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Straight from the Heart

Looking for the perfect gift for your kids and spouse this Valentine’s Day? We’ve put together a little list to make your shopping that much easier. Check out some of our picks, and see what strikes your fancy.

Love-a-Saurus Techno Plush (Hallmark)

hallmark lova-a-saurusPush his button, and this bright red cutie roars, dances, and breaks it down to MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This.” The young ‘uns will groove while ma and pa wax nostalgic. It’s $33, or $18 when you buy three Hallmark cards. You can also find an assortment of adorable itty bittys—sweet toys that fit in the palm of your hand, including the new Thing 1 and Thing 2 (your favorite troublemakers from Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat). They’re available for $7 each. You can pick up these items or any of Hallmark’s classic cards at www.hallmark.com  and Hallmark Gold Crown stores.

Customizable Valentine’s Jewelry (Origami Owl)

origami owl customizable jewelryFor tweens, teens, spouses, and other ladies in your life, we love the lovely gifts from Oragami Owl. Not only is the jewelry beautiful, but you can customize it for the one you love. Choose the color, size, shape, the charms that go inside and/or outside, the length and type of chain used, and all the other details. You can even add Swarovski crystals for a bit more color and sparkle. Origami Owl lets you pick out items that highlight special memories about your Valentine, and will be a truly cherished reminder of the special bond you two share. Choose from necklaces, bracelets, wrap bracelets (a hot trend right now), lockets, and more. Prices vary. Visit www.OrigamiOwl.com

Nail Polish (Duri)

Duri non toxic nail polishAnother option for the girls and women in your life is Duri’s environmentally-friendly, non-toxic nail polish collection, that’s free from DBP, formaldehyde, and other nasty stuff. You can buy individual bottles or a cute Valentine’s Day set of four. While there are more than 250 shades of Duri, the Valentine’s Day collection includes “every-day-is-Valentine’s-Day” red, “cupid-rules” pink, pastel “iced roses,” “unexpected kiss” (a light purple-pink), and “sweetheart.” (a bright orangey-red) A great gift anyone—male or female—who loves a mani-pedi. Singles are $6 each; the gift is $24 at www.duri.com

iPhone Heart Charging Cable (ThinkGeek)

thinkGeek iPhone Heart Charging CableFor the nerdy love in your life, ThinkGeek has a few fun options that are perfect for those with a taste for tech, comic books, sci-fi, and, of course, Star Wars. For a fun twist on classic Valentine’s Day gifts, we love the charging cable for the iPhone 5/6 (it also works with your iPad). The 46” cable has eight tiny, plastic LED red hearts that light up when it’s plugged in and charging. For just $14.99, you can show how strong and bright your love is, and that it’s endlessly renewable.

Star Wars Bouquet (ThinkGeek)

ThinkGeek Star Wars BouquetsTired of giving people the same old, same old floral arrangements? Wouldn’t they rather get a bouquet of long-stemmed Star Wars characters? These arrangements come in three styles: The “Assortment” (Boba Fett, Darth Vader, C-3PO, R2-D2, two Ewoks, and three Stormtroopers), the “Darth Vader” (Darth Vader and eight Stormtroopers), and the “Droid” (three each of R2-D2, R2-Q5, and R2-D9). These clever gifts are sure to be a conversation piece, and something that’ll make all the other geeks jealous. Who has the best spouse? Yeah, you know it. Bouquets are $60 each at http://www.thinkgeek.com/gifts/.

Valentine’s Day: You’ve Just Gotta Love It

People tend to think of Valentine’s Day as a holiday for adult couples and we tend to forget about the kids. After all, we tell them every day that we love them (you’re doing that, right?). But why not include the kids in your Valentine’s Day shopping? Here are a few ideas for fun, sweet, simple gifts that children of almost any age will love.

Build a Bouquet (Green Toys)
build a bouquet green toysThink of the Build a Bouquet set as a very cute alternative to traditional building blocks that’s perfect for this holiday (or Spring, if you’re planning that far ahead). Your children can get their creative juices flowing and construct flower arrangements and bouquets in an endless variety of shapes and patterns. This is a gift you can feel good about giving, as well, as it’s made in the USA from 100% recycled plastic with no BPA, phthalates, PVC, or external coatings. Each 44-piece set includes four bases, 16 stem and leaf pieces, and 24 lilies, petunias, and daisy flower pieces. The Build a Bouquet pieces are wonderfully colorful and can really brighten up those drab, cold days. Recommended for ages two and up and can be found at specialty toy stores or at http://www.greentoys.com for $28.

Crystal Garden and Crystal Growing Kits (Thames and Kosmos)
crystal garden thames and kosmosIf you’d prefer to grow a garden of your own, you’ll want to check out some of the kits from Thames and Kosmos. One of our favorite educational toy companies, Thames and Kosmos consistently comes up with adorable, fun, interesting (and, yes, educational) projects that are perfect for parents and kids to do together. With the Crystal Garden kit, quick-growing real crystals “bloom” into beautiful flowers (you get to pick the colors) over the course of just a few hours. A great way to create something beautiful and to learn about how crystals are formed. They’re quite delicate, though, can’t be touched or moved, and never harden.

crystal growing thames and kosmosIf you like the crystal idea but want something a little hardier, try the Crystal Growing kit, which includes 15 crystal-related science projects for the whole family. These kits let you grow four types of crystals with different shapes, layers, and colors. Keep them in your (included) treasure box when they are done growing. Best for ages 10 and up and available for $14 and $37, respectively, at your favorite retailer or thamesandkosmos.com

Love Blanket (Rouxroo)
love blanket rouxrooHow do I love thee? Well, with Rouxroo’s Love Blanket, you can tell your baby you love him or her in 25 different languages, all printed in eye catching red, white, and black letters on an environmentally friendly, organic baby blanket and swaddler that will warm your baby and your heart. A nice keepsake for your little one’s first Valentine.  $72 at www.rouxroo.com

Itty Bittys (Hallmark)
itty bitty hallmarkStuffed sweethearts, Mickey and Minnie Mouse are available for a limited time (and in a limited edition dressed in their Valentine’s Day finest. Itty Bittys are just five inches tall, making them a perfect handful (in the very best way possible). These are perfect for your littlest love or older Disney fan on Valentine’s or any other day. Minnie and Mickey are a unique, allergy-free, sugar-free topper to a traditional bouquet or box of chocolates and they’ll last a lot longer than either one of those will. At less than $7 each, you can keep the happy couple together and not break your wallet. Available at Hallmark Gold Crown stores or on hallmark.com.

 

Ready, Set, Christmas!

Now that Black Friday and Cyber Monday are distant nightmares, we can start focusing on great gifts for the season instead of how much we’ll save if we stand in line all night. Here are a few of our current favorites.

North Pole Communicator Microphone
north pole communicatorGet the family together, dial up the North Pole, and have “real” back-and-forth conversations with the “big man,” elves, and others. The communicator is fun for the kids and will amuse adults as well. It’s a really fun way to get the family engaged in a nightly activity. hallmark.com

 

Hallmark’s Keepsake Ornaments
hallmark wizard of oz ornamentGiving and collecting ornaments is an important part of Christmas for many families, and Hallmark’s Keepsake Ornaments are often part of that tradition. There’s a huge variety, so finding the perfect gift for your child or loved one is easy. Some celebrate milestones and nurture memories, others capture scenes from your favorite movies, TV shows, or cartoons. Our favorite this year is “Lions and Tigers and Bears,” a Wizard of Oz ornament where the characters move and speak lines from the movie. http://www.hallmark.com

 

Santa and the Christmas Eve Flight
hallmark - santa flightThis interactive storybook is adorable and a great way to spend some quality reading time with your kids. As you read key words and phrases, Santa responds with questions or choices. Your child’s responses actually shape the story, which means it could change every time you read it. There are more than 30 responses from Santa, which makes for a pretty diverse range of possible storylines. http://www.hallmark.com

 

Holiday Specs
holiday specsWhen you look at any light source (such as Christmas tree lights or candles) these holographic glasses, turn it into a snowflake, reindeer, snowman, Santa, or about a dozen other possibilities, depending on which one you get. Holiday Specs come in paper (think movie 3D glasses) or plastic (think brightly colored, silly opera glasses) and are cheap and a whole lot of fun. We plan to hand these out to everyone before we open gifts on Christmas Eve. Sure, the Specs are silly, but adults get a kick out of them too. They’re also greet for long winter car rides. Have the kids turn off their electronics and stare out the window. They’ll literally be able to see Santa everywhere. Please don’t wear them while you’re driving. http://www.holidayspecs.com

 

Build a Bear
build a bearA visit to Build a Bear is a great holiday activity for the whole family. We recently went to the new workshop at FAO Schwarz, and the kids loved every second of our visit. There were a huge number of many holiday (and non-holiday, of course) choices, including Santa, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, mice, polar bears, and some delightful “small fry” elves. But we ended up torn between torn between Frosty the Snowman and Santa. There’s also a wide variety of clothes, accessories, and costumes for the stuffed toys. Our son loved choosing his toy, stuffing it, giving it a personality and a sound (it sings when you squeeze its hand), and dressing it for Christmas. He built a new holiday friend, and we had a really nice afternoon together as well. Back home, you and the kids can have some virtual playtime as well, on the secure online experience of “Bearville” which is protected and one of the safest websites in the USA. And yes, of course there’s an app for that—do you really have to ask?) Visit http://www.buildabear.com/ to find a workshop near you.

Interactive Toys for Toddlers

The holidays may be behind us, but that doesn’t mean the end of the gift-giving season… There are birthdays, equinoxes, rainy days, and plenty of duplicate gifts to return. But what to get for the discerning tot in your home? Here are some of the top interactive toys for the toddler set that will keep kids entertained—and are fun for mom and dad too.
baby butterscotch pony from hasbro and furrealFurreal Friends Baby Butterscotch, My Magical Show Pony (Hasbro). This new addition to Hasbro’s Furreal Friends line is the most animated and responsive yet. Scratch Butterscotch’s head and she’ll nuzzle your hand, talk to her, and she’ll respond with the pony equivalent of cooing. Feed her a carrot and she’ll make happy crunching sounds. Brush her fur, and she’ll love you forever. Baby Butterscotch is a fun intro to owning a real pet—she even snores at the end of a long day of play. Carrot and brush included. Ages 4 and up.

Interactive Story Buddies from HallmarkInteractive Story Buddies (Hallmark)
Bigsby, the shy monster, likes to go on big adventures and learn new things with his friends. He—along with the other Story Buddies—speak up when they hear certain words. Those words can be delivered by mom or dad, your child, or even the narrator in the iPod/iPad app. Each Story Buddy comes with a book and a read-along CD, free downloadable apps, and a host of other interactive features on line. You can also buy more books, which continue Bigsby’s adventures. The books gently teach social skills, such as friendship. But what we think is far more important, they encourage parents to snuggle up and read with their children. And that’s priceless. Ages 2 and up.

Super Grover (Playskool)
super groverThe Sesame Street Flying Super Grover Plush toy is a lot of fun for fans of Sesame Street.  Parents can explore the world with their child as they help Super Grover investigate and solve problems on earth and beyond. He’s not only cute (in that monstery sort of way) and a good playmate, he can also help your child learn empathy and social skills by teaching him or her about different countries and cultures, and how kids can help others and their communities. For high-flying fun, just the right message for your pre-K and K children, delivered by a friendly face they know and love, Super Grover will be a year-round hit. His preloaded songs, motorized motion, cool flying sounds, and vocabulary of absurd Grover-ish phrases will keep your kiddo entertained long after the thank-you notes are written (you do have your kids write thank you notes, right?) Ages 2-5.

FURBY (Hasbro)
FURBY, HasbroFurby, one of the first robotic pets, was born in 1998 and immediately became the must-have toy of that year. Those first Furbys talked to and interacted with their human playmate, “learning” depending on the level of the child’s interaction and time spent together. The newest generation does much the same, but instead of being simply action-reaction (child says something, Furby responds), these Furbys add an emotional component and a touch of attitude. So if your Furby doesn’t like music and you play it anyway, she’ll get aggravated and yell. Continue ignoring her needs and she’ll get even angrier. It’s amazing how much this little fluffy ball of circuits, motors, and screens can mimic an actual pet. Don’t be surprised if next year’s model includes a real litter box. Ages 6 and up.