Toy Tips, the personal blog of Marianne Szymanski, the creator of the Toy Tips Brand
http://blog.toytips.com
Toy Tips

A Midnight Cry

A review by Marianne Szymanski
Publisher, Toy Tips (toytips.com)


First Stage in Milwaukee  ranks as the nation's second largest theater academy for children. They are  committed to develop and produce plays that celebrate the history and people in their own state, Wisconsin.

Midnight Cry is a story about the Underground Railroad and the journey of a young slave from St. Louis to Wisconsin.

This story is significant to Milwaukee because during the late 1800's, Milwaukee was a station on the Railroad and a "free state" for slaves to escape to. The main character is fictional but the story is based on the true story of Mrs. Caroline Quarlis Watkins who escaped to Milwaukee and was assisted by Atty. Asa Finch who was one of the founders of Milwaukee law firm. Foley and Lardner., LLC.

The plot follows Lida Anderson, a 17 year old female slave and her journey through the Underground Railroad en route to find freedom.  You will see the lives of her family and how they are affected by her decision. Emotional and moving, actors display what life was like in America for a slave. History books teach us but this play showcases a strong reality check about the life our forefathers had and draws out an emotional story of how a young slave lived.  The introduction of the play outlines the conditions slaves were forced to live in, the little education they received, their expectations of work and how they are punished and treated. There is one scene that is so emotional, you can expect to hear sobbing, see crying and in my case, an audience member was actually wailing. That is how deeply emotional the audience is tied to the actors.

I brought my nine year old daughter who has learned about slavery in school.  We had a discussion before we came to see the play so that she understood what to expect. I think while some of the content is quite deep to completely grasp, she followed along. From a child's perspective, the "talkback" that First Stage offers after each performance is an ideal way to hear what is in the mind of a young audience member after seeing the performance.

Many school children will celebrate Black History Month this February.  As you check out books from the library, talk to teachers and educate your children at home, keep in mind that slavery is something that our kids today will not experience. However there are similarities in our society on how people are treated. This is a perfect opportunity as a family to discuss how slavery impacted society.

This play is for every White American, every African American, every other American, every non-American living in America and every child (the suggested age is 9) able to understand the significance of this story.

A true one-of-a-kind performance, First Stage showcases the meaning of freedom in a most impactful, emotional and theatrical way.

Photo credit:  A MIDNIGHT CRY at First Stage. From left to right: Marvette Knight, Michael A. Torrey, Malkia Stampley, and Gavin Lawrence.  Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

For tickets, visit firststage.org


-Marianne Szymanski

Fabulous Winter Getaway - Minocqua, WI

Family weekend getaways are the best time to visit new places. Grab the school schedule and look for a long weekend for a fabulous getaway to northern Wisconsin. A recent visit to Minocqua, Wisconsin with the kids was enough for me to want to go back for an adventure of snowmobiling, supper clubbing and ice fishing.  Our fall visit was filled with beautiful color changes, bike riding and horseback riding through some of the most  beautiful country  in Wisconsin I have ever seen. It sure helped that we were there at the peak time to see forests of trees changing colors and dropping leaves and where inlands of lakes peeked out in unexpected places. The weather was crisp at night and  warm in the day. Whether you visit in winter, spring, summer or fall, there is plenty to do. Each season boasts beauty and outdoor activities to keep kids busy. It is a comfortable yet lengthy drive from Milwaukee, Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois but it's a beautiful drive. 

Our top list of must-do's:

Holiday Acres
This multi-generation family owned amusement park is small enough to call it cozy with plenty to do to keep the kids busy for a few hours. We took a horseback trail ride, went go-cart racing and enjoyed a late afternoon just exploring the grounds. 

The acreage on the trail was breathtaking and put us right in the mood for a true Northwoods experience.  It's conveniently located and reasonably priced. The staff was super friendly and seemed to love to talk about  the history of Minocqua and all its beauty. A great first stop to begin your summer or fall vacation. Open Daily May-October. 

The Waters
Fabulous! A secret waterpark in the middle of beauty. As parents know, kids love a great waterpark. This resort boasts 2 slides, and indoor/outdoor jacuzzi, kind pool and an indoor and outdoor pool. A game arcade, free breakfast, great coffee,  and they welcome dogs to stay in the hotel! The staff was so incredibly friendly, they made you feel like you were staying with a much-loved relative! ! Ideal as a location for a family reunion, the resort can accommodate large parties, hold weddings and celebrate birthdays. We stayed in a loft room which was perfect for a party of 4 and a dog. The kids slept upstairs and had their own television and a half bath. Downstairs, there was a private balcony, full bath, bedroom and a pull out couch. The room was comfortable, spacious and felt more like home. It is open all year. We think is is the best cozy winter getaway secret in the Northwoods!

The Boathouse
Supper clubbing is a Wisconsin term and something very prevalent in the Northwoods. Expect a casual dining experience with live piano music, great food served supper club style!  We ordered the daily special of crab legs and lobster. The seafood was fresh, prepared well and served with a smile.  Our waiter was timely and explained the menu well. Under new ownership, we were able to get a little bit of history of the restaurant and one thing you do not want to miss is the bar. The most beautiful piece of woodwork I have ever seen. It actually comes from the Brunswick (think pool tables) company and was shipped from Michigan It's hard not to miss because it stands out like a piece of delicate art. My children enjoyed the live piano music and the new dining experience. I had a nice chat with one of the owners, Bill Fricke who gave me some insight into the summer plans for the Boathouse. Put this one on your list. It's well worth-it.

The Thirsty Whale
This iconic landmark boasts unbelievable views of Lake Minocqua. A casual place to enjoy a Wisconsin Fish Fry, this restaurant dates back to with an interesting history. It's all on the menu to read! It's closed for the winter though as business slows down in this area during the winter so put this on your #1 must-do for summer. It's the best place to see the Mini Aqua-bats water-ski show. 

Chequamegon Adventure Company
You will not want to miss renting a bike on your trip if visiting in the Spring, Summer or fall. This bike shop is located right in town and you can rent a bike and head straight to a biking trail. They will show you how to get there. They offer all sizes and you can rent by the hour or by the day. We rode over a trestle and into an area that was residential on quiet streets with a lot of scenery.  However, if you can take the bikes with you by car, we recommend heading to Lac De Flambeau area.

Wildwood Wildlife Park
A zoo with a bear you can actually feed soda! I'm not kidding. This is home to over 750 mammals including reptiles, primates, deer, coatimundi and birds of prey. They are not open in the winter however, if you visit in September, don't miss their annual Zoo Boo Event.

Kids can wear costumes and trick or treat at company sponsored stops along the way. My kids walked away with candy bars, toothbrushes, coupons and a ton of other candy. Happy kids!
Open April-October

Minocqua is a small town with an adorable downtown area. There are plenty of fabulous restaurants. But, one thing worth mentioning is that there are large full service grocery stores in town as well.  Two of them are open 24 hours.  Personally, I think part of your family Northwoods experience should include a cozy dinner at home.  Whether it is just dessert and a board game after a full day of activities, family together time is what makes a vacation special. A must-try is the Swedish Flop Cake sold at the Save More marketplace. Trigs and Wal-Mart are the other grocery stores that are all close driving distance from hotels and resorts and offer everything else you may need.

If you plan a winter family vacation, visit minocqua.com to look for current winter activities, snowmobiling routes, cross country ski trails and the best ice fishing spots.

-Marianne 

The BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER! 80's style!

"The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" at First Stage Theater in downtown Milwaukee. is one Christmas show that will have you laughing tears, reminiscing 80's songs and watching the retelling of the Christmas story in a well.... unexpected way.

The Herdmans are a family of six kids who are the town bullies and are just plain bad. They cuss their teachers, set fires, take the name of the Lord in vain, smoke cigars and pick on kids.  Kids are afraid of them and parents warn their children to stay away from them.

When it is time for the annual Church Christmas Pageant, Imogene and Ralph Herdman volunteer to play Mary and Joseph. Ollie, Claude and Leroy Herdman decide to be the wise men and the littlest Herdman, Gladys  plays the Angel of the Lord who acts like no angel at all.  Since the Herdman's have never read the Bible, nor have no knowledge of what the Christmas story is really about, this play has takes on a life of its own. 


The shepherds, angel choir and baby angels sing the traditional Christmas songs you may expect but not how you expect!  

For any parent or grandparent who grew up in the 1980's, this is as close to a "rock concert gone Christmas play" that you can get!

The underlying message of avoiding the bullies will tear at your heartstrings as you see on stage how including the Herdmans can bring out the best in people who just may need some love. This is a great message for what this holiday season is about. It's a great little reminder for anyone that judging people is never a good thing. Children in the audience see it on stage and adults have been known to cry with emotion. 

First Stage has a motto of teaching life skills through stage skills.

As a mom of an actor in this play, I have a personal view to share. I have been reviewing First Stage productions since my daughter was 3. Now at 9, she made her debut as a Baby Angel on stage. To be in a production, there is an audition process in the summer for all of the First Stage plays for the following year.  Hundreds of children try out but there are only so many parts.  Being cast alone is as sheer excitement that ended up with our household gaining a congratulations hamster! 

The rehearsal process engages your child in way that boosts self confidence and somehow takes the best of his/her personality and evolves it into a magical creation on stage.  My daughter would not really let me see everything she was practicing at rehearsals so I could be surprised on stage.  From facial expressions to dance moves, this girl transformed into a character I never expected from her. 

I love the fact that she is having fun, making friends, learning a new craft and experiencing a memorable time in her life that I'm sure will be talked about through the years. Whether you have a shy child or natural performer, consider enrolling your children  in acting classes. The teachers and other performers have a way to engage creativity and focus that also manifest itself in the classroom and with study skills. Kids learn time management, teamwork and how to individually use his/her strengths for the benefit of a group. These kinds of life skills are forever.

Brilliant. Simply brilliant!

Stuff the Sock!


Stuff the Sock

Let's face it, a bare stocking hung from a fireplace is sad. A soft touch with little surprises can be exciting as a big ribboned box under the tree.

Here are some Toy Tips ideas on non-traditional gifts to STUFF THE SOCK!

For girls:
Happy Charmz
Charm bracelets are popular with tweens. So are charms on pencils. This is a fun way school age girls can bling out their school supplies mid-term.
happycharmz.com



My Little Ponies Fash'ems
The fascination with ponies and fashion resonates with little girls. Combine them together for fashion and action play.
mashems.com



Magic Straws
Slip a straw in Santa's milk! Flavor it with S'mores, Chocolate Candy Cane, Dippin Dots Birthday Cake or Orange Cream. These were the flavors our testers voted as best. Although there are many other flavors available and taste is a personal preference. For children who do not enjoy just plain white milk, this may be an option to get them to have fun flavoring and to encourage drinking their milk.
magicstraws.com



Tickety Toc Tallulah
For preschoolers who love this Nickelodeon television program, this pocket sized Tallulah becomes a friend on the go.
justplay.com


North American Bear Nutcracker
The Nutcracker is a classic ballet performance during the Christmas Season.  This plush Nutcracker doll fits perfect in a stocking.
nabear.com


Bedazzle a hairbrush that actually detangles hair. Ideal for the texture of children's hair, this brush works well to create smooth hair strands.
smoobees.com


The Wet Brush
Comb through wet long hair easily without knots or tangles. Ideal for kids in swimming lessons during the winter months.
TheWetBrush.com


Wheres' Waldo Magnificent Mini Book Set (Candlewick Press)
Ideal for any age, this book series is travel sized and can be put in a schoolbag or purse for some eye and spy fun!
candlewickpress.com


For boys:
Kaijudo
These collectible cards are popular and players can duel with their decks at Duel Day events at local participating game stores across the country.
kaijudo.com


Tangle Sportz Ball
Glow in the dark footballs are ideal for snow play.
tanglecreations.com


For anyone:
A big sticker over something recycled = a new toy!
boxplayforkids.com



Customized temporary sticker tattoos
Upload images and customize stickers online into temporary tattoos. Ideal as a personalized gift.
Stickeryou.com


The 45th Anniversary Collection of The Three Stooges
Who does not like the laughter and silliness of this gang?  This is the whole collection of the ever-popular Three Stooges and ideal for family entertainment.
us.rljentertainment.com



Silly Putty
This classic is still around!
crayola.com



Motorola Talkabout 2 way radios
Perfect for siblings! "Old-fashioned" communication is fun. Walkie-talkies encourage social skills and imaginative play.
motorolasolutions.com/talkabout



YOGA for the brain
This beautiful new art form is a way to relax by creating beautiful images by drawing structured patterns.
zentangle.com



Tapefitti
Crafitng is uber-popular with tweenage girls. These little colored and designs of tape can be used for many purposes. These are small enough to pop in a purse for Mom and a backpack to take along to school.
fashionangels.com

For Babies and Toddlers
These silicone teethers are easy to hold and come in the shape of the logo of 12 different MLB  baseball teams. Made without BPA, phthalates, cadmium, lead or metals, they are safe to chew and are also dishwasher safe.
chewbeads.com



Happy Holidays!
-Marianne

Winter Moisturizing- Our best picks!

As the colder weather sets in, so do chapped lips and dryer skin. Children and chapped lips means uncomfort. Dry skin means itchiness and scratching. It's best to be prepared ahead of time for a remedy. While a pediatrician can offer a personalized product for your child's condition, there are plenty of over the counter options for minor signs of dryness. It's always best to still consult with your child's pediatrician just top rule out anything else.

Toy Tips tested out some brands of moisturizing products that are appropriate for children and adults.  These made our top list.

Carmex Everyday Healing Cream. It's non-greasy which makes it easy to put on your child without a thick residue on your own hands. Designed to penetrate dry, rough and cracked skin, it worked well on heels, elbows and hands.  It  does have a softer scent of the regular Carmex lip balm. We suggest adding a coat of that on your child's lips after as protection. Now that these come in different flavors, have your choose the one they like best. It will help make it easier for you to have them wear it.  For a little extra something for Mom, the Ultra Hydrating  Moisture Plus lip balm  with SPF15/Sunscreen come in stylish tubes. Mom testers liked the  clear gloss finish and the soft vanilla flavor.
Gluten free
carmex.com

One of the worst feelings are those little cracks near your cuticles or around your nails that are just downright. painful. We found two products that seem to work for that.

1. CapriClear Moisturizing Spray. This easy to spray bottle of clear liquid fractionated coconut oil is 100% natural.  Mom testers used this at night on their face as well as their hands and reported a healthier looking complexion and softer hands after a few days use.  We suggest to keep it on the nightstand as a quick reminder before bedtime so the fractionated oil can soak into the skin. It also worked well on the lips to prevent dryness and moisturize.
Gluten free
capriclear.com


2. The Carmex Healing Ointment in the concentrated form. It comes in a tub and is greedy going on but if you put on overnight, by morning, you will see and feel a difference. It's hard to do during the day because you wash your hands so often and it really needs to set in the skin to work. The magic ingredient is in the formula.
carmex.com

Chapped Lips:

EOS by far has the cutest packaging of all the products in our review. The tangerine flavored anti-bacterial balm looks like a little yellow egg and when twisted, it reveals a sweet smelling sphere of rounded easy to apply paraben-free balm. The shape is makes to easier to apply to lips than a traditional stick. Shea butter, jojoba oil, antioxidants, green tea extracts, honey and vitamins alleviate dry lips while phenol has antiseptic properties.
Gluten free
evolutionofsmooth.com

Elemental Herbs All Good Lips. These herbal balms use zinc oxide as their main main active ingredient which is known to help prevent sunburn. For parents and children who plan to be outdoors in the cold weather to enjoy winter sports or just playing in the snow, a sunscreen is mandatory.  The Organic Lip Balms are sticks of organic extra virgin olive oil and organic beeswax. Available in 3 flavors, the company is transparent with the full ingredient list that you can find on their website and on the product itself. The tinted colors are a nice alternative to a heavy lipstick.
http://elementalherbs.com
elementalherbs.com


Scars:

No one expects to get scars or wants them to stay on their body. There are some products  that claim to promise scar removal. In review, we have not found any products that completely made a scar disappear. But, we did find some products that altered the appearance of a scar to look much better. Regardless of how a scar came to be, these are three products to consider to alter their look.

1. Medicine Mama's Apothecary- This certified organic healing ointment is made with honey, royal jelly, olive oil. propolis, bee pollen and beeswax.  All natural ingredients soothed on the skin helped the pain of burns and reduce inflammation of scars.
medicinemamasapothecary.com


3. Kelo-cote Advanced Formula Scar Gel is a colorless gel that bonds to the skill to form a coating that dries east.  It is resistant to water and helps to diminish the appearance of the scar. Testers reported that it did improve the appearance of a scar and quickly reduced redness.
kelocyte.com


3. Scar Away- These latex-free silicone sheets claim to prevent the formation of new scars. Our reviewers reported that they were easy to apply ( like a bandage), were comfortable  to wear and  greatly changed the appearance.
myscaraway.com


Our Favorite Lotions for Baby:

Shea Moisture Organic Baby
Red Bush & Babassu Head-To-Toe Lotion is made with Cocoa Butter, moisturizing Babassu Oil, Carrot Oil and anti-oxidant-rich Red Bush extract .


Organic Olive & Marula Head-To-Toe Lotion is a blend of Olive Oil, Shea Butter and Marula Oil that softens and protects delicate skin with Cocoa Butter, Vitamin E and Aloe Vera. 
SheaMoisture.com


Noodle and Boo
Protecting delicate skin is what is most important  when choosing a lotion to moisturize baby's skin. Made with sweet almond oil, Vitamin E and C, it  smooths on easily holds a sweet baby scent.
noodleandboo.com


Remember to join in all the winter sports with your kids but moisturize first and be sure everyone wears a sunscreen when outside.
-Marianne


Back -In- School Nightime Reading

New changes to American classroom curriculum with Common Core is to increase nonfiction text in Language Arts classes. Many teachers assign daily reading in addition to homework. One great habit to get started for your child is evening reading of 20 minutes per night before bed.  Sleep experts will agree that this will not only help your student get a great night of sleep but it will also prepare him/her for higher learning. Educators and scientific research prove that continued daily reading boosts analytical thinking, expands vocabulary, enhances memory and academic skill and also teaches something new.

Here are 5 new TOY TIPS reviewed book titles for elementary school age students that are great reads for bedtime.

Toys Galore by Peter Stein
Candlewick Press
School Age- Kindergarten-Grade 1
Playful verse and retro-style illustrations tell the story of a toy chest filled with wacky toys kids will recognize.
http://books.sears.com/TRP/actions/searchHandler.do?itemNum=ITEM:1&key=0012711357&nextPage=booksDetails&parentNum=11532

Poppy the Pirate Dog
Candlewick Press
by Liz Kessler
School Age- Kindergarten-Grade 3
Excited to be a fierce pirate dog on the open sea during a family vacation, Poppy the Dalmatian loses her courage in the face of bobbing boats, splashing waves and scary sea creatures.
http://books.sears.com/TRP/actions/searchHandler.do?itemNum=ITEM:1&key=0012711302&nextPage=booksDetails&parentNum=11532

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Candlewick Press
School Age - Grades 3-6
The story of four animal friends who live along a river in the English countryside.
http://books.sears.com/TRP/actions/searchHandler.do?itemNum=ITEM:12&key=0012644307&nextPage=booksDetails&parentNum=11532    

The Romans by Marcia Williams
Candlewick Press
School Age - Grades 3-6
This comic-style book is a tour of some of ancient Rome's leading historical events as narrated by a dormouse gladiator.
http://books.sears.com/TRP/actions/searchHandler.do?itemNum=ITEM:7&key=0012711287&nextPage=booksDetails&parentNum=11532

Professor Gargoyle by Charles Gillman
Quirk Books / Random House Inc
Middle School Reading Grades 6-8
Robert Arthur begins the seventh grade at  Lovecraft Middle School that has two-headed rats leaping from lockers and mysterious labyrinths.  Professor Goyle is unconcerned when students begin vanishing into thin air.  Robert soon discovers that there is more to this middle school than meets the eye.
http://books.sears.com/TRP/actions/searchHandler.do?itemNum=ITEM:2&key=0010671167&nextPage=booksDetails&parentNum=11532

Be sure your child has proper lighting and eyewear on, if needed. A glass of water nearby is handy in case the book is just too good to put down! Encourage your children to have a lifelong love of reading... .they will thank you later!

Marianne


Back -In- School Nightime Reading

New changes to American classroom curriculum with Common Core is to increase nonfiction text in Language Arts classes. Many teachers assign daily reading in addition to homework. One great habit to get started for your child is evening reading of 20 minutes per night before bed.  Sleep experts will agree that this will not only help your student get a great night of sleep but it will also prepare him/her for higher learning. Educators and scientific research prove that continued daily reading boosts analytical thinking, expands vocabulary, enhances memory and academic skill and also teaches something new.

Here are 5 new TOY TIPS reviewed book titles for elementary school age students that are great reads for bedtime.

Toys Galore by Peter Stein
Candlewick Press
School Age- Kindergarten-Grade 1
Playful verse and retro-style illustrations tell the story of a toy chest filled with wacky toys kids will recognize.
http://books.sears.com/TRP/actions/searchHandler.do?itemNum=ITEM:1&key=0012711357&nextPage=booksDetails&parentNum=11532

Poppy the Pirate Dog
Candlewick Press
by Liz Kessler
School Age- Kindergarten-Grade 3
Excited to be a fierce pirate dog on the open sea during a family vacation, Poppy the Dalmatian loses her courage in the face of bobbing boats, splashing waves and scary sea creatures.
http://books.sears.com/TRP/actions/searchHandler.do?itemNum=ITEM:1&key=0012711302&nextPage=booksDetails&parentNum=11532

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Candlewick Press
School Age - Grades 3-6
The story of four animal friends who live along a river in the English countryside.
http://books.sears.com/TRP/actions/searchHandler.do?itemNum=ITEM:12&key=0012644307&nextPage=booksDetails&parentNum=11532    

The Romans by Marcia Williams
Candlewick Press
School Age - Grades 3-6
This comic-style book is a tour of some of ancient Rome's leading historical events as narrated by a dormouse gladiator.
http://books.sears.com/TRP/actions/searchHandler.do?itemNum=ITEM:7&key=0012711287&nextPage=booksDetails&parentNum=11532

Professor Gargoyle by Charles Gillman
Quirk Books / Random House Inc
Middle School Reading Grades 6-8
Robert Arthur begins the seventh grade at  Lovecraft Middle School that has two-headed rats leaping from lockers and mysterious labyrinths.  Professor Goyle is unconcerned when students begin vanishing into thin air.  Robert soon discovers that there is more to this middle school than meets the eye.
http://books.sears.com/TRP/actions/searchHandler.do?itemNum=ITEM:2&key=0010671167&nextPage=booksDetails&parentNum=11532

Be sure your child has proper lighting and eyewear on, if needed. A glass of water nearby is handy in case the book is just too good to put down! Encourage your children to have a lifelong love of reading... .they will thank you later!

Marianne


Keep it spooky!


Just because Halloween is over does not mean your children can't keep celebrating. It's fun to dress-up.  Whether your five-year olds sits down for dinner dressed as a space ranger, sleeps as a princess or joins you at the grocery store as a costumed crusader, role-play develops learning skills.  Imagination soars and halloween costumed are recycled for as long as they fit. I have kept all of my children's Halloween costumes and often lend them out to littles.  

Here are a few ideas that can keep spooky play alive during the year.

WIKKI STIX
These sticky lines of yarn and wax do not require glue and paint.  They are an arts and craft activity that can be used to make letters, pumpkins, faces and numbers. Great for at home or classroom use and on the go, keep these in a Ziploc bag in your purse for a quick activity to create some busy time. The Halloween Trick or Treat kits can be bought online that come in packs of 30. Ideal for classroom fun, fall decor and just creative art. Some make masks which offer additional play value. http://www.wikkistix.com

Imaginetics Make-A-Monster This board and magnet set has 33 safe magnets that stick on a magnet sheet that is designed to open and look like a book. The monster theme is completely customizable and perfect for take-along play. I suggest keeping this in your purse when you go out to restaurants. (The crayons and placements can get old). http://www.amazon.com/Imaginetics-Make-a-Monster/dp/B00CICN7U8

Reading is always a plus. For middle school readers, Lovecraft Middle School  (Quirk Books) is a series of chapter books with creepy themes that pre-teens and middle school readers enjoy. The cover of each book is spooky in itself and the 3D images change based on how you hold the cover.  Creepy and fun, the titles our testers read were Creature, Teacher's Pest and the Slither Sisters but the most favored story was Professor Gargoyle.

Robert Arthur begins the seventh grade at  Lovecraft Middle School that has two-headed rats leaping from lockers and mysterious labyrinths.  Professor Goyle is unconcerned when students begin vanishing into thin air.  Robert soon discovers that there is more to this middle school than meets the eye.http://books.sears.com/TRP/actions/searchHandler.do?itemNum=ITEM:2&key=0010671167&nextPage=booksDetails&parentNum=11532

Once Upon A Zombie Dolls
Familiar princesses  we all know are zombie-fied!  A curse was cast upon turning them into supernatural Zombies who need to claim their world back. A totally different play pattern of "princess" play. There are 6 dolls in the collection, Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Belle, Rapunzel and Snow White. Then, kids can zombie themselves with an included app.wowwee.com/ouazdolls/about


Risk The Walking Dead Board Game
Based on the popular television show, this is more of a tween/adult game. Gameplay is like the regular game of Risk but players face off against one another in order to claim territories on a map, win bonuses, and eliminate opponents.

Players battle on a map depicting the southeast region of the United States featuring 32 territories and six zones.  Players need to maintain self-preservation from the undead that spawn at the start of each player's turn in hopes of attack. The  gameplay cards refer to story events from The Walking Dead series and players face rewards and penalties depending on the situation. The game ends after a fixed number of turns, but players can also choose to battle until all but one player is eliminated. usaopoly.com


Each holiday is a special time of year but when you household holds toys themed to the holiday, reuse them all year long. Kids change their interests often so this will stretch the play value they receive.

-Marianne


GET FROZEN Thanksgiving weekend!

FROZEN: A review by Marianne Szymanski (with daughter Mia -age 9)
MPAA - PG

This 3-D animated musical introduces Disney's newest princess, Anna.  An adaptation of Hans Christen Andersen's "The Snow Queen", directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee tell a tale that showcases the true meaning of sisterhood, love and self discovery.  Set in Norway, you will meet two Scandinavian sisters, Elsa and Anna and be introduced to Nordic culture, fjords, ice picking, trolls, Prince Hans, Kristoff, Sven the reindeer and gorgeous ice sculptures like you have never seen before. Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel are the voices of the sisters.  Listening to the music is reminiscent of being in the audience of a New York Broadway musical. The songs were beautiful and you can hear the emotion these sisters have for each other with each note. 

The usual romance between the princess and a prince takes a twist and the real meaning of love is revealed. It's a great message to children and a fabulous reminder to adults. I especially liked the non-typical gender traits of Princess Anna and as you will see her feisty and fun personality is very engaging. You sure don't want to miss Olaf, the cutest comedic snowman you will ever see. 

The cartoon short, Get a Horse, is funny, funny, funny and filled with 3-D surprises! And, don't skip out at the end during credits because you just may miss an extra scene.  A spectacular movie for all generations. If you get the bug to travel to Norway after, take a look at what Adventures by Disney has to offer. http://www.adventuresbydisney.com/europe/norway-vacation/

My guess is that Santa will receive many requests for ice skates this year. ICE IS IN!

Happy Hannukah! Happy Thanksgiving!

What's the term? Thanksgivikkah? This year Hannukah coincides with Thanksgiving Day. The festivities begin on Wednesday evening, November 27 and continue eight nights, encompassing Thanksgiving Day. This is the second time that the Hannukah has fallen on Thanksgiving Day since Thanksgiving became a holiday.

The traditional festival of lights is a time for Jewish children  to preserve tradition and reflect on the history of the Jewish people. In many families, children receive Hannukah gelt (money or chocolate coins) and many families also offer a gift each evening with the lighting of the  Menorah. This continues for eight consecutive days. It is tradition for the lights ( candles or oil based) to stay lit for one half hour after dark. Traditional blessings are  chanted (in Hebrew) over the candles. Many Jewish families play drediel to celebrate the evening. The game is played by spinning a 4 sided top that has Hebrew letters.  Each letter means something different to initiate gameplay. Any numbers of players is fair as long as each has a small collection of candies or pennies to use as markers to put in the "pot." The goal is to play until the pot is dry. http://www.myjewishlearning.com/holidays/Jewish_Holidays/Hanukkah/At_Home/Dreidel/How_To_Play.shtml
 
Toy Tips reviewed  toys that celebrate Jewish heritage.
Hannukah Bingo
Collect some goodies such as chocolate coins, pennies or M&M's. The game plays just as traditional BINGO does but instead of numbers, the cards showcase Hebrew symbols.
jewishholidaysinabox.com


Personalized Dreidel Bags
A creative wrapping for Hannukah gifts that inspire the celebration of this family ritual. A simple felt bag that is hand sew  in the same shape as a dreidel and personalized with your child's name or Hebrew name. They can be recycled and used from year to year.
gezuntagoodies.com


With a Mighty Hand. The Story of the Torah (Candlewick Press). The first five books in the Old Testament of the Bible comprise the Torah and tell the stories of of the history of the Jewish people and their relationship with God. This book tells these stories in one single narrative. Its ideal for bedtime reading or as a quick reference to the stories. The artwork is beautiful and the book is coffee table quality.
candlewickpress.com


Enjoy other non-traditional Hannukah gift ideas for kids  that celebrate family together-time. For ideas, see toytips.com

Fall Family Fun in Door County, Wisconsin

Door County, Wisconsin  is a "Must Go" place for families

I recently went on a family getaway to one of the most beautiful places in all of Wisconsin. Door County is a peninsula that is approximately 70 miles long and lies in the northeast part of the state bordering Lake Michigan. With 11 lighthouses, 5 state parks, 11 golf courses, 100 art galleries, museums and performing arts venues, 2500 acres of cherry orchards, 6.5 miles of sandy shoreline and more than 23,000 acres of public and preserved land to explore, there is always something new to do.

Rich with maritime heritage, older children can learn about  the history of 18th, 19th and 20th century shipwrecks and explore lighthouses and  maritime museums. Younger children will be entertained by nature along the sandy beaches and bluffs and as a passenger in mom or dad's kayak.  There is plenty of fun with child-themed restaurants, excursions, fishing and playgrounds at many of the resorts and campgrounds.

Our adventure began with about a 3 hour drive from Milwaukee.  This included a stop along the way but once we arrived in Sturgeon Bay which is the gate of the peninsula, it took about 50 minutes to drive to Gill's Rock which is the tip.  A must-do is a day trip on the ferry for a six mile venture to Washington Island to spend an afternoon.

You can bring your car and bikes along but you don't need either as you can also explore on foot.  There is plenty to see on this 35 square mile island which has a population of about 700. Restaurants, golf courses, moped and bicycle rentals and vacation cottages are amongst the most popular. Transportation on the ferry is available every day of the year, weather permitting.

12 "don't miss-must visit" locations with children 

The Farm-North of Sturgeon Bay, children can feed bottles of milk and corn to animals and feel what it is like to live on a farm and care for farm animals. This is a living museum of rural America and new exhibits and animals change each season.
www.thefarmindoorcounty.com

Equestrian riding- Whether young, middle or old, every age enjoys watching horses trot and most likely wants to learn to ride. A visit to this equestrian corral is a must-do day trip in the Door County area. Family-owned, they provide safety instruction, arena, walk or walk and trot riding. This is something not to miss. 

The Red Putter is an icon in Door County and known for their 18 hole mini-golf course. Located in Ephraim, this course is ideal for the beginner mini-golfer to the most advanced player. Authentic yet vintage, the greens are charming and you must get a photo of your child sitting in the large red chair. A true Door County souvenir.

Candle Dipping- Candleworks wil show and teach youngsters how candles are made. Dip your own for $2.50.  The wax is hot so mom and dad need to help but children can choose the colors for their own personalized candle to take home. The store is filled with scented wax and soy candles and the staff is super friendly ready and ready to answer questions about the candle making process.
www.candleworksdc.com

Pennsula State Park. No trip to Door County should ever be had without a trip to this state park. It is the third largest state park in all of Wisconsin.  Kids love to climb the stairs of the infamous tower, play in the sand on the beach, wade in the water and hike the many paths all in the midst of beauty and nature.  Parents, bring a stroller as little ones will get tired. Camping is very popular with families here. If you have never camped before, this is a great place for a first-time try.
dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/peninsula

Skyway Drive In- This is a true authentic outdoor movie theater. There are not many of these left in the country to sit in your car, enjoy snacks and watch an age appropriate movie as a family makes for one really fun evening together.

Learn to Kayak
If your child has never kayaked, the best way for a school-age child  to learn is to be sure your swimmer is comfortable in water, underwater and can listen well to an instructor. Start with a two person kayak with an adult in the back so a child can get comfortable paddling  in open water before adventuring on his/her own. We took the tour to kayak the bluffs and caves to make the most memorable experience on the water. They also offer a sunset trip which is better for teens than younger children.

Your first Fish Boil! 
A Door County tradition that is a "must-do" is to attend a fish boil at one of the many restaurants that offer them. Whether you like fish or not, the storytelling on the history of a fish boil  and the visual of the pot boil-over is worth the visit.  Of course, there are menu  options for non-fish eaters but the boiled whitefish (usually caught that morning) boiled potatoes, boiled onions and the rest of the fixings (each restaurant offers their own) create a memorable family dinner. We loved it so much, we did it twice. Reservations for fish boils are  usually required  but several time slots  are offered throughout the evening. Be sure to arrive 30 minutes before your reservation to watch the show.

The Old Post Office-Located  in Ephraim overlooking the lake (try and get a front window table),  this family owned renown restaurant is decorated with a homestyle look. The son of the owner was our waiter and helped debone our fish once served. We were able to learn more about the family and the rich history they share in Door County. Our fish boil was led by Erv, who shared funny fish jokes, a history of the fish boil and sure knew how to make that pot boil!

Pelletiers- Located in Fish Creek in the heart of the shopping area, we really liked the casual setting as a great place to relax and enjoy a family meal. They also offer a lite eater option.

Hands on Art Studio
A must-do for any inspiring artist, this make-it-yourself art experience offers children as well as mom and dad a chance to channel their inner artist.  You create personal masterpieces of clay, metal, fused glass, bead, wood and paint. Best for children who have skill and patience but there is also an adult-only time slot on Friday nights in case you brought a babysitter along. Great date night idea for parents.

Cava Point County Park in Baileys Harbor. Stand on the rock formations, make a rock tower and see the  bluffs and caves.  Rough Lake Michigan waters created wonders over the years and to walk on them and see their grand beauty is a priceless experience. Be sure to snap a family photo here. 

Renards Cheese tour. By appointment only,  witness the whole process on how cheese is made. You'll see how milk turns to cheese and get a chance to taste the result. At the tasting facility (a separate location that than the factory) visitors can try tastings of multiple selections at the cheese curd bar which kids love.  Our favorite was the chocolate cheese and the sage cheese though there are many varieties to choose from and sold in many stores around Door County. 

Lighthouse Tours. With 11 to choose from, an exploration of each is deep rooted in Door County history and a great way to spend a meaningful  and educational afternoon.  If you have a budding boater or history afficinado, don't miss this educational opportunity. 

Where to Stay:

Parkwood Lodge in Fish Creek
This traditional lodge setting gives new meaning to the word glamping (glamour camping). Enjoy Smore's in the firepit at night while gazing at the stars to a comfy dip in the indoor heated pool after with a coin-operated laundry nearby. The rooms are very rustic and aged but the resort has the feel of a nature-based Door County experience. It is located within walking distance from Peninsula State Park. There are 60 rooms and 6 different styles of rooms so it would be best to review which is the most appropriate and comfortable for the ages of your children. 

The Landing Resort in Egg Harbor
Family friendly, this year-round resort offers an indoor and an outdoor pool, arcade games, basketball and ladder golf courts, a free game-lending library and rooms with kitchenettes, private patios  and lofts.  Try to reserve one of these because it felt like condo-living at its' finest. There is free wifi, in room DVD players and Our room had 1 1/2 baths which is always a plus while vacationing with children. The use of grills is perfect for those nights you just feel like cooking together.  Each morning, we took a walk around the property to Egg Harbor to watch the sunrise. A short and beautiful walk, the town is filled with cute shops and restaurants. The resort itself does not allow pets but there are dog and cat boarders nearby in Egg Harbor.  
www.thelandingresort.com
     <Amenities-3_pool.jpg>
      The indoor pool at the LandingResort.
You can't make a trip to Door County without bringing back some cherry pie.  Of all we tasted, our favorite was from The Cherry Hut in Fish Creek. There is something magical about their combination of cherries and the crust together.  While they sell everything cherry on their website, they don't ship pies by mail, so we had to bring back three!  They are that good!

There are so many other things to do (literally hundreds) and we could not cover them all so take a look at the Door County website and do some research to customize your trip based on the ages and interests of your children.
www.co.door.wi.gov

Make family memories!
Marianne 
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