Nesting in the 21st Century

I’ve just had my third child in six years, and have noticed certain patterns about myself. For me, an early indication of pregnancy is uncontrollable irrationality. For about a week, I will be irrationally irritated with everything and snapping at everyone. So much so that with my second pregnancy, my husband said, “You better be pregnant.” I was. I crave greasy burgers from Burger King and strawberry milk from a dairy, but mostly I am averse to foods. This time around, I was averse to almost everything and hardly gained away weight. Each time I have been pregnant, I have waited for that nesting instinct to kick in, waited, and waited. I thought it had never hit, but as I look back over the months of pregnancy, I see a different kind of nesting. I nest with gadgets and gizmos. I reach for time saving technology and devices to make life easier.

Image: Reliable Corporation

The Steam Cleaner
This was the year we decided to potty train our second son, a mere month before my due date. I already have one little boy peeing in my bathroom, but with the addition of a second, the urinal smell began to linger in my home. During my last pregnancy I discovered the wet Swiffer to help me keep the bathroom clean. During this pregnancy and potty training I added the Steamboy 200. So now I can Swiffer the pee away and then steam the heck out of my floors!

The Steamboy is a pretty nifty gadget. Thankfully it assembles easily because the instructions were not compatible with my sense of logic. It asks you to “Attach the carpet glide to the floor head,” which is fine to say but it doesn’t actually attach. Neither the picture nor the description in the instruction manual help, but if you go to the company website they show you how it works. It glided nicely over all of my surfaces and the extension cord was a great length, deceptively long even; I managed to pull the cord out of the wall.

The microfiber pads say hand wash only—so I see great potential for hand made pads. But the instructions say mild detergent at 40 degrees will be okay, this is what I did, because the whole point is to make life with three kids easier, and they survived just fine.
Image: Sarah Pinault

Now don’t get me wrong here, this device is not to help me clean the visible stains caused by my growing brood. This is to get rid of the germs that follow them around like puppies. It’s great for kids, great for pets, and great for allergies. It does deal with minor scuffs and marks, just not deep carpet stains. It deals with 99.9% of household germs, so now when my son lies down on the bathroom floor, I know that his face is safe from his pee germs! It also cleans with just water, no added detergent, so he won’t have that nice Clorox smell on his face!

It can be really hard to tell if it’s done any good just by looking at the surface involved, but just looking at the pad after you’ve finished reveals exactly what has been sucked up. It’s quite disgusting really, to actually have a visual on the filth we’ve been wallowing in.

It’s nice and lightweight but could do with a hook on the handle to hang it up, and a clip on the wire to keep the cord in place. To use the clip on the top of the machine you have to wrap the cord in a particular way and that messes with my OCD.

Image: Courtesy of Behmor

The Coffee Machine. We have gone through many coffee machines over the years. Gevalia, Coffeemate, Keurig, we’ve tried it all. With a third child on the way, it seemed appropriate to replace our old models. So this time around we got to test the Brazen Plus craft brewing system from Behmor. Try saying that three times fast. This is several notches above where we usually like our coffee; we’re Dunkin Donuts people who don’t mind an instant cup. But I have to say, after working out how to use the machine optimally, it’s the best cup of coffee I’ve ever made at home. My husband spends as much time with this machine as he does with his Alienware these days.

Basically, this is the home version of professional coffee makers. The settings enable you to adjust for water brewing temperatures and the pre-soak function lets the coffee bloom before brewing. I didn’t know that coffee grounds could bloom before, but it’s blooming marvelous. Settings are so precise that you need to program in your altitude to allow temperature calibration. Water does not simply flow through this coffee machine; it has an over-sized shower head which pulses the water to allow “complete coffee bed saturation” to extract all the coffee out of the coffee. The Brazen Plus is one of  few home brewers certified by the Specialty Coffee Association of America. It is fully programmable so that your coffee can be blooming while you are still rubbing sleep out of your eyes, and when the power goes out you don’t lose your altitude settings; believe me this is a huge plus.

We followed the directions as to types of coffee to use, and experimented with local brands, and generic coffees. We find that Starbucks Pike Place works well, and more often makes a cup better than you would be purchasing at the store itself. Our favorite brew thus far has been the Dark Oak Roast from our local place, Scarborough Grounds. We regularly ship this to friends in Mississippi; it’s just that good. In a pinch we’ve used our old standby Folgers, and this machine elevates that cup of coffee too.

The drawback of having this machine at home is that we have become coffee snobs now. A gas station cup of coffee used to do us just fine, but now we have seen the light and we won’t go back I tell you, we won’t go back!

Once the machine is setup, it is ridiculously easy to get to good coffee fast, but it is also easy to clean up too, a big plus in a family like ours where it is go, go, go from 6am till 7pm with very little napping. We are not a napping house, and coffee helps us survive!

Image: Medela

The Breast Pump. I have had all manner of feeding experiences with my three children. With the first I failed miserably at nursing, but found success with my breast milk. So I exclusively pumped and bottle fed for ten months. With my second son, I went straight to formula. This time around, my surprise baby, I decided I would stick to it and nurse no matter what. Even with that in mind, I knew that, based on my supply the first time around, I would need the support of a good breast pump. Thanks to Obamacare, I didn’t have to spend $300 on the pump of my dreams, as it’s free or subsidized to get one these days. I did not upgrade this time, but went straight back to my buddy, the Medela Pump In Style Advanced. Easy instructions mean it is quick and easy to use the first time around, so you get comfortable with it very quickly. Sure, you will always feel like you are hooked up at a dairy, but it’s a much smoother process than I would have imagined.

The battery pack on the Medela is fantastic. I pumped twice a day for two months on the same eight AA batteries before it started losing its juice. The car charger works brilliantly for pumping in airports, parking lots, etc. This pump has the option for single or double pumping, and I have only used the single option once or twice.

Big advantages for this product: It’s one of the most widely used pumps, so parts and accessories are easy to find. If you save your pump for the next pregnancy, you can request new piping at the hospital, Medela generally supplies them for free.

I was ridiculously excited on the day I got the email notification that my pump had arrived at the house. I almost passed out when I opened the box. I never said I was normal.

Image: Reliable Corporation

The Iron. Every time I have a baby, I get obsessed with ironing little clothes, though this compulsion fades as the exhaustion grows. I used to do this with a $6 iron, but then I upgraded. When my mom moved to the U.S. last year, she took a liking to my iron; British people like their irons! So of course she now has that and I now needed a new iron. What I ended up with looks more like a space ship and you could easily fit my new baby into it! It took me a while to warm up to the Maven 100IS, but now that I’m getting the hang of it, I’m quite ready to build a laundry room just to accommodate it. The website describes it as a lightweight steam powerhouse, and powerhouse is right.

This is not the kind of iron I am used to—this is a lightweight iron that comes with a docking station. So the station contains the water and controls the pressure, 3.5 bars of it, and the iron that you hold in your hand is more of a conduit. This took a lot of getting used to, and the advantage for some people was a distraction for me. The steam comes out fast and furious; this is the commercial iron of the home and not for the faint of heart. Getting used to the footprint aside, this beast irons faster than most irons I’ve had before. The Velocity could give it a run for its money, but the Maven gets the job done. It takes 7-8 minutes to reach full steam, but can then run for 1.5 hours according to the manufacturer.

I wasn’t really sold on this new gadget until I accidentally left it running one day. I grew up hearing nightmare stories about leaving the iron on, but on the day I left the Maven on and unattended for over two hours, I couldn’t have been happier. It was no hotter than when I had left it, and had done no damage, either to the machine itself or the area it was in. If you are looking for safety and protection from baby brain in an iron, then this is the one. It may not have made my life significantly easier with regards to my ironing needs, but the security of this over use knowledge is worth its weight in gold. I need protecting from myself after all.

Baby Swing. What on earth happened to baby swings in the last five years? I went to Babies R Us to register and couldn’t find a nice simple swing with a small footprint. They were all enormous with bells and whistles, so to speak. This time around we are doing quite well without a swing. A happy baby and a mama who doesn’t want to put her down will do that.

There are many gadgets designed by companies to make things easier, or at least seem easier for parents, and a lot of them we do without. We didn’t sign up for bottle warmers when we bottle fed but used a glass jug and boiling water. We have never subscribed to a wipe warmer; we breed ’em tough in New England. Our humidifier is cast iron and on our stove top, our nightlights are the twinkle stars on the ceiling. Of course my husband thinks a Steambox will help him with the nesting phase; I say the tax return in 2016 will help him with the Steambox phase!

My third pregnancy may not have produced any scrapbooks or decoupage, I may not have repainted and re-ordered everything, but I certainly managed to accumulate some time-saving and brain-saving gadgets to help us get through babyhood with three kids in the house. I’d love to hear how you nest; head on over to our Facebook page and let me know.

Review: Dyson’s Cinetic Big Ball Animal+Allergy

The canister is very easy to clean with no filters to wash. Image: Dyson
The canister is very easy to clean, with no filters to wash. Image: Dyson.

As the weather gets warmer, many of us are doing some spring cleaning, opening up windows, dusting, deep vacuuming (the move-the-furniture type), and more. The change of season allows us to open our windows and fill the house with fresh air. It also fills the house with plenty of allergens. When combined with the stagnant pet hair and dander, our houses can be one big allergy fest.

Enter the Dyson Cinetic Big Ball Animal+Allergy vacuum, complete with whole-machine HEPA filtration. If you are in the market to buy a new vacuum, I can heartily recommend this one. After my long-time trusty Oreck bit the dust, I tried out a Dyson. It was much fancier than I was used to, but it works so much better. At least, once I got it assembled.

Image: Dyson
Image: Dyson.

I’ll admit to it taking me quite a while to assemble the unit. The directions weren’t very clear, and the written and visual instructions were separate. There also wasn’t a clear list of how to use all of the attachments. But, after some trial and error and bit of research, I got the thing running. It sucked up so much more than my old vacuum that I was cleaning out the canister frequently. (Oh, that’s another thing. This vacuum doesn’t use any bags, and has no filters to wash. Just lift out the canister, empty into the trash can, and reattach. Easy peasy.)

At first, I thought it wasn’t sucking up much debris, since it was so quiet. There were very few of the crackly noises I was accustomed to hearing when you vacuum up loose kitty litter or other debris. But one look at the canister and I knew how well it worked.

Easily picks up stubborn dust and pet hair. Image: Dyson
It easily picks up stubborn dust and pet hair. Image: Dyson.

Having a built-in hose on the vacuum body was also new for me. If the vacuum is reclined, you use it like an upright vacuum. But if the machine is upright (confused, yet?), you can use the on-board hose along with any of the attachments. These are great for edging, stairs, dusting, upholstery, mattresses, ceiling fans, door frames, and extra-tough pet hair. The website has plenty of ideas for how to use the attachments, but you can also use your imagination. There are also two main settings on the vacuum when not using the attachments, one for carpet and one for hard surfaces. This is the only device you need to thoroughly suck up anything on your floor, throughout your house.

The vacuum also came with a high-quality, lined canvas tote bag, which can hold all of your attachments with plenty of room to spare for other cleaning tools. Also, the vacuum body itself is sort of color-coded. Most things that you’ll need to press, check, or maneuver are colored red.

What does “Cinetic” mean? From Dyson:

Dyson Cinetic™ science

Smaller cyclones generate higher centrifugal forces, therefore capturing smaller dust particles. But the tighter the cyclone, the more likely it is to block. The solution? Flexible tips, engineered from a proprietary material, which vibrate 350 times a second. As the tips oscillate, dust is prevented from clogging the aperture. Dust as small as 0.5 microns is spun out of the airflow and into the bin – never clogging a filter.

Clean hard-to-reach areas with this clever attachment. Image: Dyson
Clean hard-to-reach areas with this clever attachment. Image: Dyson.

I have found a couple of drawbacks to the vacuum, but definitely no deal-breakers. It is quite heavy to lift (though it is easy to push, since it runs very smoothly), and I kept almost pulling it down the stairs and on top of myself while vacuuming the steps. (We have high ceilings, and the hose didn’t reach all the way to the top when I had the vacuum at the bottom.) Also, you can’t use the attachments without unwinding the power cord all the way, since the cord wraps around part of the hose. Lastly, the power button isn’t conveniently on the handle. But those are my only negative comments. I did also note that the attachments are the kind of plastic that gets very static-y, so when you’re done using them, they’ll probably be covered in hair, fur, or fluff. They’ll need to be cleaned off a bit before putting away.

Overall, however, this machine is a thing of beauty. I mean, it looks nice, which is cool, but it works. It gets the floor really clean. Walking over carpet that was just vacuumed with it makes it feel like brand new carpet. I think I’ve found my new line of vacuum.

The Dyson Cinetic Big Ball Animal+Allergy vacuum is the only vacuum you’ll need for all of the surfaces in your house. It’s easy to use, versatile, and easy to clean. It also never loses suction. It will clear the pet hair and allergens from your surfaces, making the air you’re breathing much cleaner. And it’s perfect for spring cleaning!

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Let Crypton Defend the Mess at Your House!

Crypton Placemat Challenge
Double-sided Crypton placemat. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

I admit it, I’m a placemat addict. I have a placemat for every holiday, season, month, and occasion that you can think of. I love changing out my kitchen table accents frequently, and the next tablescape is always on my mind! I’m always looking for new, exciting placemats at local thrift stores or department stores.

Placemat Collection
Placemat collection. Photo: Maryann Goldman.
Array of Placemats
Array of placemats. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

What I don’t enjoy about my placemats is actually letting my family use them. Seriously! I cringe as my family eats barbecue chicken. I wait for someone to miss their mouth, knock over their milk glass, or set their dirty silverware down to the side of their plate. Not messing up Mom’s placemats has turned pretty serious, as family members resort to various techniques to protect them. Some turn their placemats upside down (at least the stain will be on the back) or grab a hand towel to put on top of them. What good is a placemat that you can’t even see?!?

My luck at washing stains off placemats isn’t so good, either. Oftentimes, the oily mess won’t come off even though I pretreat. Other times, the placemat fabrics aren’t as washable as I’d like, and the placemats wrinkle or shrink. There’s just no winning, and having a table that stays looking as nice as the day I set it up eludes me.

When the people at Crypton gave me the opportunity to sample their placemats, I became an eager tester along with my family. Their motto, “Live Beautifully. Live Clean®,” was exactly what I was looking for!

Crypton Placemat Challenge
Stylish Crypton placemat. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

I already had my St. Patrick’s Day tablescape set up, and I quickly swapped out my green striped placemats for their ultra nice green suede ones. What a perfect match! All the Crypton placemats are reversible, and there’s a beautiful blue color on the other side of mine.

Crypton Placemat Challenge BBQ Sauce
Oops, I dropped it! Photo: Maryann Goldman.

I was challenged (#LifeOnCrypton) to mess up the placemats and test how easy they were to clean. I had an eager volunteer tester who was only too happy to make a mess with his barbecue sauce! The only thing better than dropping that chicken drumstick the first time was all the retakes.

The easy part was making the mess, but how did the clean up go? Great! Crypton offers several options for cleaning their fabric. Busy moms can spot-clean their Crypton placemats using a spray bottle containing water and a small amount of liquid fabric detergent. Spray on the cleaner and rub gently with a soft brush. For bigger messes, throw them in the washing machine!

I found that a small squirt of Dawn Platinum Erasing Dish Foam on a soft toothbrush worked well for me. After brushing in the detergent, I simply put that part of the placemat under the kitchen faucet and watched the stain and foam wash away. Pat dry with a clean towel.

Crypton Fabrics aren’t just for your table, either. They also make fabrics for furniture and bedding. Even your dog can have a Crypton bed!

Like what you see? Want to give them a try? Crypton is offering 10 percent off their placemats through May 1, 2015, if you use “Placemat” as the promo code when checking out.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Toys From the Attic: Have You Ever Seen Juri?

To show you just how tiny Juri toys are, I placed a quarter next to some of my collection. Photo: Rachel Cericola.

Recently, GeekMoms Cathé and Sarah talked up their various attic treasures. I’m always fascinated by these little attic adventures; it’s like your own personal Storage Wars. I’m excited to offer up something similar, but mainly because I need some help.

First, a little back-story: Back in September, my father died. Over Thanksgiving, my sister, brother, and I were together, so we made time to go through some of his things. It was all of 15 minutes.

See, my dad wasn’t much of a saver. He had a few pictures and cards, an old lighter, yearbooks, and a few other mementos. He had some blank stationary paper from when I was a kid, with pictures of animals (mostly monkeys) with funny sayings on them. It wasn’t much, but he was more about experiences than keeping actual, physical stuff.

At one point, we were up in the attic area above the garage, which was mostly packed with my brother’s college junk. However, there was one little box off to the side. Inside, we found eight smaller boxes—and I was instantly whisked back to my childhood.

Each of these teeny boxes isn’t much bigger than a matchbox. However, they are packed with the most wonderful wooden toys, in the shapes of different animals. My collection includes kangaroos, rhinos, elephants, giraffes, polar bears, monkey, tigers, and an actual zoo kit.

These toys are really small, the kind that would most certainly be deemed a choking hazard by today’s standards. I am 98-percent sure that they were sent to me from my aunt, who spent a lot of my childhood in Saudi Arabia. She would send us toys from time to time. Some were ornate and would sit upon the mantle in my room; others were downright frightening and placed in a box. However, these particular toys would be played with, cherished, and some 30-plus years down the line, found in a box in the attic above the garage.

Now, I am trying to find out more about them—and I need your help.

Once I got the toys back to New England, I did what any person would do: I looked them up on the web. I’m not interested in selling them. (I would never do that!) I just want to know more about them. It’s quite the cool find and I remember them well.

After several Google searches, I couldn’t find anything about them or the company that made them, Juri. As mentioned, each box is about the size of a matchbox, with German and English on them. Each one says the name Juri and that they’re made in Western Germany.

Giraffes and other Juri toys. Photo: Rachel Cericola.

Sadly, my aunt is also now deceased, so I asked two of her daughters if maybe they remembered them. Both initially thought they were from Sweden, until they saw the boxes, which clearly state, “Made in Western Germany.” Next, they told me that the toys were probably sent to me in the late 70s or early 80s. Late 70s probably makes the most sense, because I definitely remember playing with these things. In fact, there was actual proof inside the box.

Besides the toys, there are several slips of paper with evidence that these things were played with and well loved. One note asks, “I’d really appreciate, if you wouldn’t touch my zoo, the things are really easy to knock over. Thanx.” Those “things” were the animals. The other slips of paper show some of the names I came up with. (The “Rinos” are Archie, Veronica, and Betty, while the giraffes are Archie, Edith, and Gloria.)

Next, I turned to a good friend of mine. Her mom is originally from Witten, Germany—and is the only person I know who actually originates from Germany. She said that the toys looked vaguely familiar, but that was it.

My Google search did yield two eBay auctions and an old Etsy sale, so someone else has seen these things at some point. I am looking for anything and everything about these toys, the company, or why they are no longer in existence. Do they look familiar to you? Please sound off in the comments section below!

Let A Robot Clean Up After Your Cat

Our favorite innovation for cats. (

Recently, I warned you that robot overlords will be taking over. First sign? They’re cute and useful. Soon, we won’t be able to bear living without them. Then, if my research holds true, we humans are well on our way to becoming fuel for angry, meat-eating, self-perpetuating machines.

I’m here to report that I am now a willing victim. Yes, I’m weak. When given the opportunity to review Litter-Robot, I seized the chance to observe the threat up close. Maybe knowing my enemy better could help me in some dystopian robot-controlled future. Besides, it’s not like I need the help. I barely do any chores around here because I’ve foisted them off on my super-responsible kids. Let me tell you, those kids were excited when the robot arrived.

First impression of the Litter-Robot? It reminded us of those early diving helmets, the ones that look so steampunk now.

See the similarity? (Images: public domain,
See the similarity? (Images: public domain,

The Litter-Robot is cleverly designed. This self-cleaning enclosure senses a cat’s weight, then automatically starts the cleaning process seven minutes later. It rotates slowly, using gravity to sift litter rather than using a raking method. There’s no clogging or jamming, and only the clumped litter goes into the receptacle. When a waste bag in the collection drawer is full, you simply replace it with another bag. There’s no need for expensive custom-fit bags, because it has clips to accommodate any garbage bag you choose. Cleaning takes only few seconds. No litter dust from scooping, no yucky cleaning, no spilled litter, no fuss at all. And we haven’t noticed an odor either, thanks to its enclosed design and carbon filters.

We carefully followed the instructions for introducing our cats to the unit. It’s important to take it slowly, so they adjust. They accommodated perfectly in about a week and a half. We’re really pleased with this product’s sturdy construction and the fact that it’s made in the U.S.A. The Litter-Robot has a 90-day, money-back guarantee and an 18-month warranty, plus a customer support line. The whole unit seems pricey as an initial investment, but there are big savings over time, because you use so much less litter. The company says customers save 50 percent or more on litter. Sparing yourself the kitty litter box chore is, of course, priceless.

We couldn’t just call it a robot. No, the humans here insisted it have a name. Proposals included Cheezburger, Nyan, Max, and Wilbur. Max won. Also, the little thing has become a “him.” I will try to pretend I still call Max “it” for the purposes of this review, but it’s harder than you might imagine.

I really appreciate Max, er, the Litter-Robot. Maybe a robot-run future won’t be all that bleak. And those large googly eyes we stuck on it make it seem downright personable.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Pinbusted or Pintrusted: DIY Silver Cleaners


Every year at Christmas, I hang a set of music-box silver bells. The bells have been around for awhile, so they are no longer shiny and bright. Now that the holidays are over and the tree is down, it is that dreaded time where I must break down and clean the silver.

Bells before being cleaned. Images: Timothy Post
Bells before being cleaned. Images: Timothy Post.
You can see in the final frame there is a lone clean spot surrounded by tarnish.
You can see in the final frame, there is a lone clean spot surrounded by tarnish.

I found my silver cleaner, but it is so old, it has separated. So, I investigated Pinterest for possible DIY methods of cleaning silver. There are so many ideas out there! Now I get to figure out if any of them work.

First up, I used baking soda toothpaste. It was messy (but minty!). The supposed purpose of using the toothpaste is for cleaning an item that shouldn’t go in water. Yet, in order to get the toothpaste off the tarnished item, it has to be rinsed. The item also has to be damp when toothpaste is applied to it.

Keeping all of these things in mind, I went to town on my bell from 1984. I cleaned around the outside of the bell three times. When I rinsed it, it looked better, but it wasn’t worth the hassle and mess to clean it in this manner.

Verdict for the toothpaste cleaner: Busted.

Baking soda by itself is mildly effective when cleaning silver. But it seems to really make silver sparkly, some science and bubbles are needed in combination with the baking soda. No problem. Let’s make it happen!

Compare the before and after. Much brighter after.

Another pin I stumbled across suggested using two antacid tablets in regular temperature water. I was skeptical, but lo and behold, the results were actually quite sparkly.

The details in the silver piece were still dark, but the smooth surfaces were bright and shiny. Waiting to let all of the bubbles finish cleaning took a bit of time, but the result was usable. A chemical reaction occurs when the antacid tablets are dropped in water: the tablets contain citric acid and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). When you drop the tablet in water, the acid and the baking soda react (giving us our cleaning bubbles!).

Antacid Tablets in Water: Trusted.

Finally, I tried the pin that I found spread the most through Pinterest: Boiling water and baking soda in a container lined with tin foil. This is as easy as it sounds.

I lined a container with foil. While I had the kettle boiling my water, I poured a layer of baking soda in the bottom of the container. I placed my bell in the container and started slowly pouring in the water. It immediately started fizzing and bubbling. When the initial steam cleared, I saw a huge difference between the silver that was under the water and the silver that had not yet been cleaned. After a minute or two, I tipped over the bell, so the top would be clean too.

In the bottom left corner, you can see where the chemical reaction stopped on the bell. We soon tipped it over, so the top would be cleaned too.

The reaction works because silver tarnishes because it has a chemical reaction with sulfur-containing substances in our air. When silver combines with sulfur, it forms silver sulfide, which is what appears to us as the dark tarnish on silver. By removing the sulfide with a chemical reaction, the silver is shiny again. There are nifty chemical equations to prove what process takes place, but my chemistry is too rusty to be reliable. Rust…there’s another chemical reaction! I digress…

This worked really well. It worked faster and slightly better than the antacids. The details were pretty well cleaned and didn’t require a lot of scrubbing afterward. There are also other versions of this method involving olive oil to polish after the process and boiling the baking soda in the water, but I didn’t do those variations.

Tin Foil, Boiling Water, and Baking Soda: Trusted!

I hope this helps the next time you don’t want to dig out the chemical cream to clean your silver. Things you probably already have in your kitchen will probably work just as well without the mess!

Relics: What’s In Your Attic?


Yeah, collection…maybe even an agglomeration. Cables, electronic tethers, childhood memories, and college accomplishments were discovered when we pulled the attic plug and let the contents drain into our garage.

Though we have taken select items out of the attic recently, this adventure is set to make our lives easier and find lost items.

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Giveaway: Neato XV-21 Pet & Allergy Automatic Vacuum Cleaner


robotic vacuum review,
Dander eater and dander maker. (Image by L. Weldon)

Recently I warned you that robot overlords will be taking over. First step? They’re cute and useful. Then we can’t bear to think of living without them. Soon, if my research holds true, we humans are well on our way to becoming fuel for angry, meat-eating, self-perpetuating machines.

I’m here to report that I have become a willing victim.

Yes, I’m weak. When given the opportunity to get a review sample of the Neato XV-21 Pet & Allergy Automatic Vacuum Cleaner I took the chance to observe a robot up close. Maybe knowing my enemy better could help me in some dystopian robot-controlled future. Besides, it’s not like I need the help. I barely do any chores around here due to my super responsible kids. Let me tell you, those kids were excited when the box arrived.

Because the instruction book noted a large open wall was best for a docking station, my family insisted it get a prime spot in our front hall where every visitor can now see who dominates the home. Our robot.

The  Neato XV-21 is a compact little machine. It operates using “laser-based vision.” Each time it is turned on it scans the room with laser eyes, mapping the layout. It has no trouble clambering from carpet to tile, or from room to room. Cleaning it is surprisingly easy. Open the filter, empty the dust bin, snap shut. Takes 30 seconds. And the operating options are also simple.

But we couldn’t just call it a robot or XV-21. No, the humans here insisted it have a name. Proposals included Vacuumus Aurelius, J. Edgar Hoover, and Locutus of Floor. Locutus won. Also, the little thing has become a “him.” I will try to pretend I still call Locutus “it” for the purposes of this review but this is harder than you might imagine.

From the first time we first ran the  Neato XV-21 we were impressed. When first turning on it powers up, surveys its surroundings, then gets to work with the sort of friendly purposefulness our Pomeranian thinks he exhibits. (Except the vacuum is actually useful.) The vacuum easily fits under furniture that even super responsible kids don’t move when they do chores. It pauses in a considerate sort of way when a moving object, human or pet, passes by. It displays polite prompts on its screen like “please put me down on the floor” when picked up and asks nicely when its dust bin needs to be emptied. The contents of that dust bin are a potent reminder of how useful a  Neato XV-21 can be. OMG. The first time it had to be emptied twice before recharging. But following instructions, we ran it every few days (far more often than humans vacuum around here) and sure enough, the dust bin had less debris. In other words, our floors are demonstrably cleaner.

This is quite an accomplishment for a machine that’s about the size of two college textbooks. We have a big family tracking in who knows what from the barn, plus three dogs and all sorts of visitors. Yet we’ve noticed some amazing, totally unexpected Neato XV-21 side effects.

My family is fond of our little robot. When it gets stuck under our couch they cheerfully pull it out. They regularly straighten up to remove obstacles that might clog our suction-happy friend, keeping the floors freer of backpacks and magazines and other messes than ever before. They clean their bedrooms so the robot has a reason to visit (it’s screen politely asking to be put down as they carry it upstairs). And here’s the most wonderful side effect of all. Because the floors are cleaner, it motivates us to do better elsewhere. It’s like the vacuum has set an example for us to follow. The sinks get wiped out more often, the couch blankets put away, the library books tucked back in the trunk, well, you get the idea. One of my kids pointed out that our house looks like we’re expecting company. Not so sure that’s true. One of my super responsible kids isn’t really keeping up with that dusting.

But I’m a convert. I adore the  Neato XV-21. I know the dander and pet hair has been substantially reduced around here. I can tell the floors look better. Maybe a robot-run future won’t be all that bleak. I may draw some eyes on our vacuum so I don’t feel quite so silly reminding him it to stop going under the couch.

Want to win your own  Neato XV-21? Tell us in the comments what you would name your own vacuum. A winner will be randomly chosen from all our clever robot-naming entries. (You will be notified by email so please supply one on the comment form.) Deadline is Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

I Help – A Toddler’s View of Cleaning

She love to clean! Image: Mandy Horetski

Cleaning can be a chore, but having a helpful toddler can make the process a little more challenging.

My little girl has decided that she wants to help with just about ever aspect of daily life. She looks up at me with her big brown eyes and declares, “I help!”

I do try and let her help as much as I can, since I know it will teach her good skills for the future. She’s very good at putting trash in the trash can, and picking up some of her toys.

But I was folding towels and she decided she wanted to help. Her folding technique was comprised of pushing the towel into a ball and then trying to add it to my neat piles.

I ended up just giving her the folded towels to put in the appropriate pile, which she was happy to do. Then she insisted on helping put them away which involved me having to hold her up so she could stuff the towels into the closet. It was actually quite cute.

Even though it does take extra time to get chores done this way, it is teaching her good skills. So I’ll continue to let her help as long as she wants to. And do any cleaning that I don’t want her to help with while she’s asleep!


Change the Subject – I Dare You!

Many of our daily conversations are dominated by some combination of these four topics: Our homes, our partners, our children, and our appearance. This is particularly true for women, as social pressures drive us to focus on these things above all else. However, habit can become stifling, and it’s probably not healthy to fulfill any stereotype too well.

So here’s the challenge: Go one day without talking about your home, your partner, your children, or your appearance. Do what you must to make it happen. If you find yourself veering into a conversation about these things, change the subject to one of your other interests. Plan ahead to keep yourself busy with or distracted by something new!

It’s just one day. It may not even be hard. But it might be interesting, it might be fun, and it might add a little self-appreciation to the things that already matter to us. And who knows? We might find we have even more of interest in common than our everyday lives suggest.