long time this book was a mandatory read, or rather ‘sing’ before bed. Even today if our toddler’s not quite ready for sleep we can hear him singing his version of Raffi’s Baby Beluga over the monitor from his crib. A classic.

Super Duck by Jez Alborough.
This one was new to me, and was given to us by my mother-in-law. Initially skeptical, I soon started to recommend it to friends given how quickly our little one took to it, starting to memorize the lines. This was made easier by the consistent cadence and rhyming used by the author, Jez Alborough. While a short book, this is a fun read and definitely a favorite.

Duck in the Truck by Jez Alborough.
The second book we have from author Jez Alborough is also a hit. Like Super Duck this one makes use of rhyming and fun pictures to bring your child along on the ride. Good fun. There appear to be numerous other Jez Alborough books available, and while I think we’ll buy a few of them, I will have to update this list if they prove as popular as these first two.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown.
This book has been much-copied with variants like Good Night Canada, Good Night World
and other books in the Good Night Our World Series series. Very simple, easy to follow and easy to participate this one was a particular favorite in the 1 year through about 18 month period. It’s since been displaced a bit by some of the books above, but still features periodically in our night time routine.

The Going-To-Bed Book by Sandra Boynton.
Another one that’s slowly falling off in favor of the Super Duck and Tuck in the Truck books, The Going to Bed Book featured prominently until recently. There wasn’t as much memorization that flowed here relative to say, Good Night Moon, but our toddler found humor in the illustrations, as well as the bedtime theme of the volume.

That’s it for now. I’ll aim to provide some additional top picks in the future as our library shifts with our little one’s development. Would love to hear if folks have other books their children particularly liked at this, or any age.

Sippy Cups No More. Bring Forth The Little Bites Silicone Tumblers.

At the time of this writing our little guy is almost 2 and until recently we’ve been giving him his drinks in various sippy cups. Stainless steel pop top bottle for water and a squat sippy cup for his morning shakes. At one point a couple weeks ago I realized we hadn’t even tried him with a traditional cup and so decided to give it a shot. Not a drop spilled. My primary concern was that I could hear is teeth against the side of the test cup.

That afternoon I used my lunch to walk down to a local children’s store and see what they had in the way of cups. After chatting with them I settled on the Kinderville Little Bites Cups which came in a four-pack colored, somewhat squat, soft silicone cups with a fairly heavy base to prevent them from tipping. He loved them and has hardly spilled a drop since starting to use them. I’m now thinking of getting another set to keep at Grandma’s as well. The price seemed a bit high, but I see that they’re currently discounted on Amazon to about 50% of what I paid at the local shop.

I’ve since gone back and picked up a matched set of Kinderville Little Bites Stackable Bowls and we’ve moved entirely from his old, hard plastic plates and bowls to these new ones which do a much better job of preventing spills. Again, these are soft, silicone and have a pretty heavy base which allows them to stick in place on his highchair table and not move around as he attempts to scoop up his food. As with the cups, Amazon seems to be discounting them pretty significantly, at least compared to the price here locally in Canada.

My only issue with the plate set is that the red plate/bowl doesn’t match the red of the cup. The cup is a traditional red while the plate is more of a burnt red shade. The other colours, yellow, green and blue are properly matched between the cup and bowl sets. Not a big deal, but wanted to call that out as I found it odd that they weren’t matched.

Finally, both the cups and the bowls are microwave and dish washer safe. It was suggested to me that I only place them on the top rack however.

Toddler Birthday Grab Bag Irritation

So we have a toddler birthday coming up in a few days and while we’re in pretty good shape at this point I’m trying to steel myself against the irritation that’s starting to creep up on me.

Why?

No good reason probably, but I’ve always thought that the huge theme birthdays or massive bouncy castle rentals are overkill for very young kids. I’d rather put the money towards an education fund or daycare or something than toward trying to out do the last birthday. So far so good. No toddler birthday themes for us this time around. No bouncy castles or ball pits scheduled to arrive hours before. In fact I think we’re doing pretty well.

– Renting a local ‘neighbourhood house’ to host the event. The cost is extremely reasonable and the place is fully equipped with a kitchen for food prep, downstairs full of toys and a gated, fenced yard with climbers, sand box and various other toys.
– Providing food ourselves. From drinks to fruit, to finger foods to cupcakes etc it looks like we’ll be able to do this on our own, though we haven’t settled on the cake.
– Toys and entertainment – see above as the location we’ve rented is stocked with a massive number of toys for boys and girls of various ages.
– Schedule. Keeping it brief. Two hours with an expectation that folks will trickle in and out over time. No expectations.
– Grab bags. Gah! This is where I get irritated.

When I was a kid you could go into a convenience store and they would sell ‘grab bags’ or ‘loot bags’ or whatever you choose to call them. Now I couldn’t even find the bags for sale at the local toy stores. I went into a drug store across the road and they’re charging $4 for the bags alone… EACH! As for the contents, dinosaur or smurf action figures apparently cost $9.99 each!?!? A single Thomas train costs $18.99?!?! A small book of stickers costs $5.99!??! Across 16-20 kids I’m now expecting it to be $100-$150 for grab bags full of crap. Tiny Play-Doh containers, cheap sheets of stickers, tiny containers of bubble soap, rubber bouncy balls etc. Few items that will be used, most will end up polluting landfills.

It would be awesome if someone would revisit the ‘grab bag’ idea and provide recyclable, compostable, safe, useful, enjoyable items at a reasonable price. Even if that last requirement couldn’t be met I’d much rather spend MORE for something that wouldn’t go to waste and not have to hunt and search myself. Colour me lazy. Meh. Irritated by toddler birthday grab bags.

Toddlers and Balance Bikes. Here We Go.

Various balance bikes we considered.
Red Strider ST-2 Balance Bike
Various Strider Balance Bikes
Wooden Balance Bikes

Earlier this year Grandma bought our little one a shiny red balance bike, specifically a Strider ST-2. Note that they’ve since released the Strider ST-3 (don’t ask me how they differ) which appears to be very similar.

Strider balance bikes come in pieces but are very easy to assemble, so don’t let that put you off.

Anyway, this past weekend was the first time taking the bike out to the park and allowing our little guy to give it a shot (he’d tried his new balance bike a couple times in the living room wiht limited success). I was a bit concerned that since he’s not yet 2 years old the bike might be a bit much, but after seeing kids in the neighbourhood who are if not younger, are at least smaller manage them pretty well I figured, why not. Interestingly I’ve seen these referenced as for 5 years and older which strikes me as a bit too conservative.

Initially there were some issues with actually balancing the balance bike. It took a few attempts to successfully catch himself when he leaned to far to one side or the other, but once he got the hang of that it was off to the (slow) races.

I will note that we started with the seat almost as low as is possible (almost touching the back wheel). As such he was walking while straddling the seat rather than sitting and pushing himself so he glides on the Strider. I figure that’s ok as he can first learn how to steer and generally work the bike and then we can raise the seat so he can focus on gliding rather than walking. Time will tell if this works.

There are numerous balance bike brands out there and we opted for the Strider in part for the bright colors as well as the solid metal construction. The various wooden balance bikes certainly have an edge in the style department, but come at a much dearer cost for the solid ones and in some cases looked a bit too fragile.

Finally, helmets. We picked up helmet from day 1 and have established that he won’t be riding the bike unless the helmet is on. The one we chose is the Bell Tater Kids Bike Helmet, specifically the blue dragon version. It’s pretty funny, but he loves the helmet almost more than the bike itself. In fact, he’s taken to asking to wear the helmet when he’s hanging around the house. Last night almost as soon as we started our Skype call with his grandparents he ran to his room, grabbed his new helmet and insisted he be allowed to wear it until the call was over. For those interested we opted against the round ‘bucket-style’ helmets which, while they look cooler lack the ‘overhang’ front and back that I’ve convinced myself will provide more face and head protection should he fall directly forward or back. Does this make sense? Who knows.

Various balance bikes we considered.
Red Strider ST-2 Balance Bike
Various Strider Balance Bikes
Wooden Balance Bikes

Our Experience with Sophie the Giraffe

I’m sure you’re all familiar with Sophie the Giraffe. She’s everywhere. Why a giraffe? I have no idea and no one’s been able to answer the question for me. Over the course of year 1 we received no fewer than 3 Sophie’s and guess what? Our little guy showed little to know interest. We tried desperately as given the popularity we were sure that at some point he must grab hold and come to love it, but no.

Two of the Sophies were regifted to folks we knew were giraffe lovers, and the other sits at the bottom of one of our toy boxes waiting for an opportunity to help with teething.

Anyway, I guess my takeaway is that if you’re looking for a gift for a new baby a Sophie the Giraffe will be looked upon well, though will almost certainly be one of many that the little on receives. Second, it may or may not get used, but hey, that’s true for any toy gift. Babies are individuals, and they all won’t like Giraffes named Sophie!

For those interested you can get your own Sophie the Giraffe here.

Time for a baby gear garage sale… and he’s only 7 weeks old

The rate of baby ‘stuff’ accumulation has been remarkable over the past couple of months. We made a conscious decision not to make major baby-related purchases prior to the birth. Call us superstitious… but with the exception of a crib and a car seat we didn’t buy much in advance. It’s a good thing we didn’t. Since Jr’s arrival we’ve accumulated a shocking number of things. Clothes, toys, burp cloths a bassinet, play mats, our beloved Cooshee and on and on it goes. Looking back we’re getting use of a remarkable number of these items, though there’s an almost equal number of items that are taking up space. Some of you may find the following helpful:

Stuffed Animals
Don’t buy these. Other people will at a rate that you’ll find quite shocking. There is one exception to this recommendation. Many of the stuffed toys you’ll receive will be… well… your typical stuffed animal while there are actually some pretty fun and interesting plush toy options available these days. As such I’m actually planning to purchase one (1) plush toy for Jr despite the herd already taking up space in our bedroom. Despite my well known penchant for UglyDolls I have my eye on a little beast from Monster Factory.

Clothes, in particular onesies
Again, you’ll get a ton of these from folks after the birth, and during the various baby showers that are bound to be scheduled. The number isn’t the issue, in fact you’ll want as many of these as you can get your hands on since your baby will be burping, peeing and pooing all over them with abandon. The issue is that they appear to size these things very optimistically. I suppose it could lead to more sales, but man… at 7 weeks Jr fits comfortably in 3 to 6 month onesies and can’t extend his legs when squeezed into 0 to 3 month outfits. Don’t believe the tags, ask people to buy reasonably rather than for cuteness and unless your kid’s a preemie make a point of returning your 0 to 3 in exchange for something that will fit.

Burp cloths and swaddling blankets
We got a lot of these. We need a lot of these. You will need a lot of these too. If someone offers, take them cause you’ll need them.

Diapers and wipes
If they’re not on the boob taking milk in, they’re preparing to expel it from all orifices in quantities that will blow your mind. Again… you’ll never have enough. Stash piles of them everywhere… in your diaper bag, the stroller, your car, every room in the house. One of the best tips I got shortly after Jr arrived was that when preparing to change, lay him on the new diaper before you take the old one off. Further, when you undo the first diaper, use the front of the diaper itself to perform the initial poo wipe to trap the bulk of the solid matter in the old diaper. Then use wipes to get the rest while cautiously guarding against pee in the face. Once wiped, roll up the wipes and the old diaper and throw them in the garbage (one can in every major change room) then quickly do up the new diaper which is already positioned under his butt, which by this time is probably read to fill it. Placement of diaper #2 and use of #1 for wiping are both key. Thank me later.

Anyway, a few tips to guide accumulation where it will be needed and avoid it where it won’t. Good luck!

When A Child’s Toy Is Not A Child’s Toy

Since about 2002 I’ve been a huge fan of the urban vinyl craze (see Kidrobot for examples) and all the figures, art and toys that it’s spawned. At times I’ve taken those items and gifted them to kids as birthdays and other occasions presented themselves. Lately I’ve noticed that one has to be more and more careful when purchasing vinyl and plush items as all-too-often what seems funny at the checkout seems entirely inappropriate at home as its being wrapped. I’ve collected a few examples below. Enjoy.

The Daily What recently featured this disturbing bambi plush figure.

I have this Gloomy Bear plush figure on my desk as I type this. I still find it hilarious, but the bloody lips and rather sharp plastic claws make it a risky purchase for kids.

The greatest uglydoll of them all, the octopus with chest hair apparently sheds that chest hair and so had to be taken away from the kid I sent it to. Unfortunate as it was a hilarious doll… but seems to have been discontinued as I don’t see it on the uglydoll site.

Anyway, you get the picture. With the trend toward innocent toys for adults its sometimes tempting to try and transfer them on to children which in some cases can be pretty risky. Not to mention the fact that many of these are made in China, and as a result the messaging regarding age groups is not always as clear as it might be. Case in point the mustached labbit I recently bought for a friend’s baby. It wasn’t clear whether it was to be kept away from children younger than 3, or whether that applied to the plastic bag it was purchased in.

Deals, Deals, Deals At Gymboree!

Gymboree is having a 30% off sale off everything you can fit in your bag. Don’t believe me? Check out the Gymboree Homepage here.

Not only that, but if you’re shopping online rather than in person the discount will be applied to your card (see the fine print on the banner). PLUS, free shipping on purchases over $100 and something about GymBucks if you’re registered for them.

Found over at Slickdeals.net