Thursday, December 8, 2011

The 5 Best Toys of All Time by Jonathan Liu

My clever sister-in-law found this article that was fantastic. I think it is 100% on target for true kid happiness and frankly the answer to all problems in the world. (ok may be not all problems but a lot more excess energy would go to these creative outlets than other problematic ones)

ARTICLE START---(pictures changed by me but his article can be found HERE)
Here at GeekDad we review a lot of products — books, toys, gadgets, software — and I know it’s impossible for most parents to actually afford all of the cool stuff that gets written up. Heck, most of us can’t afford it either, and we’re envious of the person who scored a review copy of a cool board game or awesome gizmo. (Disclosure: that person is probably me.) So while we love telling you about all the cool stuff that’s out there, I understand that as parents we all have limited budgets and we sometimes need help narrowing down our wishlists.

So to help you out, I’ve worked really hard to narrow down this list to five items that no kid should be without. All five should fit easily within any budget, and are appropriate for a wide age range so you get the most play out of each one. These are time-tested and kid-approved! And as a bonus, these five can be combined for extra-super-happy-fun-time.

(pictures taken in Maryland while I was in Utah surprising my mom who graduated with her masters degree Spring 2008)

1. Stick

What’s brown and sticky? A Stick.

This versatile toy is a real classic — chances are your great-great-grandparents played with one, and your kids have probably discovered it for themselves as well. It’s a required ingredient for Stickball, of course, but it’s so much more. Stick works really well as a poker, digger and reach-extender. It can also be combined with many other toys (both from this list and otherwise) to perform even more functions.

Stick comes in an almost bewildering variety of sizes and shapes, but you can amass a whole collection without too much of an investment. You may want to avoid the smallest sizes — I’ve found that they break easily and are impossible to repair. Talk about planned obsolescence. But at least the classic wooden version is biodegradable so you don’t have to feel so bad about pitching them into your yard waste or just using them for kindling. Larger, multi-tipped Sticks are particularly useful as snowman arms. (Note: requires Snow, which is not included and may not be available in Florida.)

As with most things these days, there are higher-end models of Sticks if you’re a big spender, from the smoothly-sanded wooden models (which are more uniformly straight than the classic model) to more durable materials such as plastic or even metal. But for most kids the classic model should do fine. My own kids have several Sticks (but are always eager to pick up a couple more when we find them).

One warning: the Stick can also be used as a sword or club, so parents who avoid toy weapons might want to steer clear of the larger models. (On the other hand, many experts agree that creative children will just find something else to substitute for Stick, so this may be somewhat unavoidable.)

Although she is not generally known as a toy expert, Antoinette Portis has written this helpful user manual for those needing some assistance in using their Stick.

Wired: Finally, something that does grow on trees.

Tired: You could put someone’s eye out.

Disclosure: I have received several samples of Sticks from one manufacturer for review.

(Christmas 2008 brought these wonderful box ideas into our lives. Tiago and Mia were using the vacuum box as a hiding place. Talia was then subjected to playing the baby Jesus in this made to fit Costco box.)
2. Box

Another toy that is quite versatile, Box also comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. Need proof? Depending on the number and size you have, Boxes can be turned into furniture or a kitchen playset. You can turn your kids into cardboard robots or create elaborate Star Wars costumes. A large Box can be used as a fort or house and the smaller Box can be used to hide away a special treasure. Got a Stick? Use it as an oar and Box becomes a boat. One particularly famous kid has used the Box as a key component of a time machine, a duplicator and a transmogrifier, among other things.

Still stuck for ideas? Check out this Box user manual by Antoinette Portis for a few more ideas.

The Box may be the most expensive item on my list, available from many retailers and shipping companies, but they can often be had cheaper if you know where to look. Amazon is one of my main sources of the small- to medium-sized Box; I include one with virtually every order I place there. If you don’t mind second-hand toys, the grocery store, bookstores and recycling centers are also great sources for Boxes. Oh, and the best place for the extra-large version is an appliance store (though sometimes they’ll try to sell you an appliance along with it, which could get pricey.)

Note: If you’re in a pinch, Laundry Basket is a similar item and can often be substituted for Box in some instances, though it’s generally not as great for costumes (other than a turtle). And if you’re thinking of using Box for your next building project, Mr. McGroovy’s Box Rivets make a great optional accessory.

Wired: Best celebrity endorsement: Calvin & Hobbes.

Tired: Paradox: what do you put Box in when you’re done playing with it?
(A fancy updo that Mia did on Sunday for my hair. It kind of reminds me of the 80's)

3. String

My kids absolutely love String — and when they can’t find it, sometimes they substitute other things for it such as scarves or blankets, but what they’re really after is String. Now, I should start off by saying that String is not intended for toddlers and babies: it is a strangulation hazard and your kids must be old enough to know not to put it around their necks. However, when used properly your kids can really have a ball with String.

The most obvious use of String is tying things together, which my kids love to do. You can use it to hang things from doorknobs or tie little siblings to chairs or make leashes for your stuffed animals. Use String with two Cans for a telephone (and teach your kids about sound waves), or with Stick to make a fishing pole. You’ll need String for certain games like Cat’s Cradle — there’s even an International String Figure Association for lots more information. String is a huge part of what makes some toys so fun — try using a yo-yo or a kite without String and you’ll see what I mean. Try the heavy-duty version of String (commonly branded Rope) for skipping, climbing, swinging from trees or just for dragging things around.

Although you can buy String at a store, it’s generally sold in much larger quantities than your children will probably need — usually my kids are happy with roughly two or three feet of it. I actually have no idea where it comes from, because I don’t remember buying them any, so it must be pretty easy to come by.

Wired: It really ties everything together.

Tired: There’s a reason “no strings attached” is a benefit.

"A Series of Tubes" by Flickr user Orin Zebest. Used under Creative Commons license.
4. Cardboard Tube

Ah, the Cardboard Tube. These are kind of like the toy at the bottom of a box of Cracker Jacks — they come free with a roll of paper towels and other products but you have to wait until you get to the end of the roll before you can finally claim the toy. (Perhaps this explains why my kids — who love the small size — go through toilet paper so quickly.) The small- and medium-sized are most common, but the large versions that come with wrapping paper can be more difficult to obtain — I had a roll of Christmas wrapping paper that lasted about three years before my kids finally got the Tube. There’s also an extra-large size that is sometimes sold with posters, and a super-sized industrial version which you’ll generally only find from carpet suppliers. (Of course, carpet stores aren’t toy stores, and while their product also goes by the name Cardboard Tube it’s hardly the same thing and probably shouldn’t be considered a toy.)

My kids have nicknamed the Cardboard Tube the “Spyer” for its most common use in our house, as a telescope. (Or tape two of them together for use as binoculars.) But if you happen to be lucky enough to get a large size, the best use is probably whacking things. Granted, Stick is also great for whacking, but the nice thing about Cardboard Tube is that it generally won’t do any permanent damage. It’s sort of a Nerf Stick, if you will. If that sounds up your alley, look up the Cardboard Tube Fighting League — currently there are only official events in Seattle, San Francisco and Sydney, but you could probably get something started up in your own neighborhood if you wanted. Or if you’re more of a loner, perhaps the way of the Cardboard Tube Samurai is a better path.

Obviously if your own kids are younger you’ll want to exercise discretion about these more organized activities, but it probably wouldn’t hurt to provide them with a Cardboard Tube or two just so they’ll get used to the feel of it. You never know if your kid will be the Wayne Gretzky or Tiger Woods of Cardboard Tube Fighting, right? Best to give them the opportunity so that if they show some particular aptitudes they’ll have that early advantage. And if not, well, there are still plenty of people who enjoy playing with Cardboard Tubes casually without all that pressure.

Wired: Comes free with purchase of toilet paper, paper towels, and wrapping paper.

Tired: Doesn’t hold up to enthusiastic play.

(Talia in Spring of 2009 loving playing and ingesting the very clean sand at Sea World)
5. Dirt

When I was a kid one of my favorite things to play with was Dirt. At some point I picked up an interest in cleanliness and I have to admit that I’m personally not such a fan of Dirt anymore — many parents (particularly indoor people like me) aren’t so fond if it either. But you can’t argue with success. Dirt has been around longer than any of the other toys on this list, and shows no signs of going away. There’s just no getting rid of it, so you might as well learn to live with it.

First off, playing with Dirt is actually good for you. It’s even sort of edible (in the way that Play-doh and crayons are edible). But some studies have shown that kids who play with Dirt have stronger immune systems than those who don’t. So even if it means doing some more laundry (Dirt is notorious for the stains it causes) it might be worth getting your kids some Dirt.

So what can you do with Dirt? Well, it’s great for digging and piling and making piles. We’ve got a number of outdoor toys in our backyard, but my kids spend most of their time outside just playing with Dirt. Use it with Stick as a large-format ephemeral art form. (Didn’t I tell you how versatile Stick was?) Dirt makes a great play surface for toy trucks and cars. Need something a little gloopier? Just add water and — presto! — you’ve got Mud!

Dirt is definitely an outdoor toy, despite your kids’ frequent attempts to bring it indoors. If they insist, you’ll probably want to get the optional accessories Broom and Dustpan. But as long as it’s kept in its proper place, Dirt can be loads of fun.

Wired: Cheap as dirt.

Tired: Dirty.

(Tiago "accidentally" dumped dirt all over our front porch after planting some flowers Spring of 2009 in San Antonio. Cute boy and his sister just cleaning up)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Biker Santa!

Christmas in San Antonio might not always have the glow of new fallen snow, but we still rock around the Christmas block Harley Davidson style!

Joaquin was far to interested in the shiny things on the bike to bother about my attempts to get him to smile at the camera. Also, check out the crocs my kids are wearing. Poor Santa was decked out in the warm San Anton weather.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Guess What We Found?

TOES!! I love watching kids discover things, but something about them discovering their hands and toes makes me giggle. Their face always seems so surprised and amazed once they realize there is more to who they are. On a less exciting note, we also found another UTI infection while we were in Dallas. We knew he could get another one, but it should've been caught with his prophylactic dose of antibiotics. It really was quite a miracle that I even caught the problem. I decided to give him a bath and was a little more than concerned that his urine was dark brown. Three doctors tried to convince me that it was anything but a UTI. The first doctor tried to tell me that he was dehydrated which was sort of silly since he leaked through his diaper and his shirt front was soaked in spit. The next doctor decided that the new food we introduced to him was the culprit. Also silly since the few times we had given him food, it was rice cereal which is very white. The last doctor tried to tell me it was due to teething! Really?
He got to enjoy getting a catheter twice and it was obvious when they got the sample that he had a UTI. They sent me home with meds and the inappropriate dosing amount. Thank heavens we have been doing this for sometime know so I could catch it. Poor thing. His meds stink and he hates it, but we have to get the kidneys to last his lifetime.

Monday, November 21, 2011

My World Wide Travels

So I turns out that my life (that consists of diaper changing, kid request filling, may be shower taking, and sometime clean house) actually has a bit of world travel. Well, not really, but my emails seem to suggest it. Early this morning during my internet quick check, I came across several perplexing emails about whether or not I was ok. Turns out my email me took a trip to London and forgot to travel with insured travelers checks because she was mugged and lost everything but her ability to email any random person she has ever emailed with that account begging for money. Thank heavens for real friends who still offered me the cash!!

Teasing. Anyways, those who know me, know I never go anywhere without my ninja warriors (Don't mess with this crew and their bamboo skills!)

and my Russian spy!

The email was ridiculously funny, but I still feel bad for all those emails falling into the hands of some person who happens to be in Nigeria of all places with nothing better to do than to concoct silly tragedies and force people like me to abandon their 12+ year email account.

Now I am going to take a lesson on peaceful meditation from the master:

Too bad the picture quality doesn't do this pose justice. The one hand grips the sheet as the other holds onto his ever growing amount of dreads and he pushes his diapered self up while crossing his legs. Totally a great way to sleep. Whatever is making him only wake up at most ONCE A NIGHT!!!! just do it.

POST POST--the most exciting part of all this is that someone from the FBI called my house about it! What? I felt all cold war like. Well, it was definitely more exciting than getting around to doing the dishes.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


First I was like--

Lucky. . .

Then I was like


Friday, October 28, 2011

Happy Halloween

I love how my kids have strong personalities. It can be brutal at times, but for most of our lives, it just makes for a lot of fun. For example, my two oldest are in love with their costumes. They have worn them multiple times already. I am positive they will still be wearing them after Halloween.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Groupon Exploration

Thank you groupon for our Children's Museum adventure. The 45 min drive from our house was a hurdle I never would have made to go to the best children's museum near San Antonio save it were for Groupon. Although it was just like any average children's museum, it was amazingly fun plus who couldn't love painting a real car!

I suppose I will forgive you for the misleading purchase I made for a pumpkin patch "deal" that ended up being a major waste of time and money. The groupon cost more than the normal admission price and came with four "free" coupons to ride a train that really was hollowed out barrels pulled behind a tractor.
Everything in the patch cost $3 to participate in which isn't that big of a deal if you have 1 kid to pay for. It gets ridiculous with 3. I would have rather paid to play somewhere else. At least we could commiserate with my sister and her family. Thanks for being troopers.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

He's So Cute

So says Talia. And I have to agree.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Rabble and the H-factor

"The word rabble usually represents a disorderly crowd, but we recently learned that a group of butterflies is also called a rabble." (from the Houston Center of Contemporary Craft) Turns out that while we were in Houston, there was a "very special opportunity to contribute to a rabble—and not one, but two, public art projects." (HCCC)

To continue quoting from their site:

"As part of our 10th Anniversary celebrations, we are asking our members, friends and visitors to help us turn colored origami papers into three-dimensional butterflies that commemorate special events and activities this fall. Look for tables set up in the small gallery or lobby, where you can sit down and learn this simple origami fold. We expect that, over the course of the project, the installation of your butterflies will grow to cover a complete display wall at HCCC."

"The butterflies will have a second life during the Spring 2013 unveiling of I Never Saw Another Butterfly at The Holocaust Museum Houston. The Museum is collecting 1.5 million handmade butterflies in a visual remembrance of the 1.5 million children who perished during the Holocaust. When the rabble settles down at HCCC, we will contribute the butterflies made by all of you to this honorable project. So, come on over, get folding, and join us for this fantastic community project."

Mia was loving it, and made 4-5 butterflies at the museum. She hasn't really stopped thinking about how we could make and use these butterflies. Tiago made one and then found some shiny origami paper to make a jet. Joaquin loved starring at them on the wall. Talia was streaming and yelling about everything. We stayed as long as we could with her antics or in this case her attempt at rabble rousing. I confess I was more than tempted to join in the craziness, but I got over it. Too bad the kids will not have the chance to see their butterflies at their final resting place. I just isn't really appropriate for their ages.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Blades vs Wheels

When I was a little girl (not so little that it was precious but definitely younger than now), I would pretend I was an olympic ice skater. Only draw back, roller skates just don't have the same physical capacities that ice skates do. I would make up various routines and even attempt tricks. Every so often, my family would visit our local rec center to ice skate and my ambition left me. For some reason sharp blades and hard ice were a bit more intimidating then the 8 pink wheels of my roller skates. So, when I found out that here in Houston there were rink times available for families during the day, I jumped at it. I was bummed out that I couldn't be on the ice with the kids but I couldn't bail on Joaquin and I was pretty sure it wasn't safe to bjorn it up on the ice. Thank heavens we had helmets and excited kids.

Fernando asked the kids what was easier and they all agreed that ice skating was far easier. I think they forgot the death grip on the wall of the rink, but I would take that above a 30 year old mom struggling (and sweating profusely) in order to hold you up while roller skating. I loved every minute of it.