Tumbles is Fur Real!

I never really had a pet as a child; my parents were not animal lovers, and I remember my dad telling my sister when she asked for a rabbit, "I'll buy you a stuffed toy rabbit instead, ok? They're cute, they don't stink and they're not dirty". Alfie's last pet, our dear little Missy, was run over the week before The Pea was born. We've always said we want to have a family pet when the time is right, but that time is not now. Our house is small even for the five of us, and we don't have close family or friends nearby to take care of a pet for us when we travel. It looks like for the time being, I'm going to have to resort to my dad's answer when the kids start clamoring for a pet.

Fortunately, the toy industry has gotten a lot more sophisticated and there are some pretty amazing toys out there that do a great job making lifelike toys. I'm talking about Hasbro's Fur Real Friends, a line of stuffed animals that look and sound and move like the real thing.

The Pea was delighted with the sample toy that Hasbro sent us to play with. Tumbles the My Roll Over Pup is a little plush beagle that makes everyone say "Awwwww". He's so cute -- he squirms around when you pat him or scratch him, and he falls asleep when you put his back long enough. Alfie, who grew up with dogs, says that Tumbles' wriggling and rolling and yapping are remarkably like a real beagle's actions. His fur is delightfuly silky and soft -- but I do wish Tumbles came with a bit more padding on his tummy. Right now when you cuddle him, you clearly feel his hard plastic frame. Also, additional padding might be able to muffle the mechanical whirrring sounds you can hear whenever he moves.

Of course, Tumbles will never replace the real thing (only non-animal lovers like my dad could even think of such a thing). But if you are one of those families whose kids are pining for a pet but you can't have one for one reason or another (lack of space, allergies, etc..), Tumbles can serve as a sweet, entertaining consolation. Even if your child does have a pet of her own, Tumbles is one delightful little playmate.
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TruKid Hero Stick

Here's a product that we could have used when we went camping a couple of weekends ago: the Trukid Hero Stick, a rub-on ointment that soothes kids' "itchies" and "boo-boos" from bug bites, minor burns and scratches. I tried it on a mosquito bite I got last night and it seems to work as well as regular cortisone creams. It's made of mild, all-natural, organic products that are safe for the skin, but I'd still keep this away from babies. The sweet honey smell of it is so wonderful they might think it's a lollipop. I'm tempted myself to bite a chunk out of it to see if it tastes as good as it smells. Yes, its nontoxic, but then I'd have to buy another stick.

The Hero Stick is just one of TruKid's line of organic kids' skincare products. I'll admit I had never come across this brand (it's only available online right now) before they sent us the Hero Stick sample, but I like their all-natural focus. And that honey smell is to die for.
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Tunza cards: Tunza uses, Tunza money saved

Now that the boys are in pre-K, we're starting to work on kindergarten readiness such as writing, phonics and simple math concepts. Their preschool is staunchly play-based (and we have no complaints because we feel it's important for them, especially as twins, to develop social skills), so any academic preparation is going to be coming from us. I'm pretty relaxed about the whole thing; it's not like I hold formal classes or anything. They occasionally work on activity books when they feel like it, and when we read books together I sometimes pick out a two or three letter word and help them read it.

We've recently added another tool to our arsenal: Tunza write-on-rub-off index cards. I've been using them to create flashcards for the kids to help the boys read simple words like "cat" and "hat", and for basic addition problems like 3+1 (The Pea also loves it when I write out more complicated math problems for her). They enjoy writing down the answers and erasing everything so I can write out new problems.

These Tunza cards are not just for flashcards -- kids can draw on them and you can write your shopping list on them and I'm sure there are (forgive the pun) Tunza other uses. And because they're reusable, they're earth friendly. Everytime the kids reach for the cards to draw instead of a sheet of paper, we're saving money and trees.

The cards work best with permanent Sharpie markers (just rub with alcohol to remove). But anal parent that I am, I feel nervous about letting my kids loose around the house with permanent markers. I've found that dry-erarse markers work perfectly well, and markings come off with a simple swipe.

Thanks to the folks at Tunza for our sample! The kids are really enjoying it.
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Sweet bundles and snuggles

I've just received my prize from Goodies For Mom's Blogging for Blood Cancer giveaway: a baby bundle fleece wrap and pacifier/toy clip from StakerSensations (who sells many other beautifully handcrafted things on her Etsy store, including some adorable tutus and chic vinyl stickers). Thank you so much to both of you!

The baby bundle wrap is such a nifty idea; I remember swaddling my kids when they were newborns. Getting a squiggly baby to stay inside the "burrito wrap" is almost impossible; within minutes you have to wrap them up again. This bundle wrap, with its velcro strap and footies, eliminates the problem. And the fleece is so soft and snuggly, your baby will never want to move! Unfortunately my kids are too old for this so I'll be passing this on to one of my lucky mom-to-be friends.
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Tonka Bounce Back Racer

Like any kid, 3Po and Jammy love remote controlled (RC) cars. The problem is that they're really too young for the sleek, hi-tech racecars that tweens and teens send whizzing around obstacles on the street. They don't have the reaction time or fine motor skills to control these sensitive instruments properly, and they are careless with handling and storing it. So fenders break off, wire antennas get snapped off, wheels get torn off. And so another $50 toy bites the dust even before my husband (who has been waiting so patiently, poor dear) gets to play with it.

But they consider themselves too old for the babyish-looking "My First RC Car" -type vehicles out there. Hasbro toys has come up with a great balance of durable and cool in their new RC car, the Tonka Bounce Back Racer.

(Before we get to the racecar, a word about Tonka. I was already predisposed to like this product because of Tonka's great reputation. I have great childhood memories of playing with Tonka trucks. I think of holidays on the beach, playing in the sand with the Tonka dump truck, crane and front loader that my brothers owned. My twins received their own Tonka trucks when they were 2 and have spent many a happy hour in the backyard with them. So when we got the opportunity to try out the Bounce Back Racer, it was a no-brainer)

Unlike other RC vehicles for younger kids, this one looks cool, not cutesy. Its rugged, racecar looks appeal to older toddlers, preschoolers and even kindergarteners. Yet it's incredibly easy for little ones to operate; the remote has just two buttons, forward and reverse. The lack of steering controls (it has free-swiveling front wheels, which make for some pretty unpredictable -- i.e. fun -- turns) haven't stopped the boys from getting the car to pull wheelies, flip over, jump ramps and spin 180 degrees.

One thing that I'm optimistic about with this toy -- thanks to Tonka's great reputation -- is its durability. 3Po and Jammy really subject their RC cars to the third degree, racing them down the stairs and steering them into walls. The Bounce Back Racer has survived so far. The sturdy body doesn't have any delicate parts to snap off. The soft, big wheels not only protect walls and furniture, they also protect the car from the effects of the spectacular crashes the boys like to engineer.

With all that internal wiring just waiting to be bashed around, I'm not expecting this toy to last as long as our Tonka construction vehicles (those I'm keeping for my grandchildren, so that they'll have Tonkas to play with when they visit, just like my kids play with my brothers' Tonka trucks when they visit my parents). But at two weeks, the Bounce Back Racer has already outlasted half of the other RC cars that 3Po and Jammy have owned (one particularly flimsy one only lasted through Christmas Day). It's a great addition to the Tonka line because it's everything I associate with Tonka -- sturdy, tough, the stuff little boys' dreams are made of.
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Melamine and Magic

I recently received a sample of the new Mr. Clean Magic Eraser to try out. Since I'm already a devoted Magic Eraser follower, I didn't really have to try the sample to know how well it works. The thing does its job so well, it's scary. Just dampen the sponge with water and scrub for a bit, and whatever stain you want erased is gone.

Click here to read more... and see the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser at work!
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Test-driving CleanWell

Is it a Filipino thing or does everyone carry tiny bottles of disinfecting gel around? Maybe it's psychological, but whenever a sink isn't handy for washing your hands, I find that a paper napkin and a squirt of disinfectant goes a long way towards feeling (or being?) clean.

I recently discovered Clean Well disinfectant when I received their travel-size spray in one of my BlogHer goody bags. I had never seen disinfectants in spray form before, so I tucked it into my purse when we left for England and used it throughout our vacation. I love that such a tiny spray lasts so long -- it gets way more mileage than wipes (It says 250 sprays per container but I swear the kids have been spraying it on their hands three bajillion times each). It's easier to dispense than gels (my kids love dribbling the goopy stuff all over their hands so inevitably half the bottle is wasted). And it has a nice, pleasant, clean-smelling scent that doesn't make my nose wrinkle when I sniff.

Guess what's in my purse right now?
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I've written at length about how I am against videogames. But as the kids grow up and clamor for videogames, computer games, any electronic games, I'm taking a closer look at what's out there. And the landscape looks very encouraging. There's a whole lot of educational gaming going on --and Leapfrog's products are a great place to start.

Lately we've been playing with the Leapster2, Leapfrog's latest version of the old Leapster educational gaming system. I first heard about the Leapster around 3 years ago when my friend raved about it to me. She thought it was doing a great job helping her then-4-year-old to learn how to read, and was happy at how he never seemed to tire of it. She loved it so much I resolved to get one for my baby boys when they were old enough. Now that we actually own one and have tried it for ourselves, I have to agree with her. I think the Leapster2 strikes a great balance between electronic learning and video gaming. Jammy and 3Po are psyched that they actually have a real videogame system, like it's some badge of boyhood coolness (which it is). They get intensely involved whenever they play their Cars and Dora cartridges, getting educated and entertained at the same time. And after the initial "new toy" obsession, the kids have been very good at respecting the time limits I've set -- which has erased many of my initial anxieties about owning videogames.

The Leapster2 comes with 1 built-in game, and you can also choose from a wide library of additional games to plug into the console. Each game is targeted to a specific skill (math, spelling, vocabulary, Spanish words, etc...) and age range (i.e. K-1, 3rd-5th grade) so that children of a wide age range can play, with each child still being challenged to their appropriate level.

One of the things I like best about the Leapster2 is its backward compatibility: any cartridge from the Leapster series (Leapster2, Leapster, L-Max) works with this Leapster2 console. The Leapster2 games, however, have the most functionality because they take advantage of the Leapster2's internet connectivity. When you connect the Leapster2console to your computer, information from all the Leapster2 games you played is uploaded. Kids can keep track of the prizes (like special printable coloring pages or the printable certificate that 3Po earned in the photo above) and points they have earned (I have no idea what they can use these points for, but points are good, right?). Connecting the console also allows grownups to track their kids' gaming patterns (which games they have played, how long they have played a particular game, etc..) and learning progress via the Leapfrog Learning Path.

Another way to get more out of your Leapster2 is to install an SD card (available at most electronics stores or retail giants like Target for $15-$20). With the additional memory, you'll be able to download additional games (yay! more free games!) from the internet to play. You'll also be able to use the Leapster2 to create and store artwork that you can upload to the web later.

The Leapster2 costs about $50 and each cartridge costs between $15 (on eBay) or $20 (on sale) and $30 --but it's a great investment. A couple of weeks ago I emailed my friend to thank her for recommending the Leapster to me. I said we were building up our Leapster game library and asked if we could borrow or buy some of their Leapster cartridges (the old games are fully compatible with the Leapster2). Sorry, she said, her kids are still using their Leapster and all their Leapster cartridges regularly -- almost 3 years after her kids first fell in love with it. With new kids' electronics products springing up every week, I can't think of any better proof of Leapster's staying power than that.
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Discounts on our favorite toys

Here's a quick run-through of great deals currently available for some of our favorite toys:

Costco is selling Webkinz in some of its stores! $20 for a pack of 2 -- compare that with $16.99 at our local Limited Too store.

Leapfrog is holding a huge clearance sale on Leap Pad products from their online store. They've also got some great deals on some Leapster cartridges.

Toys-R-Us is offering a Buy 1, Get 1/2 Off all Thomas wooden railway toys. It's a great deal but I don't know how long it lasts, so if you have a train-mad child, you'd better check it out.

Playmobil toys hardly ever go on sale (retailers just knock 5% off the ridiculously high suggested retail price), but Kid Surplus has pretty good prices on Playmobil, and they always have one or two items on clearance.
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Free Shipping offer from Lands End

Hooray! Once again, the folks at Lands End are running a Free Shipping promo for the next 5 days! It applies to all products with no minimum. Oh Lands End, how I love thee.....

Here's how to take advantage:

At checkout, on the Billing Information page, go to the section labeled “Promotion Code” (above the credit card payment box) and manually enter the Promotion Code and PIN.
Enter the Promotion Code FALL and the PIN 775852052 in the space provided.

Or if you have a Lands’ End “Personal Shopping Account”...
1) Make your selections
2) On the Order Review page, click “Promotion Code” in the section labeled “Apply another payment method”
3) Enter your "Promotion Code" and PIN (shown above). That’s it!

Or call 1-800-800-5800 and give your "Promotion Code" and PIN to the customer service representative.

This offer ends September 9, so now is the time to stock up and save yourself some gas!
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Leapfrog TAG

It has been almost a week since we received some Leapfrog products to try out, and things are (pardon the pun) just hopping along. By far the easiest to get started with right out of the box is the Leapfrog TAG reading system. The TAG (and by the way, I still have no idea what TAG stands for; any ideas, people??) works much the Leapfrog Leap Pad product that my kids know and love-- children just touch parts of a book to hear stories/phrases/words/sounds read to them, or to play educational games. Except it's much better, because you don't need to lug around the bulky LeapPad and cartridges, just the small TAG reader and the books (which you can shelve in your regular bookshelf since they look just like regular books).

One unique feature of this new generation of Leapfrog products is that they connect to the online Leapfrog Learning Path, which allows you to track your child's progress online. I haven't played around with it too much yet, but once everything is set up (and aye, there's the rub) it looks like a good way to see what your child is actually doing with the Leapfrog produts, short of looking over their shoulder.

For example, I get to see how many times The Pea has actually read each TAG book we own (in the photo above, it's Click-Clack-Moo: Cows That Type, a hilarious tale about some revolutionary farm animals and their soft-hearted farmer). Her Learning Path also tells me how many questions she answered while reading the book, and how many she got right. This is a great feature because The Pea reads through books at lightning speed (like I used to do). I have no idea whether she is just skimming through the story (like I used to do), and this helps me get a sense of her reading comprehension. You just have to remember to connect the TAG to your computer's USB and periodically upload the information stored in the TAG.

At $49.95, the TAG system is not cheap, but you do get a lot of mileage out of it. The books are $13.99 each but I have seen them on sale at Target and the Leapfrog online store for $11.99 -- not bad for a hardbound book. And the Leapfrog online store puts out frequent sales and coupons to encourage parents to try the system out for their kids, for example:

  • Buy 3 TAG books, get the 4th free: Enter promo code FL8TGS before Sept. 30
  • Get free shipping on TAG gift packs until December 31, no coupon necessary
  • $5 shipping on orders $50 and over, until September 15, no coupon necessary

The TAG system comes with one storybook -- Ozzie and Mack -- included, and you can buy extra books at Target, Toys-R-Us and Walmart, or online on Amazon or the Leapfrog website. There are over 20 titles, with more to come soon -- and they can't come soon enough, especially for my 7-year-old. All the books go easy on the words, since they are meant to help pre-readers and beginning readers learn to read, so I'm hoping that Leapfrog will someday add more advanced books to the TAG range, with more reading comprehension activities for older kids.

Speaking of ages, the recommended age range is 4 through 8, but I think 4, 5 and 6 year olds will get the most use out of it. The Pea has fun with it, but she already knows how to read. 3Po and Jammy, though, love being able to "read" books by themselves, just like the Pea. I love that they get to play electronic learning games which don't involve staring into a video screen. And yes, I have to admit, I love that "someone else" can read a book to them 10 times straight (I love Click Clack Moo but there's only so much I can take) Don't worry, the TAG doesn't replace reading time with mama or daddy. It's more like training wheels that provide a fun way for kids to gain the confidence to read on their own.
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Boca Burgers giveaway

We're going camping this Friday -- the first time the kids will be pitching a tent and sleeping in the great outdoors! To prepare, we've staged several camping "trips" in our backyard, complete with tent, sleeping bags and portable grill -- so we know what works and what doesn't, what to leave behind and what to pack. One of the things we'll probably be taking wiht us is a pack of Boca burgers -- yummy and nutritious and oh-so-conveniently-individually-packaged. After all, what's a barbecue campout without hotdogs and burgers, right?

Now, here's a chance for you to try (or if you already love them, to stock up on) some Boca burgers yourself! The first three readers to leave a comment on this post will receive a coupon good for 1 free package of any Boca meatless product. Just make sure you leave your email address or blog URL (or some way to contact you) in the comment.
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