Saturday, November 10, 2012

Santa Claus is Coming to my living room.

Pin It I know it is early November, but hopefully this will help some of you that, over the next few weeks, will be hunting for toddler toys.

Last year, I bought stuff that my previous nanny kids used to love. Now that I know my kid a little better and now that she's really defined her personality, I can do a bit more personal shopping.

So if you are stuck, start with what your kids currently love.
V's favorite toys are Duplo, trains, dolls babies, Little People (also babies), books, musical instruments, and things with wheels, ride on or push toys.

Since we have a birthday right after the holidays, we'll be dividing the pile. I have no idea how we'll do this just yet, but we will. It will likely be random, as in "I forgot where I put half those gifts, and need a few more days to find them."

First up, the toy on every toy list this year:

Symphony in B by B. Toys.

I like B. Toys products, usually for the combination of being educational and battery-free. This one does have batteries, but it is awesome. It plays 15 different full songs, and you can alter the songs by adding or taking away instruments. It comes with a lyrics book as well! Unbeknownst to me until a few minutes ago (while Google searching for the image) you can store the pieces in the base. The recommended age is 3+, but my kid loves music and shape matching, so I think this will be a big hit. If not, I'll keep it warm for a year for her. The only hesitation I would have about giving this to a young child is that some of the instruments would make awesome chew toys. They aren't huge, especially the banjo arm, so if you had an exuberant chewer, they may eat some of it.

It retails at $60, but check Target online - they have it as low as $40 occasionally. I went to 3 stores looking for this last week and all were sold out. Online is the way to go.

Next, the Little People Animal Talkers' Zoo.
We have a collection of Little People that Toddler loves. I actually bought this last March. I hit a sale and had a variety of coupons at just the right time, and got this for $17, tax included.

Another deal I scored (thanks to Zulily and a friend who shared an awesome coupon!) was a balance bike:

We will need to get her a helmet, too.

We've told our family that we are getting Toddler the Melissa and Doug train table and basic figure-8 set. We're hoping they will get on board (har har) and get some more M&D tracks and trains. Even though M&D can be harder to find, it is all the quality and half the cost of Brio.

Lastly, she might get some more Duplo blocks (there's never enough of those) and she'll be getting an Elmo doll (even though I'm not happy about it, she'll absolutely love it).

 The circus always came to town right after my sister's birthday, and she always got tickets to the circus as part of her gift. It was awesome. The circus isn't going by any time soon, but Elmo Live will be here for her birthday. Given her obsession, we pretty much had to.

So, what is on your list this year?

Stocking Stuffers - Oy Vey.

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As a kid, I loved opening my stocking. It always involved one of those milk chocolate oranges you smack on the ground to break apart, and any time my stocking doesn't include that (hint hint, SANTA), I'm a little disappointed.

Then I started stuffing stockings, and realized that Santa has it rough. I was tempted to go out and buy the smallest stockings I could find, just to make it easy. However, I knitted all our stockings (fair isle, in the round) and am fiercely proud of them. The first one came out a bit larger than intended, but I wasn't going to make the other ones smaller and I certainly wasn't going to reknit a whole stocking. So they are a bit large. And a half-filled stocking is just sad. Awesome.

So what do you stuff a nearly 2-year-old's stocking with?
I've been thinking about this for a ridiculously long time.

Here's what I've got (in ideas, at least) so far.

1) Bath stuff. We own these cool Elmo color-changing bath fizzies (I got a much smaller container at our grocery store for $2.50), and were we anywhere near the end of the container, I'd get more. I'm also going to get some awesome bath crayons. Bubbles (the blowing kind) are also awesome for bathtime, but I went crazy this summer and bought a few giant containers. Whoopsie. I'll be buying some actual bubble bath, and I might make bath bombs, so I'll toss one of those in there.

2) Socks. Because she always needs them.

3) Bows, for the exact same reason. Where do they all go?
     (Edit: I found about 7 in the car today. All in a slightly chewed, gross condition.)

4) A few Chubbies Trucks. These are amazingly durable and adorable. Our local Learning Express has them for cheaper, too. I think they are $4-6, depending on size.

5) Stickers or a sticker book. She loves them all. 

6) Snacks. Last year, I stuffed her stocking with squeezie bags. This year, maybe some dried fruit snacks or Annie's Gummy Bunnies.

7) I'd love to find a small kaleidoscope. I'm not sure if she'd understand it at first, but kaleidoscopes are awesome.

8) I would put in a musical instrument (maybe a harmonica or maracas) but I'm making Jingle Cuffs for all the kids to wear on Christmas morning. (My husband can't even stand to hear me knit them. It's going to be awesome.) Santa is going to have to sit that one out.

9) Art supplies. I'm just going to need to go to the store and see what we don't have, because we have a bunch. For those looking, Dollar Tree has Bingo stamps (my kid loves these, and they come in many colors, for $1/each) and coloring books. We have a ton of Play-Dough, crayons, chalk, markers, and paints. I don't think I want to introduce her to window markers (as awesome as they are) because I know I'll turn around and find her coloring an entire room, window and all, with Sharpies, all because I wanted to cook dinner. Maybe some awesome paint brushes and rollers? These look cool: 

10) Toy bracelets. I know it won't stop her from borrowing mine, but it is worth a shot.

11) A cd. She loves music. 

12) Books, if we have any small ones left over from Hanukkah.

13) A Yearly ornament. I don't know which one. I'm not sure if we got her one last year... Growing up, we always got a Precious Moments ornament with the year on it. I love them all, but I'm going to need to get a separate tree if I ever want to hang them all.

14) Finger puppets. She still has scrawny little fingers, but likes the concept. That, and she's not going to have tiny hands forever. (sadface)

If she were older, I'd give her an iTunes gift card, since she loves music and apps, but right now she doesn't get it.

I'm also considering putting a toy train in there, since she'll be getting a train table. Maybe.

Now, if half of this pans out, we'll be in good shape.

And who knows. Maybe she'll get a milk chocolate orange, too. 
(Right. Like I wouldn't end up eating that.)

After the holidays, I'll tell you what I am going to stick in hubby's stocking. Because I got to say, I nailed it this year.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Tis the season... Part 1

Pin It We celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas (in the Santa sense) in this family. With V.'s birthday being less than a month after Christmas, it makes for a very... stuffy season in our house. We love it, it is great, but good heavens, the TOYS. They just take over.

One thing we do to handle this is give suggestions. Last year, we were saving for a swing set, so we asked that people give to the swingset fund. Some of them did, and it was so helpful! This year we'll be asking for pieces to the super awesome train table Santa is going to bring. I'm hoping people get on board with this. Train tables are awesome.

I'm posting to talk about The Lists. My husband is a planner, and it is a good thing because without his careful training and guidance, I'd be raiding Target for marked-up goods on December 23rd. The kid would end up with a set of hand weights and a soap dish.

Last year's system worked really well, so we're sticking to it. I thought I'd share some of our planning and ideas (toddler will be 2 after Christmas, so we're aiming for the 2-3 years range... I always put a few "older" toys in there and hide them until early summer, when the old new toys are getting ignored and in need of rotation), incase you are already thinking about what you're going to get your kiddos.

(Revised: I'm going to do this in three posts, because it is about to get HUGE.)

Hanukkah. Eight nights of beautiful tradition, latkes, and gifts. Some families do trinkets, some do full-on Toy Of The Year gifts. We do books, and I love it. After we've lit the candles and eaten our brisket, Toddler gets a (wrapped, so even I'm surprised... I don't remember what I wrapped!) book, and we all snuggle on the couch for a good read. This year, I've been buying them all along. I get books at the library, gently used (really they are like new) and 3 for $2.75. I usually give them $3 because it goes to the library and it is a dollar per book. You can't beat that with a stick. I've accumulated more books than nights and have a few more I want to get, so I may put a few of the smaller ones in her stocking.

If you don't celebrate Hanukkah and have a library with such an awesome program, maybe you can use books as an advent calendar. It is better than candy, and you'll have something new to read every night! That, and it will build a great library for your kids.

Here are some of the books Toddler will be getting this year:

Animals should definitely not wear clothing by Judi Barret

Stars by Mary Lyn Ray

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett
(This book is ridiculously gorgeous, like Stars.)

I'm also looking for a great book about celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas, like The Trees of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Pollaco (which we have, makes me cry every. single. time I read it, and is way, way above my child's head) on a toddler level. Most books I've read have some factor of the protagonist being embarrassed by celebrating two holidays (usually Hanukkah) and that is really not the idea we want to plant. Last year we focused on Hanukkah books specifically, so we have a bunch of those and some non-religious Christmas books (only a matter of days before I bust out Polar Express. I'm obsessed with Chris Van Allsburg. It's bad.) so if you have any ideas on merging the two, please share!

Be sure to read the other parts!

Stocking Stuffers - oy vey!

Santa Claus is coming to town!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Glitter Gak

Pin It Both the Homemade "Gak" and Floam were a huge hit (we actually still have and use the floam!), and today after lunch, V. wanted to do "science."

This is the quickest experiment I can pull together (in fact, I was busy working on some science for after nap, but don't tell her that) so I headed to the learning closet to get the stuff.

I am not a fan of loose glitter, but glitter glue is pretty awesome, and we had some. All the recipes for Gak that I've seen specify white glue, but really, how different can they be? A quick Google search showed me that several other mothers had already realized that glitter glue is by far more awesome, and that white glue has no magical properties that make it super Gak-like.

The recipe is the same (1 bottle glue, 1/4 cup water, 1 tsp Borax) , the outcome is more sparkly. I wish we had the light table together, because this would have been even more awesome to do on a lit surface. I did end up putting it back into the borax water because it was stickier than it should have been. I don't think this was the result of different glue, just our impatients.

Glitter, without it invading every crevice of our home. I love it.

Sensory Bin: Snow!

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Yesterday, a Nor'Easter hit, and brought snow! Hooray! V. played in the snow last year, but that was different. She was a year old, and stomped around a bit, tasted it, cried because it was cold, and was over snow. (I built a snow man while she supervised. She was unimpressed.)

This was IT - the First Real Snow. We played in it a bit yesterday, but it wasn't until the sun went down that the real snow started to take hold, and turned into a winter wonderland, not just a dandruff field.

I ran down the stairs when she woke up, ready to play in the snow. Who needs breakfast? It's SNOW. 

Guess what? It was raining. Big, fat, wet, warm drops of rain were coming down, and V. hadn't even gotten out of her crib. I did the only sensible thing I could think of - I dumped out the sensory bin we had going and ran outside (in my pajamas, in the rain, without shoes...) to fill it with snow. I wasn't going to let rain ruin our fun.

I got V. out of bed and showed her the snow. She loved it! We made a snowman, which she insisted have ears and a snow hat. 
The tool bucket for the sensory bin table hasn't changed, but she had no interest in using anything but her hands. It is very packable snow, and she prides herself on making snowballs. That, and she's currently obsessed with all things baby, so making a baby out of snow was far cooler to her than using tools.

Then she remembered that yesterday we busted out her brand-new winter coat (I bought last spring for $12 from The Children's Place. Heck yes.) that I told her was for playing in the snow. Well, she had been playing in the snow and hadn't been wearing her special coat. She refused to play without her "No Kaket."

We wrote a big letter S along with some snow-related s-words on our chalkboard wall. (Oh yeah, that happened while on break, too. Awesome. I highly recommend finding a spare wall and painting it with chalkboard paint. I keep a grocery list there, and suddenly I can make dinner without trying to keep her busy or putting on Elmo.)

I drew the snowman, and let her draw the parts on it. She drew eyes, ears, arms, and was babbling about other things I didn't understand. Then she stood back and proudly reported that it was her uncle, Ben. (Looks just like him, really.)

While all this was going on, I cooked breakfast. I made the snowflake by cracking an egg into a cookie cutter, and it worked surprisingly well. I recommend spraying the cutter first. I didn't think of that until I was poking the egg out and wishing I had. Whoops.
(And the hash browns are from Trader Joe's. Seriously delicious.)

I hope if you have snow right now, you enjoyed it as much as we did!

We DO exist!

Pin It Well, it has been a crazy few months!

My husband and I went to France for an adult family vacation, and my brave, dear friend stayed with the Toddler, the Dog, the Cat, and the whole house. She did a great job, and my kid and puppy didn't break her. That accounts for two weeks, plus a week of recovery.

So, what have we been up to? Well, Toddler started gym class, and has been absolutely loving every second of it. She's 21-months-old, and she climbs up on the 3' tall balance beam fearlessly. She can walk down the beam with little support, but she wants to run (as all toddlers do) and that causes balance issues. It's gymnastics, not parkor, kid. She can even walk backwards and do a forward roll on the beam with help. If you have a tot gym class nearby, it is worth it. Just be aware that there are many things in your house that look like gym equipment (crib mattress, backs of couches, the chandelier above the dining room table...) and that your toddler may want to show off her new skills at home. I'm pretty sure I have a grey hair for every time I've found her reaching for the "swing bar" while standing on the table. Next week, How To Dye Your Hair During Nap.

We also took advantage of the beautiful autumn weather, spending most days playing outdoors. We got a swing set (and a beast of one, too. It is a Creative Playthings) and we've spent many mornings using it. I like to sit in the tower and drink coffee while Toddler runs around like crazy, collecting acorns for our "ship house." It works for me.

Halloween happened. Last year, for Toddler's first Halloween, she was 9 months old, and we had just closed on a house days before. Since all our stuff was in storage, sewing machine included, I had no means of making a costume. This year, I made my first costume, and it was easier than I had hoped, even if I did sew the arm on inside out the first time, then upside down the second. Third time was a charm. Toddler was Madeline, and adorable.

Lastly, we've been counting. More than anything, it seems she wants to count. So we do. We count books, we count socks, we count leaves, we count beads, we count anything there is to count. One morning we went up and down the stairs at least 5 times, just to count all the stairs.

Now we are gearing up for the holidays. We have a ton of travel coming up! It will be so nice to see our family and friends over the next few months.

Welcome back, sorry for the break, and stay tuned, because a ton of posts are coming!