Category Archives: Gear Suggestions

Joules Wet Weather Gear – Mom & Toddler Reviews

We’ve been getting our fair share of snow, sleet, and icy cold rain in Alexandria over the last few weeks. It was perfect timing for me to receive two raincoats from Joules – a UK company that makes serious wet weather gear – to review. Joey and I each got a new waterproof coat to try out. We did our best to allow water to leak in and tear up the cute fabrics, but to no avail. These coats are tough.

Backcountry.com Winter ClearanceSeveral weeks in, I continue to be impressed at how well this jacket handles everything that I have thrown at it. Rain? No problem ? snug and dry. Snow? Got it. Still snug and dry. Wind? Can’t feel a thing. Work? Classy enough to pull it off. Towing my kid around on a sled in the snow? No problem! Joules has us covered.

The materials and construction of the coast jacket are clearly top notch. I love the waterproof outer layer. It isn’t plastic-y like most raincoats and looks almost like a fine weave canvas. Despite looking nicer than your average raincoat, the ability to block moisture isn’t compromised at all. I’ve tested it in rain and snow and been 100% dry every time.

900On the adult coast jacket, the lining is soft patterned cotton that makes me smile every time I put it on. I love the big peacoat-style buttons and drawstrings, all of which give a cute, grown-up look to an old standby. There is a full, high quality metal zipper below the button flap. I’m so excited to have a go-to jacket for wet winter and spring weather. Joules coast jacket works for playing outside with Joey in any weather, running in the rain, and even going to work.

IMG_1343The wellyphants pattern on Joey’s Baby Barnaby Rain Jacket is as cute in person as in the picture. It is Joey’s new favorite jacket mainly due to the elephants. There is a soft red fleece lining. There is a sturdy metal zip and the flap covering it snaps closed. Joey loves zipping it open and closed, so that snap covering is pretty clutch when I need the jacket to stay on!

IMG_1382_2I find the fit to be true. Joey is 18 months, 33 inches, 23 pounds, and has room to grow in the 2T/3T. He is wearing 24M-2T size in North Face, Carters, Old Navy, etc. We’ve been getting heavy snow, so the bigger size is perfect to layer over a down coat to keep him warm and dry even in the cold wet weather. I really like the extra length on this jacket, which is usually the first thing that he grows out of.

900-2I appreciate the space for layering and longer length on this coat. The design is very thoughtful for little people, with no extra cords or frills, the snap cover over the zipper, and the fun elephant pattern. We’ve been using it almost daily for the last couple of weeks and are really impressed! The only feature I don’t love is the hood. It is a little big and doesn’t come very far forward, which in the case of my toddler often means that it comes off. The extra space means I can get a hat under the hood without trouble, but I wish I could keep it up. I am hoping that as Joey gets taller it will work a little better.

IMG_1351Three weeks in with daily use this jacket still looks brand new. The external fabric is awesome – really durable even to toddler abuse, but flexible and much nicer to touch than a classic raincoat. I have no pilling or signs of wear on the internal fleece yet.

Overall I am really impressed, and highly recommend Joules Baby Barnaby Rain Jacket! It’s adorable, kid-friendly, and most importantly 100% waterproof.

Big thanks to Backcountry.com and Joules for hand-picking me to review this piece of gear for the benefit of the Backcountry community. This was my first chance to try out Joules products and I’m really pleased with them! As we roll into spring I’m already eyeing up their Welly Boots 🙂


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Herschel Supply Co Review

I'm stoked to be part of the Backcountry.com trusted community review program, and wanted to share some of my favorites here. Big thanks to 
Backcountry.com Logo Banner - Doesn't Expire and Herschel Supply Co for hand-
selecting me to trial and review their products to benefit the backcountry.com community, and you my readers!

Review for Hershel Supply Co Small Network Pouch

TIMG_0121his is my first Herschel product, and I am blown out of the water by the high quality. Being a female over the age of 12, I’ve gone through countless purses, pouches, bags, bag organizers, etc. Many of them tear, develop holes, or have the zips break within a few weeks of life. After two weeks of use, I can tell that Herschel is different.

The fabric is a heavy canvas, with a sturdy, smooth lining (Herschel signature poly) in a contrasting color or print. The zipper is heavy brass and functions smoothly, with a nice leather pull. There are an impressive range of cute prints and solids on backcountry.com, ranging from subtle to bold. The pouch lays flat and measures 7.25″ wide by 4″ tall.

Slide1I started out using the pouch as an on-the-go wallet (my ‘regular’ wallet is huge) for a couple of credit cards, cash, and a house key. The pouch does this well with room to spare. I’ve branched out to use it for storing office supplies for days that I work in cafes (USB sticks, chargers, pens, and sticky notes) – an elegant grown-up pencil bag. I haven’t had the chance to do any overnight travel since receiving the pouch but checked that it would definitely accommodate compact toiletries for a long weekend trip, too. It is so useful that I’ll definitely be needing more than one!

I cannot reiterate to you how impressed I am with the high quality over similar products I have used in the past. Joey loves to play with the pouch and make the zipper go, and I often find myself holding on to it in my pocket or bag because it is just so pleasant to have in your hand. I’ve paid more for items far less nice. This is well worth it – go for it! If you’re looking for a fun holiday gift, start with this pouch and fill it with camp utensils, travel toiletries, or bike tools 🙂


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Save Money & The Planet! Baby Diapers Edition

There have been many times when people commend us on our environmental ethic. I am proud to say that some things Simon & I do are intentionally to try to help the environment- reusable shopping bags, walk/bike instead of drive, buying local foods, etc. However, there are many, many more things that we actually did to save money, and later realized that they had a big side benefit of helping the Earth too. Here are some examples – you might find a helpful hint for your own life in here!

Next up – the biggest environmental impact we’ve made this year, reusable baby diapers.

Reusable Diapers

We chose to use cloth diapers mainly to save money and for the health of our child. We were both concerned about the chemicals and plastics in disposable diapers, especially after we learned that Joey has super-sensitive skin. We did know about the environmental impact from the start, but it was our third most important reason after baby health and money.

Soft, inexpensive, and cute to boot - we love our cloth diapers :)
Soft, inexpensive, and cute to boot – we love our cloth diapers 🙂

We have invested about $350 (net – we purchased more, but eventually sold the types we weren’t as fond of) on cloth diapers and their accessories for Joey. That is enough diapers to cover him from birth to potty-training. Many of his diapers were second-hand or factory seconds. Most estimates for disposable diapers are around $1000 per year for standard/mainstream brands and types. I’ll let you do the math on how much money we save for Joey and any future children we may have (who can use the same diapers!)

ALL of our cloth diapers. From left - best bottom covers, hybrid inserts, night-time diapers, easy-to-use pockets for babysitters and after-swim
ALL of our cloth diapers. From left – best bottom covers, hybrid inserts, night-time diapers, easy-to-use pockets for babysitters and after-swim

Our current preferred system is Best Bottom covers (another perk- we have never once had a blow-out. How many parents of 11-month olds can say that?) with hybrid inserts, and Thirsties Duo Pockets at night. Simon was skeptical at first but now brags about the engineering of the covers (elastic in all the right places and little gussets at the legs to contain any mess). No one who has ever changed his diaper has had significant issues with the cloth diapers compared to disposables. I keep a few one piece pocket diapers for babysitters and after swimming. (Yes, our child has fleece-lined apre-swim nappies). In total, he has 10 covers, 30 inserts, 5 night time diapers, and 4 pocket babysitter/after swim diapers. This is more than enough for me to wash the diapers twice a week.

I would rather wear this - only super-soft fleece against baby's skin.
I would rather wear this – super-soft fleece against baby’s skin.

Washing. Everyone asks about washing. It really is not a huge deal, because now that we have a baby I do laundry a couple of times a week anyway! When we lived in San Diego we had a shared, coin-operated laundry room. This was more expensive and more challenging, and I calculated that we spent about $120 on baby laundry overall while we lived there. We still came out with financial savings compared to using paper diapers. (And we would have run many of those loads anyway for his clothes.) Our townhouse in Alexandria has its own washer-dryer combo! This was a requirement for me when moving, and I have to say it feels extremely luxurious. When Joey was small, we had a diaper sprayer (a small, powerful, showerhead) attached to the back of the toilet that we used to rinse off poo diapers before putting them in the wash. Now we have flushable liners that achieve the same goal- just plop in the toilet and the rest of the diaper is washed as normal. We do a prewash or rinse cycle, wash with detergent, and tumble dry the inserts. If we have a small load, I add in his clothes to fill the washer after the rinse cycle.

Joey's diaper covers and wool clothing drying on our tent during an overnight hiking trip
Joey’s diaper covers and wool clothing drying on our tent during an overnight hiking trip

We travel with the cloth diapers too. Initially this sounded harder, but in the long run it is actually far easier for us because we never run out of diapers or need to stress about finding them in a store in a new location (including other countries, which may not carry the same brands). The diapers will dry outside in the sun anywhere, and I can hand wash them in a sink if I have to. I have a dozen flat diapers (big pieces of cloth that you fold) for times when I know we won’t have access to a washing machine because they are the easiest to hand-wash and they dry quickly. When we were backpacking, we used his covers with special compostable inserts that we could bury or send down a long drop toilet. We hand-washed the covers.

Reusable swim diaper - saves money, easy to use, and super cute!
Reusable swim diaper – saves money, easy to use, and super cute!

For swimming, we love reusable swim diapers! They cost as little as $5 each, are way cuter than paper diapers, and hold up very well. We have two for our little water lover to ensure that we always have a dry one available.

Now that Joey is more interactive, he has become good at choosing between 2-3 options by tapping on the preferred choice with one hand. He uses this skill to tell us which book he wants to read next, whether he wants water or milk, etc. I’ve tried many different times offering him a cloth diaper or paper diaper, and he has chosen the cloth one every time. He’s been in paper diapers a few times, which are the only times he has had any diaper rash issues. We’ll take this as Joey’s consent that he likes his reusable diapers too!

How Does This All Help the Planet?

  • Each baby sends ~4000-6000 diapers to landfills, weighing in at 2 tons. (TWO TONS?!)
  • Diapers take hundreds of years to degrade. Human waste is never intended to go to a landfill (read a box of disposable diapers- they instruct you to dispose of fecal matter in the toilet), and can eventually enter and contaminate groundwater, rivers, lakes, the oceans, and drinking water.
  • Disposable diapers have a huge carbon footprint for their production and distribution. One cloth diaper may use more energy than one disposable, but over a child’s diapering lifetime there is no comparison.
  • If you can, line-dry your diapers – this saves even more energy.
  • Most cloth diaper manufacturers have a strong environmental ethic. Diapers are produced responsibly (little waste of materials and energy) from organic materials.

How To Make Your Own Baby Wipes

This is such a fun, easy project that takes advantage of materials you already have lying around the house!

WHY CLOTH WIPES?

Handmade cloth wipes from super-soft old t-shirts & sheets, plus some fun flannel from the fabric store.
Handmade cloth wipes from super-soft old t-shirts & sheets, plus some fun flannel from the fabric store.

Baby wipes cost families $50-75/year. Making your own costs $0-40, depending on how ambitious you are with fabric purchases and vessels for your cloth wipes. They take up very little space in a washer and dryer, so don’t actually increase the amount of laundry that you do. So you’re basically saving the cost of a nice new car seat or stroller for your kiddo.

We’ve discovered another huge bonus, which is that cotton wipes are gentler on baby’s skin than chemical wipes. We use them with tap water and have never had any issues – nor have we had much experience with diaper rash!

Another small perk – this is a great way to upcycle previously loved t-shirts from sports teams, bands, clubs, etc. It always makes me grin to see which logos come up when I change Joey.

So, now that I’ve talked you into it, here’s what to do.

Gather cotton fabric to be made into wipes. We used old t-shirts and flannel sheets, and I bought a yard of flannel fabric off the sale rack as well.

EASIEST METHOD –

cut single layers of fabric into wipes using pinking shears (the zig-zag edge scissors). This will prevent fraying. Everyone has an opinion on the best size – we prefer a finished size of about 8″ x  8″. I wouldn’t go smaller than 8″ x  6″ or bigger than 10″ x 10″. Once you’ve cut these to your preferred size, you are done!

MORE WORK – DOUBLE LAYER WIPES –

This is what I did. For this situation, cut fabric into slightly larger squares (8.5″ x 8.5″). Piece two squares, right sides facing each other. Sew around the edges on a sewing machine with a 1/4 inch seam allowance. Leave a 2″ gap on one side. Turn the wipe inside out and sew across the gap. Magic! This method results in a smooth edge and a slightly sturdier wipe. To be honest, I prefer the thinner versions of these – two pieces of t-shirt or more worn flannel. We had thicker wipes that had used a sweatshirt and I never use them if I can help it.

BONUS! BURP CLOTHS!

T-shirts transformed into handmade burp cloths - same method as the wipes, bigger pieces of fabric!
T-shirts transformed into handmade burp cloths – same method as the wipes, bigger pieces of fabric!

If you are feeling super inspired (as pregnant Lauren was, over a year ago now!) You can use the same double-layer method to produce your own burp cloths. These are just a bigger version of the same thing. We found the best size to be about 10″ x 18″

 

HOW TO STORE & DISPENSE CLOTH WIPES:

I prefer to pre-moisten wipes by running a handful of them under the tap so they are ready to go each diaper change. Here’s how we keep them wet:

Oxo Tot Wipes Dispenser- awesome find for our reusable baby wipes!
Oxo Tot Wipes Dispenser- awesome find for our reusable baby wipes!

At home, we use The Oxo Tot Wipes Dispenser. This is a hard plastic version of a classic disposable wipes case, intended for disposable wipes. However, the way the inside is designed (a heavy plate with a hole in the center to pull wipes through) means that it works perfectly for cloth wipes! We have this in Joey’s room now. I have never seen another dispenser that works for cloth wipes, but would love to hear about it if you have other ideas!

On the go, we use a small wet bag. This is a little trickier because it must be unzipped to access the wipes, but certainly does the job. Oxo also makes an on-the-go pouch that looks like it would work for cloth wipes, although I haven’t tried it myself.

There you go! As easy as cutting up a few old t-shirts and you can have your very own stash of cloth baby wipes today 🙂 These are a fun baby shower gift as well – make a matching set of burp cloths and wipes with cute flannel from the fabric store!

Save Money & The Planet! RE-USE IT

Easy Reusable Everyday Items

There have been many times when people commend us on our environmental ethic. I am proud to say that some things Simon & I do are intentionally to try to help the environment- reusable shopping bags, walk/bike instead of drive, buying local foods, etc. However, there are many, many more things that we actually did to save money, and later realized that they had a big side benefit of helping the Earth too. Here are some examples – you might find a helpful hint for your own life in here!

This is a general post that leads to many others – reusing things instead of throwing them away. Do you have other ideas of

Are you sensing a theme here? The original three R’s of being eco-friendly from my childhood were reduce, recycle, and reuse.

Reusing things is one of the very best ways to save money, and it has a nice positive environmental impact as well. The principle is very simple – instead of buying a disposable object (i.e. paper napkin), using it once, and throwing it away, you have a slightly sturdier version (i.e. cloth napkin) that you use over and over, washing between uses.

This almost always results in financial gains long-term. The initial investment is often (not always) higher for a reusable item than its disposable counterpart, but it only takes a month or two to break even and start saving money. To really do things on the cheap, many of these items can be crafted from other things that you already have around the house, saving you even more cash. Another perk is that the reusable versions of products are almost always more aesthetically appealing, and will hold up better to the kind of abuse we put our things through. Each individual thing may only save you a few dollars a week, but bundle a few of them together for a couple of months and it really adds up! Here’s a list of items that we reuse with a few pro tips for each.

Water Bottles:

our stash of reusable coffee cups and water bottles.
our stash of reusable coffee cups and water bottles.

I bought a bottle of water in a gas station the other day for $2.50. You’ve got to be kidding me! You can get a wide range of reusable water bottles (or make your own from a previous water, soda, or juice bottle) that can be refilled for free to a few cents in virtually any restaurant, service station, or home in the western world. If you have concerns about BPA and other plasticizers, stainless steel or aluminum bottles are easy to come by for as little as $4.99 in general stores.

Coffee Cups:

I know, I just told you to make your own coffee at home, so you aren’t getting all of those paper and plastic Starbucks cups anyway, right? It never hurt anyone to have a to-go style coffee mug ready for that homemade coffee or the off-chance that you need a second caffeinated beverage from your neighborhood café around lunchtime. Most places (including sbux) give you a discount for bringing your own cup, and the insulated versions keep your drink warm or cold much longer! These are also easy to find in stainless steel for under $10 (although not at sbux 🙂 ).

Napkins:

Our stash of fabric (reusable) linens for the kitchen- from the bottom up are dish towels, napkins, dish cloths, baby wash cloths, and snack bags.
Our stash of fabric (reusable) linens for the kitchen- from the bottom up are dish towels, napkins, dish cloths, baby wash cloths, and snack bags.

Cloth napkins range in price but can be found for less than a dollar per napkin. We have a set of 12 that I bought for $5.99 on sale six years ago that are still going strong. They are softer and more absorbent than paper napkins (an important feature with our little mess-maker), and take up very little space in the laundry so really do not affect our energy and water budget for washing! This was also one of the great Tim Ray’s top ten environmental tips.

Dish Towels:

Use these for drying dishes, covering baked goods before serving, drying hands, and wiping down the kitchen table. This again minimizes your need for paper towels. Dish towels and napkins have a huge price range, but simple cotton sets can be found at target or dollar general for a few dollars.

Food Storage:

an assortment of washable food storage containers
an assortment of washable food storage containers

We use a wide range of glass containers with lids for leftovers and airtight jars for dry goods in our pantry. Ikea sells the storage jars for a great price, and almost any grocery store or target sells the pyrex and Tupperware storage containers. There are also a plethora of cute snack bags, sandwich wraps, and specialty reusable lunchtime paraphernalia available on the internet. It takes a little longer to realize savings here, but over time all of the zip-loc bags, plastic wrap, and aluminum foil add up. The environmental impact is big – far fewer one-time wrappers being manufactured and going to landfills. For more cost-savings, save jars from pasta sauce, salsa, yogurt, etc to use for your leftovers or packed lunch.

Cleaning Towels/Rags:

Once towels get old and torn, they move to our cleaning bin. We use them to mop stains off the floor, clean windows, and clean off surfaces in the kitchen. All jobs that were once held by paper towels (which we do have but almost never use now!) It is possible to buy this new, but we’ve never had a shortage just by using old towels, sweatshirts, etc so this item is virtually free and starts saving your change from paper towels immediately.

Grocery Bags:

We have an extensive collection of reusable grocery bags by now, collected from various events along the way. I have a fleet of heavy-duty totes (mainly these from LL Bean), which are awesome for shopping (as well as travel!), especially since Joey and I walk to the stores most of the time. I know you’ve heard of this before and you know it is eco-friendly, but how on earth does it save you money if you go out and buy new bags when the store gives them to you for free? Well, most stores give a per bag discount (usually 5-10 cents per bag) if you bring your own. They will honor this even if you save and bring back the plastic bags from your previous visit. However, plastic bags have been outlawed in Hawaii (all of Maui and Kauai), San Francisco, and Portland completely, and many stores and states are implementing policies where customers are charged per bag for plastic or paper bags. So again, not a huge savings but it adds up over time. The reusable bags are far sturdier and have never failed on me, while I’ve had at least four memorable events where a grocery bag has catastrophically ruptured and spilled/smashed food at an inopportune place. If you do get paper or plastic grocery bags, hang on to them to bag your recycling, use as trash bags, carry wet clothes home from the beach, and more.

Baby Wipes:

Handmade cloth wipes from super-soft old t-shirts & sheets, plus some fun flannel from the fabric store.
Handmade cloth wipes from super-soft old t-shirts & sheets, plus some fun flannel from the fabric store.

Flannel and cotton baby wipes are available to purchase online, or you can make your own from old flannel sheets and t-shirts. (We also made burp clothes! I used a mix of upcycled t-shirts, an old sheet, and some new flannel from the fabric store.) Like cloth napkins, these take up very little room in the wash and don’t affect your water or energy budget. Many moms make their own wipes solution with various soaps and oils, but we just use plain water and it has always worked well for us. Keep wet wipes on hand with a dispenser like this at home, or in a wet bag at home and on the go. This saves $100-$400 a year depending on the type of baby wipes you would typically buy.

Baby Diapers:

I would rather wear this - only super-soft fleece against baby's skin.
I would rather wear this – only super-soft fleece against baby’s skin.

I had to make this in to a whole separate post because I’ve gotten so many questions about it that I wanted to answer. At the end of the day, cloth diapers have an initial cost of $200-600 depending on the type, brand, and quantity. They can be re-used for subsequent children (although you may need more for twins or multiple babes in diapers). Washing costs (if you have your own machine) are about $30-50 a year. Paper diapers cost $800-$1200 per year depending on the brand, so you save about $550 in the first year and $1000 each subsequent year your baby is in diapers. The environmental impacts of this one are huge – tons of material not going into landfills and heavy manufacturing burdens and greenhouse gas emissions that you aren’t supporting.

Upcycle Your Old Things!

We have developed a knack for assessing an object for its potential usefulness before it is sent to the rubbish bin. Old t-shirts, sheets, and towels can be transformed into baby wipes, cleaning cloths, and more. Pasta sauce jars can be washed and used for food storage. Cardboard boxes become forts for Joey. The little bottles of shampoo from hotels can be saved for guests, and re-filled from your big shampoo container for future travels. That tent that isn’t really waterproof anymore still makes a great sun shelter in the yard for kiddos. Anytime you can come up with a new use for something, with or without modification, you are minimizing the demand for newly manufactured items and the load sent to landfills. Get creative – and please share your favorites! I’m always looking for new ideas for our family and home.

How Does This Help The Planet?

Nearly everything you buy in a store has to be manufactured in a factory, shipped to a distribution center, then shipped to that specific store. The carbon emissions and pollution add up quickly, especially since so many things are manufactured overseas. The less you buy, the less demand you are giving the manufacturing machine, so it will eventually respond by reducing the supply that it produces.
When we throw things away they don’t just disappear- they are sent to landfills (again, carbon emissions and pollution), which we are rapidly running out of space for. (Think Wall-E)