With summer in the rearview mirror and winter still a few months away, here are some extremely useful items that you'll be able to use all year 'round.
– Calamityware (Calamityware)
Besides bringing a little whimsy and art to your dinner table, these fantastical porcelain plates (the company also makes fabric, paper products, and gift cards) will also serve as conversation starters. While these plates, mugs, and other dishware have a traditional-looking blue and white color scheme, a deeper look will reveal that they're anything but traditional. Featuring the work of artist Don Moyer, they're covered with depictions of sea monster creatures, giant robots, frogs, and other creatures from sci-fi – all gentle reminders that no matter how bad things are in your own life, it could always get worse. Dishwasher and microwave safe, they are as functional as they are interesting. While they aren't cheap ($42 for each plate, for example), they make your table a more fun place to dine. Check out all the options at https://calamityware.com
– Safe Home and Safe Home Pro Drinking Water Test Kits (EnviroTestKits)
Given that about 60 percent of the human body is made up of water and that we use it for cooking, washing, and more, water is clearly pretty important stuff. But doesn't it seem as though there are stories every week about yet another community (aside from Flint, Mich.) that has lead, chemicals, or other nasty gunk in the water? EnviroTestKits makes a full line of home kits that allow you to test your water for metals, organic contaminants, and bacteria in one of North America's largest EPA-certified labs. After you choose your kit and collect your sample (from your tap or even a well), you either send it to the lab or do the test at h home (for bacteria). The results you receive will empower you to make the most appropriate decisions for your family. For example, you might want to install a water-treatment or filtration system or disinfect your well system, among other solutions. The kits are easy to use (collection takes only about a minute and is all but foolproof). Once you're feeling confident that your family's water is clean, you'll be able to save money by drinking tap water instead of buying bottled water. For more information, visit http://envirotestkits.com/drinking-water-test-kits/
– HandsOn Gloves (HandsOn Gloves)
If you've got a pet – especially one that sheds – HandsOn Gloves will help keep your home cleaner and may even help with your allergies. Some dogs and cats don't mind being brushed, but others hate it. These gloves make the whole process feel like petting, which should make it easier to get your animal to cooperate. You can do your gloving dry or in the water at bath time. And they're unique enough that your kids may actually offer to help take care of their pet, like they promised to. But, besides being convenient, these gloves really work, taking off huge amounts of unwanted, excess fur with no pain or struggling. These gloves are good for all hair types, although with very long-haired pets you might want to supervise the kiddos so they don't create knots (as with any brushing). They're made with hypo-allergenic, bio-friendly components that are safe for humans and animals, and come in a wide variety of sizes and a more limited variety of colors. Priced around $24. https://handsongloves.com
– Cherry Computer Keyboards (Cherry)
If you've got a laptop, you know how hard it is to set up an ergonomic workspace, where both the monitor and the keyboard are at the optimal height (the epidemic of neck injuries and carpal tunnel syndrome is in part caused by poor computer setup). Cherry makes a huge line of sturdy, well-designed, attractive stand-alone keyboards (and other input devices) that can be a big help. Pick from wired or wireless, spill-proof, and other options. Your neck and arms will thank you. Prices vary. More info at http://cherryamericas.com/
(Armin and Samantha are the authors of the popular parenting blogs: http://www.mrdad.com and http://www.havesippywilltravel.com.
For more reviews of toys and games, visit http://www.parentsatplay.com/)