Tuesday, May 20, 2008

REI Nalgene Returns!

Thanks to the Suburban Wife's Daily Dollar Diary I've learned that REI will refund the price of all Nalgene bottles made from BPA purchased at their stores! Click the link to learn how she did it and without the receipts even!

This was great news to me since we got the girls Nalgene Grip 'n Gulp bottles for Christmas from REI .. in addition to the 3 or 4 other Nalgene bottles floating around the kitchen I've been looking at spending between $50 and $75 to replace these. With REI's awesome return policy I should be able to break even on the deal!

Now my question is do I go with the BPA Free Nalgene Grip 'n Gulp or do we make the transition to stainless bottles? My husband and I currently use the Sigg Sport Bottle and really like them, they seem to keep drinks colder longer and the Sigg Kids Bottles are super cute! Perhaps the narrow necks would make cleaning more difficult and having to make especially shape ice cubes may not be a great use of time but these may be more fun for the girls and luckily they're big water fans so these would only be used for that so no making fermented apple juice (hard cider anyone?) in left behind cups. However, the Sigg bottles run about $5 more per bottle than the Nalgene ... Hmm .. I guess we'll be taking a trip to REI next time we're headed to Ann Arbor and we'll let the kids decide!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

More on Car Seats ... Part Two!

In my last post I talked about some basics of using car seats as well as the different types of seats available.

SO.... How to you find the right seat for your family? The consensus in the car seat world is the best seat for you is the one that fits .. fits your child, fits your car and fits your budget! So let's start with those 3 ...

First, the best seat fits your child: .. See this post!

Next, the best seat fits your car:

Do some research .. pick up Consumer's Reports, parenting magazines and read lots of reviews by parents and get some ideas about which seats you think you'd like. There's a great carseat to car compatibility database at CarSeatData.Org

Before buying a seat, test it out! Stores like ToysRus will allow you to take a display model out to the parking lot and test fit it before you buy. Check with your local stores first .. some require a deposit or having an employee escort you .. and babysit you while you try it out. I spoke with a manager of our local ToysRus on the phone before I went in and explained the situation and they were so accommodating! I did have to leave my drivers licence before leaving the store with a cart full of seats to test out. An hour later I had a few scrapped up knuckes and a new seat picked out. The manager came out so see how I did and advised me to wait a week for their baby sale to start .. I've bought 3 seats from ToysRus .. isn't customer service an amazing thing! I wouldn't recommend doing this with your kids in tow and I would set aside a couple of hours to play around with seats. Trying different seats in different positions. Our ComfortSport wouldn't fit snugly in the center seat of my car but fit great in one of the outboard positions!

So you're in a parking lot with a crazy looking hunk of plastic with a cute cover and your backseat and your rear end sticking out for the world to see .. now what?

The Basics of Installation:

1. Get out the owners manuals for both your vehicle and seat, read throughly and have at the ready when you're installing.

2. If your vehicle was manufactured after 2002 it will have a LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren) system. Cars made before 2002 may also have this system but its required on cars made after 2002. LATCH is a system of anchoring points that are built into the frame of the car and is used instead of the vehicle's lap/shoulder belt. It should be noted that the LATCH system is easier for installation but know that the lap/shoulder belt can be used as safely. With our van we don't use the LATCH system because it's not as effective as using the seat belt but the LATCH in my husbands car is very effective. I would try the LATCH system first and if you don't have a "good install" try again with with the regular seatbelt.

3. For LATCH installation:
  • Locate the LATCH belt (looks like a skinny seatbelt with a hook on each end) on your seat with the help of the owner's manual .. make sure it's routed though the seat properly with no twisting, bunching, pulling or snagging.
  • Next, using your car's manual find the anchor points for the LATCH system (these are just flattened metal rings bolted to the frame of the car). There will be one for each side of the seat and one for the top tether (used for forwarding facing seats).
  • Position the car seat on the seat of the car! If installing a forward facing seat, attach the top tether strap from the car seat to the tether anchor of the car and tighten.
  • Next, attach the LATCH clips from the properly routed LATCH belt to the anchor points and tighten. When tightening straps you need to add weight to the bottom of the seat to simulate a child sitting in it .. I find it easiest to place my knee in the crease of the seat and place my weight down while pulling the straps tight. Car seat is now installed.
  • To check for a good install grasp the sides of the seat directly about where the LATCH belt comes out. Pull it out towards you and shake it from side to side. A well installed seat should slide more than an inch in any direction. If it moves around easily, check your install or try again using a different position in the car or with the lap/shoulder belt. On infant seats, also push down on the top of the seat .. if the bottom (where the car seat meets the back of the seat of the car) changes angles or rises up, the car seat is not safely installed.
4. For installation using the vehicle's seat belt:
  • First, remove LATCH system belt from the proper belt path. Only the belt that is being used to secure the car seat to the car should be in place.
  • Next, using your vehicle's manual for reference, place car seat in position.
  • If you are using a top tether, secure that first (see above) and tighten.
  • Grasp the car's seatbelt and guide it though the proper routing on the car seat. Refer to the owner's manual for the seat or use the same routing as with the LATCH belt. Make sure there are no twists, snags or pulling on the seatbelt. Secure the latch plate (the metal part at the end of the belt) in the buckle.
  • Now, while kneeling in the bottom of the seat, grab the lap portion of the seatbelt as it comes out of the buckle and pull it tight.
  • While still kneeling in the seat, pull out the slack on the shoulder portion on the opposite side of the carseat.
  • Finally, pull out all of the shoulder strap from the car. Make sure you hear a click and allow the belt to retract back into the car.
  • Check for fit by grasping the sides of the seat just above the belt path and pull the seat towards you and from side to side. If the seat moves more than an inch in any direction, or just doesn't feel secure ... try again! Try a different position in the car or a different car seat. Some seats just don't fit some cars!
  • If you're using a lap only belt, follow the same instructions as above. If you are having issues with the lap belt coming loose during use, try turning over the latch plate before buckling the seat belt. This should reset the locking mechanism in the belt.
One more note: Some cars make before 1996 do not have the retractor mechanism on their seatbelts. Refer to your owner's manual. If your seat does not have a retractor you'll need to use the locking clip included on your carseat. This piece of metal hardware is installed about half an inch above the buckle, between the buckle and the carseat and attaches the lap portion of the belt to the shoulder belt. Some cars with the locking seatbelts will still need to use a locking clip .. so if you have an older car and are having problems getting a "good install" try using the clip. Locking clips are worthless on lap only belts, however, and shouldn't be used. If a lap belt is coming loose during use, turn the latch plate over once before inserting in the buckle!

If you're a first timer or anytime you get a new seat or a new car .. I suggest seeking out a Child Passenger Safety Tech (CPST). These lovely folks will not only install your seat correctly for you but will teach you how to do it yourself. Many insurance companies, especially AAA, offer clinics. Also check out resources available through your hospitial, doctor's office, health department, fire station and state police post. Also check out SafeKids.Org, which a great organization dedicated to preventing accidental injury in children world wide. From their site on clinics in your area where CPSTs will inspect your seats and teach you the proper way to install them in your car and install your child in the seat. You can also search for CPSTs in your area and find one that will do the inspections on an appointment basis. We were fortunate that one of the nurses at our peditrican's office was a CPST and we could ask her to inspect our seats for us.

I can't say enough about these wonderful people and can not recommend them enough to others. They know the tricks of the trade in getting seats to fit perfectly in your car, like using a foam pool noodle to get the recline angle just right on a rear facing seat! If you can't get to one of these folks, check with the local fire and police stations, many communities have their firefighters and officers trained on how to install car seat properly. Have both your car's and car seat's owner manuels available when installing any seat .. there are differences between different models as to how and where to install .. for instance, not all center lap/shoulder belts can be used for carseats .. it depends on the car!

Monday, April 7, 2008

More on Car Seats ... Part One

In this post, I'm refering solely to 5 point harnessed seats .. I don't think others like a 3 point harness, t-shield or tray shields are made anymore and if you own one of these check to see if it's expired before using it. Also .. I'm not an expert by any means .. just a mom that's gone though this whole self education process and hopes to share what I can. I'll include some links to the experts though ;)

A few basics for all seat-riders:
  1. Car seats expire. Just like milk and yogurt. All seats are stamped with a date on the bottom that has the date of manufacture and the date it expires. Most seats have a life of 6 years .. check your seat to be sure. The reason for this is the plastic deteriorates over time and becomes less effective at preventing injury.
  2. Use extreme caution when using a used seat! Things like collisions, dropping the seat on a hard surface, storing in a garage in extreme heat or cold can effect the stability of the plastic and render it unsafe. This damage is often undetectable to the eye. I would never buy or accept a used seat from anyone I didn't know or trust with my child's life. Period.
  3. There must be at least 1 inch of hard plastic "shell" between the top of the child's head and the top of the seat. There are more specifics for different types of seats, boosters for instance, have a different set of guidelines .. but the one inch rule works well!
  4. For Rear Facing kids, the shoulder straps of the harness must positioned at or below the shoulder of the child. Forward Facing riders need the harness to be positioned at or above the shoulder of the child.
  5. Heavy coats and snowsuits should not be worn while buckled up! The bulkiness of the materials cause the harness to not be as tight as possible and in an impact the material will compress and the child could slip out of the harness. In the winter we wear a light fleece jacket or sweater and the kids have car blankets or use their heavy jacket as a blanket.
  6. The chest clip, the little part that clips the shoulder straps of the harness together, should be even with the armpits of the child. Too high and it's way uncomfortable .. too low and the baby could slingshot out the top of the harness in an impact.
  7. Only use the accessories that come with or are produced by the manufacturer for your car seat. Things like neck supports, toys and liners that aren't made for your seat aren't tested with your seat and can impact the overall safety performance. My general rule is not to add anything between the seatbelt and the harness .. except the kid!
SO.... How to you find the right seat for your family? The consensus in the car seat world is the best seat for you is the one that fits .. fits your child, fits your car and fits your budget! So let's start with those 3 ...

First, the best seat fits your child:

Newborns: Newborns can ride in a rear-facing infant seat (generally rated for use up to 20 or 22 lbs) or in a Convertible seat (rated rear-facing for children up to 30-35 lbs and then used forward facing to around 40 lbs.). While a convertible seat may sound ideal, not all models fit small babies well. Look for seats that have a nice range of adjustments for strap height and at least 2 positions for the crotch strap.

: All babies MUST ride rear facing until the age of 1 and 20 lbs. It's preferable that babies ride rear facing as long as possible to protect the fragile neck and spine. Its been proven that riding foward facing, in a frontal collision the ligaments in baby's neck can streach up to 2 inches, however, the spinal cord can rupture with movement of more than a 1/4 of an inch! Around one year of age, the bones start to harden and are less likely to become injured. Our girls were rear facing until the point where we could no longer get them to sit down rear facing. They were both sitting cross-legged and were uncomfortable .. this was around 20 months for both girls. With Maddy she'd grown to need the top strap adjustment in her seat which was meant for only forward facing, so we made the change then. Most car seat experts recommend keeping kids rear facing as long as possible, within the range of the car seat itself, again most are rated to 30-35 lbs before needing to be turn forward. This doesn't always work for everyone .. I would love to still have 2 kids rear facing but it didn't happen for us.

Children over 1 and up to 40lbs:
Again most experts agree that kids should stay rear facing as long as possible .. but it doesn't happen for all of us. I felt horrible turning my kids around before they turned 2 until they got into their seats without complaint and car rides had become a whine free time. That said .. options for toddlers include the convertible seat mentioned above, either rear or foward facing .. before turning the seat around haul out the owners manual and check out the directions for installing and using the seat facing forward. There are some slight differences. Another option for toddlers is the combination harness and booster. As a harnessed seat, this is much like the convertible seat .. near identical in fact, except that is this seat is only forward facing. Most seats are rated between 20 and 40 lbs for the harness .. after 40 lbs the harness is removed and the seat is used as a booster.

Children over 40 lbs
: At this point kids have out grown most of the harnessed seats on the market (there are a few that have high weight limits) and are ready for a belt-positioning booster or BPB. These are basically a booster seat that helps position the child so a regular lap/shoulder seat belt fits them properly. Lap/shoulder seat belts that you and I use are designed to fit adults 5' to 6' .. most kids aren't that big! Most BPBs are rated for kids up to 100 lbs and will be the end of the car seat line for your child. There are models for younger children as small as 30lbs with back rests (called highback boosters) and look like a giant carseat without the harness. These are more of a routing device for the lap/shoulder seat belt. There are also the backless models for older kids and a combo of the two called a removable back booster. The biggest concern with the transition of children into a BPB, other than size of the child and fit, is making sure the child is mature enough to handle riding in a seat without a harness. They can not play or move the lap shoulder belt while buckled up so while some 3 year olds are big enough for a booster they may not be mature enough to handle it. Most kids will need some sort of a booster until the age of 10 or 12 depending on the size of the child and car in which they are riding. There's a nice simple 5 step test to see if your child is ready to ride without the booster. This test should be done every time the child is riding in a new car! According to these I probably would have need a booster all though high school!

If you can answer yes to ALL of these questions then your child is ready to be booster free!

The 5-Step Test.

1. Does the child sit all the way back against the auto seat?
2. Do the child's knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto seat?
3. Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and arm?
4. Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs?
5. Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?

Part two to come!

Some helpful links:

  • SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A - Super reference site for all things related to car seats for kids of all ages. Great resource!
  • Car Seat Message Board at iVillage - Great message board filled with wonderfully helpful people that know what they're talking about and are willing to help. This board was great when I first started researching car seats.
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Adminstration - Info on lots of government studies and good general guidelines for Child Passenger Safety
  • CarSeatData.Org - Another good general car seat info site. Great database for specific carseat and specific car compatibility.

Car Seat O Rama

We know that one of the least frugal things about having babies is the seemly incessant need for baby "stuff" .. The most important purchases you'll ever make for your babies and kids are their car seats. A seat is a vital piece of protection that can literally mean life or death in a collision.

After my last post, I thought I might expound a bit on our current car seats. We currently have all Graco seats. When we looked at new seats we tried out others (yes you can do that!) and didn't really find any that fit our cars or our kids. Graco is affordable (as car seats go), comfortable for the kids with nice features like cupholders and snack trays, and most importantly they are SAFE, with low numbers of recalls (at least from our experience) .. we had one recall with an infant seat and the issue was the base that stays in the car *might* not click into place, the seat was still usable without the base. For us this was a non issue since we are insane about making sure our seats are properly used everytime we put the kids in the car .. and I don't think we were even using the base at the time .. I think the seat was more secure without it in the car we had at the time. Graco did send out new bases however and we had them with in a week of confirming that we did have a recalled seat.

Here's a list of the seats we've used or are currently using .. the pictures aren't necessarly the seats we have since the patterns change frequently.

Graco SnugRide: This was the infant seat we used with both of our girls. A top rated seat that is easy to install and easy to use. It's rear-facing only and fits babies up to 20 lbs AND 1 year old. If your baby is over 20 lbs before 1 year, you need to jump up to a Convertible seat or use the Graco SafeSeat system (more to follow) .. all kids must stay rear facing until age 1, before that age babies lack the head and neck control to be facing forward. Prices start around $80

Graco ComfortSport: The ComfortSport is a convertible car seat that can be used (in the from birth to 40 lbs. It's convertible because you use it rear facing up to 30 lbs and then it can be used forward facing up to 40 lbs. I say in theory it can be used to 40 lbs because the shoulder strap placement is relatively low and my 35lb 4 year oldory) is too big for this seat. Currently our 2 year old, 27 lb, 30 in daughter is very comfortable in this seat. Both girls have used this one both rear facing and forward facing. More on rear vs. forward facing to come! Prices start around $80

Graco CarGo: A harnessed booster or convertible booster .. This is a great seat and is rather versatile. For kids over 1 and between 20 and 40 lbs it's a nice forward facing seat with the standard 5 pt. harness. Or for kids 30 to 100 lbs (!) it's a nice belt positioning booster. For the moment, our 4 year old 35 lb, 38 inch daughter is using this as a harnessed seat. However, she is just about too tall to be using it as such and will most likely use it as a booster or move in to her TurboBooster full time! This seat is only to be used forward facing and has a long life to it since it's rated up to 100lbs. Prices start around $80

Graco TurboBooster: A booster is a seat for older kids that in the past wouldn't have been in a seat at all. This seat positions a regular seatbelt so it properly fits a younger child, typically anyone under the age of 12 will need a booster (more to come). There are 2 types of the TurboBooster, a backless model for older kids and a model that has a back for younger kids .. the model with the back converts to a backless one. This is the model we're using with our 4 year old. This is a forward facing only seat for kids age 3 to 10 and 30 to 100 lbs. I wouldn't recommend a booster until they have outgrown a smaller seat though.

Graco also has a line called SafeSeats which makes it easier to determine what seat your child should be in. It's a nice Step One, Step Two, Step Three system that I wish would have been around 5 years ago! The biggest improvement I've seen from the little bit of research I've done on this system is that the infant seat is now rated for kids up to 30 lbs which means that parents can keep their babies rear facing longer and is especially nice for those bigger babies that are 20 before they're 6 months old! The seats are more expensive initally that the regular SnugRide infant seat but I think its worth it for the fact that this does keep babies rear facing longer and 30 lbs is BIG in our house .. my 2 1/2 year old would still be in this seat! The only drawback other than price is I can see parents trying to cart this seat around with a 30 lb baby in it and I imagine alot more backaches for mom and dad!

One more note about Graco seats .. you may notice the prices fluctuate from pattern to pattern with in the same model of seat. This has nothing to do with the safety of the seat .. it's simply a manner of padding and accessories. The "shell" or frame of the seats are all the same. The base model of the SnugRide is $80 but you can pay up to $150 for a Snugride with fancy accessories like a cover or extra padding. We simply bought the lower priced model for all the seats we've had and have had no problems at all with any of them.

I'm planning a more extensive post about the safety issues regarding car seats and some hints and tips about buying and using seats in a future post. Let me know if there's anything you'd like covered!

Car Set Switch-a-Roo

Saturday was the big test for our four year old Madelynn .. the first ride in her new Graco TurboBooster! We were heading out for the day and I didn't feel like messing with switching the 2 seats from my van to the car .. so we decided to try the TurboBooster I'd bought at Target last fall knowing it would be awhile before we'd be able to use it but the price was right .. $12.48, 75% off! Maddy was excited to use her new seat and after a short discussion about not playing with the seatbelt, how it was like the straps on her old seat that aren't to be touched, it's what keeps her safe in the car, like mommy and daddy's seat belts, ect .. she did great!! It still amazes me how well kids understand and listen if you take the time to explain the reasoning behind the direction.

My plan now is that come August and new baby arrives Maddy will move to the TurboBooster, Mallory will move to Maddy's old Ultra CarGo Harnessed booster and the new baby will be riding in the ComfortSport. However, there's more testing to be done before I can be certain that we won't need to buy an Infant seat .. I need to see how the ComfortSport will fit rear-facing in the van and how Mallory fits in the CarGo. And I need to see when the ComfortSport expires .. I think it should be late in 2010, we bought it in the winter of 2004 when Maddy was a tall, or long rather, 9 month old.

Not only is the idea of spending $80 on new Snugride less than appealing I can't imagine trying to haul it around with a 5 year old and a 3 year old. When Mallory was a baby, the Snugride we had then rarely left the car when we were doing errands, she usually rode in the sling and once she was bigger and too wiggly for the sling to feel safe for her it was the backpack carrier. With Madelynn, the Snugride went everywhere and I developed a mild case of carpel tunnel from lugging her around! Of course, if the seats don't fit correctly, I'd much rather spend the $80 and have a safe baby .. or maybe I'll just have to get a new van ;)

The pics are of the girls in the current car seat configuration .. they're are from my cameraphone so excuse the lack of quality! They're also from last summer and Maddy's grown a foot since then, so I assure you she is tall enough for her new seat!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The obligitory Nascar post ---

Nothing natural or frugal about it but Nascar is insanely popular as I'm sure everyone knows. I've never been a huge fan .. in fact the only thing I really enjoy about a Nascar race, other than the wreaks, is the nice nap it always provides .. In fact, we refer to the sport as NAPcar! The good news is that Dale Jr. is now the driver of the National Guard #88 car!! Dale Jr. has to be the biggest dreamboat in Nascar and the one most likely to grace the cover of TeenBeat and the one I'd like to hang out with the most! It's been a while since we've had a good driver to root for .. back in the day when Mr. M was the Pepsi guy we half-heartedly cheered Jeff Gordon on, but the times have changed! The sisters-in-law are huge Nascar fans and one is a Jimmy Johnson fan whist the other is a long time Dale Jr. fan .. should make for some interesting family dinners!

So .. there it is, most likely, the only post I'll ever write about Nascar .. unless Mr. M wins some pit passes or something .. damn war and poor defense budgets, recruiters' incentive packs have really dropped off ;)

Cars, Citizen Soldiers, Kids and Babies .. oh my!

Boy, it's been a while (again) .. since I've sat to "blog" and a lot has been going on! The van is fixed for now and hopefully until next spring, Mr. M is happily rid of the Escort and driving a new to us Mercury Sable, which is so wonderfully luxurious in comparison. It was bitter sweet to see the Escort go since it was the first car I bought and paid for myself and then drove it until it was on the brink of falling apart .. literally .. we were worried about it not making it to the dealership in our old town 60 miles away! I know some would call us crazy for buying used cars from a dealership but we've had great experiences and have built up a relationship with our favorite dealer and will continue to buy there in the future. Perhaps a post for another time.

Mr. M is loving the job and is really succeeding beyond what was expected of him. We were nervous moving here because the results from this area have been so dismal and the last few recruiters didn't last very long. Thankfully, things are working out rather well and we're all very proud of what he's been able to provide not just to our family but to kids that really don't have a lot of options available to them here. Community support in this area is phenomenal as well .. instead of sneers when Mr. M is around town in uniform, older women are hugging him and thanking him and people are anonymously paying for lunches .. In our old town, you could feel the disdain others had for the military, and there would be comments about how horrible it was that Mr. M had to "con these poor kids into being sent to war". I don't know if it's because this is a smaller community or the fact that there is a National Guard unit here or its just a less "left-leaning" community, but this area is far more supportive of it's men and women in uniform!

As for the kiddos .. M1 just celebrated her 4th birthday with a record 3 parties (all small!) and enjoyed Barbie Mariposa as her favorite gift .. as a note I have to give credit to my grandparents who called to ask what she'd like, normally not newsworthy, however, it's taken them almost 28 years, 13 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren to CALL AND ASK WHAT THE KID LIKES .. rather than getting an insanely expensive gift not at all fitting a child .. case in point the table set of Royal Daulton BunnyKins that M2 received for her 2nd birthday last fall! It was a great gift for me since I receive a set around the same age and still have it .. wrapped carefully and stored away somewhere for some unknown purpose ..

And the biggest surprise of all .. we found out we'll be adding M3 to the mix in late August! Not a huge shocker but still a surprise after all the baby/little kids stuff went to Children's Orchard last winter ... lets say we're not totally prepared (at least stuff wise) for a new bundle of joy! It's been fun though finding things at resale shops and the girls like to look at baby clothes and toys and the like. At 19 weeks we're debating on if we want to find out the sex of the baby or be surprised. With the first 2 we (meaning me!) didn't know until the delivery room .. I love the idea of not knowing but planning and getting stuff would be so much easier if we knew. With the girls, it didn't really matter one way or the other .. but I can't imagine being able to hit up the resale stores with a 4 year old, a 2 year old and an infant! Plus there's only one good resale store in town, Goodwill, who seems to be a bit overpriced since they've all but cornered the market in the area! Maybe if we end up staying in the area I'll open my own Children's Orchard!