Staying Connected With the Family Gift Guide

girl who saved christmasThe Girl Who Saved Christmas (by William Thomas Thach, illustrated by Richard Bernal)
Imagine what Santa would do if all the world’s children were bad—except one? Santa decides to deliver lumps of coal to all the bad kids, and offers to shower Molly, the lone—and lonely—nice kid, with anything she could possibly want. But Molly reminds Santa of the importance of forgiveness. A sweet story that captures the essence of the Christmas Spirit. $24 at amazon.com or mollychristmas.com

gracie's nightGracie’s Night: A Hanukkah Story (by Lynn Taylor Gordon, illustrated by Laura Brown)
Gracie and her dad don’t have much money, but on her way home with sweaters, snow boots, mittens, and warm socks for pops, she sees a homeless man with holes in his shoes, wearing a threadbare coat, huddling in a cardboard box. Gracie knows exactly what to do, and comes home with empty hands and a full heart. A charming story about a different type of Hanukkah miracle. $8.50 at amazon.com



sing and swing olaf


Disney Frozen Sing and Swing Olaf
Your young one’s heart will melt when Olaf starts belting out his famous song, “In Summer,” from the hit movie, Frozen. Wearing his trademark hat and cane, Olaf also dances to the beat. Requires 3 AAA batteries (included). About $36.50 at Toys R Us, Walmart, and others.

frozen karaoke disneyDisney Frozen Flashing Lights Karaoke Machine
An easy-to-set-up, easier-to-use karaoke machine that lets you sing along with the hits from Frozen, complete with flashing lights. You can also connect your own device or use the built-in CD player to perform all of your other favorites—even some that, gasp, aren’t from Disney movies. Comes with one hand-held mic and two inputs so duets are a definite possibility. $50-80 at retailers everywhere.

renny home hubRenny HOME Smartphone Hub and Loud Wireless Ringer for Cell Phone (Olens Technology)
Never miss a phone call at home again, even if your phone is on silent, vibrate, upstairs, or in the car in your garage.  It has audible caller ID and allows you to either answer or ignore calls hands-free. Streams music from your smartphone too. $139.99 at many retailers. www.olenstechnology.com



justin power pack


Justin Power Bank (Innovative Technology)
We all know how incredibly frustrating it is when your phone or tablet dies and there’s no place to recharge it. With Justin’s power banks and power sticks, those frustrations will be a thing of the past. The one we tested had 10,000mAh, which means it’s got enough juice to completely charge a smart phone five times. It also has two outgoing ports which allow it to charge two devices at the same time, all using standard- and micro USB. Great for the family on the go. Prices vary depending on capacity.

d-link range extenderD-Link DAP-1320 Wireless Range Extender (D-Link)
Plug this sleek device into a regular outlet within range of your router, and with one click, you’ve just extend the range of your home network—even to those hard-to-reach areas like basements, upstairs bedrooms, or outdoor areas. This way, you’ll be able to web-surf, play games, watch movies, or text the kids who are all the way on the other side of the house (or room).  About $25 at retailers everywhere. us.dlink.com/

cell phone jailCell Phone Jail
This is more of a metaphor than an actual product. We urge you to join with Foresters (a financial services company) to take the Tech Timeout challenge and give your family a daily one-hour break from all things electronic. After all, what better gift could you give to your family (and yourself) than some undivided attention. Download the pledge form at techtimeout.com/#anchor_pledgewall

2015 Lexus RX 450h: Comfort, Luxury, and Excellent Mileage

lexus rx450h backseat

lexus rx450h exteriorDisclosures: I had the use of a 2015 Lexus RX 450h for a week to facilitate my review. Opinions are purely my own (and, occasionally those of my daughter, who needs no financial incentive to speak her mind).

The Lexus RX 450h is a luxury crossover, with the emphasis on luxury. It’s plush, spacious, incredibly well-built, is packed with features, has good power and a smooth ride, and being a hybrid, gets great gas mileage. It is not, however, sexy—and it’s not supposed to be, either.
[Read more...]

Calming Chaos and Nurturing Your Child’s Developing Mind


Daniel Siegel, author of No-Drama Discipline.
Topic:
Calming the chaos and nurturing your child’s developing mind.
Issues: how to identify your discipline philosophy; best ways to communicate the lessons you want to teach; facts on brain development and what kind of discipline is appropriate for each age; how to calmly and lovingly connect with a child—no matter how extreme the behavior; navigating your child through tantrums; discipline mistakes we all make.

Respect Your Children + No-Drama Discipline


Jay Scott Fitter, author of Respect Your Children.
Topic:
A practical guide to effective parenting.
Issues: Getting out of bad communication ruts with your kids; why giving advice rarely works—and what to do instead; best and worse ways to deal with negative behavior; how to help kids learn good values without lecturing; getting kids to do the right thing without punishing them.


Daniel Siegel, author of No-Drama Discipline.
Topic:
Calming the chaos and nurturing your child’s developing mind.
Issues: how to identify your discipline philosophy; best ways to communicate the lessons you want to teach; facts on brain development and what kind of discipline is appropriate for each age; how to calmly and lovingly connect with a child—no matter how extreme the behavior; navigating your child through tantrums; discipline mistakes we all make.

Gentlemen—and Ladies—Start Your Consoles…

For many kids (and tweens, and teens, and—let’s face it—adults, too), gaming is a part of life. It can be a great way to unwind by yourself or (better yet) to log some major parent-child bonding time. As you put the finishing touches on this year’s Holiday lists, you may want to include a few of the following for your favorite gamers (or gamer wannabes).

wii deluxe bundleWii U Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Set Bundle (Nintendo)
Do you own a Wii U yet? If not, you won’t find a better way to start than with the Wii U Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Set Bundle, which includes the Mario Kart 8 and Nintendo Land games, an MK8 steering wheel, and, of course, the deluxe 32GB Wii U console, complete with a Mario-themed red Wii remote (or Wii-mote).
The Wii U is Nintendo’s sleek, new console, which has next-generation graphics that are comparable to the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Images and textures are sharp, the sound is clear, and the characters look like they’re about ready to hop right off the screen to join you on the couch.

Speaking of screens, the Wii U GamePad controller, with its 6.2-inch touchscreen, is the star of the show. The GamePad has dual analog sticks, the usual buttons (A, B, X, Y, Home, Select, and more), as well as left- and right trigger buttons. Use it to control action on the TV screen or to access additional features such as in-game maps. Oh, and you can even use it as a TV remote control. If you’re just getting started, this bundle is a very good deal at $299.99. You’ll find it at your local retailer or http://happyholidays.nintendo.com

super smash bros.Super Smash Bros (Nintendo)
If you’re not ready for the Wii U or you just prefer to play on the 3DS, Super Smash Bros. is the way to go. This fighting game has a host of Nintendo and non-Nintendo characters who face off in multi-person, last-man-standing battles. Each character has different weapons, different speeds, different heights and weights, and different ways of attacking. That should make it pretty easy to decide who your favorite is—and who your arch-enemy is too. What’s especially nice about Smash Bros. is that there are just a few buttons, which makes it easy for players—even complete novices—to master their character fairly quickly. Super Smash Bros. for 3DS is available now for $39.99 from all major retailers and the 3DS e-store.

pokemon art academyPokémon Art Academy (Nintendo)
For a somewhat less enervating gaming experience, take a look at Pokémon Art Academy, a Pokémon-themed version of Nintendo’s highly successful Art Academy. This one includes 40 lessons that will have anyone and everyone painting, sketching, and drawing the Pokémon characters you know and love. It starts with a stylus on the 3DS. But the Academy introduces kids (and their parents) to an incredible variety of media (including paint, pastel, pen, pencil, and a few others that don’t start with P), and teaches them skills and techniques that they’ll be able to use in real life and that go far beyond Pokémon. Pokémon Art Academy costs $30, and you can download it digitally or buy a hard copy at your favorite retailer or on the Art Academy website at http://artacademy.nintendo.com/pokemon/