Archive for the ‘Product Reviews’ Category

Infant Car Seat Questions

June 22, 2010 10 comments

A friend of mine recently asked me some questions about car seats and I thought it would be helpful for new parents to post my responses here. If you have any other questions you’d like me to answer, contact me.

Disclaimer: I am far from an expert on car seats. The safety of your child is of utmost importance so please do your due diligence in researching local safety laws, companies, and products.

I’ve also learned that bashing a baby product is the Internet equivalent of jumping into a tank of sharks with a body length gash, so rather than a comprehensive analysis and review of car seats, I’ll just tell you what we bought and why, and how we liked the products. Additionally, the Baby Bargains Book was a great resource and while it was available at our local library, we bought a copy so that we could mark it up. So on to the questions!

For convertible car seats there are some that are for babies/toddlers “up to 40 lbs” and some that go “up to 65 lbs.”  We weren’t sure if we should get the “compact” one which is the 40 lb one or just have the 65 lb one.  Which size/weight is your car seat?  Do you know the advantages of either/or.

We bought the Britax Roundabout, which is good for up to 40lbs and 40″. Using height and weight charts (here and here), a boy in the 50th percentile will reach that height at age 4 and that weight at age 5, while a girl will reach that height and weight at roughly 5 years old. Initially, I thought the idea behind convertible car seats that go up to 65lbs are that you won’t have to buy a booster seat since Maryland Law requires a child under 65lbs to be in a booster seat – beyond that, they simply need a seat belt. The larger convertible seats give you an extra 25lbs and 9″ (the height requirement usually trumps the weight requirement – though with rising levels of obesity, that could change), and some parents who bought something similar to the Roundabout ended up having to buy a larger convertible seat. My wife and I settled on the Roundabout because
1) we’re both average for height and weight – though a part of me was hoping for that recessive gene to come forth and produce a Korean NBA player
2) we have a smaller car – the Babies R Us allowed me to install a floor model and in the rear-facing position, I had to sit uncomfortably close to the steering wheel
3) the Roundabout was on sale
4) I randomly asked another customer how much their child weighed and if they would mind her sitting in the Marathon. She was 6 years old and about 45lbs; she looked massive in the seat. This was a minor consideration, however, since safety is far more important than aesthetics.

Also, when testing car seats in the store, make sure you try them out: how easy it is to adjust the shoulder straps, how smooth the release button is, how the hardness works, etc…Safety-wise, some $100 seats compare favorably to the $300+ ones, but they might be less convenient to setup and use.

Snap-on Infant car seats/carriers: people keep recommending to get those graco snugride car seats that you can carry around and snap into a stroller/cart.  But the baby can only last in it for about 25 lbs or so.  Did you like yours?  What are the advantages of it (vs. just sticking the baby in the convertible car seats that can hold 5 lbs babies and fit rear-facing).

We loved ours. As I stated before, often the height, not weight, is the determining factor for car seats. Most newborns are over 5lbs, but they might be well under the lowest harness slots. Being who I am, I of course tried sitting my daughter in one of the convertible seats that allow for infants, and her shoulders were at the same level as the bottom harness slots.

The big advantage of the Snugride is that the car seat detaches from the base, which has several benefits. First, if you use multiple vehicles, it’s much more economical to buy two bases rather than two car seats. Yes, you could move a convertible seat back and forth, and latch makes this more convenient than using shoulder belts, but it can get real old, real quick. Second, we were able to have many meals in peace since our daughter usually fell asleep in the car and stayed asleep since we didn’t have to remove her from the seat. When you haven’t gotten 8 hours of sleep in a while, this is huge. Finally, the stroller frame offers the similar conveniences.


Ant Problem Solved

June 11, 2010 17 comments

Buying a home is an exciting experience. That is until you realize that you not only signed away your life for 30 years but you’ve also gotta take care of it. Actually, that almost sounds like becoming a parent. Anywho, that home you thought seemed so perfect doesn’t seem so perfect anymore and you start to notice things about it that bother you and that you want to upgrade or fix. Actually, that almost sounds like the reality that smacked my wife in the face after she said, “I do.” Anywho, prior to home ownership, I used to spend my weekends tackling a To Do list, which usually consisted of unwinding from a week of work through a variety of activities most likely centered around food and beverages, surrounded by people I loved. After purchasing our home, I spent my weekends tackling a Honey Do list: painting, installing a new thermostat, replacing the garbage disposal (my nose hairs singed from that experience have yet to grow back), unclogging bathtubs (bad enough in and of itself, even worse when you’re pulling out hair from previous owners), fixing this, fixing that. We also had things break on us: our dishwasher, the wax sealing ring on the 1st floor bathroom that leaked onto the basement bathroom, and parts of our porch among others. And worst of all, there were strange odors left behind (thank You, God for the man or woman who created Febreze).

After a year or so of constantly battling our home, we reached a happy medium. Sure there were things that still bothered us, but we learned to live with them. We were happy with our home and we lived in relative tranquility. And then came the ants.

Not just ants, but hundreds of tiny little ants crawling all over our home. The strange thing was, they weren’t going to any food sources; they just seemed to enjoy strolling around our living room. I looked high and low for the reason they chose to invade our home but there was no good reason. No food. No sugar. No water. No dried up juice. To make matters worse, I couldn’t find where they were coming from. I asked my neighbors and some of them were having an issue as well and were having difficulty controlling them. But these ants don’t know me very well.

When I was a kid, my friends and I used to love killing those little caterpillars because they bled green, which we thought was slime. I hated when flies came in the house and while I wasn’t as awesome as Mr. Miyagi, I did swat flies with a vengeance. I hated mosquitoes so much that I would often go outside, do some jumping jacks to get some sweat going, and then kill the mosquitoes that would try to bite me. I never killed a lightning or lady bug though.

So you bet it was on. Initially, I tried just stomping on ’em and trying to wipe out their scent (I learned that part from A Bug’s Life). Nope. I tried several natural methods (orange peels, cayenne pepper, flour, and Vaseline). Nope. So I tried several ant baits but they didn’t seem to do anything. And then I found this:

Terro-fying for Ants

Terro Liquid Ant Baits (about $6.50 at Lowe’s or Home Depot). To give you an idea of what happened next, imagine a massive supply of Schlitz or Natty Light and pizza was set out in the middle of campus. Now imagine what the convergence of college students would look like. The ants tore through all six baits in no time. And then *poof* they were gone.

We later had these massive ants that were crawling over our porch. This is what happened.

I’m not sure if these ants were too fat or dumb to get out of the trap and take the bait back to their colony. After a few days, we had no more ants, and it stayed this way for about 2 years.

A few days ago, the small ants came back. And you bet I got some more Terro liquid ant bait. For you parents or pet owners out there, make sure you monitor the traps. The active ingredient isn’t that harmful but you certainly don’t want to expose them to it. Today, all the ants are gone.

If you’ve got an ant problem, I highly recommend Terro if no other methods are working. If you’re an expert on ants, I’d love to hear any other recommendations you have for future battles I may have.

Hope you have a great, ant-free, weekend!

Looftlighter – A Bunch of (Really) Hot Air

May 14, 2010 14 comments

There are a few things in life that will cause most men’s eyes to widen and jaws to drop. Boobs and fire are two of those things. Since Pop is happily married with a kid, boobs aren’t a big deal anymore, and besides, they cause earthquakes 😛 But setting stuff on fire in a controlled manner is still very exciting. Enter the Looftlighter, which I received as a gift for my birthday this past year.

The Looft curling iron

I go through a lot of charcoal in a given BBQ/grilling season, so I was very happy to receive such a thoughtful gift (*hint hint* *wink wink* Father’s Day is coming up in a month folks). One of the primary complaints of charcoal grills is how long they take to get ready: charcoal usually takes 30 minutes whereas gas takes less than 10. The same friend who bought me the Looftlighter received a blow torch as a gift a while back and he’s been using that to get his coals ready in less than 10 minutes. Personally, I love my chimney starter and don’t mind that it takes a while to get my grill ready. I usually light the chimney starter, go do something else for half an hour, dump the coals in the grill, and go do something else for 15 minutes, and my grill is ready (something else is usually getting an adult beverage or reading my daughter a book – I don’t recommend doing both at the same time).

There are times, however, when I wish I could get the grill ready quicker (read: I’m starving and am about to gnaw on my fingers). The Looftlighter site claims it can get the job done in 60 seconds. Can the Looftlighter make me go, “*grunt*, *grunt*…fire…fire…heh…” in a minute? And would the Looftligher be able to replace my trusty chimney starter(s), which I named Lucky Sweep and have had for 5+ years?

Lucky Sweep vs. ALooft

So what is the Looftlighter? Well, it’s basically your wife’s curling iron…if that curling iron outputs 1000°F. It blows hot air…really hot air. How much is it? $79.99. Where can you buy it? My friend bought mine at ThinkGeek. Does it really have a bottle opener? Yes, but do you really want to open your beer with metal that has recently been exposed to flames? When I told my wife it had a bottle opener on it, she said, “Really? You’re impressed that it can open bottles? Men are so easily pleased.” It’s true. Anytime a guy is showing off a new toy to other guys, after touting how awesome it is, he’ll usually say, “…and it can _________ too!” with the _________ being something incredibly simple, to which the other guys will Ooooooooh and Aaaaaaaaah to. But I digress.

I tested the Looftlighter on a 60 degree, cloudy day in March 2010. I emptied a chimney starter’s worth of briquettes into my charcoal grill – I usually need 2 chimneys to fill up the grill completely.

Yes. That’s how it really sounds. Whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiir!!! I felt like I was blowdrying my charcoal more than setting it on fire. In fact, the entire experience was rather emasculating, so much so that I grunted and adjusted myself repeatedly until the flames began to roar louder than the Looftlighter.

As advertised, the sparks appear after 10-20 seconds and in 60 seconds, one briquette is fully lit. If I were to stop and the lit briquette made contact with neighboring briquettes, the entire pile of charcoal would be lit…in an hour or so! In my tests, leaving it at the point the inventor does, it took about 1h25m to get one batch of coals completely ready; I’ve found you need to get it to about where I got it in the video above (about 3 minutes) for the coals to get ready in a reasonable amount of time.

This a picture of the coals about 40 minutes after the end of the video above – I stopped using the Looftlighter and just let the fire go.

Charcoal After Looftlighter

Not too shabby. The coals are ready to go in about the same amount of time Lucky Sweep does (~45 minutes)

Ready for action

The one advantage the Looftlighter has over my chimney starter is the fact that you can continue to use it and get your coals ready in about 15-20 minutes. From the site:

Do you want that perfect glow in a couple of minutes? Just continue using the Looftlighter towards one (or more) points in the pile!

For me, getting two chimney starter’s worth of charcoal ready took about 30 minutes with the Looftlighter; whereas the only limit to how much charcoal you can have ready in 45 minutes with chimney starters is the number of chimney starters you own. Unless of course, you decide to dual wield Looftlighters a la John Woo.

So it works as advertised, but I do have a few gripes. First, there’s no child safety on this thing. Yes, I’d be an idiot if I left the Looftlighter plugged in around my daughter, so not a big deal to me, but in this day of child-safety locks, I’m sure some parents would be concerned. Second, I’m sure it’s for safety reasons, but some kind of device to lock down the trigger would be nice. I mean, come on, it’s no more dangerous than a gas pump, right? Maybe I’m just lazy but sitting there holding that button down and hearing WHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIR for a solid 10 minutes isn’t very fun for me.

My final gripe about the Looftlighter–and it might seem small to most–is energy consumption. For my chimney starter, all I need is a match and a few sheets of newspaper. Twice a week, we get The Gazette and another local paper thrown onto our sidewalk porch to collect water and get moldy read. Sweet! For Pop, that means free fuel for my chimney starters! So although there isn’t a shortcut for chimney starters to get charcoal ready, it’s very economical and using them has minimal environmental impact. And it keeps the area of the sidewalk in front of our house free of 6 month old newspapers unlike our neighbor’s.

One of the Looftlighter’s selling points is that it eliminates the need for lighter fluid, thus helping the environment. And obviously, unless you want a quick way to lose your eyebrows, you shouldn’t use the Looftlighter with lighter fluid. But you don’t need lighter fluid with a chimney starter either and it won’t affect your utility bill to boot.

A Google search yields varying numbers, but this site says the power is 2000W (here’s a site to give some perspective on how much that is). I’m a geek, so time for some math – for those that don’t like math, I’ll do the work and you can copy my answers.

2000W = 2kilowatts
I used the Looftlighter for about 3 minutes, which is 0.05 hours
2kW x 0.05hours = 0.1kWh
According to the DOE, the average retail Price of electricity to ultimate customers for the Mid-Atlantic was $0.1455 cents/kWh in January 2010
0.1kWh x $0.1455/kWh = $0.01455

A little more than a penny? That’s not too bad, right? Well, if you used it to get your coals ready in 15 minutes, it’d be (0.25h x 2kW x $0.1455/kWh =) $0.07275. Still not terrible, but over an entire season? That’ll add up. Not to mention I have to sit there holding down that button every single time (rather than enjoying an adult beverage or playing with my daughter).

So while I like the Looftlighter and still show it off to my friends–any initial thoughts of, “Dude…that sounds wimpy” are quickly replaced with Ooooooohs once the sparks fly and they see the flames–it hasn’t replaced my chimney starters by a long shot. When I need a small batch of charcoal ready in a hurry, the Looftlighter is a welcome addition to my arsenal, but it sits behind my old grill brush, chimney starters, and BBQ sword on my list of favorite BBQ/grill accessories.

Where to Buy Charcoal in Maryland

May 7, 2010 8 comments

As you may have noticed by now, dear reader, I love to grill and BBQ. In any given BBQ season, which I define as the first bit of warm weather in February until the sun sets at 4:40pm in the Fall, I’ll easily go through more than 100lbs of charcoal – I think my personal record was 300lbs one particularly delicious season. That figure may sound startling, i.e., expensive, and it is, but gas grills aren’t that much better.

How long does a propane tank last for a gas grill? It depends on a number of factors, but in general, I’ve gotten 15 hours or so out of my 4-burner, 40,000BTU gas grill. A 20lb tank exchange runs me roughly $15, which is what 40lbs of charcoal typically costs. So, the cost of operating a gas grill vs. a charcoal grill for me is negligible.

That being said, what kind of charcoal does Pop buy? Well, for the uninitiated, the two most common types are lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes. Lump charcoal is basically pieces of wood that have been burned down in a low-oxygen environment into charcoal. Briquettes on the other hand are mixed with other ingredients and molded. The general consensus is that briquettes tend to burn longer and more consistently, but lump charcoal burns hotter. I typically use lump charcoal only for quick, high-heat grilling for items like galbi and kabobs; for everything else, I use briquettes.

Charcoal Briquettes

The only brand I ever buy is Kingsford! Mostly because it’s available everywhere. And please don’t ever buy Match Light or lighter fluid; use a chimney starter. Kingsford also offers Competition Briquettes, but I’m not a big fan because 1) they’re more expensive (about $0.80/lb) and 2) although they light faster, burn hotter, and result in less ash, they don’t last as long as the regular briquettes. Here are some local stores and their prices for regular Kingsford charcoal:

Sams Club: 2-20lb bags: $14.98 – $0.37/lb
Home Depot: 2-20lb bags: $15.87 – $0.40/lb
Lowe’s: 1-16lb bag: $8.48 – $0.53/lb

In my area of Maryland, Sams Club is the best place to buy charcoal briquettes – although you do have to factor in the cost of membership. Additionally, Costco’s charcoal is excellently priced as well.

What about buying charcoal online? Forget about it.

Lump Charcoal

Cowboy lump charcoal is the most readily available lump charcoal in my area, but it’s certainly far from the best.

Before you buy a bag, make sure you thoroughly inspect it: feel all over the bag and get a bag that seems to have the greatest number of large pieces. The first time I bought this brand of lump charcoal, I placed several bags in my shopping cart and when I got home, although some bags were great, the majority of them were full of tiny, barely usable pieces and tons of dust.

At last check, neither Sams Club or Costco carry lump charcoal, so the only places I’ve been able to find it is at hardware stores. Home Depot has the 8.8lb bag for $6.99 and Lowe’s has it for $6.97.

And once again, shipping kills any deal you may find online for charcoal.

So even for my most prolific BBQ season, it only cost me $120 to fuel my grill – not a significant dent at all in our budget. It did, however, likely put a sizable dent in the ozone layer above my house. 😛

Finally, the best time to buy charcoal is Memorial day weekend. Usually, Home Depot will have 2x20lb packs for $10 and Lowes has 2-16lb packs for $8, or $0.25/lb! So stock up!

Pop's Version of Memorial Day Shopping: 120lbs for $60

Do you have any recommendations on where to buy charcoal? What brands of charcoal do you prefer?

Pop’s Gear for Capturing Memories

April 21, 2010 9 comments

For most parents, it’s simply not enough to enjoy a moment with your family anymore – they want to capture it. And with prices for pro-level gear getting lower and lower, I see parents toting around DSLRs in just about any place imaginable, even the most mundane. After all, you don’t want to miss such momentous occasions as baby’s first trip to the mall or when he/she looks at a ceiling fan.

I say that w/ some sarcasm but mostly truth, as I was that parent who captured even the most pitiful of milestones, and now, I’m sitting on external hard drives full of pictures and video that are, well, boring. Such is life in the digital age – when you no longer are limited to 24 exposures for a $4 roll of film and have to drop it off at Costco and wait eagerly to see how your pictures turned out or store stacks of VHS or mini-DV tapes. And when hard drives are as cheap as they are, discernment goes out the window. So if you’re going to sit on mounds of 1’s and 0’s, you may as well make sure the stuff you capture looks halfway decent.

With that, I give you the list of the gear I use to capture the memories with my family.

Read more…

Sesame Street Music Player Review

March 26, 2010 Leave a comment

When it comes to buying books, my wife and I are all about thrift stores. However, there are some books that our daughter has LOVED, either through borrowing from the library or reading at a friend’s house, that we end up buying from Amazon, e.g., Can You Say Peace and Dodsworth in Paris. The most recent one we purchased was the Sesame Street Music Player 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition.

Amazon says it’s a board book, but the pages aren’t. The music player has “CDs”, that play a list of songs sequentially when inserted. The CDs themselves don’t do very much – they simply have a ridge that presses down on a specific button on the inside of the music player, which tells the player which songs to play. So if you were to lose a disk–which is probably pretty likely with a toddler–you could probably use some masking tape to hold the desired button down.

The music player requires 2-AA batteries, which are included. Each disc has 6 songs (4 discs = 24 songs total), and you have to go through the songs in order and you can’t repeat a song, which is kind of a bummer since my daughter likes certain songs more than others.

The songs are simply instrumental tracks with one of the instruments playing the melody of the song, so if you’re not much of a singer, this book’s probably going to be of little value to you – unless your child enjoys hearing you hum. My wife sings pretty well and she watched a ton of Sesame Street growing up, so it works out for her. I on the other hand, can barely hold a tune and am unfamiliar with some of the songs, but my wife gets a kick out of me trying.

This is currently my daughter’s favorite book and she immediately asks for us to read it when we get home. And there’s something wonderful about hearing my daughter singing the same songs I did growing up. I’m pretty much opposed to a lot of the current things kids are into, such as Hannah Montana and The Suite life of Zack and Cody…they just don’t seem to be as awesome or wholesome* as Sesame Street, Captain Kangaroo, Reading Rainbow, and pretty much any other show I grew up on. So it brings a smile to my face when my daughter sings, “Sunny day…sweepin the clouds away!”

Ahhhh, nostalgia!

*Although Chappelle has a pretty funny bit about Sesame Street (Get a job grouch!).

Pop’s Guide to Buying a Grill

March 23, 2010 10 comments

The following is me rambling about grills. The short of it is

  1. Buy a grill
  2. Buy a charcoal grill b/c it’s awesome

If you’d like to read me using 5000+ characters to conclude the above (w/ pictures), click below.
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