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LEGO FUSION Is a Great Gift for Tech Savvy Lego Fans

Posted on Nov 20, 2014 by No Comments

If you have a little Lego fan who also loves playing video games, LEGO FUSION looks like the best of both worlds.

Kids build creations with real Lego bricks and snap them onto the set’s special capture plate. Then, with a few clicks, their real-world creation is transformed into a virtual world that can be explored as part of a special mini game filled with various missions and activities.

The LEGO FUSION lineup includes:

  • LEGO FUSION Town Master
  • LEGO FUSION Battle Towers
  • LEGO FUSION Resort Designer (Part of the Lego Friends line)

A smartphone or tablet is required for playing LEGO FUSION. The app is downloadable from the App Store, Google Play, Samsung Galaxy Apps, or the Amazon Appstore for Android.

The Town Master set was listed in the December issue of Good Housekeeping in its holiday “Best Toy Awards 2014″ section. However, I’ve seen several online reviews saying that mastering the initial process of getting the LEGO FUSION app to recognize what you’ve built can be tricky for some children.

I would plan on needing to spend a bit of time teaching your child how to transfer real-world Lego models into the game.

What do you think of this idea? Does LEGO FUSION look like something your children might enjoy?

Photo credit: Lego

JOCO Offers an Eco-Friendly Way to Enjoy Your Morning Coffee

Posted on Nov 19, 2014 by No Comments

Did you know that 2.25 billion paper cups are used worldwide each year? This is the equivalent of cutting down 50,000,000 trees.

If you’re trying to be eco-friendly, JOCO reusable glass cups are an excellent alternative to disposable cups for your morning coffee. The JOCO team feels strongly that that glass, rather than plastic, is the best path to untainted taste and environmental sustainability for reusable cups.

The JOCO product line includes 16 oz, 12 oz, and 8 oz cups, as well as a handy 6 cup carry tray. Each JOCO cup is made from high grade strengthened borosilicate glass and features a thermal silicone sleeve with an ergonomic, splash-safe silicone lid.

There’s a rainbow of colors to choose from, so you can get a basic black cup or choose a cheery colored cup to brighten up your day.

The cups are microwave safe, BPA free, and lead free. Since JOCO cup sizes are modeled on common disposable paper cup volumes, they are easy to bring to your favorite barista for a quick refill.

To further encourage reusability, the JOCO cup is housed in a 100% recyclable paper canister can be used to store coins, pencils, or paper straws. You can even use it to plant seedlings!

Visit www.jococups.com/usa to learn more. JOCO cups can be purchased directly from the JOCO USA online store or found in a growing selection of like-minded cafés and retail outlets across the country.

JOCO offers free shipping when you spend $70 or more. Keep in mind that a JOCO coffee cup with a Starbucks gift card tucked inside makes a fab holiday gift for your child’s teacher or your favorite caffeine-addict.  (If you weren’t already aware, Starbucks gives customers a 10 cent discount when they bring in their own cups.)

Photo credit: JOCO

Cra-Z-Art My Look Color Your Own Messenger Bag Encourages Little Fashionistas to Be Creative

Posted on Nov 19, 2014 by No Comments

If you have a crafty daughter who already owns more purses than you do, the Cra-Z-Art My Look Color Your Own Messenger Bag is a wonderful holiday gift idea.

This craft kit includes a trendy messenger bag decorated with a print that girls can customize using the five fabric markers that are included. If your daughter likes a little sparkle, the set also includes a package of gems that can be added to the finished design.

The Cra-Z-Art My Look Color Your Own Messenger Bag is recommended for girls ages six years and up. The only thing you should need to watch out for with this project is making sure that your daughter doesn’t take the markers and use them to doodle on outfits you don’t want customized. (Fabric marker designs can be a great way to camouflage spills and stains on older clothes, however!)

The Cra-Z-Art My Look Color Your Own Messenger Bag is a Target exclusive item that has earned a spot on the store’s list of Top Toys for Christmas 2014.

The Cra-Z-Art My Look Color Your Own Messenger Bag is $10.39, which makes it an extremely affordable holiday gift. I don’t have a daughter of my own to buy one for, but I’m picking one up to donate to a local holiday toy drive.

I think this craft kit would be an especially appropriate donation since it’s something the recipient could use on a daily basis once the actual activity had been completed.

Photo credit: Target

Sparkup Helps Preschoolers Develop a Love of Books

Posted on Nov 18, 2014 by No Comments

If you have preschoolers who love to listen to a good story, Sparkup Magical Book Reader is sure to be a hit.

This clever device clips directly on to any picture book. It contains a tiny camera that records your voice and a picture of each page as you read the story to your child. Then, whenever your child clips the Sparkup to the book, the device automatically reads the story. It follows your child’s pace, even if he or she skips a few pages!

I think the Sparkup book reader would be fabulous for any child who has family members who live far away or travel frequently.

For example, my little nephew adores his Daddy. Daddy’s a truck driver who is away from home for several weeks per month, so with the Sparkup book reader he can record stories for bedtime that my nephew can listen to whenever he wants.

spark 02I also like that you can use the Sparkup with whatever picture book you want.

My son loved the Leapfrog TAG Reading System when he was younger, but the limited selection of books was frustrating and the books that were available were quite expensive.

With the Sparkup, you can use favorite stories from your child’s current library, which will save you money in the long run.

The Sparkup can store up to 250 minutes of audio, which is roughly 50 recorded picture books. If needed, you can use the included cable to transfer files to your computer to make room for new additions to your child’s library.

If you don’t want to record books in your own voice, there are also several professionally recorded narrations that you can download for use with the Sparkup. (See the PDF version of the user guide to learn more.)

The Sparkup book reader is recommended for kids ages 3 and up. Regular retail price is $79.99, but it’s on sale for a limited time for $59.99.  As an added bonus, orders placed before December 15 will get two free large paperback classics with preloaded Sparkup audiobooks ($20 value)

  • Shrek! by William Steig, read by Emmy Award winner Stanley Tucci
  • Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arien Mosel, read by academy Award winner Marcia Gay Harden

Disclaimer: Samples were provided by the manufacturer for the purpose of preparing this review.
Photo credit: Sparkup

Oregon Scientific SmartGlobe Makes Learning Geography Fun

Posted on Nov 17, 2014 by No Comments

My son really struggles with geography in school, but the Oregon Scientific SmartGlobe Discovery makes learning about the world around you a fun and enjoyable activity.

This unique educational toy for kids features three activity panels and an optical smart pen. When you touch an activity panel and use the smart pen to touch a country, you can learn about its capital, currency, area, highest point, population, or language. You can even hear the country’s national anthem being played!

The amazing facts section is my personal favorite feature of this toy. Here are some of the tidbits my family learned from the SmartGlobe:

  • Americans spend about 6 months of their lives waiting at red traffic lights.
  • There are more than a billion people in China, yet there are only about 200 family names in common use.
  • The national flower of Mexico is the Dahlia.
  • About half of the residents of India are under 25 years old.

For kids who are looking for a bit of challenge, there is a series of mini-games that ask users to touch different places on the globe to see how fast they can locate different cities, countries, and continents. Most kids should find this much more exciting than being drilled on facts via flash cards!

Overall, I think the SmartGlobe is fairly user friendly. We had a few cases when the pen didn’t want to quickly pick up the right location on the globe, but feedback was instantaneous the majority of the time.

The volume can be adjusted up or down as needed, which is a definite plus if you hate children’s toys that always seem to be blaring full blast.

The SmartGlobe is recommended for children ages six and up. Three AA batteries are required for operation. Retail price is $59.99.

Disclaimer: Product samples were provided by the manufacturer for the purpose of preparing this review.

Photo credit: Oregon Scientific

Li’l Woodzeez Introduces Kids to the Farmer’s Market

Posted on Nov 14, 2014 by No Comments

Does your little one love going with you to the farmer’s market to pick out fresh produce? If so, this Li’l Woodzeez Farmer’s Market play set is sure to be a hit.

The Farmer’s Market includes 90 pieces of plastic play accessories, including all the fruits, vegetables, and baked goods you’d find at a traditional farmer’s market as well as retail essentials like a shopping basket, shopping cart, welcome sign, food scale, and price cards.

Since the Farmer’s Market contains small parts, it is recommended for children ages 3 and up.

Li’l Woodzeez is a line of woodland creatures who work together to take care of each other and their environment.

There is are several different families in the collection, including rabbits, owls, squirrels, mice, raccoons, turtles, and hedgehogs. Each family of figurines comes with a collectible storybook that explains how they contribute to the Li’l Woodzeez community.

Li’l Woodzeez play sets are a Target boutique brand exclusive item that has arrived just in time for the holidays. In addition to the Farmer’s Market, there is also a Tickle Your Taste Buds Bakery, a Honeysuckle Hollow General Store, and a Walk-in Health Clinic. All three play sets earned a place on Target’s list of top toys for  Christmas 2014.

I love this line of figures because it reminds me of the Mapletown toys I had growing up in the ‘80s. I wasn’t a huge fan of traditional dolls as a kid, but I remember spending hours playing with all the Mapletown animals.

Photo credit: Target

A New Way to Encourage College Savings

Posted on Nov 13, 2014 by 1 Comment

If your child has a huge family and a room full of toys, LEAF College Savings has a new idea for how to cut clutter this holiday season.

LEAF gift cards can be purchased on LEAF’s website in amounts from $25 to $1,000. Parents can redeem the cards on the LEAF site and transfer the full face value to any 529 college savings plan in the US. If the child doesn’t already have a 529 plan, $25 is enough to open an account in many states.

“We created LEAF College Savings because we wanted to make it easy, social, and secure for family and friends, and even organizations, to contribute to a child’s higher education,” said co-founder Chris Duffus. “An education gift card is the perfect gift in place of clothes or more plastic toys.”

LEAF College Savings has several different gift card themes to choose from, but you can also upload your own picture for a personalized touch. You can send a card by email or Facebook post, or request an actual physical card for the recipient.

Since we have a large family and several relatives who are supportive of our desire to cut down on toys, I love the idea of giving kids a LEAF College Savings gift card.

From the perspective of the giver, I think it’s also great that the card ensures that the money you give is actually going to a college savings plan and not being spent for some other purchase. If a card is not redeemed within 90 days, LEAF refunds the face value to the purchaser.

What do you think of the LEAF College Savings gift card? Is this something you’d like to see grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other relatives give your child this holiday season?

Photo credit: LEAF College Savings

Maddi’s Fridge Takes a Look at Childhood Hunger

Posted on Nov 12, 2014 by No Comments

Childhood hunger might not seem like the ideal topic for a picture book, but Maddi’s Fridge handles this issue with compassion and grace.

Maddi’s Fridge, written by Lois Brandt and illustrated by Vin Vogel, tells the story of two young girls who are best friends.

When Sofia comes to Maddi’s house to play, she is shocked to discover that Maddi’s fridge is nearly empty. Sofia’s house is full of healthy snacks and supplies for making tasty meals, but Maddi’s fridge has just a tiny carton of milk.

Maddi, a selfless big sister, is saving the tiny carton of milk for her little brother. She explains to Sofia that the family doesn’t have enough money to go grocery shopping, so they need to make do with what they have.

Sofia wants to help make sure her friend has enough to eat, but her efforts to sneak eggs and fish in her backpack don’t go so well. In the end, Sofia decides to tell her mom what’s going on. (Sofia’s choice between honoring her friend’s request to keep a secret and choosing to tell her mom in an effort to help should provide a great starting point for discussing when it’s OK to break a promise to a friend.)

Sofia and her family visit the grocery store to prepare a care package full of nutritious food for Maddi and her family. Even Sofia’s brother gets in on the act, offering to pick out a special treat for the kids to enjoy.

The last page of Maddi’s Fridge is devoted to offering suggestions for young readers on things they can do if they are worried about a friend who might not have enough to eat at home, such as telling a trusted adult or helping to raise money for a local food bank.

Even if this is an issue that does not personally affect your child, Maddi’s Fridge is sure to get him or her thinking about those who are less fortunate. This is a lesson that makes Maddi’s Fridge a worthy addition to any child’s library.

Visit Lois Brandt’s website for details and downloadable activities to accompany Maddi’s Fridge.

Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Photo credit: Lois Brandt

Snack Your Way to Lower Cholesterol

Posted on Nov 12, 2014 by No Comments

If you’re looking for a healthy and tasty snack option that can help naturally lower your cholesterol, Heartbar Oatmeal Squares are an excellent choice. You can pack them in your purse for on-the-go snacking or heat one up in the microwave for 15 seconds to enjoy a moist, warm treat.

Heartbar Oatmeal Squares are infused with 0.8 grams of plant sterols, which are compounds naturally found in many fruits and vegetables that can help naturally lower your cholesterol. One Heartbar Oatmeal Square has the same amount of plant sterols as 61 tomatoes. They also have 16 grams of whole grain per serving with 6 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber.

Heartbar Oatmeal Squares are low sodium, non GMO, and gluten free as well.

Currently, there are three different flavors to choose from: Chocolate Chip, Banana Walnut, and Cranberry Flax. Blueberry and White Chocolate Macadamia Nut flavors are coming soon.

Heartbar Oatmeal Squares are surprisingly tasty with a soft and chewy texture. The added fiber helps keep you full between meals and the Chocolate Chip flavor is a good way to satisfy your cravings without totally blowing your diet.

I actually took one of my samples in to show the nutritionist my husband and I have been working with to get our high cholesterol under control and blood sugar issues under control. She gave it the thumbs up!

The Heartbar Oatmeal square are currently available at Safeway, Vons, and Pavilions. They are coming soon to Target, Costco, and Sprouts Farmer’s Market. Visit the Heart Brand Foods website to learn more.

Disclaimer: Product samples were provided by the manufacturer for the purpose of preparing this review.

Photo credit: Heart Brand Foods