A while ago I was telling an older acquaintance about how few clothes we need to buy for Amie. We have several generous friends who have daughters a year or so older than Amie and who gladly pass on some clothing.

- I love hand-me-downs, I said.

To which my acquaintance whispered:

- Ssshh, you don’t want Amie to hear that she is wearing those! Its embarrassing!

I was so confused by her reaction that I didn’t respond. But why should I have been confused? Of course hand-me-down clothing is regarded somehow shameful in this society, that is, Western society (my acquaintance is a European who has lived in North America for thirty years). Yet I am now so comfortable in this life of “less is more” that I had managed to forget it altogether.

Or had I?

As we were packing to visit one of those generous friends over the holidays, Amie wanted to bring a special gift for the daughter. My first reaction was to think of where to buy what. But Amie’s reaction was different:

- I can give her this, Mama! she said, holding up her puppet frog in triumph.

Her little friend had enjoyed playing with it when she was over at our house. It was the best gift Amie could give her friend: something of her own, something they had played with together, something that she herself also enjoyed and was joyfully willing to sacrifice, all of which made the gift so much more meaningful than a toy fresh from the shelves of a shop.

I felt so proud of her, and I hope I can foster this attitude toward gift-giving and her own toys and clothes, so that it will stand up to the pressures of society and her peers – all of which she is still mercifully oblivious to.

Now some of these clothes that I get from friends are samples from a well-know store where we can’t even afford to window shop. These are fantastic clothes, well-made in the US, beautifully designed. But they have “SAMPLE” stamped on them, and in the most conspicuous places too, like on the seat of the pants or the back of a sweater.

This morning I dropped Amie off at her preschool and one of the teachers remarked on how amused they were at her pants the other day. One look and I knew it had been kindhearted: no, they hadn’t been laughing at my child. I said:

- Well, you know, she’s my little sample!

And we both laughed.

I am writing an article on a new law concerning lead in children’s products, called the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), which is about to go into effect on 10 February. It could affect thrift and second-hand shops.

Ok, I think we finally found the ultimate building blocks!

Baba and Amie building with Kapla (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

(Baba and Amie play with the Kapla blocks) 

Looking for a birthday present to give a thee-year-old, we stumbled upon these Kapla Blocks.  My first reaction was: huh, so what? They are simply wooden blocks or rather miniature planks. But then you take them out of the box and set them down, and you know: this will last forever.

There are no screws, bolts, glue, anything, yet you can make amazing constructions with them. And they are so very well crafted: set them on any side and they will stand, firmly. In other words, it’s not like you will be building a house of cards or playing a game of Jenga. Hooray for absolutely straight corners!

They are also entirely made of beautiful natural wood grown in 100% sustainable forests in France.

We got an extra 100-piece box for Amie and she loves it. So far she has made bridges, bridges, like in the picture. And she has knocked down houses not of her own construction. That’s an issue worth a post of itself, but suffice it to say it goes like this: “Amie don’t be naughty!” “I’m not naughty, I pretending to be naughty!”

After the disappointment with the Wedgits (*) - they promise no phtalates but what’s with the smell? – I was on the look out for something naturally woody and not too pricey. I think this might be it.

(*) I’m not throwing them out as yet: they might become more appealing to Amie when she gets a little older, but so far she is not keen on them.

Have you seen Amie puzzling (video to the right)? She was only 18 months old and really into it: fit-the-shape peg puzzles as well as jigsaw puzzles. After a while she lost interest and moved on. I wasn’t heart-broken, because I knew that by then she had memorized all the puzzles and wasn’t, therefore, really puzzling anymore. I described all this in First Puzzles for a Child Under Two Years.

Today she asked to make puzzles again. I had to dig them out from behind hundreds of children’s books (I am not kidding). Two hours later, this was the result:

Amie with finished puzzles, December 2007 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

As before, I mixed up the 16 same-shape-and-size but different-pattern pieces that fit into two boards (described in A Child’s First Puzzles), and the 16 geometrical shapes that also go into two different boards. She wasn’t even challenged.

  • Touch still first, visuals second

Then I also mixed up the pieces of the eight 4-piece jigsaw puzzles (the penguins, etc. that she puts together in the old video). This was a way of forcing her to look at the images first, before resorting to the shapes and the fit of the pieces. She had no trouble with selecting the right pieces, but when she turned to the puzzling, it was clear that she is still predominantly guided by touch.

Even so, though she was still and often trying to fit a corner piece (which seems to be a visual, not a tactile clue) into the middle of a puzzle, or trying to attach the zebra’s head to his tail, it was much easier to talk her through it. I merely had to point out to her that it was a corner she was holding, and that she might use it to fix the zebra’s head, or that it might fit in the upper left corner, if she turned it a bit, and she was on it.

  • “Fix it” with visual and directional pointers

Most of my help was purely verbal. “Why don’t you fix the zebra’s head” and “fix the giraffe’s neck?” were sufficient pointers. I found that the combination of the word “fix” and a brief description of the two parts she is supposed to join together seems to be the best way of directing her to pay attention to the image. 

Alos invaluable were the directional clues: “to the left, right, above and below” this or that piece. “Turn it a little”.

Amie puzzling December 2007 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Thus we moved up to the little suitcase, the Crocodile Creek collection of four puzzles: one 4 pieces, one 6, one 8 and one 12 pieces. They’re tough: they certainly not designed with young toddlers in mind. Most pieces have a jumble of zebra stripes or simply a flat expanse of background that even I had to study closely to figure out where they went! But I talked her through even the biggest puzzle simply by giving her visual clues about the image and directional clues about where it should go relative to the other pieces.

Amie puzzling December 2007 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

  • 24 pieces!

In the end we did two 24-piece puzzles of “Nijntje” (in the picture they are right behind her right hand). Even those she completed without my even touching a single piece. And in the end she was getting the hang of it.

“Let’s fix the rabbit’s head,” she mumbled. When I pointed out that she might turn it around, she said: “Don’t worry, Mama, I’ll do it. I’ll try. I’ll do my best.”

I trust you, dear. Don’t worry.

(Check out more pictures of our puzzling adventure today in my Flickr badge)

Amie and Baba at the Larz Anderson Park, oct 07 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Amie and Baba at the Park 

Yesterday morning was blustery and a little cloudy, but sunny and quite balmy. The three of us went to the Larz Anderson Park, where Amie ran and ran, up and down the hill, in a field of leaves and dandelions, hemmed in by trees changed to all kinds of colors.

Was she tired afterwards! 

Blue flower at Larz Anderson park, oct 07 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

On our way home we drove past a huge yard sale for a neighborhood school’s extended day program. It was very child-oriented, with heaps of children’s clothes, piles of books, and boxes and boxes of toys. Amie was very happy to delay her nap for an hour.

We bought mainly books, and small plastic bags stuffed with Schleich animals, and two Groovy Girls dolls. Don’t ask me which ones: they’re hard to identify without their clothes on! When we pointed them out to her, Amie piped: “O!” Sold. We also bought a $100 bike trailer for $30! Now I have to get a bike too, and we’re off on adventure at no cost to the earth!

Children’s Yard Sale find (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

One of the books I found was Donald Hall’s Ox-Cart Man. I came home and read it cover to cover. The book’s subject matter fits exactly the other books we’ve been reading, about nature and the turning of the seasons, the joy and worth of manual labor, and family life. I’ve always been a fan of Hall’s brand of “American poetry”. And the illustrations by Barbara Cooney are gorgeous in the “American folk” approach…

To offset the “American” aspect, I also got Laurent de Brunhoff’s Babar Learns to Cook. I love how Babar, the King of the Elephants, does all these domestic things. And how the elephant kids are up to all kinds of mischief all the time. {UPDATE: We now actually read the Babar book and I have to put this straight: Babar doesn’t cook at all! His wife, Celeste does… Sigh.}

Last but not least, while I had eyes only for the books, DH scored this set of handpainted porcelains cups (4), saucers (8), coffeepot (1) and milk pitcher (1). We’re not thrifters – don’t have the time, the money, the room – but when it comes to delicate porcelain cups and saucers… and then it was a pity to break up the set, which only cost us $8!

porcelain Yard Sale find (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

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 Jean-Pierre, who has commented extensively on the green diaper issue, put me on to the website of Richer Consulting Services, a source for information about the disposable diaper industry.

It is quite an extensive website, where you can find information about the history, economy, manufacturing process, and ingredients of disposable diapers.

I plan at some point to have a closer look there and will report back on it, along with an update about several unanswered questions about Green Diapers in particular.

Thanks Jean-Pierre!

black and white photograph of baby thrown up in air (c) Katrien Vander Straeten


I added an article on Amie’s puzzle skills in the Child’s Play section.

Beside a short history of how Amie approached her jig saw and fit-in puzzles at around age 16-18 months (a history that is perhaps representative of other kids that age), there is also a funny VIDEO of her solving some jig saw puzzles at 18 months of age. Go have a look-see!

I am looking for a board game type of game:

  1. something that is fun (duh!)
  2. that is “conceptual” in that it requires concept-formation, forward-thinking, memorization, etc.
  3. that can be played in a group
  4. that is appropriate for a clever and patient 22-month-old.

The social aspect is very important: I feel she needs and would welcome something interactive with other people  (so none of those “I’ll read to you” or “I’ll play with you” machines), and even children (she is still a very parallel player with kids her own age. For closer interaction needs the kind of directed attention that only adult and older kids can give her.)

We engage in a lot of play together: we diaper her bears, “clean” the house together, build towers with blocks and Wedgits, etc. But I am looking for something less physical, something that will bring us together in a more cerebral kind of space

I love to see concepts “light up” in her – like they were already there, in her brain, and they just needed to be switched on. This morning, for instance, I asked her: “What is the difference between Mama’s arm and Baba’s arm?” (which she likes to pinch when searching for that ever-elusive sleep). She thought for a couple of seconds and said: “Hairy”. So she understands the concept of “difference”.

This game should allow us to discover and exercise such cognitive skills like matching, spotting differences, concentration and memorization.

We do that when we read stories together, when we go through “spot the balloon” kinds of books. But we now need a game in that it should allow her to manipulate the events, move things around, which will give her sense of decision, of realization of her own change-making capabilities.

As such, it should also make her aware of the consequences and responsibilities of that kind of power, and make her more foreward thinking, more calculative, with plans of action, etc.

You know what I mean, right?

Picture of the Goodnight Moon Game box

Board games, of course, is what comes to mind first, but most of them are beyond her as yet. There is one that sounds promising, though: the Goodnight Moon Game. Has anyone tried it?

Or am I asking too much? Should I just design our own boardgame?

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I published a new and updated review of “green” diapers (Seventh Generation, Whole Foods 365 Private Label and gDiapers).

There’s a lot of new information, much of it gained from very recent email exhanges with the companies involved, as well as some more thorough research on the net.

The new review complements the old one with many new facts and considerations about:

  1. The safety of SAP
  2. The lack of biodegradation of (even) green diapers in landfills
  3. Polypropolene as an ingredient
  4. The biodegradability of gDiapers in sewage, and SAP again
  5. What does “chlorine-free” mean, what’s the difference between ECF and TCF, and does it make a difference, e.g., between green and non-green disposables?
  6. And where does the woodpulp hail from?

If the article concludes anything, it is that the choice of diapers is not as easy as it seems, even after you’ve made up your mind about “going green”. For instance,

if I accept that SAP is safe and non-toxic to babies and to the environment, all three diapers reviewed here, and indeed all disposables, are acceptable. But then I ask, what about the other ingredients? If the polypropolene bothers me, I should switch to gDiapers. But what about the wood pulp in gDiapers? Does it matter that it is only Elemental Chlorine-Free (ECF) and not Total Chlorine-Free (TCF)? Come to think of it, this ECF claim that is so intensely advertized to make the green diaper look better, also applies to much of the pulp used in Huggies, for instance? On the other hand,  how sure can be be of that? And also, some of the Huggies wood pulp comes all the way from Australia, where do Seventh Gen, 365 and gDiapers get their wood…

Suggestions and comments are welcome: please make them to this post (still haven’t figured out the comment-on-pages issue).

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A while ago I published a review of gDiapers, Seventh Generation diapers and Whole Food 365 diapers.

In the meantime I’ve received comments and questions from discerning and concerned readers, gained some more hands-on (hah!) experience with the gDiapers, and found some more questions on the net.

These are additional questions that I am now investigating:

  1. What is the “poly” in Seventh Generation? I assumed it was polyurethane, and left it at that, but a reader suggests: “It is still plastic; in fact, it’s the same polypropolene used to line landfills (that’s how water-tight and air-tight they are!).” I’ve written to Seventh Generation for clarification.
  2. Another concern is where that absorbant woodpulp comes from. Many (other) disposables get it straight from China, which raises many environmental  and health concerns (e.g., poisoned toothpaste, melamine in pet food, and antifreeze in medicines).
  3. After a couple more weeks of using gDiapers, Amie started complaining that they are “too tight” and “hurt”. So, as per her request, in the update I will also address the sizing issue of gDiapers, the scratchiness of their velcro, and the lack of an Extra Large size.
  4. There will also be some musing on the gDiaper leaking-issue, and the staining of the snap-in/out liners.

If you have any other questions you want me to investigate, email me or comment on this post. (I just realized readers can’t comment on “pages”, which is what my review is, only on “posts”: will try to do something about that soon!)

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Whether you’re a new parent or have just been blessed with a second/third/fourth… baby, diapers are probably of major concern to you.

I’ve written a review article of the “ecological” diaper brands that we have, personally, used:

  1. Seventh Generation
  2. Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value
  3. gDiapers

I run through many considerations, such as baby’s comfort, cost, ease of use, contribution to pollution and landfills, and ingredients. Among the latter, the contested safety of SAP (short for sodium acrylate polymer or sodium polyacrylate) is an important concern.

I’m sure I haven’t touched upon all the problems and issues so, as always, your input is very welcome!