Alpha Mom » Isabel Kallman http://alphamom.com parenting and pregnancy opinions and information Wed, 01 Oct 2014 20:01:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 Citi ProCamps: the Ultimate Basketball Camp Experience http://alphamom.com/family-fun/party-play/citi-procamps-the-ultimate-basketball-camp-experience/ http://alphamom.com/family-fun/party-play/citi-procamps-the-ultimate-basketball-camp-experience/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 14:46:18 +0000 http://alphamom.com/?p=34151

This post is sponsored by Citi. To learn more about access to the best in live music, sports, dining, family entertainment and more with an eligible Citi® credit card or Citibank® Debit MasterCard visit http://www.citiprivatepass.com.  To get involved in the conversation happening right now with Citi and ProCamps visit www.closertopro.com.

If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter you would know how my 11 year old son, Ry, is a hard core basketball player.  My husband introduced our son to the sport after having been a young basketball athlete himself. The two of them play lots of ball and my husband even coaches my son’s team.  Me?  My job is to record the moments. You’ll often see status updates from me, photos or videos of Ry practicing or wearing his colorful basketball gear.  My most used hashtag is now #basketballmoms.

Basketball has been Ry’s obsession for the past 12 months. During this year’s spring break, skiing in Colorado, we travelled across the country with his basketball in hand, and Ry would leave the slopes early to shoot hoops at a local school’s gym. Now whenever we’re looking to book a getaway vacation, I call our hotel options to see whether they have basketball hoop on property (it has become THE deciding factor). Yeah, it’s basketball 24-7, 52 weeks, 365 days a year in this house. We subscribe to the NBA channel, I watched almost every NBA playoff game this year, and Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, and Ray Allen have all become regular names rolling off my tongue now.

Ray Allen Citi ProCamp: ultimate basketball camp experience

Needless to say, when I learned about Citi’s ProCamps– where kids can attend day camps and play alongside their favorite professional athletes (not just basketball)– I almost lost my mind with excitement. I scrolled the ProCamps website and read about all the one- and two-day camps hosted across the country by my son’s favorite basketball athletes. I started to fantasize about surprising him with a weekend trip to attend Stephen Curry’s camp in San Francisco. The camps are limited to 200 kids and sell-out quickly.  But, through Citi Private Pass, you get first dibs if you’re a Citi card member.

And then it happened. My son and I were invited by Citi to attend Ray Allen’s basketball camp in Hartford, Connecticut. (Ray Allen is basketball royalty and one of the best 3-point and free-throw shooters in NBA history). I would get to be able to gift Ry this ultimate and exclusive basketball camp experience. Yeah, make that #HeroBasketballMom. And that weekend, I was not the only one. At the Ray Allen camp, lots of parents travelled many hours to get there. I live three hours from Hartford and I’ve never seen my son so excited to wake up at 5am.  I met another family from Boston and coincidentally ran into a blogging friend from northern New Jersey who had made the extra long trip to surprise her young Miami-Heat-fan son.

Ray Allen Citi ProCamp: ultimate basketball camp experience

The camp was an intensive three-hour experience each day, with boys and girls organized by ages, from six years old up to teens into teams of 10.  Each team had their own coach and the teams were divided into three separate gyms.  Wearing Ray Allen camp t-shirts, the kids were put through a series of drills and games while Ray along with guest teacher and former Miami Heat teammate James Jones (JJ) went from group to group, observing the kids, talking to them and then giving specific tips and pointers.

Ray Allen Citi ProCamp: ultimate basketball camp experience

The day started out and ended with short and inspirational speeches from Ray and JJ to the group. Ray is a pretty serious athlete so it was fun to see him all smiles during special game challenges with the kids. Ray invited a dozen teenagers to play a fast-paced game of Three-Point Knock-Out. The last three players standing were Ray and JJ (of course) along with a teen girl basketball athlete (it was great to see so many girls at basketball camp).

Ray Allen Citi ProCamp: ultimate basketball camp experience

Then another dozen kids were picked to take three-point shots, with the winner getting a signed basketball (pro-tip: tell your child to sit in the front row if s/he wants to get picked). Ray even walked us all through, and explained, how he made that famous winning three-point shot in Game 6 of the NBA Championship semi-finals in 2013.  Luckily at ProCamps, parents are allowed to sit along the sidelines throughout the day listening to the athletes’ advice and snapping pictures of their kids.

Ray Allen Citi ProCamp: ultimate basketball camp experience

Citi ProCamps is an incredibly special opportunity for children to learn from and play with their favorite pro athletes. I know that camps vary in price but the Ray Allen camp was priced at $159 for two days and I think worth it for the extra-special experience.  In fact, Citi Private Pass members (available to any Citi card holder) can also sign up for a small intimate lunch with the pro athlete. There are usually only 15 or less spaces available and for an extra $50-$75 you get an additional VIP opportunity to have lunch with the athlete where each kid gets to ask the athlete a question, to take an individual photo with him/her and also a signed autograph. My son had his favorite new sneakers signed by both Ray Allen and JJ.

Ray Allen Citi ProCamp: ultimate basketball camp experience

Between spring and summer vacations, my son Ry has had about 10 weeks of basketball camp experience. He’s attended four different elite national basketball camps in both Florida and here in NYC; so Ry’s pretty qualified at this point to evaluate basketball camps. For the most part, he’s not a big fan of drills, instead wanting opportunities for game play so I was surprised when he shared that the he enjoyed drills at the Ray Allen camp. Pressed further, in typical 11-year old boy fashion, he added “they were fun drills.” Yep, his answers are short and sweet.

Ray Allen Citi ProCamp: ultimate basketball camp experience

I have been so eager to share this experience with you, friends. If your child loves to play sports, please look at the amazing opportunities ProCamps offer. This is a wonderful extra special gift for a young athlete. Peruse the website and learn about all the A-list athletes that share their time with kids by holding camps around the country.  Sign up for Citi Private Pass and be notified extra early about upcoming athletic camps and signups for the VIP lunches. Upcoming basketball camps around the country include ones with John Wall, Iman Shumpert, Stephen Curry and Carmelo Anthony.

Ray Allen Citi ProCamp: ultimate basketball camp experience

Citi is also holding an amazing sweepstakes you can enter to win the Ultimate ProCamps experience. They will fly one family of four (2 adults and 2 kids) round-trip to a half-day ProCamps sport session of the winner’s choice (based on availability) during the 2015 summer session. They will also pay for two nights of hotel accommodations. To enter to win, follow and send a tweet to @CitiPrivatePass telling them how you cheer your kid on, and use #CloserToPro and #Sweeps in your tweet. This amazing sweepstakes is open through 11:59:59 EST on September 25th, 2014. My son has already asked me several times to enter, and I think you should too!

Ray Allen Citi ProCamp: ultimate basketball camp experience

Ry taking a break at camp: wall sits and dribbling

My son has already asked me several times to enter, and I think you should too!

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This post is sponsored by Citi. To learn more about access to the best in live music, sports, dining, family entertainment and more with an eligible Citi® credit card or Citibank® Debit MasterCard visit http://www.citiprivatepass.com.  To get involved in the conversation happening right now with Citi and ProCamps visit www.closertopro.com.

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Best Retailers for Back-to-School Kids’ Clothing http://alphamom.com/parenting/parenting-products-services/best-retailers-for-kids-clothing-back-to-school/ http://alphamom.com/parenting/parenting-products-services/best-retailers-for-kids-clothing-back-to-school/#comments Wed, 06 Aug 2014 17:55:13 +0000 http://alphamom.com/?p=33884

Back-to-School (BTS) season is in full swing. Some of our friends even started school as early as this week (yes, it’s the first week of August). Most of us though are starting or in the midst of our BTS clothes shopping right now. But for the next four weeks, you’ll be hearing about Back-to-School season much like you would Angelina and Brad during Hollywood’s awards season.

I surveyed a half dozen of Alpha Mom’s regular contributors– scattered around the country– about their favorite retail stores for Back-to-School clothes shopping. They are parents of preschoolers and of students in elementary and middle schools. Though our opinions vary, many of us have very similar views on particular retailers and their children’s clothing offerings. Here are our favorite retailers and why.

Where we’ll definitely be shopping for Back-to-School clothing this year

Most popular: Target
Also popular: Children’s Place, Gap Kids, Justice, Old Navy Kids, and sporting goods stores

Favorite Retailer for Discounts and Deals on Children’s Clothing

Winner: Old Navy Kids
Runners-up: Children’s Place and Gap Kids

“Old Navy is great because you can get a lot for your money. Price! And the sales! Nothing beats an Old Navy sale, either online or in the store. One of team members waits for the sales and STOCKS UP.”

Favorite General Retailer Selling Kids’ Clothing

Winner: Target (by a landslide)
We like Target because it’s a terrific value, rates highly for in-store shopping experience, offers very good discounts, and has a nice selection of clothing for boys and girls.

Best Retailers for Back-to-School Clothing
Girls’ Clothing: Chambray Button-down // Girls’ School Uniform // Printed Sweatshirt

Best Retailers for Back-to-School ClothingBoys’ Clothing:  Button-down Shirt  // Henley Tee   // Champion Long-sleeved Tee

“Target is where my family does the majority of our general household shopping, so it’s convenient to check out the kids’ clothing section and pick up whatever the boys need. I like that Target carries a mix of simple basics as well as the licensed character/logo-centric clothing. My kids love getting fun shirts with their favorite characters on them, but I also like them to have some plainer (but still stylish) stuff and I can typically find both at Target. The clothing all holds up pretty well, considering the fairly low price.”

“Target has regular sales, nice athletic clothes–namely Champion–and the clothing department is laid out nicely and not too crammed. It is convenient and easy and my kids know they’ll find something they like. It’s pretty much our go-to clothing store. My only criticism would be that our Target sometimes runs out of various sizes that we need.”

 

Favorite Clothing Retailer with Kids’ Departments

Winners: Gap Kids Old Navy Kids (Tie)
We like Gap Kids and Old Navy Kids because both offer a nice selection of clothes that are very good quality (especially Gap). Their clothing fits very well, and they offer very good sales and discounts (especially Old Navy). It also gets a thumbs up for their online and in-store shopping experiences.

“We love the style of the clothes from the Gap (both myself and the kids) and the quality is great.”

“I like Old Navy because you can get a lot for your money.”

Best Back-to-School Clothing at Gap Kids
Top Row: Rugby slub dress //  Hi-top sneakers  //  Quilted Denim Bomber Jacket
Bottom Row: Cargo Pants  // Baseball Tee //  Ombre Striped Sweater

 

Favorite Department Store

Winner: Nordstrom (Kohl’s is a close second)

Nordstrom scores very high with us on quality of clothing, selection and in-store shopping experience. Main issue is that for most of us, its prices are too high for our BTS budgets.

Best Retailers for Back-to-School Clothing
Floral Print Dress // Skinny Jeans //  Under Armour Heat Gear Hoodie

 

Favorite Retailer for Boys’ Clothing

Winner:Old Navy Kids
Runners-Up: Target, Gap KidsChildren’s Place
We think Old Navy is great for boys because… “The styles and selections offered for boys are very good. These are clothes kids can be kids in — something gets ripped or stained, it’s okay. If something survives long enough to be handed down, that’s great.”

Best Retailers for Back-to-School Clothing
Striper Jersey Hoodie  // Plaid Short-sleeve Shirt  // Boys Shirt & Tie Sets

Favorite Retailer for Girls’ Clothing

Winner: Old Navy Kids
Runners Up: Kohl’s,  Children’s PlaceGap Kids

We really like the selection and fit of its girls clothing offerings.

Best Retailers for Back-to-School Clothing
Rockstar Glitter-Dot Skinny Jeans  //  Polo Dress // Plaid Flannel Shirt

“Inexpensive and trendy. They have the cutest styles.”

“I love Old Navy for girls because they offer cute, trendy styles for a fantastic price. Old Navy is constantly offering discounts so affordable clothes are even cheaper. You can actually go on a shopping spree (and buy lots of items) without spending too much money. Plus, if your daughter ends up not loving one item – it’s no big deal because you didn’t spend too much money on it.”

 

Favorite Retailer for Kids’ Jeans

Winner: Old Navy Kids
Runners Up: Gap Kids (a close second) and Target

Best Retailers for Back-to-School Clothing
Top Row: Rockstar Pop-Color Jeans // Dark-Wash Super Skinny Jeans //  Boyfriend Floral-Print Skinny Jeans
Bottom Row: Boys Super Skinny Jeans //   Boys Straight-Leg Jeans // Boys Pop-Color Skinny Jeans

Favorite Retailer for Kids’ Shoes

Winner: Zappos
Runners Up: Target and Nordstrom

Best Retailers for Back-to-School Clothing

Top Row:   Cienta Kids Shoes // Pampili Fiorela Leopard Shoes // Nina Kid Bronze Shoe
Bottom Row:  Hanna Andersson Nils Shoes //  Bogs Kids Chocolate Shoes // Polo Ralph Lauren Kids Shoes

 

Favorite Retailer for Kids’ Sneakers

Winner: Zappos
Runners Up: Nordstrom & sporting goods stores (Academy, Nike and Dick’s Sporting Goods)

Best Retailers for Back-to-School Clothing
Top Row: Superga Kids // Converse Chuck Taylor Stars // Puma sneakers
Bottom Row: Adidas Originals Dragon // Under Armour Kids Torch Sneakers  //  Puma Kids Suede Straps Sneakers

Favorite Retailer for Kids’ Outerwear

Winners: Old Navy Kids, Lands’ End and North Face

Best Retailers for Back-to-School Clothing
Top Row: North Face Oso Hoodie   // Lands End Expedition Parka //  Old Navy Varsity-Style Fleece Jacket
Bottom Row: Lands End Stormer Jacket  //  North Face Gonzo Insulated Jacket // Old Navy Uniform Windbreaker

 

Favorite Retailer for Kids’ Undergarments

Winner: Target (by a landslide)
Runners Up: Gap Kids and Old Navy Kids

 

Favorite Retailer for Kids’ Fancy Clothing

Winner: Gap Kids
Runners Up: J. Crew Kids and Nordstrom

 

Favorite Retailer for Girls’ Dresses

Winner: Nordstrom
Runners up: Children’s Place, J.Crew Kids and Macy’s

 

Favorite Retailer for Boys’ Blazers

Winner: J.Crew Kids

 

Favorite Retailer for Gender-Neutral Clothing

Winner: Hanna Andersson
Runners Up: Gap Kids and Target
“Hanna Andersson clothes last forever, they still look brand new after a couple of hand me downs. We love the bright colors and general look of their clothes.”

Final Thoughts

I was surprised to see that some popular clothing retailers like H&M, Gymboree, and WalMart didn’t rank well in our survey (and no one brought up TJ Maxx).  In our survey, H&M is most remarkable for decent value for clothing prices; Gymboree was liked for its excellent quality in clothing but we think its a bit too expensive; no respondent had anything nice to write about the back-to-school clothing available or shopping experience at WalMart (ouch).

What are your favorite retailers for Back-to-School clothing and why?

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Dreams Do Come True: Teddy Bridgewater Gifts His Mom Her Dream Cadillac http://alphamom.com/family-fun/holidays/teddy-bridgewater-gifts-mom-pink-cadillac-escalade/ http://alphamom.com/family-fun/holidays/teddy-bridgewater-gifts-mom-pink-cadillac-escalade/#comments Tue, 06 May 2014 23:55:27 +0000 http://alphamom.com/?p=32422

This post is in partnership with Cadillac.

The best day of my life was not the day my son was born. Instead, it was Christmas Day of 2012 when my then-9-year-old son presented me with my childhood dream gift, a Barbie Dream House. A couple of times earlier I had mentioned to my son, Ryland, that as a child I had wanted a Barbie Dream House for Christmas but never received one. It was a super extravagant gift and one that my parents couldn’t afford at the time. My young son convinced my mom that together they should gift me one. His accompanying card is now framed in my office; it reads: “Even 35 years later your dreams can still come true.”

Yesterday, another son was able to present his mom with her “dream gift.” When top NFL draft pick Teddy Bridgewater was in the third grade (9 years old) he promised his mom, Rose, that he would buy her a pink Cadillac Escalade upon entering the NFL. And with the help of Cadillac, Teddy made his mom’s wish come true for her birthday. Here is the big gift reveal, included in a just-released Spike Lee short film (7 minutes), Teddy Bridgewater: A Promise to Rose (get your tissues handy):

Not only is it Rose Murphy’s birthday today, but this week–on May 8th–Teddy is widely anticipated to be selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. This week is the culmination of several tough but successful years. Rose is a breast cancer survivor (or as GMA’s Robin Roberts likes to call it, a “thriver”). Both Rose and Robin Roberts (a surprise guest at Rose’s birthday lunch) told me how each successive birthday takes on a new and special meaning when you have survived breast cancer. Also, Rose’s breast cancer battle is an extra-important chapter in Teddy’s career. See, as a high schooler, Teddy almost quit football so he could care for his single mom (of four) during her debilitating breast cancer treatments. But Rose wouldn’t let him quit and insisted that Teddy continue practicing and playing hard to make his own dream come true. Rose had first spotted Teddy’s determination at four years old when she caught him lining up all his action figures so that he could plan football plays. By the time he was eight, it was clear to Rose that Teddy had the physical ability and talent to be a professional football player.

This is an extra-special week for this mom and son. It’s the week their shared dreams come true. It’s been as much a dream for Rose as it has been for Teddy for him to play pro football. And it’s been as much a dream for Teddy as it has been for Rose that she get her  pink Cadillac Escalade. Both these special moments were captured by Spike Lee for his short movie on Teddy (above), which focuses on his mom’s strong influence on his life.

I was extra fortunate to be witness to yesterday’s top-secret birthday surprise for Rose, wherein she received her dream car. Rose was under the impression that she was going to spend the day at a makeover and styling session in preparation for press attention surrounding the NFL Draft this Thursday. Instead, she was being dressed for a surprise birthday luncheon and her own interview appearance on Good Morning America.

Here’s my exclusive behind-the-scenes look at Rose’s big birthday surprise:

After flying in from her hometown of Miami the night before, Rose’s day started out with her picking outfits for this week’s press events. A stylist brought her many outfits from which to choose and Rose jokingly called the clothes’ rack “Mama Rose’s Boutique.”

Rose Bridgewater Style Makeover

Then Rose got her make-up done. Teddy stopped by her hotel suite (it’s Rose’s first time visiting NYC) and couldn’t stop taking pictures of his mom.

Rose Bridgewater Style Makeover

Teddy Bridgewater Pink Cadillac Escalade Gift to Mom

When Rose arrived at her luncheon to a standing ovation, and to see surprise guest (and fellow breast cancer “thriver”) Robin Roberts waiting to meet her, she was more than just surprised; she was overcome.

Teddy Bridgewater Pink Cadillac Escalade Birthday Party with Robin Roberts

Teddy Bridgewater Pink Cadillac Escalade Gift with Robin Roberts

After Rose blew out the candles on her birthday cake, Teddy led his mom outside, where her dream car awaited: a 2015 Cadillac Escalade in pink.

Teddy Bridgewater Pink Escalade for mom

Teddy Bridgewater Gifts Mom Pink Escalade

Teddy Bridgewater Gifts His Mom a Pink Cadillac Escalade

Spike Lee and Teddy Bridgewater Pink Cadillac Gift for Mom

During the day, I had the opportunity to ask Rose for her advice to mothers of elite athletes. She shared five points she thinks moms should impart to their athlete children:

1) Make sure education is the top priority and your child keeps up his/her grades.
2) Support your child’s dreams under all circumstances.
3) Remind your child that s/he needs to stay on the “straight and narrow” path.
4) “Put God first. It’s because of God. It starts with God, and it ends with God.”
5) Teach your child to remain humble.

It’s clear that Rose has raised a fine and humble young man. Teddy is the sparkle in her eye and that Rose is his rock. My top wish in life is that I will have the close relationship with my son that she has with Teddy.

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Thank you Cadillac for allowing me to witness, first-hand, an extra-special day in the lives of Teddy Bridgewater and Rose Murphy. Thank you readers for supporting our sponsors who help make this website possible.

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Earth Day: Supporting Clean Drinking Water for All http://alphamom.com/parenting/parenting-health-safety/pg-childrens-safe-drinking-water/ http://alphamom.com/parenting/parenting-health-safety/pg-childrens-safe-drinking-water/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 23:02:03 +0000 http://alphamom.com/?p=32331

This post is sponsored by P&G

It’s Earth Day and I am grateful to live in NYC, home to some of the cleanest water in the United States.  I love tap water and think NYC’s is particularly tasty.  Even so, my home water is filtered by a reverse osmosis water tank.  It’s my building’s pipes that I am more concerned about.  And, it’s not lost on me how much of a privilege clean water is.  In fact, I think it should be a right, not a privilege of the world’s citizen.

But the truth is that unsafe drinking water is a struggle for more than 1 billion people worldwide.

I have partnered with Procter & Gamble (P&G) and made a special video for Earth Day about their clean water technology.  P&G has invested millions of dollars in providing clean drinking water worldwide with their P&G Purifier of Water technology.   P&G sent me demo kit to see how their simple technology works.  Their solution:  just one very small packet of powder that can turn 10 liters of dirty, potentially deadly water into clean and drinkable water in minutes.  These packets are not something you can buy off the shelf, but they sent one to me so I can show you how it works.  Watch me take clean NYC tap water, make it “dirty,” and then filter it into clean and drinkable water:

With these water purifying packets, and of course the help of 140 partners, P&G has provided billions of liters of clean water which has helped save an estimated 39,000 lives and prevented more than 290 million days of illnesses across 75 countries. Recently, P&G provided the 7 billionth liter of clean drinking water to a family in Brazil.

Each time you share my video and use the hashtag, #7BillionLiters, P&G will will donate an additional liter of clean drinking water (up to 1 million additional liters) to people around the world that need it (this is through the end of the day, 4/22).

To learn more, visit P&G’s Children Safe Drinking Water microsite.

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Must List: See Bears by Disneynature http://alphamom.com/family-fun/bears-by-disneynature-movie-review/ http://alphamom.com/family-fun/bears-by-disneynature-movie-review/#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 20:13:04 +0000 http://alphamom.com/?p=32285 Bears, it's a beautifully-made movie for kids that will teach them (and you!) about the world of the Alaskan brown bear. ]]>

My first exposure to Disneynature movies was two years ago with the release of their moving documentary Chimpanzee. If you didn’t see it, the family documentary centers around Oscar, an orphaned baby chimp who finds himself an unlikely adoptive parent. I loved the movie, but found it to be a bit too violent to recommend to families with very young children. However, Disneynature’s most recent documentary, Bears, is better-suited for younger ones. Like Chimpanzee, the Bears documentary is told via story and narrated by the beloved actor John C. Reilly. The movie centers around the year-long journey of a new mama bear, Sky, as she raises her newly born twin cubs, Amber and Scout. The filmmakers chose this particular brown bear family because mama bear Sky has a naturally calm disposition (allowing the filmmakers close-filming access) and their family dynamics is a fair reflection of other bear families.

Through narrator John C. Reilly, we learn about the different bears that live in Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve, their distinct personalities and mostly the challenges a mama bear and her cubs face during their first year of life. Just like many new mothers I know, new mama bear Sky spends most of her time protecting her young and thinking about feeding them (indirectly at least since the cubs are mostly still nursing). I don’t know about you, but many of the memories of my first year of motherhood are about the stress I felt in feeding my newborn son. And, if you look at the questions we get from our readers, many focus on infant feeding. But, if you thought you had it hard as a new mom, imagine you also had to dodge avalanches, preying wolves and larger male bears which eat cubs. Youch. Talk about parental stress.

Bears by Disneynature Movie Review

But, there are lots of beautiful and tender moments between Sky and her cubs and even though the narration can be a bit grating and corny at times, I think the kids won’t notice it one bit and it is more than compensated by the benefit of children learning about bear society. I am a huge believer that we all learn better about everything when it’s told in story. I was fortunate to interview Disneynature ambassador Jane Goodall (yes, THAT Jane Goodall!!) after I screened Bears. Goodall explained that she decided she wanted to live in Africa and work with animals when she was 10 years old. Her involvement with Disneynature stems from a desire to inspire a love of learning about animals.

And teach and inspire they do. Please stay through the movie’s rolling credits at the film’s end to get an unbelievable view of how close the filmmakers were able to get to film the bears, wolves and the bears’ unlikely best friend the ravens. The movie’s director Keith Scholey explained “A lot of people think that we’re crazy to film bears on location in such a remote area. But these animals don’t deserve the reputation they have. They are not out to hurt people. They are big, powerful animals with a remarkably gentle nature. We never felt threatened by the bears.”

Bears Movie by Disneynature Review

Parents should know that there are some scary scenes where the lives of mama bear Sky and her babies cubs are threatened. If you would like to know specific details, I recommend reading the review on my go-to-source, Common Sense Media. However, be aware that the review includes spoilers.

Bears premieres in theaters today and I recommend that you attend during opening week (April 18-24, 2014) because for every ticket sold, Disneynature (through the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund) will make a contribution to the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, to protect wildlife and wild places across America’s national park system.

 

Pictures source: Disneynature

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Mission Possible: Declutter & Donate to Goodwill http://alphamom.com/your-life/home-your-life/declutter-donate-to-goodwill/ http://alphamom.com/your-life/home-your-life/declutter-donate-to-goodwill/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 20:33:44 +0000 http://alphamom.com/?p=32094

This post is sponsored and made possible through the support of Goodwill

I am a big fan of reading magazine articles, books and websites on decluttering your home.  However, I am not such a fan of actually doing any decluttering.  There are many cabinets and closets, overflowing with neglected items, of which I am woefully embarrassed.  However, the thought of cleaning and organizing them is quite overwhelming. So, when a project for Goodwill came across, I jumped at the chance.  A project deadline, is really what I needed to accomplish some decluttering.  And yet, I still procrastinated, waiting until the last day.  To me that indicates  I have clear emotional aversion to organizing these hot spots in my home.

First, I turned to my friends on the internet, those who write often about home organization and clutter.  I needed inspiration and also a PLAN for how I was going to tackle this project.   A couple of themes kept popping up, ones that really spoke to me and ultimately became my guiding principles for the project:

Tenet #1: “Identify a place or person to whom you can give things you no longer need – it’s much easier to get rid of unneeded stuff if you can envision someone else getting good use from them.”  -by Gretchen Rubin of the Happiness Project

Tenet #2: “Don’t keep something out of guilt. You do not have to keep something that you do not like, just because someone gave it to you. It’s okay to appreciate the sentiment of the gift without actually keeping it. You don’t have to keep things associated with bad feelings.”  by Rachel Meeks of The Small Notebook

Tenet #3: “As you find stuff to donate, you might need a moment for a last look or a memory, but once it’s in the donation box, that brief hard part is over. Afterwards, you’ll like the stuff you decide to keep so much better.” by Rachel Meeks of The Small Notebook

Tenet #4: “Recognize what is really trash. Charities spend many volunteer hours and dollars sorting out the unusable donations. Don’t donate items to charity that should be thrown away.” by Rachel Meeks of The Small Notebook

Tenet #5: “Set reachable goals. A common decluttering trap that leads to overwhelm is setting goals that are too big. Instead of saying you’ll declutter the entire basement, start with a shelf. Or instead of emptying your entire closet onto your bedroom floor (hello, giant mess), start by editing down your pants collection, then shirts, dresses, etc.” – Christine Koh of Minimalist Parenting

While researching online, one quote kept popping up:

William Morris quote on decluttering

It’s by William Morris and it reads “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”  Gretchen Rubin thinks it’s a great way to identify clutter.  At first, it was my guiding principle, but then I realized it didn’t necessarily take into account keepsakes, the items that may neither be useful nor beautiful, but for which you still have an attachment.  While decluttering for this project, I found this to be the case with my son’s childhood items in particular.

At first, my plan was to tackle 1) my clothes closet, 2) my office closet, and 3) one kitchen cabinet that has effectively become a place for me to store junk.    I started with the kitchen cabinet.

This three-shelf kitchen cabinet had become a catchall for random mugs, plates, and unused appliances. Also, when I have visitors I tend to shove some of the clutter on my kitchen counter in there.  I don’t think I’ve looked closely at the top two shelves in over 5 years.  That’s really embarrassing since it’s prime cabinet real estate.  With my plan for keeping only (1) useful, (2) beautiful, and (3) meaningful items, I forged ahead. And you know what?  It wasn’t bad.  AT ALL.  In all, that kitchen cabinet was decluttered in one hour.

Here are some items from my unkempt kitchen cabinet:

GOODWILL donations

goodwill-project-keep

goodwill-project-spacejam

Some thoughts on the items above:  The decision to donate or keep these items was relatively easy.  Except, I changed my mind about two of them: 1) once I saw  that my son’s name within the heart-shaped cookie cutter I couldn’t give it up.  However, if it doesn’t get used by next Valentine’s Day, it’s being donated. And,  2) the Michael Jordan/Space Jam mug was in the donate pile until I realized that this is a memento from a project of my husband’s.  See that Columbia University Dining Services mug?  I have had that since my freshman year in college, 25 years ago.  I haven’t used it in decades, and yesterday was the first time I was willing to part with it.  Keepsakes sure are the hardest.

Looking back on the five tenets I listed above, I think numbers one (know to whom you are donating) and five (set reasonable goals) really worked the most to motivate me.  At first, I was going to also tackle my clothes closet and office closet.  But, I was really proud of myself after I cleared out my kitchen cabinet in an hour.  I stopped after that.  I wanted to end on a high note so my most recent memory of decluttering would be a positive one of accomplishment.  When I do tackle the other areas, I’ll be motivated rather than dreading it.

Also, knowing that my (albeit modest) donations will be going to a non-for-profit like Goodwill, which will then resell my in-good/ new condition items at its thrift shops to fund employment and job training programs, gave me the extra motivation.  In Manhattan, there are nine combo Goodwill stores/ attended donation centers.  Two weeks ago, when I was in the Sarasota/ Bradenton-area of Florida, I saw many very large Goodwill locations along a daily 13-mile route I took.  A cab driver told me that the Goodwills have been incredibly helpful to members of their community.

I learned that every 33 seconds, someone earns a job with the help of Goodwill.  Not only is Goodwill a large employer and job trainer  for those with disabilities, lack of education or job experience, it also partners with large companies and US government  agencies to provide commercial services.  Donations go to fund education, job training and placement.  It is with pleasure that I am donating my household goods and I’m excited for next weekend when I’ll finally tackle my closet and donate some more.

Have items to drop off at Goodwill? Use their national online locator  and check the box for “Donation Site” to find the Goodwill drop-off location nearest you. Donating a lot of items? Some Goodwills offer donation pickup services.

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This post was made possible through the support of Goodwill. All opinions are my own.

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Last Minute Gifts: Books! http://alphamom.com/family-fun/family-products-services/favorite-books-for-holiday-gifting/ http://alphamom.com/family-fun/family-products-services/favorite-books-for-holiday-gifting/#comments Fri, 20 Dec 2013 23:50:19 +0000 http://alphamom.com/?p=30505

You know what’s happening right now, shipping deadlines for Christmas is near. But books, a standard fave for which there’s still time. Also, you can always walk to your local brick & mortar bookseller and pick up books to buy as gifts. Easy peasy. Plus, I’ve always loved the Want, Need, Wear and Read gift strategy.  The idea is that each family member gets four gifts and each one falls under one of those categories. So, yeah books are the best gifts.

Here are some favorites. I asked other Alpha Mom contributors to share theirs too. The list is broken out in books for adults and kids:

Book Gift Ideas for Adults

Rules of Civility is a fave bookA Walk in the Woods and any book by Bill Bryson. I’ll recommend anything by Bill Bryson any day. Anyone would. But if you aren’t familiar with him and you need a good chuckle, pick up A Walk in the Woods or better yet get the audio version of The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt kid. This is the perfect gift for anyone older than 40 who might think that everything was better back in the day. Recommended by our contributor Brenda Ponnay.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
I love, love, love this book and everyone I know who has read it feels the same. It’s a sophisticated and fun novel about a young woman in New York City in the late 1930’s and her movement into high society. Both the dialogue and characters in this one are super sharp. Recommended by our contributor Wendi Aarons and me.

Bossypants by Tina Fey
Another quick and fun read by one of today’s most lovable and smart wise-crackin’ comedians. I know this book is years old, but I will continue to recommend it for years. Lots of smart life and business advice for everyone, but especially young women.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
I loved this book because it was a glimpse into a world I know nothing about, namely super-rich pedigreed Chinese families in Asia. I thought it was really well written, very soapy and very funny. A great beach read, come summer. Recommended by our contributor Wendi Aarons.

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief By Lawrence Wright
This well-researched non-fiction book is by far the most comprehensive reporting I’ve ever seen about Scientology and includes the history of its beginning and its relationship to Hollywood stars. The writing is not judgmental or salacious and simply presents the facts as they happened. Completely fascinating. Recommended by our contributor Wendi Aarons.

I Like You by Sandol Stoddard Warburg
First published in 1965, this delightful book is perfect for the people you really, really like- the friend that rescues you, a child that adores you, or a partner that believes in you. The charming illustration and sparse text make this book perfect for any age, something to “grow into” over time as its true meaning takes on gravity with experience. (suggested age: any) Recommended by Elizabeth Jayne Liu

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
“What if you could life again and again, until you got it right?” That’s the concept behind this inventive, beautifully written novel that takes place in England from approximately 1910 through WWII. At times the time shifting can be maddening, but stick with it because it’s funny, fascinating, sad, tragic and a book you won’t soon forget. Recommended by our contributor Wendi Aarons.


Where’d You Go BernadetteWhere’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
This novel by a former Arrested Development writer was one of my favorite reads of 2013. A page-turner that is fun and exciting. A very quick read with great, yet albeit wacky, character development.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
I read this book and then I had to read everything by Lisa See. I’ve always been a fan of Amy Tan and this satisfied my inner curiosity for more Chinese tales. Recommended by our contributor Brenda Ponnay.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Another tear jerker, this book is heavy stuff about a super-smart and witty terminally cancer patient in her teens. Although this book is officially YA, the topics are mature and I would only recommend it to older teens. For adults, it’s a beautiful (albeit difficult at times) read.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Though I read this book a few years ago, it’s still one of my favorite books ever. This is historical fiction at its best. Set during World War II and the German occupation of Guernsey, it’s a moving and highly descriptive novel with fantastic and vivid characters. I want to visit Guernsey now.

The Hunger Games Trilogy
I know, this is so 2008 but they’re good! Read them again! Recommended by our contributor Brenda Ponnay.

This Is for You by Rob Ryan ($16.95, 2009)
“If you believe in love, but find it hard to explain-this is for you.” This is the way Ryan introduces this labor of love, a book comprised entirely of paper cuttings. Each artful page conveys vulnerable and charming thoughts on love and hope. Small enough to tote around or the perfect addition to a coffee table collection. A gift for lovers. (suggested age: any) Recommended by Elizabeth Jayne Liu

Books by Wally Lamb
I’ve read him forever but these books always suck me in and tap into my emotions like that song, how does it go? Strumming my pain with his fingers, singing my life with his words…. Recommended by our contributor Brenda Ponnay.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
I love all of Liane Moriarty’s books, including the most recent “The Husband’s Secret” and “The Hypnotist’s Love Story,” but this is my favorite. A typical suburban mother faints at Spin class and wakes up thinking it’s ten years earlier and can’t believe how her life turned out. Funny, sweet and a total page turner. Love this one. Recommended by our contributor Wendi Aarons.

Book Ideas for Young Kids Through Teens

Wonder is a must-readWonder by R.J. Palacio
Another favorite book of mine from this year. It was required reading for my rising 5th grader this summer and one parent. It is so touching and the characters honest and well-developed. I cried my eyes out in a feel-good way. Here’s my full review of the novel.

The Complete Calvin and Hobbes Box Set
Such a fun and memorable gift regardless of age. Each set includes 3 hardcover books set chronologically in a slipcase. I grew up reading Calvin Hobbes comic strips and learned so much about life from the imaginary adventures of a boy and his stuffed tiger- the fine nuances of a close friendship, the trials of becoming a grown-up, and the joys of thinking outside the box. (suggested age: any) Recommended by Elizabeth Jayne Liu

Magic. 1400s-1950s by Mike Caveney, Jim Steinmeyer, and Noel Daniel
While this book may be daunting, both in size and information, for the youngest readers, anyone who is fascinated by magic will appreciate this visually stunning book which explores more than 500 years in the evolution of magic. Although it might be difficult to curl up in bed with this enormous book (10+ lbs.), its collection of more than 850 rarely seen images is fantastic. Truly a great gift. (suggested age: any) Recommended by Elizabeth Jayne Liu

The Indispensable Dictionary of Unusual Words
Perfect for your favorite sesquipedalian (look it up!). (suggested age: Middle through adult) Recommended by our contributor Mir Kamin.

Finish This Book
Another masterpiece from Keri Smith (you may recognize her name from Wreck This Journal, also a great option). This one is perfect for getting the creative juices flowing. (suggested age: Middle through adult) Recommended by our contributor Mir Kamin.

Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and The People Who Play It
Should be required reading for anyone into D&D. The history is fascinating, even if you don’t play. (suggested age: Middle through adult) Recommended by our contributor Mir Kamin.

Fruits Basket (All editions)
For manga lovers — this is both my kids’ favorite series, there’s a ton of them, and the story lines are funny and entertaining. (suggested age: Middle through adult) Recommended by our contributor Mir Kamin.

Those Darn Squirrels! by Adam Rubin.
One of my most fave children’s books. Endearing and very creative. (suggested age: Preschool and beyond) Suggested by our contributor Kelcey Kintner.

Belinda Begins Ballet by Amy Young
A great book for young girls about staying true to yourself and what you really love. (suggested: preschool and beyond) Suggested by our contributor Kelcey Kintner.

Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems
Mo Willems is always brilliant and his Knuffle Bunny series (there are two book sequels) is just super adorable and sweet. The first Knuffle Bunny book is my absolute favorite (suggested age: Preschool and beyond) Suggested by our contributor Kelcey Kintner.

Olivia books by Ian Falconer
Olivia is quirk, funny and creative. Just like kids. (suggested age: Preschool and beyond). Suggested by our contributor Kelcey Kintner and me. My favorite is Olivia . . . and the Missing Toy.

A Bear and His Boy by Sean Bryan
Fantastic rhymes and truly entertaining. (suggested age: Preschool and beyond). Recommended by our contributor Kelcey Kintner.

I Am Not Sleepy and I Will Not Go to Bed and Charlie & Lola are our favesCharlie and Lola books by Lauren Child
I wish I could hang out with Charlie and Lola. These books are British, charming and quite entertaining. (suggested age: Preschool and beyond.) Recommended by our contributor Kelcey Kintner and me. My favorite is I Am Not Sleepy and I Will Not Go to Bed. Actually, I changed my mind. I love them all.

Fancy Nancy books by Jane O’Connor
My girls really love these books and I love that they focus on teaching kids big words. (suggested age: Preschool and beyond.) Recommended by our contributor Kelcey Kintner.

Junie B. Jones books by Barbara Park
These are chapter books. They are a little annoying because they are written as a kindergartener/1st grader which means bad grammar. So when I read these to my kids, I fix the grammar because it just hurts me not to. But that said, Junie B. Jones is laugh out loud funny and your kids (especially girls) will love all her antics and adventures. Barbara Park can’t write new ones fast enough for my family. (suggested age: Kindergarten and up) Recommeneded by our contributor Kelcey Kintner.

Cam Jansen mysteries by David Adler
These chapter books are great, non-scary mysteries. Very fun to read and attempt to solve the mysteries. (suggested age: 1st grade and up) Recommended by our contributor Kelcey Kintner.

Little Pea
We pretty much LOVE anything by Amy Krouse Rosenthal but Little Pea is probably our favorite. It’s hilarious that Little Pea has to eat candy for dinner. Yuck, Blech! Plck! Pleh! This is an all-time favorite for any picky eaters in the house. (suggested age: for little ones) Recommended by our contributor Brenda Ponnay.

Scaredy Squirrel books
These books are pretty detailed and not always the best pick for right before bedtime but kids loooove them. They can relate to Scaredy Squirrels many fears and quirks. It’s a super sweet way to open up the conversation things that children are afraid of. And Scaredy Squirrel usually works it out by the end of the book which is always nice. (suggested age: for little ones) Recommended by our contributor Brenda Ponnay.

Olive, the Other Reindeer
I love this book because of it’s holiday themed and because of its super cool graphic illustrations but my daughter loves this book because it’s funny and who hasn’t gotten the lyrics to a song wrong before? (suggested age: for little ones) Recommended by our contributor Brenda Ponnay.

A Mango in the Hand
We love this book because of the illustrations. They’re amazing and the story teaches a sweet message. I love the way the author incorporates Spanish into the story and then teaches you what the phrases mean at the back of the book. Great for learning new languages! (suggested age: for little ones) Recommended by our contributor Brenda Ponnay.

Zen Shorts
Beautiful, amazing watercolor illustrations. Lots of lessons too but not too over the top. I love his perspective, how sizes change. In some parts of the book the panda bear seems bigger than a house. It’s like this book was illustrated from the point of view of a child. A very talented amazing artist child with a solid foundation in Buddhism. (suggested age: for little ones) Recommended by our contributor Brenda Ponnay and me.

Thingy Things (a series)
We own about five of them and they are a dog-eared favorite. We started reading these before my daughter could talk and now she reads them to any little child who comes over. They’re great for memorization and even beginning to read. They’re just super simple and super cute. I can’t recommend them enough. I think Lamby Lamb with it’s reverse psychology might be my favorite. (suggested age: for little ones) Recommended by our contributor Brenda Ponnay.

Dear Dumb Diary Series
For the early readers who are just getting into chapter books this series really clicked for my daughter. I’m not sure why. Maybe the illustrations, maybe the sarcastic sense of humor. I’m not sure but they were a winner. I can download one onto my kindle for her to borrow and she’ll be lost for hours. (suggested age: young elementary) Recommended by our contributor Brenda Ponnay. Here’s a formal review of the Dear Dumb Diary series from a few years back by Mir.

When You Were Small by Sara O’Leary
Love this sweet book with gorgeous illustrations of a young lilliputian boy set amongst giant everyday household items. It’s a simple, yet magical book. Sara O’Leary followed it up with two other similarly charming books to make a series: When I Was Small and Where You Came From.

Classic Picture Books for Toddlers & Preschoolers
I love these so much and regularly gift them to new parents as I think the narrative has held up quite well: The Story of Ferdinand, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes, and Make Way for Ducklings.

The Ultimate Adventure Novel Series
My reluctant reader son adored these books. He’s 10 years old and though it was an easy read for him (a strong 7 or 8 year old reader could handle it) the gripping action and the versatility of the book appealed to him. Every 6 pages or so, the reader must decide between two choices. The path chosen determines the outcome of the book. There’s currently four books in the series, all based on adventure locations (Everest, Deadly Seas, Amazon, and Mars!), and my son’s waiting for the fifth to be released.

Cookbooks

Homemade with Love is the scratch cooking bibleI don’t know about you, but I think cookbooks are awesome gifts and I love to read them myself. Here are my current favorites.

Homemade with Love: Simple Scratch Cooking from In Jennie’s Kitchen
Written by my friend Jennifer Perillo, it’s a definitive guide to starting off with scratch cooking. Jennifer and I grew up in the same Brooklyn neighborhood during the 70s and 80s and she’s a self-taught chef. As such, it’s incredibly non-intimidating. I couldn’t believe how easy it is to make her dishes. Now, I make my own ricotta cheese. Easy peasy.

Time for Dinner: Strategies, Inspiration, and Recipes for Family Meals Every Night of the Week
Written by the former editors of Cookie and more recently Martha Stewart Magazines, this is great family dinner cookbook.

Amalah’s Cookbook recommendations
You can find a number of Amalah’s favorite cookbook recommendations. Amalah is very adventurous. I’m so jealous.

Have a Happy Holidays and read the shipping guidelines carefully if you’re ordering online! Here are Amazon’s shipping deadlines for this holiday season.

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Fitness Gifts that Keep Giving in 2014 http://alphamom.com/family-fun/activities/fitness-gifts-for-the-holidays-and-2014/ http://alphamom.com/family-fun/activities/fitness-gifts-for-the-holidays-and-2014/#comments Tue, 17 Dec 2013 16:47:49 +0000 http://alphamom.com/?p=30548

I have a new best friend. It’s the Jawbone UP. It’s a very nice looking bracelet that tracks my daily movements. And now I’m addicted to counting how many steps I walk per day. I find myself walking stairs instead of taking the elevator and looking for other opportunities to get more walking into my daily life so that I can meet my personal daily movement goal. I’m even considering getting a, gulp, treadmill desk. The friends who see my bracelet ask me about it and I insist they must get an activity monitor, either the UP by Jawbone or another of the ones on the market (see below). They are all slightly different, but to me all of them are great, since I’m a big fan of any device that will motivate you to get up and moving more.

This prompted me to ask Liz Gumbinner who is the editor-in-chief of Cool Mom Picks, and is currently partnering with Target to help bring parents tech tips and ideas for the holidays, about her ideas for Fitness Gifts for this holiday season. Here’s what she shared:

Fitbit Flex Wristband

Fitbit Flex wristband and other Fitness GiftsI am obsessed with this right now—- it’s completely addictive to check your calories, steps walked, and sleep quality each day which are all wirelessly sent to your PC or phone (Android and iOS). Not that moms need more of a reminder that they’re not getting enough sleep, ha. It’s also a great couple gift: Get one for your partner (or best friend) and see if you can’t make getting in shape a little more fun with some friendly competition.


Jawbone UP

Jawbone Up Wristband and other Fitness GiftsAnother awesome option in wearable fitness tech is the Jawbone UP which is a little more pricy, a little more streamlined, and has the added benefit of tracking nutritional info with a food and drink log. The alerts to your mobile device (there are two version, with one working both on the iOS and Android) are great for helping to keep you self-motivated.



Yurbuds Inspire Female In-Ear Sport Headphones

Yurbuds Headphones and other Fitness GiftsOver-ear headphones are cumbersome for trips to the gym, and these in-ear headphones are super comfortable at a really amazing price. I love that they’re designed to fit smaller ears—part of the reason they actually stay in. Plus they’re sweat and water-resistant, which is essential for workouts, of course. And so many cute colors!




GoPro HERO3 Camcorder

GoPro HERO3 Camcorder and other Fitness GiftsOur readers are in love with the GoPro, and even more so now with the lighter, more affordable HERO3 that’s just out. If you’re into any kind of outdoor activity, it’s a great way to get dynamic wide-angle stills or film that put you right in the action. You can even strap it right to a ski helmet, bike handlebars, or take shots while SCUBA diving down to almost 200-feet. So cool.

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Alpha Mom Must List: Watch “The Short Game” Documentary http://alphamom.com/family-fun/the-short-game-documentary-review/ http://alphamom.com/family-fun/the-short-game-documentary-review/#comments Tue, 17 Dec 2013 14:24:55 +0000 http://alphamom.com/?p=30538

The Short Game documentary is a Must-See

I love watching documentaries and last night I fell for The Short Game (exclusively available on Netflix). The film follows eight elite child golfers from around the world, all under the age of 8, as they compete at the Junior Golf World Championship which is basically their Superbowl.

We follow these focused and disciplined youngsters as they train and practice, and never have tykes looked more like adults as these do while swinging on the greens. But then, a missed shot is followed by an epic tantrum or the camera cuts to typical childhood shenanigans and you remember that to count their ages, you only need two hands.

The Short Game reminds me very much of the ballet documentary, First Position, which follows young dancers as they train for and compete at the Young America Grand Prix, and which I enjoyed very much. But The Short Game is better, and this is coming from someone who was a ballerina and couldn’t tell you the difference between a birdie and a bogey. The Short Game goes at a quicker pace and you really fall for the kid golfers and their parents. These kids are intense, yet they can be very silly. Preternaturally wise, some of these kids will blurt out insights that could easily be found on framed quote posters. And then, they’ll be found throwing sand at each other. They are easily upset with themselves for a missed shot, but they’re also strong-willed, fearlessly arguing with their loving and sometimes-overbearing parents.

By the documentary’s end, you realize that The Short Game is not just about the kids who are learning to deal with the pressures of competitive golf. It’s about their parents, too. The world of elite sports is new to almost all of them, and they too are being trained on how to be the adult in the parent-child relationship, even though they are just as ambitious and prone to disappointment as their child athletes.

I have so much more to say and want to talk about it, but I don’t want to spoil anything. Go watch it! You and your kids will enjoy it very very much.

The Short Game Movie Trailer

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Alpha Mom’s Toy Hit & Miss List for 2013 http://alphamom.com/family-fun/toy-hits-and-misses-list/ http://alphamom.com/family-fun/toy-hits-and-misses-list/#comments Sat, 30 Nov 2013 17:48:00 +0000 http://alphamom.com/?p=30161

Welcome to the first annual Alpha Mom Hit & Miss List for Holiday Toys. The inspiration for this came came suddenly after last and this year’s exercise of analyzing some of the big-box retailer’s “Hot Toy Lists.”  Each list is virtually identical and there are rarely toys on it that garner the level of enthusiasm we have for other toy and game favorites.

I asked a few Alpha Mom contributors to share their families favorite and least favorite toys and games. Ones that they are really passionate in their love or hate for. What I discovered is that the toys and games that their kids play with for the longest periods of time in one sitting or over time are the ones that garner the most accolades. And the ones they loathe? Those are the toys that are highly annoying, don’t work as expected or break easily.

In the end, we recommend 40 Toys and Games that we feel you can trust and a dozen from which you should stay away. The selections range from infant to tween. This is by no means an exhaustive list, so feel free to add your opinions in the comments section. At the end of the day, when buying a gift think of the recipient. Gifts given thoughtfully and picked specifically for the recipient will always be “Hits.”

 

Hit or Miss Holiday Toy List

Hit Toys & Games!

For Babies under One

Babies don’t need much of anything other than food, sleep, diaper changes and love.  However, as they start to crawl and get curious, I’ll make this recommendation of a toy:

1. Mozart Magic Cube : this is an all-time favorite amongst experienced parents.  Kids love it and parents too.

For Toddlers

2. Pull-Toy Squirrel: we like this one but you really can’t go wrong with any pull toys. It’s developmentally appropriate for this age and this one is super cute.

3. Toy Broom & Dust Pan: my toddler son loved to maneuver his broom. Toddlers love to mimic their parents and this toy is another developmentally-appropriate toy.

4. Pretend & Play Doctor’s KitFantastically simple toy. Your kids will love being the doctor, nurse or patient.  This toy is a hit toy amongst a couple of moms like Kelcey and me. Another choice is this cloth/ soft play doctors kit version.

5. The Bilibo : When this innovative toy burst onto the scene several years ago, it was the talk of the town. Let’s not forget about it. It provides hours of open-ended play fun and belly laughs. Perfect for a two year and it will be still be loved when your child is in the first grade. Toys with staying power are hits!

6. Kettler Tricycle: was a huge hit once my son he turned 2.5 years old. We started out with the navigation steerer and then once he had mastered his movements (around three years old) he was off on his own. Don’t forget the helmet, of course.

7. Roll & Play Board Game: This “first board game” received an outstanding review from a former contributor and readers as well. It’s perfect for toddlers and young preschoolers, aged 2+.

For Young Preschoolers

8. The Picnic Game: Even though this game is recommended for children ages 5+, it’s gotten rave reviews from almost an three-year old last year. My son was also pretty young in preschool when we played it regularly.

9. Richard Scarry’s Busytown Game: Our regular contributor Kelcey, shared that “this is a wonderful game for kids because you play individually but then you win or lose as a group. So no sad pouty faces at the end. My girls love this one. And we always end feeling good.”

10. Magna-Tiles: This is by far my favorite toy in the whole wide world. Unfortunately, Magna-Tiles are expensive! Yeah, this is a big investment, but worth it in my opinion. This is another toy with tremendous staying power. If you can swing it, I recommend starting to buy tiles when your kid(s) are young and then add and add to the collection.

11. Melissa & Doug Pizza Party Kelcey shared: “My kids have been playing with this for years! A simple, creative toy that stands the test of time. Who doesn’t love pizza?”

12. FurReal Friends Cuddles My Giggly Monkey Pet Kelcey looked at this toy closely for our Hot Toys of 2013 analysis and she and her family gave it a big thumbs up. Her littlest daughter, who is three years old, fell in love and Kelcey thinks this one will have staying power especially if you have kids who love to play with baby dolls.

For Older Preschoolers

13. Don’t Let the Pigeon Finish This Activity Book! Amalah recommended this book as a hit. She shares: “A wonderfully fat book full of fun activities, crafts and doodle prompts that kids can (mostly) do unsupervised or with siblings and friends. Kept my kids occupied for weeks on end. Plus, it’s the Pigeon! Everybody loves the Pigeon.”

14. Feed The Kitty: My son and I loved this roll-the-dice game and we traveled with it often when he was younger (we would just take the dice and pieces with us in a ziploc). I definitely would recommend it for children aged 4-5 year olds.

15. Playmobil Action Sets: definitely a splurge gift. Playmobil playsets are not inexpensive but they will always have a special place in my heart for all the hours of imaginative play my son dedicated to them.

16. Marble Runs If you’ve got a four or five-year old, now is the time they start appreciating marble runs. I love marble runs because as the kids get older they can build more complex structures. There are a lot of different marble run systems and I would choose one based on the the ability to expand, or for the cool accessories (bells, slides, funnels) if you’re buying for older preschoolers.

For Younger School-Aged Kids

17. Angry Birds Star Wars Telepods. Amalah shares: “You gotta hand it to the marketing geniuses behind the Angry Birds. They keep coming up with ways to keep your kids hooked on a game you probably got bored of two years ago. The Telepods interact with the app but are also pretty cute little figures on their own (I’m a sucker for the Star Wars birds) that encourage (non-tablet-based) building and imaginative play. They also more or less fit with other Angry Bird branded games and sets.”

18. Legos: every one loves Legos. Because of the small pieces, regular Legos are not recommended for young ones. But, there’s a line called Duplo where the pieces are bigger and therefore safer. To read more about introducing Lego to your child, here’s some fun and useful advice from Amalah.

19. Lay & Go Activity Mat Amalah has tried all of the Lego storage/organization options out there. All of them. This is the best one. Keeps Legos easily contained without cramping your kid’s freedom to play and dig around. If you’re buying anyone Legos this year, please send one of these, too.

20. The Blank Comic Panelbook For your older or more experienced doodler, these basic comic panel sheets let them get to work on their own graphic novel masterpiece. Excellent for helping kids plot their stories and organize their writing, too.

21. My First Magic Set Kelcey shared this pick. Kids love magic and this is a fun kit to teach them basic tricks.

22. Uno Card Game: This card game is a favorite of our contributor Wendi and her family. It’s a classic for a reason… it’s simple, easy to follow and really fun for all ages.

23. The 3D Drawing Pad is so much fun. My son has one and it really does work!

24. Razor Kick Scooter This is a perfect holiday gift and Razor is the leader at making them. What kid doesn’t want one? Don’t forget the helmet.

For Older School-Aged Kids & Tweens

24. Pencil Toppers Sewing Kit Kelcey also recommends this set to for the kids to take a break from the Rainbow Loom craze and let the them get creative with sewing projects.

25-28. Board Games:  Wendi and her sons spent weeks last year playing a whole bunch of board games and then sharing their opinions. Their favorites: BlokusSpot ItQwirkle, andApples to Apples Jr (also a favorite of our contributor Mir. Mir told me that her family always knows the game is over when they’re laughing too hard to continue).

29. SET is one of my favorite card games and of our readers too. So, I definitely recommend it particularly since it makes for a perfect stocking stuffer.

30. Squap Wendi’s boys love, love, love this simple throw/catch game. No batteries, very portable and can even be played alone.

31. Perplexus Epic  Wendi’s boys saw this in the enrichment room at their school and begged to get one for home. It’s a clear globe with ramps inside and the challenge is to make a small ball inside go somewhere. (She doesn’t really know how it works, but apparently it keeps them really quiet, so she likes this toy A LOT.)

32-35. Lego Architecture Play Sets A favorite of mine and Wendi’s. Her son Jack LOVES these and has built the UN building, The Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Space Needle and the White House. He keeps them displayed on a shelf and shows them off to any friends who come by.

36. Pogo Stick when my son was around seven years old, he spent lots of time bouncing around on this exact pogo stick. Dress in layers, put on some gloves, and a safety helmet (avoid any icy patches outside) and your child can generate enough warmth bouncing around in the cold weather too. You don’t necessarily have to wait until summer.

37. SKLZ Pro Mini Basketball Hoop My now 10-year old son and his friends still love this toy. Many of them have one hanging on the doors of their bedrooms. This is another toy with great staying power. Now, it’s a noisy toy. So if you have downstairs neighbors (or you have noise sensitivity) who are easily bothered by kids jumping around and bouncing balls indoors, pass on this one.

38. Just Dance 2014 video game wow, is this one a lot of fun.  Kids and adults compete (or play solo) by following dance moves set to some of the best (and recognizable) dance music.  It’s available for the Nintendo, Playstation and XBox platforms.

39. NBA 2K14 video game is another favorite of my 10 year-old son and his buddies. It’s available on the XBox, Playstation and for the PC. (NBA 2K13 is available for the WiiU). It’s a great game, really innovative where your child can customize his NBA player (down to the tattoos), hold interactive press conferences and if s/he wins the championship, even join an animated-President Obama at the White House for a photo opp. I like it because the point of this game is to make shooting hoops cool, not guns.

40. Nike+ Fuelband SE. I love these movement monitors. I have Jawbone UP. My son and many of his friend have a Fuelband and they love it. The new one by Nike– called the SE — comes with an additional ability to monitor the intensity of your movements, not just your steps. Any product that motivates kids to move is a home-run to me. This is definitely in the expensive column, but if I had to decide if my dollars went here or to a video gaming system, a tracking monitor would win.

Toy & Game Misses!

1. Furby we really tried to understand why Furby was the Hot Toy of 2012.  A few Alpha Mom contributors and their families lived with one for several weeks and the toy was universally loathed.  Moreover, since then I have seen several posts on my personal Facebook feed from different parents lamenting their purchases.

2. Remote control vehicles Wendi think the cheap ones have a horrible chemical smell on the plastic wheels that can’t be safe and/or healthy and they’re a total drain on batteries.

3. RoboRoach Amalah describes it as disgustingness with a bonus helping of animal cruelty! NOPE NOPE NOPE.

4. Batman Launcher Amalah shares that the only good thing she can say about this toy is that the pull cord proved to be too difficult for her 8-year-old to yank on himself, and then promptly jammed after about two “launches.” Note that the best-case play scenario is basically sending a hard, pointy object flying upward at high speed to inevitably 1) break something, or 2) hit somebody in the face. PASS.

5. Elmo Tickle Hands Amalah brought this one to my attention. These are battery-operated furry gloves that vibrate (not “tickle,” vibrate) while playing the sound of Elmo’s high-pitched maniacal laughter. The…hell?

6. Don’t Break the Ice Kelcey thinks this game should be called, “Kids Break The Ice and Parents Put It Back Together Again and Again.” She finds this toy beyond irritating. It takes kids seconds (maybe a full minute if you’re lucky) to break the ice and then parents are stuck putting the game back together again. Tedious. Avoid at all costs.

7. Spin Art Kelcey shared that it’s way way way messy. Not really pushing the limits of creativity. Just buy your kids some cool art supplies and call it a day.

8. Curious George Matching Game Kelcey picked this one and told us that she loves a good matching game but this one has 72 tiles. 72!! She says “your poor preschooler will never find a match. Buy a matching game with far fewer tiles or you will have a depressed kid on your hands.” Meanwhile, she shoved this to the back of her toy closet.

9. Voice Activated Password Diaries Brenda told me that this toy seems like a great idea. What kid wouldn’t love a password protected diary and better yet, no key to lose! It’s not. It’s horrible. The voice recognition mechanism never works and you will spend hours listening to your child shout their password unsuccessfully into the cheap plastic box. The recorded “password denied” message is beyond annoying. It gets stuck in your head and you will find yourself walking around the house saying, “Woowhoo wooo password not accepted” in a female robot voice. Her kid never wrote anything in her diary and keeps this big hunk of plastic around just to taunt her friends. She thinks she should have gotten her a tape recorder instead.

8. Kiddie Laptops Brenda shared that since she’s always on her laptop, working, it seemed perfectly natural that her kid would want to play on a laptop too. She lovingly purchased this for her daughter thinking they’d work side by side in peaceful bliss. She was so wrong. First of all the screen was minuscule and the games were lame. But the worst offense to her was that her daughter used this as her own personal music library. By punching a key she would play twenty seconds of a song. There were a collection of about 20 songs. She would hit a button and then dance around to the song. Twenty seconds later she would hit it again. The songs never lasted long enough so she had to hit the same key over and over and over again and she slowly lost her mind to the tinny tune of Yankee Doodle.

9. Hair Braiding Bead Kits Here’s a fun game: Let’s tangle our hair with a tiny motorized metal tool and lose beads all over the house. Why not just brush your hair with an electric mixer and throw beads into the path of your vacuum cleaner for kicks! That’s about how fun this toy was for Brenda. Worst of all, if she managed to complete an actual braid (which happened about 10% of the time) the beads never stayed in! They just slipped right off. Perhaps this toy works great for some people’s hair but her daughter has the thinnest/slipperiest hair ever. This toy was invented by hair stylists who wanted

10. Rubber Ducks Rubber ducks are super cute. Brenda reminds us, however, that they have a little air hole in the bottom of them so you can squeeze them and make noise. If you leave them in the bathtub for any period of time that little hole becomes a portal for bacteria and gunk. It’s just gross.

11. Make a Face Sticker Books Brenda feels bad saying that she hates these because she loves stickers. But these itty bitty face stickers seem to end up everywhere but on the paper pad to which they are supposed to be stuck. She’s serious. On your feet, stuck to your shoes, stuck to furniture and the windows of your car…She says that all stickers smaller than an inch should be banned.

12. Fake Fingernail kits You know what’s grosser than gross? Discarded fake fingernails all over the house.  Don’t even get me started on the cheap nail polish.

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