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Baby Toolkit

Geek parents' tips, tactics, & gear reviews.

Updated: 2018-03-18T09:04:35.256-05:00


The Horrible Beauty: Get In Trouble today


There's nothing like an election season to turn my thoughts to horror. Instinctively, I load up on horror movies and fiction to dull the truly ugly realities of the American political system.*So, as the elections rage on, I've watched everything from Z-Nation (zombies killed with giant wheel of cheese) to the quietly paced, theologically-delving, Colonial American The Witch to the contemporary Irish new-to-a-weird-rural-village, The Hallow. I've been reading lots of extremely short stories to find addictive little bits to use in my fall classes, so I was quite intrigued when someone referenced Kelly Link's short story collection Get In Trouble.I read the entire collection in less than 24 hours- which, with three young kids, means giving up my steady nighttime commitment of Netflix and shirking even more household duties than normal.As a horror story reader, I love experiencing the story unfolding unspoiled before me-- so I will stick to generalities.I loved Link's old-school perspective which expertly wields the unseen, the looming, and the quite-possibly-only-imagined.  Kelly Link reminds me of the mid-century British writer John Wyndham- who wrote the books behind Village of the Damned (The Midwich Cuckoos) and 28 Days Later (Day of the Triffids)-- among others.Kelly Link is a skilled world-builder. Her stories bear no consistent locale, time period, or reality. This collection includes an on-location ghost-hunting reality show in Florida swampland, contemporary Appalachia, a future where bored children of the uber-wealthy commission full-scale pyramid tombs, a colonizing mission to Mars, and two of the world's most logical horror settings-- high school and hometown reunions. With a beautiful playfulness, Link sometimes allows the details of one fantastic place to appear in another, slightly-related story. Like the breaking of the fourth wall in film, these details play with the form and the medium.Link's fiction gets in your head and under your skin without resorting to the merely sensational and repulsive. It lurks and insinuates making shadows shift in even the brightest landscapes.Link's detail is measured- not overreaching, but fully drawn- and exacting- leaving jeweled details that rewards the observant reader. The opening story, "The Summer People," immediately sent up red flags with me. Its Appalachian setting with poor characters and vernacular speech took the story toward a place where most writers should never go. I wasn't sure I was going to make it to the end of the first story-- much less the second story, but Link didn't allow her story to be consumed by stereotypes. All my trepidation dissipated when the too-familiar elements reassembled into a new nightmare carefully wrought from ancient lore.All but one of Link's stories clearly center around young female characters, but they're not lambs waiting for the slaughter (or salvation). These wily women carve their own destinies. It's refreshing- even though the charater's outcomes vary wildly.For a tiny taste of the stories:  "I Can See Right Through You" involves a ghost hunting reality show at the site of the mysterious 1974 disappearance of twenty-two nudists. "Secret Identity" reveals side-by-side hotel conventions of superheroes and dentists, a 15-year-old girl who finds her own yearning and authenticity in a MMORPG, and figuring out who you are when you just don't fit anywhere."The Valley of the Girls" takes readers to a world where the profoundly wealthy in a neo-Egyptian trend build competing pyramids for their teenage children."Origin Story" makes sly references to superhero tropes introduced in "Secret Identity," but is a stand-alone tale with entirely different motives. "Two Houses" involves campfire storytelling aboard a exploratory spaceship headed to the nearest Goldilocks planet.The book has nine stories in all, and I loved each one. If you like horror and seeing new stories borne from old ones, this book is for you.To which fantastic worlds are you escaping?If you want to see what I'm reading, friend me on Goodreads.*Plea[...]

Driving the Duck: Ditching Unhealthy Metaphors


Recently saw this on super board game reviewer's TheOneTAR's Twitter* feed:

The Good Life for Less: A Happiness Upgrade


Jim and I began our married lives in austerity. We were students with time left on our degrees and meager student jobs to augment parental support.Our first anniversary is remembered as the Ben & Jerry's milkshake anniversary. Milkshake- not milkshakes.Those early days of rice and potatoes left us reading a lot of budgeting (and healthy eating) books (trust me, you pay later for a cheap all-starch diet).I met Amy Allen Clark in 2008 at a mom blogger event. In a connecting flight back to the Midwest, Amy and I talked about our families- especially about adding a second child (as I was pregnant with Scout). Amy's lively spirit and positivity are contagious. I was sorry when I had to run (neither figuratively nor gracefully) for my next flight.Since that time, I've faithfully read Amy's blogs at Mom Advice. Amy's elegantly simple solutions to household issues, like using a backwards daybed with a newly independent sleeper, have shaped my home. Her Notebook posts offer a maven's eye-view of great recent blog recipes, patterns and projects- and are one of the highlights of my feed reader.When her publisher (Perigee, an imprint of Penguin) offered me a chance to read her new book The Good Life for Less: Giving Your Family Great Meals, Good Times, and a Happy Home on a Budget, I was excited to see Amy's take on the seemingly-familiar world of budget living.The matter of finances is timely for our family. As we've worked to make shrinking ends meet (growing medical expenses and a few annual payroll freezes), I've been resisting the need to rethink our financial lives. Revisiting our budget with new constraints seemed more like my personal failure than anything else.The text radiates Amy's warm energy. As I read the stories of Amy's family's journey to frugality, I kept stumbling into great memories from my own childhood. Rather than looking toward a slightly grave new austerity, I found myself excited to launch into a life that celebrates the riches already abundant in my life.Without using the term, Amy's book embodies many Simple Living philosophies. The Good Life for Less reminded me of sitting together with my parents and brother eating homemade fudge and popcorn as we watched a favorite movie on broadcast television. Her family's Friday pizza nights made me think fondly of similar evenings in high school were I regularly attended my buddy's weekly family's pizza night and drank copious amounts of sweet tea while we played cards afterwards. Simple, wonderful times.Amy includes many great budget-friendly recipes that I wish we'd had back in the early days of our marriage. Her homemade chai mix is not only a great gift option, but offers one of my favorite indulgences at a great value.It was also great to read the book while feeling swamped by the holidays. Like many parents, I struggle about how much to get my kids. Her family's current formula of "Something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read" is exactly the gift-giving framework I have been searching for. This formula allows for creativity, utility and wish-granting tailored to each member of the family.There are so many parts of the book I could excerpt here as simple tips (because it is brimming with brilliance), but Amy's stories set mental gears spinning. With renewed creativity and joy, I'm identifying and capitalizing on those simple systems and moments that bring happiness and satisfaction to my family. A shocking number of those life upgrades come at no expense.***Baby Toolkit is the ongoing story of two geek parents in the Midwest. I do know Amy Allen Clark, but have no financial relationship with her (other than the fiscal benefits of reading her blog and book) nor her publishers. We are Amazon affiliates, so a small portion of purchases made through our Amazon links helps support our blogging and podcasting ( efforts. Thanks![...]

Blasts from the Past: Three Favorite Hacks from the Days of Yore


In the past few months, I've found myself periodically looking through the archives to answer friends' questions. I've stumbled into old hacks which long ago turned into nearly-invisible standard family operating procedures.So, for the subscribers who haven't been around for all six years, here are three of our all-time favorite hacks.Babyproofing: Hacking a Wooden Bi-fold DoorWhile not my first post, this hack is the one that made me feel a part of a larger conversation. My jubilation when Asha covered it on Parent Hacks still resonates. It's also a cheap, clean-looking preventative for pinched fingers. Our latches are still going strong six years later.The Big Muddy: Keeping Stroller Gunk Out of Car Upholstery Earlier this year I replaced this Thanksgiving tablecloth after years of use. I only wish the rest of the car had weathered those last five years as well as the cargo area.Holiday Hack: Toddler-Friendly OrnamentsThe kids still love doing this, and it means far less stuff to pack away after the holidays. I suspect Ranger will add some LEGO creations to the upper branches this year.Thanks for strolling down memory lane with me, and thank you for reading Baby Toolkit! ***Baby Toolkit is a half dozen years' worth of hacks and conversation written by a couple geeky Midwesterners. Thank you for reading us! We're Amazon affiliates, so a small percentage of purchases through our Amazon links goes to help our operating costs online and in the real world. We also podcast about board games at Great Big Table.[...]