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?

Fabulous Fabletics! {and a Fit Foodie 5K Race Winner}

I’ve professed my love of Fabletics before, so as a huge fan already, I was ecstatic when I heard they were going to be one of the sponsors of the Fit Foodie 5K Race Weekend in San Diego, where I will be attending as an ambassador.  As part of the ambassador program, Fabletics sent us each an outfit of our choice.  I already own several of their workout pieces, but you can never have too many workout clothes, right?

I wore these really great running shorts for the E.T. Full Moon Midnight Half Marathon:

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And I always gets tons on compliments on this racerback top when I wear it to my gym class:

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I am in love with these ombre leggings:

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And now, I’ve got a pretty sweet running jacket and new running capris to add to my collection:

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I can’t say enough good things about Fabletics.  The quality of the clothes is top notch.  Everything is comfortable and very stylish and I love having a new workout outfit each month.  Their customer service is awesome too.  One of my pieces didn’t fit right, so I was able to send it back and get a new one super fast, all free of charge!  Now that is what I’m talking about.  Great style, superb quality and excellent customer service.  Definitely a winning combination.

Fabletics by Kate Hudson offers high performance fabrics and fashion-forward styles. Get a complete outfit for only $25 (Top + Bottom) by visiting their website here.

You can also check them out on social media here:

 

And, I’m very excited to announce the winner of a pair of tickets to the Fit Foodie 5K Race and Finisher’s Village:

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Congratulations Anne!  I’ll be in touch with you!

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?

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.

Spartan Sports Armband Review


Do you listen to music when you run?  I don’t.  But the only reason why I don’t listen to music is because I’m too busy listening to my beloved Howard Stern.  I’ve been listening to him faithfully for over 16 years now.  He is THE BEST.  Witty, funny, current, and entertaining.  Often times I will find myself bursting out laughing while running because of something he is doing on his show.  And yes, my neighbors probably think I’m crazy.  He can make 10 miles seem like 10 minutes.

Now you all know, as I’ve said before, that I really hate anything on my body when running.  But, in order to get my Stern fix in while I’m running, I need to bring my phone.  Up until now, I’ve been using a cheap armband that I bought online that while it has served it’s purpose, it definitely was not the best made arm band on the market.  I recently had the opportunity to try out a new arm band made by SpartanFive.

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SpartanFive sent me the Sports Armband for the iPhone 5 to use and review.  As soon as I opened it from the package I immediately could tell that I was going to really like it.  It is made out of luxury lycra covered neoprene with PU leather on the front cover.  I love that the material is so soft and flexible, yet the armband feels very sturdy.  The scratch resistant cover allows access the touch screen on my phone when it is in the armband and it doesn’t slip on my arm at all, even when I get sweaty.

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After using it for a month, it hasn’t stretched out.  I can even fit my phone in it without taking it out of the case.  It is water resistant and washable and also had a reflective strip on the front, which is really great for this time of year when the daylight hours are getting shorter and shorter.  It even comes with a set of ear buds that have a shorter cord with volume control right on the cord.  I now have a set of ear buds dedicated just to running!

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So goodbye cheap old armband and hello luxury SpartanFive armband!  I am very happy with this product!

I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Tomoson.com. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Vino Aria Wine Aerator and Pourer Review

Do you know what one of my favorites things to do is?  Sitting down with my husband after a long day of chasing the kids around, opening a nice bottle of wine and enjoying a glass (or two) while we talk about the day and the kids play nicely for, oh, maybe 15 minutes if we’re lucky before we have to intervene because one is snatching toys from the other and in return the other is hitting/kicking/pushing in retaliation.  Hence the need for that second glass of wine.  Before having kids, we had all the time in the world to open up a nice bottle of vino, decanting it, letting it breathe and taking that first sip after is has reached it’s full flavor potential.  Well, these days we’re lucky if we can sit and have one glass without a million interruptions.  So, unfortunately that one glass is often not quite as tasteful as it is meant to be because we just don’t have time for all that fluff when it comes to drinking wine these days.  This is where the Vino Aria Wine Aerator and Pourer really comes in handy.

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From the designer, Consumer Top Choice LLC:

Vino Aria Aerator, designed by Consumer Top Choice LLC, features a unique design that fits wine bottles and provides exceptional scent and enhanced flavor to each glass of red wine. The aerator features a petal design, complete with laser engraved logo and silver ring, to create a sophisticated look perfect for daily use or special occasions. Each Vino Aria Aerator is comprised of an acrylic spout and rubberized core, which offers strength and quick-drying capabilities for long-lasting use.

Vino Aria Aerator helps cut down on bitter notes or puckering often associated with red wines. Unlike other wine aerator designs, Vino Aria fits snugly into the mouth of any wine bottle for effortless use and provides an ample amount of oxygen into each pour to aerate and boost flavor. The perfect fit reduces the risk of leaks or drips – two common complaints associated with alternative aerators. Through the aeration process, wine is exposed to oxygen to trigger a level of oxidation and evaporation – select compounds within red wine are oxidized and evaporated with aeration, leaving bitter notes behind and leading to a more fragrant and flavorful glass of wine.

Some of the common methods of aeration include allowing wine to breathe in the bottle or swirling it around in a glass – both of which require a wait time or possible spillage. The Vino Aria Aerator and pourer allows wine drinkers to enjoy the maximum flavor without the use of additional equipment, wait time or awkward hand movements. Wine connoisseurs everywhere will appreciate the simple process – the gift wine aerator is necessary in any wine bar. Additionally, each Vino Aria Aerator is protected under a lifetime guarantee to ensure quality and exceptional customer service.

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Or layman’s terms, your wine will taste amazing without having to go through all the time and hassle of decanting it.  You can pour it straight from the bottle right into your wine glass and achieve the same effect.  Plus it doubles as a drip and leak reducer (we can’t be wasting any precious wine, now, can we?).  And it looks classy on the bottle.  It is my new favorite wine accessory!

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The Vino Aria Wine Aerator and Pourer normally retails for $19.77, but for a limited time, you can get $5.00 off, bringing the price down to $14.77 by visiting MyVinoAria.com.  So go get yours today and start experiencing what your wine is supposed to taste like!

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I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Tomoson.com. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Things I’m Loving Right Now…

The weather is cooling off, school is back up again, and the holidays are approaching.  This is my favorite time of year!  How about you?  I thought I’d share with you a few things that I’m loving right now.

Fabletics

What do you get when you combine super cute, high quality workout clothes with a monthly subscription?  Fabletics!!  A friend of mine from run club turned me on to this company (but she did warn me that I would be hooked) and I am loving it so far!  Once you sign up and fill out your athletic profile, each month you will get a selection of workout outfits to choose from.  You can buy the whole outfit, or each piece separately and mix and match.  Some of the outfits even come with a sports bra too!  So far I’ve gotten three outfits and I have been super happy with each one.  The quality of the clothes is top notch and I can’t even tell you how many compliments I’ve gotten on some of the pieces.  This is my latest outfit.  I’m just loving these ombre running leggings that will be perfect for winter running!

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They’ve also got an amazing no hassle return/exchange policy in case something doesn’t fit quite right.  They also have a rewards program where you can rack up points towards new outfits just for reviewing the ones you’ve bought.  And when you sign up, your first outfit it half off.  Score!

LED Book Light

I’m probably the only person in the world that still reads actual physical books.  But, what can I say?  I love reading and while my library does have a really great selection of ebooks, not everything I want to read is available on there and I’m way too cheap to buy books when I can borrow them for free from the library (especially when there’s money to be spent on workout clothes!).  Unfortunately these days, just about the only time I have to read is when I’m laying down with my girls trying to get them to go to sleep and since it’s dark in the room, I needed a little book light so I could read.  This little light is perfect for that.  Not too bright that it lights up the whole room, but bright enough that I can see my book.  Light weight and it’s flexible too so you can position it any way you want.  Winner!

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Aldo Adelaide Handbag

My oldest daughter will be 5 years old in a few months and this is the first handbag I’ve purchased since before she was born that is not a diaper bag.  Can I get a hallelujah?  Words cannot express how happy I am that I no longer have to carry around a diaper bag everywhere!  Granted, I probably won’t be sporting this lovely handbag to the park, because sippies, snacks, wipes….yeah those things are not going in here.  But, I will definitely be carrying it to the office and on kid free outings!

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SweeTango Apples

The other day we were at Costco shopping and I was browsing through the produce section.  I picked up my usual pack of Gala apples that run for $5.99 and noticed a different type of apple being sold there called SweeTangos that cost $16.99 for the same quantity.  Say what???  What in the world are these apples and why to they cost so friggin much?  So, I did a little research online and learned that these apples were first grown at the University of Minnesota by expert apple breeders who married a Honeycrisp and a Zestar apple to create a hybrid tree called Minneiska that grows the SweeTango apples.  The result is a crisp, sweet, crunchy and juicy apple with a touch of citrus, honey and spice.  So why the expensive price tag?  Well, the University of Minnesota awarded exclusive marketing rights to grow these apples to Peplin Heights Orchards who established a 45-member grower’s cooperative named Next Big Thing.  Only members can grow these apples, which is why the price tag is so high.

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A few days later, I was at my local grocery store and I noticed they were also selling SweeTango apples.  Since I didn’t have to buy a dozen of them at a time, I decided to buy just one and see if it lives up to the hype.  At first bite I instantly was nodding my head, thinking, “Oh yes.  They’ve done it.  They’ve created the most amazing apple on earth.”  It is seriously the best apple I have ever tasted.  It is super light and airy, perfectly crunchy and sweet, and very juicy.  It is everything an apple should be.  I wish these weren’t so expensive, as they would definitely be my go to apple (although they are only available seasonally as they are only grown in the U.S.A. and Canada), but alas, I’ll buy and eat them sparingly and stick to my Galas for the most part.

Front Door Halloween Décor

Next to Christmas, Halloween is definitely my kids’ favorite holiday.  They’ve been asking me for at least a month now if it is Halloween season yet.  So, since yesterday was the 1st of October, we decided to decorate our front door like some pictures we had seen online.  We browsed through a few different options and picked a Frankenstein looking door and went to work.  All it took was some black colored paper, paper plates, pipe cleaners and some painters tape and we had a fun afternoon making something together and a really festive Halloween door to show for it.  I can see this as being our new Halloween tradition in years to come!

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What things are you loving these days?