Xmas Heroes – Parents

Xmas Heroes – Parents

What would Christmas be without parents? As much as Christmas has become a child-focused affair, it really depends on the parents to bring the magic to the holiday. Having been on both sides of the spectrum, I can say this is completely true.

My parents did such a wonderful job of making Christmastime special for my sister and me. My mother spent weeks ahead of the big day baking cookies. It was a great time for togetherness. She put on the Bing Crosby album and stacked up the Chipmunks behind it and we began making and baking the cookies that would go into Tupperware containers until family and friends came by. My father got out the electric racetrack and we raced our little cars for hours on end. We all sat together and watched Christmas specials and holiday movies on TV. We all got together and played board games and cards. Weather permitting, we went out and had snowball fights and built forts. It was such a wonderful experience and gave me a lifelong love for the holiday season.

On the flip side, as a parent I get no greater joy than burying my wife and kids in presents and watching holiday movies together. Creating a place where my kids can enjoy the magic of the holidays is an annual challenge and goal for me. If you’re anything like me, the thrill of finding a 24×7 Christmas music station is a harbinger of marvelous things to come. I’m no Clark Griswold, but I do like things to be a bit over the top for the holidays. I like having decorations in every corner of the house. I like having all the tastes and smells of the season available throughout the month of December and even the weeks before and after.

Honestly, I miss the days of counting down the days until Christmas and having a mountain of presents mysteriously appear beneath the tree. That was a real treat. It made the holidays genuinely magical for me. That being said, I never cease to be amazed at just how the magic continues to apply. As the parents, it is our job to make those presents mysteriously appear for Christmas morning. The amazing thing is that we actually put it together. Having slowly gathered and wrapped the presents for our munchkins, we tuck them away to await the big reveal. Stepping back from our late night Santa stand-in, we’re nearly just as thrilled and amazed as if we were the ones receiving the presents. It is a truly enchanting sight. The twinkling lights of the tree cast a special glow over the stack of presents we’ve assembled for the kids. It’s enough to give me a chill of delight just looking at it.

I’m so pleased to have shared this week of Christmas Heroes with you. Thank you for following our series. For the Twelve Days of Christmas this year, I have assembled a variety of obscure yuletide entertainments. I hope you will enjoy them as much as you have our Christmas Heroes and Historical Grinches.

We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Test your skill with 3D Maze Balls

Toyland Tuesday

Test your skill with 3D Maze Balls

Way back in the dusty, distant past, I had a little cube maze that my parents had in the coffee table drawer. The cube was about the size of a Rubik’s Cube. It was transparent. It had 7 or 8 layers and a tiny metal ball to traverse the maze. It was quite challenging, but the tunnels were entirely enclosed. As such, the worst that could happen was that boredom or frustration might end the maze run prematurely.

Jump forward to today and the challenge is now considerably more daunting. Today’s mazes are free-standing structures within a plastic ball. The maze runner is a small silver sphere that has an unfortunate tendency to go kerplunk on the bottom of the ball. The maze is truly 3D. You will need to negotiate stairs, spirals, ramps with no side-rails and even drop through a hole that requires 90° or even 180° turns of the sphere.

Creator of the Perplexus, Michael McGinnis, has a lifelong passion for mazes. He figured a way to use every surface of the maze elements as a pathway for the runner. His work has been widely imitated and a variety of 3D Maze Balls are currently available. The main advantage of any of these educational toys is that it requires no batteries. The maze is powered by your own determination to master the challenges presented.

The various 3D Maze Balls are listed as being appropriate for ages 7-15, but they are devilishly addictive at any age. Younger children will be proud to have gotten even halfway through the maze. It is also a great toy for teaching perseverance. I cannot help but sing the praises of a toy that challenges mind and body, dexterity and willpower.

My own son has two of these mind-bending mazes. They’ve provided hours of amusement for him and the rest of us. Moving that shiny little ball every which way can hook you in for hours. Getting it all the way through the obstacles is a great rush of triumph.

This is a wonderful toy that can provide hours of mental stimulation for children of any age.

Snap Circuits Jr. SC-100 Electronics Discovery Kit

Toyland Tuesday

Snap Circuits Jr. SC-100 Electronics Discovery Kit

My kids have this kit and it is wonderful on so many levels. It encourages creativity. It teaches the basics of electronics. It’s safe and fun.

The kit comes with a variety of snap on pieces that form the circuit necessary to create each project. A colorful instructional manual spells out exactly which pieces to use in order to create a number of different devices with flashing lights, a siren and a rotor. This toy is safe for kids as young as 7 and creates a fun space where young children can build their STEM skills.

This kit requires two AA batteries that are not provided, but if your household is like mine you’ve already got a cookie jar full of batteries on the shelf somewhere.

I can’t recommend this product strongly enough. My children enjoy playing with this electronics set and I’m sure yours would too.

Make A Gift Day

Make A Gift Day

It’s December 3rd, so you still have enough time to make some personalized gifts. In fact, prior to the turn of the 20th Century, most gifts were personally made rather than store bought. Christmas wasn’t the big commercial event that it has become.

Harken back to the olden days and make gifts for your friends and loved ones. I’ve tracked down over 250 ideas for gifts that you can make yourself.

Some of my favorite homemade gifts are the cookie kits in a mason jar. It’s fun because you make it look like sand art and it’s practical because they can just dump out the contents and bake themselves a bit of holiday fun courtesy of you!

The absolutely best thing about making personal gifts for your loved ones is that you’re genuinely giving them a bit of yourself. Even if you’re not the handiest or craftiest person, the fact that you’ve taken the effort to make something special will make the gift that much more treasured. To this day, I still remember the presents that my Nana made for us all. When you make a gift yourself, you’re making memories that will last a lifetime.

Classic Christmas Toys Available Today

Toyland Tuesday

Classic Christmas Toys Available Today

Oh, sure, you can go into mounds of debt to pay for the holiday extravaganza of buying the latest electronic gizmos only to see them strewn about the house while the kids are yelling about how bored they are.  Isn’t that a fun family tradition?  Well, once upon a time children had imaginations and toys that helped to fire that creativity. Here are some great suggestions to return to those simpler days.

Board games are classic crowd pleasers. Favorites include MonopolyMonopoly, Hi Ho Cherry-OHi Ho Cherry-O, LifeLife, Trivial PursuitTrivial Pursuit, ChessChess or CheckersCheckers. There are also great card games like Old Maid, Go Fish, Crazy 8’s, Matching, Slap Jack, MemoryOld Maid, Go Fish, Crazy 8's, Matching, Slap Jack, Memory or UnoUno.

Puzzles are great for developing minds and hand-eye coordination.  You can find puzzles that are made from many different materials: wood, cardboard, or plastic. They can also be flat, round, square or 3 dimensional. My son really enjoys the Perplexus maze ball.

Train sets are a real treat for the whole family.  They come in all sizes and for any age group. You can find a set to fit any budget.

Wooden toys are great because they are kid powered by muscle and imagination.  In the same vein, imagination driven toys also fall into the categories of dress up, play kitchens and playhouses, puppets, and books.

Get $10 Off Orders of $50+ at Magic Cabin when you use Code: LSMCTENOFF

Get $10 Off Orders of $50+ at Magic Cabin when you use Code: LSMCTENOFF

If you have older kids, crafts are always a big hit. There are some wonderful craft clubs where your gift will be appreciated all year. You can also make up your own kits by looking through craft magazines or books, copying down the instructions, making a list of the materials needed and then go shopping for what you need. Make up 12 crafts and then put each one in its own separate box. Wrap each box and put the name of a month on each box. Put all the boxes in one huge wrapped box and Tada! A perfect Christmas gift that will last all year.

Here’s a list of places to find Safe Toys for your family’s needs:

Magic Cabin, Childhood’s Purest Treasures
This is a wonderland of classic toys and activities that will fire your child’s imagination.  You can save $10 off orders of $50 or more when you use code: LSMCTENOFF

Babesta, for trendsetting tots
You will find all kinds of gift ideas besides toys here.  You can also find clothes, accessories, crib decorations, books, CDs, DVDs and gift sets.

e-Beanstalk, Expert-Selected Toys Matched to a Child’s Development
They have developmental toys categorized by age. These educational and learning toys are hand picked by child development experts following both American and European safety standards.

Heirloom Wooden Toys
You can find toys here that are top quality and safe for kids. They also have games, furniture and kids decor. You can also search specifically for toys made here in the USA.

Focalprice.com

I also wanted to give you some tips for buying toys on a budget:

Explore auction sites like eBay for great buys (used and new). You can check out the Daily Deals for gift ideas for the whole family.

You can also search on Google using the key words “wholesale toys“, or “closeout toys” or “discount toys“. You will find a variety of companies that do not require a minimum order.

Another way to save on Christmas shopping is to hit the stores right after the holidays to take advantage of clearance sales.  Doing this will make it easier for the following Christmas, but if it’s later in the year you may wish to check the outlets and thrift stores for savings on your gifts.

Circus Ring from Playmobil

Circus Ring from Playmobil

Circus Ring from PlaymobilCircus Ring from Playmobil

Is there anything as fun as when the circus comes to town? You can see elephants, tigers, prancing horses, daring acrobats and silly clowns all in one place while you enjoy some delicious popcorn and cotton candy. A visit to the circus brings memories that last a lifetime.  In most places, the circus only comes to town once a year if at all.  Now the fun doesn’t have to end when the circus moves on.

With Circus Ring from Playmobil, your children can capture the magic by holding their own circus. The Playmobil Circus includes everything needed to run a classic circus: the signature Big Top tent with ticket booths and a lighted entrance, a ringmaster, trapeze artists and much more.

The best feature is that it’s a large set, so small hands won’t have trouble playing with the pieces. They’re big enough for little hands to grab and have plenty of room to move around.

Children can play as the ringmaster with the Circus Ring from Playmobil, conducting the show as  trapeze artists do their death-defying stunts through the air.

With Circus Ring from Playmobil, your children can even serve refreshments to the spectators. There is room for lots of spectators! Your children can add their favorite figures from other Playmobil sets to create an audience for their circus acts!

Everything your children need to create a spectacular circus from their imaginations comes with Circus Ring from Playmobil.

Playmobil also provides additional circus themed sets and accessories that can help your children expand their circus to include tight rope actsPlaymobil Circus Tightrope Artists, prancing horsesPlaymobil Circus Horse Act, elephantsPlaymobil Circus Baby Elephants, big catsPlaymobil Circus Animal Trainer and cloPlaymobil Circus Clown with FlowerwnsPLAYMOBIL Clown with Dog Show. These are some great options when you find that your child is looking to expand their circus fun with the Circus Ring from Playmobil.

If you want to really bring their circus to life, there is also a Playmobil Circus game for WiiPlaymobil: Circus - Nintendo Wii that is rated E for Everyone.

Interesting Holiday Stats

Santa Checking His List

Interesting Holiday Stats

Did you know the vast number of resources processed during the holiday season? Below are a few interesting statistics regarding the number of cards and gifts sent, party food eaten, and more.

Holiday Shopping

Holiday sales are expected to hit $439.53 billion this year. December accounts for roughly 15% of stores’ yearly sales, with the exception of jewelry stores for which it is closer to 24%. Most Americans only expect to spend an average of $854 each this holiday reason. On Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday 2013, approximately $12.3 billion was spent.  The new experiment of opening shops on Thanksgiving rather than waiting until midnight on Black Friday resulted in lower percentage of sales on the infamous shopping holiday. Residents of the New England states are anticipated to spend more than the rest of the country, while the South is expected to spend the least overall.

Christmas Cards

Do you enjoy receiving lots of cards in the mail? There are roughly 1.6 billion Christmas cards sent in the United States every year to friends, family members and acquaintances. This makes Christmas the #1 card sending occasion, followed by Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.  The greeting card manufacturers are being heavily impacted by the prevalence of free, instant options available online.

Presents

The number UPS is expected to deliver this year is over 340 million. The busiest day for UPS in the 2013 holiday season was Monday, December 16th when they reached 34 million deliveries, which translates to 394 packages being delivered every second during that day.  FedEx’s busiest day was 22 million deliveries on Monday, December 2nd.

Toys

About 45% of shoppers will be purchasing toys this year, with video games and Barbie being the products most sought after.  California leads the nation in toy production with 10 locations that produce dolls and stuffed animals as well as 88 locations that produce games, children’s vehicles and other toys.

Party food

Are you tired of turkey once Christmas is over? This may be why. The USDA  approximates that there are more than 244 million turkeys raised in the United States with as many as 60 million making it to the table through the holiday season. Americans eat an average of 13.7 pounds of turkey every year! I know I do my share of compensating for the vegetarians among us.  It is also reported that 7.3 billion shrimp are consumed at as many as 46 million holiday gatherings.  According to a Reader’s Digest poll, the favorite Christmas cookie in Pennsylvania is the Pizzelle and the national favorite is the Sugar Cookie.  I certainly enjoy both, but I definitely have a soft spot for a warm chocolate chip cookie.

Decorating

Most malls and other stores begin decorating for the holiday season on November 1st, but as many as 40% begin well before Halloween to get ready for early-bird shoppers.  Shopping centers spend an average of $22,998 on their holiday decorations.  Many retailers begin receiving deliveries of holiday decor in June or July and begin closing out their summer and gardening stock to make way for the yuletide supplies.  You know I love Christmas all year long, but let’s at least wait until after Labor Day!

Christmas Trees

If it is your practice to go chop down a tree and lug it home, check this out. There are 20.8 million Christmas trees cut in the U.S. every year, with the most (over 25%) coming from Oregon. Tree farmers reap roughly $506 million from this tradition. There are $69 million in artificial trees imported from China each year. Artificial Christmas trees have outsold real ones annually since 1991.

Christmas Tree Ornaments

China is the largest producer of Christmas ornaments which totals $592 million from January through August. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates there are around 250 injuries per day from decorating accidents and Christmas tree fires.

Holiday Music

The holiday song most frequently played is “Jingle Bells”. Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” runs a close second, but it is the #1 best selling Christmas single of all time.

Disney Infinity (Product Review)

Product Review – Disney Infinity

Combining real world toys and objects with video game platforms has become one of the more popular trends of the last year known as the transmedia gaming movement.  A number of consoles and systems have been released and they range from simplistic systems to complex, involved experiences.  Disney Infinity is one such system that offers a wide array of components and seems complex but is, in reality, one of the simplest and best transmedia systems available.

Let’s take a look at some of the features

The depth and variety available is one of the main attractions of Disney Infinity. The base of the system plugs into most current gaming platforms, including the Nintendo 3DS and Windows XBox 360.  There is a wide variety of available figurines that can be plugged in to and change the experience. This system doesn’t need a character to be plugged in to work. It enters Toy Box mode which gives you the ability to create completely new worlds within the game. Characters can be plugged in and they have their own worlds based on their respective movies.  Players can collect power discs that can be connected to specific figurines that will customize those characters. For instance, plugging Buzz Lightyear’s rocketpack disc will give him the rocketpack in the game. Players can also mix and match the discs to give one character’s equipment to another.
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How Much?

The system was released in August of 2013 and costs $75 for the base package. Additional characters cost $12.50 each or $30.00 for character pair sets and will include each character’s power discs.

Things We Like About Disney Infinity

You can have tremendous fun completing missions, fighting monsters, and exploring the world with Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean, Mr. Incredible from The Incredibles and Sulley from Monsters, Inc. The ability to mix and match power discs promises to add a breadth of fun and creativity unmatched by any other available product. Toy Box mode lets players create worlds within the Disney universe letting players truly stretch their creative muscles in highly customized play.

 

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Things We Did Not Like About Disney Infinity

What can you possibly dislike about Infinity?  Collecting and trading power disks between characters provides the potential for limitless creativity and fun.

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Who Would Buy Disney Infinity?

Fans of Disney would leap at the chance to play their favorite Disney characters with Infinity!

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Guarantee?

While not officially announced, the system will almost certainly have a thorough warranty protecting against defects and similar issues.

Is Disney Infinity Worth the Money?

With the sheer amount of included content as well as the potential for continued expansion, $75 seems a small price to pay.

Where Can I Buy Disney Infinity?

Infinity is available at all major retailers including Walmart and Amazon.


More Customer Reviews for Disney Infinity

Rave reviews have been submitted for this game system and the character packs.

Get your favorite character

 

 

 

Boom Boom Balloon (Product Review)

Boom Boom Balloon (Product Review)

1NEU
Kids are huge fans of games like Old Maid, Hot Potato, Don’t Break the Ice and Jenga. These games are suspenseful and enthralling as the players wait to see who is going to get stuck with the losing hand or toppling the carefully made structure.  At the same time, all kids love balloons, but what many of them love even more than mere balloons is popping balloons.  As one might assume from the name, Boom Boom Balloon combines those two loves into a fun, tension filled (no pun intended) game!

Let’s take a look at some of the features

Boom Boom Balloon operates on a very simple concept. The game comes with 10 balloons, several sticks, and a frame. Users blow up one of the balloons inside the frame and tie it off, and then insert all of the sticks into the holes in the frame. Players then roll the 6-sided die and push a stick or sticks of their choice in, depending upon their roll. As the sticks go further in, the surface tension is increased on the balloon, and the loser is the one that makes it pop! The game is very simple and easy to understand.
4NEU

How Much?

Boom Boom Balloon will have a suggested retail price of $19.99 upon release in the fall of 2013.

Things We Like About Boom Boom Balloon

The game is rated for children ages 8 and up, but the concept is so simple, nearly any age can understand it, though younger children may be put off by the loud burst. Even adults can have fun waiting with baited breath for the strained balloon to finally burst. The frame includes a very handy tie-off system that relieves players of tying tiny, awkward knots, and all of the included parts are sturdy and well made.
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Things We Did Not Like About Boom Boom Balloon

While Boom Boom Balloon is undoubtedly a fun and simple concept, the only drawback is that merely 10 balloons are included. Certainly, replacement balloons are very inexpensive and can be purchased almost anywhere, but it would have been nice to have had more included.

Who Would Buy Boom Boom Balloon?

Boom Boom Balloon is a game the whole family can play together, and nearly everyone loves popping balloons!
3NEU

Guarantee?

It is unknown if the game has an official warranty, though it likely protects against workmanship defects and similar issues.

Is Boom Boom Balloon Worth the Money?

Considering the fun the whole family can have watching and waiting for the balloons to pop, $25 seems a small price!
5NEU

Where Can I Buy Boom Boom Balloon?

Boom Boom Balloon is available from online retailers like Amazon as well as major chain stores like Walmart and Target.

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Fun Games for Christmas

Fun Christmas Games Courtesy of Schmedgar@Flickr

Fun Games for Christmas

Wow, as we head into the holiday season there are a lot of fun times ahead.  Is there any better way to connect with your kids than to break out a board game?  It’s a marvelous pastime to get out a really engaging game and sit down and make some memories.  Some of our favorite manufacturers are bringing the fun in awesome new ways this year.  Video games, sport toys, board games and reconstructed classics are on the roster!

 

Classic board games with a brand new twist

Boom Boom BalloonRisk - The Walking Dead Edition

Boom Boom Balloon is a fun game for the whole family.  Along the same lines as Don’t Break the Ice or Jenga,  the player who pops the balloon is not the winner.  We’ve talked about Risk – The Walking Dead Edition before.  Take over the world of the Zombie Apocalypse with this branded version of the popular classic board game.

 

Video games get personal – Take on a new persona with customizable games

Disney InfinitySkyLanders Swap Force

Have it your way in the virtual world of video games.  The Disney Infinity system lets you portray your favorite movie characters in the game.  Who hasn’t watched a movie and said ‘that character should have done this’?  Here’s your chance to try to do better.  The Skylander Swap Force system lets you modify the Skylander characters to make one of your very own.  Skylander has a lot of neat characters to choose from, but with Swap Force you can stir the pot a little and make your own special character.

 

Get Ready To Rumble! Burn some serious calories with these remade classics

Futuro CubeNerf N-Sport Cyberhoop Twister Rave

Rubik’s have totally reinvented the game cube.  No peeling the stickers off of this to put things back together, it’s totally electronic and interactive.  It’s fun to play and to watch others playing.  Nerf brings a whole new level of excitement with the CyberHoop.  Plug in your iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch to create an interactive electronic backboard for your portable Nerf basketball game.  Skip-It from the Twister Rave collection is a test of coordination and endurance. Turn on levels of light display by keeping up the skipping for as long as you can.

 

Christmas is all about Memories – Make some memories playing games with your family!

They don’t stay little for long, but the memories of the fun you have with them at Christmastime will last a lifetime.  Try these and many other fun games to make magical family memories during the holidays.