Friday, November 27, 2009

Books that Speak to Tradition and Holidays

It’s the day after Thanksgiving and we had a wonderful family gathering with 12 adults and 2 under 2. I love the holidays and I seem to get some super spurt of energy to make everything special. It helps that my husband is the best sous chef on earth and doesn’t mind peeling, cubing and dicing vegetables for hours. My cousins are the best super cleaner uppers I’ve ever seen and they pair up as a washer drier team and my kitchen table which once was filled with cooking prep was then filled with clean pots, pans and platters. My son and niece did the breakdown of tables and moving furniture back in place. Zach, my grandson, enjoys being with people and feasted on Mom’s homemade pears – I’m going to post that recipe soon. The meal was delicious and sharing lots of leftovers means that we’ll be done with ours today. It was a perfect Thanksgiving.

But now it is time to get ready for Christmas. Sunday is the first day of Advent and the fall decorations are being packed away and the first candle on the Advent wreath will be lit at Sunday dinner. Grandparents have a special responsibility to bring tradition – both new and old to the holidays. And reading holiday books is the perfect tradition for grandparents to bring to the table. Here are some holiday books that you may want to give as gifts or keep at your home to share with your family.

The Night Before Christmas by Clement Moore and illustrated by Mary Engelbreit
This is a wonderful classic to read on Christmas Eve and children of all ages will appreciate it when read with enthusiasm. There are many versions of this story available but I am a fan of Mary Engelbreit illustrations so I am recommending this one.

Silent Night by Susan Jeffers
This beautifully illustrated book was a favorite of my children’s and I have kept it to share with my grandchildren. There is a newer versionavailable now but it also is the perfect Christmas read at bedtime during the Christmas season.

Harvest of Light (Hanukkah) by Allison Ofanansky Photography by Eliyahu Alpern
This book describes with vivid photographs the work of growing olives, harvesting and pressing them to make oil. It goes on to show how a family uses the oil to celebrate the ancient festival of Chanukah in Israel. This is a perfect book to read with young children and connect history with our current life.

Night of the Moon: A Muslim Holiday Story by Hena Khan and Julie Paschkis
This story of a 7-year old American Muslim, observing Ramadan with her friends and family is beautifully written and richly illustrated. This is a book that will be enjoyed and is educational for children and adults – both Muslim and non-Muslim.

My First Kwanzaa by Karen Katz
Karen Katz is one of my favorite authors of books for young children and this book is highly recommended by pre-school educators as THE book to use to teach young children about Kwanzaa. The eye catching illustrations make the celebration come to life.

Light The Lights! A Story About Celebrating Hanukkah And Christmas by Margaret Moorman
Some children celebrate multiple holidays at home and many children learn about multiple holidays in preschool. This book talks about what kinds of things families do together for the Hanukkah and Christmas holidays and embraces both charmingly.

These books are reasonably priced - some are incredible bargains at Amazon right now - and with each one a grandparent can start the tradition of reading about the holidays.

The readers of this blog would love to hear what are your favorite holiday books too. Please leave your comments and share your favorites with us.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Grandparent Heaven

Zach is five months old now and his parents are more than ready for date night. So my daughter has lined up both sets of grandparents to babysit on alternate weekends. We have watched him twice now and the best way for me to describe this is “Grandparent Heaven.” We see quite a bit of Zach during the week and sometimes for dinner but having him all to ourselves in the evening is a whole other experience. Here’s what our recent visit was like.

Fran was at our house in the afternoon and we walked in the park and then she napped when Zach napped. As usual when he woke it was an active time of day and all the adults took turns entertaining and being entertained. Then Fran left and we had five hours – Yes, five hours to ourselves with Zach! Zach was still in active mode and he spent some time on the floor and in his bouncy seat before dinner. At dinner we tried to feed him his newest dish - applesauce - but this was a messy event and we heard him loud and clear: “You can keep that applesauce for yourselves – I don’t like it!” But he enjoyed a sippy cup of water to no end.

Well by this point we were ready to wind down and upstairs we went for a bath. Our niece gave us a baby bathtub she is long done with and so we have our own. Zach loves the bath. I filled the tub and Hugh undressed Zach. He loves being naked – what baby doesn’t. He was in the tub for just a minute when what should there be but a giant pee! I held him up and Hugh provided fresh bath water. Zach loves the water and splashes and could probably stay there for hours if we let him. His parents have some bath toys but did not bring them but I had a rubber duckie in my hidden closet of treasures and we all had fun with that. Hugh and I broke into a rendition of Rubber Duckie from Sesame Street and Zach smiled and laughed. Then Grandpa handed him directly into the hooded towel I had waiting. Soft and clean and as nature intended. Zach’s grandparents sang some fun children songs and we all had a good time.

Time for the sleeper – how cute – once he begins to put his fist in his mouth which is Zach’s way of saying he’s hungry. I went to the kitchen to make the bottle and when I returned Zach was enjoying playing on the bed. By the way, this quilt was made for Fran almost 30 years ago by Kathy Cassidy. When he was ready for the bottle, Grandpa got the honors. We still have the rocking chair we had when Fran was a baby and it is near the windows in our bedroom. Zach loves light and was staring at the unlit light above him. I turned the dimmer on low and Zach had his bottle and stretched out in the most adorable restful pose. Hugh held him for a long time and then put him down in the Pack n’ Play. We sat up on our bed and just wallowed in what a nice night we were having. In a little while Zach was restless. Hugh picked him up and after a big burp followed by little ones he seemed wide awake again just as his mother said would happen. It was my turn to hold him and I sang Hush-a-Bye just as I did for his mother. His eyes got heavy and then closed and I laid him down on our bed this time. We laid on either side just soaking in the peace of being with our sleeping grandson. Then we heard his mother’s footsteps on the stairs and it was time for Zach to go home.

Grandparent heaven – this is it.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Recommended by Good Housekeeping and Me - Curious George Discovery Game and HyperBlast

In October I began to write reviews of products I had seen at the A Time to Play Holiday Showcase. A couple of weeks ago I was in New York again – this time on a mentoring trip with young women from Saint Vincent Academy in Newark, NJ where I went to high school. It was a wonderful day and we visited the Good Housekeeping Institute where they test products from appliances to toys along with Seventeen magazine and Wave Hill park. It was a wonderful day but that’s a whole different story. I noticed that they had some of the toys I had seen at A Time to Play that were being tested for their Best Toy List in the December issue and here are a couple that I personally checked out at A Time to Play that made the Good Housekeeping 2009 best toy list. GH first tested the toys to meet their own safety standards and any claims made by the manufacturer and then had 50 kids come in to choose their favorites. So these toys meet the requirements for safety and kids loved them. You can’t ask for anymore than that.

In October my first product review was for games made by a small company I Can Do That and I featured a picture of their Busytown game. The Good Housekeeping 2009 best toy list includes the Curious George Discovery Beach Game. This game is part memory challenge and part scavenger hunt. It is designed to promote matching and memory skills, and inspire exploration and discovery. I recommend this whole line of games but here’s the picture of the Curious George Discovery Beach Game.

Read my whole review of I Can Do That games here

I Can Do That! website

See Good Housekeeping's whole list of 2009 best toys

A toy for older children that also caught my eye and is on the Good Housekeeping list is the HyperBlast game from Wild Planet. This is a numbers game that gives players a physical and mental workout – a good alternative to computer games. This reasonably priced, $20 game is for ages 6 and up and there is also a version called 1-2-3 stomp for pre-schoolers. Both of these games look like a lot of fun but my guess is that some grandparents will have trouble keeping up with their grandchildren if they try to play this one together. I mean physically of course not mentally – of course.

I hope you enjoy your holiday shopping and get to play with whatever you get for your grandchildren. Having someone to play with is part of the fun of being a grandparent – Isn’t it?

Don’t forget to add your comments if you get any of these items - I’d love to have your review added to this post.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Onionhead – For Children Who Need Help Expressing Their Feelings

This article highlights another product I learned about at A Time to Play Holiday Showcase in New York on October 1st. I had the pleasure of speaking with Lane Michel of Onionhead. This is a small company that specializes in “Teaching us what to do with what we feel.” The company has been around for fifteen years but their products have been marketed to psychologists and special education teachers and now they are beginning to market to the general public.

Onionhead is a line of products designed for children of all ages to help them identify and communicate about their feelings. The products include storybooks featuring a specific feeling, a set of magnets depicting the Onionhead character expressing a wide range of feelings and two Onionhead Feelings Dictionaries – for younger and older children. There also are greeting cards, a coloring book, and tee shirts. Onionhead received the 2009 Toy of the Year award from Creative Child magazine.

When you buy a product from Onionhead you can feel good all over. Their products are all made in the USA and they are proud of being ahead of all government regulations for safety and environmental standards. In addition they have an associated non-profit, Save the Rain, which teaches water deprived communities to catch and use the rain as a sustainable water supply. For every purchase of an Onionhead product, a certain percentage is donated to Save the Rain.

These products are not “toys” but if you know a child with issues about expressing their feelings, this is definitely a product line worth checking out. You won't find these products in stores but you can order them online at their website.

Onionhead website

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Halloween Was Great Fun and Had a Little Surprise Too

Halloween is always fun in our neighborhood. We have sidewalks and the houses are not too far apart. Everyone decorates for the season and mums, pumpkins, and haystacks abound. We have our share of those who go the extra mile with webs, scarecrows, etc. It is the type of neighborhood that parents drive their kids to for Trick or Treating. Frequently the kids are in groups and the parent groups stay at the sidewalk as children come to the door. It is a social event for the parents and children. The toddlers whose mother grew up across the street were trick or treating with parents, grandparents and aunt. What a proud entourage! I always offer candy or an alternative and the non-candy choices of play doh, stickers and pencils were very popular this year. I can personally attest that High School Musical stickers are popular even with older girls.

Halloween is always a time when we remember one of the reasons we have stayed put in our strong family oriented neighborhood for 25 years. Although we keep hearing that Trick or Treating is on the decline because of so many worries parents have to deal with these days, it is alive and well in an old fashioned, fun way on our block.

This year was extra enjoyable because of Zach. His parents, dressed in orange shirts with Zach in this scarecrow costume had fun visiting the neighbors but declined the candy treats. Zach was intrigued by the children that seemed to come to our door nonstop and since it was a mild night he was able to be at the open door for quite a while. Princesses, ladybugs, sports heroes and just some face makeup all seemed to catch his eye.

One interesting thing that happened this Halloween was that a boy about 10 years old proudly offered me a piece of chocolate on a card with a great picture of smiling children and a big Thank You note. It was compliments of which promotes Fair Trade products. What a great promotional idea!

Hope You Had a Happy Halloween!