Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Review: Woolzies dryer balls

I've been curious about wool dryer balls for a while now, so when the opportunity came up to review some, I decided to give it a shot. Luckily my package of six fuzzy Woolzies arrived at the beginning of a marathon laundry run. Being a nerd scientist, I decided to collect data through some (semi) organized tests. The moisture sensor on our dryer doesn't work - or only works sporadically, at least - but I typically dry every load of laundry at 70 minutes on the delicate setting. According to the package, the Woolzies are supposed to shorten drying time by up to 25%, act as a fabric softener, and prevent static cling. I decided to start with a load of kitchen towels since towels generally take longer to dry and are really scratchy when they're dried without fabric softener.

Test Load #1: kitchen towels
Time: 50 minutes
Results: all items dried and softened

Test Load #2: clothes + fluffy bath towels
Time: 50 minutes
Results: all items dried and softened

I was impressed with the reduction in drying time and the softening power of the Woolzies, but I wanted to be a little more rigorous in my static-cling testing. I had a pair of flannel curtains from Elliott's room that needed washing, and they seemed like good test subjects. The curtains came out static-free, as did my thin T-shirts that tend toward clinginess.

Test #3: flannel curtains + clothes
Time: 50 minutes
Results: all items dried and softened, no appreciable static cling

When I wash MB's shirts, I generally hang them up to dry so the sleeves won't shrink up in the dryer. Once they're dry they're stiff, so I throw them back into the dryer for about five minutes with a fabric softener sheet. For Test #4, I threw three dry T-shirts into the dryer with the Woolzies. They came out maybe halfway as soft as usual and pretty staticky. I'm not sure if more time would've helped, but it wasn't that big a deal.

Test #4: previously-dried T-shirts
Time: 3 minutes
Results: sort of softened, staticky

(Can we pause here to talk about how cute the Woolzies logo is? Seriously.)

Things were going really well, so I thought I'd make the test a little harder. For the next load of clothes I decided to raise the challenge level. I put in a load of clothes with no jeans and no towels and set the timer for 40 minutes. Everything came out dry except for one pair of very thick baby socks.

Test #5: clothes (no jeans, no towels)
Time: 40 minutes
Results: mostly dry, all softened, no static

By this point I was convinced, converted, and pondering whether it would be reasonable to buy dryer balls for the Christmas gift exchange this year (seriously). I only had one test left I wanted to run, and that was to dry a load of sheets and see how staticky they were.

Test #6: sheets
Time: 40 minutes
Results: not staticky at all

I've probably washed ten loads of laundry with the Woolzies so far, and saved about 20 minutes of drying time per load…so 200 minutes saved. That's pretty significant!

At the outset of the experiment, I had two concerns about the Woolzies: First, how loud would they be once all six of them were tumbling around in the dryer? Second, would they produce crazy amounts of lint? After ten loads I can report that despite their weight, Woolzies aren't too terribly loud. They do cause a bit of a low-bass thump-thump-thump but they don't make nearly as much noise as kid sneakers, zip-front hoodies, overalls, or a dryer full of snap-crotch baby onesies. I suppose if you're a light sleeper and your laundry room is right next to your bedroom you may want to use the Woolzies only when you're not trying to sleep, but I couldn't even hear the thumps once I went back upstairs. I cleaned out the lint trap before and after the first towel load to check for fuzz production. The post-towel amount of lint was about what I'd expect just from towels, and I had the same results after subsequent loads.

Like I said before, I'm converted and ready to start pushing these on all my friends. If you'd like to try them out for yourself, Woolzies is providing a set of six dryer balls for me to give away (and they'll ship anywhere, worldwide!). For a chance to win leave a comment on this post before midnight on Sunday, September 1st and include a valid email address. Winner will be chosen using random.org and must be willing to provide his or her contact information directly to Woolzies.


Congrats, Erin! I'll be emailing you shortly :)

Disclosure: I was given these items free of charge to review. The words and opinions in this post are my own.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Review: Barefoot Books for Spring

When I was offered a chance to review some new Barefoot Books recently, I jumped right on it. I've been a fan of their products since Nico was a baby. Our library has lots of their titles available and the first book character Nico learned to identify by name was Cleo the cat. We received a bundle of four Spring titles:

The Barefoot Book of Earth Tales by Dawn Casey and Anne Wilson

This is a collection of seven folk tales from different cultures that emphasize taking care of the planet and our resources. Each story is followed by instructions for a kids' activity, such as planting tomatoes or making a pinecone bird feeder. As the mom of a kid with a peanut sensitivity, I was pleased to see they recommended vegetable shortening instead of peanut butter for the bird feeder craft. This is a book to grow into for us, as the recommended age level is 5 - 11 years. I'll definitely be pulling this one out again as the boys get older.

I Took the Moon for a Walk by Carolyn Curtis and Alison Jay

This sweet bedtime story about a little boy who takes the moon for a walk is written in an easy rhyme scheme. I really like reading books that rhyme smoothly, especially for bedtime. I love the illustrations in the book, which were done by the same artist who illustrated a favorite ABC book we got from the library a lot when Nico was younger. The illustrations are done with oil paints and a crackling varnish, which gives the book a lot of texture and depth even on a flat page. The animals depicted are utterly charming, and my favorites may be these inquisitive cows:

Over in the Meadow by Jill McDonald and Susan Reed

This is another book with really wonderful illustrations. I squinted at them for a long time trying to figure out if they were paper collages that had been photographed or digital illustrations, then found the author / illustrator info at the back of the book. Apparently they're both - digital illustrations created with the use of painted papers. They reminded me of my very favorite Barefoot Books illustrator, Claire Beaton, who creates scenes using felt. This story is based on an old nursery rhyme and has a very nice, easy rhythm to it. We've read it for a few bedtimes already and Nico loves to count the baby animals on each page. I love the variety of animals depicted, which includes muskrats and lizards…not your every day storybook characters! The book also has a page in the back with facts about each animal depicted, which will be really nice as Nico gets older. (I Took the Moon for a Walk also has a page with animal facts. Very cool!)

Kids' Garden card deck by Whitney Cohen and Roberta Arenson

As a parent and a professional outdoor educator, I think I'm most excited about this item. It's a book-sized set of cards with activities and games meant to spark children's interest in the outdoors. (Similar sets are available for in the kitchen and for creating a fun kids' yoga practice.) I'm always looking for new ways to get Nico interested in the world around him, as well as for ideas I can use to inspire kids at work. Two of my favorite suggested activities from the deck are planting a pizza garden and using socks to collect seeds on a walk through a meadow:


If you'd like a chance to win a book of your choice from Barefoot Books, please leave a comment on this post with the title you'd choose before 11:59 PM CST on Saturday, May 18. You can view their entire catalog here. Be sure to include your email address! I'll use random.org to select a winner. US and Canadian addresses only, please, and no PO Boxes.

Disclosure:  I was given these items free of charge to review. The words and opinions in this post are my own.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Review: Shure wooden puzzles

Nico and I were out finishing up our Christmas shopping yesterday and stopped by Menard's to see what their Christmas displays were like. He always asks to look at the trucks at any store we go to, so we ended up window shopping down the toy aisle. We almost never buy anything (despite his best efforts to the contrary) but it's fun to look. He kept asking for different (big, expensive) toys which I was not willing to consider with Christmas a week away and his birthday three weeks after that. But then I saw a box of four wooden construction vehicle puzzles and I only debated for about thirty seconds before I picked it up and handed it to him. My family has always been really into puzzles and I'd love it if Nico turned out to be a puzzle kid. I gambled on the graphics piquing Nico's interest and it paid off big time.

We took the puzzles home and opened them and much to my delight, Nico decided they looked pretty cool and helped me assemble all four. He asked for them again tonight and did quite a bit of the assembly himself. I was impressed and thrilled with his concentration and his patience with them. I'm rather inordinately pleased with the puzzles, so I figured I'd do a review in case anyone else is looking for a gift for a construction-obsessed child (or just a kid who likes puzzles since the company makes them in other themes).

The brand is Shure, which I had never heard of, but the quality is right up there with Melissa and Doug, our go-to educational / wooden toy source. They're available on Amazon, but listed for $20 whereas I paid $10 for our set.

Things I love about the puzzles:

1. The art is really great - kid-friendly yet accurate and detailed enough so as to not be over-simple or cartoony.
2. At 24 pieces each, these seem to be just the right level of challenge for a mid-range toddler. (Nico will be three in January.) The pieces are sized well for little hands and fit together easily enough that Nico can assemble them himself once he gets the alignment right.
3. The pieces are all made of wood and the puzzle graphics seem well-adhered to the backing. I think if I let Nico try to take them apart he'd bend / crack the pegs, but I do that part for him right now anyway. He can work thick cardboard puzzles, too, but I feel like the wood will hold up great over time.
4. The pieces of each puzzle are marked on the back with a shape so you don't have to guess which puzzle each piece goes to if they get mixed up.

5. They came in a sturdy wooden storage box with a slide-on lid. I wish the box was a tiny bit deeper and that the dividers went all the way up to the lid, because the pieces will mix a little bit if the box gets tipped up on its side while closed, but this is a very small inconvenience.

The box was shrink-wrapped with a thick paper label thing that had pictures of the four puzzles and a helpful note that it might be a good idea to cut out and save the pictures to refer to later. I think I would've come up with this idea on my own, but I'm not sure and so it was appreciated. I cut the picture of the four puzzles out and laminated it, and I'm probably going to use super-sticky double stick tape to attach it to the box lid. This way we won't lose it and it'll help remind Nico what's inside the box. I also used a Sharpie to draw the shape in the corner of each picture that corresponds to the shape used to mark the puzzle pieces. This way I don't have to try to figure out which pieces go to which picture when Nico chooses which puzzle he wants to work.

Impulse buys are always a little risky, but I'm so glad I bought these. I predict we'll get a lot of use out of them!

DISCLOSURE: I purchased the product mentioned and received no compensation for writing this post. The words and opinions in this review are my own.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Melissa & Doug Terrific Twenty List and Giveaway

We're big Melissa & Doug fans around these parts. Nico has play food, blocks, and puzzles from their collection of colorful, durable wooden toys, and I already have two of their nice wooden trucks and the giant fire truck puzzle stashed away for Nico for Christmas and his birthday. When the chance came up to host a giveaway relating to their new Terrific Twenty list, I was thrilled to participate.

There's something in it for you, too, just for reading this. First, you can enter every day on the Melissa and Doug facebook page to win a gift from the list.

Second, you can leave a comment on this post by midnight on Saturday, November 24 for a chance to win your very own Big Rig Building Truck from the Terrific Twenty, just in time for Christmas. A winner will be chosen using random.org and the winner will be notified via email, so please make sure your comment includes a valid email address. Winner must be willing to provide his or her contact info to Melissa & Doug.


DISCLOSURE: I will receive a free toy to keep and one to give away from the Terrific Twenty list in exchange for writing a blog post containing a photo and links selected by Melissa & Doug. All other opinions and words included are my own.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Review: Bummis Swimmi reusable swim diaper

Nico has been taking Parent & Tot swimming lessons at the local YMCA since the wee age of eight months. After running through a few packages of disposable swim diapers, I got curious about reusable options. I read a few reviews online, then went to our local cloth diaper / natural childraising store and purchased an adorable Bummis Swimmi, size medium, in the turtle print. I don't remember what weight he was when I bought it, but I bought a size down based on the recommendation of the shop owner (and based on how it looked). He wore that first swim diaper from May through December 2011 (age 16 months - 23 months), then I bought him another Swimmi in a size large. I thought about getting another in the turtle print since I liked it so much, but I opted for the fish on green instead so there wouldn't be any chance of grabbing the too-small diaper while packing a bag. We paid about $13 for his first Swimmi and he wore it once a week for 8 months, which averages out to less than 40 cents a session. The disposable diapers I was buying before were $9.99 for a 10 pack. If I'd bought it sooner, we would've saved even more money over the span of the diaper fitting him. (I was going to say "over the life of the diaper," but since it's in near-perfect condition even after weekly wearings and washings, that didn't seem accurate.) The diaper can be washed and dried but fabric softener is not recommended, so I wash it with our other swimming stuff and then hang it up on a clip hanger to dry.

Just in case you are clueless like I was, here's an unsavory fact about swim diapers - they do nothing to catch pee. They're solely designed to keep poo contained. Even the disposables won't do anything for pee, so don't worry about losing that feature. I felt lied to when I found this out because the package of disposable swim diapers we had bought said something on the label about special absorbent material. Let me just say the illusion was shattered one day when Nico decided to tinkle right on my hip as I was holding him. So, learn from my mistakes and never carry a swim-diapered child around while you're in clothes that you need to be able to drive home while wearing.

This review would be pretty useless if I didn't tell you how well the diaper does the job it's intended to do, so apologies for impending straight talk about poo. Thus far in nearly a year, Nico has only pooped in his swim diaper one time (let me pause here to frantically knock on every wooden surface I can find). The deed was done an estimated 15 minutes or so before we left the splash pad, so the diaper and contents got a soaking and there was a little bit of leakage around the leg holes of the diaper when I changed him (which was luckily caught by the leg holes of his swim trunks liner). I think that if I'd discovered the poo earlier the leak probably would've been prevented. Also, not to be crude, but the…erm…volume of the deed probably had something to do with the leak as well. And it was just a little bit that got out onto the elastic of his trunks - none was left in the pool. I feel confident that if I'd been more vigilant about watching him for signs of poo, I could've whisked him off to change before it ever became an issue, and also that the same thing would've happened with a disposable swim diaper under the same circumstances.

The only other downside to this diaper is one that I haven't experienced myself, but something that the shop owner mentioned. Since the Swimmi has external velcro flaps like a disposable diaper, she said she'd had trouble with the velcro rubbing / snagging her swimsuit when she hip-held a kid wearing only the Swimmi at the pool. For a baby wearing only the swim diaper, she recommended the Imse Vimse swim diaper which has no external velcro. I thought the Swimmi looked like it would be more accommodating around the thighs and waist as Nico grew and I always dress him in a pair of swimming trunks over his diaper anyway, but I wanted to mention it just in case.

Based on our experience so far, I can't recommend the Swimmi enough. I feel like they're well worth the investment for anyone who is taking a baby swimming once a week or more. I only wish I'd bought one sooner and saved a few more dollars.


DISCLOSURE: I purchased all of the products mentioned and received no compensation for writing this post. The words and opinions in this review are my own.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Get a Melissa & Doug 25% Off Coupon When You Take the North "Poll"

We are big fans of Melissa & Doug here in the velocibadger household. I have happily ogled their toys for years, starting back at one of my college jobs at a store that sold their products. I love that the toys are high quality, attractive, interactive and educational. In a world full of cheap plastic stuff, it's so nice to find affordable kids' toys that I can count on to last not only through Nico's childhood, but probably through any other kids we might have as well.

Nico is already the proud owner of their mini bead maze, animal magnets, and alphabet magnets. He'll be receiving a chunky construction puzzle for Christmas this year, and has a set of play food and a nice set of blocks in his closet for a day that calls for something special. When I saw a post on Melissa & Doug's facebook page offering special blogging opportunities, it should be no surprise that I jumped at the chance. And guess what…you get something, too!

Melissa & Doug want you to tell them which of their educational toys you think is the best! Just click on the image below to place your vote in the North "Poll!" You'll Get a Melissa & Doug 25% Off Coupon** to use at MelissaAndDoug.com just for voting!

DISCLOSURE: I will receive a $25 coupon in exchange for writing a blog post containing the bolded copy and a photo selected by Melissa & Doug. All other opinions and words included are my own.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Nico's favorite things: 15 months

I thought it might be fun to do a post on Nico's current favorite things. Before I had a kid, I always wondered what to buy for friends' kids for their birthdays, so perhaps Nico can provide a few ideas. Or, you know, if somebody wants to send him fan mail. Whatever. I might make this a regular feature, depending on what he's into in a few months.

At fifteen months old, these are some of Nico's favorite things:

1. Stomp, Dinosaur, Stomp! by Margaret Mayo and Alex Ayliffe

I have read many books to Nico, some good and some not-so-good. Every now and then one becomes a favorite. We checked this one out from the library on the recommendation of a friend who works there. Initially I wasn't sure about it since it's not a rhyming book, but it turned out to flow really well. I've been a lifelong dinosaur fan but I try to let Nico pick his own favorites. He really likes this book, though, whether it's because of the way it sounds when read aloud or the fantastic bright illustrations. He has actually pushed other books out of the way to get to this one. We kept it through our maximum allowable renewals from the library and then I ordered him a copy of his own. It's been our go-to bedtime story for several months now and he still seems to love it.

2. Melissa and Doug wooden animal magnets

Since Nico started crawling my mom has kept a few magnets at the bottom of the fridge door for him to play with when he's at her house during the day. Last week she bought him this set of neat animal magnets. They're recommended for kids ages 2 and up, but since the entire back is a flat magnet (rather than a small magnet that could come loose) I don't worry about him playing with them. Most of Nico's words are animal names or animal sounds so these are just about perfect. (Mom said she thought about getting him the dinosaur set, but she decided against it since dinosaurs pretty much all make the same noise. Valid point!) I love that he gets to practice his words and learn new ones while playing, and these things are super cute.

3. Priddy books

Nico has been a fan of board books since he was tiny and has always had a preference for books with actual photos as illustrations. When he got this one for Christmas we were introduced to Priddy books. I love the style and the photos and Nico seems to like them, too. We've added a few others to his collection since Christmas and he favors this set of four. He can name almost everything in the first words book and about half of the pictures in the animal book!

4. Scout the Leap Frog dog

Nico has more talking toys than I like to admit, but Scout is by far his favorite. Scout can be plugged into the computer and then programmed to say your child's name and list his favorite color, animal, food, etc. Each of his paws produces a different set of songs or phrases, and you can change them any time you want. Scout has become the secret weapon of naptime, when we select the "ten minutes of bedtime music" option. If Nico is playing in his room and sees Scout in the crib, he'll point and say "Dog!" (which sounds kind of like "doog"...it's ridiculously cute) until Scout is liberated. I don't know that I would've picked this one out on my own, so I'm really glad my sister picked it for him. There's also a girl version (Violet) if you'd prefer. I do wish Scout had a zipper in the back instead of Velcro, or a little more slack so the Velcro didn't tug, because Nico has discovered how to open the Velcro strip down his back. It's a small complaint, though, since Velcro compartment closures are the standard on this kind of toy. Overall, I like Scout almost as much as Nico does.

5. Tonka Wheel Pals vehicles

I haven't been able to find these online, but our Target sells them for about five bucks each. Noah received the taxi for Christmas and the tow truck and fire truck for his birthday. For a while he played with them every now and then, but in the last month or so they've become favorites. He's definitely a truck kid, having mastered an effective vroom vroom engine noise by nine months and noticing and pointing out every pickup truck that drives past. These little dudes are pretty great. They are just the right size - small enough for his little hands but big enough that I don't have to worry about him chewing off pieces to choke on. When we go on playdates I can fit them into his diaper bag and take them along. He chews on everything, so the slightly squeezable rubber bodies are fantastic (and they don't make a ton of noise when he tosses them off the furniture). He likes to drive them, line them up on the couch, roll them across the floor, carry them around. The only problem is that I want to go out and buy him the whole fleet.

And there you have it...Nico's top five picks (for now, anyway)...I can't wait to see what he loves in a week or a month. I suspect some favorites will stick around for a while.

DISCLOSURE: We either purchased the products mentioned or received them as gifts from family and friends. I received no compensation for writing this post. The words and opinions in this review are my own.