Monthly Archives: November 2011

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brain twister:perplexus

My 3-1/2-year-old is fascinated with puzzles. She started out with simple 3- or 4-piece wooden models whose knob-handle pieces made them easy to complete. Before long, she was moving on to puzzles with more pieces, especially the ones that had sounds and other bells and whistles. I notice there’s a particular one at our local library that she favors: a maze of animals whose tummies get filled with tiny marbles by using a magnetic wand. Each time she “feeds” the hippo, she shouts out in jubilation. I’m impressed with her persistence, as it wasn’t too long ago when she would have given up and cried if she wasn’t successful right away. Practice and patience are two things I’m trying to teach my girls, and I’m marveled at how such puzzles can teach them just that. Maybe that’s why Perplexus Rookie recently caught my eye. It’s a transparent globe that features the inner-workings of a colorful 3-D maze, and the object is to move a tiny ball along the numbered path until the end without losing your way. Twisting and turning is the name of the game, and stellar hand/eye coordination is key. But, even if you think you’re a master at this sort of thing, don’t count on it with Perplexus. There are plenty of obstacles and pitfalls along the way to catch you off-guard, like a set of scary stairs and an inviting igloo. I love that Perplexus also comes in Original and Epic versions, offering more advanced challenges for older kids and seasoned puzzlers. Wouldn’t it be great to get everyone in the family something they can play at the same time without fighting over, or one toy that your oldest won’t complain about being “too easy?” We think it makes for a great gift at the office, too, especially during those conference calls that seem to last forever. Don’t blame us if you become addicted…

In a Nutshell: It’s the season’s best can’t-put-it-down toy for all ages and abilities. This is one puzzle worth solving.

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down under snuggling: wallaroo bundle

One of the most useful, unexpected baby gifts I received was a baby footmuff. I don’t recall the brand or name, but I do remember taking one look at this strange contraption and thinking, “Yeah, right. I don’t think I’ll be taking that out of the box anytime soon…” Little did I know that when my daughter’s first winter arrived, I’d be struggling to fit her puffy coat inside her car seat straps day after day. I imagine wrestling a crocodile was easier than this! After many failed attempts at getting her in her seat without any tears, I had a lightbulb moment and quickly ran upstairs to unpack that suddenly practical present. This is genius, I thought, as I carefully stripped off her bulky coat, zipped her upside in the footmuff and topped her off with a pom-pom hat. Voila! Baby is bundled, and not a tear in sight. So naturally, when I came upon the newest baby product in this space, I nearly shed a tear myself (one of happy memories, that is). The name alone, the Wallaroo Bundle, conjures up images of a baby kangaroo, all safe and warm in her mama’s pouch. A smart alternative to a traditional blanket, this fleece baby cover works inside most strollers and car seats. Just pull the drawstring cord to secure a comfortable fit. No more wiggly, cold toes peeking out. What’s more, you can also add the Wallaroo Bundle as a layer to your front carrier and wear it–something we haven’t seen before. It’s the perfect excuse to snuggle close with your little one…as if you needed any reason.

In a Nutshell: Don’t fuss with a bulky coat and blankets for your baby this winter. Brace the chill with a Wallaroo Bundle, and your baby will be as snuggled as can be.

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box of blessings: babbabox

When it comes to holiday shopping, what do you get for the kid who has everything? I’m exaggerating, of course, but sometimes it feels like my girls have more gifts than Toys R Us. While we swap out old stuff twice a year to make room for birthday and Christmas gifts, it still seems like the stuff multiplies overnight. I don’t remember being this spoiled as a kid, but then my mother reminds me of the infamous Toy Closet, a bottomless pit of toys, dolls, board games and books that was forever busting its seams. Talk about history repeating itself!… This year, we’re on a special lookout for non-traditional gifts that are easy on space and that encourage kids to use their imagination, instead of an iPad (yes, we’re still at that tender age). Earlier this month, we reported on KiwiCrate, a subscription-based service that supplies kids with all the tools needed to make themed projects. We loved the fact that it’s a gift that keeps on giving, month after month (or however long you choose to sign up for it), and that it’s an ideal boredom buster for a child who’s had one too many tea parties. Well, lucky for us (and our readers), we’ve found yet another all-in-one mail-order craft service that provides plenty of activity for willing participants. Like KiwiCrate, the BabbaBox is a monthly crafts and educational projects kit for ages 3-6 that is as engaging as it is entertaining. Centered around four key components (create, explore, story tell and digital), each package in the series contains all the ingredients to tap into your kid’s creative juices. We got our hands on this month’s Gratitude box, a perfect one for the holiday season when the “gimmees” threat to outweigh the “giving.” My 7-year-old dove “write” into the thank you card-making kit. Taking what can be an otherwise tiresome task and adding some spice to it, this was no ordinary fill-in-the-blanks card assortment. Quality stock note cards in the likeness of a tree beckoned my daughter to decorate them with the included colorful leaf stickers, each one indicating what she was thankful for this year. Other cards in the mix, including a fold-out one that spells out “THANKS,” offer an alternative to the discriminating artist. This particular craft kept her occupied for quite some time, and required minimal supervision from me (how often can you say that when it comes to your kid’s projects?). And that was just one part: the BabbaBox also contained a design-your-own-trivet and serving tray, both of which make personal additions to any holiday table; a story about giving thanks for things we normally take for granted in the outside world; and–my daughter’s favorite–a disposable camera for snapping photos of family and friends to later craft into a gratitude journal. As a mom, I was impressed by BabbaBox’s presentation and its well-conceived ideas for a number of related projects. For the parent or grandparent looking for something a little different this holiday season, this is one box that begs to be teared into and offers an easy answer to “What are we going to do today?”

In a Nutshell: For the not-so-crafty mom comes a crowd-pleasing product that lets kids roll up their sleeves and get to work. Great for an indoor play day or a day home from school.

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keep on strollin’/buggylove

I don’t care if my daughter is closer to 4 than 3 years old; I’m not ready to part with her stroller just yet. A trusty, solid ride, her Maclaren Volo goes wherever we go, and has lasted us 7 1/2 years…and counting. While this stroller has seen its fair share of country roads, sandy beaches and other landscapes, it’s naturally had a few bumps and bruises along the way. If your pocketbook tells you that you’ll be hanging onto your own set of kiddie wheels for a while, it helps to maintain the look and feel of a sweet ride. Apparently, the folks at BuggyLOVE had this in mind when they created their line of organic stroller cleaning products. Whether the culprit is dried spit-up, caked-on formula or grimy sidewalk residue, this sweet-smelling kit is tough on stains, but gentle on little noses. Making a diaper change on the fly? Spray down your stroller seat with FreshLOVE and prove that poop can, indeed, smell like roses. FabricLOVE takes the sting out of stained stroller seats with a clementine-scented spot remover spray (if my 3-year-old could eat this stuff, believe me, she would). For the squeaky wheel who always gets the grease, there’s WheelLOVE and finally, PolishLOVE to keep them looking (and smelling) like new.

In a Nutshell: Take good care of your ever-trusty stroller with these natural cleaning products, and chances are you won’t need to replace it until the last baby is all grown up.

Walter

a muppet by any other name/the muppets

There’s no denying it: I am more excited about the opening of the new Muppet movie than my kids are. Both girls are petrified of Animal (“He’s too loud,” “Why does he always scream,” they ask me. I could ask the same of them, actually…). I don’t expect I’ll be ordering 4 tickets to “Disney’s The Muppets” on Fandango this week, but that’s quite alright by me. I want nothing to spoil this long-awaited moment, for a number of reasons. For a hour or so, I’d like to sit in a darkened theater with my Twizzlers and my childlike sense of wonder as I gaze at the life-sized characters I adored so much.  The little girl who never missed an episode of “The Muppet Show” is the same person who, today, still quotes Muppet movie one-liners to her family (“Is frog washing dishes? Is pig dancing? Is not restaurant–Is Zoo!”). Sometimes, that person gets buried under permission slips that need signing and clothes that need washing, but it’s the release of a movie like this that lets her see the light of day. I’m especially touched by the introduction of the movie’s newest character named Walter, my late father’s name. As we head into yet another holiday season without him, I realize how he may be gone, but could never truly be forgotten–like the Muppets themselves. It is my dad’s at-times strange sense of humor that I have inherited when I hear myself bringing those Muppet quotes to life again (“Let’s catch them while they’re red-handed!” “What color are their hands now?”…) Walter the Muppet is a character I’ll be keeping my eye on, and one I expect will have the future of the Muppets resting on his soft shoulders. With this in mind, The Talking Walnut gives a special nod to Walter and the rest of the Muppets plush toy collection, available at the Disney Store. It’s toys like these that will let me relive the magic of my youth, while remembering an old friend (or family member). Maybe now, the little girl in me won’t have to be dusted off at all…

In a Nutshell: Muppets fans, rejoice! Our movie moment has come, and toys like these can extend the good times, long after the popcorn has run out.

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Candy Cane Jane

rock candy: laurie berkner

In our home, Laurie Berkner rocks. When my 7-year-old was in preschool, you could hear “Victor Vito” and “Five Days Old” blasting from the CD player on any given day. Four years and two kids later, and we’re still rockin’ out, albeit to newer releases like “Shake Your Body Down” and “Choc-o-lot in My Pock-o-lot.” Yes, Berkner is a proven mainstay in the fast-growing kids’ indie music space that’s peppered with tons of musical variety. Because there’s undeniably no shortage of singers devoted to entertaining the 4 and under crowd, The Talking Walnut likes to keep on watchful eye on who’s still hot–and who’s not. We’re glad to say that 13 years later, Berkner still holds her own with plenty of toe-tappin’ favorites that even we grown-ups can find ourselves humming. That’s why we were excited to learn that she’s getting ready to release a brand-new animated holiday video just in the (St.) Nick of time. “Candy Cane Jane” features the wintertime adventures of the title character and her buddy Gumdrop Joe as they set out (atop a horse with a candy cane mane, but of course) to mingle with gingerbread people, snowmen and other festive friends. One viewing alone got us into the holiday spirit right away. And if you find yourself stuck on a long line at Target with the kids in tow, hand over your iPhone. Let the merrymaking begin! “Candy Cane Jane” will be available for download on iTunes and Amazon, beginning November 21.

In a Nutshell: Berkner’s back and this time, she bringing glad tidings of joy via a new holiday musical video.

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a pickle for your thoughts: richard scarry’s busytown

Amazing what memories a favorite toy can conjure up…When I was six years and recovering from minor surgery, my mom offered (okay, let’s be straight, “bribed”) me with three treats of my choosing. After careful consideration, I picked a visit to Jones Beach, Munchos potato chips and a pig in pickle car–and not necessarily in that order. A pig in a what, you say? No, it was not some strange variation of a passed hors d’oeuvre. If you grew up like I did, reading Richard Scarry’s Busytown, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. An imaginative world in which animals and various foods co-exist in harmony, the beloved porcine Mr. Frumble was second only to Lowly Worm who traveled in his signature apple car. (Others may remember Bananas Gorilla and Huckle Cat.) No matter which character I favored, the idea of dressed-up animals riding around on food thrilled my young mind and transported me to places where I could be and do whatever I pleased. What child wouldn’t relish that feeling of make-believe? As I look for toys and books for my own kids to play with these days, I find myself leaning towards ones that can re-create such fond childhood memories. Richard Scarry’s Busytown is one such place where kids can act out scenes inspired by the wonderfully illustrated book series or make their own, modern-day fables. Be it shopping at the grocery store with the Pig Family or hitting the road with Mr. Frumble, the storylines are plentiful. All that’s required is your imagination. For this formerly bandaged patient, it was a simple pig in a pickle car that kept her company, while sitting on the sand and munching potato chips. Yes, life was good…

In a Nutshell: If you grew up on the books of Richard Scarry,  Busytown was the zipcode. This holiday seasons, make it the place to be once again for your own kids with these vehicles, figures and playsets modeled on the series.

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oh my aching knees: moby bath kneeler

Since my last birthday (I’m not revealing my age, so don’t even try to guess!), I’ve been noticing my body ain’t what it used to be. I get a winded a little faster when I break out into spontaneous dance moves. My back develops a bit of a crick after playing endless games of merry-go-round with my 3-year-old. Yes, I’m getting older and I’m slowly learning that time is not always on my side. So when bathtime rolls around, I fear that once I am down on my hands and knees, scrubbing away my girls’ daily grime, I may not be able to get back up. While I’m only half-joking, maybe you know the feeling? That’s why something like the Moby Bath Kneeler is most appreciated. It’s a delightful little mat made from a wetsuit-type fabric (neoprene) in the shape of a whimsical whale. We love that Moby not only stays in place, thanks to its non-slip backing, but it dries quickly without any sign of a wrinkle. Wish I could say the same for myself (sigh…)

In a Nutshell: Give your knees a much-needed break during your kid’s nightly tub with this adorable bath kneeler, and let yourself age with your dignity in tact.

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snow cool: design your own snow woman

When it comes to snowmen, why is it that the guys should have all the fun? In a male-dominated world, we ladies can sometimes get a little tired of the men getting all the attention–and that includes snowmen. It is Crystal, not Frosty, that’s one of my favorite lesser-known Christmas characters (blink and you might have missed her in “Frosty’s Winter Wonderland” and “Frosty and Rudolph’s Christmas in July.”) After all, it’s Crystal that helps Frosty keep it together when the going gets tough. And let’s not forget those cute snowball kids she mothers; if it weren’t for them, future generations of Frosty might never be. So, this holiday season, we’re favoring the Design Your Own Snow Woman kit. Part of WallCandy’s winter wall decal assortment, you can bring a winter wonderland indoors even when the weather won’t cooperate.  Kids can dress up their larger-than-life lady in her winter finery, like an adorable plaid wrap and matching beret; with over 30 different accessories, Crystal would surely be envious. And since it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind, you can peel, stick and start all over again. No matter how you dress your snow woman, Frosty’s heart is sure to melt.

In a Nutshell: Put away the top hat and ho-hum scarf, and add some character to your holiday decor with a snow woman that will make Frosty shudder with delight.

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wash ‘n fluff: teddy needs a bath

My young heart was broken. After receiving Hoppy the Bunny for Easter one year, I happily took my stuffed animal outside to play in the backyard. Sadly, a muddy afternoon and a white plush rabbit did not make the best match; it wasn’t long before poor Hoppy was desperately in need of a bath (as was his mother–a.k.a. Me). While a bit of spot cleaning may have returned Hoppy to near-normal, his fur was still uncomfortably wet and he didn’t seem as happy as pre-springtime romp. Ever take a blow-dryer to a stuffed animal? Not very pretty. How my long-lost stuffed pet would have benefited from Teddy Needs a Bath. This eco-friendly cotton washer/dryer bag made especially for the care and repair of stuffed animals and other soft toys adapts a simple concept. The difference between this product and your average pillow case? For starters, the size: a generous 20 x 30 inches–offering up plenty of space to fit an entire menagerie of first friends. The zippered top prevents toys from tumbling out and wreaking havoc with your major appliances. The best part? It goes from washer to dryer without a hitch. That means you don’t need to read the labels of each stuffed animal to ensure they are dryer-safe. So, whether your child’s favorite plush pal fought a battle with the lawn and the lawn one, or has seen one too many spit-ups happen, Teddy Needs a Bath will have him looking as good as new. As for Hoppy, he has happily retired to a green meadow in the sky, nary a mud puddle in sight. The End.

In a Nutshell: Your little one doesn’t have to part ways with his more-than-gently-used Teddy (much as you wish he might!). This practical purchase will prove its worth as you give new life to little loved ones.

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