Archive for the ‘reviews’ Category

**Spoiler alert: it’s the Turbo Transit Pack by L.L. Bean. I am in no way affiliated with the company; I bought this backpack with my own money and am a very satisfied customer. 

I have found the perfect family/diaper bag for our large family.

I have seven children, two of whom are still in diapers, and a third who needs me to carry around a backup outfit. I have tried many, many diaper bags, and I have finally concluded that this bag is the best fit for our large family.

In this case, form wins over function – it’s not ugly, per se, but it’s not going to win any fashion awards. It’s a sturdy black backpack. You’re probably not going to pin this post. But you know what? It works. It carries everything I need it to carry, and because it’s organized so well with so many compartments, I can always find what I’m looking for. It’s easy to carry, gender neutral, and can be re-purposed when I no longer need such a large bag.

But why this particular backpack? There are certainly cheaper options out there. I know; I’ve tried them. But THIS one – it’s special. It’s the Turbo Transit Backpack by L.L. Bean, and at 2,592 cubic inches, it’s the largest backpack they make. Your college student could live out of this thing. What makes it unique is that is has a bottom shoe compartment (which I don’t actually use for shoes; see below for more info) that removes some of the depth from the main upper pockets. They are still deep enough for textbooks, but you no longer loose everything in a giant, cavernous compartment. Deep bags are great for carrying stuff, but not great for finding that stuff again. The shoe compartment has really eliminated that problem and makes better use of the existing space. It also has three main large compartments up top, plus three more smaller pockets, so I’m able to separate the content by person/function.

Giant diaper bags with tiny pockets along the sides don’t help me at all – I have two in diapers, and what if we need to change two at once? Keeping wipes and/or diapers in a nice little elastic pocket along the inside is fine for smaller diaper bags intended for only one child. But I’ve never found those elastic pockets to function well for me. I have separate bags inside that house a set of wipes, changing pad, diapers, and spare clothes for each child. My husband can grab one kid and I grab the other, and we don’t have to take turns with the diaper bag. I can’t tell you how many times this has come in handy. I know that when I grab that child’s changing bag, everything I need is in there. Also, did you catch the “seven children” part? Seven kids, no matter their ages, tend to need a lot of stuff. I’m able to organize things for all of them in my backpack, with room to spare for a couple of water bottles and other temporary oddities. I can even stash coats and sweatshirts by hanging them from the bungee outside.

Why L.L. Bean, then? There are other bags with shoe compartments. I do realize this. But I’ve not found one this big, nor this organized. And to top it all off, L.L. Bean has a 100% Satisfaction Guarantee – and it doesn’t have a time limit.  When my original Turbo Transit Pack (2012) developed a couple of small issues (top handle strap started detaching, and the reflective piping was worn off quite badly), they paid for me to ship it back to them. Four years later. But the really awesome part? My backpack never showed up at their returns facility. And they sent me a new one anyway! How’s that for customer service?

I lived for over a month without my Turbo Transit Pack. I used another large tote that I really like and normally use for overnights and weekend trips. And while it held everything, I found myself really missing my old backpack. I couldn’t find things easily. I’d yank on one changing bag and the entire contests of the tote would come flying out at me – because it was all packed too tightly in one large compartment. Up until this unintentional month-long experiment, I was rather ambivalent about our Turbo Transit Pack. It was so functional that I never had to think about it, but I was always on the lookout for something…cuter. And then discovered that using my cute tote bag, even with interior & exterior pockets, wasn’t as good.

Here she is: the World’s Best Large Family Bag, my L.L. Bean Turbo Transit Pack. Those bungee cords are great for stashing the shirt your toddler suddenly won’t wear, or the jacket your kid swears is smothering him with its heat and he can’t carry it because he’s so tired but can he go play?

Main compartment: one bag each for infant Sayer (green) and toddler Lyra (pink). I bought these from a company that is no longer in business (sniff; they were super affordable), but the are a lot like this wet bag (link): they have a loop strap and two zippered pockets. I can stash diapers, wipes, and a changing pad in the large compartment and clean clothes in the smaller one. If there is an accident or we’re using cloth, everything gets shifted to one pocket so the other can contain the dirty things. (Also located in this main compartment is a padded laptop pocket.)

Next compartment: a third waterproof bag for preschooler Silas. This is the same size wet bag as the other two, but it only contains spare clothes. Thus this emptier backpack compartment is where I also throw extra water bottles/sippy cups or other miscellaneous items.

Front zipper pocket: this one has a few organizing pockets in it, for holding pens and other small things. I still have my own separate zipper bags for organizing stuff: the colorful bag you see contains girl stuff that might need to be transported to the bathroom, while the clear zipper bag has things like wipes for faces, medicines, sanitizing spray, tissues, etc.  I also carry a small brush, a bib, three matchbox cars, a small set of wooden blocks, a New Testament, and a ring of daily prayer cards. Not bad for such a small pocket!

Device pocket: this handy little guy floats up high and has a hole for a headphone/earpiece cord. I have never used it for that, but I do stash my phone/money/keys in here if I’m wanting to leave my purse at home.

Front-front zipper pocket: this is another smaller, flatter pocket that sits in front near the bungees. Great for the husband’s wallet/keys, random kid stuff (“Can you carry this very special sticker and never lose it?”), and even one sippy cup will fit in there.

The Awesome Shoe Compartment: you could totally fit a pair of large adult shoes in here, if you were using this as your school/gym bag. But I use this big bonus pocket for a pullover raincoat, a travel sun hat, a nursing poncho, and a ring sling. That’s a lot of stuff!


Back Pocket: I just found a new pocket! My older version didn’t have this. It’s a flat, tall pocket in the back. You could fit notebooks or larger books (that aren’t too thick) in here, as well as a smaller laptop. 

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I have had good experiences shopping at Diapers.com. We have bought a stroller and a carseat through them, both on sale, using coupon codes and either Bing or eBates for cashback. Great deals! We saved a ton of money. Google “diapers.com coupon code” for deals, and make sure to sign up at either eBates or Bing first (see who’s giving the best rate). They offer fast, free shipping over $49, too. I got my stroller two days after ordering!

They have a referral program, as well. If you use my referral coupon code (SERINA10), you’ll get $10 off your first order of diapers ($49 minimum purchase). I get a $5 credit for each new referral. They have lots of disposable diapers and some cloth. You may be able to stack this coupon with others; try one of the 10% coupons floating around FIRST, then use mine.

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I just had to link to this contest. The Ergo has been one of our most beloved slings in our well-loved collection of babywearing devices. It’s really more of a backpack than a sling, but without all the bulk of a framed backpack. Perfect for hiking or cooking, it distributes the weight of the baby onto your waist (not shoulders!) surprisingly well. And it folds down so small that you can take it anywhere.

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We have been the blessed recipients of some generous hand-me-downs over the years. As I mentioned in my seasonal clothes sorting post, we have never wanted for clothing. Even when I have had to do frequent laundry for a few weeks to make up for a lack of variety, something has always turned up in the end–usually an unexpected bin of hand-me-downs given to us by someone totally unaware of the situation who says something like, “I was just praying about who to give these clothes to, and God brought you to mind.” So awesome!

A few introductory children’s clothing thoughts:

  • I have girls. I’m hoping moms of boys will chime in with their thoughts.
  • If you need to buy new clothing, buying brands that you know will last makes sense. Your younger children will wear them, and you’ll be spending less money in the long run, even if the up-front cost is greater.
  • If you have no one to hand your clothes down to, consider buying brands that are both durable and that re-sell well on eBay. You can recover 40 – 90% of your costs when you buy the right brands and sell them after your child has outgrown them. Some brands are so highly stalked than even the stained stuff sells well!
  • If your budget limits you to used clothing or cheaper new clothing, opt for durable used clothing. You can find good stuff at garage sales, consignment shops, eBay, and the like. When you know which brands to look for, you can buy stuff that will last for a long time, even though it’s used.
  • If you want to add new things to balance your stash of used stuff, consider purchasing affordable new shirts (100% cotton turtlenecks are often cheap and durable) and spending more money on a couple pair of really durable pants.
  • Always consider gender neutral clothes. Then you’ll have something for whatever kids come next.
  • Choose comfort over style. It used to be that all babies wore dress-like gowns for the first three years. It’s easier to change diapers that way, and then regardless of the gender of your next baby, you have a full set to hand down. You might not be ready to dress your little boy in a dress, but choosing simple pants and shirts that just pull on and off (no fussy buckles or endless rows of zippers) will do both you and him a world of good.
  • Dress children like children. I’m firmly against dressing my girls like little adults. When possible, children’s clothing should be comfortable, durable, and fun to wear. Adult clothing is often anything but, and when little kid clothing is cut to mimic that, the resulting fit and look is totally inappropriate for a young child with a soft, round body.
  • Allow clothing independence when appropriate, but exercise your authority when appropriate, too. Let them dress themselves sometimes and keep yourself from re-dressing them to go out to the store, even if they look seemingly ridiculous. But do encourage appropriate respectful dress for, say, church, and don’t let them pick all the clothes you’re going to buy if what they choose is impractical.
  • Have standards, but be practical. Because we get hand-me-downs, we often get clothing that doesn’t follow all the principles I’ve mentioned above. As long as what we have meets modesty standards, I have to be okay with teen-style jeans or frilly, decked-out dresses once in a while. I try to purchase with my money clothing that follows my guidelines, and be grateful for everything else.
  • Avoid logos. Any shirt or clothing item that has a store name, brand name, toy logo, or similar thing on it is generally avoided by me. Even if it’s cheap, you’re paying to be a walking advertisement for that company. Also, the stores that make logo shirts often have clothing that doesn’t last as long as other kinds. This is not always true, but often.
  • Choose clothing with flexible cuts to last for many seasons, even with fast growth. I like cropped pants, capris, long (hip-length) shirts, and raglan sleeves–all styles that allow for growth and are loose enough to fit for a long time without being baggy.
  • I avoid synthetic materials when possible. Polyester anything pills and shows wear quickly, even when blended with cotton. Polyester also holds smells more readily, so that any pants with polyester blends are more prone to stinking (think diaper leaks) even after washing.

I went through my memory and my dressers in search of things that look good and have worn well, and I’ve come up with some general recommendations to offer. There are always exceptions, but you have to start somewhere. Here are the top three clothing brands that I highly recommend:

  • Hanna Andersson – The first outfit that came to mind when I was thinking “durable, cute, and already handed down” was an outfit that I didn’t initially know was a Hanna. It’s a colorful cropped pant/capri and a sleeveless blue shirt with a hip-length cut. Maya has worn this outfit for a whopping three summers in a row (!), and it looks fantastic. It was worn by two sisters in succession prior to being given to us, and you’d never know. Hanna Andersson’s clothing is European in style and sizing, and are designed to fit for a long time (no need to size up) and be handed down. The company is committed to charitable giving and environmental causes. They have quite a few organic cotton clothing lines, including their popular long johns and baby zippers. I love that they have both dressy and everyday play stuff, including lots of gender neutral stuff (which is hard to find after babyhood from other stores). They also have family clothing lines, for parents looking for comfy pajamas or coordinated Christmas outfits. An excerpt from their website:

    “From day one, we’ve let kids be kids. For us that means butter-soft fabrics and energizing colors, comfy shapes that aren’t too tight or too grown-up. And maybe best of all – our long-lasting quality is so terrific that little ones don’t have to be careful about their clothes! What started as a passion for beautiful quality in children’s clothing has grown up into an inspiration that guides the comfort and quality of everything we makes.”

    The clothing can be quite pricey, but there’s always something on sale. Additionally, the Internet buzz is that they have two big sales a year–one in May, and one in December (right after the cut-off date for Christmas shipping)–and a few outlets throughout the country that will ship to you if you call and ask. This fall, I purchased our first Hanna playdresses and leggings (matching ones for the girls, both used off eBay), and we continued to be thrilled with the quality. Maybe someday we’ll actually buy something new from them!

  • Gymboree – I just grabbed a pair of soft cotton leggings that were worn by two sisters in a row, then passed on to us to be worn by Maya and now Ellery. They still look great, with vibrant color, and the knees are only lightly worn. I was surprised to learn that this pair of leggings is “vintage” Gymboree–I didn’t even recognize the logo style at first. This added to my confidence in the brand, as we have quite a few things in our drawers and bins that are Gymboree hand-me-downs. The clothing from this store is really cute and quite durable. They lean to the trendier side of things with some of their lines, but they have some great timeless dresses and leggings every season for both play and church. The baby clothes are sweet and comfortable, and the boys clothes look nice, too. (Anyone want to comment on the durability of boy clothing from Gymboree?) The two best things about Gymboree, in my opinion, are their large selection of cotton leggings and their frequent sales. If you get on their email mailing list, you’ll be notifed of all of their sales ahead of time, including their “Friends & Family” sales that are 30% everything in the store or online and are not widely advertised. They also have their Gymbucks program, which earns you money to spend on their clothes during specified sale periods. And, for the holidays, they have $5 shipping online! We’ve worn a lot of used Gymboree clothing and it’s all been great. We just bought our first new Gymboree item today–Maya’s Christmas dress–and it’s just darling.
  • Carter’s – I just realized that we have a ton of Carter’s stuff (probably more than any other brand), and it all looks great. The company makes clothes from newborn through size 7, and is known for its great outlet stores. We received a lot of Carter’s baby stuff new at showers and used from friends, and it holds up very well to the many washings that baby clothes go through. A lot of their stuff is 100% cotton, but some of their baby footies have a small amount of polyester blended in, so watch out if you want to avoid that. (I make sure that an all-cotton onesie or undershirt protects my kids’ skin from polyester blends, as they’re both really sensitive to synthetics.) Though they’re known for baby clothes, I love the hand-me-downs we’ve received in bigger sizes. They’re super cute, and the knit is very sturdy.

I know there are a lot of clothing brands out there that are durable, but these three really stood out above the rest. If I was to recommend four, my next company would be Old Navy, but I wouldn’t consider them as high caliber as the other three, especially in terms of durability. We have a lot of Old Navy stuff, and some of it looks fantastic while other items didn’t even last through one child. They do have a great online shop, good sales, cheap shipping, and a wide selection of maternity clothing. If you’re lucky enough to live in a state that has Meijer, they sell a few cheap brands (Kiks is one, I think) that have lasted well for us. The Children’s Place has been a bit sketchy for us; the hand-me-downs we’ve gotten are of variable quality, and the few new things I’ve bought at their great sales haven’t been as sturdy as I like. (They do have some very colorful comfy stuff, though, if you can weed through the teeny bopper stuff.)

In general, jeans are sturdy things, no matter what brands. The exceptions are the cheaper brands that are noticeably thinner, like they’re jean-colored but barely denim. If you can find out the weight, you’ll know that 12 oz. denim and higher is usually pretty durable.

I’d love to hear your thoughts: what brands do you love? What hand-me-downs are your favorites?

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Men may want to skip this one.

Have you tried The Keeper? Or its silicone cousin, the Diva Cup? I’ve been using my Keeper for a couple of years now, and I love it. It’s so much handier, healthier, and more effective than anything I was using before. When my period hits, all I need is my little rubber cup. (And, because I’m weird-shaped and have a very heavy flow, I wear a pad for back-up. But lots of women don’t.) I save money, and I don’t worry about TSS anymore.

(But then, I use cloth menstrual pads sometimes, too. It took me years of using cloth diapers to even consider that. If this all hits you as a bit odd, take a breath, let the idea simmer, and consider it again in a few months. You’ll be glad you did.)

If you already use tampons, using a Keeper is an easy step. Questions? Post away.

Click here to read the original comments to this post, which contain further opinions, questions, and reviews.

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