Day 4: The Gift of Revenge

So, maybe your brother was a jerk when you were kids.  Maybe he gave you Wet Willies and noogies.  Maybe he locked you in a closet.  Maybe he regularly flushed the toilet while you were in the shower.  Maybe your sister cut the hair off all of your Barbies.

You've been waiting years to pay them back, like a tiger waiting to pounce.  You understood vaguely that the birth of his kids might be your launching point.  Friends, your moment has arrived.  What better way to torture your sibling than through your nieces and nephews?  And it really is for the benefit of the kids.  Christmas morning is the perfect time to unwrap a cold dish of revenge.

DeRosa by Bridgecraft BLUE Child Drum Set with Seat, Sticks & Cymbal DRM 312

A classic in the revenge world, a drum kit will serve as a valuable reminder that what goes around does indeed come around.  Your beloved niece or nephew will bang, beat, and crash their way into your sibling's head while learning the intracacies of rhythm and timing.

Hohner Old Standby Harmonica, Key of C

A harmonica serves an especially cruel reminder that you didn't forget.  It's portable.  Encourage not-your-child to take her harmonica EVERYWHERE, in the car, to bed, and to the dinner table.  Let them know that every aspect of their parent's life needs a soundtrack.  Especially during morning coffee.


Your nieces and nephews will squeal with delight when they open this beauty!  Your sibling with groan with dread.  In addition to the money your sibling's going to have to sink in to keep this puppy going, there's also the time.  Somebody's going to have to clean it, purchase food, deal with the inevitable "cloudy water" situation, and replace fish.  There is a 99.9% chance the kids will *not* do it.  The kids will learn about the responsiblity of feeding something, and your sibling will learn that you hold a grudge.  Perfection!

Fisher-Price Corn Popper Push Toy

Every time your niece walks around the house with this gem, your sister will know that you're still ticked off that she colored your favorite doll's face with permanent marker.  Your niece can strut around the house making all kinds of commotion, and be happy as a clam!  This is a really fun toy for toddlers!

A Bow and Arrow
Surefire hit!  Your niece or nephew will love playing with this in the house if they live somewhere that is prone to snowstorms, or better yet, blizzards!  They'll develop strength and hand eye coordination in the process.  Make this winter especially long for your sibling with a bow and arrow set!

Have fun auntie or uncle!  Mwahahahaha!


Day 3: Book Series for Young Adults

We're not quite here yet in our house, but I sooooo look forward to the time when both kids can read young adult fiction.  It's such an exciting niche of literature.  Teenagers, parents, and grandparents can all read the same book, and then talk about it!  Today, the options for young adult readers has never been so diverse.  I've read all of these and LOVE them!

Harry Potter Paperback Box Set (Books 1-7)

by J.K. Rowling

Well, it's kind of the crown jewel, right?  I stand behind any book that will inspire a 13 year-old to voluntarily read an 800 page book.  Let's hear it for staying up until 3 am!  The journey into Hogwarts captivates the imagination and inspires the soul.  There's a teenager out there who's going to thank you.

Hunger Games Trilogy Boxset

by Suzanne Collins

Be prepared to stay up late.  Very, very late.  This suspenseful tale challenges popular media and culture in the context of the wildest reality show ever concieved.  Collins explores the tragic circumstance of children growing up in times of war.  This book is more appropriate for older teens, as violence plays a major role in the lives of these young people.  I encourage parents to read this series, too.  This book affords the opportunity for your teenager to think critically about current affairs and consider the lives of their counterparts living in warzones around the world.  I cannot speak any stronger words of praise about this series.

J.R.R. Tolkien Boxed Set (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings)

by J.R.R Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien's master work is a must-read for avid readers, young and not-so-young.  He created a complex, perfect world full of lovable and frightening creatures, rich languages, and customs.  I'm not quite sure how much more I can say.  It's an epic tale on the scale of the Bible.

Maus 1 and 2 - (2 Volume Box Set)
by Art Spiegelman

Art Spiegelman brilliantly tells the story of his Jewish father's harrowing tale of surviving the Holocaust through a comic book.  Skeptics may turn their heads, but Spiegelman takes the "human" aspect out the picture and replaces each of the major players with animals.  The French are frogs, the Jews are mice, the Norwegians are reindeer.  This is not a pleasant story, but it is beautiful and real.  Spiegelman implores the reader to view the Holocaust through his father's eyes.  For more mature young readers.

Ender's Game (Ender, Book 1)

by Orson Scott Card

I'm not kidding.  This book will blow your mind.  After you're done reading it, wrap it up and give it to your favorite middle schooler or high schooler.  Just kidding!  Confession time:  I have not read the other books in this series.  However, I love this book with all my heart, and really wanted to include it in this list.

The category of "Teen Fiction" often confuses adults.  My sister was kind enough to explain  that "it just means the main character is a teenager."  Everything else is legit.  The common thread between these books is that they all tell of the boundless capacity for human strength.  None of these characters believes they are special.  They are common people who achieve uncommon things in the face of powerful obstacles.  Young readers will find a piece of themselves in each of these characters, and may close the book a stronger, more confident young adult.

  I hope you know some readers.  Additionally, these are also great titles for the numerous charity book drives at large, commercial bookstores.


Day 2: Toys for Babies

OK, so you've got a new baby in the family, and mom and dad seem completely stocked with clothes and diapers.  What do you get for the baby who needs nothing?  Here's a quick list of wonderful toys that focus on baby's developing skills.  The best part?  Four out of five are under $15!  You're welcome.

Sassy Me in the Mirror Crib Toy

Babies love looking at other babies, and seeing another baby when they're in their crib offers comfort and distraction for times they might get lonely.  The mirror also transitions nicely out of the crib to incorporate into floor play.

Fisher-Price Brilliant Basics Baby's First Blocks

Both of my kids STILL play with this toy.  We bought it for Alexandria for her first birthday.  As soon as Marcus could crawl, he was into it.  It's compact, self-contained, and easy to play with.  The box stores nicely. 

Fisher-Price Rock-A-Stack

Oh the classics.  Rings on a post.  I love this one because the base of the toy is curved, so as your baby is attempting to put the rings on the post, their motor skills are challenged with the gentle rocking of the base.  I prefer the Fisher Price version over the wood versions because there are no sharp edges.  In most cases, I LOVE wooden toys, but the wooden post in this toy makes me nervous.  I prefer the rounded edge of this post.

Discovery Mozart Music Cube by Munchkin

I'm breaking my own rule here.  This battery-operated beauty is a Gamble House favorite.  Dave insisted on getting it for Alexandria's birthday, and she loved it.  Marcus got it when he was a wee one, and he still plays with it over a year later.  The cube plays 6 different Mozart tunes, and the baby controls what instruments they want to hear.  He can listen to just the piano or harp, or the entire orchestra.  Basically, it breaks down the contribution of each instrument.  Even as an adult, I think it's kind of cool to hear a piece by the whole orchestra, and then listen to the same piece as played by the harp only.  It's a completely different experience.

Bright Starts Lots of Links

This is easily the most un-sexy baby toy of all time, but these rings will get more use than you can imagine.  Mom can attach snack cups, sippy cups, and toys to the stroller and car seat to avoid "loss by toss."  It doesn't matter what kind of links you get, but every child needs these.  As they get older, they become useful in developing hand-eye coordination as the child attempts to link the rings together himself.

There you go!  Happy shopping!


Daily 5 for Christmas: Books For Preschoolers

Hi All,

My friend Lexi passed along a piece of advice from her dad, Rick.  He said, "Active toys make passive children, passive toys make active children."

Well, since having kids, those words have been my guidebook.  Many of you remember my "great cleanout" posts, where I cleansed my house of irritating items.  Many of those items were battery operated toys, active toys, that my kids watched without interaction.  Bye bye!

The holidays are coming, and what better gifts to give than those that help a child grow?  Over the next few weeks, I'm going to post some of my favorite toys.  These toys might make your kids (or your brother's kids) messy or loud, but they'll be better for it.  I'm going to post my favorite books, too.  I worked in a book store for a while.  I've got a lot.  Note: An entire series counts as one book.  Additionally, I'll have links posted for every item.  If you order items from Amazon through my blog, I will receive a small commission.  Not all items are from Amazon, though.  Additionally, feel free to purchase the item from your favorite retailer, especially if you shop at locally owned businesses.  Please note:  I will NOT be posting items based on their price.  I will post items based on my opinion of their quality of experience.  I do not own all of these items!

Day 1:  Holiday Reading for Preschoolers
    Christmas Cookies: Bite-Size Holiday Lessons
    by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
    This beautiful book offers life lessons to children in the context of cookies.  Oh lord.  You will love this book!  Life lessons of sharing, tolerance, understanding, and love come to life with beautiful, whimsical illustrations.  This has become the story we read before our annual cookie-making day.  I cannot get through it without getting misty.  I cannot recommend this book enough.  This is my favorite Christmas book.  Bonus: there's a recipe for Sugar Cookies in the back.
The Night Before Christmas

by Clement Clarke Moore
illustrations by Grennady Spirin

Last Christmas was the first Christmas we read "The Night Before Christmas" to Alexandria.  She had just turned 3.  In addition to the outstanding illustrations (the shadows are incredible!), there is a brief history of the poem on the back book jacket.  This edition of the beloved peom is beautiful.

I Spy Christmas: A Book of Picture Riddles

by Jean Marzollo and Walter Wick

The "I Spy" engages children of all ages, and this edition is no different.  Ideal for preschoolers and kindergarteners, the "I Spy Christmas" book will surely get a child in your life excited for the holidays!

The Gift of Nothing

by Patrick McDonnel

Simple illustrations highlight the simple message of this charming book.  It's a nice lesson for children and for overindulgent adults.  We should all remember what is most important in our lives.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

by Dr. Seuss

What list of favorite Christmas books would be complete without "How The Grinch Stole Christmas"?!?!  Funny and touching, with the most outstanding, creative illustrations of all freaking time, this book will quickly become your child's favorite.

So that's it.  If you're looking for books for your favorite preschooler, these are my picks!

Love, Natalie