I Lego my Heart in New York City

During my summer in NYC with baby and Husband, a summer that will forever be burned into my memories as the summer we came, saw, and conquered Manhattan, I came across "I LEGO N.Y.," by Christoph Niemann, at the children's section Borders by the Lincoln Center. I was tempted to buy it as a quirky souvenir of our time there, but instead, I ended up buying it for our friends who can actually, legitimately call themselves New Yorkers. If you like Legos, and even if you don't, I think you will find it quite clever.


Goodnight Gorilla Getting You Down?

I've got nothing against classics like Goodnight Moon, Goodnight Gorilla, Guess How Much I Love You, etc.  (okay, maybe I do, a little), but it only takes one reading for an adult with an adult-sized need for intellectual stimulation to get really, really bored. I'll do just about anything for my son though, so they stay in the rotation night after night. However, it occurred to me the other day that I have still have some control over the situation. Yes, I am the mom! He is the child! That means I get at least 16 more years, give or take a couple years, of pulling out the Mom Card (i.e., I get to permanently say Goodnight to the gorilla and moon as I shove them in the back of a drawer, and encourage my son to obsess about other, more stimulating titles). 

If you are looking for a way to read to your child but keep things fresh and stimulating for yourself at the same time, try Mary Ann Hoberman out for size, a well-loved and well-respected poet after a child's own heart, who also appeals to adults because of her command of the English language and ingenuity in twisting and turning it surprising, wacky, and inventive ways.  Everyone knows Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss, but Hoberman, selected by the Poetry Foundation to be Children's Poet Laureate in 2008 for a two year term, also has an impressive bibliography spanning decades to entertain both you and your children for years to come. Check out the sampling below.  If your mouth doesn't have fun trying to get through each poem, then I've got nothing for you.

Mayfly, by Mary Ann Hoberman

Think how fast a year flies by
A month flies by
A week flies by
Think how fast a day flies by
A Mayfly’s life lasts but a day
A single day
To live and die
A single day
How fast it goes
The day
The Mayfly
Both of those.
A Mayfly flies a single day
The daylight dies and darkness grows
A single day
How fast it flies
A Mayfly’s life
How fast it goes.

Fish, by Mary Ann Hoberman

Look at them flit
Tearing around
With a leap and a bound
But none of them making the tiniest


Music Appreciation on a Budget

Last year, my little family spent one hot, glorious summer in Manhattan. While my husband was at work, my son and I spent our days at the park with all the nannies and their charges, eye-shopping through bustling SoHo (where I probably only ever saw one other baby, and for good reason), and chasing down the best cheap eats that NYC had to offer me (picture me walking around Times Square, baby strapped to my chest, trying to maneuver through the aggressive throngs of tourists as I shoved forkfuls of Junior's devil food cheesecake down my throat, oh my goodness I can still taste that monster).

Anyway, one day, I met another mom with a daughter about my son's age, and she recommended a music class that her daughter had joined and loved.  Seeing as how my son loved music, it sounded like a great idea until I called the company and found out that they charged an arm and a leg for a measly 12 week session (45 minutes per class). It was Manhattan after all, and rent wasn't cheap. So I did the next best thing and checked out a free "sample class," and took mental notes. Yes, my son had a lot of fun at the free sample class and I would have loved to continue sending him, but again, I could have bought a used car for the price of the class so here's what I suggest instead for those of you who also haven't won the lottery yet, and need to tighten your belts in this flourishing economy:

1. Buy a couple CDs of children's music (or rent them at your local library)
:: If you are not familiar with children's music, or could use some more ideas, click here, or if you believe in the wisdom of crowds, then click here for some suggestions.

2. Purchase or make a handful of music-makers 
:: Here are some of my son's favorites:

Hohner 5 Piece Toddler Music Band

Hohner Kids Single 5" High Cage Bell, Assorted Colors

Hohner Kids Clearly Colorful Translucent Harmonica, Assorted Colors

Hohner Plastic Kazoo

3. Invite some of your children's friends over for a music playdate

4. Put out the music-makers and play the CDs

5. Encourage free-form dancing, bouncing, headbanging, shaking of musicmakers, and other forms of music-induced merriment. I recommend keeping the stage diving and mosh pitting to a minimum though.

6. For extra credit, learn the lyrics of the songs, make-up some hand motions (or find some on youtube), and teach them to the kids

7. And if you want to be out of this world awesome and can play an instrument, give the kids a live performance as you encourage them to sing and dance along.

Rinse and repeat as often as desired and voila, you just saved a few benjamins. Now go buy yourself something nice.


A Service for Busy Moms and Dads: Better Book Titles

From the blog Better Book Titles:
"This blog is for people who do not have thousands of hours to read book reviews or blurbs or first sentences. I will cut through all the cryptic crap, and give you the meat of the story in one condensed image. Now you can read the greatest literary works of all time in mere seconds!"
I took the liberty of culling through the collection and pulling out the children's books that were "retitled."

If you've got some children's books that you'd like to retitle, I'd love to hear it (or non children's books for that matter!)


Violence Prevention: Baby Toupees and Pacifiers

Let's be honest. Newborns aren't really all that entertaining. Sure, you could spend hours gazing into their shut eyes and marvel at how sweet their poop smells, but apart from that, there isn't much more. I kid, I kid. Sure, I admit I spent much of those sleep-deprived days admiring my baby and wondering how the most. adorable. baby. in. the. whole. wide. world. could have come out of me. Me! My baby!  But let's be honest. There were also days when I thought calling Child Protective Services would be a good idea because I was on the brink of violence. The days when I hadn't slept a wink for 24 hours straight, when my baby refused to take those naps that all the baby books promised he would, and when he wouldn't stop screaming bloody murder every single time I tried to put him down to rest my throbbing arms and back.

On days like that, I could have really used a good laugh or two. Where or where were these pacifiers and toupees when I needed them??

Pacifiers can be found here.
Baby toupees can be found here.


Valentine's Day Card Kit

As much as I loathe the commercialization of holidays, and as much as Valentine's Day is one of the worst offenders, I actually do appreciate V-day. Of course, it was the source of some bitterness and angst back in my twenties when I was unintentionally single and all my friends were either dating or married. But now that I'm happily wed and V-day no longer represents salt on an open wound, I can actually see it for what it is--simply an excuse to express your love to your beloveds, handy for those who don't have the cajones (or wherewithal) to express it otherwise. It doesn't have to be directed to a lover obviously. Supermarket aisles stocked with mass-produced Vday cards and candy targeting toddlers prove that point.

Anyway, my sister had a bunch of gorgeous cardstock, ribbons, and notions in her formidable collection of craft supplies (in a Vday-approved color palette no less), so she carefully selected an assortment and created these pretty Valentine's Day Card Kits.  I put some in the shop, so if your kid(s) would like to create handmade cards for his/her loved ones this year, this kit would pretty much take care of that (and you could even make some for your loved ones as well while they are at it!).

A closer look at some of the goodies in the kit

Sample Card #1

Sample Card #2
Sample Card #3

Of course, the sky is the limit when creating cards from the kit. Use your imagination. The samples above were created by my sister (very quickly, I might add) but I thought I would post them just in case they might help provide some inspiration. Even if you don't use this kit, I highly recommend making your Vday card(s) (in other words, don't give Hallmark your money!). Pretty or not, handmade gifts/cards speak volumes about the love of the giver.

Music to My Ears: Thank You Elizabeth Mitchell

Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes
Deep appreciation (you could even say passion) for music runs in my family. However, so does pragmatism, so instead of professional musicians, we are mostly a motley crew of frustrated accountants, attorneys, and engineers. And the one or two brave souls who actually did pursue music as a means of paying the bills are unemployed and living out of their parents' home, but at least they aren't frustrated. Not in the same way anyway.

I also really love music, but I never had any ambitions to pursue it professionally. I was always just happy to appreciate it second-hand, blasting Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2, tears streaming down my face (music often has that effect on me), or singing along--unfortunately off-key--to my angsty female vocalist flavor of the month. However, my husband has no appreciation for music whatsoever. I don't understand that. Isn't a love for music innate? Isn't it a biological imperative that marks you as a member of the human race?

Needless to say, I was overjoyed when my son showed signs of music appreciation at an early age  and I immediately introduced him to my man Rachmaninoff. Unfortunately Rach didn't do it for him, but the tinny, electronic, grating sounds of his battery-operated baby toys did (damn you Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes!).  I was desperate to find a happy medium, so imagine my gratitude when a friend introduced me to Elizabeth Mitchell. Life's been good since. Both my son and I love all her CDs. Her voice is soothing, and her song selections are extremely thoughtful and spot-on in my opinion. She mines treasures from all over the world, and many of her songs have whimsical lyrics and catchy melodies that will get stuck in your head all day, but in a good way. Heck, I'd play her CDs even if my son wasn't around. It beats tinny renditions of Camptown Races and lullaby versions of Kanye West' "Golddigger" (yes, it really exists)

She has four CDs now and I would highly recommend any of them. They preserved my sanity during a six-hour road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco the other week. Whenever my son started to bemoan the fact that he was restrained, we'd pop in one of her CDs and call it a truce.

Sunny Day

You Are My Sunshine
You Are My Flower


Ikea Hack: Painting an Accent Piece for your Child's Bedroom

My son's due date was just on the outer edge of fall, so my nesting instinct kicked into high gear while the leaves were just starting to give way to breathtaking hues of red, yellow, and orange. I loved the fall so much that I decided to make fall colors the theme of my son's nursery, and I did, and I loved it, and I stuck with it for a while, until...I walked into a local gift shop one day which sold goods of a French/antique/repurposed persuasion, and I spotted a picture frame constructed out of small rectangular pieces of rotting wood that had washed up on a shore somewhere, with each wood piece lightly painted with some beautiful shade of sea glass and bearing holes where nails used to pierce it. I coveted that picture frame but alas, I couldn't justify the hefty price tag so I sadly left it at the store.

Well, here, you see my budget version of that picture frame, and I happened to like it so much (and the lighthouse/sail boat bookends that I later found at Ross) that  it became an inspiration board of sorts  as my son's fall-themed nursery gave way to a nautical theme centered around the myriad colors of sea glass. 

You will need:
  • Ikea Malma mirror, $2.99!
  • Small bottles of acrylic paint (whatever colors you choose)
  • One paintbrush
  • Painter's tape (or regular masking tape will do)
  • Black ink pen
  • Ruler (any sharp edge will do)
  • Mod Podge

  1. With a pencil and ruler, lightly draw out the rectangles directly onto the mirror. Space/stagger them however you wish.
  2. Using masking tape, tape around the edges of each rectangle as you paint so that you get clean, straight lines. Wait until the painted area is dry before proceeding on to the next rectangle.
  3. After you finish painting the entire mirror and it is completely dried, take your straight edge and black pen and outline each rectangle. Add tiny black circles within many of the rectangles for added effect (to mimic former nail holes)
  4. Once the pen ink has completely dried, use your paintbrush to paint on a layer of Mod Podge over the entire frame. After this first layer has dried, add a second coat. Add on coats as you see fit. 2-3 coats should suffice.
  5. Admire and display in your child's room/nursery!

Gift Basket for Foodie Parents

Here are some items you could put in a "gift basket" for the epicureans in your life who are expecting a little foodie baby:

1. Top 100 Baby Purees: 100 Quick and Easy Meals for a Healthy and Happy Baby
2. Little Pea
3. Foodie Babies Wear Bibs (An Urban Babies Wear Black Book)
4. Ikea Kalas bowls
5. Ikea Kladd Prickar bibs with sleeves/pocket
6. Ikea Kalas utensils

** Start Fresh Watch out for Tyler Florence's "Start Fresh," his cookbook focusing on baby food, scheduled to be released May 24, 2011.

I personally love the Kalas line of utensils, plates, and bowls at Ikea because they are dirt cheap but extremely durable (perhaps even unbreakable), cute, and easy for awkward, clumsy baby hands to grasp when they are learning to feed themselves.

To give the gift basket an added personal touch, you could include handwritten recipes that your child loved as a baby.


Preserving your Child's Artwork for Posterity

I know that in a matter of months, when my son acquires the ability to put crayon to paper (which will necessarily be preceded by the ability to keep crayon out of mouth), the artist within will burst forth and my fridge will be assaulted with countless "works of art." And I know, sentimental mush that I am, that I will not be able to part with anything he creates, and I will be left in 18 years with a storage room overflowing with disintegrating paintings and crumbling clay monstrosities that no one will ever see and appreciate ever again. That is why I have decided, preemptively, to come up with a way to preserve my son's masterpieces in a cost-effective, space-efficient manner that will showcase his work for years to come, starting with this beauty:

I haven't quite decided on which method yet, but here are a few ideas to get me (and you) thinking ahead at least:

1.  Create a book.  Scan or photograph your child's artwork (for extra fun, you could even photograph your child actually holding up the artwork so that you can see how your child's artistic abilities tracked with his or her physical development), upload them to a photobook processing company like Shutterfly, Snapfish, etc., and voila.  Click here to see a great example.

2.  Turn them into ornaments.  You can convert many of the little three-dimensional doodads that your child creates into ornaments for the family Christmas tree. It would be a fun family activity to admire (or laugh) at them together as they are pulled out at the end of each year for hanging, and when your child moves into a place of his/her own one day, you can present them to him/her as a priceless heirloom. No doubt their future spouse and children will get a kick out of it as well.

3.  Frame them.  Choose a few of your child's favorite two-dimensional works for framing, and find a nice place in your home to hang them. Change them out as desired.

4. Turn it into jewelry.   Okay, this may not be the most practical idea, but...if there is a piece of artwork that is particularly precious to you and/or your child, you could consider having it turned into a pendant that you could add to a chain and wear around your neck on special occasions (i..e, your child's kindergarten graduation, or college graduation, what have you).

**Above all else, make sure you write your child's name and the date that the artwork was created (or at least the child's age) on the back of the artwork for record-keeping purposes. Considering how quickly the arts and crafts projects pile up, especially if you've got more than one child, you're going to be glad you did!


The Alphabet as Muse

It occurred to me recently that I should probably start teaching my son his ABCs. As I started perusing the blogosphere for ideas, I got the distinct impression that the English alphabet is pretty hot right now. If you do a quick search in Etsy for "Alphabet Posters," you'll see more artistic renderings of the alphabet than you thought possible, ranging from baby nursery appropriate [i.e., alphabet accompanied by cute illustrations of woodland creatures and marine animals] to career specific [see the Statistics-themed print at the top left corner of the collage above] to quirky [while I personally wouldn't purchase the zombie print because zombies scare me, I give the artist credit for originality].  The more abstract interpretations of the alphabet [like the one in the bottom right corner of the collage where the alphabet letters look like they were  gracefully dumped into a pile], while perhaps aesthetically pleasing and visually arresting, don't do it for me because if I'm going to shell out a boatload of money for an alphabet print, I at least want it to be functional. My baby needs to learn his ABCs, and he can't tell up from down as it is. 

While I'm super impressed by all the creative alphabet-inspired art out there in the blogosphere, I have to thank my sister for actually helping me along in my journey to turn my illiterate toddler into bibliophile. She, bless her heart, suffered a thousand pin pricks creating the following gift for my son in the hopes that it will make learning his ABCs more fun. As an added bonus, these aesthetically pleasing, visually arresting, and functional wool felt letters are portable, and large enough not to pose as choking hazards! The latter feature is especially important to me right now because my son still suffers from the burning desire to shove anything and everything into his mouth.


Building Up Your Child's Library

When I first found out I was pregnant with my son, I immediately began dreaming of raising a little bookworm, a miniature bibliophile who would rather spend his afternoons with his nose buried in a book than play video games, who would get so lost in the adventures of different worlds that he would lose track of time like his mama often did when she was a little girl. While other expectant moms were debating themes and colors for nursery decor, or knitting booties and hats, I spent what little energy I had building up a pretty impressive library for my unborn child. I did it slowly over the course of several months, and at a fraction of the cost. Here's how:

1. Thrift/Consignment Stores.  It can be hit or miss, but when you get lucky, you can get really, really lucky. There was a huge thrift store about 15 minutes from my home that I would frequent on sale days, and on a few occasions, I would make out like a bandit, trucking home an armload of books for a sum of money that I could find tucked below my couch cushions on cleaning days. I probably collected about 75% of Sandra Boynton's entire bibliography and numerous Eric Carle hardcovers (not to mention classics like Goodnight Moon, Guess How Much I Love You, Runaway Bunny, etc.) at a whopping 50 cents per book. They were all in very good condition, and for the few that weren't, I just slapped on some extra-strength, clear packing tape along the spine or weaker parts of the book for added reinforcement. I couldn't have been more ecstatic about not paying $7+ per book when my son bound to drool, bite, and shred them somewhere down the line.

2. Consignment Sales.  Where I used to live, consignment sale season occurred twice a year, in the spring and fall, and I made sure to hit at least a couple each time (and remember, the early bird gets the worm when it comes to sales like these whose target demographic is the aggressive, coffee-ridden parent who has been up against his/her will since the break of dawn). You can score great deals on children's clothing, toys, and baby gear, but I always went hunting for books and also had great luck on more than one occasion. I picked up numerous board books and also a like-new, complete Chronicles of Narnia collection for about $6. I know it will be a while before my son can enjoy the Narnia series, but for the price of 1.5 frappuccinos, I couldn't pass it up.

3.  Friends If you have friends with older children, they are likely to have some books in their collection that their children have long outgrown, and that they would be happy to pass on to you. Don't be afraid to ask.  In fact, even if you have friends with similar aged children, you might consider doing a "book swap." That way, all parties involved get a fresh stack of books to add to the bedtime rotation. And maybe, just maybe, you won't have to read Goodnight Gorilla twelve times a night, every single night.

4.  Library Book Sales.  Another source of children's books at a steep discount.

**If you have any other resources for buying children's books (without breaking the bank), I'd love to hear it! And best of luck building up your child's library. Unfortunately, having an impression collection does not a bibliophile make. I'm still holding out hope for my son, but when it comes to reading time, he has the attention span of a flea and would much rather bang household objects together.