Is A Wooden Toy Kitchen Worth It?

For awhile my daughter was quite content to play on her adorable little Alex Wooden Cook Top Playstove. It was a great value at about $30 and also took up just a small corner of her room. Glorious! Now she’s dreaming of a bigger, more luxurious environment in which to whip up imaginary cupcakes. Have you invested in a wooden play kitchen? Was it worth the money and space in your home?

I like the simplicity of the Melissa and Doug Cook’s Corner Wooden Kitchen. It’s smaller than some and costs under $100, but I wonder if its size would limit the span of years she’d be interested in it. Have you tried this one?

Kidkraft’s Red Retro Kitchen seems like it might hold her interest for a few more years and it’s still under $150. It’s not exactly simple, but perhaps the details would lead to more options for play.

My absolute favorite kitchen, is the Camden Rose Childs Cherry Wood Play Kitchen. It’s a heirloom piece of furniture that would surely last for several generations, but it is quite a bit more at about $350.

What has your experience been with toy kitchens. Did they hold your child’s attention? Did you find a glorious deal on Craigslist? Thanks for your advice!

Should You Buy an Organic Crib Mattress or Save Up for a Bigger Organic Mattress?

The good news is that prices on organic crib mattresses have gone down in the last few years and there are now several inexpensive organic crib mattresses available for less than two hundred dollars. But what if you end up co-sleeping most of the time? Or what if your child shifts to a bigger bed early and spends just a short time on that organic crib mattress? Should you just bypass the organic crib mattress and invest in a twin or queen organic mattress from the beginning?

The cost of any organic mattress makes this a very valid question. The strong>Natura World Organic Foundation Twin Mattress is one of the most economical, and it costs about $575. strong>Naturepedic’s 2 in 1 Organic Twin Mattress comes in at about $700. Still, if you think about your child using the mattress for fifteen years, the cost per year is far less than buying an organic crib mattress that they would use for a fraction of that time.

You might be surprised to learn that you could buy a strong>Keetsa Eco-Friendly Memory Foam Queen Mattress for just $681, which is less than some organic twin mattresses! If you go with a natural latex product like the strong>Ultimate Dreams Latex Queen Mattress, it will cost you $600, but it won’t be certified organic. On the other extreme strong>Naturepedic’s Organic Cotton Queen Mattress costs nearly double that at about $1200.

We have had a few readers share that they’ve spent a large chunk of cash on an organic or latex queen mattress and been disappointed by its durability or comfort. Have you found a larger sized organic mattress that was worth the investment? Since we spend at least a third of our lives sleeping, it seems worth the money to purchase an high quality, organic product, but what is the best value? Is it worth it to just go for a larger mattress and skip the organic crib mattress? Or just to buy an organic crib mattress pad? Please share your experiences!

Is Your Baby Carrier or Sling too Complicated?

Mine was. I once became trapped inside my Baby Bjorn Carrier with my snoozing infant snuggled on my chest. I was desperate for sleep and wanted to lay my baby down so that I wouldn’t roll on top of him, carrier and all, but I was utterly unable to figure out how to get it off. Instead I sat on the couch and cried until my husband got home. Was sleep deprivation a factor? Absolutely! But this was my least favorite baby carrier. Did other moms have this experience with complicated slings or baby carriers?

Don’t get me wrong, I loved wearing my baby. Slings and carriers calmed colic, allowed me to cook dinner with two hands, and put my babes to sleep like nothing else. But some were just so much simpler to use than others. Luckily I borrowed almost all of the slings and carriers we had and the ones we bought were purchased used. It was nice to experiment with so many slings without having to shell out heaps of cash.

Carriers like the Moby Wrap look really cool in theory, but seem to require an advanced degree in fabric wrapping. Still, many moms swear that the Moby Wrap holds their babies more snugly and comfortably than other carriers. Just looking at the directions makes me feel the need to nap.

I even managed to wear the Maya Wrap incorrectly at times, which is one of the easiest slings to use! At first I would always put it on in the wrong direction and my baby would slowly sag down until he was hanging near my hip. To be fair, once I watched the instructional video that comes with the Maya Wrap, I was far more successful!

Our favorite sling, simply because it required no adjustment whatsoever, was the Kangaroo Korner Pouch Sling. We had one in fleece that we used with our first and bought a cotton one for our second. Sadly, I think that company has now gone out of business. Am I right? I guess the Peanut Shell Adjustable Sling or the Dr. Sears Adjustable Sling are somewhat similar, but don’t have snaps to change the sizing. Apparently they have a flexible elastic that allows the sling to carry a growing baby without buckles or straps. Has anyone tried them?

If I had to recommend any other carriers to new moms, I would say that the Ergo Carrier was pretty fantastic and far more comfortable than the slings we used. It works for infants as a front carrier and older tots as a back carrier. I could breastfeed my infant in the Ergo while grocery shopping without anyone ever knowing and loved that it came with a zip pockets for keys or a wallet. The downside was that I never figured out how to strap my son on my back with the Ergo carrier without help. I have seen other mothers perform this miracle in supermarket parking lots and been amazed, but my son was far too wiggly for me to successfully accomplish this acrobatic feat on my own.

The Baby K’tan Baby Carrier looks like a nice fusion of sling and carrier and seems to distribute baby’s weight more easily since baby it is carried on both shoulders. It offers over six positions to carry baby from newborns to 35 pounds, but it’s hard to tell from the information on Amazon if it’s easy to use. Has anyone tried it?

Have you discovered any new carriers that surpass the ones I’ve mentioned? Do you have a baby, like Rebecca’s, who is utterly unwilling to ride in any sort of carrier or sling? Please share your discoveries with our readers!

Natural and Organic Crib Mattresses for Less

When we first began writing our book, The Eco-nomical Baby Guide, organic crib mattresses were available only to families who were able to shell out several hundred bucks. How thrilling then to see that by the time the book was published, the market demand really had driven down the price of organic crib mattresses! Check out some of the organic options available to families now!

The Sealy Naturalis Crib Mattress with Organic Cotton is just $95! It’s not completely organic, but for families on a budget at least it’s a more organic option than a standard mattress.

The LA Baby Organic 2 in One Orthopedic Crib Mattress is currently about sixty dollars off, coming in at just $107 on amazon. That’s more than 30% off!

The Willow Natural Coconut Palm Crib Mattress by DaVinci is not organic, but it’s made of latex-free foam derived from natural coconut palm fiber. You have to consider the eco-footprint of shipping products to create a coconut based foam–and the fact that it isn’t organic, but at least manufacturers are considering different options than petroleum based foam. The crib comes with a 10 year limited manufacturer warranty and is a bit more expensive at about $165.

The Colgate Eco Classica I Crib Mattress is the highest priced option we’re featuring, coming in at nearly $190. You have to wonder if it’s worth the extra expense considering that it isn’t certified organic. It does pass the Greenguard standard for indoor air quality and has foam made of plant oils, but it runs quite a bit more than other comparable crib mattresses.

For those of you who can’t bear to toss the crib mattress you already have, or can’t afford even the least expensive organic crib mattresses, American Baby’s Organic Waterproof Quilted Mattress Pad comes in at just over 30 dollars. Not a bad option!

Have you splurged on an organic crib mattress or found another solution? An all cotton futon crib mattress maybe? Or a drawer lined with an organic blanket?

How Cheap Can You Get? Tips from the Tightwad Gazette Journal

As an impressionable college student, I tore through the Tightwad Gazette Journal the way a lonely thirteen-year-old devours a Harlequin Romance: voraciously, with bated breath. It’s been more than fifteen years since I first read it, and some of the wacky money-saving tips have stuck with me all this time. Here are some highlights from the recesses of my memory:

Make muffins out of leftovers. A few bites of oatmeal left in your bowl? Some cereal dust at the bottom of the box? A little baked potato left over from last night’s dinner? Transform it all  into muffins using a universal muffin mix.

This cookbook has nothing to do with the universal muffin mix. I was just trying to find a muffin picture to illustrate this point.

Rearrange furniture instead of buying new pieces. When you run off to Ikea or Target to buy new stuff, you may temporarily fulfill your desire to redecorate your house—but six months later, your cheap new bookshelves and framed posters will fall apart and you’ll wish you’d saved your cash for nicer things. Next time, see if you can satisfy your desire for change by regrouping the pictures on the wall, rearranging the furniture, and getting creative with the décor you already own.

Don’t go out to eat. The Dacyczyns didn’t go out to eat for the first decade of their marriage. Instead, they made every meal from scratch. Ten years and six kids later, they splurged on a night out . . . at McDonald’s.

They ate a lot of boxed macaroni and cheese. (True story. They did the math and determined that this is one of the few convenience foods that is cheaper than homemade.)

Use a bread bag for a diaper cover. Say your baby has a nice fresh cloth diaper pinned on him. All he needs is a diaper cover. But you don’t have a diaper cover. (Why or how this would happen is not important. Go with it.) Simply find an old bread bag, rip it open, and diaper the baby with it. (Again . . . why? I am not really sure.)

UPDATE: I was telling my friend Heather this story and she told me a story about a friend with a diapering emergency that only a bread bag diaper cover could solve!

Go ahead. Splurge!

Develop advanced garage sale skills. From the Tightwad Gazette Journal, I learned a lot about making the most of garage sales. Have a plan. Pack a lunch. Get there early. Bargain them down—especially if it’s later in the afternoon, when people are desperate to unload their belongings. With this advice in mind, I acquired a popcorn maker for $1.50 instead of $2. That was almost ten years ago, and we still use our Whirly Pop about five times a week. SCORE!

This costs $20 new. Now that is extravagant!

If you haven’t read the Tightwad Gazette Journal, you must! If you are already a fan, help me round out my list of tightwad tips.

Is There A Greener Minivan?

We’ve been zipping along in our two carseat-laden sedans for the last five years. But we’ve secretly yearned for a minivan. I know some adults cannot imagine being seen in a minivan, let alone owning one, but my husband and I are deeply practical souls.

We want to be able to carpool kids to and from school and soccer practice, haul mulch in the back, and go on long trips without having the luggage pile up around our feet. We’d use a sedan most of the time to maximize gas mileage, but it would be nice to have the van available as well.

So what is the minivan of our dreams? It would be fuel efficient, seat at least seven, be incredibly reliable, and be affordable. Really, we wish that many of the European micro-vans would hit the U.S. market. Why can’t we have smaller, more fuel efficient minivans? Why isn’t there a hybrid minivan?

Our policy is to save money and pay cash for our vehicles so we usually get something that’s used with low miles. We’re about a year away from making a purchase. Do you have any recommendations?

The Egg Cooker Saga Continues: The Update

Our email inbox has been flooded with requests for an update about my egg cooker dilemma. Okay, slight exaggeration. Full disclosure: We have not received one request for an update about my egg cooker dilemma. However, I’m not going to let that stop me from updating you on this topic that is very close to my heart. If you ask me, we don’t talk enough about egg cookers.

I’m taking this seriously

So let’s begin! First, Emily mentioned that she uses her rice cooker to steam eggs. Another Josh posted that he uses his steamer:

Similar to what someone else posted previously about the rice cooker, we hard cook our eggs in a steamer. We’ve got a 2 level one, so if we’re cooking something in one level we’ll put the eggs in the other level. If we’re steaming rice which takes around 50 minutes, the eggs go on top and are done in 24 (then we can steam something else in the other basket).

And of course, many other commenters tried to explain their “foolproof” methods for boiling or even baking eggs, but in the end, I was not persuaded. But before I sprung for another electric egg cooker, I did try to steam eggs in a pot with my steamer basket. This worked perfectly the first time I tried it. Beginner’s luck! I was never able to replicate the results.

The flawless results using my steamer basket–that one time

Meanwhile, Andy was getting impatient with my egg-boiling lab. He said something scientific about how much energy it takes to boil even two cups of water for steaming eggs versus heating the few tablespoons of water needed for the egg cooker. In his argument, which went on for a long time and had several salient points I will eliminate for ease of reading, he concluded that it would be a crime not to buy an egg cooker.

Dazzled by this logic, I went ahead and made a decision. I bought the Krups Egg Cooker (now on sale for $25.33!). So far, it has met all my expectations for an egg cooker—the most important one being that it perfectly cooks eggs with the flip of a switch.

My sister bought the Cuisinart Egg Cooker (under $30), which she claims has changed her life and the life of her boyfriend for the better.

And, in case you were wondering, my mother still has not replaced her Henrietta Egg Cooker, though she mentions that it stopped working after fifteen years of faithful service, which is more than I can say for the un-recommended West End Egg Cooker.

Thus concludes this installment of the Egg Cooker Diaries. To be continued?

BPA-free Popsicle Molds

Old picture of Audrey eating a homemade popsicle

Last year, our BPA-free Popsicle Mold post was one of our most popular, in its own quiet way. Only three people commented on it, but we noticed it got a lot of traffic. So this summer, to rival the popular basic Norpro Ice Pop Maker ($15.59), we found a few new ones to try.

Tovolo Groovy Ice Pop Molds (on sale for under $12!)

Tovolo Star Ice Pop Molds ($12.80)

KidCo Healthy Snack Frozen Treat Trays (only $5.95!)

Prepara Volcano 4-piece Pop Set ($11.12)

Kinderville Little Bites Ice Pop Molds ($16.99). This Norpro Silicone 4-piece Ice Pop Maker Set looks like a cheaper alternative for $7.86.

Our neighbors have the Zoku Duo Quick Pop Maker ($36) and really like it. You can make popsicles in minutes without electricity!

Do you have a favorite popsicle mold to recommend? I have a few really old ones—probably riddled with BPA and phthalates. I have to say I’m tempted by all the colorful new ones available today!

What is Your Go-To Green Baby Gift?

The journey from pregnancy to parenting is so intense that I love giving items to friends and family that will support them through that transition. What are my go-to gifts for green-minded new parents?

Cloth Diapers. By helping out a bit with the up-front cost of cloth diapering, I know that I’m giving something that will last from infancy to potty training-and beyond! Families that plan on having multiple children can save about a thousand dollars per child on diapering. Plus with all the fun colors and patterns available in lines like Charlie Banana or Fuzzibunz, it can be a lovely gift instead of being purely practical.

The Eco-nomical Baby Guide. The book helps break down how to reduce the amount of baby gear you buy, how to find the best used gear, and how to repurpose what you already have to help you save thousands of dollars. Plus, you’ll find a green directory of the best values on eco-friendly gear at every price point. Did I mention that I co-wrote this book? Still, I have to say that it’s the book I wish I would have had in the early months of my pregnancy as I scrambled to prepare for baby.

A Maya Wrap or The Ergo Baby Carrier. Luckily a friend of ours made me try a sling when we visited with our colicky infant. Once we slipped him into the A Maya Wrap, he immediately went to sleep. Plus baby carriers are hands-free devices that allow you to actually do stuff besides hold your baby! We also used an The Ergo Baby Carrier and I found it was far easier on my back once my children were older.

Home cooked meals. I cannot express the gratitude I felt for each and every meal that friends and family delivered in those first few months. Because of the rigorous schedule of breastfeeding and staying up with an infant all night, I was eating constantly but couldn’t find even five minutes to heat up a burrito in the microwave. Having hot meals on my doorstep nourished me, body and soul.

Free babysitting. Again, I think this was of more value to me than any material gift. Getting to go the movies with my husband or just take a nap once in awhile was a tremendous support. I would have traded all the adorable onesies I ever received for a dozen hours of babysitting. Am I the only one who feels this way?

What were your favorite gifts as a new parent? Is there anything you do for friends and family that might inspire some of our readers. Thanks for your ideas!

What is Your Favorite Cloth Diaper Brand?

Back when I began cloth diapering, new fangled products like Go Green Diapers, Rumparooz, and Lil Joey Diapers didn’t even exist. Now I find myself in green baby boutiques, playing with the velcro closures and almost wishing that I was back in the glory days of diapering.

Have you fallen in love with any new cloth diapering brands? Are you loyal to old favorites like Bummis, Charlie Banana, or Fuzzibunz? Or are you perfectly happy with prefold diapers and plastic pants?

We have nearly fifty thousand readers hitting our site on a monthly basis and many of them are new to cloth diapering. Please share your insights on which cloth diapers have worked best for your family!

I should disclose that I started with Bummis and prefolds and then fell deeply in love with Fuzzibunz and Charlie Banana. The snap diapers held up much better, especially with my second child and they were incredibly easy to get on and off.