No Winter Blues

We just set our clocks back, so you know winter is just around the corner. And if last year was any indication, this one’s going to be a doozy. As the temperature drops, the kids will be spending more and more time indoors, and the last thing you want is a bunch of bored minions to entertain. Here are a few of the latest fun toys that are perfect for quelling cabin fever.

baymax rocket fist1Baymax Rocket Fist and Mask (Bandai)
Baymax Armored Figure (Bandai)
With Disney’s new movie, Big Hero 6 just hitting theaters, the toys can’t be far behind. We saw the movie at a press screening and it was one of the cutest we’ve seen in a long time., albeit a little sad. The young genius, Hiro, will be a big favorite but it’s the silly and huggable—and inflatable—robot, Baymax who steals the show for children.  The mask looks just like the one Hiro makes for Baymax, but it’s not a full helmet, so it’s easy for small hands to get on and off. The Rocket Fist actually works, launching the fist part when the wearer (you know you’re going to try it) pulls the trigger inside. The flying fist is soft, so it won’t hurt anyone, but keep it away from breakables. Ages 4 and up. The Rocket Fist and Mask are about $23 on Amazon.

baymax armored figureThe Baymax (Armored) Figure is a really cool toy that’s sturdy and nicely articulated (meaning you can bend the arms and legs). It also has retractable wings, which makes flying around the house a real breeze. Okay, it doesn’t really fly, but don’t tell your child. Best of all, it looks exactly like Baymax, which is a very big deal for young super-heroes-to-be. 4 and up, $10 at Toys R Us.

 

 

monster high catacombs

Monster High Freaky Fusion Catacombs Playset (Mattel)
Let’s get one thing out of the way up front. Some of the clothing on the Monster High dolls is a bit too risqué and not very appropriate for young kids (it’s certainly not anything you’d let your child wear to school, even on Halloween). But the dolls themselves are innovative and fun, and fit in with our current macabre fascination with zombies and monsters. So if your child is a Monsters High fan and/or saw the recent “Monster High: Freaky Fusion” movie (which featured the Catacombs under the school), this is a great gift. Just grab the dolls before your child gets to them and dress them a little more wholesomely. The dollhouse itself is very different than any other dollhouse your child has ever played with—and that’s a good thing. For ages 6 and up. Retails for about $110 (dolls are not included) at http://www.mattel.com or your favorite retailer.

fisher price battle roverImaginext Battle Rover (Fisher Price)
Part vehicle, part play set, the Battle Rover has it all: projectiles, disk launchers, lights, sound effects, voices, a crane, a pull-out saw and drill, a kid-operated control panel, and plenty more. And let’s not forget about the detachable space shuttle that’s got plenty of features of its own. Wow, that’s a whole lot of play in one toy, and it’s sure to keep your little one entertained for hours at a time. You can add a bit of education to the mix by reading your child some stories about similar, real-life rovers that have explored the moon and Mars. For ages 3 and up. $120 at http://www.fisher-price.com; a little less at retailers like Kmart.

Pregnancy Dreams Up in Smoke

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I are just about ready to start a family and we’re really excited. The problem is that we disagree about what she (and I) need to do to get ourselves physically ready. Two things in particular are causing some friction: I read an article that suggested that women start taking prenatal vitamins even before they get pregnant. My wife says prenatal vitamins are for pregnancy only. She and I both smoke. I say she should quit, she says she’ll just switch to e-cigs. What do you think?

A: I think you’re right to be worried about both issues and I suggest that you shelve your discussions about pregnancy until after you’ve got them resolved.

Let’s start with the prenatal vitamins. One of the most important reasons your wife should take them now is that they contain a lot of folic acid. Folic acid (or folate) is a B vitamin that plays an important role in preventing neural tube defects, which are major defects of the brain and/or spinal cord. These defects happen in the first few weeks of pregnancy—often before a woman knows she’s pregnant. Since about half of all pregnancies in this country are unplanned, pediatricians recommend that every woman of childbearing age get 400 micrograms of folate—which is what’s in most prenatal vitamins—every day, just in case.
Interestingly, there’s some intriguing research that indicates that you could benefit from a little extra folate yourself. A recent study by McGill University researcher Sarah Kimmins found that babies born to fathers who were folate deficient were about 30 percent more likely to have birth defects than those whose dads were getting enough folate. Granted, Kimmins’ study was on mice, but she believes that the findings will be similar for human dads. How much folate you need isn’t clear, but good sources include asparagus, avocados, bananas, beans, beets, broccoli, citrus fruits, dark green veggies, eggs, lentils, seeds, and nuts.
Now, on to smoking. When a mother-to-be inhales regular cigarette smoke, her womb fills with carbon monoxide, nicotine, tar, and resins that inhibit oxygen and nutrient delivery to the baby. Maternal cigarette smoking increases the risk of low-birth-weight babies and miscarriage. There’s also some evidence that paternal smoking is just as bad. If you think the baby is somehow protected from your smoke by being inside your partner, you’re dangerously wrong. Bottom line: Quit now, and try to get your wife to do the same. A lot of men put off quitting—or asking their partners to quit—out of fear that withdrawal might lead to some marital tension. Bad choice. The potential danger to your baby far outweighs the danger to your relationship.
Oh, and as for e-cigarettes? Don’t go there. While they’re less toxic than tobacco cigarettes, and they cut down on second-hand smoke, they’re hardly safe. Most e-cigs use liquid nicotine, which, besides being addictive, can cause high blood pressure and other heart-related issues in your wife, and can reduce blood flow to the placenta, potentially doing permanent damage to your baby. E-cigs may also contain propelyne glycol, which, when heated can turn into a powerful carcinogen, according to Stanton Glantz, a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco. Glantz and his team also found that far from being the “harmless vapor” e-cig companies claim, the stuff smokers are inhaling contains nanoparticles, which can irritate the lungs and aggravate asthma and other breathing issues. And the second-hand-smoke exhaled by e-cig smokers contains those same chemicals and nanoparticles, so no vaping for you either.

Keep your brain healthy for the rest of your life

Gary Small, author of
Topic: Keep your brain healthy for the rest of your life.
Issues: How to improve virtually every type of memory task—from where you left the keys to never forgetting a name; brain teasers to cross-train the brain to sharpen your mind and promote brain efficiency; the importance of healthy nutrition.

Brain fitness to prevent Alzheimer’s + When you and adult child don’t get along + Relationships after kids have moved out

Gary Small, author of The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program.
Topic: Keep your brain healthy for the rest of your life.
Issues: How to improve virtually every type of memory task—from where you left the keys to never forgetting a name; brain teasers to cross-train the brain to sharpen your mind and promote brain efficiency; the importance of healthy nutrition.



Joshua Coleman, author of When Parents Hurt.
Topic: Compassionate strategies when you and your grown child don’t get along.
Issues: What happens when people lose the opportunity to be the parents they desperately wanted to be; mourning the loss of a harmonious relationship with a child; maintaining self-esteem through difficult times; strategies for rebuilding relationships or learning to accept what can’t be changed.



Karen Stabiner, author of The Empty Nest.
Topic: The truth about relationships, love, and freedom after the kids fly the coop.
Issues: How life changes when the kids leave home; changing relationships with young adult children; changing relationships between parents once the kids are gone; differences between the ways mothers and fathers cope with the empty nest.

Aww, Shoot

What is it about shooting things that kids (yes, that includes girls) like so much? Does it even matter? We think not. If you and/or the kids are looking for some high-energy activities that build hand-eye coordination, cooperation, and teamwork, you’ll want to check these out.

air storm firetekair storm z-tekAir Storm Firetek Bow (Zing)
Air Storm Z Tek (Zing)
The Firetek is the latest addition to Zing’s exciting Air Storm line of archery toys. The bow and the arrows (actually whistling, screaming foam darts that can fly more than 100 feet) light up, making Firetek just fun at night as it is during the day. The Z-Tek bow-and-arrow sets look similar, but they don’t light up, but they’ll provide hours of entertainment during the day.  The entire Air Storm line is built with safety in mind: the launch mechanism works only with Zing’s foam darts. The Firetek and Z Tek are both for ages 8 and up. Firetek comes in green or red, ships with three screaming darts, and retails for about $29.97. There’s also a pink Air Huntress Firetek Bow for the Hunger Games fans in your house. Z-Tek comes in several colors, ships with three darts, one of which has a suction-cup tip, and sells for about $20.00.

zano bowZano Bow (Zing)
The Zano (Zing-speak for “nano”) is about a third the size of its cousins, Firetek and Z Tek, but it packs just as much entertainment into that smaller package. The Zano fires soft, foam zarts (Zing-speak for “darts”) up to 30 feet, and the suction-cup tips make it perfect for indoor play—as long as you’ve put all of your fine China and Ming vases out of reach. Comes with three zarts and a snazzy wall target. For ages 4 and up. Available for under $10.00 at your favorite retailer.

atomic shield popperAtomic Shield Popper (Hog Wild)
Generally speaking, shooting toys are offensive weapons, and very few people ever consider the need for defense. Well, the folks at Hog Wild have come up with an ingenious way of combining both functions: Load your foam balls into the unique, gravity-fed launch system, pull back the “hammer” and let ‘em rip—right through the shield, which is perfect for protecting you from return fire from the bad guys. Although the balls (six are included) are foam, they move pretty quickly and pack a pretty good punch, so you’ll want to use the Popper outside. For ages 4 and up, retails for under $20.00

idrive sunglassesiDrive sunglasses (iDrive)
One could reasonably argue that sunglasses don’t have all that much to do with shooting. But these iDrive glasses would be the exception. Their polarized lenses all but eliminate glare, which makes it a lot easier to focus on your target. And there’s something about those same lenses (which provide 100% protection against all types of UV rays and reduce eye fatigue) that makes anything you look at pop out. But best of all, these sunglasses just make you look incredibly cool. So even if you’re not hitting your targets as accurately as you’d like, no one will notice.  For ages 5 and up, $69.99, at http://www.izonesunglasses.com

An important, final note. Although these shooting toys are, well, toys, it’s important that your children learn to use them responsibly. In our house, that means absolutely no aiming or firing at pets or at anything above the knees on a human. No exceptions, no warnings, no second chances, and no excuses.

Workouts for the Brain

Game nights are a great way for families to spend quality time together. But every once in a while, you need to shake things up a little, right? Here are three wonderful, mind-expanding activities that mom, dad, 2.5 kids (but not the dog) will enjoy.

Brain Benders puzzlesBrain Bender cubeBrain Benders (Alex Brands)
Brain Benders offer puzzle lovers a very different experience—visually, physical, and intellectually. Brain Benders pieces are made of wood (instead of flat cardboard), and you’ll use them to assemble a sphere, two different cubes, and double-pyramid shape. Besides patience and ingenuity, you’ll need some pretty well-developed spatial- and logical-thinking skills. Don’t have them? No problem. You’ll develop them pretty quickly. Having four puzzles makes it easy for families to spend time together—and compete against each other or the clock. One warning: Even though there are illustrated instructions for how to solve each puzzle, the pieces from three of the puzzles are very similar—and aren’t interchangeable. We put dots on the bottoms to help us keep the pieces organized by puzzle (one dot on all the pieces of one puzzle, two dots on another). For ages 8 and up. Available your favorite retailer for $9-$15 or at www.alexbrands.com

elements 4d blocksElements 4D (DAQRI)
Elements 4D consists of six beautifully designed, white blocks. Each face (a total of 36) is dedicated to a single element from the Periodic Table of Elements (remember that from High School?). Beside the name, there’s the symbol (O for oxygen, H for hydrogen, and so on) and the atomic number (how many protons in one atom of the element). But when you view them through a smartphone or device running the free, augmented-reality app, those blocks go from nice-to-look-at to amazing (or, as my middle schooler put it, “coooooool”). You get a more information and a virtual representation of the element. But wait, there’s more! Put two blocks next to each other, and you’ll see the chemical reaction and the resulting compound. For example, oxygen and hydrogen are both gasses, but together they become water. Similarly, combine sodium (actually a metal) with chlorine (a gas) and you get salt. These visuals upgraded “cool” to “awwwwwwesooooome.” Overall, Elements 4D is a fantastic way to introduce or develop an interest in chemistry and it’s an engaging resource for home or school. There are several small issues. First, the actual blocks are hard to find in stores. But if you go to the manufacturer’s website, you can print out paper versions, which still work with the app. Second, the app is available only on Google Play and iTunes, which leaves out those of us who primarily use Windows phones. Third, only 36 of 118 elements are included. But that could actually be a good thing, driving an interested child to want to learn more. http://daqri.com/elements4D-mobile/

tanglecard instructionstangle cards finishedTangle Cards (Zentangle)
After a long day putting together complex wooden puzzles and experimenting with virtual chemical reactions, your brain could use a break. And Tangle Cards (also called Yoga for Your Brain) are just the ticket. Based on the Zentangle books by Sandy Steen Bartholomew, Tangle Cards guide you through the calming, creativity-stimulating process of drawing beautiful designs. Start with simple lines and curves and gradually add more and more detail. The books have more detailed instructions than the cards and include photos of Bartholomew’s inspiration. But the cards are more portable—and just as meditative. A great parent-child(ren) activity and a smartphone-free way to keep kids occupied. For ages 5 and up. Books cost around $12, cards around $10. http://www.zentangle.com/