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Archive for December, 2008

Finally! After much hunting, I’ve gotten off the super-well trodden path of photo birth announcements and started to find some decent designs!

The Bonnie Marcus Collection has a few good designs, which, in my observation, is more than most designers.

First, there’s these baptism thank you cards. They come in different color themes (boy / girl):

baptism card

Then there’s the “Josh’s Diaper” card. I’m not so much for the train at the bottom, but love the image of the baby. Very darling and simple.

Finally, there’s the “big girl with blue carriage” announcement (yes, there are other options for a boy pushing a baby girl, etc). The scan image that all the resellers are using is a very poor quality, but the card looks pretty great.

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Here’s another entry into my “birth announcement cards that don’t suck” category. I’ve edited the category down to be labeled just as “untacky cards” since it fits better in the category list, but it’s really all about birth announcements that don’t suck.

Checkerboard also has an Elephant Family card, but the elephants are drawn a little too cutesy bootsy for my taste, with wavering lines that allude to a child’s drawing. The Duck Family is much better. As with my other recent posts, the prices are unfortunately outlandish. A website called “warm fuzzys” (sic) claims it gets steep discounts… I might call to see about that…

ducks-checkerboard

This Airplane card by them is pretty decent too. I like the color choice.

checkerboard-airplaneFinally, the “cute puppy” card would be good… if they offered different color choices on the stock itself. Plain white comes across as plain cheap to me here.

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Again, this is really expensive, but here are a few more uncraptastic birth announcement cards:

The “Quilted Stitch Blue” (can be used for many purposes, not just birth announcements):

Quilted Stitch Blue

The Baby Rattle design colors are very nice:

baby-rattle

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Okay, just one, really that I found. But I do really like it. Tres pricey, but I like its classic sensibility:
images_products_l-in2541b

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Isn’t that an oxymoron? Is it possible for both you and your toddler to enjoy yourselves while you get your shopping done? With a little creativity, the answer is, yes, it’s possible!

I’m constantly surprised at how, when I offer more “responsibility” to my toddler, she rises to the occasion. She really listens to me much better when I’m letting her participate in our chores, rather than just being toted along as a sidekick. As every parent with a toddler knows, a happy toddler = a much easier time for all!

Sometimes, when I’m shopping for just a few things at the market, I have my two year old carry the basket. She LOVES feeling like she’s being helpful, which, not counting how much extra time it takes to wait for her to toddle up and down the aisles, is true. Since we’ve started shopping this way, I’ve noticed a number of other benefits – my daughter helps me select which produce to buy – which apples look the best, which tomatoes smell the most ripe. I find that, since she’s involved in the process, I’m naturally teaching her about food as we make our way through the store.

Will she remember this information when she’s in college? No. But, I do believe that by immersing her in food and cooking early on, teaching her about fresh produce and letting her try the foods, she’ll have an inherent understanding that food doesn’t grow in shiny boxes and crinkly packaging… it comes from the earth.

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The rains started this week, so I decided to take my toddler to a trial class at both Gymboree and the Little Gym. Ideally, I’d like to find a great indoor activity that will help my daughter burn off some of her energy no matter what the weather is like.

After attending a class at both businesses, I have a pretty clear cut opinion: The Little Gym is a fantastic use of time and money. Gymboree is a big pass.

First, I found both businesses to be pretty pricey – the class cost is between $20 – $25, depending on whether or not you factor in the “membership fee,” and how many payments you make. The classes are about 45 minutes long for the toddler age group.

THE LITTLE GYM:

Barring the price, I have to say, I was significantly impressed by the Little Gym. If we have the funds, I would love to bring my daughter here regularly. The class was well paced with great instruction. There were brief periods of focus where the toddlers listened to the teacher and followed his lead. These mini-lessons were interspersed with free time to try the new skill, or use the equipment (double bars, balance beams, “high beams” (with guide rails on each side), etc. This method was fantastic, as it held the toddlers’ interest for a time, then gave them space to integrate what they’d just learned. The curriculum was really well founded – the children learn new ways to use their bodies, but also learn about sharing the equipment, building confidence that they can do new things, face fears… There are limitless benefits to putting a young child in this environment under gentle and skilled instruction.

The teacher, David, was pitch-perfect. He was able to engage the interest of each child, without being over-exciting or intimidating. He was very skilled at teaching different gymnastics moves and I felt that this was someone who had actually been trained to hold his position (unlike at Gymboree).

The room had great equipment and was nicely laid out with open space for plenty of children and the entire floor space was covered in clean, padded gym mats. Compared to Gymboree, the space felt light, airy and clean. My only complaint about the overall space is that there was a television in the front entryway. I’m sure during busy times of day, the lobby can be crowded and the TV helps keep energetic kids mellow while they wait for their class, but, I HATE having my children exposed to TV, especially at a business that promotes the value of physical fitness.

To me, the price point still seems high. I’d prefer it be somewhere between $15 – $17. Having said that, however, I would gladly join and try this out for a “semester” session and see if I’m as impressed at the end as I am at the beginning.

GYMBOREE:

The instructor didn’t seem that skilled. She mostly followed an index-card list of things to do and didn’t attempt to genuinely connect with her “students.” She seemed more like a gum-popping teenage babysitter who can’t wait for the parents to leave so she can turn on soap operas and ignore the kids instead of a teacher genuinely interested in her job and believing in what she’s doing.

For example, there was a girl in the class who was very shy and the “teacher” didn’t do anything to try to bolster her confidence or to integrate her into the lesson.

Also, the class was themed on “cookies” which was unimpressive to me. This is a class for two year olds – my daughter doesn’t regularly eat sugar, and I’m not that thrilled with having a class themed on chocolate chip cookies. What about something more nutritious? This loose theme was a little ridiculous, honestly. First the kids “pretend” put plastic hockey-puck type discs into an “oven,” then they used toy rollers to pretend-roll the discs, which is not the order you would go in if you were really cooking. Next, the kids were supposed to pretend they were cookies and dunking themselves in milk by jumping into an inner tube. I think the imagination aspect was little stretched here. I don’t think a single child in the room understood they were “cookies” while they were jumping.

The room was a little cramped. There was lots of equipment, but it all seemed a little piled closely and a little haphazardly. There was a lot of equipment in there that wasn’t intended for the day’s lesson, but it served as a cluttered distraction for the kids from what they were supposed to be doing. In addition, the class used these red discs and they seemed fairly dirty. They were simply returned to a bin after the class. These discs were supposed to have been “cookies,” so, naturally, a number of kids had put them in their mouths. This was REALLY unsanitary.

Finally, at the end of the class, all of the children were supposed to give a kiss to this puppet, Jimbo. These are toddlers… All it takes is one snotty kid and the whole group could get sick. Sure, there’s a sign on the door about making sure your kid isn’t sick when they attend the class, but a lot of times, people can be contagious a day or more before they actually feel sick.

I found the general sanitation conditions of the class to be poor, the instruction unskilled and the actual curriculum to be ludicrous. While the class was a success from the perspective that my daughter loved being around other little ones and really enjoyed the group activity aspect, I would have felt totally ripped off if I’d paid for this.

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My daughter and I have been tooling with different salt dough recipes over the past few weeks. Whipping up a batch of the dough is a great post-nap activity that incorporates skills like pouring, rolling, kneading, stirring and (theoretically) measuring for my two year old. It also gives us a great forum for reviewing house rules, like not touching the hot stove or taking things off the kitchen counter.

The first batch we made was hopelessly chunky, the second batch was loopy with too much oil, the third was too sticky, etc. I’ve finally happened across a great salt dough reference site and the come up with the best, most workable salt dough recipe to date. There are two important secrets to this recipe:

A) The recipe uses a mixture of both regular salt AND kosher salt. This helps the dough to be a little gritty, which helps to prevent it gooping up the hands too much. For the recipe below, which is probably the smallest batch a person would normally make, the total amount of salt is roughly 1/2 cup. No matter the total quantity of salt used (if the batch is larger), the ratio of salt should be 3/4 regular table salk, 1/4 kosher.

B) The use of Pam cooking spray (or any non-stick cooking spray). The cooking spray is the real secret ingredient to making the salt dough workable.

– 1/2 cup of table and kosher salt, roughly divided into 3/4 table salt, 1/4 kosher

– 1 cup of flour

– 1/4 to 1/3 cup of boiled water

– 1 teaspoon vegetable oil

– a three-second spritz of nonstick cooking spray (this is the SECRET WEAPON)

  1. Boil the water.
  2. If you’re going to use food coloring, add it to the water.
  3. Put the salt into a bowl
  4. Add the water and stir with a wooden spoon until the salt is as best dissolved as possible (it won’t dissolve that much)
  5. Add about 1/2 the flour and stir until the mixture is crumbly
  6. Add vegetable oil, stir some more
  7. Add the last of the flour and stir
  8. From here, play with adding a small amount of water (2 tablespoons at a time) and oil (a 1/4 teaspoon at a time) until the mixture seems smooth
  9. If you go overboard on the water or oil, add salt and flour to even out. The ratio of salt to flour should remain 1:2
  10. Once the dough is fairly smooth, knead by hand. The dough will be sticky at this point.
  11. Roll dough into a ball, spray cooking spray on it and re-knead.

From here, form the dough into the desired shape(s). Cook at 350 for 45 – 60 minutes. Cooking time and temperature may vary depending on thickness of final shape.

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