Christmas Shopping Guide: Gifts for Young Toddlers (1-3yrs)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Hey y'all! This is the first of my Christmas/holiday shopping guides. My young toddler just turned two, so we've had Christmas AND a birthday to deal with in our house.

This list is battery, plug-in, flashing light, and screen time free, with the exception of a few books that make noise.

These are all Amazon links with the exception of one or two items. I don't know about you, but I worship my Amazon Prime account. I never have to drag my two year old out to Toys R Us and listen to him whine for toys. It's brilliant.

Seriously though, save yourself some time and energy and at least try the free trial. It's worth it. Some things (like food products) are more, but I've found a lot of items to be cheaper on here. The wooden car track we got Everett was 50% less on Amazon Prime than it was at Kohl's, Target, and everywhere else that I checked. Plus, shipping was free and I didn't have to put on a bra.

BOOKS
I don't know about you, but my toddler will sit solo and look at books for hours. We keep a small basket of (3-5) books in our living room, our work/play room, and the nook by the laundry room. I moved the book storage to a hall closet a couple months ago and now that hallway is also a reading corner. He loves to open the closet door and just pull out one book after another. Reading has been my favorite pastime since I was a kid, and I'm so thrilled to see Everett following that path. I hope it brings him much joy.
10. Baby Animals
12. Busy Books 

All of the book suggestions are fantasy-free series books, and there are a ton of options when it comes to book themes. They are also all board books. The pictures are lovely and mostly very realistic. We love using these books for matching with our animal models and diecast vehicles.

BUILDING
Any other parents obsessed with blocks? I want an entire room for just building toys. Everett is still into the build it so he can immediately knock it down stage, but he'll build Lego masterpieces before I know it.
Mega Bloks are still the favorites around here. He got a bunch last Christmas. Technically he was not at all ready for building with them at one year old, but we found that if you gave him two blocks he would put them together over and over and over. It was GREAT for car rides. His set came with two little cars that come apart into three pieces, and he worked on those when the two-block bit got boring. 

PRETEND PLAY
The closer we got to Everett's second birthday, the more we noticed him playing pretend. It is the.cutest.thing.ever!
4. Vacuum
5. Food
6. Tools

Our kitchen and cookware are from Ikea, but I included another brand since not everyone lives in close proximity to HEAVEN. ;) It would be hard to narrow down to a favorite on this list, but his baby doll and his vacuum would be a close tie for first. The vacuum has, quite literally, been worn to death. We ended up putting it in the attic for future siblings and upgrading him to an actual (lightweight) vacuum. He may as well clean the floors while he plays! 

The dolls I suggested are anatomically correct. This really freaked out a friend of mine at a play date when our babies were on the shelf naked. Personally, I believe knowledge is power and there is a lot of data suggesting that kids who can name their "private parts" are less likely to be victims of abuse. We wouldn't give them dolls with blanks where the fingers are supposed to be, so why can't they play with dolls that have a penis or vulva? Food for thought while you do your Christmas shopping.

MUSIC MAKING 
When we were hosting tot school at our home, we stocked up on small musical instruments. Everett plays with them every single day. He loves to turn on his CD player and have a jam session with Mom.
3. Ukulele
6. Bongo
11. Wooden Rhythm Set

I left off silk scarves since they technically aren't instruments, but they are such a fun part of our music supplies. The kiddos really get into dancing around with them.

ART SUPPLIES
We are crazy for art supplies in this house. You can never have too much. We usually break out the art supplies at least twice a day, and that doesn't count all the time Everett spends in the backyard with his chalk. Hours upon hours are spent doodling in his clubhouse.
6. Art Smock 

If your child hasn't started coloring yet, definitely start them out with a "fat" alternative to regular crayons. The regular ones will just snap in their fingers. We love these Left Right crayons because they have an easy grip. Crayola Eggs are another great choice.

PUZZLES
Did you do puzzles as a child? I was OBSESSED. My husband says he was never into them. So far Everett has really enjoyed them, and I've been impressed with how quickly he moves to the next "level" of puzzles. Right now we're working on 2-3 piece jigsaws and puzzles that don't have the image behind them (like #6, one of his current favorites).

Puzzles are so important in the early years. Your tot is working on hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, shape recognition, problem-solving, and patience. I also really like the teachable moment that comes when the puzzle is finished - clean up! Everett is expected to put all of the pieces back into a little basket, set the basket on the puzzle, and return them to the shelf.


THINGS THAT GO
I don't know what it is about wheels, but my child is nuts for them. We have every ride on toy imaginable. (Thankfully, most were purchased at garage sales for under $5!) Everett can't quite reach pedals yet, even with pedal extenders, but that doesn't keep him from riding around on pedaled toys. He got a Big Wheel for his birthday that he zooms around our dining table even though he's a good 3 inches from the pedals. Where there's a will, there's a way.
2. Radio Flyer Mini Wagon (for toys)
8. Mower

Girl moms, don't let anyone convince you that these are boy toys. Half of Everett's boy friends have no interest in wheels, and half of his girl friends do. It just depends on the kid. Don't let your daughters miss out! 

We used the Pewi as Everett's "push" toy when he was learning to walk, and then it was used as a ride on. Now we've upgraded to the Twista balance bike which has front wheel steering and rides more like a bike.

GROSS MOTOR
I have an ACTIVE little boy. He wants to be moving, moving, moving. We are constantly adding to our gross motor toys to keep up with him. My advice is to think outside the box when it comes to where you use these. The bounce house I listed is one my friend uses in her media room. (We have a larger version of that brand and we can only use it outside.) We keep our trampoline inside for rainy days, and friends of ours keep their little slide inside, too.
9. Slide

If you can spring for the backyard playset, I strongly recommend it. We got one from Tree Frog Playsets when Everett turned one, and it was the best investment. Seriously. He plays on that thing every single day. It's my backyard babysitter! If not, the monkey bars tower and the Pikler triangle are much less expensive options. The Pikler triangle can even be used indoors and is great for small homes!


MISCELLANEOUS FAVORITES

We have every single item on this "miscellaneous favorites" portion, and they get a LOT of use. 



Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays y'all!

Musings on Motherhood: Make Our Children Great

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Okay America. Trump won. It's done. 

I don't know about you, but I have had enough negativity and hate for one year. While the Trump administration gets busy making America great again (still unclear on exactly what that means), I say we focus on simply making America great. I say we, parents, accept that this burden is on our shoulders. 

For the last few weeks, I have been in a constant state of worry for my child. I'm worried for my son, and I'm worried for the daughters that I may have one day. I don't care about financial policies. We'll be fine, or we won't, and either way we'll go on. I worry about the example being set. The hateful words that seems to flow so freely. If you're one of the people who says it's okay because at least he says what he's really thinking, then this post isn't for you. But if you're someone who voted for him because of other things while accepting that what he says is not okay, then you may find comfort here.

Here's the thing: I don't have to let the President-elect influence my child. I can turn off my TV. I can guard him, and it's my job to do so.  
Okay, deep breath. Read this list out loud to yourself.

It is MY job to teach my child kindness, gentleness, and respect for others.
It is MY job to teach my child compassion.
It is MY job to teach my child that his/her body belongs to him/him.
It is MY job to teach my child to respect other peoples' bodies and privacy.
It is MY job to teach my child human equality, and show him/her how to look beyond differences.
It is MY job to model acceptable behavior and word choices.
It is MY job to display love, respect, and equality in my home.
It is MY job to surround my child with family and friends who display these admirable qualities, and my job to make the tough decisions about who is not worthy of influencing my child.

Now don't you feel better? 

Let's go a little further, because my heart is feeling quite broken for my community this morning. You see, I live in a suburb of Houston. A community that is filled with Muslims and Latinos, affluent families and struggling single moms, and non-traditional families. 

It is MY job to make others feel welcome in my community.
It is MY job to smile at the mother sitting by herself because she is wearing a hijab at the playground. It's my job to sit next to her, and start a conversation.
It is MY job continue to have relationships with good people whose beliefs are beyond my comprehension. I might learn something from them.
It is MY job to have compassion for the families who are distraught this morning, wondering if one or more of their family members will be deported. (Even if you believe they SHOULD be deported, please have compassion for what it means to be separated from loved ones.)
It is MY job to learn and evolve because I accept that while I am open minded there are things that are out of my comfort zone. I have a duty to my child to learn about these things and learn to love these things for the beauty of their differences.

And on one last note - a positive note - I want to congratulate all of the mamas who voted yesterday. There was a female candidate on our ballot for a major party.  Even if you hate her, I hope that means something to you. I hope it moved you. I hope you feel the power behind the fact that you had the option.

Tot School: Look for the Helping People

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Wow, what a crazy month it has been!! I remember when the Boston Marathon bombing happened there was a Fred Rogers quote that went around the internet. I wasn't a mother yet, we weren't even trying to get pregnant yet, but I remembered it and thought what a great tool it would be when I had a little one to guide through tragedies. 
Now I am a mother, and the world is no less crazy. Scary things are still happening. My friends in the LGBTQ and black communities are hurting. My child is still too little to understand what's going on. He may not even be aware that something is going on, although he understands a lot these days so I try not to underestimate him. I'm not yet ready to talk to him about these scary things, so instead I'm taking one from Mama Rogers and teaching him to "look for the helpers" in this world.

A Weekend in Waco

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

I know Fixer Upper is all.the.rage. right now, but my husband and I just watched the first two seasons on Netflix. We don't really use our cable anymore except to DVR our longtime favorites. I probably haven't watched a commercial in several years... I digress.

We went to Waco! We really enjoyed Fixer Upper, and though it's not really my style we thought it would be fun to go to Magnolia Market. We're in Houston, so it's only a few hours, and we have family who recently moved out that way.

A three-hour drive is practically torture for a toddler, so we opted to start our Waco trip at the Cameron Park Zoo. We are BIG zoo fans. Everett and I visit the Houston Zoo at least twice a month, and we have been members for two years. (GET THE MEMBERSHIP! So worth it.)
Because we have a zoo membership, we get a discount at over 100 zoos and aquariums around the country. Everett gets in free because he is under two, so we have an "individual" membership at the Houston Zoo. I get in free and I have one guest pass, which means our family of three get in free with our membership when we go. All zoos and aquariums on the list have different rules. Some give you a free ticket, some you get 50% off. Cameron Park  Zoo honored my individual pass and let me in free, we bought a ticket for Bryan, and still Everett got in free because of his age.

Not everyone appreciates little things like this, but I am one who does. I think there was one on almost every habitat, and each one made me laugh.
Everett was melting down from exhaustion and we didn't really have time to walk the actual park trails after we left the zoo, but next time we're up here it's definitely on the list. It's a 400 acre park on the river with sidewalks and trails, playgrounds, and splash pads. Seriously gorgeous. (Images below of Cameron Park are property of City of Waco.)
Did I mention that it was July in Texas and blistering hot? We were melting. We brought our stuff to the hotel and cooled down for a bit. 
No one will ever go hungry in my presence because I'm always carrying enough food for ten grown men. Or, you know, one toddler. 

Next stop was an early dinner at Buzzard Billy's. (And yes, Everett still ate his dinner after that third lunch big snack because this kid is a bottomless pit.) This was Bryan's pick, and I was skeptical. I mean, we live in Houston. We have access to Cajun food that is much closer to Louisiana than Waco. But the restaurant had a river view and I thought Everett would enjoy that.
Man oh man was this food delicious! I mean YUM. The service was great, as well. We did have a window seat and gorgeous view of the river for all of thirty seconds. Then the sun started to set and we were blinded. Oops! We ended up pulling the shade down after a few minutes, and it was too bright to get a picture. This would have been a perfect seat during lunch or after the sun dropped down behind the trees!!

Bryan will tell you that this trip was for me, but really he was the one that wanted to see Magnolia so bad. Shhhh don't tell. He couldn't wait, so we drove by to sneak a peek even though they had just closed. There was a big crowd outside, and we realized we had just missed the grand opening of their little bakery
I forget how we heard about Pokey O's, but boy am I glad we tracked down their truck. I'm not a big ice cream person. I'll take an occasional frozen yogurt. HOLY SMOKES I could have eaten five of these. They sell cookies and ice cream, and ice cream sandwiches. We got our ice cream sandwich in a cup. I looked at the menu forever because everything sounded good, and, of course, now I have zero memory of what flavors I chose.
Seriously, how much do you want one now?
Judging by the picture, I think it must have been cherry vanilla ice cream and maybe the fudge nut brownie. I thought there was almond something somewhere, but maybe not. Now I want one.

Okay, okay, I know y'all want to hear about Magnolia. Next day we got up early and put on our walking shoes. Just kidding. I wore sandals and a cute outfit because, hello, Joanna might see me.
I'm going to give Magnolia two separate ratings. First, it was a great experience as a tourist destination. It was fun to look at the displays, and I LOVED the outside areas.
I'm seriously obsessed with this verticle garden herb box.
As a retail experience, it was HORRIBLE and I would not go there to shop again. It was all overpriced, made in China crap. Most of it can be found on Amazon for way cheaper. I would much rather support small shops on Etsy. It was also packed. I could barely navigate with my stroller without knocking something or someone down. It was hot as hell in there too. Don't hate me, I'm just being honest. #sorrynotsorry
The Gainses aren't the only ones with a Waco destination. Their woodworking buddies made a store front at their shop, and it was adorable (although also quite overpriced).
We were happily surprised to find the place without a crowd, and I really enjoyed it more than Magnolia Market. They had some really beautiful displays!
We hit a few other shops and then finished out the excursion at Spice Village. So much fun! If you're in Waco for any reason you should definitely hit up Spice Village. It was basically a giant store with individual Etsy shop setups, but you only checked out once. (Not actually Etsy shops, but you get what I'm saying.) It reminded me of Junk Hippy Roadshow or even a little bit like Antique Week at Warrenton/Round Top. Cute clothes, fun home decor, lots and lots of signs, some beautiful and funky antique furniture, etc.
If only we had a bigger vehicle. I would have been the owner of a beautiful little antique console for my entryway. 

We brought Jack (our dog) with us but didn't want to leave him in a hotel room, so he actually had a puppy vacation at my sister-in-laws. Apparently, he partied it up while we were shopping.
We visited with family and ate dinner, and then that was it. So long Waco!

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