I'm a weather junkie so I'm predisposed to enjoy a tornado toy, but what a cool toy this is! From Discovery Channel, this tornado in a jar not only teaches the kids about how tornados form but because it uses water to do it, it offers all kinds of other opportunities for scientific exploration. In addition to the tornado lab and a DVD exploring tornadoes and hurricanes, the toy comes with small red foam cubes and small yellow plastic balls that the kids can add to the tornado to learn how the density of an object impacts its behavior. My kids have also added various food colorings and even dipped their fingers in to see how the tornado changes. And, because the device that whirls the water around is small, rounded and way down at the bottom of the container I don't have to worry about injury when the kids do stick their fingers in. Sure, it can be a little messy, but who cares - it is science in a jar! And, my son's teacher even has plans to use the toy for teaching about weather this fall in their study of planet earth.
I have to admit I was prepared for WAT-AAH! to NOT be a favorite thing...biased, I suppose, by the fact that it's basically water in a plastic bottle, and that's something that's making me increasingly squeamish these days, in a global-warming kind of way. I teach at an independent school that has just completely banned all plastic water bottles (they've provided everyone with Sigg-bottle-like containers) in an effort to get green. I've already phased out ziploc bags (three months and counting) and come close to losing sleep at night for all the composting I'm NOT doing. But my 9-year old son cannot stop talking about this beverage. His friends are all jazzed about the logo--he brings in empty water bottles and they refill them with tap water and carry them around like status symbols (they'd be confiscated in the school where I teach, by the way). But that wasn't a compelling reason to add this to my favorites list. But then my husband started waxing poetic about WAT-AAH! last night. It's so pure tasting, it's like the best most purest water I've ever had. Really I asked, and took a swig. Really, he said. He's the king of flavored water, and usually ends up drinking sediment-laden lemon-lime flavored stuff--that we bought for the kids on sale and didn't like--without complaint (he's a middle child who's used to eating leftovers and doesn't need every meal to be exciting--go figure). Anyway, he went on and on about how fresh and pure it tasted, and my son's bouncing up and down in the background saving empties to bring to his friends, saying how good it is...so here we go. My family officially LOVES WAT-AAH! It is really really good (fresh tasting, pure tasting), and is working nicely as part of our more-water-less-juice-and-chocolate-milk campaign (even though it's not doing much for our internal crusade against global warming). There are four different varieties (not flavors, all fresh, pure water)--Body is plain (great-tasting) water, Brain has electrolytes, Energy has electrolytes and oxygen, and Bones has calcium. But I really don't care about those added things--it's just nice that they all taste exactly the same, so we don't end up with a whole lotta one kind (like when we buy Carnation Instant Breakfast variety pack and no one drinks the Strawberry). *I should add that I just clicked on their website to make sure I had the right link and my kids heard the music and ran over and demanded to find the nearest store that sold it, and said 'well we're going there tomorrow.' Rarely have I seen them this enthusiastic about water. Plastic bottles? Who cares!
I was going to call this 'Spanx (duh)' but then thought that might be too cheeky (npi... really). Because, basically, I have wholeheartedly welcomed the entire Spanx brand, since returning to work last winter. That explains the Spanx. And the (duh) was going to be there because everyone I know is crazy about them too. Of course I've never quite figured out how to determine my size, falling, as I always seem to do, right ON the cusp of that jagged line that meanders up ominously between various weights and heights, and of course putting them on the first time requires acts of contortions I'd rather not have my children see (but maybe these acts wouldn't be necessary if I would experiment with other sizes). But honestly these things make me feel very put together. Held together. Together together. While blissfully preventing my thighs from rubbing together. I have to look kind of fancy three days a week, and back in the winter I had to look fancy five days a week. This does not come naturally. But I have to say that having a pair of these on underneath always made me feel like I was pulling something off. I'm not a pantyhose person, but find tights to be quite nice in the chillier months. And the Spanx reversible tights that I found at Chicos have really blown my mind. For the life of me I cannot figure out how these sturdy matte tights work without the chocolate brown being noticeable from the jet black side and vice versa. And of course there's the Spanx top that meanders up high enough to both ensure that there won't be any visible bulges, and that each trip to the bathroom will take a little bit longer than usual, due to all the shimmying involved in putting everything back. I like the separate biker short-style Spanx and could have devoted a whole blurb to them. But these tights made the hugest difference for me last winter. So the comfort and versatility have made them my absolute favorite.
My youngest child just started school in the same building as her older brother and sister. Hallelujah! Only one PTA meeting to feel bad about missing every month, only one school asking us for more than we can give. It's simplified everything. The trick is that, now, she has to leave with them in the morning. No more packing them off to big kid school while we laze around in pajamas only JUST starting to consider what we want for breakfast, and what we should wear for the day. It puts a little more pressure on bedtime, and it puts a little more pressure on establishing some solid routines. Throwing out nighttime television (shhh unless the Mets are on) and morning television is a good beginning for us. Our little girl cannot tell time but 'after Dora,' and 'one more Backyardigans' has felt a little bit like 'I'm staying up til 8,' and 'I'm not going to bed til 8:30.' So cutting out those thirty minute chunks of time that eat away at her bedtime so easily seemed right. That left us with the question--well what are we going to do after dinner then? (Some of you will shudder as you struggle to answer the same question, and others will shudder at how ridiculously tv-centered our lives must be that we'd even have to ask it). Here's what we do: we do a lot of drawing, and then when the little one goes up to bed, we break out the board games she doesn't have the stomach for (she actually cheats at Candyland so we figure she's not ready for the hard stuff yet). So it was fun to be able to offer my kids the new and exciting Crayola True to Life stuff. Crayons, markers, and pencils, each with a tri-colored tip. I'm guessing the True to Life series gets its name from the idea that, in nature, no green is just plain green, no blue, just plain blue. In each case, there are a handful of obviously related colors (yellow/red/orange) and surprising combinations (purple/orange/red). The names of these blends are stunning--Maui Sunset, Grand Canyon, Yosemite Campfire... And we've all really enjoyed drawing with them. If we had to pick a favorite, we'd choose the crayons. There's something about the texture of the crayons and the blending of the colors that goes more hand in hand than in the case of the markers. Markers seem to me to be a bit more specific. If you want to color in something with a marker you tend to feel strongly about the color you choose. But with crayons, you get that kind of scrubbly texture anyway, and the colors don't tend to be as pure. So the subtle surprises in the crayons are slightly more satisfying than with the markers. A circle filled in with Amazon Rainforest (three green shades) with the marker creates a kind of schizophrenic disk of scribbled lines, yet in the case of the crayon, you end up with something that looks like a lemon that isn't ripe, with some extra greenness at one tip. In that instance, the True to Life series really does earn its name. As an art teacher, the only drawback I can see is that some children know exactly what color they want something to be, and don't feel very flexible about variations on that idea. Young children can be much more rigid in their expectations of their artwork than grown-ups tend to think they'd be. That said, I could see using the True to Life series in many different types of art projects--designs with watercolor washes on top, invented flowers and fruits, or anything else where the surprises would be welcome. And in one final nod to the markers, I'm looking now at a 'board game' that my four year old just created this evening using them. Long intersection lines form the boxes that the pieces travel in, and there's something really lovely about how the gold turns into purple and the purple turns into olive green, and there's something really interesting about what happens when those lines overlap. I'm not sure she has the sportsmanship to play this game any time soon, but games and drawing, and sometimes combining the two? Who needs TV?**
**stay tuned, we're only finishing our second week.
At the beginning of the summer we ran out of ziploc bags. I decided to take this as a challenge. How long could I go without them? We made it through summer camp season with loads of little tupperware-like containers. I bought a set of about fifteen small containers at Ikea--with lids that fit pretty well but not always perfectly...and I went to Chinatown (to the basement of the Elizabeth Mall) and found a perfect Sanrio-style set of three rectangular containers, with pretty designs that my daughters love--because it's SOO much fun to spend money on fun new things in an effort to go green. My middle child went to a camp that required completely disposable lunches every day so we just went ahead and did that--but in general we were pretty green and it felt pretty good. By the time school started I felt like we were on a roll, and decided to enter the school year ziploc-bag-less. It helps that one of our school's beloved fourth grade teachers has decided to stop having a homeroom in favor of being the school's roaming green guru--determined to teach the kids about recycling and other good awareness-type things. But of course I did feel a little bruised when my oldest came home from school saying that he'd been called out for using tinfoil. Wrap-n-mats to the rescue! I saw these things on a fantastic website called reusablebags.com a few months ago and thought they looked pretty great. Plastic-coated (not sure the specifics but it seems to be plastic that's been vetted pretty well) cloth squares cut and sized to wrap perfectly around a sandwich, and close with a velcro tab. I sent my daughter to school with her sandwich folded in one for the first few days and we're all in love with it. (That green teacher even spotted it and is going to hold it up as an example for others next week). So I just went online last night and ordered two more. I had to browse around a bit to find patterns that wouldn't embarrass my 5th grade boy--but in the process discovered that they make a blank beige one that can be personalized with fabric markers or, I suppose, sharpies, in addition to some great polka dot prints in sophisticated color combinations. I'll never be one of those people who makes all sorts of crazy sacrifices to keep our level of trash down as far as we should--I compost our tea leaves and coffee grinds because I can just toss them in our garden, but everything else would be too time-consuming and messy--but I have to say it feels good now to know that my three kids' home lunches aren't resulting in a speck of trash.
I am addicted to Blokus. A strategy game developed by a mathematician, I feel sure it must be helping my kids with mathematical concepts. It is an easy game to learn but a challenge to master. And it comes with all these colorful, fun plastic game pieces. The rules are simple: you can place your piece anywhere on the board as long as it corner, and only its corner, is touching another of your own previously placed pieces. It seems easy and at the beginning of the game it is, the board is wide open and there is plenty of room to maneuver. Then, just a few turns later the board clogs up and lo and behold an opponent has successfully blocked your next brilliant move. It is frustrating in a "let's play again" sort of way. And I find my kids are just as skilled at the game as I am. (my husband may be slightly better at it than me - but I'll never admit to that!) As the school year has begun we are playing nightly as a family then, when the kids tuck in for the night, my husband and I play a few games over a glass of wine. Every game is different and every play changes the board in remarkable ways. There is some controversy about how the name is pronounced but if you think about how you play - it is a blocking game - thus 'block us' rather than the sort of bizarre sounding 'blow-kus'. That sounds like a game requiring two consenting adults - but that's another post!