You know what’s ugly?

no wonder this gem is "out of stock"

no wonder this gem is “out of stock”

Stop kidding yourself. Kids melamine plates are ugly. Most are loud. Maybe you pretend to love the designs, but seriously? They match only the tackiest of decors. None is microwave safe. 

In my melamine heyday, these marvellous unbreakable culinary apparatuses (yes, I marvelled) were rather expensive novelty items. I rarely purchased or was gifted more than two at a time. As a result, I once owned 11 plates of various sizes, each with a different number of food compartments, with different motifs and some accompanied by their own, unsightly, cutlery. 

I mean . . . is this even a serious item for purchase?

I mean . . . is this even a serious item for purchase?

is this a rhino? I rest my case.

is this a rhino? I rest my case.

Parents will sympathise with my nightmares about the Kids Plate drawer closing . . . or not. After all, novelty plates know no standardised sizing. 

Two things made my position in Plate Purgatory teeter towards the underworld: (1) children (mainly mine) bickering over particular plates; and (2) melamine burns in microwaves.

Our family deserved better, more beautiful, children’s plates. And, marvel of all marvels, elegant, durable, microwave-safe dishes are actually available. I tossed every single melamine item in our kitchen, and I bought these tempered glass beauties from Mighty Nest, yet another well-curated Midwestern e-commerce site.

the French think of everything

the French think of everything

Doesn’t look like kids decor does it?

There is no new magic here. The French company Duralex first made tempered glass in 1945. But 60 years later, the company came under new management, and since then Duralex has become more widely available (at least in the States). 

Here’s Why Duralex Plates Are SmartStuff:

  1. Microwave & Dishwasher Safe.
  2. Tempered glass is unlikely to break when dropped.
  3. Identical items eliminate bickering over a favoured plate.

Note on Durability: For over a year, none of the set broke. Recently, two items have broken on our new London tile kitchen floor. I contacted Mighty Nest and learned that while Duralex is not entirely unbreakable (as melamine appears to be), if broken on tile floors or from extremely rough use, it shatters to small pieces and is less likely to hurt your wee ones.

France, Duralex, Mighty Nest, thanks for the Smart Stuff of the week.

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Should I Be Making More British Friends? (or, “where are the Brits?”)

Before we moved to London, my friends took bets on how long it would take before I returned home sounding like Madonna. Not a chance, I challenged. Already set in my dialectic ways, I doubted I would acquire the new accents and turns of phrase of my soon-to-be neighbors.

“You’ll pick up more than you think.” 

I remained skeptical.

After a few months in London I’m fairly certain that my accent and locution will not be altered by this new linguistic landscape. But not because, at thirty-two, I’m too old to let the gravitational forces of British voices remove my “r”s and enunciate the “t”s.

No, I will likely return to the States in a year or ten sounding just as I do now because there are no Brits here. 

[Read more...]

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Apple iKid

Dear Apple:

Rumor has it, the iPhone 6 (whoops, the Air) debuts this fall. Your Next Great Things are always irresistible, and I have already inured myself to the reality of a big purchase when the weather changes.

The wide screen doesn’t interest me . What I REALLY want from the new model is this:

A kidPHONE-zone.

<– This is my problemiKid

I want to EASILY disable email, phone, text, social media and photo editing while enabling kid-friendly applications like Monkey Math and photo perusing.

You see, three year-old Kid-1 has already figured out how to use the phone and YouTube, take and email photos, text and tweet. Try explaining to your boss why he received a FaceTime request at 6AM. Awkward.

This evening, while I was pouring myself a glass of wine, Kid-2 grabbed my phone and managed to try to block Joanna Goddard from Twitter. I mean, seriously?!

And then there is the messaging. Even my amateur attempts to curtail Kid-1′s prolific texting are outmatched by her uncanny ability to retrieve the Settings app from whatever dark hole or corner I have stashed it in and un-airplane-mode my phone.

This was bad with one child, but now Kid-2, still just one, has learned my iPhone lock passcode.

Truly, I am one step away from having a photo of my knees or sleeping sweats messaged out to the world. Who knows, maybe some 5 year-old was responsible for the infamous Anthony Weiner penis tweet. And the 37 salacious emails that followed. Kids are sneaky like that.

Apple, I beg you, give me a quick way to stealthily and completely safeguard my email, my photos, my phone, my life. How about multiple user logins? Maybe a Parent Panic button on the back. Anything. I am desperate over here.

And now I have just tweeted “sdfnbkdfjwdfkjsdjdjdjndsfkjsdfhjkdsf.” Try hash-tagging that.

Yours,

Susan

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My Job: Professional Adventurer. My Goal: You will Join Me

I was not always a Professional Adventurer. I used to be a lawyer.

available at http://www.wildandfreedesigns.com/

available at http://www.wildandfreedesigns.com/

The most active five months of my life were those immediately following Kid-2′s birth. Here’s why: my maternity leave was generous but limited. Perhaps betraying an underlying FOMO, I set out to explore the greatest hits of New York City, with both girls. Of course, as a second-time parent, I had no qualms about feeding and napping Kid-2 as we donned our adventurer hats.  

The best decision I have ever made was to ignore all excuses and just go. Go everywhere. Go exploring modern art, ancient relics, temples (Dendur), carousels, outdoor skating rinks, parks, more carousels, zoos, gardens, and the best gelato shops. We went. 

In a twist of fate, shortly after I returned to my legal career, my husband was offered a position in London. We took it. Goodbye New York, goodbye easy adventures to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (and our favorite room . . . the Arms and Armor Court!). 

Our family finds itself now in that precarious situation known by all expats: we live here; we are not of here, and we may leave here oh, you know, tomorrow or never. 

And I have become a Professional Adventurer. 

I have committed myself to principles: (1) build a life as if this is our permanent home; and (2) adventure like we depart next week.

Here begins a series of SIMPLE adventures with children. I have done them all, and I am still alive. To date, no museum has ever thrown us out (although the guards at Windsor Castle were not thrilled with the girls jumped the fence onto the pristine grass).

Why put forth so much effort with the younger set who may not remember all our exploits? Maybe I’m just lazy: I would rather get out than build yet another Lego tower. But actually, I think they will recall, they will learn, their curiosity will be inspired.

The series starts today. I hope my adventures encourage your own.

Susan

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Tegu: The Smartest Block on the Street

TeguToday’s Smart Stuff: Tegu Blocks

A block is a block is a block, right? Not when it’s a Tegu.

I discovered these gems while driving to my parent’s house in the suburbs of NYC. A Connecticut company, Tegu parked its delivery truck about a mile from my childhood house. 

What’s a Tegu? Tegus are magnetic wooden blocks. They “click” and hitch themselves together, facilitating easy, clever engineering by your tiny architects. 

Curious, I bought a small set. Two weeks later I got a bigger one because Kid-1’s friends, then just over 2, enjoyed them so much. 

Tegus inspire budding builders, and also aspiring environmentalists. Made of (sustainable) wood in Honduras by talented workers earning a living wage, these toys are not just about your child. And that lesson is as good as any engineering one.

The sticker price may look steep, but trust me here. Over years of play — and yes, there will be years —Tegus amortize to cents on the afternoon. 

Nearly two years (and two continents) since we first purchased these, Tegus are still family favorites. Challenge your child’s creativity. 

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Smart Stuff: Fat Brain Toys

My parenting philosophy is fairly characterized by a heavy dose of adventure, sautéed in nerd, with a sprinkling of minimalism. 

Toys and gear are the salt in this awful analogy.

Largely, they are overplayed (ok, I promise . . . I’ll stop).

Many Montessori toys are wonderful, but three year-old Kid-1 has these at school. Home time is for exploring, writing, reading, and other free play. And as you may know, we spent two months with just three toys between the two of them . . . and so far, both have survived. Shocking.

i [heart] fat brain toys

i [heart] fat brain toys

Despite my minimalist aims, toys can inspire learning and a love of science, art and engineering that free play often does not. When we have a party, or when we need some new inspiration at home, I go here: Fat Brain Toys

Think of it as the Barney’s or Joseph’s of toy stores. Heavily curated, Fat Brain picks only the most educational, the most expertly crafted . . . in other words, the essentials. No trinkets allowed. 

 I am enraptured with this vendor. And no, I am not on any payroll. To be true, why Fat Brain has not already taken over the child toy vendor world is beyond me.

As I kick off my Smart Stuff column, I tip my hat to the site that has inspired much of it. 

And here’s my ask: please open a warehouse in the UK. It is quite expensive to patronize your shop from London (and the kinetic sand looks impossibly cool!). 

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Dear Organic Baby Food Makers of the World

Dear Organic Baby Food Makers of the World,

Thank you for rescuing me from the hyperbolic organic mothering competition I played last time around. Those little squeeze pouches are great substitutes for home-cleaned, steamed and pureed squash. And 90 minutes of my time shopping, cleaning, chopping, steaming and pureeing is worth more than a buck fifty-nine. This time around, I’m smarter and shrewder. Plus, I’m pretty sure that market and legal incentives will push you to make at least healthfully pure a meal as I would have made myself.

Sprout brand carrots

And while I appreciate those brands (thank you, Sprout) that put just ONE ingredient into the Stage One offerings – designed for first-time eaters – many brands do not. Yes, Happy Baby, I’m lookin’ at YOU. Do you really need citric acid and purple carrot juice concentrate to mush carrots?

Since I’m being picky here, after you simplify your ingredients, please expand your product selection. If you had just sustained yourself on breast milk for a few months, wouldn’t you want something, I don’t know . . . a little more zesty?

Beginner food options are paltry: butternut squash, carrots, peas and potatoes. What about spinach, asparagus, sweet peppers, eggplant and zucchini? When Kid-1 was growing up, we made all of this in the blender. Three years before she devoured that squid ink risotto dish I stuck on Instagram, she stuffed pureed asparagus in her mouth.

Then there’s the misleading advertising. Happy Baby offers a delicious-sounding broccoli, peas and pear. A great way to start your kid’s burgeoning love of broccoli? Nope.

pears are the FIRST ingredient: this is a fruit snack

pears are the FIRST ingredient: this is a fruit snack

Pear is the leading ingredient, followed by peas. Broccoli is just (barely?) above ascorbic acid. Phew! I’m glad it made it into the blender.

I don’t mean to slam on Happy Baby. I wanted to love the brand, considering it was started by a woman. But when I read “broccoli, peas and pears,” I assume the ingredients are weighted in that order. My mistake.

Kid-1 never ate this stuff because I figured it was just as junky as the sugar-filled yogurts in my dairy aisle. But now that I’ve tasted the convenience — and am hooked! — I want to make this a full-on habit.

So, Organic Baby Food Makers of the World, help me be your best customer. Make me some veggie-only fare.

Adults don’t eat Brussels sprouts mixed with pears. Because generally speaking,

veggies + fruit = gross.

veggies + spice and fat = delicious.

Just steamed is fine for Stage One.

For the more sophisticated (Stages 2 and 3) palates, mix in some spices or new ingredients. Brussels sprouts and bacon, asparagus and lemon (and maybe some anchovies or egg), cauliflower and turmeric, eggplant with (a teeny bit of) salt and pepper.

If your kids grow up thinking vegetables should taste sweet, they will never enjoy vegetables. This is how we get picky eaters.

Baby food makers, my sincere thanks, in advance, for your time.

Susan

 

I published a version of this on www.harvardmom.tumblr.com last year.

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What’s In Your Diaper Bag?

is this you?

is this you?

Here’s what I carry, organized by duration of trip.

1 hour or less:

image

  • Just the baby!

What could your kiddo possibly need in the hour? If there’s a poopy diaper situation, go home! Much more sanitary to change her there than on the sink counter of your local supermarket.
1-4 hours:

[Read more...]

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Enough Mommy Time

I think I spend too much time with my children.

A few months ago, I resigned from practicing litigation at a large law firm to coordinate our family’s move from New York City to London. My days went from solidly booked to sometimes boring. When I worked as a litigator, our daughters had under two hours of Mommy time on workdays: one morning hour (unless I had a conference call) and a few minutes at night. Weekends we shared. I took them everywhere I went with friends, but my husband and I had religious child-free date nights on Fridays and Saturdays.

At large law firms, associates clock predictably long, yet unpredictably scheduled, hours. It’s what we sign up for, and believe it or not, most of the time we love it. Most of us thrive on the challenges, the action. I did too. 

Then our older daughter Annie arrived, and I wanted to see more of her than I could while working full time. I asked for Fridays off. My firm was fantastically supportive, and voila, I had a full 24 hours extra with my daughter for adventures and play. I remained on that schedule when I returned from my second maternity leave, this time splitting the time at home with my two girls. Most parents at my firm did not elect the part time track. I knew their children, and they were perfectly happy and well-adjusted, just like my girls. All of this sometimes made me wonder: was the part time schedule more for me, or more for our daughters? 

[Read more...]

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Museums with Kids: Tate Modern Matisse

Matisse Exhibit

Life in London is great. Kid-1 loves her school (even if she desperately misses her New York friends), Kid-2 is walking, Mike is home much more on the weekends and for all the Bank holidays, of which there are multiple monthly, and we have hired an au pair and found a babysitter both of whom our family loves and both of whom speak and cook French. If this is the pinnacle of my life, I won’t be disappointed. 

Inevitably during the early days of a new home, a little bit of homesickness kicks in. This happened during Kid-1′s early days of school, when Kid-2 and I had sometimes 5 hours of unstructured play time (as you can see, I’m not great with white space). I wanted to do something and learn something. Preferably with a friend, but the few people I know couldn’t be convinced to schlep their children across town for an impromptu adventure.

So Kid-2 and I trotted our little selves over the the Tube (New Yorkers, it’s like the subway, but cleaner and with cushioned seats – worth a trip just to marvel!) and over to the Tate Modern to see Matisse: The Cut-Outs. We’ve since joined the whole Tate (Britain, Modern, etc.) and have been to the London museums a few times each. The Modern in particular is fantastic for children of all ages. But if you haven’t been to see The Cut-Outs, get yourself there before it closes on September 7 (sorry, 7 September, I’m still working on being British . . .).

Frankly, until I had kids I thought museums were sort of boring. But children are expected to have short attention spans. So YOU have an excuse to race through whatever exhibits you consider boring. And you have to quickly learn something about the artwork and distill it in chunks they can understand for them, which teaches you something pretty quickly and forces you to pick out the interesting bits about the artwork.

But museums with Kid-2 is another matter. She’s is cute by most standards, and in London it’s apparently not considered rude to actually touch other people’s children. As in a full petting, cooing, talking to her, and trying to grab her. 

Sometimes this can be scary.

Our first week here, a homeless guy mistook her for Prince George while we were enjoying British breakfasts at an outdoor cafe and exclaimed how beautiful she was and how did she get past Kensington Palace guards. If she’s Prince George, that makes me Kate! 

PG v Kid-2

On second thought, I should have chosen a different litmus for Kid-2’s beauty because this guy kept ended up being carried off by the police after threatening our waiter with a butter knife. Look kids, just like in New York!  . . . anyway, where was I?

Tate Modern. With Kid-2. 

The Matisse exhibit is laid out over fourteen largely open rooms. All save a few paintings are hanging unprotected from the walls. The unadorned concrete walls and floors encourage ambling. Which is precisely what Kid-2 did. 

sort of like an iPhone, right?

sort of like an iPhone, right?

But not before I outfitted her with her very own audio guide and headset.

Audio guides are genius gadgets for kids at museums. Little people look cute enough in headsets that the bigger art enthusiasts are more apt to ignore the first three or four auditory disturbances. Worked like a charm. And when Kid-2 got bored with the headset, she realized that audio guides are essentially iPhones on necklaces. Nothing is better than interactive computer play, at least for the under-2 set.

So I got to enjoy my Matisse, Kid-2 saw some bright colors and patterns and perhaps picked up a bit up from my recounting the artist’s rivalry with Picasso, the role of war and social disruption on his paintings and how he worked through illness to paint some of the most breathtaking works in his ninth decade. 

Not a bad way to make lemonade. 

The Sheaf, Henri Matisse 1953

The Sheaf, Henri Matisse 1953

The Snail, Henri Matisse 1953

The Snail, Henri Matisse 1953

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