Friday, February 26, 2010

Things to Love, Take 1

Some new, old, and "new to me" things to love:

The BedNest:

Manufactured somewhere in the UK, the BedNest is a compact, travel-friendly co-sleeper crib.

We purchased an Arm's Reach co-sleeper and used it for our son's first 8 months. The Arm's Reach beats the BedNest in a few ways: it's larger, the mattress can be lowered to play-pen height, and its about half the price. But, the BedNest definitely wins for style and compact storage/travel-ability.

Maybe we'll save up for one before we make way for a baby #2?

Sprig Toys:

My mother purchased this Sprig "Dino Adventure Rig" for my son for his first birthday. Sceptical of any gift arriving in such colorful wrapping, I was very pleasantly surprised when I was what was inside.

All the sprig toys are made from "Sprigwood"-- reclaimed plastic mixed with recycled wood. They are colored without decorative paint and come in recycled, minimalist packaging. Even the electric toy series is powered by a generator using kinetic kid-produced energy.

My House Party:

I was super excited to see my friends Mike and Jessica, and their lovely tiny wooden houses featured all over my favorite design websites last month.

You can visit their online store to purchase the darling things, along with an assortment of air plants.

Sixx Design:

This husband and wife design team gets my vote for "best urban family homes." (At least, the best I've seen this week.) Of course, it would take me winning the lottery, selling a kidney, or harvesting a few eggs to contract their services, but I think it would be worth it.

Props for:
Keeping it urban (most of their work is in Manhattan); having a million kids (7, to be exact); naming your kids weird, but not too weird names ("Major" is my personal favorite).

Check out their book Downtown Chic and an upcoming gig on Bravo.

Happy Saturday!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Go Play Outside: Urban Playscapes

My husband is trying to convince me to move out of downtown into a nearby neighborhood. (Don't worry, we haven't jumped ship yet, but I am patiently hearing him out.) There's a lot that goes into this discussion--some current issues with our apartment, plans for a family business, housing co-op ideas, etc. One main concern that both of us share: if we stay downtown, where will our son play?

I've been thinking a lot about outdoor play places and an experience last week solidified some things for me.

A friend of ours held their daughter's fourth birthday party at a play equipment manufacturer's warehouse out in one of Cincinnati's east suburbs. This company opens their warehouse/showroom to the public for open play and to rent for parties. All of their display pieces are fair game, everything from trampolines, blow-up bouncy castles, play structures, and basketball hoops. It's a brilliant idea and it was an awesome party. Thankfully, my son can walk and climb, so there were a few things he could play on (including swings--which he loves), but most of the play structures are optimized at an older age. One structure was super cool. It was three full stories, connected by ladders, kept secure with vertical bars, and featuring a three-story winding slide. The price tag read: $35,000.
Yep, $35k.

This led me to ask myself: If I had $35,000 to spend on a play structure for my children, how would I spend it? And I'll tell you what--the last thing I'd spend it on is a mass-produced, bright blue steel structure for my backyard.

Now, let's put this into a public space perspective.
Most conversations surrounding public playscapes focus on two main issues: safety and durability. Basically, "How can we keep our kids busy without hurting them? Oh! And we don't want to have to replace anything in a year or two." Now, I understand that both safety and durability are important questions to ask. But, are they the only questions we should be asking? And are they the most important?

What did kids do before steel play structures were invented?
Geez! They must have been bored out of their minds, right?

Think about your average urban (or suburban) public play area.

Now, think about the childhood experience of outdoor play in a natural area.

Think about the materials, the shapes, the colors, and the textures. Compare the freedom and curiosity that come alive in natural spaces to the strictures and literal play of manufactured play areas. Sure, these play places keep kids busy and relatively "safe," but the kids aren't learning anything, exploring anything, and definitely aren't creating anything. Instead, they run around in circles inside a fence, climb up and down and up and down the same ladder, and swing back and forth on swings. Geez, even video games require some sort of strategy!

I would venture to say that most public play areas are a terrible waste of space and resources because they bear such little resemblance to natural areas.

Believe me, I know that the solution for most of us does not involve abandoning public play spaces because it's unrealistic to expect that those of us in urban areas should drive to the nearest wooded area whenever our child wants to play ouside. Instead, I wonder what would happen if we reconsidered the way we design and structure our public playscapes. This wouldn't satisfy the entire problem--we still need to expose our children to natural spaces--but it would satisfy the day-to-day need for children to play in ways that make them stronger, smarter, and more creative, rather than simply occupied.

What if we designed our urban play areas to more closely resemble natural areas?
And what if, instead of buying a $35,000 play structure for a public park, we hired a landscape architect or naturalist to create a public greenspace area that encouraged natural play and activities?

I've found a lot of great resources online for just this sort of idea, and there are other cities and countries that are already doing this (or have been doing it for decades). When I get the time, I hope to post some links to articles, photos, and other great resources.

For now, I'm curious what you think about the average (sub)urban play area and how it compares to your experiences of play as a child.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

An Ode to My Baby Boy

In honor of our son's first birthday, we hosted an open house. We used a loose disguise theme, since Izzy loves hats and glasses.

We kept our food simple: lots of healthy snacks and a few desserts.

I made about a million cupcakes and my grandmother's butter cookies in the shape of the number "1."

We took advantage of our high ceilings and projected a slideshow of our favorite photos of Izzy's first year. It looped during the entire party.

I made a hundred or so origami paper lanterns (and had extra paper and instructions ready for guests to make some, too) to decorate a make-shift "photo booth" to catch friends in their disguises. Sad to say, the natural lighting in our apartment is terrible and so very few photos came out well.

I made Izzy a paper hat and mustache for his disguise. He didn't like it so much, but his cousin did and kept trying to get him to wear it.

He liked this hat a little bit more.

We played a rousing game of "Pin the Mustache on the Man."

The host and hostess.

Happy first birthday to our sweet little boy!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Do This: Vote for the Best of Cincinnati 2010

It's time for CityBeat's annual "Best of Cincinnati" issue and it's up to YOU to decide who wins.

Visit the website and put in your two cents. Remember, vote local and sound off on what awesome people, businesses, and organizations in Cincinnati deserve the title for "Best of Cincinnati 2010."

Then, tell me some of the folks you voted for!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Getting Around: Babywearing

Babywearing: It's not just for hippies anymore, my friends.

Case in point:
My parents were in town last weekend for my son's first birthday and I took them over to Findlay Market to buy some last-minute items for the party. Because the market is only three blocks away, I asked my parents if they'd be willing to walk, rather than drive. "I do it all the time," I assured them. (Walking to the market may seem like second-nature to me, but this was a stretch for my parents.) They agreed and then my mom asked, "So, do you usually just bring Izzy in the stroller?"

I "wear" him.

The act of carrying a baby in a sling is probably as old as the human race, and is seen in cultures worldwide. In recent decades, the Western world has re-adopted babywearing as one natural extension of a more hands-on, intuitive parenting than was popularized in the first half of the 20th Century. It's also one expression of a mother's decision to maintain close contact with her infant and breastfeed on-demand. This is perhaps why the word "babywearing" usually conjures images of Whole Foods Market and PETA rallies and why I seldom use the term. I am, after all, only about 30% crunchy and only prescribe to some of the attachment parenting philosophy, so I'm not the prime candidate for the label "babywearer."

For me, wearing my child is less an issue of parenting philosophy and more an issue of practicality. A trip to Findlay Market is a great example of a time when babywearing comes in handy and makes more sense then contemporary methods of child transport (strollers, carrying, etc.). At a busy, open-air market, the aisles are small and crowded, you must be able to move quickly, it's helpful to have two hands free, and (especially when you live within walking distance) it makes more sense to just walk the few blocks and not fuss with car seats, parking spaces, and strollers.

Another case in point:
Nine days after my son was born, I had been holed-up in my apartment for almost an entire week and was desperate to get outside. It had been very cold the past few weeks, but this particular day was sunny and warm and perfect for a brisk walk. I had not yet purchased a stroller and I was not interested in loading and unloading my son into the car. So, I took the opportunity to test out my new Hotslings baby carrier and carried my baby down to the library, out for a cup of coffee, and then back home. My newborn baby stayed nice and cozy next to my body and slept the entire time, waking up only for a quick breastfeeding break at the library.

After the initial newborn stage, my son and I had a difficult time figuring out how to use the sling as he grew too large to lay horizontal, but wasn't yet strong enough to sit upright. A few months later, though, we were right back on the babywearing wagon and have been since.

Buying a Christmas tree at 10.5 months old.

I simply believe that, apart from any physiological or psychological benefits (for which there are many valid arguments), babywearing is simply an easy and practical way to transport a small child when traveling on foot, either for a short time (while shopping, waiting for a bus, waiting in line, etc.) or a long time (running errands on foot, hiking, cleaning house, etc.). In some instances, it is actually much easier than a standard stroller, is much cheaper, and much more portable.

In my opinion, smart mothers practice the art of babywearing from birth with their newborns so that the skill is always available when needed as their children grow older. It's up to their discretion how often and for how long they use this time-old "trick" for carrying and comforting a child, but it's a skill that is perfectly practical for any mother who does anything other than sit on the couch all day.

So, if you want to do your friend a favor as she's expecting a baby, you can help her purchase that super hip stroller she's been eyeing, but you should also help her pick out a baby carrier. It will help her feel close to her baby, make sure she gets out of the house and stays active, and make her competent to take care of both her baby and herself.

If you're new to babywearing, there's an entire culture to help get you acclimated. And there are tons of products, for those who are interested, that run the gamut from standard, to boutique, and then just plain ridiculous. (And that's only the begining.) You can also find books about the subject, help guides for each different carrier, and join local groups for parents who practice babywearing.

I choose to keep it simple but, heck, you can get in as deep as you'd like!