Category: Shopping

Fashion, gadgets, and gear

Yoga Joes: Army men strike new warrior poses

Yoga Joes are just like those little green army men you’ve seen in kids’ toy boxes. Only these men are doing yoga.

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These fun “toys,” which are geared more for yoga-practicing grown-ups than enlightened kids, were created by Dan Abramson, whose kickstarter project was just funded.

My hope is that Yoga Joes will inspire more children, men and military veterans to try yoga.

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Click the links above to find out more about Yoga Joes and how you can get some for yourself or a friend. Or a friend’s kid. You follow.

H/t Leigh Munsil; Photos Dan Abramson

Review: Vinturi Wine Aerator

Vinturi Wine Aerator
I am not a wine expert. I’ve never been a sommelier and I have a rather rudimentary understanding of wine grapes, varietals, bouquets, and all the other vocabulary that goes with being a connoisseur du vin.

So it was with great surprise when the PR company behind the Vinturi Wine Aerator contacted me about reviewing their product. Perhaps they were scouring my Facebook page, on which I list my favorite quote, “What I like to drink most is wine that belongs to others.” Or maybe they saw my #winewednesday (or, more obscure, #malbecmonday) tweets on Twitter. For sure, I’m a wine lover. But I’m hardly a high profile wine writer. Heck, I’m not even a high profile travel writer.

At any rate, I was skeptical about the Vinturi. My kitchen cabinets and drawers are full of random wine accessories that I’ve acquired via “Secret Santa” gift exchanges or ones I’ve purchased myself. And I’ve never found myself using any of them but the trusty wine key I bought at a roadside enoteca in Tuscany.

Not only do I have a lot of failed wine products in my house, but I also tend to have only cheap bottles of wine at home. I can’t say I’ve ever spent more than $15 on a bottle of wine at the store and I prefer bottles that are $10 or less. When you’re a freelance writer who enjoys drinking wine as much as I do, you kind of have to go with the cheap stuff. That’s not to say that there aren’t tons of delicious, drinkable wines at that price point. My favorite inexpensive bottles are Syrahs, Malbecs, and Vinho Verdes. But I’m definitely not and never will be Robert Parker. While I’d love to keep a cellar of wines rated “90” and above, that’s just not where I’m at financially. What’s more, it’s very common in my Italian-American household to have a bottle or two of homemade vino.

Nevertheless, I set about in earnest to use and review the Vinturi wine aerator. And here’s what I discovered:

  • The Vinturi is made of heavy-duty, clear plastic, with a rubberized neck and a rubber stand (for storage).
  • It also has a small filter that fits over the top. The filter is super handy when you’re drinking homemade wine – no more sediment!
  • You have to hold the aerator over your glass while you’re pouring the wine. I found this very awkward. Vinturi would do better to add some small flaps to the side that you can pop up and fit on your glass. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend using these if you’re using fine crystal because of potential breakage. (On a side note, there are bigger stand models that you can purchase for about twice the price as the compact model. Check out the Vinturi shop or Brookstone online or in your local mall.)
  • Vinturi makes wine aerators for red and white wines. The company gave me both models to try out, but I really couldn’t tell the difference.
  • The aerator also comes with its own little velvet travel pouch that looks quite obscene if you carry it around with you…kind of like the kind of gift you’d get at a bachelorette party.

I sampled the Vinturi with a bottle of Farnese Montepulciano (a red), not my usual cheap bottle of wine – but even cheaper. I tasted the wine before Vinturi: not bad, drinkable, kind of a singular flavor. Then, I maneuvered the Vinturi over another glass and gave a pour. The wine went through with a gurgle, passing over the small air hole that is drilled through the aerator and into the glass. I gave the second glass of wine a try…and Vinturi really did make a difference. My cheap Montepulciano suddenly had a bit of complexity. It was rounder in the mouth and more of a pleasure to drink. I am a skeptic convinced.

While I have only used the wine aerator a couple of times since I first sampled it, I would recommend it to people who have an interest in wine. The Vinturi makes bad wine drinkable and good wine even better. In fact, the Vinturi is exactly the kind of accessory a wino like me needs.

More Great Gifts for the Sensory Kid

Looking back over my last post Gift Ideas for the Sensory Kid, I know I could’ve included even more gift ideas. So here I am – back with some more tips.

crayolacolormeasongCrayola Color Me a Song
I am pretty excited about this product, which I bought a couple of weeks ago to put under the Christmas tree. Crayola has come out with lots of new products lately, and not just crayons. This Color Me a Song contraption plays music as your kid scribbles, almost like free-form, colorful jazz. You can actually set the item to four different instruments and four different music types, including salsa and country. I haven’t completely figured out how it all works yet. But I do know that my son, who loves music and loves to color with REAL color (not just aquadoodle!) – will dig this. I think you may also be able to “record” your little one’s masterpieces, or at least play them back. Hopefully, it will also encourage my son to color within the lines of the Color Me A Song toy and not on the carpet or walls.

manddsandwichMelissa and Doug Sandwich Making Set
Many many kids with spectrum disorders also have feeding sensitivities. I’m not talking about the whole GFCF diet, but issues with texture and color. One of my son’s past therapists used to come by with a different Melissa and Doug fake food set, which she said was good for pretend play. The thought is that making eating and playing with food fun will make your child warm up to the idea of trying a green bean or something with sauce on it. This little set is really cute and comes with fake buns, lettuce, cheese, tomato, sandwich meat and a wooden knife to cut through the sandwich when you’ve finished making it. Of course, the knife is good for promoting fine motor skills. Yes, this is a good starter set of fake food and I like that it’s wooden and not plastic. If you want to get a little crazier, you can also get Melissa and Doug’s Sushi Set.

Sassafrass Animal Band
animalbandI know that some kids on the spectrum are sensitive to noise while others relish it. My son’s in the latter camp and loves music (as I noted in the description above of the Color Me a Song from Crayola). This little animal band was something his speech therapist would bring to play with a lot when we were just starting out on some early intervention tactics. There are wooden finger symbols,; a percussion instrument shaped like a fish that you strike with a small mallet (not quite a drum); maracas; a clapper; and animal bells. The cute little critter band is good because it helps with fine motor skills, coordination, learning rhythm, and learning songs and speech patterns to the sounds of self-made – and not battery-operated – music. I’m no therapist myself, but I bet that regular exposure to music using this band would also benefit kids for whom loud noises are difficult.

Edushape Sensory Balls
These are kind of a no-brainer as they’ve already got the word “sensory” in the title. These knobby, nubby balls are better than the regular rubber balls you get at the drug store. My son loves to play with his sensory balls – picking them up, rubbing them on his skin and on his head. His little brother also likes them as they’re easy to grasp.

Table and Chairs
tableandchairsFor kids who like to run around all the time, a table and chair set seems counter-intuitive. But here’s another thing I’ve learned from the special education professionals: it helps to have a dedicated spot where kids can sit and play quietly, either rolling out play dough, building block towers, coloring, or reading a book. At first, it’s really hard to get a sensory kid to want to stay still and sit down, and you may only get them to sit there for 15 minutes at a time. But that’s part of the process of learning how to stay on-task and concentrate. If you get a table and chair set, this table and chair set from Lipper is quite handsome. If you plan on making more messes, you may want to consider a Little Tikes plastic table and chair set. This Ready, Set, Art Table is a colorful option with an art caddy, but I prefer seats with backs. At any rate, getting your sensory toddler used to sitting at a table will definitely help transition him or her for the type of quiet play typical of preschool or kindergarten.

Gift Ideas for the Sensory Kid

Since my son was diagnosed with PDD-NOS (aka “atypical autism”) and Sensory Processing Disorder, I’ve had a tough time figuring out suitable toys and games to get him. Sure, he’s happy with just about the same stuff any other kid is – blocks, mind-numbing, battery-powered toys, ride-on toys, etc. But I know that a lot of the things we have don’t always meet his needs for educational play.

There are lots of learning gadgets out there, like kid-targeted laptop computers. But my son will just “stim out” on his laptop for hours, memorizing answers to letter and number games and learning scripts from the computer itself. Dante’s brain works differently. Although he has some minor delays in speech and some motor skills, he has a photographic memory and can memorize entire scripts, the order in which songs are played, and entire books. It’s so bad that he even knows when I take a wrong/different turn if we’re going to a known destination.  (He’s only 3 years old and knows these suburban streets better than I do!)

So I wanted to write this blog post to make a list of a few of the toys that have either a) worked for us or b) seem like promising acquisitions. If you’re also shopping for a toddler with SID/SPD, PDD-NOS, or other spectrum symptoms, I hope this list will come in handy. I’ve also added a small list of stocking stuffer ideas at the bottom of the post. Please note, however, this disclaimer: I am not a doctor and can not assure that these toys will work for your kid.

smartcycleFisher Price Smart Cycle
This is one of the hot toys of the season, and it’s no surprise why. It combines two things that kids love: TV and exercise. The idea of the Smart Cycle is that kids learn from playing games that are controlled by the pedaling kid hooked up to the TV via interactive audio-video outputs. I don’t advocate just popping your kid in front of the TV for hours at a time, but sometimes moms need a break. I like the Smart Cycle for my sensory kid because he hasn’t mastered the gross motor skills of balance of pedaling, and this will allow him to learn those skills safely and warmly inside our home. Past occupational therapy experience has also taught me that my son is really revved up to learn during or shortly after being physically active. By the way, the “Extreme” version of this toy has “rumble action,” which may be even better for a sensory-seeking child.

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Blooming Kids Learning Software
Last summer when we were on home leave, Dante made excellent progress with vocabulary and speech by using Blooming Kids. This software is geared toward kids on the spectrum and has, at this writing, 37 programs which teach kids new vocab, social cues, telling time, and tons of other things. The drawback to Blooming Kids is also its asset – nothing to unwrap on Christmas Day. But you can download the software onto your PC or Mac, install, and be ready to go with new software in just a few minutes. If your kid likes those toy laptops but is not really learning anything from them, you may enjoy Blooming Kids because you control what and how your kid learns. It is helpful to use this software on a computer that has a touch screen or you can get a wireless mouse, which also helps with fine motor skills.

urbanrebounderUrban Rebounder Trampoline
Yes, this is an item from the adult sporting goods shop, but the Urban Rebounder is an excellent exerciser for your tireless kid. Anytime Dante is feeling a bit out of sorts – running around in circles in the room, seeming bored, wanting to go to the park but it’s pouring rain – we tell him to go bounce on the trampoline. This particular model is helpful because it has the handle, allowing kids with balance problems to hold on a little tighter and the legs also fold down to make for easy storage – if you want to store it. My son will jump on this for 10-15-30-minutes at a time non-stop. But when he is done, he seems a bit more focused. I get in on the action by singing “Jumpy Jump Jump Jump Jump” from Yo Gabba Gabba while he bounces and we all have a good laugh.

leapfrog tagLeapfrog Tag Reading System
I’ve been checking out all sorts of kids learn-to-read devices and this one seems the most helpful and least annoying. My three year old loves books and has really learned to read – and spell! – a lot of words. But I also know that when I read to him, he doesn’t so much focus on the words as the cadence. A lot of children’s books are so sing-songy that it’s easy to memorize the sound of them and not the words within. For better or for worse, this Leapfrog wand takes the melodiousness out of reading – the friendly, computerized voice is monotone. But it does let you read word to word, holding memory for up to 10 books at a time. Leapfrog Tag currently works with 30 books (that cost extra but at about the same price as a regular storybook), and there are phonics books as well as ones that feature licensed characters (Dora, Star Wars, etc.) Kids can further interact with their books by going online and collecting rewards by playing games associated with the books.

As far as stocking stuffers, I have several suggestions: mini-massager (my son loves the extra vibration input); Moon Sand and Play Doh; motorized toothbrush; koosh ball; exercise ball (good for balancing and bouncing); Melissa & Doug Wooden Sandwich Making Set.

Have you seen other toys that you think would benefit a sensory kid? Please let me know by commenting below!

Fashion Tips for the Mom Who Has Let Herself Go

albawithkid
Stylish mom Jessica Alba

When I was in high school, I used to be obsessed with fashion. Instead of doodling flowers or names of bands on my notebooks, I wrote names of fashion designers and models. After all, I did grow up during the age of the supermodel and CNN’s Style with Elsa Klensch. I never missed an episode of the latter and was up on the names of all the hottest designers – Gianni Versace, Thierry Mugler, Sonia Rykiel, Moschino. I couldn’t afford the clothes, but I knew the designers’ names and I could also do a killer Elsa Klensch impersonation.

Although I was a teenager of limited means, I could usually put a pretty good outfit together. At least, I had the confidence to do so. Clothes were fun and getting dressed for the day was a treat.

Today, I have two kids and am a total mess. This transformation from fashion savvy to slob didn’t happen overnight, of course. It was a slow, sickly process. Then, the other day, I hit rock bottom. As I was slipping into a crimson-colored, shapeless Land’s End turtleneck – LAND’S END! – I knew it was time to seek help. I quickly packed up the turtleneck, which I had just received by mail-order, and sent an email to my friend Rosana who is also a mom and a fashion stylist. I implored her to give me some tips for getting myself back on track. And that resulted in the very first guest post on this site.

Mommy Fashion Tips
Yes, I am a professional shopper and stylist. But, I’m also a mom — of two kids under five. So, I know. I know how challenging it can be to get them up and dressed, teeth brushed, lunches ready, breakfast on the table and out the door in time for school without looking and feeling like a bus ran over you…twice.

I am here to tell you, though, it is possible. Clothing-wise, there is an easy, comfortable life beyond sweats, running shoes and hoodies. Suspend disbelief for a moment, and take in these simple tips that are guaranteed to have you workin’ your MILF mojo in no time.

JBrand Cigarette Jeans
JBrand Cigarette Jeans

Dark Slim-Fit Denim. Skinny jeans, once a trend, is now a staple. And there is no easier way to update your look than with a good pair of dark skinnies. I know what you’re thinking. Comfort is king when you’re chasing Little Johnny around the neighborhood playground. Believe it or not, though, skinny denim is comfy. Most jeans these days are a mix of cotton and spandex, which helps denim retain its shape over time and also provides the all-important ease and mobility factor to moms everywhere.

Universally flattering is a straight-leg fit (as opposed to a narrower taper toward the ankle) with a slightly higher rise. Perfect with boots, non-athletic sneakers and heels (date night!). Pair with a fitted jacket, white-collared shirt, and heels – presto! You have a modern business casual look.

Shirt Dresses. Today’s wrap and shirt dresses are flattering to pretty much any body type, and although classic and sensible, can easily be young and chic with the right shoes. For a busy mom, it’s a no-brainer, one-piece ready-to-go outfit. No need to coordinate a top and a bottom. Just throw that shirt dress on (usually cotton or viscose) and wear with your favorite knee-high boots, flats, or wedge sandals when the weather warms up. A little chilly? Pair with a cardigan and accessorize with a scarf (see below).

For petite ladies, make sure hemline is above the knee. Curvier ladies, hemline right below the knee.

Lobelia Scarf from Anthropologie
Lobelia Scarf from Anthropologie

Scarves. Accessories are an easy and inexpensive way to update any look. Scarves, in all manner of shapes, sizes and patterns, have been on-trend for several season now. Stripe scarves (black and white) are youthful and modern — with a touch of edginess. Floral silks scarves add femininity to the most basic jeans-and-t-shirt ensemble. Geometric patterns can bring your look up a few notches on the sophistication meter.

And, bet you didn’t know there are about a million-and-one different ways

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to wear a scarf without spending a whole lot of time or effort. You can loop that scarf around your neck as your running out the door; tie it as shawl; or wrap it around your neck several times for a celebrity-inspired “undone” look.

Tailored Jacket. A tailored corduroy, cotton, wool, etc. jacket gives any outfit shape. Start with a neutral like charcoal grey, camel or chocolate. Jeans, dress slacks, you name it; it goes with. Petite ladies stick with one that hits right above your hip. Curvier mamas, do one with three buttons for more support.

Daytime metallic flats. No better way to add a little shine to your everyday look. Metallics are a neutral and go with everything. So forget beige, brown and grey. Add a little gold and silver to your life. For colder weather, wear with tights (and don’t be afraid to do color). Warmer weather, pair with dark skinny jeans and a white t-shirt for no better example of a less-is-more chic look.

Great leather bag. You can literally walk out the door in your sweat pants and a hoodie. If you have a great bag, all wrongs are suddenly right. Stick with leather and go slouchy hobo for a fun, young look.

Rosana Hemakom Vollmerhausen

Rosana Vollmerhausen is owner of DC Style Factory, a personal shopping and styling business. She spends her days stylishly chasing after a preschooler and toddler.

Photos © Extra.tv, Shopbop.com, Anthropologie, Rosana Vollmerhausen

The Perfect Gift For Your Little Mad Scientist

Tell me these aren’t the coolest blocks ever! I just saw these Mad Scientist blocks today on Etsy. There are a lot of cool, wooden, alphabet blocks out there. But these are special. Here’s what each letter and accompanying picture stand for:

A – Appendages
B – Bioengineering
C – Caffeine
D – Dirigible
E – Experiment
F – Freeze ray
G – Goggles
H – Henchmen
I – Invention
J – Jargon
K – Potassium
L – Laser
M – Maniacal
N – Nanotechnology
O – Organs
P – Peasants (with Pitchforks)
Q – Quantum physics
R – Robot
S – Self-experimentation
T – Tentacles
U – Underground Lair
V – Virus
W – Wrench
X – X-Ray
Y – You, the Mad Scientist of Tomorrow
Z – Zombies

Love.