It’s Blog Action day! If you have a blog, take today to write an article on the environment and participate.

The modern way of having a child is possibly the most wasteful endeavor next to owning an SUV. All of a sudden, having a child is the quickest excuse to use things that are disposable: diapers, wipes, utensils, napkins. Second step is to cover everything up in petroleum; everything from your child’s bum to the bed he sleeps in are made out of oil byproducts. At birthday parties we’re fearful of both breaking plates and washing plates, so we go with either paper or plastic that gets “cleaned up” by being throw into a big black plastic bag.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s start a list, then go from the very beginning.

  • Breastfeed until the baby’s at least 12 months
  • Cloth diaper
  • Wear your baby
  • Buy clothes used, and freecycle his still new used clothes
  • Go with wooden, toxin free toys
  • Give your baby homemade food
  • Throw reasonable parties

Put your baby in cloth diapers. I can tell you first hand that it really isn’t that difficult, and it isn’t really that bad. Cloth diapers have came a long way; the old “flat” diapers are long gone, replaced by the prefolds, fitteds, all-in-ones, and pocket diapers. Prefolds are versatile and secured by little rubber reusable “Snappi”s and covered all by a nice snug water-proof cover, and fitteds are sewn so that they fit like a disposable diaper. All-in-ones comes with snaps or velcro-like Aplix as enclosures, and they go on and off like a disposable. Pocket diapers are the most convenient of all, with a “pocket” for extra layers, and comes apart for quicker drying. Cotton wipes are widely available as well (easily made from old receiving blankets too), and everything is reusable.

Family Guy’s Stewie – cloth diapered and breastfed baby

You know those icky blowouts that babies get? Little Curtis never got one in a cloth diaper. Cotton does a great job of holding the yucky stuff in. Besides, if you had a choice, what would you want to wear on your bum? Scratchy paper or soft cotton flannel?

Got cloth?

Instead of going with an expensive stroller made of metal and plastic, consider a cotton sling. I use one from Heart 2 Heart, a Canadian company. I bought mined used and it has already slung two children, both up until 12 months. It’s very well-constructed, doesn’t fade with successive washes, and Curtis loves it. The weight is distributed evenly across the back, the shoulder as well as the edges are all padded. Curtis is now just over 25 lbs, and I carry him everywhere.

The happily slung baby

Once your baby is old enough to play with toys, it’s time to make some major decisions. First, make plain your parenting choices to the people around you so you won’t get a collection of plastic toys as gifts. If there will be toys, they must be made of natural, renewable materials and lead-free. You can also make your own toys out of things around the house; Curtis’ favorite toy is an old water bottle with the label peeled off. Fill it with some colored water or rice and you’d have color learning toys on your hands.

Visit the local supermarket and you’re sure to find jars upon jars of baby food. Everything from veggies, fruits, to meat is represented. Have you ever tasted the stuff? It’s disgusting. A much healthier, cheaper, and convenient option is to make it yourself. Get an ice cube tray with a cover and you’re in business. Take steamed veggies, push through a sieve, freeze. $1 worth of carrots becomes 12 little meals. Get a mesh-feeder and your little tot can feed himself. At teething time, I give the food to him frozen, and the cold relieves the pain a little too.

Freecyle is a great tool for used baby stuff. When your baby’s done with his clothes, just pass them on to the next baby who needs them. There are great baby sections at Goodwill, Salvation Army as well as Value Village.

Best of all, the green approach to having a baby is also the cheaper approach to having a baby. The more you reuse, the less money you’d end up spending. The green approach is also contagious – if you cloth diaper and wear your baby, it’s an obvious visual choice that sets an example. I’ve converted many people to my babywearing ways. Check out the happy green baby!

Who’s got style?

Curtis: I’ll start liking this game as soon as I know how to read. So, in a few years, this game would come in handy as a treat at reading time.

Thomas and the Magical Words let us trace the footsteps of little Thomas Broombucket, a young wizard who got an F in Magic Spell Words. His uncle Artem magicked him into the spelling textbook, and he must spell his way out, all the while rescuing his animal friends who are also trapped in the book. The arch villain, Sbooky, will be there every turn of the way to make Thomas’ quest all the more difficult.

Reading that theme, you’d think that this is a pure kids’ game. It is. On the other hand, it is a Scrabbles based game that works very well, and can be very enjoyable for the adults who play along. At times it also gets very challenging, but never impossible. The game is time-based, but you race against a VERY slow moving time bar. It plays like Scrabble with a side-scrolling map; you need to build bridges of words in order to reach islands. You get a handful of tiles at a time which will be replenished each time you spell a word -when you reach islands that has animals on them, they will give you power-ups to aid you in your quest.

These power-ups are the hammer, clear, magic tile and the hint hat. The first two are pretty self-explanatory, the magic tile acts as a blank tile, and the hint hat will let you know what words you can spell with the letters you have. Sometimes there will be rows of coins floating in the water or swamp, and building your words on top of them will net you those coins. Building any word will also give you extra time for your time bar.

Weeds and other obstructions are placed on the way to make things a little more challenging. The game doesn’t let you save halfway through a stage, and considering how long each stage is, that can be a bit frustrating. Each stage – depending on how good you are at Scrabble – can take up to 20-25 minutes. Shorter stages pan out to be 5 minutes each if you’re quick to spot words in scrambled letters.

What makes Thomas such a wonderful game to play with kids is also the storybook factor. The game plays in chapters, and each segment of the story is actually entertaining – they’re not just fillers. You can also click on the book anytime during the game to see a little note on each of the animals you’ve rescued, and look at the meanings of the words you have spelled.

Thomas and the Magical Words might not be a new game, but it is a great game that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. A great educational and entertaining game for those of us who love Scrabble (and those who need “fun” put back into spelling!)

(edit: added a gameplay video I found on YouTube.)

Curtis says: Usually games like these bore me. But this one has baby coo-ing sounds, and that somehow made me feel at ease. I couldn’t tear my eyes away for a good 10 minutes. Little girls would probably like this way more than I do.

Most definitely a Diner Dash clone, Carrie the Caregiver will be serving babies in a nursery instead of customers in a restaurant. Babies’ needs are represented in thought bubbles, and as the game goes on, you get the storybook (podium in Diner Dash), the pacifier (coffee), and the mobile. You need to warm up bottles, feed the babies, burp them, change them, and clean up the bassinets.

Customer types are replaced by baby types. Sometimes you get the happy baby, which doesn’t need a lot, but can take up your bassinets for half the shift. Sometimes you get the fussy baby who will demand that you get there RIGHT NOW or the hearts level will drop very quickly. Then there’s the hungry baby who will need to be fed and burped twice – he’s also impatient about food! There are more baby types as well but they come in the latter half of the game. The standbys of restaurant management sims, such as the blanket colors and stack bonuses also apply. There’s also the addition of one time power-ups that appear at the door – roller skates so you can move faster, soap to clean yourself up after one too many diaper changes, and food to keep your energy up.

This is the first round. It doesn’t really do the game justice since it has the least colors / power-ups, etc, but you can get the idea of what I mean by “gee that sounds CUTE.”

Carrie the Caregiver does a few things well: first of all, it’s CUTE. It’s cute with a capital C. There’s nothing quite like a room full of babies cooing (the ultimate nursery fantasy) and even the cries are plaintive and cute, not shrill and annoying like real life. The music is lovely, and soothing (though there’s only one tune playing the whole time, which gets really repetitive after a while) and Carrie has a lovely voice as she says things like “here you go”, “there…” and “all clean!” She’s like the perfect caregiver that you always wish you are when you have a 3 month old screaming colicky baby asking for … something.

It’s unrealistic, but I can dream, can’t I?

Carrie moves from one country to another, and the scene of the nursery changes, but the core gameplay stays the same. There’s also a very thoughtful training mode where the hearts don’t go down, so you can go through the level and figure out the sequence of what to do. However, after a while the game does get a bit repetitive – the music, for one, never really changes. It’d be nice if there’s a theme at each location to enrich the atmosphere. The upgrades aren’t very rewarding; you hardly notice them.

When it comes down to it, Carrie the Caregiver is another Diner Dash Clone that adds new dimensions to the genre while injecting it with massive cuteness points. Worth trying to hear the coos of a roomful of babies alone. The one hour trial will probably get you to the end of the second country. Check out the screenshots and details from their official site if a download is too much commitment.

Curtis says: I love the sound of change! This looks like a lot of fun, but it only managed to hold my attention for 10 minutes. Mommy is trying to get me to recognize the number 1 …but really, I’m too young for this. This may be a game to play when I get a bit older – the math is so built in you don’t notice it!

Cash Cow is a pretty straightforward game: you’re presented with a square screen full of loose change, and you have to make dollars out of it. That’s it. There are only 5 valid combinations: 5 pennies make a nickel, 2 nickels make a dime, 2 dimes and a nickel makes a quarter, 4 quarters make a dollar, and 10 dimes make a dollar. All new coins that you make will glow; using glowing coins in your combinations will net you some power-ups, such as the piggy-bank for grabbing a good chunk of change at the same time, the bank bag which will grab more, and the penny roll which will grab all the pennies at the same time.

At the end of each round, the cash that you collected will be used to build things around the farm. It’ll fill up with new windows, grain silo, a haystack, a pitchfork, etc. It’d go from looking pretty bare at the beginning to quite a bustling farm. There’s also a timed-mode that’s more challenging. The concept, IMHO, is amazing. This would teach your child how to count like nothing else could – there’s also no time limit in the regular game so that little fingers can go 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 pennies: a nickel! Your little tot probably wouldn’t even notice that with all the fun going on that she’s doing math.

The graphics is really smooth (unlike my video here…it uses hardware acceleration for the graphics so screen caps tend to come out a lot choppier than it really is) and the cartoonish look lend itself well to the game. The music is very appropriate, but it is repetitive and quickly gets annoying. Little ears probably wouldn’t mind; they just love repetition.

Now, onto the bad stuff. I love the concept, but there are a few things that defies logic. Alright, I admit, casual games don’t lend themselves well to logic. Case in point being every storyline in every MCF game and every match-3 game. But let’s discuss that another time, shall we? Cash Cow “buys” these upgrades with the money you net, but $10 for a window and $50 for a haystack just doesn’t add up. Then there’s the $60 for the pitchfork. That’s one expensive pitchfork.

There’s also the counting system; maybe just to make the game a bit easier, each time you make a coin on the board, it’s also added to your total. So you’ve doubled your money by counting your change. Once you’ve counted 2 nickels into a dime, you’re left with a dime on the board and 10 cents gets added to your wallet. Hmmm. Then when you really get going, you’ll start to wonder – why can’t I select 2 dimes and 5 pennies to make a quarter? Or 1 nickel, 1 dime, and 10 pennies? Why are there only 5 combinations? Then if you look at your cow closely, did you notice that IT HAS HORNS, NO UDDER, and it’s a COW?

Why am I being so nit-picky about this game? Because it is fun. When it comes down to it all, it’s a matching (not quite 3) game with math in it that has a whole lot of potential to be educational – something that you can use to teach your child the value of money. But it fails on that end on so many level that, when it comes down to it, you can only do that on the surface level. However, it is still a fun diversion – worth the download. Is it worth the cash? Well, that depends. If you’re buying it for yourself to play, yes. If you’re hoping that it’d be great parent-child time to learn how to count, yes. If you want to use it to teach your child the value of money, no. It’s just not realistic enough for that kind of play.

Curtis just learned the art of the squeal a few days ago. Ok. Nevermind squeal – the kid learned how to scream. He doesn’t really know what it means yet, but he does know that forcing air through those little pipes of his makes a high, screechy, and different sound than any he’s used to hearing from himself. So he’s been practicing.

He’ll scream when he’s happy, he’ll scream when he’s bored, he’ll scream just to hear himself scream. My neighbours probably thinks that we’re either torturing him or changing his diaper 20 times a day. I wonder if other babies go through this stage. I certainly don’t remember my little brother going through a scream stage or hearing other people talk about it.

He’s happily screaming at the moment and my ears are starting to ring. Note to self: get some ear plugs.