Toys That Stand the Test of Time

Between my husband and I, Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles, Cousins, and friends, my kids are bombarded each year with new toys at Christmas.  Throw in a January birthday for my oldest daughter a few weeks after Christmas and our house usually ends up looking like a toy store threw up in it.  As much as I like to keep things simple at home, I will admit, we have an insane amount of toys.  I will also admit, that not all of them get played with.  There are several that I can think of off hand that probably haven’t been played with in the last year.  But there are also several that get played with weekly, if not daily.  I’d like to share some of those with you, in case you were looking for a little inspiration for gifts this year.

Wooden Train Set

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We have the Melissa and Doug Wooden Railway Set.  We gave it to my oldest daughter when she was two years old and it has been played with consistently ever since.  I love this toy because it has no batteries, is durable, and can be set up in countless configurations.  We’ve had many fun hours building the train tracks and racing the train cars along them.

Magnetic Tiles

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Last year, I really, really, really wanted to get my daughter Magnatiles, but the price tag really threw me off, so I went with a smaller version instead (Magformers) to see if she even liked it before shelling out the money for the better set.  Well, a year later and this is one of her favorite toys.  She builds different cars, robots, spaceships, all the time.  You can even play with these on any type of magnetic surface (fridge, dry erase board, etc).  I love that it came with wheels and little accessories to build things.  It has been such a hit that I decided to go ahead and get the Magnatiles set I was looking at last year.

Plasma Cars

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These were also a gift that we gave to our kids last year and we just recently made them even better by swapping out the plastic wheels for polyurethane (roller blade) wheels.  They ride so much smoother and faster now.  I’ll admit, even my husband and I like to ride on them!

Balance Bike

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This little bike is pricey, but it is awesome.  My mother-in-law bought it for my daughter when she was 2 and she really didn’t show interest in it until she was closer to 3, but once she started getting the hang of it, she really fell in love with it.  She zips around so fast on this thing.  She rides it all over our neighborhood when we take family walks at night.  Every time we meet friends at the park and bring this bike, all of her little friends take turns riding it.  It doesn’t have pedals.  She just uses her feet to propel herself along and once she gets enough momentum, there are bars on the sides where she can put her feet up and just coast (and balance) along.  It teaches kids how to balance on two wheels and transfer to a regular bike without ever having to use training wheels.

Snap Circuits Junior

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My 4 year old daughter received this as a Christmas present last year, and almost a year later it is still one of the most played with toys. There are so many possibilities with this toy. Not only can you create different circuits to do different things, but it also has ways you can set it up to play games and even create art. Currently she has spent this whole week making art circles by taping paper circles to the fan, turning it on and then using markers to draw while it is spinning. She’s also been creating her own designs on paper circles, then putting them on the fan to see what it looks like when it is spinning. I love this toy and highly recommend it.

Sorting Cupcakes

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These cute little cupcakes have been a great addition to our play kitchen.  Each cupcake has a different shape cut out in the middle of the frosting part that can be matched up with the same shape for the cake part.  It comes with a cute little tray that also has each shape in the cupcake holders, so you can match them there as well.  My kids have gotten a lot of play out of this toy and it is really high quality, not cheap plastic.

Shopping Cart

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This shopping cart is seriously like a miniature version of the real thing.  It is super heavy duty, has wheels just like a real shopping cart, and even a fold up seat to put a doll or other stuffed animal.  It is very smooth to push around the house, and my kids are constantly filling it up with all sorts of things and using it for pretend play.

Sleepy Time Tales

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I don’t know what it is about this book.  Whether it is the stories, or the art in the book, but my kids love reading this one.  It’s got 12 different stories and each one is very captivating.  Not too long (my youngest could sit through the stories at 18 months old) but not too short like a board book.  Perfect for children 1-5 years old.

Pretend and Play Animal Hospital

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This toy gets played with daily.  It is a huge hit in my house.  It is a little mock up animal hospital and comes with a dog, bandages, casts, collar, stethoscope, xrays, syringe, medicine, a chart, treats and more.  The whole thing folds up and has handles so you can easily take it somewhere you need to keep your child entertained (doctor’s office, etc).

Plush Rocker

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We got this cute pony rocker for my daughter when she was one and both of my kids still play on it.  It is really good quality and super cute.  I will definitely be hanging on to this for grandkids.

Dump Truck

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A friend of mine gave this to my daughter when she turned 2 and it gets played with just about every day.  She rolls it around the house, collecting things to put in it and then dumping them out where she sees fit.  Every kid should have a dump truck.

 

So, there are our toys that have withstood the test of time!  What toys have been hits at your house?

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Holiday Traditions…

Let’s talk holiday traditions here.  I love hearing about the things people did growing up and what they are now doing with their families.  Here are the traditions we do every year:

  • Photo Christmas card – Each year we get professional pictures taken and have Christmas cards made with our family photo on them.  I always save one of the cards and with my kids, we make a scrapbook page out of it.  I let them decorate it however they want (and yes, even if it means putting a sticker over one of our faces).  I love pulling out that scrapbook every year and can’t wait to see how their art skills progress over the years. Christmas Card 2013
  • New pajamas on Christmas Eve – My mother did this with us, so I am also doing it with my kids.  Each year I get them new pajamas and wrap them up.  They get to open them on Christmas Eve and wear them that night.  This year, my 4 year old wanted to make her pajamas, so we are in the middle of doing that.  Stay tuned! IMG_5295  IMG_5223
  • Snowbabies collection – When I had my first baby, I wanted to start a collection of something for her that I could add to each year.  I looked around a bit and really fell in love with the Department 56 Snowbabies.  There are so many different figurines to choose from and each year I get each of my girls a new figurine that depicts something either in their personality or something that interests them.  Last year, I got Annalie this superhero figurine snowbabies and I got Stella this Mickey figurine. snowbabies2 This year, Annalie is getting this t-ball figurine (since she just wrapped up her first season in t-ball) snowbabies3and Stella is getting this cute little monkey figurine because this is about how the three of us look most of the time since she always wants to be picked up. snowbabies4
  • Baking cookies – When I was growing up, we made a massive amount of goodie plates every year for our friends and neighbors.  My mom has the absolute best recipes for holiday goodies.  My sister and I have attempted to recreate it several times and I tell you, it is a ton of work.  But, each year, even if I don’t have time to make everything that we did with my mom growing up, I try to have my kids help make at least a couple of things to give out to coworkers and neighbors.  When they get older, we’ll go for the huge variety. 392576_10150435443457509_1854831664_n
  • A real Christmas tree – I have never and will never, ever, ever get an artificial tree.  We never had one growing up and still to this day, we always get a fresh tree.  Unfortunately there are no Christmas tree farms in Las Vegas, but each year Costco gets one truck full of the most amazing Christmas trees (and you really have to be on it to get one before they quickly sell out), so we get one and take it home and decorate it each year.  Nothing beats the smell of a fresh Christmas tree and when the holidays are over, we take the tree to a recycling center where it will be turned into mulch. IMG_5269
  • Ethel M Chocolate Factory – This is a great little place that we visit every year.  They have a cactus garden that they decorate with millions of lights each year and you can walk around sipping hot cocoa, listening to holiday music and even get a picture with Santa if you feel so inclined.  You can also walk through the factory and see all the workers making yummy chocolates and sample some inside.  It’s really close to our house and it’s free!  Definitely a must do if you are in Vegas. IMG_5294
  • Love Actually – Hands down my favorite holiday movie.  I mean there really are some other great classics (Elf, A Christmas Story, The Holiday, etc.), but this one tops my list. untitled

 

What are some of your holiday traditions?

Santa’s Magic Key

We’ve been having so much fun with our mailbox inspired by Play At Home Mom.  My 4 year old has been writing so many letters and drawing pictures to put in the mailbox.  It is such a joy to see her learning and enjoying learning so much.

The other night as we were laying in bed, Annalie and I were having our usual pillow talk conversations when she asked me, “Mommy, how does Santa get in our house since we don’t have a chimney?”  I wasn’t really sure how to answer her, so I just told her I wasn’t sure, but maybe she could write a letter to him and ask him.  She loved that idea.  In the meantime, I took to Facebook to ask my friends if they had any creative ideas for an answer to her question.

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One of my friends suggested I get her a Santa’s Magic Key.  What is that you ask?  Well, it is a key from Santa for people that don’t have a chimney.  You hang it on your font door on Christmas Eve, and the magic key lets Santa into the house.  What a fun idea!  I found a bunch of different styles of keys on Etsy, and decided on this one.

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A few days later, Annalie got to writing her letter.  She of course had to add some spiders and spider webs because Santa obviously likes spiders and spider webs.

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We put her letter in the mailbox that night and while she was sleeping, I swapped it out for an envelope containing the key.

In the morning, she was so excited to check the mailbox and could hardly believe it when she saw the envelope!

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She was jumping around, giddy with excitement!

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She opened the envelope and pulled out the little stocking containing the key.

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I read her the poem that came with the key, saying that the key was magic and that it wouldn’t work for us, but that it would work for Santa and that we should hang it on our door on Christmas Eve.  She was completely fascinated that Santa wrote her back and gave her a magic key.

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Stella was even more excited and pretty much carried the key around with her all day long.

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Annalie couldn’t stop talking about how Santa wrote her a letter all day.  We met up with some friends at the park and she told them all about it and showed them the key.  She even spent the afternoon drawing pictures for Santa and put them in the mailbox for him as well.

It is so much fun seeing the joy of magic and wonder of Christmas with my children.  And when you can transfer that into a learning experience (reading and writing) it just makes it even better.  What a great way to kick off the holiday season in our house.

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Do you have any fun magic Christmas stories?

My Funniest Holiday Memory

Recently I was contacted by the lovely ladies at Patience Brewster, (she is an artist and illustrator of books, greeting cards, and a designer of Christmas ornaments and gifts) to share with my readers one of my favorite holiday memories, so sit back and enjoy this little story.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures, so I’m adding a few I found online to help you visualize my story.

When I was about 16 years old, we were living in a tiny townhouse in St. George, Utah.  My Mom was a single mom raising 3 kids and when it came to the holidays, we didn’t have much.  So, to make up for our lack of gifts, I thought it would be an amazing Christmas if we put up a huge Christmas tree in our house.  But without funds to buy a huge Christmas tree, I had to resort to other options.  About an hour away from St. George is the Dixie National Forest.  You can pay a small fee for a permit to cut down your own Christmas tree.  So my boyfriend at the time and I set out to find a really big Christmas tree that would make our holidays so full of cheer that we would forget about anything else going on at the moment.

We drove up to the mountains in his little Suzuki Sidekick.  Mind you we didn’t even have a chainsaw.  That would be too easy.  We had an ax and our own strength.  It was snowing pretty hard by the time we got up there and I was on the lookout for the perfect tree.  Everything was either way too big, way too small or not symmetrical enough.  So, we kept driving and driving until finally, off in the distance I saw the most beautiful, perfectly shaped, Christmas tree.  It was just the right size too.  We pulled off to the side of the road, and of course it was quite a hike in our sneakers and jeans through the snow to get to the tree (also mind you, we lived in the desert so we were ill prepared with snow attire).  I told my boyfriend that this was the tree I wanted so he set to cutting it down.  I don’t think either one of us knew how difficult it is to cut down a tree, especially with just an ax.  He chopped, he kicked, he swore, he sweat buckets.  He gave up a few times and then started up after taking a break.  I helped as much as I could too.  Neither the snow nor the bitter cold was helping either, but I was determined to get this Christmas tree to my house to make our holidays special.  Finally, after much laboring, that sucker came falling down.

Now we had to drag it to the car.  This was no easy feat either.  Dragging an enormous tree through several feet of snow in the cold, even with two people, is something I’ve decided they should set up in a Spartan Race because it really is that difficult.  Once again, we sweat and we swore and we took breaks, until finally we got that tree to the car.  With much maneuvering and many failed attempts, we got it onto the roof of the car.

Now I’m not lying when I say that tree hung at least 5 feet over the roof of the car on both ends.  I really don’t know how we drove home because we could hardly see out of the front and back of the car.  We looked something like this:

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I think this should have been the “ah-ha” moment when we realized that this tree might be a tad too big, but when you’re out in the forest, surrounded by massive pine trees, the smaller trees really do look small, when in reality, they are actually quite large themselves.  Nevertheless, we were young and naive and full of the holiday spirit, so we headed home.

When we got to my house, my Mom was still at work, so after moving some furniture out of the way, we set to bringing the tree inside.  We got it off of the roof of the car and with one of us at each end, we attempted to bring it through the front door.  First we tried bringing it in small end first, but it got stuck before even half of it was in the house.  So then we rotated it around, and tried bringing it in big end first.  This tree was being very difficult.  It just did not want to fit through the front door!  We pushed and we shoved and once again we sweat and we swore, (and we might have maybe scratched up my Mom’s door and doorway through this process) and there were literally pine needles everywhere, but dang it we got that tree in the house!

Our house was not big.  I think it was around 1200 square feet.  The family room was the first room you walked into when entering the house and really the only place we could have put the tree.  So we set the tree down on a stand in the middle of the room and attempted to put it upright into a vertical position.  After a lot of maneuvering and me frantically moving picture frames and other knick knacks off nearby tables and walls that were getting hit with branches, we finally got the tree into an upright position.

Now this is when we finally had our “ah-ha” moment.  I kid you not.  That tree, which was placed in the center of the family room, touched all four walls of the room and even with vaulted ceilings, at least a third of it was bent over at the top.  Something like this:

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So this is when I went into panic mode.  I knew my Mom was going to be home from work at any minute and at the moment, you couldn’t even walk into the family room because it was all tree.  Not to mention the scratches on the door, walls, and ceiling from the branches.  But what was I going to do?  We didn’t have time to take it back out again, so we just left it.  Maybe she would be really excited about my holiday spirit?  Yeah, not quite.

Fortunately, I think my Mom realized that my intentions were in the right place, so she didn’t freak out as bad as she could have, although she did freak out.  She told us the tree had to go.  There was no way we could keep it in the house.  I was so sad.  All this work and we couldn’t even keep it.

But then she had an idea.  She suggested we cut the tree into a smaller tree and then put it up.  What a great idea!  So, we took that tree back outside (so much work I tell you!) and we cut off the top 1/3 of that tree and that was our Christmas tree that year.  And you know what?  It was still a HUGE Christmas tree.

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Do you have a funny holiday memory?  Share it with me!

Finding the Perfect Dollhouse

Christmas is coming and have been so excited to search out the perfect dollhouse for Stella, my 2 year old.  Every time we go somewhere that has a dollhouse, she is stuck to it like glue.  She loves pretend play and playing with dolls, so I know this will the perfect gift for her this year.

Now when I buy my kids toys (which isn’t very often because between my mother-in-law and my sister-in-law, my girls come home with a new toy almost weekly), I do a ton of research.  I always want the best for them.  Toys that are good quality, durable, will grow with them, and that are made to last.  I have this vision of being a grandma someday and pulling all these old toys out of storage for my grandchildren to play with.  Wouldn’t that be so neat?  So, with this in mind I set out to find the perfect dollhouse for my little girl.

I’m not going to lie when I say I researched this dollhouse more than I researched the actual house we live in.  I have spent hours pouring over websites and reading reviews.  Nowadays, when it comes to buying just about anything, there are a million products to choose from.  So, I started narrowing it down.

I knew right off the bat I wanted a wooden dollhouse for her.  I’m not a fan of plastic toys because they often times break easily and don’t feel as sturdy or hold up to rough play as well as wood.  I initially came across some really cute KidKraft dollhouses.  I like the KidKraft brand.  We have a few of their toys (play kitchen, play house in our backyard, etc.).  Their quality is pretty good and their customer service is excellent.  I will say with KidKraft dollhouses, you definitely get the most bang for your buck.  Their dollhouses are HUGE.  And they all come fully furnished.  But, what I didn’t like about their dollhouses was that each room was painted to be a specific room.  Like the kitchens are painted with cabinets and appliances, the bathroom is painted with a mirror and sink, etc.  There’s not much room for creativity and open ended play.

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They do have one dollhouse that is much more plain that I was really eyeing, but it is so big, I honestly just don’t know where we would put it!

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So, I continued on with my research, looking for something a little more plain.  The next dollhouse I came across that seemed to fit the bill was the Hape All Seasons Dollhouse.

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It is smaller than the KidKraft dollhouses, but does come furnished and the rooms can all be switched around.  But some of the reviewers said it was a little flimsy and might not last through multiple generations.  So, the search continued.

And then I found it.  The perfect dollhouse for my little girl.  It is made of wood.  It is plain.  It is not too small and not too big.  It can be played with on all four sides.  And it is very well made.  Heirloom quality.  It is the Terrace Dollhouse by Plan Toys.

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All of Plan Toys products are made from preservative-free rubberwood and they are one of the leading companies to create new material and process to minimize waste up to zero.  Plan Toys is a green company and has gained global recognition for its philosophy with natural aesthetic quality through wooden toys.  In a nutshell, their quality of toys is top notch and you can feel good about buying them too.

I absolutely love this dollhouse.  It is three stories and big enough that both my kids can play with it at one time.  All of the doors, windows and partitions are moveable, so you can open up the entire house, rearrange everything, and put walls wherever you want to create any size of room.  There is nothing painted on the walls, so my kids’ imaginations can run wild with this dollhouse.  And because it is such good quality, I imagine it will be in our family for multiple generations.

The dollhouse itself is not too expensive compared to other similar dollhouses, however it comes unfurnished, and when you consider each room of furniture costs about $20, it can really add up.  Now, I don’t necessarily mind paying more for quality products, but if there is a deal to be had, I’m on it.  I started scouring the internet for sales or deals to bring down the price tag.  Fortunately for me, a nice lady in California had purchased this dollhouse (only last year’s version) and 5 sets of furniture for her daughter and come to find out her daughter didn’t play with it.  So she put it up on eBay for quite a steal and after several emails back and forth (she really was a saint for putting up with all of my questions), I snatched it up for a little more than half the price of what it would cost me to buy and furnish a brand new dollhouse.  I just love a good deal!

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I am so excited to watch my little girl come out on Christmas morning and see this under the tree (or next to it as it will be too big to actually fit under the tree).  I really hope she loves it and I hope she plays with it for many, many years.

 

Do you get as excited to give gifts as your kids are to receive them?  What toys have you spent an insane amount of time researching?

It’s in! Our official 2014 Halloween Photo!

Ever since we had our first daughter Annalie, we’ve been taking an annual Halloween photo of her in her costume each year.  When Stella was born, we added her into the mix.  Each year, we pick out a cute Halloween picture frame and put the official Halloween photo in it and put it up on our mantle.  I love getting out these photos each year and looking at the progression.  This is the first year they each picked out their own costume (Annalie picked hers our last year, but not Stella).

So, in honor of today being Halloween, I’d like to share with you our official 2014 Halloween photo!

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Happy Halloween!

A New Take on Teaching Reading and Writing…

My 4 year old daughter loves to read.  We’ve been reading to her every night (and throughout the day) since she was born.  She picked up language really quickly and also knew all the letters, the sounds they made, and how to write each one before she was three.  But after she had learned all that, I knew the next step was reading, but I didn’t know how to approach teaching her.  So, I started out with some basic sight words flash cards.  We started going through 5 words each night and she picked up on them pretty quickly.  After she had gotten them all down, we moved on to simple sentences.  She also picked up on that pretty quickly, but she didn’t like doing it at all.  She dreaded having to read her sentences each night and would beg me to just skip reading and go straight to stories.  So, finally I decided to put the reading on hold.  I knew she was ready because she picked up on it so quickly, but I didn’t know how to make it fun for her so that she wanted to read.

Then I came across a blog post from a parenting blog I really love called Play At Home Mom.  She was in a similar situation trying to find a way for her son to learn reading and writing that was fun for him.  She found that if she used something that he is interested in (super heroes) that it would be fun for him to learn and he would enjoy it and want to do it.  Now as you all know, I have a little super hero lover myself, so I got some inspiration from her in hopes that Annalie would want to learn how to read and write.

I bought some magnetic sight words, blank magnetic sheets to add some of our own super hero words, a super hero notebook, pencils, and a mailbox.  I also made some alphabet super hero flash cards that I found online.

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I set up the sight words on our chalkboard in the playroom so Annalie could build sentences.

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I gave her the notebook and the flash cards (which she was over the moon for) and we attached the mailbox to the wall just outside her bedroom.

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So far, it has been a huge success.  She uses her magnetic sight words and her flash cards to write letters.  Most of them are about superheroes.

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We’ve been writing each other letters almost every day.  She writes me letters and puts them in the mailbox for me to read, and I’ll write her one in return.  She loves waking up and seeing the little flag on the mailbox and knowing there is a letter inside.

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She also loves writing me letters, folding up the paper, putting a stamp (aka sticker) on the outside and leaving it in the mailbox for me to find.

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“Lots of pumpkins at the pumpkin patch.”  “Flash is like me.”

And the best part is that she is having so much fun and instead of begging me NOT TO read and write, she’s begging me TO read and write!

I just love watching her learn and grow, especially when she is having so much fun doing so.  Being a parent can be so rewarding.