Chrismukkah is over at our mixed-marriage residence.  Please ignore those lingering decorations. It’s time to call out just a few of the Santa (and Hanukkah) successes of the 2012 Holiday season.

Disney Apples To Apples

Disney Apples To Apples – Surely, you have played the adult-targeted version of this game at a party or two – possibly under the influence of an adult beverage. “Disney Apples To Apples” down-ages this word association game so the whole family can participate and integrates pictures from almost every Disney property – including Parks, Pixar, Princesses, and tween TV. We have been playing this non-stop since Hanukkah and has become an instant favorite for our 6-year-old.

Star Wars Princess Leia Fashion Set

Star Wars Princess Leia Fashion Set – Most parents of Disney Princess-loving girls have spent much time helping dress  the rubber-dressed, Polly Pocket-esque Disney Princess mini- figures. This Disney Parks “exclusive item,” also available on Amazon, gives Princess Leia the Disney“fashion set” treatment with a slew of clothing and hairstyles from different ‘Star Wars’ films. No matter how hard those rubber clothes are to put on, I will gladly support my 6-year-old’s interest in this property.

Lite Brite LED Flatscreen

Lite Brite LED Flatscreen – Lite Brite lives on! A staple toy of my 80’s, this toy has been downsized to an era-appropriate “LED Flatscreen.” It still comes with the same multicolored pegs we know and love (yet hate to step on) as well as the black slip-in sheets to create designs.

LEGO® DUPLO® Creative Cakes

LEGO® DUPLO® Creative Cakes – My two year old  loves two things: Getting her hands in my older daughter’s LEGO Friends and celebrating birthdays – fake or not. This DUPLO kit keeps her away from her big sister’s creations while letting her have some birthday make-pretend play at the same time.

Melissa & Doug Slice and Bake Cookie Set

Melissa & Doug Slice and Bake Cookie Set – This playset lets kids “bake,” “decorate,” and “serve” cookies. My children have had their eyes on this toy since seeing it at a friends’ house, and I was happy to add a solid wooden toy set to the mix.

MindWare Pattern Play

MindWare Pattern Play – Nothing beats some offline, old-fashioned block play. The Pattern Play set comes with 40 rainbow-colored blocks to assemble. Just choose a pattern card design to replicate and fit it into the wooden tray. While I am sure there is an “app for that,” it is nice to see my daughter disconnecting from the screen for a while.

Cinderella Toddler Doll

Cinderella Toddler Doll – My two-year-old can often be seen swaying through the house warbling her rendition of Cinderella’s “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes” in her sister’s flashing “glass” slippers. So, yeah, she loves her Cinderelly. Instead of a Barbie-style doll, Santa brought her a larger-sized Cinderella Toddler Doll. While it may not exactly align with the story – Cinderella wasn’t exactly wearing her crown and blue dress as a toddler – I don’t think that is going to stop her from carrying it with her everywhere she goes.

LEGO Friends Adventure Camper

LEGO Friends Adventure Camper – The LEGO Friends argument is played out at this point, but my stance is “if it gets my girls into the LEGO brand, I am down.” This was one of the most enjoyably intricate sets we have built, and temporarily left last year’s camper-gift-from-Santa (Barbie Sisters Family Camper) in the dust.

Journey Girls Wheelchair and Crutch Set

Journey Girls Wheelchair and Crutch Set – The rite-of-passage know as American Girl Dolls has fully infiltrated our house. It’s a great to have brands like Journey Girls that offer cheaper 18” doll accessories. This wheelchair and crutch set has been a hit on the block and a central part of our daughter’s American Girl playtime since Medical Orderly Kriss Kringle delivered it December 25th.

Fisher-Price Little People Disney Princess Songs Palace

Fisher-Price Little People Disney Princess Songs Palace – Fisher-Price’s classic Little People brand meets the ubiquitous Disney Princess brand in this musical dollhouse-style toy. My two-year old has already spent hours with this toy, warming up for her eventual full-fledged Disney Princess obsession.

It’s the season of the witch, and we have been playing our Halloween music and watching our Halloween films since mid-September.  We have already rolled out our yearly music playlist, and are ready to follow up with some more ways to get your kid-friendly scares on this Halloween.

“The Grand Scream of Things” by Andy ZListen To: “The Grand Scream of Things” by Andy Z

Award-winning kids’ musician Andy Z has just released an ambitious musical audio play for kids 8-12 called “The Grand Scream of Things.” The 66-minute music adventure takes listeners on a Halloween day journey with protagonist Andy, his dog Reggie,  his buddy Danger Dude and Pleadia, a teenage alien and potential romantic interest for Andie. Interspersed through this “old time radio show” style adventure are stand-alone songs that span the punk, hip-hop, pop and hip-hop genre. Guest kid musicians like Paula Messner (Candy Band) and RhymeZwell show up while production is handled by Grammy-nominated producer Tor Hyams

Bonus Mention: Children’s musician David Tobocman is offering a free Halloween song download called “Spooky Stuff.” This tune was written by David’s 1st grade daughter Zoe.

PlayPeekaboo Trick or Treat with Ed Emberley.
Peekaboo Trick or Treat with Ed Emberley
We are long-time fans of Night & Day Studios’ Peekaboo brand of apps. Each release brings unique artwork and new tricks to their trademark line of  apps  featuring animals and objects popping out and surprising toddlers and babies. For Halloween, Night & Day enlists the talent of Caldecott award-winning author and illustrator, Ed Emberley (“Go Away, Big Green Monster!”) to create kid-safe interpretations of Halloween mainstays like witches, werewolves, bats and ghosts. In “Peekaboo Trick or Treat,” little ones tap on the  colorful “haunted house” and are greeted by a rotating cast of 14 characters with silly sound effects.  A simple app with inspired illustrations that allows even the youngest ones to celebrate the season without getting too scared.
 
Watch: The Worst Witch

The Worst Witch

The Worst Witch introduced the young, fledgling witch/wizard-in-the-making story years before Harry Potter entered pop culture history books. Based on the book series of the same name,  this made-for-TV production focuses on central character Mildred Hubble as she tries to find her way at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches. Along the way she deals with bullies, botched spells, evil witches and a meeting with the honored Grand Wizard. While the special effects are slightly dated, the movie’s central themes are ageless, as Mildred overcomes obstacles both realistic and supernatural to become the school’s superstar student. Adult viewers: come for the retro charm, stay for the positive message, and come back again for Tim Curry’s hammy performance as The Grand Wizard and his musical number “Anything Can Happen on Halloween.”

Bonus Mention: Scholastic Storybook Treasures: A Very Brave Witch…and more Halloween Stories.  Eight classic kid’s books are brought to life in this Halloween-themed edition of the Scholastic Storybook Treasures series. For parents who prefer a mellower, literary approach to television viewing, this a great option.  Most of the stories in this DVD compilation are filmed books with simple camera pans, celebrity narration and optional onscreen read-along.

Go & Do: PhilharMONSTER! @ The Peter Norton Symphony Space in NYC

Lucky NYC-ers can go to this special one-off Halloween show on Sun, Oct 28 at 4 pm.  The young musicians of the InterSchool Orchestras of New York’s Carnegie Hill Orchestra (ages 8 to 12) and ISO Symphony (ages 12 to 19) will perform horror-themed orchestral classics to get into the spirit of the season. All players will be dressed for the holiday, with a special Ghost Conductor.

HallowilloweenBonus Mention: Be sure to check out musician Alastair Moock’s “Slightly Scary Spectacular” concerts at Jammin Java (Saturday, October 27, 10:30 am) and 92Y Tribeca NY (Sunday, October 28, 11 am).

Read: “Hallowilloween: Nefarious Silliness” by Calef Brown 

Artist/poet Calef Brown could be described as a modern-day Dr Seuss, with an edgy folk-art touch. He has even inspired an album based on his previous books. “Hallowilloween” features Calef’s trademark ridiculous rhymes, this time themed around his own brand of monsters. Meet the baseball “Vumpire,” shunken head Duncan, the brain-eating “Oompachupa Loompacabra”  and the cowgirl “Witches of Texas.” Age appropriately morbid, Calef Brown’s poems are humorous enough to circumnavigate any nasty nightmares.

Bonus Mention: “Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #1: Professor Gargoyle”  by Charles Gilman. A novel for tweens that references the king of horror and “speculative fiction.” Yes please! “Tales from Lovecraft Middle School” tells the story of twelve-year-old Robert Arthur as he navigates his way through a middle school filled with mysterious passages,  Lovecraftian beasts, and teachers that are never who they appear to be.


This is a special “guest” post from my wife Michelle, a talented writer, wonderful mom and my pop culture partner-in-crime.  I wanted to call her Mama Nugget. She declined.

The conversation went soemthign like this: Nurse: Do you like Hannah Montana stickers? Maia: No. Who’s that? Me: She’s a girl on TV who sings and has concerts. Maia: Like Ashley, Mama? Me: Yes, like Ashley. Nurse (to me): She doesn’t know Hannah Montana? Good. Keep it that way. That Miley Cyrus with her YouTube videos and slutty clothes and makeup, she is headed for trouble. She’s no role model. Nurse (to Maia): Do you want princess stickers instead? Maia: YES!
At this doctor’s visit, the complicated issues surrounding providing good role models for our daughter presented themselves in full force. This concept of a role model is not something I think I fully prepared myself for when I first rejoiced over finding out I was having a baby girl, and it’s definitely something I’ll continue to wrestle with. Maia has become infected with the Princess bug, despite our initial struggle to keep her immune to it. And I’m still not sure how I feel about it. Sure, there’s plenty of research out there about the negative effects of the Princess Phenomenon. From the focus on beauty to the notion of the damsel in distress, the messages aren’t so hot for a young girl in a modern world. After meeting their prince only once, the princesses fall head over heels in love and want only to get married. No education, no career goals, no desire to do charity work or travel the globe. Yuck. And let me also add that Maia categorizes princess paraphenalia into “real princess stuff” (Disney) and “the fake ones” (sometimes equally beautiful books, crowns, etc.). And she usually only wants the real stuff. Go Disney.  But I am losing a battle, one which I’m not so sure I actually am even fighting very hard, or even want to call a battle at all. The smile that comes over my daughter’s face when she sees princess toothpaste or a box of princess raisins is one I’m not interested in squelching. I don’t know how or why this particular property thrills her in this way, but the bottom line is, it does, and I love seeing my daughter thrilled. Fairy tales have been around since the beginning of time, I think, and they’ve always told these stories. I heard them as a kid, and I still grew up to be a money-earning, home-owning, relatively confident woman who uses the hammer and screwdriver much more than my husband. The princess tales may infultrate her well-being to a certain extent, but all I can do as a mother is make sure I counteract any of that stereotypical girl stuff with other role models, giving Maia a wide variety of options. She will hopefully learn lessons about friendship and hope just as much as she learns any other negative lesson from the princess tales, and she won’t only have Ariel and Cinderella to look up to. Enter Ashley, mentioned above in the doctor’s office conversation. Ashley is Ashley Albert of the kids’ band The Jimmies, and she is Maia’s hero. She may be playing with princess dolls, but she is often making Belle sing and dance to songs like “It’s Cool to be Uncool” or “Bedhead.” And beyond that, when she talks about what she wants to wear, or who she wants to be like when she grows up, her answer is not “Cinderella,” it’s “Ashley.” She doesn’t see the Princesses she loves as real people, but she imitates the dance moves and even the expressions that she sees and hears on The Jimmies’ “Trying Funny Stuff” DVD – the first DVD from the kindie rock band, which features music videos, a live concert and a behind the scenes documentary. I catch her in the living room singing along with the concert, watching Ashley intently, flipping her hair and wiping the sweat off of her lip just like Ashley. She knows all the words, the order of the concert’s songs, and all the right moves. We even had to buy a new copy of the DVD, because Maia scratched it when she tried to shove it into the DVD player without opening the player first, because she wanted it to watch it and nobody was immediately there to help her put it in. I have a feeling that if Maia were to watch Hannah Montana, she’d like it. But the nurse was right – mainstream, tabloid-followed, trying to be cool, popular rich and famous kids might not be the best influences on Maia. Kids’ singers like Ashley Albert fly below the tabloid radar (though word is she’s getting a photo shoot for Women’s Day magazine!) but are still glamorous and amazingly cool to Maia. Maia has always had a love for music, and a talent for it too, I think, and I am nothing but happy that she wants to follow in the footsteps of someone like Ashley, who has fantastic talent and lots of wit too. She’s beautiful, without overdoing it. She wears fun, poofy dresses without the diamonds and crowns. And she puts herself out there, laughing at herself, being silly and having a great time while performing. The behind-the-scenes documentary really displays what a passionate, hard worker Ashley is, creating many of the sets and props for her amazingly elaborate music videos. It’s not meant to do that – it’s both a hysterical and honestly educational piece of the DVD that I love to watch – but it is teaching Maia some lessons about what it takes to be like Ashley while it makes her (and me) laugh. We did get to meet Ashley in person, though I fear that Maia was too young to remember it, even now. When we did, Maia was shy and didn’t want to get the photo opp Matt and I wanted, but in the end I think she was just in awe. She didn’t know what to do with herself once she actually met her idol in person, the way any of us might react. But as role models go, I’ll take Ashley any day.

The conversation went something like this:

Nurse: Do you like Hannah Montana stickers?
Maia: No. Who’s she?
Me: She’s a girl on TV who sings and has concerts.
Maia: Like Ashley, Mama?
Me: Yes, like Ashley.
Nurse (to me): She doesn’t know Hannah Montana? Good. Keep it that way. That Miley Cyrus with her YouTube videos and risque clothes and makeup, she is headed for trouble. She’s no role model.
Nurse (to Maia): Do you want princess stickers instead?
Maia: YES!

At this doctor’s visit, the complicated issues surrounding providing good role models for our daughter presented themselves in full force. This concept of a role model is not something I think I fully prepared myself for when I first rejoiced over finding out I was having a baby girl, and it’s definitely something with which I’ll continue to wrestle. Maia has become infected with the Princess bug, despite our initial struggle to keep her immune to it. And I’m still not sure how I feel about it. Sure, there’s plenty of research out there about the negative effects of the Princess Phenomenon. From the focus on beauty to the notion of the damsel in distress, the messages aren’t so hot for a young girl in a modern world. After meeting their prince only once, the princesses fall head over heels in love and want only to get married. No education, no career goals, no desire to do charity work or travel the globe. Yuck.

But I am losing a battle, one which I’m not so sure I actually am even fighting very hard, or even want to call a battle at all. The smile that comes over my daughter’s face when she sees Princess toothpaste or a box of Princess raisins is one I’m not interested in squelching. I don’t know how or why this particular property thrills her in this way, but the bottom line is, it does, and I love seeing my daughter thrilled. Fairy tales, whether told by Disney or not, have been around since the beginning of time, and they’ve lasted through the ages for some valid reason. I heard them as a kid, and I still grew up to be a money-earning, home-owning, confident woman who uses the hammer and screwdriver arguably more than my husband. The princess tales may infultrate her well-being to a certain extent, but all I can do as a mother is make sure I counteract any of that stereotypical girl stuff with other role models, giving Maia a wide variety of options. She will hopefully learn lessons about friendship, hope and generosity just as much as she learns any other negative lesson from the princess tales, and she won’t only have Ariel and Cinderella to look up to.

Ashley Albert and Punxsutawney Phil
Ashley Albert and Punxsutawney Phil

Which brings me back to Ashley, mentioned above in the doctor’s office conversation. Ashley is Ashley Albert of the kids’ band The Jimmies, and she is Maia’s true idol. She may be playing with princess dolls, but she is often making Belle sing and dance to songs like “It’s Cool to be Uncool” or “Bedhead.” And beyond that, when she talks about what she wants to wear, or who she wants to be like when she grows up, her answer is not “Cinderella,” it’s “Ashley.” She doesn’t see the Princesses she loves as real people, but she imitates the dance moves and even the expressions that she sees and hears on The Jimmies’ “Trying Funny Stuff” DVD – the first DVD from the kindie rock band, which features music videos, a live concert and a behind-the-scenes documentary. I catch her in the living room singing along with the concert, watching Ashley intently, flipping her hair and wiping the sweat off of her lip just like Ashley. She knows all the words, the order of the concert’s songs, and all the right moves. We even had to buy a new copy of the DVD after Maia decided she didn’t want to wait for mom or dad and tried to shove the disc into the player,  essentially runing it.

I have a feeling that if Maia were to watch a Hannah Montana performance, she’d like it. But the nurse was right – mainstream, tabloid-ready, rich and famous kids might not be the best influences on Maia. Kids’ singers like Ashley Albert fly below the tabloid radar but are still glamorous and amazingly cool to Maia. Maia has always had a love for music, and a talent for it too, I think, and I am nothing but happy that she wants to follow in the footsteps of someone like Ashley, who has fantastic talent and lots of wit too. She’s beautiful, without overdoing it. She wears fun, poofy dresses without the diamonds and crowns. And she puts herself out there, laughing at herself, being silly and having a great time while performing. The behind-the-scenes documentary really displays what a passionate, hard worker Ashley is, creating many of the sets and props for her amazingly elaborate music videos. It’s not meant to do that – it’s both a hysterical and honestly educational piece of the DVD that I love to watch – but it is teaching Maia some lessons about what it takes to be like Ashley while it makes her (and me) laugh.

As far as role models go, I’ll take Ashley any day. Ariel, Cinderella, Aurora and company may inspire her love for pink and storytelling, but role models like this unselfconscious musician teach a young girl to forget poise and posture and celebrate her beautiful, quirky, unique self.

All attention on her idol
All attention on her idol at live Jimmies event
Ashley & the Band
Ashley & the band

In response (or at least I think) to my Caillou post, illustrator Hélène Desputeaux sent me this digital postcard  celebrating 20 years since Hélène first drew the little guy. Very cute!

bigkisscaillou

Slightly Photoshopped Maia showing off Goldfinch print
Slightly Photoshopped Maia showing off the Goldfinch print

First off, I will admit my biases here, as they are threefold. MeMe Baby is based out of our neighboring city, has used my daughter as a model on their website and even supports a cause that is close to me. Looking past that, MeMe’s unique infant and toddler clothing designs stand on their own merit as a cool addition to any wardrobe.

MeMe was founded by Jennifer Subrin, out of Newburyport, Massachusetts. Their garments are made of materials like organic cotton and are produced using environmentally and socially responsible organizations. According to their website, their distinct designs are inspired by the birds of New England and etchings of Olde England.

When I originally heard about bird designs on clothes, I had images of old lady house dresses dancing through my head. But Jennifer’s husband Dennis Witnauer has created original prints that are urban and modern.

Most importantly, MeMe is also involved with the HER Foundation, (Hyperemesis Education & Research foundation), an organization that provides education & support to mothers suffering from the serious and debilitating pregnancy disease Hyperemesis Gravidarum.

Having a close friend who has a suffered from this disease, I have seen the toll it takes on a woman and her family and I am glad to see a company bringing some attention to it. MeMe’s HERon bodysuit and organic cotton tee shirt raises money for the the HER Foundation. (Jennifer suffered from Hyperemesis Gravidarum during her last pregnancy.)

MeMe infant and toddler clothing can be purchased in baby clothing and gift boutiques or purchased directly online at MeMeBaby.com.

"HERon" Print
“HERon” Print