Monday, September 13, 2010

Just Your Typical CityKin

Our friend and neighbor over at CityKin just posted a great summary of a typical weekend for a family living in downtown Cincinnati.

Visit it here and then scroll through the rest of his blog for proof that the city really is a great place to live as a family.

On a personal note: It was great to finally meet this neighbors in person while walking home from dinner Friday night. (I met Mrs. CityKin briefly, a year ago, when I answered their providential call on the blog for someone interested in taking their used cloth diapers.) And many thanks to CityKin's wonderful children who sent my son home with two glow-in-the-dark bracelets when we left. He wore them to bed that night and I could see them still glowing early in the morning.

Ahh... the beauty of the pedestrian life and the friends you meet along the way...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Getting Around: Do I Really NEED a Stroller?

Before our son was born, my husband and I avoided much of the pre-baby purchasing craze. We purchased only a small percentage of those "must-have" toys, gadgets, and pieces of furniture and picked up the rest of what we actually needed when we discovered that we did, indeed, need it. Because we were prudent in our purchasing, we saved a lot of money and have less (comparatively) to store in the crawlspace until we decide it's time for baby #2.

But, all prudence aside, there was one item that I obsessed about for months: a stroller.

Up until the point I actually purchased our stroller (a month or so after our son's birth), I obsessed about which stroller to buy. I no longer noticed the cheery grins on the faces of babies in passing. Instead, I noticed only their stroller--the brand, the color, the style. And, I took mental notes of each stroller I'd actually seen in person, weighing the size and shape. And, of course, the price.

Some friends told me that a stroller was not a big deal: "Just get a cheap one; I barely use mine," they said. For some, that might be true. If you only intend to use a stroller at the mall, or for the occasional walk to the park, it really doesn't matter too much which stroller you get. But, for a parent who lives in a city and plans on walking a few miles a day, a stroller is a big deal. And because I didn't have a thousand dollar stroller budget like some parents in Park Slope or LA, I couldn't just order the latest hip-mamma stroller spotted in a magazine.

Like any niche market, the world of strollers is vast and becomes quickly overwhelming.

Things to consider:

Price- Is your budget $200 or $2000?

Age Range- Do you need a stroller that adapts to hold an infant carseat? Do you want a cot or full recline for a newborn? Do you want to be able to use it when your child is three years old? Do you need a stroller that can become a double stroller for the next child?

Size and Weight- Will it fit in your trunk? Can you lift it with your child in it if you need to navigate stairs? Can it maneuver on the sidewalk/between store aisles?

Other considerations- Is it practical for where you will use it? Where is it made? Are the tires better for flat surfaces or uneven surfaces? Does it fold up easily/quickly/with one hand? How well is it constructed? With what materials is it made? How large is the storage compartment? It the seat wide enough for your child? Does the seat seem comfortable for long walks? Does it have a warranty? Does it come with accessories or will you need to purchase other pieces separately? Can you use it with the infant carseat you've already purchased or registered for? Is the color scheme gender neutral to use with future children?

You may be thinking: Seriously? Does it really matter that much what stroller I purchase?

Take this into consideration: For the past 18 months, I've taken an average of 3 walks a week around downtown to run errands, grocery shop, visit the bank, etc. And if each of these walks averages about 3 miles, that's roughly 700 miles I've logged on my stroller so far. And, I intend to use it up until we have another baby, which adds many more miles to its lifespan.

Basically, my stroller is a tool that I will have used almost every day for 2-3 years. So, I'm thankful that I took my time picking out a stroller that was exactly what I needed, for what I could afford to spend.

On a personal note:

I ended up purchasing the Baby Jogger City Mini stroller and the infant car seat adapter, which allows the stroller to hold many of the most popular infant car seats. (I found a Maxi Cosi car seat at a discounted price online because it was in a discontinued color!)

The stroller is everything I'd hoped for. It's lightweight, sturdy, sleek, super easy to manuveur, and my whole "travel system" (stroller, adapter, car seat) only cost a total of $425. This might seem like a lot, but when you compare it to a moderately priced "travel system stroller" you can purchase at Babies R Us for $325, you're only paying $100 more for something that is about a million pounds lighter and a million times easier to use and travel with. (And a lot more attractive, if you ask me.) I'd say I made a heck of a purchase, especially considering the stroller I was really lusting after would have set me back an easy $900 for the entire "travel system."

For parents who don't have $1000+ to spend on a fancy stroller, I highly recommend the Baby Jogger series. Baby Jogger makes everything from hip, urban fashion strollers like their City Select (starting at about $500), to bonafide jogging strollers like their Performance Jogger which runs about $450. Mine is their mid-priced urban-use stroller. They have recently released a Bassinet/Pram accessory and a Glider Board for an older sibling to ride along, giving their single strollers an extended life. Many of their strollers can be purchased as a double stroller, and their City Select is a multi-use stroller for infants or toddlers and can be adapted to be a double stroller.

One large caveat is that big-box baby stores like Babies R Us don't sell many high-quality strollers, at least not in-store. So, in a Midwestern city like Cincinnati, it's hard to find floor models to test drive. My advice: visit every high-end baby store you can find within a reasonable distance and look at everything. Seeing a $1200 stroller in-person will tell you whether or not it's really worth your hard earned money. Likewise, test-driving a cheaper stroller that the manufacturer is trying to pass off as high-end may convince you that it's worth paying the extra $100-200 for the better stroller. (Hint: 3-wheels does not equal high quality.)

When you can't find floor models, you can make up the difference by doing a lot of online research. Read reviews. Read parenting blogs. And don't be embarrassed to stop a parent on the street and ask about their stroller. Chances are, if you see a parent using a high-end stroller, they would be happy to tell you about it and give a quick review.

In short, if you are not going to use your stroller a lot, then maybe a $100 stroller is a good idea.

But, if you live in the city and would rather enjoy your walks downtown, maybe reconsidering your priorities is a good idea. For us, it was a choice between purchasing "baby furniture" or a nice, attractive, high-functioning stroller.

I am very glad I chose the stroller.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Things to Love: Bento for a Better Lunch!

I've always been a fan of eating smaller portions of many things as a single meal, rather than the one-burrito-to-hold-it-all meal philosophy. So, it's only natural that I often prepare my son's meals that way. A normal child's lunch in the McEwan household: A teeny sandwich, a few small pieces of cheese, a handful of grapes, shredded carrots (because his teeth are not quite ready for chomping on full bites yet), a couple pretzel sticks, and sometimes a cookie (though my son, funny enough, usually skips on the sweets).

Enter: Bento. (or Obento--choose your poison)

photo courtesy My Life as a Gaijin blog

In short, Bento is the artful presentation of a meal, but if you're familiar with the concept you know that it isn't quite that simple. I have been familiar with Bento since the summer I spent in Guam a million years back and saw the Japanese culinary phenomenon firsthand. I didn't really understand the breadth of the phenomenon until much later, when I discovered the obsessive side of Bento. (And, man, people take their Bento very seriously, collecting oodles and globs of Bento supplies, entering contests for the best Bento, and I can only imagine having serious anxiety over your average "sack lunch" meals.)

All obsessions aside, Bento is awesome for many reasons:

1. It is potentially waste-free. Not only will parents save on plastic baggies and paper lunch bags by purchasing reusable bento boxes, but the meal itself is free of wrapping and often made from scratch. (i.e. serious Bento parents don't toss a single-serving twix bar in the lunch for good measure)

2. It is a clever way to encourage hearty and healthy meals. So the philosophy goes: when food looks fun, kids are more likely to eat it. Even if a parent doesn't go all-out Bento crazy and make a freaking aquarium for their child's school lunch, some simple Bento tricks can turn a healthy meal into something colorful and inviting. ("Eat me," basically.)

3. It takes less time to eat. Rather than navigating a half dozen ziploc bags during their 15 minutes of lunch, your children can open their box, survey the food in one take, and eat it all up. As our local paper recently pointed out, kids are being given less and less time to eat their meals at school, which leads to lots of waste and (I would assume) a lot of kids skipping to dessert so they don't have to mess with their 1/2lb peanut butter and jelly sandwich that's been wrapped in a yard of tin foil.

4. It's a way to expend some creative energy while loving your family. If you're anything like me, you worry that parenthood has stripped you of your pazazz. I know, I know, a few attractive Bento lunches won't jump start my music career, but they could remind me that I still have that creativity lurking inside me. And, they will remind my children that I love them at the same time. Seriously, who wouldn't feel like a million bucks when they opened their lunch to find this:

photo courtesy O'Bento Lunch 4 Kidz blog

If you're interested in adapting a little bit of the Bento philosophy into feeding your family, you can find some tips, tricks, and advice at the following links.

Another Lunch
Lunch in a Box
Just Bento

Locally, you can purchase some basic Bento boxes (like Laptop Lunches) at local favorite Park + Vine. On my next trip to the market, I'll take a closer look at Saigon Market to see what they've got in stock, too. And I'd bet that Jungle Jim's has some interesting Bento supplies, though I haven't been up there in ages...