Calico Elephant

June 13, 2012

I love this little elephant and bought it for my new niece as part of her “Welcome to the world!” gift basket. I won’t pretend that an infant will play with it (they’re not into stuffed animals), and I can’t promise it will become a favorite later, but it’s a lovely classic shape and a bright, friendly addition to any nursery. If you’re looking for a little something something to include with a shower gift (diaper disposals are practical and very much a must-have for parents, but let’s face the fact that they’re not exactly adorable!), you can’t go wrong with our little pachyderm friend here. Great for a boy or girl and small enough that he won’t clash with any decor.

North American Bear Calico Elephant, $14 at Amazon

Best Baby Blanket

June 10, 2012

Tea Collection’s Lotus Print Blanket

This is the best blanket, period. I know it doesn’t look like it’s that different from the thousands of others on offer for babies and little kids, but it is.

  1. It’s single-ply jersey, not flannel or fleece like many baby blankets. This means it’s very soft and stays soft and is just warm enough for summer nights and snuggling. It’s size, stretch and weight also make it excellent for swaddling.
  2. It’s big. At 40″x40″, it’s considerably bigger than many baby blankets which means Baby can use it in bed when she’s a toddler, as our daughter does. This won’t seem like a big deal right away to Mom, but it will be when little Violet turns one and can’t use any of the 1000 blankets she received at her shower.

That’s it. That’s all I’m looking for in a blanket and Tea Collection delivers. Perfect for a second baby shower or a gift to bring to the hospital.

On sale now at Tea Collection ($25) or ($20)

Papa is often overlooked in this whole “Yay! We’re pregnant!/Hooray! What a cute baby!” continuum. You don’t see a lot of massage gift certificates coming his way and his life is changing too, so he could use a little love. Enter Armin Brott.

Brott has written a series of books for expectant and new fathers that are practical and pithy, good-humored but still to the point. They are not, like many entries into this corner of the market, “hilarious,” i.e. full of pretty low-grade humor that’s often kind of insulting to the dad’s intelligence, to the mom’s experience, and to a couple that’s actually functional and communicative. Also, importantly for you, the gift giver, Brott is agnostic as to parenting philosophy, so you won’t be offending anyone (unless they’re going with the “raise ’em by wolves!” thing, in which case a different kind of gift might be in order. Like a nice gift certificate for institutionalization, say.)

One thing I loved: he says right up front that he alternates gender pronouns by chapter, so boys and girls are equally covered and no gender equality bristling is required. Very practical approach to a sometimes touchy issue, as are most of his answers in the book.

Minimalist angle: Brott’s observations and recommendations are also not particularly long-winded, so a dad with very little time can breeze through the sections in the few spare minutes he has before falling asleep on the floor.

Individual titles, all about $10 at Amazon:

The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-to-Be

The New Father: A Dad’s Guide to the First Year 

Fathering Your Toddler


A set of all three, New Father Series, for $10 (!!!) at Amazon

If you missed the pregnancy phase, just get the First Year and Toddler Years in a boxed set, also $10 at Amazon

Also available, The Single Father and Fathering Your School-Age Child (age 3-9)

Who doesn’t love Sandra Boynton? (If you raised your hand, it’s all right: I’m sure you have many other wonderful features we will grow to love. With time. After we forget that you don’t enjoy hilarious pictures of dancing hippos.)

Most new parents will get some Boynton books at their baby shower and Astrid has intermittently liked the ones she received. The ones she loves though are from Boynton’s Little Pookie series. Don’t ask me why she’s latched onto the little piggie over all the rest in her collection, but there it is. Maybe it’s because Pookie and his family are a steady cast in all of them and the story lines are recognizable. Dunno. Whatever it is, they’re a big hit and will probably be a winner with parents and little ones on your gift list too.

There are five board books in the series so far and a boxed set of four of them (which is missing our favorite, Happy Birthday Little Pookie) so you can pick up a single for a drive-by gifting or as a fun add-on, or get the set + the birthday book for a first or second birthday party present.

Little Pookie. An introduction to the wonderful Pookie.

What’s Wrong, Little Pookie? Silly conclusion to a piggy’s bad day.

Happy Birthday, Little Pookie. A pretty funny run through the big day.

Night-Night, Little Pookie. Bedtime prompts and hide and seek.

Let’s Dance, Little Pookie. Dance party with Mom!

Little Pookie Books, by Sandra Boynton, $5.99 each for the board books or $16 for four-book set at Amazon

New parents are worried, so they will focus endlessly on which car seat to buy and which crib to get, and how to make sure that both of those baby receptacles are 100% the most safe ever. That’s good. You are not the new parent, so you can worry about little handy things, like how that super-safe baby is going to be kept entertained in that car seat.

This will occur to Mom in a few weeks when little Kenneth is wailing in the back of the car because he’s super bored on another drive to an enriching activity. You are way ahead of her: Kenneth needs a Haba stroller/car seat chain.

No, it’s not a chain like that. It’s an adorable collection of colorful wooden toys with friendly faces that spin around a string that’s attachable to a car seat carrying bar or a stroller hood. Kenneth will love it. Mom will love it, and you for bestowing it on Kenneth.

Note: there are much bigger and more electronic offerings on the market, but, as usual, I couldn’t get next to all the noises and lights for an infant + since babies will be carried around in that car seat for a while, the bigger toy bars will get in the way. The Haba chain will not AND you can swap it between car seat and stroller easily. Let Mom or Dad invest in a giant arc of irritating noise when and if they feel Kenneth absolutely needs it and they can stand it.

Haba Blossoms Pram Decoration, $25 at Amazon (flowers and what not for girls)

Haba Pixies Stroller Toy, $27 at Amazon

Heimess also makes stroller chains with wooden decorations. I haven’t seen these in person, but they look similar to Haba’s, $20-42 at Amazon

Baby Journal

April 6, 2012

Here’s the thing: I wish my parents had done a baby journal for me. Here’s the other thing: as the mother of one toddler, finding the time to create one so my daughter doesn’t feel the same way is, to put it mildly, a challenge. Of course, if you were into scrapbooking or doing journal type stuff before you became a mom, it might be natural and a pleasure to do. I wasn’t and it isn’t. But I’m doing a journal for Astrid come hell or high water #$(*$!!

Most expectant moms would like to think they’ll do one too. So why not make it easy for them to meet that goal by giving them one that hits all the highlights and milestones but doesn’t require them to write a novel every month of the baby’s first year of life?

The Wonder of You is the one I chose and is as good as it gets. It has a fold-out growth chart in the front, space for a few lines about a bunch of different things (how we thought of Astrid’s name, special gifts she received, read: what her grandparents gave her, and so on), slots for basic, nice-to-have-recorded info (like great-grandparents’ names), and pages for pictures new parents are already taking anyway (baby shower, first room, birth announcement). No novels required. And the illustrations are lovely.

Bonus: all the text is adoption/foster child friendly.

This paired with author Tillman’s beautiful story book, On the Night You Were Born make a great addition to a shower gift. Or an appropriate, not-too-expensive gift for that cousin or friend-of-a-friend whose tastes you don’t know well.

The Wonder of You, about $14 at Amazon

If you’ll be visiting a 6-8-month-old baby sometime soon and want to take along a small present, think about bringing something related to first foods. Most babies start eating solid food somewhere between four and seven months of age. And by “solid food” I mean smushed up bananas and avocados, not steak tartare. This is a big deal, this starting solids, but since the milestone falls between birth (new baby gear!) and baby’s first birthday (toys!), chances are your friend/relative didn’t receive a lot of gifts to help around the kitchen.

Even if s/he’s not a cook and feeds Junior mostly jarred baby food, this starter set of Annabel Karmel’s cookbook, 100 Best Baby Purees + a bowl and masher set + a few food containers will still be welcome and useful. I was not a cook when Astrid started solids and even I loved this cookbook: the food tastes better than a lot of things I’ve made for adults and most of the recipes have a manageable number of ingredients and steps (like, four). The bowl and masher are great for smashing soft veggies and fruits on the go (vs. finding a fork) and are durable and useable at the table (grippy bottom). And small, BPA-free, take-with-you food containers are always useful.

They’ll thank you for it, trust me.

Annabel Karmel Baby Food Prep Starter Kit (BPA-free), including Bowl and Masher, $19.95 at

I came across Taro Gomi’s beautiful board book My Friends at the Academy of Sciences playroom one day last year and immediately went home and ordered a copy for Astrid.

The illustrations are gorgeous and not at all the usual toddler fare: bright and detailed but lovely and calming too. Now we read Spring Is Here over breakfast every day. This boxed set, which also includes Bus Stops, is a perfect first or second birthday gift for the toddler in your life. (Or it makes a great new baby gift if you want to get started early!)

With Taro Gomi, you can be certain you’re giving little Aloyscious something unique and visually inspiring. We all love our Dr. Seuss but you don’t want your Green Eggs and Ham to be the fifth one he receives!

Taro Gomi Board Book Boxed Set, $19.99 at Chronicle$14 at Amazon or offline at Chronicle’s gorgeous new store in the Metreon

Dwell Studio for Target

March 21, 2012

If you’re on a budget but are high-design minded and need something for a friend’s baby, gather your patience (or your willingness to pay shipping costs) and head to Target to collect an item or two from their Dwell Studio for Target line.

Let me say up front that I do not understand what Dwell or Target were thinking when they came up with the plan to make these high-quality products in cool patterns and then not distribute them consistently so anyone would be able to get them. Ridiculous.

On any given day, at any given Target, it’s almost impossible to find the Dwell Studio line on the shelves or racks. But you can order them. And you should, because they’re great. And that in-store scarcity means you will look like a genius for finding something unique + the baby will look hip because no one else at Mommy & Me will have what he’s wearing.

(The online stock is sometimes poor too – I keep thinking they’re discontinuing it – but it’s worth five minutes of sifting through the brief search results for “DwellStudio” on to see if they have a color you like. Their infant clothes are also great, if you can find them and want to skip layette in favor of clothing.)

My three recommendations are

  • The double-layer jersey baby blanket, which comes in great boy or girl patterns and is heavyweight enough that Mom will thank you for giving her a real, can-use-it-on-the-floor play blanket. (That said, I don’t love the new blue blanket pattern – but they change it every once in a while, so check back. Or maybe you’ll like the one they have – what do I know??)
  • The double-layer jersey sleep sack, also in boy or girl colors. Again, many thanks from Mom for providing an all-cotton but still warm sleep sack to supplement all the muslin and fleece ones everyone else gave her.
  • The adorable heavyweight cotton kimono pajamas which wash so, so well and keep baby warmer than all the others.
Get it together, Target! We like this line. So make more and just own it already.

Newborn Girls’ DwellStudio for Target Pink Blanket. Or blue. $12.99 at

DwellStudio for Target Wearble Blanket (read: sleep sack) in pink stripes (0-6 months only). Blue n/a at time of publication. $12.99 at

DwellStudio for Target Kimono Sleeper for Girls or Boys, about $8 at or in stores

Some new parents will keep a baby book recording all their new child’s milestones and footprints and height and the like. Others will not – and that baby book they got at their baby shower will just glare at them judgmentally from the shelf of their child’s room, reminding them that they are not organized or crafty or just plain into it enough to fill it up with mementos and notes. These cards are the guilt-free answer.

They’re single letterpress cards, one for each milestone, that can be filled out in about two seconds but still make lovely mementos of early childhood’s big moments. Buy singles or a set. They’re a great additional small gift for a shower or a little something to send along to mark the child’s birth. The parents will love you for making an often guilt-laden process so much easier but still appealing.

(If you’re really into simplifying the memento thing so that kiddo doesn’t take them to task later for not being Martha Stewart, send the cards with little frames for easy display or in a pretty memory box that mom and dad can add to as they go.)

Cards available singly from Double Bravo Designs at for $3.75 each (First Word, First Steps, Blew First Kiss, Slept Through the Night, Snacking On Your Own)