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June 7, 2016 / bethanyshondark

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May 1, 2016 / bethanyshondark

What’s On Our Toy Shelves 


Been a while since I did one of these posts.

About a year ago I convinced Seth to box up almost all of our books to bring to the attic so we would actually have living space (I think there’s almost 90 banker’s boxes up there now). We kept the two smallest bookshelves downstairs and, in keeping with a lot of what I saw in Montessori groups, I filled the shelves with toys. It helps with organization and helps kids see what’s available better.

I try to have as many wooden toys as possible. Here’s what my kids (2.5 and 13 months) are playing with these days. Many of the toys pictured here and that are elsewhere in the apartment were handed down by my amazing and like minded cousin Lori. When I can link to where they’re available I will (it’s a combo of amazon and etsy).

The top shelf of both bookcases are books and a few odds and ends.

Going from left to right: a Melissa & Doug clock shape sorter. My son is really good with puzzles like this and my daughter not so much, so they both get a lot of use out of this.

The rest of the shelf is puzzles (details on which below.)

On the bottom shelf I have a Melissa and Doug shape sequence sorter (thanks Bubby and Zeiyde), two ikea toys: a stacker and nesting cups, a Melissa and Doug shape pattern block puzzle, and a Noah’s ark shape sorter (neither of my kids have ever been interested in this much, I think I’ll phase it out for another toy soon).

On the floor in the bag are Melissa and Doug shape construction vehicles (thanks Erica and Scott!) On the floor on the far left is a Hape ball roller derby set we got for my son’s first birthday that he really enjoys.

On the floor there’s an activity cube I got on sale on Woot I think, $60 or so. In the basket are a combination of blocks, mostly Uncle Goose. I have Hebrew ones and English ones. My friend MK got the English ones as a baby gift from their website with my son’s first and middle name. They’re great and American-made.

On the middle shelf I have two different Melissa and Doug stacking cubes, the one on the far right came with matching cars (thanks Scott & Erica!).

Also on the middle shelf are Green Toys stacking cups (great in the bath but my kids kept drinking bath water with them), a 3-piece puzzle with giant knobs (thanks Alan and Cheryl!) that’s perfect developmentally for my son, a magnetic alphabet drawing toy (thanks Lori!), a puzzle book from Lori that’s half in German that I’ve never seen anywhere, and a musical bus.

On the bottom shelf there’s a mallet ball maze, a four shape puzzle that my son loves by Hape (they made a lot of our toys), a Hape shape train is in front of that on the floor, a cube Melissa and Doug puzzle that’s very cool — there’s a half dozen kinds of vehicles on each side, when you successfully match the front and back half it makes the sound of the vehicle (boat, ambulance, etc), and a Melissa and Doug latch board Lori got my son for his birthday and he is obsessed with opening and closing the doors (he can’t manipulate the latches yet).

I keep a small basket of more baby-ish toys on the floor as well, with a few babyish books. There’s a lot of musical things, texture balls, and a few teething objects. My son loves balls and the alligator push toy. There’s a Green Toys shape sorter and a Sophie the giraffe teether that everyone has so I figured I needed it. I didn’t, my kids never used it.

Also in the picture is a doll baby carrier my daughter wears so she can “babywear” like me. I got an elephant pattern, natch. A woman on Etsy specially made it.

Here’s the puzzles we have on the first bookshelf. Lori gifted us the Hebrew and animal ones. I got the shape one and vehicle one off of a woman on a swap meet group in town.

I had puzzles made by a woman on Etsy with my kids’ names. I don’t post their names on the internet but both have the letter A so I turned them over to show that detail. I got the lacing toy from a woman on Etsy as well, and the Hape stacking ring toy was a big favorite of my daughter’s but is still a bit of a reach for my son.

January 17, 2016 / bethanyshondark

Ultimate Baby Registry recommendations

Written for a friend having twins, minus the newborn stuff, which I’ve previously written on.


Car seats: The Clek is best on the market but insanely expensive. You can rear-face for an extended amount of time, which is ideal til age 3-4 (but really as long as they will let you do it without freaking out. Here’s some cool science on why rear-facing is best/safest if possible.

This is another great option for half the cost. Also allows for extended rear-facing.

This is what we have because we’re poor and cheap with a small car. The best American seat on the market, again, great for extended rear-facing.

Strollers: This is the stroller we have and it’s great for lots of walking, good strong wheels for city streets and a big underbasket. It’s big to go in a trunk but can be taken apart so the biggest part is just the wheels. The biggest downside is it’s heavy.

This is a great lightweight stroller for jogging or traveling.

The boring necessities:

Crib sheets: Aden & Anais (x6). This is plain white, they have tons of cute patterns.

Car mirror, window shade, seat protector from the car seats (so your seats don’t get jacked)

Changing pad, wipes dispenser

Medical stuff:

Snot sucker, thermometer, Motrin, Benadryl, the mother of diaper cream (I only use it with a bad rash), nail clipper, Pedialyte powder,


A key theory of Montessori and toys is less is more. Less is more encourages kids to value the toys they have, treat them with respect, and not get overwhelmed at the options.

Also: no batteries, sounds, etc and keep the plastic to a minimum. This is a great short piece Seth recently published on optimal toys that encourage the use of imagination. I really could go on and on about this and provide a ton of research and interesting reading (and I would be happy to), but I am passionate about keeping beeping, buzzing, light up toys to an absolute minimum and to have toys that don’t have just one function – that they are able to use their imagination to turn their toys do anything they want.

To organize toys, I recommend this Ikea system (get two or three). A toy in each box and rotate them around.

Busy bags and other stuff from the same Etsy shop, reusable sticker books

Musical instruments: Ukulele, assorted sounds, tambourine, percussion eggs, drum, maracas, other percussion instruments

Small items, great for inside the Ikea shelves: Magnetic alphabet writing, pattern blocks, wooden blocks, fishing game, latches boards, nesting blocks, geometric shape stacker, blocks, play foods for color sorting and playing,  shape sorting cupcakes, ramp racer, coin box, string along shapes, shape sorter, dancing walking alligator

Bigger ticket items: Walk along puppy, dollhouse, Magnatiles, play cube, toy kitchen, walking toy, work bench

Kitchen items: egg beater (great for mixing anything), knives good for soft items like tomatoes, another knife that’s good for harder stuff like carrots and celery, LeapFrog alphabet magnets (for the fridge)

Bath toys: boats (Green toys makes a few great ones), hooded towels

Some favorite books: Dear Zoo, Press Here, Anything Mo Willems, Anything Eric Carle, Go Dog Go, Put Me In The Zoo, Hand Hand Finger Thumb, Open the Barn Door, Big Dog Little Dog series by PD Eastman, Give a Mouse a Cookie

July 6, 2015 / bethanyshondark

My Advice to My Pregnant Friends

Perhaps because I’m so outspoken about pregnancy and childbirth, I’m often one of the first people many friends tell when they’re pregnant. I’ve rewritten this email enough times so I’ve decided to just blog this advice.

Pregnancy books

I don’t recommend What to Expect When You’re Expecting. It will drive you nuts. I swear it gave me symptoms I didn’t already have. The only two books I found helpful were:

Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn: This is the smart woman’s version of What to Expect. It also has a great section with some real talk on childbirth. It was the only book of the dozen I bought about pregnancy that I kept for the next time around.

Expecting Better: What the hell is behind all of those recommendations your provider gave you? Seriously no sushi? Seriously not even a glass of wine the whole nine months? How do French babies not come out with three heads if that’s true?

An honorable mention goes to the Ina May books on childbirth and breastfeeding. I found them a bit too positive and upbeat while birth loomed as this scary unknown, but I can appreciate them now on the other end of it.


I’m big into natural childbirth. I took a Bradley Method class with Tanya Wills with Manhattan Birth in NYC which I could not more highly recommend. Bradley classes are offered around the country, you can search for one local to you here. The book is also helpful.

On doulas, I recommend getting a good one. If you’re in Central NJ I loved Dorothy from Your Best Birth. Worth every penny. And a good doula is often a pretty penny. My best friend from high school Morgane is an amazing doula in Brooklyn and elsewhere in NYC and has a great FAQ on her website about what she does, and why they’re so expensive. Here’s some great info on the evidence behind doulas.

Other resources:

The Business of Being Born (I’m a big fan of the critical look on the technological overtaking of birth, but she’s not balanced enough on home birth and the differences between the types of midwives, who it’s best for, etc), Evidence Based Birth, Improving Birth and the Unnecesearean.


Before you give birth have your local La Leche League leader’s number available. Go to a meeting beforehand if you can as well.

KellyMom is a great resource on everything breastfeeding, as is the iPhone app LactMed for figuring out what medications are safe while breastfeeding.

If you are getting your breastpump through your insurance, I recommend Yummy Mummy in NYC. I had a very easy experience with them. They deliver nationwide.

Maternity gear

I blogged this a while ago. I’m still a big fan of the bra extenders, belly band to extend the life of your pants, candied ginger, unisom and Old Navy jersey skirt.


On car seats I recommend reading Car Seats for the Littles and their Facebook group. Warning that the Facebook group women can be kind of militant and not very nice if you don’t do exactly as they say. Here’s some science behind why rear-facing seats (seats that face the back of the car) are safest until at least two years old, preferably longer to age four. Two words: internal decapitation.  (The stuff on Sweden is interesting, also)

It’s worth spending money on a good carrier. I’m a fan of Catbird Baby myself, but it’s very much a personal choice based on baby and body type of parent(s) and baby, and needs (if you don’t plan on babywearing past infancy, if you have a bad back, etc).

Strollers are another personal choice. The Baby Guy NYC has a ton of video reviews on YouTube and I recommend actually going to the store to pick one out based, again, on your needs (do you walk a lot? do you need to traverse city streets or put it in your trunk?) If you have a car and a car seat that allows for it, having a snap and go stroller is a must, however.

July 5, 2015 / bethanyshondark

Our Favorite Toddler Toys/Activities (Around 18-24 Months)

1. iPhone

Oh the high hopes I had about keeping my kid(s) screen free. Sigh. Her favorite apps are:

YouTube Kids and BusyShapes

2. Scout


My toddler is probably a pretty normal toddler in that she loves music. This doll (which comes in girly colors too) plays music that you can program specific to your kid. You can choose their favorite songs, program in their name (my daughter’s name is mispronounced by Scout, which drives me nuts), and their favorite color, food, etc. Scout saves me from having to sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” dozens of times per day.
Thanks, Scout.



3. Learning Tower

My daughter has a version of this learning tower sold on Amazon that my neighbor made (Google “Ikea learning tower hack”). It helps her get to the sink and the countertops and participate in a lot of kitchen activities.

Child labor ftw! #montessori

A photo posted by Bethany Mandel (@bethanyshondark) on

4. Her own table

This isn’t really a toy, but we gave up on high chairs and booster seats long ago. Now we both sit at her own table, where we eat and “work” (do Montessori exercises like the one below)

#montessori pouring activity keeping Scott's paper towels in business.

A video posted by Bethany Mandel (@bethanyshondark) on

And cook:

Working on learning how to crack an egg. She did one of those in that bowl. #montessori

A photo posted by Bethany Mandel (@bethanyshondark) on

We got it from Ikea.

5. Family Magnets

There’s a ton of activities to do with this related to sorting. Sorting by gender, by family, by couples, by age. I made them on Shutterfly. Took a while and was a bit expensive but it’s proving to be a great activity for her while I’m cooking.

Thanks for the inspiration @luccee24!!

A photo posted by Bethany Mandel (@bethanyshondark) on

Outdoor items:

6. Gardening

As I mentioned in my last post on baby items, I’m into Montessori lately. I’m not totally Montessori (see: the electronic stuff above), but I try to integrate it into our lives as much as possible. My daughter loves to garden and water her plants. This is a great planter for my budding green thumb.

Watering our little garden.

A photo posted by Bethany Mandel (@bethanyshondark) on

7. Sidewalk chalk

Enough said:

My artist.

A photo posted by Bethany Mandel (@bethanyshondark) on

8. Sprinkler

The first time she used this sprinkler she was skeptical. She still doesn’t run in it as often as I feel like she should given her carefree spirit and love of water, but if she sure does love to watch it.

Summer joy.

A photo posted by Bethany Mandel (@bethanyshondark) on

9. Water & sand table

I shopped carefully for this one, reading as many reviews as I could to get the most bang for my buck. We often host playdates in our backyard and this is a favorite of everyone who comes over. I get the sand from my local flower shop.

10. Pool

The sides on this pool are a bit too high to let the kids climb in and out by themselves, but it’s big enough for playdates at our place. Don’t forget to get a manual pump.

July 2, 2015 / bethanyshondark

My Most Favorite Baby Things II

With my second pregnancy and baby I drastically decreased the number of must-haves in my life. I bought few maternity clothes (it helped I wasn’t in an office setting this time) and don’t use that many gadgets or devices. I’m still breastfeeding, cloth diapering, and co-sleeping; cutting down on bottles, formula gadgets, diapers, bassinets, etc. There have been a few items this second time around that have been indispensable:

1. A Good Carrier

With my first daughter I had two carriers: a Moby wrap for when she was young and a Mei Tei Babyhawk wrap once she could hold her head up. Both were good, but annoying to tie and would slip/loosen over time. I heard great things about the Catbird baby carrier, and as a plus, it can fit a newborn, which many buckle carriers don’t. It’s been, hands down, the most important piece of baby equipment in my life. My son has severe reflux and torticollis and needs to be upright, so I wear him every waking minute.

Another plus is the hood, which is great while I’m leaning over (which I do a lot of with a toddler) to hold his head, cooking or out in the sun or rain.

I bought my toddler her own baby carrier because she loves to copy everything I do with her “babies.”


photo (27)


2. Ikea all the things

Since having my daughter I’ve become much more into Montessori. As I learned about learning methods as my first grew, I decided that Montessori made the most sense for our family and it’s worked out really well. Before she was born I did a lot of baby shopping for things that were made of plastic and had flashing lights and color. This time around I knew I wanted as much wood as possible in the toys, no electric stuff and generally very basic. Ikea has a lot of great items along these lines.



The above is the baby gym (my baby is not pictured, it’s an Ikea stock photo) that runs for under $30, and they also have wooden stacking cups, hammering blocks, stacking rings, a magnetic crane, and a shape sorter. Each toy is less than $15 and most are under $10. They are simple, sturdy and well-made.

3. Gas drops

As I mentioned, he’s got some serious reflux issues. These gas drops are one of the best things I’ve used with him. They never worked with my daughter but man oh man do they work with my son. We never would have tried them had a friend not gifted hers to us when her son outgrew them.

4. Latched Mama nursing clothes

Normally I double up on shirts when I’m nursing in public to minimize boob exposure. My daughter was born in October, so I didn’t mind this method, as I was doing it in the winter. With my son, born in March, I’m doing the heavy lifting of nursing the first six months during the summer and it’s just unbearable to do the two shirt method (one up, one down). A friend posted about these Latched Mama tank tops and they are just amazing. I would never normally spend $20 on a tank top (I am so, so cheap) but these are worth it.


May 15, 2015 / bethanyshondark

My Statement at the Freundel Sentencing Hearing

I remember when I was converting you would obsessively talk about another rabbi, Tropper, who made his converts exchange their bodies for their conversion papers. No matter how you manipulated us, you would use Tropper to illustrate how lucky we were to be with you instead. At least we didn’t have to have sex with a creepy old white guy to become Jewish. Now we know you aren’t any better. You made us exchange our bodies, our dignity, and for many, our love and trust in Judaism and its religious leaders in exchange for our conversions.

When you would tell us about Tropper and many other sexual deviants you were preparing us for life in an imperfect Jewish community. We now know that there are many other sick, perverted supposed Torah scholars walking the streets. Often Jewish authorities brush these stories under the rug, like Catholics did before they couldn’t deny priestly sex abuse stories any longer.

This case doesn’t just affect 152 victims. It affects the entire Jewish community and future victims of sex crimes at the hands of rabbis. Will they think it’s worth it to come forward? Will they feel safe? If you get off lightly today, I fear what will happen the next time a rabbi is exposed as a deviant.

By exposing you the synagogue, the mikvah and innocent people who volunteer at both in turn exposed themselves to lawsuits. If another crime takes place in another synagogue or mikvah, will those authorities choose to come forward and risk litigation? That depends on how seriously the court takes your actions.

Knowing you, you probably think you’re entitled to get off today lightly. That it wasn’t that bad, what you did to us. That’s the impression I get, anyway, considering the fact that you didn’t even do any of us the courtesy of an apology in your statement to the court asking for leniency.

In that statement you also quoted five women expressing their confusion and hurt over your arrest in a section of your defence memo entitled “Internet Posting of Women Congregants of Rabbi Freundel.” I’m not sure why you thought you’d get away with that (or why you’d get away with any of this, for that matter).     (Note: I wrote more on this for the Forward)

I spoke to four of those five women, one of whom had never even met you or been to Washington. You took their words, written on random Facebook walls immediately following your arrest completely out of context. I spoke to four of them and each said that had you bothered asking if you could put their names and statements in the public record in your defence, even anonymously, they wouldn’t have let you. They are livid that you involved them in this matter at all. With your defence memo all you accomplished was expanding the web you’ve created of people you have victimized.

Even in your request for leniency from the court, you violated more women. You won’t stop. You’re a sociopath. Despite the utter humiliation you’ve faced, you appear to feel no shame. You brought more on yourself when you refused to vacate the residence the shul provided for you for thirty years. It was another slap in the face to a community that enabled you to build your career from nothing. Another slap in the face to everyone you hurt. You won’t stop until you are forced to.

That is why I ask the court to heed the sentencing recommendation of the prosecution. This man is a danger to women in the Jewish community. He has the opportunity to offend again. If he is trusted to teach Torah, as his defense memo says he is, he has the means to reoffend. Please protect us from this man, who cares for nothing and nobody except his own perverted pleasure.