Archive for the ‘Help! I Need a Gift Idea’ Category

These Wacky Note Cards Make Saying “Thank You” Fun

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008


Last month we talked about how to make thank-you notes more fun for kids to write. Well, I just came across a website that has the most adorable personalized stationery I’ve seen in a long time.

The cards aren’t cheap: $35 for 25 notes plus envelopes. But they’re darned cute for thank-you notes to grandparents and other special people.

Fabulousstationery.com was advertised in Blueprint magazine, which is part of Martha Stewart’s empire. Not being a big Martha fan myself, I had never picked up the magazine before. But when you’re bored in the doctor’s-office waiting room…

I was surprised by how many articles caught my eye. And the ads aren’t all for matching shrimp forks! Check out these cute notecards. It’s not too late to write those holiday thank you notes!

Sick of Video Games? Get the Kids Hooked on Something Better

Thursday, December 13th, 2007


"Mom, can I do PlayStation?" It’s a phrase I hear all too often, even though we limit "screen time" at our house. Of course, I don’t completely despise video games (although they do seem to suck the brain cells from my 11-year-old son’s skull, right before my eyes). That black box comes in handy when Mom and Dad are in need of a privilege to take away when a certain kid crosses the line.

Sure, Matt spends plenty of time doing homework, hanging with friends and playing sports, too. But what I’ve been wanting, this holiday season, is a gift that will replace video games when Matt wants to noodle around with something electronic around the house. Something educational and also fun. (That will be just between us. Dare I use the words "educational" and "fun" in the same sentence? Not around Matt, who’€™s sure he gets enough education at school.)

DIGITAL MUSIC MAKING TO THE RESCUE

Finally, I’ve found the answer: Creating and recording music on our home computer. Specifically, using GarageBand (approx. $99 as part of the iLife ’08 Family Pack), which we have installed on our Mac. You can also find similar software for Windows, such as Cakewalk Sonar Home Studio (approx. $100) M-Audio Pro Tools (approx. $249), Sony ACID Pro (approx. $40), etc.

Matt has been taking piano lessons since first grade, but he was never able to combine his love of music with his love of pushing buttons and messing with games and all things digital. Until now.


Chris "Sharpie" Sharp, 37, of Midland, Texas, knows just a little bit about this whole digital-music thing — on a somewhat grander scale. As the monitor engineer for Rob Thomas on his recent solo tour and for the upcoming Matchbox Twenty tour this January through March (he’s also worked with Nickelback, Usher, Evanescence and others), this guy understands music and the digital world. (If, like me, you need a definition of what a monitor engineer does, Sharp is the guy off to the side of the stage who mixes the sound that the band hears in their earpieces while they’re playing.) I couldn’t think of a better-qualified person to ask about all this electronic stuff because he is not only musically and technically savvy — he’s also a devoted dad.

GEARING UP

Sharp and his wife, Rinda, 32, have two kids, 15-year-old daughter Destinie and 15-year-old son C.J., so he knows all about the allure of video games. But he thinks my husband and I might be onto something by deciding to get Matt a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) controller to use with GarageBand. 

This keyboard-like device (prices start at around $200) doesn’€™t record sound waves like a tape recorder does. It digitally encodes the start of a note, its pitch, length, volume and musical attributes, such as vibrato. As a result, MIDI music files take up a lot less space than digitized sound files. (So there might actually be some room left on the computer for Matt’s book reports…) Soon Matt will be able to write and record his own songs and send MP3 files to his friends.


Using a MIDI controller with computer software like GarageBand can open up a whole new world of creativity for a kid, Sharp says. And today’s digital technology means that you don’t need an entire board, like the monster board he uses on tour, to record your own music. A kid can do it at home. Pretty cool.

GOING FISHING

While he agrees that many parents can barely tolerate the video games that their kids crave, music is something where we can meet our kids halfway, Sharp notes. "Music speaks to each person," he says, adding that he tries to share in the types of music that interest his kids while also subtly sharing his favorite music with them. (And in his line of work, he’s definitely on the "hip-dad" side of things, which helps.) "It’s sort of like fishing. You can’t force your kids to be interested in a certain thing, but you can try different types of bait." So you’ll hear hip hop, rock, Tejano and other types of music around the Sharp home.

Sounds like good advice. And while my husband and I love to share our favorite music with Matt, and we love to learn about what he likes, we’re looking forward to hearing him make and record some fun music of his own very soon. Because with today’s technology, a kid’s desire to play with electronic stuff and push buttons can be satisfied while he’s also learning about computers, music and all things digital.

Take that, Dragon Ball Z!

Enough With the Baby Advice Already!

Thursday, December 6th, 2007


When I was pregnant, I was sometimes floored by the nerve of the strangers who offered unsolicited advice. I was told how to do everything "correctly" from breastfeeding to Lamaze to epidurals. Seems everyone knew the best way to do everything and insisted on sharing it with me — while standing in line at Target.

I mean, really, do I need to hear about what to do about sore nipples when I’m minding my own business, buying laundry detergent?

Apparently I’m not alone in thinking "hey, butt out!" Now pregnant women can express how they feel with a new line of hip maternity t-shirts called Mommy Trends. The stretchy t-shirts ($36) sport lines such as "Big &
Beautiful," but the best seller is a shirt that says "No Unsolocited Baby Advice."

Can Springsteen Lead Kids to Steinbeck?

Thursday, November 29th, 2007


Discussing song
lyrics in the classroom helps kids connect with traditional literature, says a former high school English teacher turned literacy
researcher at the University of Arkansas. Christian Z. Goering now hosts a
Web site for teachers to share links between literature and lyrics.

Goering
presented his work at the recent annual convention of the National
Council of Teachers of English in a paper titled (gotta love this) “Springsteen,
Steinbeck and The Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash: Connecting Music to
Literature.”

But he’s not suggesting
replacing literature with popular culture in high school classrooms. “What
I am suggesting is that we pair pieces of classic literature with
contemporary music, allowing some of the natural, thematic connections
to come to the surface and allowing our students to see these
connections and the relevance to their own lives,” Goering says.


Music
lyrics can be an especially effective hook, given the importance of
music to teens. Goering cites a survey that asked which form of
entertainment teenagers would take to a desert island.

Lyrics
can serve as a bridge for students, Goering noted, from material that
may be familiar or easily understood to classic literature that may be
more difficult or challenging. For example, “California Sky,” by the
Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash, takes listeners from “out in Oklahoma where
the hard winds blow” on a cross-country journey that can open up a
discussion of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.

“It
is the process of reading one text while thinking of others that truly
makes literature relevant to students’ lives,” Goering said.

Head on over to the site and click on the LitTunes Connections Database. Talk about a great way to start some interesting discussions with your kid!

Dreaming of a Green Christmas

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007


I’m happy to welcome guest blogger Leah Ingram today. Leah is a magazine journalist and author as well as a blogger on The Lean Green Family. Be sure to check out her blog!

I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that this year is going to be the greenest Christmas (and Hanukkah) of all time-at least for the folks on my "nice" list. My mission in nearly everything I do and buy this holiday season is to have green in mind, which hopefully won’t cost me a lot of green.

For starters I’m still searching the Internet for the best recycled paper holiday cards. (If you know of a website, please let me know.) Hallmark stores sell recycled paper greetings, but only in single cards, not the boxed kind for the holidays, though you can order (PRODUCT) RED recycled cards for the holidays from Hallmark.com. Worse-case scenario: I print my family newsletter on recycled paper, send it in a recycled envelope, and skip the cards altogether (though I don’t think my family newsletter will go over well with my clients).


As far as holiday wrapping goes, I don’t plan to use it this year. Instead, I’m going to hit my local Wal-Mart this week, and stock up on their $1 reusable bags that say "Paper or Plastic? Neither" (pictured at left). These bags will become my default packaging for holiday gifts.

With regard to the gifts, I’m going for items in the simplest packaging, such as CDs, DVDs and video games, which come in containers that double as storage vessels. Also, I found some cool recycled rubber doormats on Target.com which are right in my price range. And, as I’d blogged earlier, I am doing the lion’s share of my shopping via the Internet to save fuel (though the family and I did spend this past Sunday at the mall, and we will be one of those crazies up at 5:00 a.m. and in line on black Friday).

(more…)

“Made in China” — Time for a Toy Boycott?

Friday, November 9th, 2007

Like a whole bunch of steaming parents today, I’m angry.

Aqua Dots, a craft-bead kit for kids, has been yanked from U.S. stores because the coating on the beads, which causes the beads to stick to each other when
water is added, contains a chemical that can turn toxic. Children who swallow the beads can become comatose, develop
respiratory depression or have seizures. A number of kids have been hospitalized after playing with the beads.

Apparently the company in China that makes Aqua Dots decided to switch out the glue on the product, substituting a (less-expensive, of course) substance that can kill when ingested. Gotta love their concern for kids.

The parade of Chinese-made toys that have been recalled due to safety issues has become a huge, scary issue for parents of young kids. And with the holidays on the way, I have to agree with Meredith Vieira, who, on the Today Show yesterday, suggested that parents might want to just stop buying toys made in China. In fact, Vieira’s off-hand suggestion, at the end of a news piece on the recall, seemed more helpful than that from a Bush-administration rep who said something to the effect of "We recommend buying toys from someone you trust."

How is a parent supposed to know which major toy manufacturers to trust when even Mattel, whom parents have trusted for years, has ended up on the wrong end of the stick, more than once lately, when it comes to inadvertently selling toys that contain dangerous amounts of lead?

I guess President Bush is telling us we’re on our own on this one. So who can blame the woman who came into a Southern California store yesterday and told the clerk, "I just want to look at toys that aren’t made in China."

Good idea. If our leaders can’t protect us any more than they have been from toys containing lead and other toxic substances, I guess we’ll just have to look out for our own families — and vote with our wallet this holiday season.

 


Save $$$ With Cleverbabies.com

Friday, November 2nd, 2007


I just discovered a terrific website, cleverbabies.com, that offers Web coupons for all sorts of great companies, including Disney, LeapFrog, Vermont Teddy Bear Co. and Snapfish.

We’re talking deals like 20 percent off on your holiday photo-card order or a free box of chocolates with any teddy bear purchase.

And how adorable is this Thanksgiving bear? The bear and a (free!) box of chocolates would make a fun hostess gift this Thanksgiving.

Clevermoms.com also offers great deals for parents, and cleverdads.com features coupons on stuff guys like.

Get Thee Behind Me, Halloween Candy!

Friday, October 19th, 2007


It’s coming. In just 12 days and 3.5 hours (but who’s counting?)… Butterfinger. Milky Way. A Hershey’s kiss or two (or six). All the wonderful things that my son collects in his trick-or-treat bag will call to me as I work in my home office the week after Halloween.

Normally, I sneak a few pieces here and there, and it’s no big deal. I just don’t get on the scale until, uh, January. But this year I’ve lost 18 pounds since May (14.8 of it blogging over at womansday.com), and I want to keep it OFF!

Happily, the good folks over at Keeping The Castle have some terrific suggestions for using all that excess Halloween candy that tends to hang around until Thanksgiving. Just a few of their great tips:

* Melt caramel squares to use as drizzle over apples, ice cream or cake.

* Instead of jam, put mini Reese’s cups in thumbprint cookies.

* Freeze the candy for use as decorations on gingerbread houses in December.

Of course, I realize that doing these things will fill my kitchen with caramel sauce, thumbprint cookies and gingerbread houses. But at least those are the sort of treats that I tend to make with Matt to share with friends and neighbors. Sneaking Halloween candy at 1 p.m. on a Thursday, while Matt is at school? That’s a solo act of taste buds over common sense.

OK, twist my arm. Bring on the thumbprint cookies! Hey, I can freeze ‘em and be that much more ahead of the game when I get invited to a cookie-exchange party. (Hint, hint.)

Teddy’s Travels: Making Our National Parks Come Alive for Kids

Monday, October 15th, 2007


Our family is nuts for Yosemite National Park. We’ve made so many memories there with our annual winter trips. And, as usual, Mom was the one to save those memories in scrapbooks and photos. But now, there’s a way to get kids in on the act when the family visits Yosemite — or any of America’s national parks.

Teddy’s Travels — America’s National Parks, by "Tedrick de Bear" and Trefoni Michael Rizzi (Tdb Press; $19.95) is the first book in a series of interactive travel guides/scrapbooks/journals for kids. Readers join Tedrick de Bear as he travels across the U.S. by way of our national parks and monuments.

The books is filled with gorgeous color photos, fast facts, scavenger hunts, journal pages and graphics designed to keep kids interested, learning and having a blast. And be sure to visit Teddy’s website to check out his newsletter, blog and fun activities for kids.

Just looking through the book gave me ideas for future family vacations, too…

May I Have Your Autograph?

Thursday, August 16th, 2007

Remember autograph dogs? The canvas-covered, stuffed dog came with a waterproof pen. Kids could have their friends sign the dog and then display it in their bedroom.

A cute idea, but kids today have an even better "autograph" option, and it’s here just in time for back-to-school fun. It benefits a good cause, too.

Payless ShoeSource and The Fresh Air Fund have created a new program designed to raise money and awareness for the Fresh Air Fund and
its mission to give New York City kids from low-income communities
“fresh air” through free trips to Fresh Air camps and stays with host
families in smaller towns located outside the Big Apple.

 

(more…)