Simple toys better for children

colored blocksIn light of articles like this one, stating that as recently as Nov. 20, hazardous toys (containing high lead levels and other dangers) were still being found on the shelves in stores like Target, it’s validating (but really no surprise to me) to read that Simple Retro Toys May Be Better For Children Than Fancy Electronic Toys.

“Old-fashioned retro toys, such as red rubber balls, simple building blocks, clay and crayons, that don’t cost so much and are usually hidden in the back shelves are usually much healthier for children than the electronic educational toys that have fancier boxes and cost $89.99,” says Temple University developmental psychologist Kathy Hirsh-Pasek.

As Roberta Golinkoff, head of the Infant Language Project at the University of Delaware says, “Electronic educational toys boast brain development and that they are going to give your child a head start. But developmental psychologists know that it doesn’t really work this way. The toy manufacturers are playing on parents’ fears that our children will be left behind in this global marketplace.”

Golinkoff adds that “kids are not like empty vessels to be filled. If they play with toys that allow them to be explorers, they are more likely to learn important lessons about how to master their world.”

Suggested advice for parents is to “Look for a toy that is 10 percent toy and 90 percent child — ‘A lot of these toys direct the play activity of our children by talking to them, singing to them, asking them to press buttons and levers,’ Hirsh-Pasek says. ‘But our children like to figure out what is going on by themselves. I look for a toy that doesn’t command the child, but lets the child command it.’”

“Golinkoff adds, ‘The irony is that the real educational toys are not the flashy gadgets and gismos with big promises, but the staples that have built creative thinkers for decades.'”

Golinkoff and Hirsh-Pasek are the authors of “Einstein Never Used Flash Cards: How Our Children Really Learn– And Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less.”

For more advice and guidelines for selecting gifts for children, read the full article. Less really is more. 🙂

Weekend wrap-up : Nutcracker and an early Christmas (and BSM)

A weekend wrap-up with a Best Shot Monday thrown in for good measure 🙂

Dressed up for The Nutcracker - 12/15/07

On Saturday, the fam and I drove down to Denver so that Ava and I could go see The Nutcracker Ballet (thanks to the tickets I won from Mile High Mamas).

It turns out that when they recommend that you arrive two hours before the performance, they weren’t kidding around. Traffic was a bit crazy and, since we’d never been there before, we didn’t know exactly where Jody should drop us off, etc. We got into Denver an hour before the show was to start, but by the time we figured out where we needed to go and I got to the ticket window to turn in my voucher for actual tickets, it was only 30 minutes ’til show time. Unfortunately, that meant that the really good seats were already taken. The seats they had available were for the second balcony and were honestly still quite good, but had we been earlier we could’ve had great seats. C’est la vie, live and learn, and all that jazz. 😉

Of course we hadn’t yet eaten lunch and with little time to spare, we dashed over to the nearest coffee shop and ordered a couple sandwiches which we scarfed down in record time, before a hurried walk back to the opera house. Ava and I said goodbye to Jody and Julian and headed in to get to our seats just minutes before 2 o’clock. The show ended up starting about 5 or 10 minutes late, so we had time to sit there and catch our breath before the curtain rose.

Another problem with arriving at the last minute is by the time we got to our seats they were completely out of booster seats, so Ava sat on my lap for the show. It was actually kind of sweet that it worked out that way (other than the time she tooted on my leg – doh!) since she and I were able to whisper back and forth in each other’s ears throughout the performance. She, asking me questions or making observations – during the Christmas party at the beginning: “I wish I could be down there,” – when Clara was dancing with the nutcracker doll: “I wish I could be Clara” – and me explaining parts along the way. It was also nice to have my baby girl sit in my lap for that long. It’s been a long time since we’ve had that kind of closeness for such a long period of time.

Ava enjoyed the first act tremendously, but grew a little bit restless towards the end of the second act. Overall, she did really well though and said she loved it and wants our whole family to go back next year to see it. 🙂 She told her grandma and Aunt Carrie that her favorite part was “when they went up on their tippy-toes like this” and she did her best ballerina impression. My favorites parts were not of the show itself, but of when we went to the restroom during intermission and saw so many little girls trying to walk on their tip-toes while saying, “I’m a ballerina.” And when Ava whispered, “Mommy, I love you” to me as we watched the first act. 🙂

After the boys picked us up, we all went out for a tasty Italian dinner, then headed home. Jody and I got the kids ready for bed, then wrapped presents. Even though it was a bit hectic getting to the Nutcracker, it turned out to be a fun and memorable day.

Ava, Amy, Jody and Julian in our new aprons - 12/16/07On Sunday we decided to do an early Christmas celebration, which really boiled down to opening presents. Since we will be out of town for Christmas this year (we’re driving the Kansas-Oklahoma border to spend the holiday with Jody’s family), we thought it’d be nice to let the kids open most of their presents from us, and all of their presents from Grandma and Grandpa in MI, Sunday morning so we’d have the full day to just hang out and play. We’re taking a few smaller gifts with us on the trip for them to open there, and will have the bigger items from Santa (doll house and train table) ready for them when we get home. (I’ll need to blog about how we got started on saying gifts were from Santa another time because this is a first for us this year and not something I was really planning on doing. But like I said, that’s a story for another time.)

Anyway, we had a nice lazy day. We opened some presents, ate a late big breakfast, opened some more presents (Check us out above in the groovy new aprons my mom made us! Ah, the family that bakes together. By the way, I’m counting that as my Best Shot Monday pic.), and ate a late lunch. Julian had a nice nap and Ava and I stayed in our pajamas until nearly 4 o’clock. The kids played and enjoyed their new toys. Jody and Ava did a jigsaw puzzle together. Aunt Carrie came by for a visit in the evening. It was a good, leisurely day and a nice end to our weekend.

We have a busy week ahead of us – packing for our trip (we leave on Saturday), a preschool tea, parent-teacher conferences, a possible dinner with my sister AKA Aunt Carrie, baking, painting a bird house for Ava’s teacher’s present, getting my holiday cards ready to be sent (late, I’m sure, since they won’t even be here until later in the week). It’s going to be good practice for me to just breathe, slow down and, like the Tees for Change shirt I love says, “choose happiness.”

If you didn’t catch it, my Best Shot is the picture of the 4 of us above. See more best shots over at Picture This (click the button):
little bsm button

Green Tip of the Week #6 – Think before you buy

Here’s something I recently came across (thanks to Jody) and thought it was good food for thought during this holiday consumerism season and always:

When you do acquire things, many of those things must ultimately be disposed of: given away, sold on eBay, thrown away or whatever. Some may be simply used up: a washing machine, for example. But still it must then be discarded.
It helps when you go to buy something—a book, a vase, a chair, a set of dishes, whatever—if you take a moment to decide how it will be disposed of. You can’t assume, by the way, that giving it away will automatically work: it might well be that the intended recipient will not want it when the time comes.
It will then perhaps occur to you that you can finesse the problem altogether by not getting the thing in the first place. — Later On : Managing Money post

Have any green tips you’ve recently learned? Please email them to me and I may include your tip with a link to your site or blog in a future post. 🙂

A first for everything


nutcracker Tomorrow afternoon, Ava will experience her first live performance of The Nutcracker. Last week I won a contest over at Mile High Mamas (thank you, MHM!) and received two tickets to the show, which will be performed by the Colorado Ballet at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in Denver. I’m really looking forward to seeing the show and to Ava getting to experience it as well. I have fond memories of seeing the Nutcracker myself as a child and I hope she will enjoy it too. I also love that we are getting to do something special together, just the two of us.

the nutcrackerSince it is about an hour away from our house, I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to swing leaving Julian for that long, especially since we need to go a couple hours early to pick up our tickets. While he does fine staying with daddy, I couldn’t see leaving him without nursing at all for up to 7 hours. (And I’m sure my boobs wouldn’t have appreciated it either.) So we decided to make a family day of it. Jody and Julian will drive to Denver with us, then I’ll get the tickets, we’ll all go to lunch, they will drop us off for the show while they find something to do for a few hours, then they will come back and pick us up when it’s done. I’m sure it all won’t go quite that smoothly, but at least we have a plan. 🙂

Jody’s been showing Ava Youtube clips of the ballet and explaining it to her (he saw it as a child as well) to prepare her for what it will be like. She’s never been to a live performance like this or even a movie in a theater, so this will all be brand new. She’s getting excited and I think she will be entranced with the whole thing. I’ll have to report back later how it all goes, but I am optimistic that it will be a memorable day for all of us. 🙂

Doesn’t get much sweeter

While Julian took a nice long nap yesterday, Ava and I spent some time in the kitchen together baking Snickerdoodles.

Ava did a great job rolling the dough into little balls (and a couple of snakes – the snakes burned by the way so you probably should avoid that if you make Snickerdoodles – LOL) and coating them with cinnamon and sugar.

Ava making snickerdoodles - 12/12/07 Ava making snickerdoodles - 12/12/07

At one point I mentioned what a good helper she is to me and she said, “Every time you make cookies, I will be your helper. Always, I will.” It was one of life’s sweet moments you never want to forget. Of course she followed it up with, “I’m getting a poopy hand!” as she covered her hand in the cinnamon/sugar mixture making her fingers brown. 😉

Despite their poopy brown hue, the cookies turned out quite tasty, but were harder than I expected. I wonder if it’s because I didn’t do any adjusting for high altitude. I’ll have to check into that. We kept a few for our family, but mostly wrapped them up for Jody’s coworkers.

snickerdoodles

The (mostly) Green Girly Gift Guide and Giveaways

PLEASE NOTE: As of now, 12/19/07, this giveaway is now closed for entries. Thanks!

Green Girly Gift Guide

A few weeks ago I posted my holiday toy gift guide for kids, but now is the time to start thinking about yourself and all of the women (friends, aunts, grandmothers, mothers, sisters) on your list, because let’s face it, we women deserve some great gifts too! 🙂

In keeping with the crunchy spirit of reducing, reusing and recycling, I’m happy to say that most of the items in my girly gift guide are green (good for the environment). These gift ideas aren’t just for Christmas and Chanukah, they also make great birthday presents.

What could make a mostly green girly gift guide even better? How about the fact that this guide is chock full of great giveaways and coupon codes to help you with your holiday shopping or to score some cool stuff for yourself! 🙂 See the end of the guide for instructions on how you can have a chance to win one of the giveaways.

Lookin’ Good and Green

Choose happiness t-shirtTees for Change – Including positive messages like: “Choose Happiness,” “Live Mindfully,” and “Today Matters,” Tees for Change shirts ($28-$38) are out to make the world a better place. I don’t know about you, but I often need to remind myself that happiness is a choice. Rather than getting caught up in the moment or events of the day, I can decide to roll with the punches, laugh it off and choose happiness. That’s why the Choose Happiness shirt is my favorite. I love that these tees have such a great message for the person wearing them, as well as everyone he/she comes into contact with. Oh, and I’m also keen on the fact that they are the brainchild of a local mom who also had a home birth. A Boulder, Colorado-based company, Tees for Change is very eco-conscious. All of their tees are made from 100% organic cotton or 70% bamboo/30% organic cotton mix, are dyed with low impact dyes and screen-printed with water-based inks, and they plant a tree for every shirt sold. It’s a win-win and now you can win too with this giveaway!
– Coupon Code: For 15% off, use coupon code “goddess” at checkout.
– Win It! : I’m giving away (1) Tees for Change short-sleeved t-shirt of your choice

For the jewelry-lovers

  • BeadforLife unique necklaces and bracelets – “BeadforLife eradicates extreme poverty by creating bridges of understanding between impoverished Africans and concerned world citizens. Ugandan women turn colorful recycled paper into beautiful beads, and people who care open their hearts, homes and communities to buy and sell the beads. The beads thus become income, food, medicine, school fees — and hope. All profits from BeadforLife are invested in community development projects that generate income and help people work their way out of poverty.” Necklaces range in price from $10 to $30. Bracelets range in price from $5 to $15. They also sell loose beads (for use in making your own jewelry or other crafts) and gift certificates. I bought a few BeadforLife necklaces at a BeadforLife party I attended (and blogged about) a couple of years ago. I love that the pieces are beautiful, unique, made from recycled paper and are helping such a worthy cause. If you are in the Boulder, Colorado area, you can stop in the Bead for Life store to see all of their unique styles and colors.
  • Sea glass necklaceSea glass jewelry from Oceano (an Etsy store) – I remember my mom first introducing me to sea glass (broken pieces of glass that have been made smooth by the ocean) when I was a child. I always thought it was beautiful. I love that someone else appreciates the beauty of sea glass and thought of the wonderful idea of making it into jewelry. What a creative way to recycle/reuse discarded glass!


For the aspiring photographers

  • Photo cuff braceletsHere’s a unique gift idea that any aspiring photographer and/or mom would love to have – a Photo Cuff Bracelet from Mama Needs It. The Photo Cuffs are made of die cut vinyl (vegan friendly) and are a cool way for you to show off your favorite photos of your children, grandchildren, pets, whatever! I have the Chelsea Photo Cuff Bracelet and love it! Of course I have mine filled with pictures of Ava and Julian, but you can fill yours with whatever you like. I also like that you can swap out new photos whenever you choose.
    – Coupon Code:
    Receive 10% off any purchases from Mama Needs It by entering the discount code “CDGknowsgifts” at checkout.
    – Win It! : I’m giving away a $25 gift certificate to Mama Needs It
  • The holiday season generally means we moms will all be taking more pictures than usual. If you are looking for a quick and easy way to get those holiday photos printed and into an album, you might be interested in HP’s Photo Books. They are available in two sizes: 5″ x 7″ or 8.5″ x 11″ and a variety of colors. HP photo book“The HP Photo Book includes all the things you need: a professional looking hardcover photo book, easy to use layout and design software, and HP Advanced Photo Paper (12 sheets). Simply add your photos and creative touch, and you’re ready to go.” I like that they are also customizable and allow you to add more pages or mementos such as cards or invitations any time you like.
    – Coupon Code: To receive a 20% off coupon code (expires 12/31/07) for the Photo Books, visit Snap Shot Chronicles.
    – Win It! : I’m giving away 2 sets of Photo Books – (1) 8.5×11 size and one (1) 5×7 size in each set

For the Foodies on your list

  • What’s Cooking Weekly menu planning service will help you answer the age-old question of “What’s for dinner?” Each week there are five healthy meal recipes, as well as shopping lists, “Call the Kids” section with suggestions to get your children involved in the meal preparation, nutritional information and tips for eating foods in season. It is a mom-owned and operated business.
    I had the opportunity to give the service a try and was very impressed. The meals I made were all delicious and a big hit with my family. This is a great time-saver for anyone who has a million and one things to do every day and doesn’t necessarily have time to figure out what’s for dinner. The shopping lists are organized by grocery department and the recipes are easy to follow. I especially like the “Call the Kids” section to help get children more involved in their meal preparation. I find that my daughter enjoys her food more when she helps make it herself and she loves telling daddy, “I helped!”
    A What’s Cooking Weekly Subscription makes a great gift (and generates no waste – how cool is that?!). A 6-month subscription is only $35 – less than $6 per month!
    – Win It! : I’m giving away a 6-month subscription to What’s Cooking Weekly
  • BYOBagsBYO Bags – reusable mesh produce bags from What’s Cooking. These reusable mesh bags are a great way to cut down on the number of plastic bags used. They can easily be stuffed into your purse and pulled out in the produce aisle when you need them. $10 for 3 bags.
    – Coupon Code:
    To receive 10% off any purchases from What’s Cooking, enter the coupon code “Eat_Well” at checkout.

For the woman who has everything

  • Consider a gift subscription to Green Dimes – For only $15 $12 (reduced for the holiday season), GreenDimes pledges to “cut your junk mail up to 90%” and plant 10 trees.
    My mom bought me a subscription a while back and I really have noticed a reduction in our junk mail. Plus I love the fact that they plant trees for you.
  • What if there was a way to have a tree planted for every book you read? Now there is with Eco-Libris. “Every book you read was once a tree. Now you can plant a tree for every book you read” with Eco-Libris. Give an Eco-Libris gift certificate to the people you care about, with which they will be able to plant trees for the books they read. For every tree planted, Eco-Libris will send them an Eco-Libris sticker to display on their book’s sleeve. (Thanks to GreenStyleMom for bringing this cool site to my attention!)

Other sources for groovy green ideas

  • Green Feet – Green Feet is a groovy online store that is sure to have something for the women (men and children, too) on your list. bambu dishesThey carry the full Bambu line, which includes bamboo dishes, cutting boards, serving trays, baskets and more. Wonder what’s so great about bamboo? It’s durable, beautiful and sustainable. It’s a grass, not a wood, grows incredibly fast and never needs replanting. Green Feet carries all sorts of other cool things like jewelry made from a bike chain or a record, recycled sari purses, hemp bath pillows, aromatherapy diffusers, a kitchen compost crock, Coco Zum Chocolate Soap, water bottles, reusable bags and much, much more.
    – Coupon Code: 10% off your order. Use the code “Crunchy” during checkout. Not valid with other offers, sale items or memberships.
  • happy bagsReusable Bags – Reusable bags have come a long way, baby. Check out their Gift Ideas for Her and you might be surprised by the variety of hip reusable bags available. There are also some great reusable bottles, a reusable gift bag set, and a reusable bamboo utensil set.
    – Coupon Code:
    10% off your entire order. At checkout, enter the following code in the Gift Certificates/Discount Coupons section: “49c7fg” (note that it is case sensitive) – Good through Dec. 21. One use per customer.



For those who love the written word (magazine subscriptions for thinking mothers):

  • Mothering : Natural Family Living – Buy a one-year subscription at the reduced price of $19.95 (regularly $22.95) and you can order additional one-year subscriptions for friends and family for only $17 each.
    – Coupon Code: Use code X7DE in the promotional code box.
    Mothering also has a digital subscription option to help save the trees!
  • Brain, Child : The magazine for thinking mothers- A one-year subscription is just $17.95 for a full year of reading pleasure. (That’s 25% off the newsstand price)
    – Coupon Code: Use code MWX07 at the checkout.

Final thoughts

Don’t forget about Etsy: “Your place to buy and sell all things homemade” – Check out their gift guide page where you can search according to whom you are shopping for – women, men, babies, children (by age), etc. 🙂

Lastly, here are some other great places to look for unique gift ideas:

* flea markets
* closeout stores (I just saw bamboo cutting boards at Ross for more than 50% off retail)
* thrift stores (You never know what you’ll find!)

GROOVY GIVEAWAYS!

Win It!
There are four great giveaways mentioned above. You get to choose which ONE giveaway you want to enter. That’s right – you may only enter to win ONE of the four prizes. Please note that I’m doing these giveaways differently than I have in the past.

To try your hand at winning one, please send an email to cdggiveaway@gmail.com and make the subject line the name of ONE of the following giveaways:
– Tees for Change shirt
– What’s Cooking Weekly subscription
– Mama Needs It gift certificate
– HP Photo Books
(Only one email per person please)
To receive an additional five entries either post the Green Girly Gift Guide button on your blog and email me the link or tell five friends about this guide and cc me (cdggiveaway@gmail.com) on the email. The winners will be randomly selected using Random.org and posted on my blog, as well as notified via email. The deadline to enter is Wednesday, Dec. 19. Winners will be announced on Thursday, Dec. 20. Note: Prizes will be mailed after Christmas.

Good luck and happy green shopping! 🙂

Best Shot Monday – 12/10/07 – Holiday pictures

After receiving a couple of Christmas cards in the mail this weekend, I realized that if I was going to pull off my plan of having Christmas cards printed with a picture of the kids on it and actually get them in the mail, I needed to get crackin’ – like actually taking a picture! So on Sunday, with the help of 8 inches of snow on the ground translating into a lot of natural light reflecting back into the house (I need all of the help I can get in the winter), I attempted to take some pictures of the kids.

First I did Julian (while Jody bathed Ava – i.e. kept her out of my hair) and got several cute ones of him.

Next I did some of Ava, and, again, got several cute ones of her.

And finally, enlisting my trusty assistant’s Jody’s help, I tried to do both of them together. I’d like to say I got lots of cute ones of the two of them, but that’s just not how it went down. By that time Julian was tired and ready for a nap and Ava had to be bribed with chocolate chips. I don’t use bribery often, but to get a good picture I will pull out all the stops. 😉 I did end up with two decent shots of them together, but they weren’t exactly what I had in mind. (Isn’t that always the way?) Anyway, I’m not sharing those captures today, but I am sharing the only other two that I’ve edited – one of each of them individually that I am rather fond of.

12/9/07 - Ava 12/9/07 - Julian

I would love to try again for a great shot of the two of them, but I’m a realist and I know that probably won’t happen for this year’s Christmas card. So I will be happy with what I did capture. And one of these days, when I’m feeling incredibly ambitious, I need to try for a family picture with all four of us in it, since we haven’t done that again since Julian was 15 days old. It’s time.

See more best shots over at Picture This (click the button):
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Green tip of the week #5 – Creative uses for used wrapping paper

gift wrapThank you to Heather at October Daisy for this great holiday green tip.

Instead of throwing away all the holiday gift wrap most people accumulate from gift giving, save it! Run it through a paper shredder and use it to stuff gift bags or baskets. The finished result is beautiful!

And here are some more ideas:

Another use for use wrapping paper is when taking down your Christmas tree, use wrapping paper to wrap delicate ornaments, and to provide cushioning between ornaments wherever they are stored.

Also wrapping paper can be shredded and used to protect items you have to ship throughout the year.

Lastly, if you can’t find a use for the old wrapping paper, please recycle it, rather than throwing it in the trash. Check with your city to find out if wrapping paper is accepted in your recycling bin or if they have set up a special program for recycling it after the holidays (which is what my city does).

Have any green tips you’ve recently learned? Please email them to me and I may include your tip with a link to your site or blog in a future post. 🙂