Graco Pack ‘n Play: Versatile and portable

Before I had my daughter, I could not decide whether or not to purchase a Pack ‘n Play, but I did spend a lot of time looking at them. They seemed like a great product to own and I pondered it for a while. I finally decided that, instead of purchasing a bassinet for my baby, I would just get the Pack ‘n Play because it could be used as a bassinet and then later on used as a play pen.

I purchased my Graco Pack ‘n Play On the Go Playard at my local Wal-Mart store—a black one that had pink polka dots because I thought it was really cute. The model was called Katherine. It came with the bassinet with it and also had a toy bar included, which my daughter absolutely still loves.

When I got the product home and took it out of the box, I found that it was not a hard product to assemble and I actually wound up assembling it myself because I was impatient and couldn’t wait. The bassinet attachment is easy to use and attach and the toy bar was also easy to clip on to the sides of the Pack ‘n Play. You could tell that this product was made well and was sturdy. I also really liked the material used because it was girly and pretty.

When my daughter was born, I used the bassinet to put her down for naps and kept the entire Pack ‘n Play in my living room. We only used the bassinet until she was a few months old, however, because she started to crawl early and I didn’t want her to fall out or get hurt. I would sometimes still use the bassinet as a changing area when she needed a diaper change and it worked well for that.

As she got a bit older, I took the bassinet part out and allowed her to take naps in the actual Pack and Play. It is cushioned well, so she was comfortable and I didn’t ever have to worry about her getting out. She spends hours playing in her Pack ‘n Play and takes her toys in there with her. She asks to go in quite frequently. It’s a great place for her to be when I have stuff to do around the house because I know I do not have to worry about her getting hurt.

This product is easy to fold up and is great to take with you anywhere you go, because it is so versatile. It also comes with a carrying bag which makes it even more convenient.

I would highly recommend every mom purchasing a Pack ‘n Play On the Go Playard for their baby because it is well worth the money. You will use it for years and see that it actually pays for itself. It is a great alternative to a bassinet and is a safe place for your baby to be while you get housework done!


Review: Custom Fit KidCo Configure Gate

When our first child started to become more mobile, we quickly decided we needed a way to block off certain portions of our home. The problem, of course, was that our home is a newer model with an open floor plan. I searched baby stores and online until I finally found the perfect solution, the Custom Fit KidCo Configure Gate.


This configure gate is hardly your normal gate. It is really large and you can bend it so that it fits your space correctly. I ended up buying two of them. One of them, I placed at the top of my stairs, and the other one I placed at the bottom. The Custom Fit KidCo Configure Gate was the only one I found that could block off both locations securely. Most other gates could only block off a straight wall-to-wall. Since I had a railing on one side, I needed the configure gate.

These types of gates are really sturdy. They are somewhat heavy because they are metal. This is good, though, because the gates are secure enough to keep a child from going through on their own without an adult. This is exactly what you need around stairs.

The Custom Fit KidCo Configure Gate has a magnet-lock technology. As long as you have the gate installed correctly, this means the gate will automatically close and lock when you go through it. This is good news if you have older children who may not always remember to close and lock the gate behind them.

Another great thing about the configure gate is that the actual door opening can be configured wherever in the design you need it. This makes it easy to use the gate in different parts of your home.

Finally, another thing I liked about the configure gate was the color. Since my railing posts are white, this gate blended right in with the décor of my home. You really cannot go wrong with white.


The only complaint I might have is that the gate hooks directly into your wall on both sides so you will have to make minor repairs when you take it out. It really is not a big deal, though, because the holes are about the same size as a large nail would make.

The good news is, you do not have to make any holes in your banister, and you know this gate will hold your child securely, even if they push on it. The gate sells for about $120.


Playgate review: Northstate Superyard

By the time we had our third child, we were looking for a safe way to keep our baby contained in our home. A family member suggested we try the Northstate Superyard Playgate. We could not be happier with how it worked out.


To begin with, the Northstate Superyard Playgate comes in a light grey. It is not an obnoxious color for your home, and virtually blends in with other items.

The playgate is huge! It is 26 inches high and comes with six panels. At its largest, you can contain 18 and a half square feet. This creates a fairly large play area for your child. The great thing is that you will not have to worry about making any holes in your wall because it is freestanding.

What I really like about the Northstate Superyard Playgate is that you do not have to use all of the panels, and can easily bend the gate into different shapes to fit your room. Our home has a really open floor plan, so this makes it easy to use in several rooms.

Another great feature with the Northstate Superyard Playgate is that the panels really do stand up on their own, and stay in place. They also easily unsnap from each other when you need them to.

We ended up finding ways to use the playgate to fit our lifestyle, as well. A few times we moved the Northstate Superyard Playgate out into the backyard with a blanket underneath for our baby to play outside. We also easily transported it to our older kids’ soccer games and used the playgate to safely secure and entertain our baby for several hours. Some of the older kids even wanted to come play inside of it.

The only complaint I might have is that the playgate is fairly boxy and large when you fold up all of the panels for transport. It makes it a little tricky to carry the entire thing, but on the flip side this also means the playgate is secure enough to stand up on its own. Because it locks together so securely I would not be concerned it would ever fall down. Our older children sometimes climb over it too, and although it slightly bends, it always snaps right back into place.


Overall, I would definitely say the Northstate Superyard Playgate is a great buy. It retails for less than $100 and is a quality playgate that will last.


Car Seat Review: Britax Marathon 70-G3 Convertible Car Seat

When our first-born graduated from his Graco Lauren snap-in style infant carrier, we cheaped out and bought a safe-but-low-end car seat.

I regretted the purchase almost immediately. Everything about that wretched car seat was a pain, from installing it to getting a wriggling toddler in and out of it. The seat wasn’t well designed for use with shoulder belts, and even when it was properly installed it tended to slide around quite a bit.

We finally had enough and decided to upgrade. This time we did our homework and researched the top end car seats, reading reviews and watching Youtube installation videos.

After comparing the options, we settled on the Britax Marathon 70-G3 Convertible Car Seat, and we’ve been very happy with it.

Top-notch quality

Everything about this car seat screams quality. Each part is well finished, from the plastic base and back to the nicely fitted cover. The materials chosen are high-quality: the straps feel like a better quality webbing, and the clips and buckles are solid and operate smoothly and easily.

Each part seems to have received careful thought and attention. The Britax designers seem like they thought about how their product would be used and weren’t just looking to meet minimum safety standards. This results in nice touches like velcro to hold the shoulder straps in place while you put your child into the seat.

I give the Britax Marathon 70-G3 an A+ for quality.

Difficult installation

Installing this car seat is a cinch if your vehicle has a LATCH system–and a frustrating ordeal if it doesn’t.

Don’t get me wrong–the Britax works well with over-the-shoulder seatbelts once you get it installed.

But that initial installation involved a lot of struggling and sweating in the mid-summer heat (which always puts me in a “patient” mood).

The tricky part with the installation is the clips that lock the seatbelt in place. These clips keep the shoulder belt from retracting and tipping the seat (a major problem with our previous car seat). And while I’m glad they’re there, they were a challenge to fasten.

First you have to open the clips–a tricky feat to begin with. The real fun starts once you’ve threaded the seatbelt through both sides and buckled it. At this point you have to lock the clips down. The clips lock the belt tightly, but they don’t give you a lot of clearance to work with. If you don’t keep both the shoulder and lap portions of the belt completely flat, the clip won’t shut. This was the main source of frustration while I was installing the seat. It’s hard to simultaneously tighten the belt, prevent it from twisting and snap the clips shut.

On the plus side, removing the seat’s cover was easy, so I was able to see clearly while I worked.

Once you’re able to get the seatbelt fastened and the clips locked down, the Britax is anchored firmly in place. Forget sliding around–I could barely even wiggle the seat.

Easy to use

While installing the seat was a harrowing experience, in day-to-day usage it’s a joy to use. With our old car seat, getting our son in and out was a struggle. After placing him in the seat, I’d have to root around under his bottom for the buckle, then wrangle the straps in place and fumble around to untwist them.

The Britax addresses both of these issues. The buckle is enclosed in a paddle-shaped flap, which makes it more comfortable for the occupant but also keeps the buckle from sliding down into the seat when I’m loading my son into the car.

Similarly, two little velcro tabs on the shoulder straps help to keep them out of the way until it’s time to buckle up. The top portion of the strap is covered with a rubber slider that greatly reduces twisting. This seat is almost fumble-free.

The only feature that I’m not thrilled with is the mechanism that allows you to tighten and loosen the shoulder straps. The release lever is tucked away inside the seat. It’s simple enough to operate once you figure it out, but it took me a little while to figure it out. It’s also hard to reach when the seat is installed in a rear-facing position in our vehicle.

Highly recommended

Despite the difficult installation, we’re completely satisfied with our Britax Marathon 70-G3 Convertible Car Seat. In fact, we liked it so much that we bought a second one a few weeks later when it was time to graduate our younger son from the snap-in carrier.

It’s pricey, for sure, but it’s one of those purchases that makes me smile every time I use it.


Graco Pack ‘N Play Playard Review

One baby item I can truly say our family uses a lot is our Graco Pack ‘N Play Playard. We registered for the Pack ‘N Play with our first child, and now our third baby is using it. It definitely has stood the test of time.


The most convenient part of a Pack ‘N Play is that you can use it anywhere. The playard easily folds down so you can store it in an easy-to-use carrier. It is amazing that all the parts fold as compactly as they do. Once you fold the Pack ‘N Play up, it really does not take up that much room. It is smaller than most strollers are, so it easily fits in the back of most cars and SUVs. You can then take it with you on vacation, or just on a quick overnight stay to grandma’s house.

Another great thing about our Graco Pack ‘N Play is that is it sturdy. Once you lock all four sides into place, there is no chance of the playard collapsing. You can hear the parts click, so you know they are secure.

The Graco Pack ‘N Play really does grow with your baby. When your child is small, you can use the mattress floor up high so that you do not have to bend over very far to get your baby out. This is also great if you have the playard in your room when the baby is little. All you need to do is quickly glance over to see your baby is safe and secure. Once your baby is a little older, though, you will want to move the mattress down to the lowest level so your baby cannot pull up and fall out.

We never used the changing table function of our playard because we had a separate changing table. The same goes for the bassinet function. They are good features to have, though, for some parents.

As for safety, the mesh sides mean you do not have to worry about your baby accidentally pressing up against the sides. An infant can still easily breathe, even if he or she rolls into the side during naptime.


Overall, at about $100, I think that the Graco Pack ‘N Play is a great deal. Ours has lasted through three children now, and still looks just like it did the day we got it. The fabric and workmanship is really quite nice. I would definitely recommend this to any parent.


Baby Gate Review: Munchkin Auto-Close Metal Gate

When our younger son was born, we decided to buy a gate to keep his older brother out of the nursery during nap time.

But we couldn’t get just any gate. Our oldest is a big, strong toddler who ranks in the 90th percentile for both height and weight.

We needed a gate that could keep Godzilla at bay.

After doing some comparison shopping, we settled on the Munchkin Auto Close Gate, available for around $59 on Amazon.

The Munchkin Auto Close Gate is made of sturdy steel tubing, and it feels solid. It doesn’t bend when our 3-year-old grabs it and flexes his muscles, and I’ve never once worried that he would be able to break it.

After nearly 18 months of use and abuse, it’s held up well.


Although I was impressed by the quality when the gate arrived, getting it installed was a bit of an ordeal. The gate requires a fair bit of assembly, and the instructions left a lot to be desired. I’m a handy guy who has, among other things, remodeled our kitchen and bathrooms. But it took some fiddling to figure out how to put the Munchkin gate together. The main problem was that some of the pieces I was working with looked different than what was shown in the assembly guide.

Even after I had the gate put together, mounting it in the doorway was tricky. The gate is a pressure-mount style, with four individually adjustable feet that hold it in place. Each threaded foot needs to be tightened separately, first by hand, then using a wrench once they’re too tight for your fingers to turn.

Not too bad, right?

Yeah, except there’s nothing holding the feet in place, and while I tightened one the others kept falling out. I needed a couple more hands to hold everything together while I worked.

But once I got the gate installed, it was rock sold. The doorways in our home are an in-between measurement, and the traditional wooden gates with pre-set notches are completely useless. Our toddler would calmly walk up to the gate and yank it out of the doorway in one fluid motion.

By contrast, the individually adjustable feet on the Munchkin Auto Close Gate let me find a perfect fit. Now our 3-year-old can rattle the gate and throw his weight into it to his heart’s content and the gate doesn’t budge.

The Munchkin fits doorways from 29.5″ to up to 38″ wide using the included extenders.


The gate’s swinging, auto-closing door was the main reason we purchased it. While many gates force you to climb over them, the Munchkin gate allows you to just unlatch it and walk through–perfect for when you’re clutching an infant and don’t want to risk a precarious climb.

The door works as advertised. It swings smoothly in both directions, closes quickly and latches securely. It provides some peace of mind to not have to worry whether you remembered to close the gate.

Unlatching the gate is a little awkward: You have to slide a button with your thumb, then lift the door a fraction of an inch before pushing it open. That same awkwardness makes it virtually impossible for a child to open, though.

The only downside to the auto-closing mechanism is that the gate slams shut loudly if you don’t make an effort to slow it down. Not ideal at nap time.


We’re happy with our Munchkin Auto Close Gate and would purchase it again without hesitation. It’s a great choice if you’re looking for a sturdy, reliable gate and don’t need to be able to remove it frequently. The auto-closing feature is a life-saver when you’re carrying a baby while fending off a hulking 3-year-old.


Prevent accidents and keep your sanity with this babyproofing checklist

Before my son became a toddler, I heard it a dozen times from empty nesters: “I don’t know what people do all of this babyproofing for nowadays. When my kids were young, I just told them ‘no,’ and they didn’t get into things.”

Fast forward to my first son starting to crawl: If there was a cord, he would pull it, if there was an outlet, he would poke it, if there was an unlocked cabinet, he’d raid it.

Babyproofing has kept me sane and my sons safe. Here’s a checklist of what has been helpful in our household:

  • Cabinet locks. We like the Safety 1st Magnetic Locking system because they lock the cabinets tightly with no gaps. We also like that they can be easily unlocked after the kids are in bed, so it’s much more convenient for us.
  • Drawer locks. We went with the Dreambaby Safety Latches, which are basic but do the job.
  • To keep little hands from turning on our gas stove, we installed a KidKusion Stove Lock on each knob. They are easy for us to disable but totally stump our boys. So much easier than constantly removing the knobs like we did at first.
  • Safety gates. We use the Summer Infant Sure and Secure Deluxe Top of Stairs Wood Walk Thru Gate at the top of the stairs in our spit entry home. This has been essential for keeping our kids safe while making it easy for my husband and me to get up and down the stairs.
  • We also use the Munchkin Auto-Close Metal Gate in front of our younger son’s nursery. Our living room, kitchen, and bedrooms are all on the same floor, so it allowed me to put the baby in the swing in his room when he was fussy while keeping our two year old from climbing in the swing.  It keeps our two year old out of the room while I’m changing the baby’s diaper but allows me to keep an eye on him.
  • Door knob covers. The KidCo Door Knob Locks have been essential in our house. We put them over the doorknobs of the bathroom, master bedroom, and nursery. When the toddlers are running around, it keeps them out of the bathroom and our bedroom. It also keeps our two year old from opening the baby’s bedroom door while he’s napping.
  • Door pinch guard. We put this on our two year old’s door to keep him from slamming in into his (and his baby brother’s) fingers. We like the “door monkey” Childproof Door Lock and Pinch Guard.
  • Outlet covers. We went with the basic Munchkin Plug Covers.
  • Outlet boxes. We got rid of our lamps and went with a ceiling light to minimize cords, but we have a few things that still need to be plugged in. We like the Safety 1st Outlet Cover with Cord Shortener.
  • Sliding closet locks. The Mommy’s Helper Slide-Lok Bi-Fold Door Locks have kept us sane. They keep the babies out of our accordion closets. It keeps my son from getting into his diapering supplies and also unfolding every piece of clothing in his entire closet.

Of course, my kids still need constant supervision, but it’s much more relaxing to let them run around and play without having to say “no” every two seconds.