Saturday, December 31, 2011

Our Most Excellent New Year's Eve

We had a super-fun New Year's Eve day today. First, we braved going for dim sum in suburban New Jersey. There is was, China Gourmet, a non-descript and ramshackle building with two crumbling lions standing guard out front. The parking lot was empty, and we almost didn't go in.

Thank goodness we didn't turn back. Because the Golden Panda has totally Chinatown-quality dim sum. The parking lot was even packed by the time we left. So for all of you who thought good dim sum in the suburbs was the thing of myth, I can tell you... it's not.

Then we took the kids for "ice cream" - which was really frozen yogurt at Red Mango. They were super-happy.

Once it was night out (which my son calls medium-dark) we went on a tour of the holiday lights around town ending up at a surprise destination, which we managed to pull-up to at the exact right time - just as the fireworks started. We let the kids stand-up and watch them out the sunroof and they were flipping out at how cool it was. The huz and I were quite pleased too - it's not often we get to keep a surprise from our three kids.

Now we're back home, hanging out and watching TV. I promised the two big girls they could stay up till midnight. The rational part of me knows this will not seem like the best idea tomorrow when they're tired and cranky.

But the even more rational part of me knows there aren't too many more New Year's Eves the kids are gonna want to spend with their mom, even with the promise of watching fireworks out the sunroof.

And now if you'll excuse me, my daughters tell me it's time now to dress-up to watch the ball drop.

Happy New Year!

Note: Post totally uncompensated in case it sounded otherwise with the Golden Panda and Red Mango mentions.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Three Non-Profits I Heart: Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Wikipedia and the Newark Boys & Girls Club

This time of year I always make a few last-minute donations to places I've meant to give to all year but of course haven't gotten it together to put my money where my, er, heart is.

Last year I did a Comment for a Cause post on this blog, pledging to donate a dollar per comment left - ending up on the hook for a mind-boggling $35. Yep, that post went totally viral.*

So this year, I'll skip the commenting requirement and just mail a check make an online donation to these organizations I heart:

Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood - This organization is behind a lot of amazing campaigns like ones that keep advertising (often via Scholastic) out of school curriculum. They also provide education and viable alternatives to parents and educators who want to reduce, or even eliminate, marketing from kids' lives. They don't accept any corporate funding, so they rely on individual donations.

Wikipedia - Yes, I will admit it - I was swayed by the personal appeals at the top of the pages. But I didn't donate to Wikipedia because I am such a gigantic Wikipedia user. I donated to Wikipedia because I think it's truly inspiring that this behemoth of a site has chosen not to have advertising on the site. As someone who tries to monetize my own teeny-tiny online mouse hole any way I can, I greatly respect someone who isn't plastering ads and who-knows-what all over their site, and my user-experience. And if I can help Wikipedia keep going via their model of user-supported donations, sure I'll be in on that.

Newark Boys and Girls Club - This last one is because I believe in supporting local organizations, and Newark is just up the road from my neighborhood. And no, it doesn't hurt that I'm a huge fan of Mayor Booker. The Boys and Girls Club runs an incredible array of life-changing youth programs that promote education, life skills, the arts and much more. And, they're active in social media - which I think more organizations should be. So, I'm giving them a donation for that reason, too.

With one day left to make a difference in 2011, I'd love to hear which organizations do you heart?

*Despite the monetary failure of last year's Comment for a Cause, it was not a total bust. Through the comments I "met" some great people like Michelle Simon who blogs at Appetite for Profit and tweets at @Appetite4Profit; Lisa Sunbury who blogs at Regarding Baby and tweets at @RegardingBaby and Erin who blogs at Marketing, Media and Childhood and tweets at @mktgchildhood. So it was totally worth it for those connections alone.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Squinkies: A Photo Collection by Kay

My daughter Kay is really into Squinkies these days. She spent the better part of the afternoon photographing her beloved creatures.

I'm not sure what I think.

Has the Squinkie obsession hit at your house?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Winter Vacation - The First Half

We are just about at the half-way point of the kids winter vacation, and while they have complained a bit of being bored,  it has been really fun.

Our family's Hanukkah celebration has come to an end, finally. Like many endings, it was bittersweet. The family gathering at the front bay window was an evening tradition I came to cherish - even as it came with squabbles over who was standing closer, whose turn it was to light the candles... you know, the usual holiday traditions.

Photo from American Vernacular Landscapes
My son brought home from preschool a homemade menorah I adore:

As for presents, we gave Kay, who is six, a rite-of-passage gift I was so happy to give her - a book light, signifying not only that she can read now but that now that she can read after lights-out. She beamed.

And for Magpie, who is eight, a literary upgrade as well - a reading chair from her grandma:

Big Duckie likes the chair, too:

Other things making the kids happy, Kay's new Huggie Pillow, "Peace-y"

And Magpie's new reading obsession, The Dork Diaries:

And Ziggy, he is loving Richard Scarry books and looking for Mr. Frumble's hat:

And I'm loving having gotten a couple of photos of all the kids together:

We've seen the holiday lights at the Turtle Back Zoo:

And we continued our annual Merry Zoo Day tradition, which is going on eight years now:

And already, I know there is one thing I'll be doing next year. I overheard Magpie whisper to her little sister on the last day of Hanukkah, "There's only one night left, I don't think there's much chance I'm getting that iTouch."

Sorry, kid. But I'm so planning on it for next year.
How is your winter vacation? Too long or too short? Or just right?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Magpie and Kay pose with the giant light-up spinning dreidel, 2008.

To read about our annual Merry Zoo Day tradition, click here.

However and whatever you celebrate, Happy Everything!

Friday, December 23, 2011

TOYS WITH NO ASSEMBLY REQUIRED: The Eighth Edition of Anna's Super-Fun Non-Commercial Gift Guide

Today was the fourth night of Hanukkah. It was also the fourth night in a row that I spent frantically trying to detach, put-together, and battery-ize toys for three kids, all the while working against frantic kid clocks which think the toy should be ready in ten seconds, or is possible, less.

All this is just to say, I have a renewed appreciation for toys with no assembly required.

Here are a few great toys that won't make you look for a screwdriver, or the batteries, or eventually your sanity:
  • Perplexus ($21-24) - This toy is a huge hit with my kids (ages 6 and 8). Perplexus is a maze contained in a clear ball, and the kids need to roll the ball along the numbered path towards the finish by flipping, twisting and spinning. Perplexus comes in three versions - Rookie (ages 4+), Original (ages 6+) and Epic (ages 8+), and according to my kids it is "not too easy."
  • Frigits ($24.50) - This fun marble run is attached to magnets and goes on a fridge, or if you are a New York City apartment dweller, on your front door. Just take it out of the box, and it's ready for marble fun. Ages 3+.
  • Little Helper's Grocery Cart by Step2 ($37.99) - When this arrived, I took one look at the box and groaned - as I was certain that the rest of the morning would be spent putting this together for my wide-eyed toddler who would spend the whole time asking me at 20-second intervals, "me have it now?"
So you can imagine my - uh, I mean his - delight when I opened the box and realized it was already completely put-together and ready to go - there's even room for a doll or stuffed animal to ride in front.

My son Ziggy took it for a spin around the house immediately, and he has been filling (and re-filling) it with much enthusiasm ever since. Ages 2+.

Do you have suggestions for other no assembly required toys? Or, even better, do you have an assembly strategy?

This is the eighth edition of Anna's Super-Fun Non-Commercial Holiday Gift Guide. You can read the other seven here.

I received a Perplexus and a Little Helper's Grocery Cart for review. Neither my opinions or those of my kids who loved these toys were influenced. The Frigits is a long-time favorite family toy.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Last-Minute Holiday Shopping at the 72nd Street Duane Reade

Last Sunday, we met our friends on the Upper West side to see Little Red, a pantomime performance at the ArcLight Theatre. We go every year to see the annual holiday Pantomonium show, and this is one of my favorite holiday traditions.

We were coming by car from the suburbs, and wanting to make sure we weren't late, actually ended up getting to the Upper West Side early.  Perfect.  I had a few things I needed to pick-up from tape to teachers' gifts, and now I had the time to make a quick run into Duane Reade.

We walked into the Duane Reade at 72nd Street (2075 Broadway), and I will admit it:

I was shocked and impressed.

This wasn't just not like the Duane Reade I knew, this wasn't like any drugstore I knew.

Wondering why I'm saying this wasn't exactly an everyday drugstore? For reasons like these...

Organic baby food:

Keith Haring bibs:

A Bar, where you can have growlers (reusable containers) filled with beer:

And this was just downstairs. We headed upstairs via escalator, much to my children's delight,

and once we got to the second floor I will admit I took a moment and admired the view below of Broadway:

Then I spied the gigantic cosmetics area, and the many awesome holiday gifts. Like tons of nail polish choices:

The kids of course got confused (as often happens) that we were there to buy stuff for them, so there was some distraction when Ziggy saw his beloved cars:

When Kay saw those big eyed animals she adores:

And Magpie, well, you could hear her screams downtown when she spied "DUCK TAPE!!!"

All in all, it was a great - and unexpected - holiday shopping expedition.

And in case you were wondering, yes, I remembered to get tape.

We left with a few gifts, including perfect-for-teachers Lindt chocolates:

We all left happy - me, ready for the holidays and the kids, ready for the rest of our day in New York City.

For my son, this meant a cupcake at the Red Velvet Westside Bakery (141 West 72nd Street):

And a call at the corner pay phone:

Thanks Duane Reade for the great shopping experience, I can see why you're called the Jewel of the Upper West Side!

To see more photos from our shopping trip to Duane Reade, please check out my Google+ Album.

You can follow Duane Reade on Twitter @DuaneReade and via the hashtag #DReade. You can also like them on Facebook (

This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias #CBias.

All opinions - and money spent at Duane Reade - are my own.

Monday, December 19, 2011

SHOP LOCAL MADE IN NEW YORK: The Seventh Edition of Anna's Super-Fun Non-Commercial Holiday Gift Guide

I love shopping local, and this seventh edition of my Holiday Gift Guide brings a few great picks for amazing items made right here in New York. Each of the designers have some cute-yet-edgy picks for the pint-sized, as well as some fantastic choices for the less pint-sized, from fun totes to gorgeous quilts.

Karin Alexis - all of this New York designer's items are made in New York City. She has adorable tutus ($42, featured in an earlier Gift Guide), responsible Eco Totes ($24):
and Burp Cloths in fun, retro prints like this one, Fashion Girl ($10).

All non-sale items gift wrapped free of charge.

Haptic Lab - this Brooklyn design studio makes soft maps, which are "quilted maps of cities and neighborhoods that represent someone's unique place in the world." Custom quilts - of anywhere you like - are created by hand in Brooklyn and take over 200 hours to complete. They also have baby quilts ($145-200) of several major cities, like the one pictured of Brooklyn, which can be personalized with baby's name, birthday and several locations of choice - all hand-embroidered.

For us grown-ups, there are queen sized City Quilts ($450), New York City is pictured.

Map Tote - another Brooklyn-based company with a geography theme, the husband and wife team behind Map Tote make environmentally friendly, reusable totes that feature a ton of different places including Park Slope

and New Jersey (both $17), as well as Mapnote cards ($4.50) and baby onesies ($25).  All of their fabric is cut, sewn and printed in Brooklyn.

Do you know of other made in New York companies? Please let me know, I'd love to add them.

You can see the rest of my super-fun non-commercial holiday gift guides here.

No compensation for this post, I just heart all these products. Karin Alexis I know from my Upper West Side days, and the Brooklyn folks I met at the New York International Gift Fair in August.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

BLUE AND SILVER GIFTS: The Sixth Edition of Anna's Super-Fun Non-Commercial Holiday Gift Guide

My picks for super fun non-commercial blue and silver holiday gifts (from left to right):

1. Go Car Blue (by kid o)

2. Silver Racecar Metal Speedster (by Schylling)

3. Refrigerator (by Plan Toys)

4. Sequin Mix Top (by Splendid)

5. Bilibo Blue (by kid o)

6. Holiday Cardigan (by Splendid)

You can see the rest of the gift guides here.

Next up: shop local with gifts made in New York and New Jersey!

I was not compensated for this post.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Holiday Crafts You Can Make with Duck Tape

For those of you who know me in real life (or blog life, now that I think about it) you are already aware that there is a fairly decent-sized Duck Tape obsession going on at our house.

In addition to our usual repertoire of Duck Tape creations, my kids and I are planning to make some of these fun holiday ideas from the incredibly creative folks at Duck Tape:

Holiday Wreath
Our door is still woefully undecorated, and I love the idea of making this homemade Duct Tape Holiday Wreath with the kids:
These are really fun to make, and my nice Jewish kids, as they don't know any better, call their's meatballs. (Does that sound sad? It's not, really.)

We are not planning to make this Duct Tape Poinsettia, because we know our limits, but wow... it's pretty amazing.

Duck Tape brand duct tape has lots of fun holiday prints and colors, like this fun Candy Cane Stripe:

Are you crafting for the holidays? Would love to hear about your projects - leave a comment!

I was not compensated for this review. I did receive some Duck Brand duct tape to fuel my obsession to review.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Go Green with The Gigglin' Garden Gang #GoGreenNGiggle #CBias

I recently was lucky enough to receive a Go Green and Giggle Garden Activity Set to review. This cute set comes with a book, music and everything your child (recommended for ages 3 to 8) needs to grow sunflower plants and to learn a little about gardening and going green.

I did a quick search online to learn more about the Gigglin' Garden Gang before we got started, and first searched "go green sunflower suzi" which got these search results for their Facebook page Sunflower Suzi and Friends and Twitter @GoGreenNGiggle:

So I "liked" and "followed" and the next Google search I tried was "go green and giggle" and the Go Green and Giggle website came right up:

The site is really fun and engaging, and introduces you to all the great Gigglin' Garden Gang folks:

All this made us even more ready to open the kit and get planting!

My daughter Kay, age 6, was all too happy to be my resident tester. We have our own garden, and while it yields mixed results, all the kids are junior gardeners.

Kay loved everything about the Greenhouse Kit ($20.95), from opening up the box it arrived in:

to modeling the cute bag all the goodies came packed inside of:

The kit comes with a grow kit of six pods (made from recycled plastic bottles) and six compact mini dirt "wafers." All you need to do is follow the enclosed directions to add water and the soil expands and is ready for the sunflower seeds to be planted.

Kay happily watered the soil wafers:

 and planted the sunflower seeds:

Now we just need to sit back, tell them some jokes, and watch our sunflowers grow.

While we were waiting for the just-planted seeds to come forth in their full sunflower glory Kay colored her Sunflower Suzi that came in the set.

Now, just to pass the next 2,894 hours...

Thank you to the Gigglin' Garden Gang for providing a Gigglin' Garden Activity Set for review - my daughter enjoyed reading the book, Go Green and Giggle! and loved getting to plant her own grow kit with the Gigglin' Garden Greenhouse.

To learn more and to see additional photos, visit my Go Green and Giggle album on Google+.

This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias
All opinions are my own.

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