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?

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?

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!

The Dreaded Family Photos…

Is there anything more stressful than family photos?  I don’t think so.  First you have to book a session with a photographer (thankfully we have an amazing photographer that has been doing our photos since before our kids were born).  Then you have to choose outfits that match just enough to look good, but not too much because you don’t want to look cheesy.  Then come photo day, you’ve got to get yourself ready, and all the kids (which means I actually have to do their hair for once and not just put it in a ponytail).  Then you have to head over to the photo location and hope that in that 20 minutes your kids don’t spill anything on their clothes, fall and dirty up their outfits, pull out their hair, etc.  Then once you get there, you have to bribe them with little bags of candy in between each pose in hopes that you might just maybe get one picture where they are both looking, and bonus points if they are actually smiling!  Not to mention trying to keep them from getting dirty in between takes.  It is enough to drive a parent to drink.  A LOT.

But, in the end it is all worth it because we will be able to look back at these beautiful photos and remember when our lives were full of blissful chaos.

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Do you think family photos are stressful?

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?