Now You’re Cooking!

Cooking is a wonderful family activity on so many levels. It help build kids’ confidence and creativity, encourages math skills, teaches about cause and effect, builds hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills, increases the chance that they’ll eat healthier foods (unless all you ever make is dessert), and more, But most of all, it’s just plain fun. Here are some terrific products that will make cooking with your kids, well, a piece of cake.

 

Kitchen Tools and Utensils (Curious Chef)

curious chef-The brilliant minds at Curious Chef have a huge line of attractive, easy- (and safe-) to use, kid friendly kitchen tools that includes just about everything they (and you) could possibly need to measure, roll, cut, slice, dice, fold, knead, whisk, beat, strain, and otherwise prepare delicious meals. They even have recipes! Everything is designed to fit in little hands and to streamline the cooking process (our favorites are the color coded measuring cups, which all but eliminate measuring mix-ups). Prices vary. http://curiouschef.com/

 

Kitchen Accessories and More (Totally Bamboo)

cuting board - tree of lifeBamboo has become the go-to material for people looking for beautiful, high-quality, eco-friendly kitchen accessories. And no one does it better than Totally Bamboo. Their flatware is a stylish, reusable alternative to disposable cutlery. And at only $4 per set (fork, spoon, and knife), it’s a bargain. They also make mixing bowls and plates, but we especially loved their Tree of Life laser-etched cutting boards ($60), that feature images of exotic and endangered animals. See their whole collection at http://www.totallybamboo.com/

 

Fiesta Dinnerware (Fiesta)

fiesta luncheon plateEventually, all that meal prep will be over and it’ll be time to eat. And you’ll have tough time beating Fiesta for serving your edible creations. Fiesta has been around a long time—you may even have inherited a set from your parents or grandparents. And while the range of sizes and colors (which include plum, lapis, scarlet, and lemongrass), the quality remains the same. Everything Fiesta makes is dishwasher-, oven-, microwave- and freezer safe, and has a 5-year warranty against chipping (which won’t happen with normal use). Luncheon plates are $10.99 each. Prices for other items vary. https://www.fiestafactorydirect.com/

 

Canning and Storage Jars (Ball)

ball - blue-mason-jarBall has been making high-quality canning jars for more than 100 years. Their new Collection Elite honors the originals while introducing a line of never-before-released blue jars in three sizes. Of course, not everyone uses Ball jars for canning. They’re also great for storing dry or liquid ingredients, but getting stuff out of those jars can be a challenge. The new Wide Mouth jars with plastic pouring spouts have solved that problem. And for serious storage, check out their decorative half-gallon and gallon Super-Wide Mouth jars. Prices vary. http://www.freshpreserving.com/

 

Silicone Baking Molds (Freshware)

baking mold - madeleineFreshware makes a flexible, non-stick mold for just about anything you could possibly want to bake. But we especially love their dessert molds, which help you create cupcakes, cookies, Madeleines, tarts, candies, caramels, and many more deliciously sweet items that pop right out of the silicone and right into your mouth (after they’ve cooled down, of course). Some recipes are included. Freshware products are 100% food grade and oven-, freezer-, and dishwasher safe. Prices vary. http://www.freshware.com/

 

Savior (Ankomn)

Savior - AnkomnWhat’s a meal without leftovers? But did you know that the average American family throws out hundreds of dollars’ worth of food every year because it spoils? The Savior’s patented vacuum seal technology system (which doesn’t use electricity or batteries) will keep those leftovers fresh up to eight times longer, thereby keeping keep more of your money in your wallet, where it belongs. While it’s great at home, the Savior is also excellent for camping trips or other outdoor activities where you need to keep food from spoiling. It’s easy to clean, freezer- and refrigerator safe, and stackable. $69.99 for 1.5 quart size; $74.99/2.5 quart size. http://www.ankomn.com/

Come on, Kiddo, Time for Bed

Getting kids to go to bed—and stay there—is no easy feat. Many parents dread the nightly routine, starting kids who whine, cry, make increasingly bizarre demands, throw tantrums, and do anything else they can think of to stay up. If you’re looking to make bedtime a little sweeter for everyone, check out our new favorites. You can thank us in the morning.

 

Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood Snuggle and Glow Plush Toy

daniel tigerThis little guy, who comes with his very own Tigey toy, is great for young fans of the hit TV show, and any child who’s afraid of the dark. Daniel Tiger is dressed for bed in his trolley PJ’s, and has been practicing saying helpful and comforting phrases as well as singing the “Goodnight” song from Mommy Tiger. When you push Daniel’s hand, he’ll talk, sing, or just glow, depending on which “mode” you have him in. Tigey lights up too, and slowly fades as the “Goodnight song” winds down. It’s nice to have a familiar friend with you when you get scared, especially one who glows in the dark. Requires 3 (AAA) batteries (Included). Retails for around $25 at Amazon.

FlipaZoo (FlipaZoo)

flipazooFlipaZoo is a clever, comforting toy that’s great for both home and away. It’s actually two plushes in one and kids will love transforming it from one animal to another. For example, the dragon becomes a unicorn, the husky becomes a polar bear, and the cat becomes a mouse. The transformation is super easy for kids to do (no complicated zippers or buttons)—they just flip the top over and boom, new animal. FlipaZoos are soft, cuddly, and make great pillows for car rides, airplanes, road trips, or just snuggling with while watching a movie with dad and mom. They come in three sizes. $20 for the medium/regular size. http://www.flipazoo.com

 

The Little Prince and Fox plush toy (YOTTOY)

yottoy little princeBased on the popular book (and soon to be movie), “The Little Prince,” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, YOTTOY has created a delightful line of soft, cuddly toys that feature the traveling Prince himself and the always philosophical fox. You can choose between a 12” Prince (with fox, of course), or a 4” Prince who comes bundled with a copy of the book. Seeing how quickly your child falls in love with the Prince may inspire you to read (or rediscover) the book. It may also inspire your child to use his new plush friends to act out all mischief the book’s characters get into. The 12” Prince + fox is $29; the smaller set plus the book are $53 at http://www.yottoy.com/

 

Teddy Bears (Aurora)

aurora teddy bearsIf you’re in a more traditional mood, you can’t go wrong with Aurora’s line of Teddy Bears. They vary from “baby’s first” to the fuzziest furs and most interesting colors that kids will enjoy. Some of the latest are Smiley Buxley (with, of course, a fantastic teddy smile), and the fantastically detailed Horace and Smokey. The faces on these bears are just too sweet (you won’t want to put them down, so you might need to get an extra one for yourself), and your children will be delighted. Secretly slip one of these huggable cuties onto your child’s bed, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly those bedtime protests get derailed by the allure of a new fluffy friend who’s inviting him to come snuggle into sleep. Go ahead, enjoy your evening-you deserve it! Prices vary. You’ll find these bears and lots more at http://www.auroragift.com/aurorababy/

queen-anne-revenge

Building Strong Families

Working on a project together is a great way for families to connect and spend quality time together. This week, we review some of our new favorite building sets.

Construction Runner and National Geographic Dinosaurs (Laser Pegs)

laser pegs dinosLaser Pegs kits are compatible with traditional building systems, but they add an element of light (and, in some cases, sound), which makes them unique. The Construction Runner comes with a power base and plenty of pieces to build eight different machines (one at a time), including a front end loader, bulldozer, and a crane. The Dinosaurs kit is a lot bigger, and, in addition to the base, contains enough pieces to build 24 different dinos (again, one at a time), including a few we’d never hear of (Tapejara and Sauropelta, for example). Once you install the batteries (which aren’t included), your creations will flash, blink, and generally astound. Both are for ages 5+. Construction Runner retails for about $23; Dinosaurs for about $45. http://www.laserpegs.com/

Galax-Z Zooboddysey (Alex Brands)

zooboddyseyWith ZOOB, you don’t just build something and put it on a shelf. ZOOB’s unique ball-and-socket-type connectors, let you twist, turn, move, and redesign your creation—activities that help bring your playtime to life. ZOOBOdyssey (a nod to Stanley Kubrick’s movie, “2001: A Space Odyssey”) is one of the stars in the Galax-Z line, a constellation of building kits with, as you might guess, an outer space theme. This kit contains 34 ZOOB pieces, a few important accessories (engine turbines, wing blasters, and more), a ZOOBonaut, and instructions for creating a number of different spacecraft, including a Robo Battle Station that transforms into a Time Warp Traveler and a Planet Observation Tower with an Interstellar Searcher. For ages 6+. $34. http://www.alexbrands.com/

Real Construction Deluxe Workshop (Jakks Pacific)

real constructionIf you’ve ever used real tools—hammers, saws, and so on—around young child children, you know how much they want to help. And you know how much you worry about them hurting themselves or someone (or something) else. With Real Construction kits, those worries are gone. These innovative kits allow your child to safely measure, saw, hammer, nail, screw, and assemble pretty much anything he or she wants. Real Construction Deluxe Workshop comes with a variety of pieces of “Kid Wood” (dense polyethylene foam), plastic tools (saw, hammer, screw driver, square), hardware (screws, nails, hinges), and plans for eight projects. Unfortunately, those plans aren’t nearly as clear as they should be, but there are very detailed instructions on the website. The pride and joy on your child’s face at having built something from scratch is priceless. Ages 6+. Prices vary. http://realconstructiontoys.com/

ICONX 3-D Metal Model Kits Queen Anne’s Revenge (Fascinations)

iconx queen anne's revengeFascinations has created several lines of building kits that are aimed squarely at builders who are looking for a challenge that traditional systems have a tough time providing. You start with several sheets of amazingly detailed, laser-cut metal. And after a few hours of thoroughly satisfying hand-eye- and fine-motor-skills-intensive work, you’ll end up with an even-more-amazingly detailed creation. In this case, it was the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the flagship of the 18th century pirate, Blackbeard. This ship is part of the ICONX line, which are especially advanced and not for the impatient. Other ICONX kits include the Taj Mahal and a stunning motorcycle. If you’re looking for something to warm up on, try their easier-to-build Metal Earth line, which include buildings and cars that are a great introduction to the techniques you’ll use with ICONX. Ages 14 and up. Queen Anne’s Revenge retails for about $16. But prices for other kits vary widely. http://www.fascinations.com/

Seeing and Doing Science

Scientists work in a variety of ways. One is by designing and conducting experiments, essentially saying, “Hey, I wonder what would happen if we did x, y, or z.” Another is to simply watch, as if to say, “Let’s look closely at all those stars and other bright things in the night sky and try to figure out whether the sun revolves around the earth or vice versa.” This week we honor both approaches: the hands-on science that we do, and the hands-off science that we observe.

Ant Farms (Uncle Milton)

uncle milton ant farmUncle Milton has been making ant farms for decades (in fact, they just celebrated their 60th ANT-iversary!). Over the years, ant-farming technology has changed and so have designs and materials. But what’s stayed remarkably consistent is how fascinating it is to watch these tiny animals dig tunnels, build bridges, and move mountains (little ones). The inhabitants of the original ant farms did their digging in sand. Their descendants can go old school with sand or dig in a nutrient-rich gel that eliminates the need for feeding and watering. Whichever way you go, you and your kids will have a wonderful—and very educational—time observing. And in case you’re worried, all the farms are break resistant and escape-proof. Under $20. For ages six and up. http://unclemilton.com/

Triassic Triops (Toyops)

toyops triopsRemember Sea Monkeys—those tiny creatures that almost miraculously came to life when you dropped their dried out little bodies into water? Well, Triops are similar, in that you reanimate them the same way. But these bad boys could eat your Sea Monkeys for lunch—quite literally. Relatively speaking, they’re enormous—easily reaching 2-3 inches. What’s especially cool about Triops is that the ones you get in your kit are identical to the ones that lived millions of years ago. They thrived and reproduced in wet climates, but went into a state of suspended animation (called “diapause”) when droughts came. Now you can revive them, just like Dr. Frankenstein—just be sure to follow the directions carefully (especially the water you use). Triops look positively pre-historic and are eerily engaging to watch. For ages 8 and up. Prices vary. http://www.toyops.com/

Science X Smartscope (Ravensburger)

ravensburger smartscopeWant to get a closer look at your ants, Sea Monkeys, or Triops? Smart Scope is for you. Just collect your specimen—which could be pretty much anything from water to rocks, feathers to insects, and slip it into the housing. Now here’s where it gets fun: put your smartphone or tablet on top of the housing and it becomes a digital microscope—without using an app (yay!). You can simply observe or, better yet, you can use your device’s camera to capture amazing images. For ages 8 and up. About $45. https://www.ravensburger.com

Ultimate Secret Formula Lab (Smart Lab)

smart lab Secret formulaHydraulics and fluid dynamics are all the rage this year, and this kit makes what could be complicated concepts accessible and fun. It includes a base station, test tubes, valves, plungers, petri dishes, clips, beakers, and enough chemicals to conduct 40 experiments that fizz, change color, disappear, crystalize, and defy gravity (clear, detailed instructions are included too). A delightful way to combine doing and observing. For ages 8 and up (adult supervision definitely recommended). Under $40. http://www.smartlabtoys.com/

MC2 Soda Pop Science Kit (Alex Brands)

Soda pop scienceAfter a long day of doing and observing science, you’re going to be thirsty. Why go out when you and your budding lab rat can whip up your own scientifically delicious fizzy sodas? This kit comes with citric acid, baking soda, some artificial flavoring, a couple of test tubes, and instructions for making lime, fruit punch, and cinnamon drinks. Ages 8 and up (adult supervision suggested). Around $16 at your favorite retailer.

Indoor Fun and Imagination

Summer’s almost here and we’re looking forward to spending plenty of time outside. But as we all know, summer sniffles, rain, or even excessive heat can keep families inside. Here are several great ways to keep busy—and entertained—indoors.

Bing-Bang Bounce (SmartLab)

bing bang bounceWarning: This toy makes learning about physics fun. The object is pretty simple. Set up a Mousetrap-like course where, if everything’s perfect, you use a launcher to fire a ball at a target. If you hit it, it launches a second ball at a new target. If that one hits, the third ball goes flying towards its target, and so on until you get the last ball into the “victory cup.” Along the way, you’ll be learning a lot about action-reaction, momentum, trajectories, angles, and, perhaps most important, persistence, because setting up your course will take a lot of trial and error and experimenting. Bing-Bang Bounce includes an adjustable blast-off launcher, four adjustable target launchers, four targets, and six Bing-Bang balls. About $34.50. For ages 8+. http://www.smartlabtoys.com/

Paw Patrol Create a Story
Despicable Me Big Wall (Colorforms)

colorforms - despicable meColorforms have been around since the early 1950s, so there’s a pretty good chance that you (and maybe even your parents) played with—and loved—them as kids. Over that time, Colorforms have been so popular that Time magazine recently added them to its list of the top 100 toys of all time. The technology is almost exactly the same as it was when you were sticking those pieces of vinyl to every shiny surface in your house.  But the playsets—which started off with Popeye in 1957—have definitely kept up with the times. We recently had a chance to review two new sets, which quickly brought back wonderful memories of childhood. Paw Patrol Create-a-Story ($16) includes 61 Coloforms and four different backgrounds. The Despicable Me Big Wall set ($20) includes a giant (2’ x 3’) play scene and eight giant figures. Both will keep kids 3+ entertained for hours, sticking and resticking, with no mess to clean up. http://www.colorforms.com/

Sew Science (SmartLab)

smartlab sew scienceCombine crafting, DIY electronics, and a little education, and you’ve got Sew Science. Each kit (there’s Cuddly Critters and GloBots) consists of a family of three doll-like figures that light up when they hold hands. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before the lights and handholding, your child will have to sew pre-cut felt-pieces together, fill them with stuffing, and use conductive thread to attach LEDs and snaps in the right places. (Don’t worry: although “conductive thread” sounds a little dangerous, it’s perfectly safe). Fortunately, there are complete instructions. Kits retail for about $20. For ages 8+. http://www.smartlabtoys.com/

Mo Willems Bus Soft Toy (Yottoy)

yottoy pigeon mo willemsThe latest book-based plush toys from YOTTOY look like they jumped off the pages of some of your (and your kids’) favorite children’s stories and right into your lap, which is right where you’ll want to keep them. The bus soft toy is based on Mo Willems’s classic, “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!” and features profiles of the main characters (the pigeon and the bus driver). The bus itself is soft and huggable and very well made, with all the details embroidered and not printed or screened. If you’re in the New York area, there’s a wonderful exhibit of Mo Willems’s art at the New York Historical Society (nyhistory.org) that runs through September 25, 2016. Prices vary. For all ages. For information on YOTTOY’s other book-plush combos, including Paddington, Eloise, and The Little Prince, and other related products, such as finger puppets and book ends, visit www.yottoy.com/

New from Nintendo

If you’re looking for some fun, new video games, your search is over. Here’s what we’re playing with right now. All are great picks for kids of all ages and all are available at the Nintendo eShop, http://www.nintendo.com/3ds/eshop

Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon (for Nintendo 3DS)

Pokemon Mystery DungeonIn many Pokémon games, you play as a trainer (a human who trains and cares for the Pokémon). But there’s also an RPG series where you play as Pokémon, exploring, battling, and earning treasure. The most recent game in that series is Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon. Pick your character and a Pokémon friend, and you’re transformed into a young Pokémon who must explore dungeons to help solve a major crisis: Pokémon are being turned into stone. Throughout Mystery Dungeon, you can meet all 720 known Pokémon—even the rare ones. Wonder Mail players can receive special items via QR codes. This game is available now for $39.99 in the e Shop or your favorite retailer.

Fire Emblem Fates

fireemblem FatesHere’s a little something for the dads. Fire Emblem is the long running RPG series (now over 15 games) with tactical movements on a grid environment. Each environment has a variety of obstacles and story elements, from Dragon Veins to deep canyons. The most striking element of this game is the story line, which starts out as many role playing games do, with a lost main character just trying to fit in. Your first decision is whether to stay with the family that raised you, side with your biological family, or choose neither. Each choice triggers a different path, which takes your player on some interesting adventures and situations. Fire Emblem Fates Birthright and Fire Emblem Fates Conquest retail for $39.99 each and the 3-game Special Edition is $79.99.

Mario & Luigi Paper Jam (for Nintendo 3DS)

Mario and Luigi paper jamMario and the crew are back for a brand new adventure that pairs the 3-dimensional Mario with his paper version. The action in this game is played out in role playing style where players take turns attacking with various skills to defeat their enemy. Battles are action-based, rather than having to wait for your next turn. The funny dialogue and silly interactions make this game fun for both younger players and those with more experience. Be warned, though: Once you start playing, you’re not going to want to stop. Paper Jam also supports Amiibos as special power ups that can be used in battle. Each Amiibo can store character cards, and during battles, players can call upon these cards to get powers. Amiibos definitely make the game more interesting, and we highly recommend them because you can use them on multiple current generation Nintendo systems, from the new 3DS XL to the Wii U. Mario and Luigi Paper Jam retails for $39.99 at both the eShop and retail locations.

Mario Tennis Ultra Smash (for Wii U)

Mario ultra smash tennisMario Tennis has been an evolving franchise since the Nintendo 64, and with each iteration, the graphics get slicker and the game play tighter, with plenty of new bells and whistles. The most prominent addition to the Ultra Smash is the Mega Mushroom, which makes your character explode to triple your original size. This can be a blessing or a curse, depending on your skill level. A total of 16 characters are available in Ultra Smash, some of which you unlock by completing specific tasks. The game also lets you level-up your Amiibos, improving their stats and giving them new skills. Retails for $49.99 at the eShop or wherever you buy your games.

Nintendo video games in action

Hopping Toward Easter

Are you ready for the Easter Bunny to hop into your house? Fill your little ones’ baskets (and tummies) with these fun, spring items.

Shakin Eggs (HABA USA)

Haba EggsThese eggs are perfect for baskets and never go bad. The kids will love them—not only for their bright colors, but also for the fun sounds they make. Each box contains a set of five colored beech wood eggs (and yes, the paint is safe and non-toxic, since we all know kiddies are going to try to put them into their mouths). Each egg makes a different sound (one jingles, another rattles, and so on), so your little bunny can make plenty of seasonal music. Recommended for ages 2 and up, but we think they’re okay for younger kids as well, since they’re too big to fit in the mouth and there are no small parts. About $20 at a retailer near you or at http://www.habausa.com

Cheekeez Bunny and Lamb (Aurora)

Aurora plushNo basket is complete without a sweet, fluffy toy, and Aurora makes some high quality plush toys that kids of all ages will want to cuddle up with year round. Among our faves for this season, though, are the Cheekeez Bunny ($9) and the oh-so-soft Lamb ($15.50). Available at gift stores like Hallmark or at http://www.auroragift.com/

Limited Edition Easter Toys (Skylanders)

Skylanders limited editionFor your gamer, Skylanders has released two limited edition, exclusive Easter themed toys for the Skylanders SuperChargers game. Spring Ahead Dive Bomber ($14.99) is a new vehicle that the Skylanders have disguised as an Easter egg to protect their bounty! The Skylanders figures can also interact and ride inside the Bomber within the game, adding a new layer of fun. Also out for the holiday is Eggcited Thrillipede ($12.99) who, with an extra set of arms, is the reigning Dragon Egg Toss Champion. Maybe this year, he’ll defend his title with Easter Eggs. Available at Game Stop, Toys R Us, and other stores that carry video games.

Gift Baskets (GourmetGiftBaskets.com)

Easter-Bunny-Gift-Basket-ClassicIf you’re not in the mood to create your own basket, you ran out of time, or your little chicks live far from you, not to worry! You can send your hugs and chocolate kisses by mail and if you order soon, they’ll get there in time for Easter. GourmetGiftBaskets.com has a huge selection of pre-made baskets that will please any gift-ee. For example, there’s the Gift Basket for Men, Premium Wine Spa Gift Basket, Sugar Free Gift Basket (for the diabetic in your life), Happy Easter Brownie Cake, and lots more. For families with more than one child, check out the Double-Bunny Easter Basket, which comes with two of everything: candies, chocolate bunnies, and, of course, stuffed toys. Prices vary. Visit www.GourmetGiftBaskets.com

Inspiring Ideas (Tastefully Simple)

tastefully simpleIf you want to make sure your special Easter celebration comes off perfectly, but you maybe aren’t the whiz in the kitchen you wish you were, you’ll find plenty of ideas, menus, recipes, and packages that will ensure that everything goes according to plan. You’ll still need to pick up the ham (or whatever you’re making) and the fresh items, but Tastefully Simple will guide you through every step of the planning, shopping, and cooking process. They’ve got plenty of inspiration, tutorials for making amazing-looking food that you’re definitely going to want to share on Instagram—even if you’re no Martha Stewart—and lots of time saving mixes for brownies, truffles, and more. You’re going to love the way your food turns out. https://www.tastefullysimple.com

The Art of Happiness

Art and childhood just seem to go together, don’t they? But who says adults can’t roll up their sleeves and get creative? This week we take a look at two traditional ways of making art, one less-traditional way to express your creativity, and one way to kick back and marvel as others make art happen right in front of your eyes.

Star Wars Crayons (Crayola)

crayola star warsIf you’ve got any Star Wars fans at home (something that’s required by law in 47 states), and you love to make art (which is required in all 50 states), you’ll love Crayola’s new Star Wars Limited Editions crayons. These 64-color sets come in collectible boxes that feature either Darth Vader or Stormtroopers. (If you’re looking for the good guys, you’ll find them in a Star Wars-themed set of mini coloring pages that comes with six mini, washable markers.) The crayons are wrapped in snazzy black-and-white labels and each box includes a number of new colors (Outer Space and Deep Space, being just two of them) along with metallic or glitter effects. For all ages. About $8 at your favorite retailer or http://shop.crayola.com/  @crayola

Art and School Supplies (Yoobi)

yoobi art suppliesYoobi doesn’t have as many colors as Crayola, but they’re well on their way, with a strong product line that includes markers, paints, crayons, brushes, pens, pencils, highlighters, and many other ways to transform every surface in your world into an expression of your creativity. The company also goes well beyond art, producing tons of office supplies as well, including staplers, tape dispensers, notebooks, rulers, binders, folders, and a lot more. But what’s consistent across all of Yoobi’s products is that they’re high-quality, vibrant, and stylish. Yoobi also gives back: For every product you buy, the company donates a similar one to a classroom in need in the U.S. Prices vary. http://yoobi.com/  @yoobigives

Socks and More (Pair of Thieves)

Pair of thieves socksNow you can take art with you everywhere you go, with these bright, whimsical cotton-blend socks that are eye-catching, comfortable enough to wear to work or the gym, and cool (in the hipster sense, but also in the sense that they’re breathable and moisture-wicking, which makes your feet feel literally cooler). Pair of Thieves has dozens of wild designs in a variety of sizes, from toddler to dad. Plus, they have some adorable dad-kid matching sets. Oh, and let’s not forget about the stylin’ underwear that’s just as cool (in both senses of the word) as the socks. $8/pair for the kid socks, $10/pair for the dad socks, $16/pair for the dad-kid sets, and $20/pair for underwear. Available at Target or at http://www.pairofthieves.com/  @pairofthieves

Universoul Circus

universoul circusThis circus is an absolute joy, for a number of reasons. First, the dazzling array of colors make it truly a work of art. Second, the performers elevate the art of the circus to new heights. Third, everything takes place in single ring, and the seats are so close that the audience members feel like they’re part of the action. But back to the artists/performers, who hail from all around the world. There were limbo dancers from Trinidad and Tobago, acrobats and contortionists from Ethiopia, trapeze masters from China, death-defying daredevils from Ecuador, a magic act from the U.S., and plenty of African-American culture to go ‘round. Together, they kept the audience entertained—and on the edge of our seats—for the entire 2.5-hour performance.  For all ages. Tickets range from $18 – $35. Check the website to see when Universoul is coming to your town. http://www.universoulcircus.com/  @UniverSoulCirc

Home Safety

While we’re big fans of toys and games, what could be more important than your family’s safety—especially inside your own home? Here are some great products that are designed to protect you and your children from a variety of hazards, both visible and invisible.

Worry-Free Combination Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (Kidde)

kidde combo smoke+co alarmThis combo smoke-CO alarm is packed with great features, one of the nicest of which is that it has a 10-year battery. Yep, 10 years. That means a whole decade without those annoying, twice-a-year, middle-of-the-night beeps that we all know and love. The battery also ensures that your alarms will function even during power outages, a time when many fires and carbon-monoxide leaks happen. Speaking of alarms, this product also has voice alarms, which announces “fire, fire!” or “Warning: carbon monoxide.” Since the combo alarm is two units in one, it saves time on installation (you’re putting in one unit instead of two). Under $70. Available at your favorite retailer or at http://kidde.com/

Worry-Free AC Powered Plug-in Carbon Monoxide Alarm (Kidde)

kidde plugin CO alarmIf you already have enough smoke alarms in your home but are missing a CO alarm, this one is for you.  Although designed to be plugged in (as the name indicates), this alarm, like the rest of Kidde’s Worry-Free line, also has a sealed-in, 10-year battery. That eliminates the need for (and cost of) replacing batteries and makes it impossible to accidentally install the alarm without a battery.  Other nice features include a digital display that shows PPM (parts per million) levels of CO in your home so you can monitor any changes, and a nightlight/escape light that comes on in dark- or alarm conditions. Under $70. http://kidde.com/

RemoteLync Home Security Camera (Kidde)

kidde remote lync cameraThis is a self-contained security system that is not only wireless but also wire free, meaning you don’t need to keep it plugged in all the time. You do need to charge the camera itself, of course, but only once every three months. The camera is motion activated and starts recording the instant something moves. Works with a free app (for Android or iOS) that automatically sends notifications to your mobile device and to anyone else you designate. Since you’re using your existing Wi-Fi network, there are no monthly alarm-monitoring fees. About $140. http://kidde.com/

RemoteLync Smart Home Monitor (Kidde)

kidde remote lync monitorIf an alarm goes off in your home and there’s no one there to hear it, what’s the point? This small device plugs in to an outlet anywhere in your home and listens for your smoke- and/or CO alarms. If it hears something, it automatically notifies you and anyone else (your neighbors, for example) via the free app. You can even set it to call 911. Like the RemoteLync camera, the Monitor uses your Wi-Fi network, which eliminates monthly fees. http://kidde.com/

SafeheadBABY (Safehead, Inc.)

safeheadBABYBabies and toddlers spend a lot of time smacking their head into things, whether it’s the corner of a table, the floor, or the underside of a chair they’re crawling under. And while the resulting bumps and bruises are usually pretty minor, they hurt and can quickly turn laughter into tears (and yes, sometimes parents are the ones crying). SafeheadBABY has a solution: soft, adorable headgear. It’s kind of like a helmet, but is very comfortable and lightweight, so your baby won’t want to take it off. SafeheadBABY is made of non-toxic materials and is designed to protect the forehead without interfering with baby’s vision. Ultimately, the SafeheadBABY will give your little one freedom to roam and will give you one less thing to worry about. $49.00. http://www.safeheadbaby.com/

Getting Healthy: You’ve Got to Start Somewhere

Looking for ways to make your family a little healthier? Over the next few months, we’ll be bringing you reviews of a variety of products that will help you incorporate healthy eating and fitness into your family’s daily life.

House Foods Tofu (House Foods)

house foods tofuHow much tofu do you eat? If you’re like most Americans, the answer is either “not much” or “tofu is for hippies.” But tofu (which is made from soybeans) is actually a very versatile, nutrient-dense food that mixes well with (and takes on the flavor of) just about anything you cook with it. And although it’s often associated with Asian food, tofu is great in Italian, Mexican, or any other cuisine. It’s also quite kid-friendly (just show them the packages with Kung Fu Panda on them and they’ll line up to eat like Po!) House Foods has a wide variety of tofu products (including noodles), which are all reasonably priced, gluten free, and non-GMO. Need meal suggestions? They’ve got tons of recipes too. Visit https://www.house-foods.com/

Wild Garden Hummus (Wild Garden)

wild garden hummusWith soybeans getting so much attention, garbanzo beans (aka chick peas) were feeling left out. But no more, thanks to hummus, which is made predominately from chick peas. Wild Garden has a wide variety of hummus products, including traditional (chick peas, tahini—ground sesame seeds, salt, and spices), roasted garlic, sundried tomatoes, fire-roasted peppers, and jalapeno. Several flavors are gluten-free. They come in jars and small squeeze tubes, which are great for snacks or school lunches. Some packages include chips. Wild Garden hummus is all natural and packed with protein, fiber, and vitamins, and contains no preservatives or transfats. Prices vary. Visit http://www.wildgarden.com/

Vega Protein & Greens (Vega)

vega nutrition shakeVega’s plant-based protein powder is great for breakfast shakes, afternoon snacks, or for any other time of the day. Made from hemp, peas, sprouted whole grain brown rice, and other wholesome ingredients, Protein & Greens also contains papaya enzymes which help you digest what you eat. Every scoop (thus every shake) gives you the equivalent of two servings of greens from kale, spinach, broccoli, and alfalfa. If you’ve had other “green” drinks, you know they can be a little biting. This one isn’t. It comes in a variety of flavors, including chocolate, vanilla, berry, coconut almond, and mocha. But be prepared: it’s not going to taste like a milkshake either. Vega also has a number of other healthy shake mixes and snack bars. Prices vary. Visit https://myvega.com/

Cardio Core & More Fitness Hoop (Empower)

empower hoopA healthy diet is important, but so is exercise. If you’re looking for something to break up your usual jogging regimen or gym routine, you may want to check into hooping. Yes, hooping, as in the hula hoop you played with when you were a kid. (Hey, with every other adult carrying around a coloring book, why not? Nostalgia is in!). Hooping is actually a great workout, and Empower’s Cardio Core & More weighted hoop is a great introduction. (If you’re a beginner, the weight—only three pounds—actually makes the hoop easier to work with). It targets your core, burns plenty of calories, builds muscle, and may make you a better dancer. It’s also a fun way to get exercise-averse kids up and moving. You can get a set that includes a hoop and instructional DVD for about $35 on Amazon or at major retailers. Empower also makes a number of other fitness-oriented products, including kettlebells, weights, and medicine balls. http://store.empowerfitness.com/