High Chairs: Oxo Sprout

November 2, 2011

I’ve been meaning to post about high chairs for a little while. Since I can’t seem to get it together to write the longer overview of how I decided on ours, lemme just skip over that tale completely and recommend you take a look at Oxo’s new Sprout. I like it enough in theory that I definitely would have considered either a.) buying it for Astrid, or b.) at the very least, coveting it from a distance.

For starters, it looks sleek and like it belongs in an apartment in Stockholm, which is a big selling point for me. Also – key point considering the irritation we’ve had adjusting our otherwise-very-fine Svan – the Sprout’s seat, footrest and tray are all adjustable without tools. Don’t underestimate that feature. Really.

It claims to have a small footprint but seems like it’s about average – they’re all kind of large to my eye – and, even though it doesn’t fold like some of the plastic ones, it’s designed to keep your child at table-level until he’s sitting in a regular chair. That was a criterion in my high chair search and has meant we don’t have to hunt for a booster seat now that Astrid is going tray-less and sitting up at the table with us.

Have a look and let me know if you get one: I’d love to hear your review.

Oxo Tot Sprout High Chair, $249 at Amazon or MoMaStore (It’s probably too new to find used, but give it a go!)

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Learning Tower

October 30, 2011

So your baby can stand up – yay! It’s a key step in evolution, so go you for getting your own personal little one to this billions-of-years-old milestone!

One of the conveniences of a standing baby is that you no longer have to bring blankets to lay out on the floor everywhere you go (which is awkward in bars, let me tell you) and you don’t have to be down on that floor with her when she gets bored after 40 seconds on her own. One of the challenges is that now she wants to see what’s going on up at your level and can pull herself up to get halfway there. This means a lot of hoisting and hip jutting so she can see all the scintillating things you’re doing on the counter or your desk, like writing a check to the housecleaner or *gasp* putting away a spoon.

I shouldn’t be sarcastic: it’s lovely to be around someone who is interested in everything, despite the toll on my hip joints.

When Astrid got to this point, I could hardly get any cooking done because everything I did had to be one-handed. There are only so many things you can make that only require one hand, even for me, the Non-Cook Extrordinaire. After a month, I couldn’t deal, so I went hunting for a solution. Enter The Learning Tower. It might not look like much, but it is a huge help. It’s basically an adjustable scaffolding platform for standing babies and kids.

The railings and super-sturdy construction keep it safe, and the floor can be adjusted downward as the kids grow, so even if they’re just shy of the countertop, you’re still in business: your child is up at counter level and can see what’s going on + “help.” The helping in our kitchen consists of me positioning Astrid in front of the sink with the faucet on very low and a host of safe utensils and bottle brushes at her disposal. She’s soaking wet at the end of dinner prep, but who cares? I got dinner made and she’s headed for her bath anyway.

I don’t know how much learning is going on, but it is a definite physical relief and a huge boon for dinnertime to have one of these. It does take up a fair amount of floor space though, so it’s not ideal for a super-small kitchen, but it fits in ours, if just barely.

The $200 price tag isn’t much considering how solid it is, but it’s steep for an accessory. I found ours by posting on our local parents’ message board – a mom down the street gave it to us for free, thank you very much! I’ll definitely be paying it forward on this one. Do have a look on craigslist before paying retail, or, in San Francisco, post for one used on Golden Gate Mother’s Group or your neighborhood parents’ board.

Bonus: you can get chalkboards that hang neatly on the sides.

Little Partners Learning Tower, $200 at Amazon

Alternative: Kids Kitchen Helper Safety Tower for $149 at Amazon (Caveat: I haven’t personally used or seen this one up close.)

You heard me: Land’s End. The preppie emporium of my Boston youth – well, second-string to L.L. Bean, but still – came through for me in my seemingly endless search for the perfect diaper bag. I know: I couldn’t believe it either.

I was Googling around for “best diaper bag” and a couple of moms on the Berkeley Parent’s Network mentioned that they had and loved the Land’s End Do-It-All Diaper Bag. It sounded suspiciously utilitarian and stodgy, but I checked it out. $39.50. I’m not kidding. And huge. And, in black at least, it looks pretty normal and not like I wear Fair Isle in the winter and too-short cords with whales on them to pick up my kids at lacrosse.

So I ordered one to see what the what.

And lo and behold, this is my new diaper bag.

Here’s why I love it:

It’s big. It opens like a doctor’s bag, so you can load it full of all kinds of stuff (including a laptop and weird-shaped toys) and, if you’ve overloaded, it’s OK: the stuff just sits on top instead of falling out the sides. I can even carry my Ergo pack in – well, on – it. The straps are infinitely adjustable, so you can even wear it like a messenger bag (although you’ll want it to be zipped shut to try that). The external pockets hold, from left to right, my iPhone, my wallet, my notepad and pens, and my keys, with pacifiers in the zippered pocket over the middle two. The internal bottle pockets fit Astrid’s bottles (surprisingly inconsistent across other bags I tried). Not only does it come with a durable changing pad, but that pad has a zippered corner pocket for wipes, which I haven’t seen anywhere else.

Also included: a small waterproof pouch for soiled clothes or a wet diaper. And, genius touch, there’s a lightweight nylon zip pocket across the middle of the inside that snaps out. At first, this seemed immaterial or even annoying since the snaps aren’t that strong and it can detach unexpectedly. But here’s the thing: you don’t always have your baby with you, right? Which means you don’t always need your diaper bag. But you still need your lipstick and earbuds and breath mints…that you could now store in that pocket which snaps out to take with you in your regular bag. I love this. Really. It’s the little things, right??

No, the bag doesn’t have a padded shoulder strap, but you can buy that separately (or transfer the one you already have on your Skip Hop!) and I don’t love the color options (that sky blue interior on the black bag is a little dorky even though it does give you a good view of your stuff). And the trade-off for how light it is might be long-term durability, but a.) the Land’s End luggage I’ve had has held up pretty well over time, and b.) even if I have to replace it in a year or two, it’s only $40, so I’m still way ahead of the game vs. other pricier bags.

Here’s the thing: it’s not the hippest bag out there and it’s certainly not the one I would’ve registered for when I was pregnant and didn’t know what I’d need but definitely wanted something that didn’t look too mom-like. But now that I do know what I need, this fits the bill. And, in black at least, it still looks sleek enough not to offend my New Yorker, also-an-adult-with-style-not-just-a-mom self. Done deal.

Land’s End Do-It-All Diaper Bag, $39.50 at Land’s End

I was drawn to the Petunia Pickle Bottom bag/backpack even though it runs a cool $170 because a backpack seemed like a good idea for, say, getting through an airport hands-free. Plus, a couple moms I asked who had one said they liked it all right. Main complaint: the changing pad is attached to the front of the bag, which is irritating and inflexible. It’s also pretty heavy even before you put anything in it.

I went out and tried one at Giggle and immediately ran up against my dealbreaker: the top flap closes itself with two six-inch strips of heavy duty Velcro. That’s nice if all you’re doing is trying to keep your bag securely closed. But if you need to be able to get to a bottle with one hand while holding the baby with the other, or if you need to open the bag to get to your wallet while your little one is sleeping, you’re out of luck: that Velcro holds and my Lord is it loud. Disqualified. On to the next option…

$170 at Petunia Pickle Bottom

Diaper Bags: More Skip Hop

August 14, 2011

In addition to Skip Hop’s Duo Deluxe, I looked at a number of their other bags.

– Skip Hop Duo Double Deluxe ($79 at Amazon). The giant older brother of my bag targeted at moms of multiples. Way too wide for normal use or a standard stroller.

– Skip Hop Via Messenger ($79 at Amazon). I like to be able to sling my bags across my body (despite not being a messenger) and ordered this one with high hopes. Sadly, it’s basically no bigger than the over-the-shoulder Duo and – key point to check when you’re buying a bag! – the pockets designated for bottles do not, in fact, fit my baby bottles (Born Free). Also, the multiplicity of pockets isn’t a plus: most are small or flat, which most baby stuff isn’t, and the internal pockets crowd the bag’s main compartment, leaving it barely big enough for a blanket, let alone a change of baby clothes or extra milk.

– I skipped over the Skip Hop Studio Tote ($72-89 at Amazon) because I’m not so much into that slouchy handbag style. Plus, capacity is only 3 oz. more than the Duo, so not much of a problem solver there.

As noted, the Dash Deluxe ($57 at Amazon) has similar positive features to the Duo and addresses the tumbling-stuff problem with an overflap, but it doesn’t have additional capacity, so you’re still at square one.

So much for Skip Hop. The search continues…

Let me just say right now that I’m an overpacker. I keep hoping I’ll skinny down what I feel like I need to take with me when I go out with the baby. I aspire to be a minimalist in this area, I really do, but I’ve come to accept the reality that that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

I started with the Skip Hop Duo Deluxe Diaper Bag and I loved it at first. It has two front pockets that close with magnets, which means I can open them with one hand and they close themselves. It has relatively easy-to-use stroller straps for clipping the bag onto the push bar of your stroller, and, for the first time in my life, I was able to find my cell phone quickly because the bag has two small end pockets for phone and keys. If you are a light packer, this is a great diaper bag.

However, the body of the bag just doesn’t hold what I need when I go out with Astrid for more than an errand. And once it’s overpacked, the open top’s magnetic closure can’t close, so when you lean over the car seat to put a hat on your honey, all your stuff tumbles out over your head. Skip Hop’s sibling product, the Dash Deluxe, addresses the tumbling-stuff problem with an overflap but doesn’t have additional capacity, so you’re still at square one.

After I fell partway down our stairway because I was carrying the baby in her car seat + the Skip Hop + the additional bag I needed to carry the overflow, I went on the hunt for a better solution. Stay tuned…

Skip Hop Duo Deluxe Diaper Bag $35-$54 (depending on color) at Amazon,
Skip Hop Dash Deluxe $57 at Amazon,

To be clear up front, this is not a must-have and it’s a bit spendy for what it is, but it is a super nice-to-have. So when your rich friend’s mom asks what your little one needs, tell her you could use a house in Antigua and if she doesn’t go for that, ask for this double-layer chenille blanket. It is soft as a cloud, very warm, and just the right size for the crib when s/he can sleep with blankets next year. Astrid was lucky enough to get one as a gift when she was a month old and it was an instant favorite for snuggling in the swing and on the couch with dad in the early morning. We have two now so we can wash the first one occasionally.

P.S. Do NOT put your beloved blanket in the dryer for more than a 5 minutes on super-low. The cloud-like nature will disappear even on low heat. Just put it in to fluff briefly at the cool end of the cycle.

$56.99 at Amazon