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    Second Annual NPN Holiday Gift Guide & Giveaway: Umi Slings (12/6, 24 winners, US only ARV $2587.26)

    Second Annual NPN Holiday Gift Guide & Giveaway (12/6, 24 winners, US only ARV $2587.26)

    This review is part of the Second Annual Natural Parents Network Holiday Gift Guide! If you need to complete your holiday shopping, find a birthday present for a friend, or just treat yourself to something special, the NPN Holiday Gift Guide has something for everyone. But what's even better, the NPN Holiday Gift Guide is a great opportunity to shop consciously and to support many naturally minded small businesses.

    The 55 companies that have provided items for review and giveaway are almost exclusively made up of work-at-home shops or companies that are dedicated to supporting eco-conscious choices. I'm featuring one of those companies in my review below. When you get done reading my review, please click on over to the full Second Annual Natural Parents Network Holiday Gift Guide, where you'll find information on 58 products. In total, we're giving away goodies worth more than $2500! Even if you don't win one of our fabulous prize packages, please consider spending part of your gift-giving budget at one of these small businesses. By supporting small businesses, you are helping families, boosting local economies, and supporting ethical practices of manufacturing, production and selling. Take advantage of coupon codes provided by many of the companies, you can find them at the full Gift Guide at NPN. To make browsing easier, we've split the Gift Guide into sections with products that are Perfect for Kids and Perfect for Families. And you can find all 6 Rafflecopter widgets there, too. Without further ado, here is my review - thank you for reading and entering!

    This is a Joint Review and Giveaway of the This Way Gray Sling from Umi Sling between Natural Parents Network and Very Very Fine.

    About Umi Slings

    Umi Sling's mission -- "to improve the lives of mothers and young children by offering a practical solution: a simple fabric ring sling" -- sounds pretty much like the mission of every purveyor of baby carriers, but with one important detail: the lives improved aren't just those of the family that buys the sling. With a commitment to donate a ring sling for each one purchased, Umi Sling and its sister project Baby Bilum help mothers in rural Papua New Guinea to do their work while keeping their babies close. The range of fabrics, from natural, organic fibers like linen and cotton, to bright and stunning handmade batiks make for comfortable, durable, and beautiful slings perfect for constant use as "daily drivers" or to spice up a ho-hum carrier collection. Understated handprinting gives the line of cotton-linen blends a bit of character while leaving them neutral enough for any parent to use, and affordable pricing makes them more accessible than many other similar carriers.  

    Our Experience

    My 25-pound 21 month old still loves to be slung, but for a very active toddler, a sling has to be durable, washable, and wad-up-able, since you never know when exhaustion will set in and your muddy-footed, active kid will turn back into a cuddly baby. I've always liked the subtle natural wrinkle of linen, which only gets softer with each use and wash, and our Umi Sling has already been laundered twice, the fabric crinkling up deliciously. My tastes run neutral, and the gray color with graphic black triangles provides a hint of fun accessorizing, but doesn't turn off my partner, making it a double duty option for moms and dads. We love the generous length that allows for wearers and babies of all sizes, and the light, single layer weight that means year-round comfortable use. The sling comes with a booklet of instructions and babywearing facts, making it ideal for a new parent, and with the knowledge that your purchase helps another mother through Project Baby Bilum this a hard-to-beat shower gift. 

    Buy it!

    You can purchase your own Handprinted Cotton-Linen Blend Sling at Umi Sling for $55. At just ten dollars more, the handprinted batiks would make a wonderful gift for a bright and bold new parent, or someone whose carrier collection could use a lively punch of color.

    WIN IT!

    For your own chance to win a This Way Gray Cotton-Linen Blend Ring Sling from Umi Sling, or one of the 26 huge prize packages we're giving away, come back to this post on November 6th when our Rafflecopter widgets will go live for your chance to enter! Or you can visit Natural Parents Network on November 6th to see and enter to win all of our fantastic prize packages at once!

    Disclosure: Our reviewer received a sample product for review purposes. Amazon links are affiliate links. We try to seek out only products we think you would find relevant and useful to your life as a natural parent. If we don't like a product, we won't be recommending it to you. See our full disclosure policy here.

    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    to my children on Yom Kippur

    It may be years before you can read this, and will certainly be years before it makes sense, but I'm sorry. I'm sorry for snapping at you; I'm sorry for expecting and often requiring that you adopt my priorities as your own. I'm sorry for the times I have hurt your feelings with harsh words, inattention, dismissiveness or misunderstanding that I don't take the time to repair in the moment. I'm sorry for not allowing your personalities to develop unadulterated by my own hang-ups; I'm sorry for consulting books to make sure you're not sociopaths. Despite that I can almost guarantee that I will yearly ask forgiveness for the same thing, I'm sorry for my frequent inability to nurture your psyche before I foist reason upon you. I'm sorry for the times I inadvertently embarrassed you though I will no doubt continue to do that, too. I'm sorry for the times I tried to make you be different than you are.

    May you be sealed in the book of life, which I don't believe in, except in your cases (I'm sorry for my uncharacteristic inconsistencies). I will tell you abridged versions of these at bedtime, as the sun sets, and you will ask for an apple or offer a hug; your hands will repeatedly, noisily "blast off" and your fingers will walk up my nose and into my hair (I'm sorry I make no attempt at hiding how annoying I find that) while you interrupt me to talk about a new kind of car you've invented. Please forgive me for the times I've taken these scenes for granted. Thanks for sticking with me while I try to do better.



    a homemade card game for preschoolers

    It's nearly impossible for me to believe that one of George's best friends just turned four, but turned four he has, and soon another bestie does, and then my very own eldest child will be firmly in preschooler territory.

    When I asked George what birthday gift we should give his friend, he came up with a wonderful idea for a homemade game inspired by the (apparently out of production) family favorite Too Many Teddies. It was entirely manageable, something that he came up with on his own that I could refine slightly for logistical reasons, and easily/cheaply made: the perfect birthday project for us. While I usually try to involve the kids in the making or buying of presents for their friends and family, this was the first time that George was able to meaningfully participate, and his pride in the finished product was evident and adorable. 

    This idea is easy to replicate with any object your kids like -- animals, shapes, cars like George chose -- as long as it can be drawn easily in four different colors. 


    Markers, about 41 pieces of cardstock (plus a couple of pieces of plain white paper), a printer or access to a copy center, a box (a bag or other container would work as well), access to a laminator if you want your cards to be laminated (we did, for durability and the baby brother factor). Total cost: around $22

    First, George chose the colors he wanted to use for the cars: orange, blue, red and green. He drew them, we cut them out and pasted them four-up on a sheet of paper for easier copying. If you have ink in your home printer, this will be even cheaper than $22, and you won't have to bother with the cutting/pasting step if you can simply scan and print. George wrote the word Rules and we decided on the rules together; it's basically Go Fish, with cars and the allowance for anyone to offer up a car to a fellow player in need of a particular color. 

    We took the copy-ready stuff to Office Max and made ten copies of the cars onto cardstock (for 40 total cars -- 10 of each color). If you're doing this for a kid with no mouthy babies in the house, cardstock alone (as opposed to lamination, as we did) is probably just fine, and certainly less expensive. We decided to cut around the cars, but rectangular cards might be better for older children who are hip to things like the subtle differences in shapes. We designed our game to be cooperative, so that doesn't matter. George made a cover for the game, and we copied that as well as the rules onto cardstock, too. 

    After copying and cutting, we returned to Office Max and had the cars, rules and cover laminated. They let us load the pouches ourselves so we were able to maximize the space, and we used 8 sheets (at $1.10 per). 

    We found a bright, nice sized plastic box at the dollar store and attached the cover with superglue. The lamination means the cover will pop off if they ever want to re-use the container but it's durable and big enough for little hands to easily open and close. Altogether, $22 is not too shabby for a one of a kind, homemade gift that will last! I can't wait to see George and his best dude play it, and I hope said dude finds lots of different ways to enjoy his gift. What have you and your preschooler made together lately?


    real summer


    There are times, usually in the depths of the long, dark, damp winter, when I truly regret that we can't can't hop a bus to a real museum. There are summer evenings when the ten o'clock light inspires me to sit on a patio and drink gimlets in a dress, or at least wedges, but everywhere closes at 9, or earlier, or never opens at all on Sundays. The air is heavy with sweat and pesticide here where we live, and the bargain quarter acre lot comes with a price I never envisioned myself paying: a dearth of "the arts." The children's museum resides in a mall next to Chuck E Cheese and the historic theater only shows movies on the weekends. If you look hard, you can find potters and screenprinters, painters and writers who love this place, who infuse their work with their love for this place. But, for the past eighteen months, searching has mostly been a luxury whose spot in line for my time is so far down the block and around the corner that it seems prudent to just leave and grab dinner instead. When the rain starts, when, vitamin D deficient and bored, I'm California dreamin' of my own sunny childhood, I lament our location. I do. It's bougie and stupid and futile, but I do.

    But July and August. Late summer, here, in 75 degrees, when the water sparkles and the trees stay green. I pocket a little July for later. For January, when I have to remind myself of Washington's virtues. My kids can't take the bus downtown to see a Cornell diorama and eat a slice, but they already know the supple willingness of a perfectly ripe blackberry on its cane. They pick peas while they play and chase the chickens that laid breakfast. 

    Where I'm from, the summers are endless, even though the locals will tell you otherwise. Seventy degrees is seventy degrees, except when it's ninety, and the beach is always open, will always be there tomorrow, and the next day, so there's no need to rush. Nobody or nothing ushers in the change of seasons. Halloween costumes don't have to include room for longjohns, the palm trees are always expectedly understated in their greenery, your yard probably doesn't need raking, and for a long time I saw these things as givens, then virtues. But now, I appreciate the northwest's vastly varying daylight, and the other tangible qualities that make our collective perpetual spinning obvious. These loose markers -- our apple trees' June drop; the pears turning gold; our giant black walnut's falling leaves; opening of our first summer preserves; the return of nearby steller's jays' raucous arguments -- keep me aware of the passage of time. Help me appreciate what each month has to offer. Help my children learn about their place in the world. 


    DIY aromatherapy calm down jar

    Three and a half has brought with it some interesting changes in George's moods, behavior and communication. He's more in tune with his feelings than ever before, and when he has messed up (being hurtful to his sister, primarily, but also when he's being stubbornly unhelpful or otherwise rascally), he is more inclined to approach us with an apology and try to make amends without prompting. We still sometimes need to remove him from difficult situations for others' safety, or to respect their space, but his ability to shorten the distance between that and a willingness to fix it and move forward is heartening. To provide George with a new coping skill that might defuse the tension (or, metaphorically, diffuse it, if we wanna get homonymous), I decided to make him a calm down jar with an added aromatherapeutic factor. 

    You'll need an old jar, some fine(ish) glitter, glitter glue (mine is from the dollar store), a stirrer you don't care about (I used a bamboo skewer), a scrap piece of muslin or other cotton fabric roughly three times the size of your jar's lid, a bit of lavender, some confetti (optional; you could also use sequins, small buttons, whatever -- the heavier it is, the faster it sinks), and hot water. 

    Put a kettle on, or a cup of water in the microwave. You'll need hot water in the next step. Pour some of the glitter (NOT the glitter glue) into your jar (mine is a recycled jam jar with a tight-fitting lid). 1/4 inch in the bottom of the jar should be plenty. Add some confetti if you want; I had these weird ghosties leftover from something, but the glitter alone works just fine, too. 

    Fill your jar half full with hot, hot (not boiling) water. Squirt in some glitter glue, stirring constantly lest it clump up. I used about a third of a 3 oz bottle, and could've probably used less, but it's not an exact science. When you're satisfied that the glitter glue is totally incorporated, fill your jar up with hot water, leaving about half an inch of headroom at the top. Let it cool a little before you seal it, because you'll be doing some handling, and... it's hot. 

    Lay your lid on your fabric and mark a circle that's at least an inch larger on each side, the cut it out with pinking shears so it doesn't fray. Place some lavender in the center of the fabric. Close your jar as tight as you possibly can, and glue it if your kid might try to loosen it, because this spill would undoubtedly be the worst mess of all time. Carefully place the fabric, lavender side down, on the lid, and push any stray lavender back on top of the lid. Secure it tightly with a ribbon.

    Shake it up, give the top a scratch, inhale the calming scent of lavender and watch the glitter settle as your nerves do, too. Encourage your child to keep the jar in an accessible place and use it whenever they want.