App-tastic Board Gaming with Mansions of Madness

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It’s not every day you run into a game that manages to answer all your concerns, no matter which ones come up.


I present Mansions of Madness (MoM): Second Edition, a Lovecraftian-themed cooperative adventure game filled with horror and mystery.

What concerns did I have when I had first heard about this game and took into account the issues the 1st edition had?

  • When you have one player be the bad guy and the rest as the protagonists, it’s a weird issue of wanting to give them a good challenge and beat them, but if you do beat them, it can feel quite frustrating and pointless after having spent all that time playing. And, for a story-based game, it becomes doubly frustrating not getting the satisfaction of seeing how things end and play out.
  • This game seems to have a lot of miniatures and pieces and maps and clues and on and on. As a parent, I can barely etch out an hour here or there to play a board game; I loathe to have to spend that entire hour just setting up the game.

I want a fun story-centric epic game with emergent gameplay, but (cough cough parent cough), I have so little time to get through some of the longer campaigns that, while those offer the most theme and impact, are also impossible to pull off in a single, short setting.

Guess what? MoM answers all these questions in one fell swoop: they introduced an app.

This is still relatively new territory, companioning board games with apps, but XCOM pulled it off pretty darn well, and Fantasy Flight Games have taken things up a notch since then with this game’s app. It handles everything for you.

MoM App: “Hey Ahmad, worried about being the bad guy and balancing out the gameplay and fun? Here, let me take care of that for you. I’ll be the dungeon master. You guys just enjoy the game!”

Ahmad: “Thanks MoM! Oh man, what about the setup? This is going to take forev-“

“Shh, there there. Don’t worry about it. You just pick the scenario and characters, hit start on me and I will whisk you away to a magical, narrative wonderland-, er, well technically nightmare (this is a Lovecraft game after all). Anyways, no crazy setup required. Just put down a couple tiles here and there and we’ll add more as the story requires.”

“Dang, that’s really sweet of you MoM. How long will this campaign take? It says it could be a couple hours here on the box. Maybe even longer? What if we can’t finish the game tonight?”

“Psst, just look at this button right here: Save. Yes, crazy, right? You can save your progress, pack everything up and then just pick things up again another night, right from where you left off.”

“Wow. Just, wow.”

I haven’t even explained to you what this game is about yet. In a nutshell, this game has you playing as investigators and working together to solve spooky, eerie mysteries. Dripping with theme, most actions you perform are narrated by the app, providing flavor text, sound effects and a soundtrack to boot. Meanwhile, even if you manage to not get physically killed by the monsters you’re bound to fight along the way, you’ll be lucky if the horrors you face don’t actually cause at least one of your characters to go insane.

The best part about all this? With an app, it’s going to be so easy for them to give us new stories and scenarios. The replayability is so promising and full of potential. Get this game now!

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Babahood – Feed, Pray, Love

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This is going to be a “why didn’t anyone tell us this before” kind of tip. Also, please keep in mind that your mileage may vary since, as with anything baby-related, each baby is different and will react and grow at their own pace.


At just about four months, Eisa was absolutely obsessed with watching us (especially his mother) eat. I don’t know that I can emphasize that enough. Eyes wide, mouth agape. You know how in cartoons they depict starving people hallucinating others turning into food? It was like that, but he was turning the food into just more food.

I, in my infinite wisdom as a baba of four months, quoted some of the online scriptures that said he was too young and to hold off solid foods until a month or so later.

I forgot the cardinal rule: each baby is different. I basically ignored what my little one wanted for that whole month until I finally gave in. Poor lil’ guy was so confused, frustrated and missing out on all that extra nutrition.

For the next two months after that, we tried the standard way of introducing new foods bit by bit, spoon-feeding him (or trying to) fruit and vegetable purees and so on. It was a crapshoot; sometimes he liked it and sometimes he refused. Also, it was pretty stressful.

I’m sure this is all sounding familiar to most parents. What we didn’t know was possible though was something my wife learned through a book called Baby-led Weaning. The author advocated giving your baby food that they can manipulate and work with their own two hands and ultimately feed themselves. Instead of pureed apple, give them apple quarters. Instead of boring ol’ mush, give her whole peaches (without the pit), carrot sticks, or, best of all: a meaty chicken drumstick. Eisa loves him some drumsticks. He’ll work through the meat and gnaw away at the bone for ages in the most adorable way.

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Warning: This style of feeding is super messy! But, aren’t they all?

I know what you’re thinking because I still think it: isn’t he going to choke on those big pieces, or on the stuff he can’t eat? It’s the miracle of babies. They eat what they can and spit out the rest. I know it sounds too good to be true, but it amazes me every time I watch him eat a peach, for example. I give him the whole fruit, and he starts working his way through it (with only two bottom teeth to his name), eating chunks and spitting out the skin. With chicken, he’ll toss out the cartilage like it’s nothing. They have a very sensitive and defined gag reflex that protects them.

Granted, you really have to remember not to react negatively when they do gag and make odd noises; overreacting will scare the child, so trust in them and their body to do what’s natural.

Life is so much simpler and so much more enjoyable. He eats with us at meal time and, except for minor adjustments in spices and flavor, eats the same food as us. And we don’t have to manage each and every bite. We just put the food on his tray and he goes to town, holding pieces in both hands and stuffing his face like a pro.

Honestly, after witnessing him for the past month eating like this, I don’t understand how it isn’t common sense. Why be force-fed and spoon-fed boring stuff when you can eat at your own pace, with your own two hands, and enjoy every bite?

Also, a nomenclature note: it’s not weaning in the sense of stopping breastfeeding; it’s more a UK term in this case referring to adding solid foods. It’s really “Baby Self-Feeding”.

To learn all about it as we did, you have to get this book. It outlines everything you need to know, plus gives you a whole array of useful recipes. The Baby-led Weaning Cookbook: Over 130 delicious recipes for the whole family to enjoy by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett

Bon appétit!

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Got an informal meeting planned and nowhere to go? We’ve got options.


Le Meridien Al Khobar Hotel

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This is a classic choice. At any point in time you’ll find groups of people sitting at the Latitude 26 cafe in the lobby, working away at their laptops or having animated discussions.
They’re either consultants having a pow-wow as they tackle one of their endless tasks, or they’re business owners and clients having an informal business meeting about future collaborations and projects. The cafe simply oozes business.

Location: Prince Turki St., Khobar
Tel: +966-13-8969000
Web: lemeridienalkhobar.com

Acoustic Tea LoungeAcousticCafe_Khobar_2015_AA-25

Are you working in a more creative capacity? Know that even where you meet your client speaks volumes about your personality and spark. So bring them to Acoustic Tea Lounge and you’ll have earned yourself an instant good first impression. The art, the serene atmosphere, the elegant drinks; it all comes together to set the perfect mood for you to pitch something beautiful and creative.

Location: Prince Faisal Bin Fahd St., Khobar
Tel: +966-13-8823760
Web: acoustic-tealounge.com
Instagram: acoustictealounge

Conferencia CafeConferenciaCafe_Khobar_2016_AA-22

This place has got a café, restaurant, business center and a small range of conference room sizes. Informal or formal, small gathering or full-on workshop, you are totally covered.

Location: Makkah St., Khobar
Tel: +966-13-8968456
Mob: +966-535551200
Web: conferenciacafe.com
Instagram: conferenciacafe

InterContinental Al JubailIntercontinentalHotel_Khobar_2016_AA-2

This is another excellent hotel lobby option with comfy chairs and refreshing coffee, but it’s got the added feature of being right on the beach; perfect for when you need a break from your meeting to stretch your legs and get some brisk sea air to inspire you.

Location: 101 St., Jubail
Tel: +966-13-3564000
Web: intercontinental.com/AlJubail

Movenpick HotelMovenpickHotel_Khobar_2016_AA-4

Let’s face it, hotel lobbies are great for doing business and the Movenpick is no exception. Comfy chairs for those long meetings, a café with a decent spread of finger foods to keep your discussions fueled and a calm ambience to keep away any distractions.MovenpickHotel_Khobar_2016_AA-7

Location: King Faisal Rd., Khobar
Tel: +966-13-8984999
Web: movenpick.com/Al-Khobar

Dallat AlfarisDallat_alFaris_Khobar_2016_AA-9

This place is new on our radar and it offers an affordable option for renting rooms for your informal meetings. What’s different about them is that in addition to a private room with table and chairs, they offer cozier Arabic-seating-style nooks for that extra touch of culture. Refreshments included.

Location: Prince Sultan bin Fahd Rd., Khobar
Tel: +966-535144406
Web:dallatalfaris.com
Instagram: DallatAlfaris

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Emergent Boardgaming: Where Stories Come From

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You know what I love about boardgaming? The stories that emerge from the gameplay. In this article, I wanted to shine a brief boardgaming-shaped light on a term that’s usually reserved for video games: emergent gameplay.

Emergent gameplay is what happens when you have a game with simple mechanics and rules mixed with very light, broad strokes of a story or narrative, thereby allowing the players to generate their own stories themselves. Think Minecraft, the Civilization games or even the rebooted X-COM games. It’s all about the impromptu and unplanned stories that you create from your unique sessions and experiences.

This happens all the time in boardgames and it’s what sticks with me every time. Several types of games will bring this out in spades:

Deception Games:
We’re talking your Resistance, Mafia, Coup, Battlestar Galactica and so on. The interactions between people in these games, especially thanks to hidden traitors, is pure conflict. Any story throughout all of time that’s worth its salt is built upon conflict.
Cosmic Encounters:
I am giving this game its own category because, honestly, it deserves it. No other game creates scenarios and stories quite like this one. The rules are super simple, but the game-breaking powers that each player gets creates such a storm of imbalances, alliances, backstabbing and power struggles, you will end up with a deliciously messed-up space opera by the time someone emerges the victor.
Thematic Games:
Picture games such as Pandemic Legacy, Dead of Winter, Robinson Crusoe and Star Wars: Rebellion. We’re talking games dripping with theme. Sure, they might have some semblance of story, but the way you play it turns it into something utterly personal and distinctive. I’ve got a couple of quick tales to that effect:
  • In Dead of Winter, a friend of mine had a ninja as one of his characters. At one point, his ninja came upon a horse that he could either turn into valuable food for our desperately starving colony, or he could keep it and become a badass ranger ninja that can travel anywhere and kill anything without penalty. He made his obvious choice, morale dropped and it eventually cost us the game, but to this day he defends his decision.
  • Just this month, a friend and I were playing our fifth session of Pandemic Legacy. We decided that, even though the region was a powder keg waiting to happen, I had to risk going into Asia to fix a few issues, landing in a relatively safe Osaka.
    The only threat would be if we drew an Epidemic Card (not a rare occurrence) followed by a Tokyo card (extremely rare), resulting in an outbreak. I even said the immortal words: “What are the odds of that happening? It’s one card in an entire deck of countries, and even then it has to be the bottom-most one!”IMG_20160611_001751 (1)Crap. My character was scarred after that and became paranoid (an actual game mechanic), forever reminded of the time she foolishly went into dangerous territory and flaunted fate.

I’m only able to squeeze a couple of stories here, but let me know your emergent boardgaming tales! I guarantee you that no two will ever be alike.


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Babahood: Happy Babas’ Day!

Photo Credits: marcweisberg.com

I’ve never been one to ask for what I want, to really know what that is and to simply ask for it. When Father’s Day came around this month and my wife asked me, “what do you want to do? What do you want this day to mean?” I was stumped. It didn’t even occur to me that this day should now mean something new to me.

Son, if you ever read this when you’re older, take this article as my attempt at asking for what I want this day.

  • Gifts: nothing stereotypical please, unless you’re doing it ironically. And, at seven months old right now, I don’t think irony is a developmental milestone for you quite yet. Basically, no ties, cufflinks, shaving equipment, etc. Your mother saves your poop diapers for me to clean up, so I expect a little thought in my gifts as recompense. (After saying all that, I swear if you give me a diaper for a gift… sigh, who am I kidding. I’d be so proud.)
  • Whatever routine or ritual we come up with, no matter how silly, let’s keep that going for as long as possible! Just the other day someone showed me the #cheeriochallenge (stacking cheerios on your kid’s head while they’re sleeping). That seems a prime contender at the moment, even though I only managed six before it toppled and woke you up. Let’s workshop this.
  • Carte blanche on all the dad jokes I make. Granted, I’m gonna do dad jokes all year long, but on Father’s Day you have to high-five me for each one.

You know what? I’m sure we’ll figure it out together. This article started out as asking for what I want and what this day means to me.

What I want is what I have: a beautiful relationship with my boy, filled with love and laughter.

What it means to me is, at least for this very first one that I’m celebrating, something very specific and overdue:

To my own father, I can’t possibly thank you enough for everything you’ve given me. We never did a lot on this day and the gifts have been severely lacking, but as cliché as this is, it really isn’t until I was a parent that I realized how much I took for granted. How exhausting we must’ve been!

Thank you for giving me what you didn’t have: nearly four decades of a father’s love and guidance. That’s really what we want to do as dads, to give our sons more than what we’d had. After everything you’ve given me, it’s going to be tough giving even more to my son, but it’ll be fun to try. I love you, daddio.


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Babahood: A Six-Month Snapshot

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Son, I want you to know how things are at this point in your life. It’s more a snapshot of now, rather than a recap of the past, which  could honestly fill a book. For fellow dads, I’ve provided links to recommended products and parenthetical tips throughout.

The one thought that persists in your parents’ minds and is shared at least once a day:

You are the most beautiful, smart and ridiculously manipulative (without ill intent) creature we’ve ever met and we couldn’t love anything else in this world more.

Of chompers and chomp-ees

One of your teeth just broke through, after you endured a good two to three months of annoyance and pain. (Dads, get the Sophie giraffe or any rubber teething toy for pain relief. The white part of green onion stalks will do just as well in a pinch.)

Since month four, you’ve been noticing food outside of your mother’s breast milk. Well, actually you stare with equal parts craving, wonder and incredulity. As if sacred mana came to us from above and we’re spitefully not sharing it with you.

So, guilt-stricken but excited, we’ve started feeding you a range of fruits and sweet potatoes, even some yogurt. You love it all as long as you have absolute control of the spoon and also have most of the food in your hands and on your face; otherwise we get a very stern yelling at. (This is an excellent and thorough article about what foods to try and when).

By the by, you do this shake when you’re pooping; it’s the funniest thing on the face of the planet.

The Many Modes of Transportation

You mastered crawling over the past month and it has evolved into climbing, hence our need to lower your crib mattress and playpen. Your mom and I had a nice laugh when my weekly email from Baby Center (Great resource with a wealth of information and great apps) stated: “it won’t take long for your baby to figure out how to maneuver on all fours. Soon, between 7 and 10 months, he’ll be crawling!”

Habibi, if there’s one thing you need to know about yourself since, not just your birth, but your conception (yup, your father just said conception to you. Enjoy that!): your mind and spirit has always been a good two weeks to two months ahead of the rest of you. Your body is constantly catching up with your desires and intuition.

You have no intention of learning how to sit unassisted. It’s not about not being capable, but more that it’s a stationary position, and one core value you have is: always keep moving. You’re like a shark that views sitting still as a position of weakness.

We’ve introduced you to a regular stroller (The Nighlight has some decent recommendations) and you’ve been loving it, once we realized you needed to be facing outwards and not towards us. You’re sick of seeing our faces, but your curiosity about the outside world is insatiable.

Your car seat (other recommendations) is a different story. If ever you had a nemesis, it would be that damn seat, keeping you immobile and staring at the ceiling like some prisoner in solitary confinement.

Summing Up

Buddy, you’re exhausting, demanding, opinionated, and short-tempered and you can turn on and off your waterworks/vocal pipes faster than you can breathe. But, every night when your mom and I have dinner and share our gratitudes, you are always the subject of our favorite moment of the day.

I’ll probably give another check-in on your birthday. I love you, I cherish you and I have no idea what to do with you. I know you’ll show us though!

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Gaming: The Most Epic Star Wars – Brought to You With Cardboard and Plastic

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Guess what? I promise zero Star Wars puns or references in this entire article. Ahem:
The Force of Star Wars love has been re-Awakened!

Crap. Hmm.

There’s a New Hope in the boardgaming scene…

Sigh. (shaking hands)

Prepare to boldly go where you’ve never gone before (Yes, loop hole)! Star Wars: Rebellion is a two-player game (four can play as teams, but trust me: two players) brought to you from the boardgaming titan that is Fantasy Flight Games (FFG). You’ve got a huge board representing the Star Wars galaxy, awesome miniatures and a ridiculous amount of cards to discover and play with.

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Fitting squarely in the category of “long-ass” game, the brief pitch is that the Imperial player has to hunt down the Rebels player and destroy their secret base, while the Rebels have to build up support and set in motion the Empire’s downfall. In true FFG fashion, gameplay is deliciously asymmetric, with the Imperial player leading a massive army and the Rebels player approaching things decidedly more sneaky, tactical and almost always desperate.

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I played as the Rebels player last time: it was brutal and super thematic. I felt like I was the underdog the entire time, always underpowered, sneaking in sabotage missions or run-and-gun skirmishes, nipping at the boot heels of the Empire that just. Wouldn’t. Stop. Coming. Meanwhile, the Imperial player had his war machine churning out units constantly, filling up the board as I filled up with dread. Still, the cat and mouse game played out beautifully as he could not find my base for the longest time.

Everything centers on the “leaders” that you have; characters from the original trilogy that you use to move forces, enter combat and perform missions. Those missions are the meat of the theme and what you’ll be talking about after the game is over. Sending Luke to win the support of a planet, only for Darth Vader to show up and not only capture him, but interrogate and turn him to the dark side! Han and Chewie leading a team to infiltrate the Death Star, face off against Grand Moff Tarkin and still manage to take down that behemoth of a base.

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I’m not even a Star Wars guy (long live Picard) and yet I had an absolute blast with this game. We played from 9pm to 2am and even though I felt on edge the entire time, scrambling for scraps and eventually did lose, I knew I was a thorn in the Empire’s side and had prolonged their victory for so long that I was actually closer to winning than expected at the end.

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The Art of Tag

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Meet one of Al Ahsa’s prominent graffiti artists.


During the recent 966 Box event, people got an up close and personal look at how a graffiti artist does his magic. We sat down with the artist himself, Marwan Al Hatlan, who goes by the street name of merro_boss and was kind enough to let us pick his creative brain.

Why merro_boss?

In the beginning I used to just go by Marwan, but then I noticed that other artists always make up nicknames. The trend was to use something similar to your name, hence merro. As for boss, well that was something a friend of mine used to say a lot and I liked the idea of using something that had a strong presence and image to it.

Screen-Shot-2016-04-19-at-3.01.05-PMHow did you get involved with 966 Box?

I had actually just stumbled upon some of the artwork being prepared for the event and talked to the artist. Before I knew it, they hooked me up with a chance to do some live graffiti work during the event. It was a lot of fun!

Have you done official work or is it mostly for yourself?

I’ve had friends get jailed for doing graffiti work illegally and that’s definitely not how I like to do things. I always seek out permission first.

Screen-Shot-2016-04-19-at-3.07.59-PMFor example, there’s an abandoned hospital in our neighborhood that had some really nice empty walls and space outside. I worked with a social group to help draft up the proper permissions and then I went to one of the sons of the hospital owner and got his approval to use the site for my graffiti.

That’s how I like to approach my work. It gives it credibility and there’s nothing in it for me to mess with the law about it. I want people to enjoy my work and I want to be able to enjoy creating it.

Screen-Shot-2016-04-19-at-3.00.22-PMWhat kind of challenges have you faced?

It took a long while to convince people that this was actually art and that it was worthwhile. There’s a stigma about graffiti as just being defacement, but I worked hard to show people what it can be. I even got the art of graffiti involved in festivals in Al Ahsa and now not a year goes by that they don’t call to invite me to showcase my work and teach people about it.

Screen-Shot-2016-04-19-at-2.59.49-PMWhy graffiti instead of other forms?

I used to draw actually, do car art and things of that nature. Then I got to know a guy in Riyadh, goes by the nickname of Sam, who mentored me in graffiti five years ago. I’ve been hooked since.

Instagram: merro_boss

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Three Tips for Nia Newbies

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In April’s issue of Destination Sharqiya, we talked with Nia instructor Manal Dabbagh about her experience with this aerobic dance of joy.

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Are you thinking about hitting up a Nia class and not sure what to expect?

At a mechanical level, a typical Nia class is 50-minutes long and always starts with a warm up, then gradually increases the intensity to get to the get-moving cycle, before finally slowing to the cool down.

Manal shared a few tips to think about when you come to a Nia class for the first time:

  1. Come in with an open mind and a relaxed body

    Many students come to me after class saying that they are glad they stayed until the end of class. They felt awkward at first, they had no idea how to follow or how to stay with their own body, but after a while they found themselves connected and were able to enjoy the class.

  2. Move like no one is watching

    Really: no one is watching! A Nia class is a safe space to find your freedom of expression. Be uncoordinated, lose the rhythm then find it again, use your voice to laugh, sing or even shout!

  3. It’s all about pleasure

    Nia invites you to connect with the joy of movement. It is a universal energy that moves through us and we just need to bring our focus to our sensations and connect to it. If you feel pain or discomfort, tweak your movement until you find the pleasure again.

You can find out more about Manal on manalaldabbagh.com and reach her at manal@manalaldabbagh.com

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Babas, this is going to be far from an exhaustive list and I’m only targeting the first few months of babahood, but personally, I found each of these items to prove surprisingly valuable. The first four I’ve rarely seen used around here (if at all) and the last two are just damn useful toys that saved a lot of head/heart-ache.
NoseFrida Nasal Aspirator (a.k.a The Snotsucker)
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Photo Credits: www.roubinek.net

Directly replacing the more common nose bulb, this ingenious item from Sweden reliably sucks out so much snot every single time. It’s gross at face value when you picture what you’re doing, but trust me, the calm that came over my son’s face when he (finally) realized it was helping him was absolutely priceless.

Nose frida
Sleepyhead
Photo Credits: sleepyheadwebshop.com

Photo Credits: sleepyheadwebshop.com

You can’t carry your crib around, but that’s where this perfect portable baby bed comes in. Whether you plop it on the floor when you’re visiting family or keep it next to you in bed at night, your baby will feel snug and comfy in it from day one.

Sleepy head
Tummy Tub

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I know, it’s a bucket. But, it’s brilliant and your heart will melt that very first time you carry your baby in it and you see his cries instantaneously turn into wide-eyed wonder as his limbs dance and flail about in joy.

Tummy Tub
Baby Wrap Carriers
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Photo Credits: mobywrap.com

These are excellent baby carriers. They’re easy to use, your little one will feel so snug and comforted being right against your chest and they’re much lighter than the hard-shell carriers. Moby is the popular brand and you definitely need one, but I also had to get a Batman version because… Batman.

Baby Wrap Carriers
Rattle

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The most basic of toys; I mean super basic. Cultures around the world always have some form of this. Me? I’m a techie so I use a rattle app and it has brought about precious peace, especially when he’s not in the mood to be all cooped up in a car seat (which is always).


Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes Musical Toy

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My wife was skeptical when she saw that, among the first batch of must-have items that I purchased, I had this one toy in there. All that changed the moment our baby was having a crying fit in his crib and in my own fit of desperation, I tried this out. The lights and music were like a revelation to him and he still enjoys it (quietly!) every time I use it.

Baby Einstein Along Tunes Musical

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